Archive for the ‘Rome’ Category

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

October 12, 2020

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

Is the End of Debtfare Forced Labour?

September 28, 2020

In his chapter ‘The Violence of the Debtfare State’ in Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds., The Violence of Austerity (London: Pluto Press 2017), David Ellis uses the term ‘debtfare’ to describe the dismantling of state welfare provision and its replacement by debt and credit. And I’m starting to wonder how far this can go before something like debt slavery arises. The Romans abolished debt slavery, but the punishment for debt was addictio, forced labour. People are being forced into mountains of debt through poverty created by austerity and the removal of living wages and proper unemployment and disability benefits. Students are also mired in it through tuition fees which now may amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

I am therefore left wondering at what point the various banks and other organisations offering credit will stop it and start demanding their money back or some other form of repayment. Clearly if people remain in debt, they can’t repay the money. The alternatives seem to be either that the banks keep on giving them credit in the hope that they’ll be able to repay something, or else write it off as a loss. But if the number of people in irrecoverable debt hits millions, what happens? If the levels of indebtedness actually starts to harm the banks and the other organisations, will they turn to the state to demand some kind of forced labour in order to make good their profits?

I’ve already pointed out the similarity of the workfare schemes to the forced labour systems of Stalin’s Russia. Stalin used slave labour from the gulags to industrialise the Soviet Union. Business managers would give the KGB lists of the kind of workers their enterprise needed, and the KGB would then have those with the appropriate skills and qualifications accused of anti-Soviet crimes and arrested. The workfare scheme now used to punish the unemployed doesn’t teach anybody any new skills, nor does it allow them to find employment. Indeed the stats a while ago showed that people on workfare were less likely to get a job than if they were left to their own initiative. But workfare does supply cheap, state-subsidised labour to the scheme’s backers and the parties’ business donors, like the supermarkets.

So if the number of people in grievous, irrecoverable debt, will the government simply write them off and let them starve to death, as so many disabled people have done already thanks to false assessments under the Work Capability Tests? Or will they decide they can still make some money for business by pressing them into compulsory labour in order to work their way out of it, as in the Roman system?

I’m not saying this will happen or even that it’s likely. But I do wonder if it’s a possibility.

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Rishi Sunak Considering Putting BAME Heroes and Heroines on Coinage

July 28, 2020

One of the very few items that drew my attention in yesterday’s edition of the I, for Monday 27th July 2020, was an article by Ewan Somerville reporting that our murderous clown chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was considering adding Black, Asian and ethnic minority heroes and heroines to our notes and coinage. It would be the first time this was done, and is a gesture to Black Lives Matter. The article ran

Black and ethnic minority (Bame) figures could appear on Britain’s currency for the first time. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering proposals by campaigners to have influential Bame people featured on a set of coins, the Treasure minister, John Glen, said.

Those under consideration include the first Indian and Gurkha soldiers who received the Victoria Cross, the British-Jamaican Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, and Noor Inqyat Khan, a Second World War agent and one of only four women to have received the George Cross. There has never been a non-white person features on British coins or notes.

Plans have been submitted to the Royal Mint, which has been encouraged by the Treasury to draft proposals and designs for a potential coin. Mr Sunak has previously expressed support for the anti-racist cause highlighted by the Black Lives Matter Protests.

I think there have been calls for distinguished Black and Asian Brits to be put on the currency before, if only a decade or so ago. There certainly have been calls many times for more women to feature on the currency. From the article it seems that all of the figures being considered well deserve such commemoration. I can’t think of anybody objecting to Black, and particularly Gurkha war heroes considering the latter’s splendid record of service in the British army despite the fact that we never conquered Nepal. One of the most striking images we came across at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was of a Black British squaddy, his chest festooned with medals, proudly holding up a union jack. I think the image came from the Second World War. Either way, as the museum staff remarked, it utterly contradicted the BNP’s lies that Blacks cannot be patriotic British citizens, as this man had clearly fought with gallantry and distinction for the Motherland.

I’ve said before, though, that I’m not impressed with Black Lives Matter. I can appreciate the frustration, anger and deprivation fuelling it. But I think that it has an extremely simplistic view of race and class in Britain and is unintentionally divisive and polarising. And I don’t believe that Sunak or the Tories are going to be remotely sincere in their efforts to tackle the structural racism in British society. Boris Johnson has said he’ll set up an inquiry to investigate it. Or think tank. Or some other talking shop, just like the Tories already promised a few years ago.

And there is already a backlash taking shape. Mike posted a few days ago that the Tories had started recruiting racists on Twitter by appealing to their outrage that migrants were still coming to Britain. Labour had apparently sabotaged the government’s efforts to tighten up the migration system. Given how tough the system already is and that some of the noticeable reports are about people coming over here from France in flimsy, leaking vessels, I honestly don’t know what can be done to make it tougher without going into real, genuine Fascism. By which I mean following Katie Hopkins’ suggestion that migrant ships should be gunned down in the Med and left to sink. Or warned off by the coastguard firing automatic rifles, as the Greek navy/coastguard was shown doing a few weeks ago.

And some of the real firebrands in Black Lives Matter are playing into the Tories’ hands. Yesterday TalkRadio put up a video in which one of their right-wing mouthpieces was interviewing a young Black woman, somebody Samuel, of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group, or some such organisation. She was complaining that most members of Black Lives Matter were bored, disgruntled troublemakers. I didn’t watch all of it, so I may well be prejudging what she said. But it started off with a recording from the leader of Black Lives Matter in Oxford, ranting on about how the police were the Klan, defending statues and other acts of racism. She attacked senior Black figures in the Labour Party like David Lammy for being tokenistic, and said that they needed a new party. And then shouted ‘Black Power’.

The police have a racism problem, and it’s been very well demonstrated through a series of scandals over the years. Before the murder of Stephen Lawrence one of the big scandals to his the news was the revelation that members of her Majesty’s constabulary had been part of the League of St. George, an SS auxiliary unit set up for Fascist Brits during the War. But Mike and I had relatives and friends in the police, and no, not all cops are remotely like that, whatever the Met police is like. And it should be obvious that the police aren’t like the Klan. If they were, then that angry lady wouldn’t have the freedom to denounce them as such because of the sheer intensity of the violence that would be meted out, and the anonymity of those inflicting it. If you want to see the real fear the Klan spread and embodied, just watch last year’s Dr. Who episode where she and her ‘fam’ travel back to the American Deep South to stop a White racist trying to stop the beginning of the bus boycott which launched the mass phase of the Civil Rights movement. If the police were like the Klan, then there would be many more deaths and those responsible would be protected by their anonymity.

As for demanding a separate party for Black people, there are several ways in which that would be a non-starter. Firstly she seems to be harking back to the Black Panther Party and the New Black Panther Party in America. Which is all very well if you’re dreaming of revolution, but to the majority of Whites they look very much like anti-White paramilitaries. Small parties also have trouble establishing themselves. UKIP spent decades trudging up and down Britain getting practically nowhere at elections before their electoral breakthrough a few years ago. And as a single issue party, they’ve suffered from Brexit giving them exactly what they wanted. In Britain, blackness is still associated with foreigness and immigration, although Blacks have been here since the days of the Roman Empire. A party that served and only represented Blacks would be seen as anti-White and colonialist, exacerbating the fears of a ‘great replacement’ and White genocide. And part of the problem is the dispersal of Black people geographically throughout Britain. Someone worked out a while ago that if the number of Black MPs accurately reflected the size of the Black population of Britain, there would be 50 or more in the House of Commons by now. But not all Blacks are concentrated in specific, Black majority areas. Many live in more ethnically mixed or predominantly White towns and regions. They therefore have to show that they can represent their White constituents as well as standing for Black rights. And I doubt very many Whites would vote for a party set up solely to represent Blacks. The young woman TalkRadio was discussing was talking dangerously divisive nonsense.

I dare say that, despite her recent notoriety, she’s an isolated figure. Certainly there seem to be many Black Brits who don’t believe that someone like her stands for them. But through her ignorant comments, she’s given an opportunity for the Tories to take the initiative. I’d never heard of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group before, and I doubt many others had either. The Tories have been trying to win Black voters away from Labour by years. The tactic has been to present Labour’s attitude towards Blacks as that of angry, racial alienation – which is in many cases true – but extreme, and unrepresentative of Black Britain. Their racial policies and BAME members, they claim, are all about healing such divisions rather than increasing them. And so we had the unpleasant spectacle by in the 1990s of the Daily Heil drooling over Priti Patel at the beginning of her noxious rise to power under the headline ‘Priti as a picture’. No, she’s a smirking, self-centred, egomaniac bullying thug.

Sunak’s suggestion for more Blacks and Asians on the currency is certainly welcome, but I feel it will be no more than a token gesture. If it every happens at all, and Boris doesn’t decide to shelve it. Along with all the other Tories projects for a better, racially inclusive Britain.

 

Dua Lipa Sparks Controversy over Kosovar with Social Media Comment

July 22, 2020

Reading through today’s I, I came across a piece by Sally Guyoncourt reporting that Dua Lipa had posted a controversial piece on social media. She put up a map of Albania, alongside the tweet ‘au-toch-tho-nous adjective (of  an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.’ She said that she was merely debunking the view that Albanians are not indigenous people in the Balkans.

But what made her tweet controversial is that the phrase is associated with Albanian nationalists, who would like to unify the various Albanian enclaves in the other, neighbouring countries into a single great Albania. It’s particularly associated with the claim that Kosovan Albanians are indigenous to the area. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008, but has not been recognised by Serbia and its allies, including Russia. She posted her tweet a few days after someone posted a petition requesting Apple to put Kosovo on its map. This was supported by Rita Ora, who said “Would love to see Apple spreading awareness by putting Kosovo on the map! Albania and Kosovo are full of so much beautiful and great talent!’Lipa’s parents are Kosovar Albanians, and she spent part of her childhood there, and Rita Ora also has links to Kosovo.

Lipa denied she was trying to spread hatred, saying

“We all deserve to be proud of our ethnicity and where we are from. I simply want my country to be represented on a map and to be able to speak with pride and joy about may Albanian roots and mother country’.

That sounds reasonable enough, and I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence to suggest that Albanians are anything but indigenous to Europe. The Romans called the country Illyria, and there were also Illyrian tribes living in Italy at the same time. What makes her tweet controversial is that Kosovo has always been claimed as a province of Serbia. It contains the notorious Kosovo Polje, or ‘Field of Blackbirds’, the site of the decisive battle in which the Serbs were defeated in 1455 by the Turks and their country conquered and absorbed into the Turkish empire. Quite when the population became majority Albanian is a good question. I understood that it might have been during the 17th century.

And the Kosovan independence movement is highly questionable. When fighting between the Kosovars and Serbs broke out, Private Eye published a piece claiming that the Kosovars, rather than the ethnic Serbs, were the Fascists. During the war in Bosnia, Serbia was supported by European Nazis and did commit horrendous atrocities. As did the other combatants. However, the Serbs didn’t persecute the Jews. The Kosovar militias did. They’re supposed to have been Islamist supremacists, who massacred Serbs and harvested their organs, a fact not reported in the western press.

The other problem is that there are also significant Albanian minorities in the west of Macedonia and some of the other countries, and they’ve also been restless over the past few decades. There were fears not so long ago that there would be an Albanian uprising in Macedonia, plunging the Balkans into yet another war.

I remember the horrors of the Bosnian War and the atrocities there all too well, not least because Mike, as he says on his best blog, went there and lived with a Muslim family as part of his job. The last thing the region and Europe need is another bloody conflict there.

 

Proof From 2006 of How Out Touch Graun Hacks Were Even Then

July 22, 2020

I found this fine quote from the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye, 20th January – 2 February 2006. It’s an rosily optimistic paragraph in which she raves about how much better everything is now. She said

Let’s get one thing clear. This is the golden age – so far. There has never been a better time to be alive in Britain than today, no generation more blessed, never such opportunity for so many. And things are getting better all the time, horizons widening, education spreading, everyone living longer, healthier, safer lives. Unimaginable luxuries are now standard – mobile phones sending pictures everywhere, accessing the universe on the internet and iPods with all the world’s music in your ear.

This obviously has aged terribly. Toybee was writing during the glow of the Blair administration, and was obviously fatally impressed with how his ‘centrism’ – by which he meant Thatcherism – was going to improve the country. She couldn’t be expected to have predicted the banker’s crash two years later, nor the austerity which has created mass poverty after the return of the Tories. But there were signs that all was not fine and dandy, even then.

At roughly the same time she was spouting this, Blair and Mandelson were introducing tuition fees, which has burdened Britain’s students with mountains of debt they can’t shake off. They were much lower than they are now, £3,000 per year as opposed to the £9,000 or over. But this was harming students and it was harming universities, as courses which relied on expensive technical equipment, like archaeology with its geophysics technology, suddenly found they had to make savings.

Blair also introduced the wretched ‘fitness for work’ tests, taken over at the advice of American health insurance fraudsters Unum, who had also been advising Peter Lilley. It was also under Blair that food banks were introduced. This was limited to illegal immigrants, who were denied welfare benefits due to their status. But under the Tories it has been massively expanded.

Blair was also a busy bee continuing the Tories piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Again, his administration, like that of the Tories, was stuffed with advisors and senior staff from private healthcare companies. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted to reduce the NHS to a kitemark on services provided by the private sector. And in industry generally, privatisation and deregulation was in order, with private sector advisors, including company CEOs given important positions on the regulatory bodies. George Monbiot describes this highly pernicious influence in his book Captive State.

It was also under Blair that the Tories harsh ideology towards benefit claimants generally continued. The process of claiming benefit was to be made so humiliating in order to deliberately deter people from signing on. And it worked. I personally know people, who didn’t sign on despite the fact that they were jobless, because of the degradation they experience in the Jobcentre.

As for the endless opportunities she saw, Adam Curtis provided ample evidence in one of his documentaries – I think it was All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace – that thanks to Blair’s embrace of tick box questionnaires and general social policies, social mobility had actually stopped.

Things weren’t getting better for ordinary people. And ordinary people knew it, that’s why they started leaving the Labour party in droves. The Labour vote actually went down under Blair’s leadership. He still won over the Tories, because people despised them even more. But in terms of popularity, he was much less popular than Corbyn, although the latter’s was destroyed at the last election by the massive press smear campaign. Of which the Guardian was an enthusiastic participant.

But I dare say everything was looking grand for highly paid media types like Toynbee, living in the metropolitan bubble. And her views expressed above show how it is that the Guardian is full of right-wing Thatchers backing Starmer’s purges, all in the name of continuing the Thatcherite project introduced by Blair.

She raves about Blair’s reign as a golden age. But as the writers of the Roman empire knew, the golden age gave way to that iron and rust. Just as it has done in England, due partly to Blair.

Toynbee and the rest of the Guardian were out of touch even then, and their views have become even more divergent from reality. The rag’s in crisis. And as I wrote the other day, I have no sympathy.

History of Global Slavery in Maps

July 10, 2020

James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006).

I’ve blogged several times about the importance of putting western, transatlantic slavery in its global context. Slavery was not something that only White Europeans did to Black Africans. It has plagued humanity across history and the globe. It existed in ancient Greece and Rome, in the Arab and Islamic worlds and even in sub-Saharan Africa itself. And it reappeared in the 20th century in the Nazi concentration and death camps, and the gulags of Stalin’s Soviet Union, as well as the Russian dictators deportation of whole ethnic groups and nations to Siberia.

While concentrating very much on European transatlantic slavery, in which Black slaves were transported to the Caribbean and North and South America, Walvin’s book does place it in this global, historical context. James Walvin is a former history lecturer at the University of York, and was the co-editor of the journal Slavery and Abolition. He has also published a series of books on the subject. Walvin’s Atlas of Slavery presents the history of slavery throughout the world in maps. The blurb for it on the book’s back cover runs

The enslavement of Africans and their transportation across the Atlantic has come to occupy a unique place in the public imagination. Despite the wide-ranging atrocities of the twentieth century (including massive slave systems in Nazi Europe and the Russian Gulag), the Atlantic slave system continues to hold a terrible fascination. But slavery in the Atlantic world involved much more than the transportation of human cargo from one country to another, as Professor Walvin clearly explains in the Atlas of Slavery.

In this fascinating new book he looks at slavery in the Americas in the broadest context, taking account of both earlier and later forms of slavery. The relationship between the critical continents, Europe, Africa and the Americas is examined through a collection of maps and related text, which puts the key features of the history of slavery in their defining geographical setting. By foregrounding the historical geography of slavery, Professor Walvin shows how the people of three widely separated continents were brought together into an economic and human system that was characterized both by violence and cruelty to its victims and huge economic advantage to its owners and managers.

Professor Walvin’s synthesis of the complex history of Atlantic slavery provides a fresh perspective from which to view and understand one of the most significant chapters in global history. We may think of slavery as a largely bygone phenomenon, but it is a practice that continues to this day, and the exploitation of vulnerable human beings remains a pressing contemporary issue.

After an introduction, the book has the following chapters:

  1. Slavery in a global setting.
  2. The ancient world.
  3. Overland African slave routes
  4. 4 European slavery and slave trades
  5. Exploration and the spread of sugar
  6. Europeans, slaves and West Africa
  7. Britain, slavery and the slave trade
  8. Africa
  9. The Atlantic
  10. Crossing the Atlantic
  11. Destinations
  12. Arrivals
  13. Brazil
  14. The Caribbean
  15. North America
  16. Cotton and the USA
  17. Slave resistance
  18. Abolition and emancipation
  19. East Africa and the Indian Ocean
  20. Slavery after abolition.

The book concludes with a chronology, further reading list and index.

This is slavery minutely described. The maps and accompanying texts not only discuss the history of slavery itself, but also the general trading systems of which it was a part, the goods and agricultural products, like cotton, it served to produce, and the regions, towns and cities that produced and traded in them and the routes across which they were transported. There is even a map of the currents of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the background to the horrendous Middle Passage – the shipping route across the ocean used to transport slaves from Africa to the New World.

The book’s an excellent resource for people studying or simply interested in the history of slavery. The book is almost totally devoted to transatlantic slavery, as you’d expect. But not totally so, and as I said, this global historical context is needed if an equally racist, anti-White view of the history of slavery is to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

African History in Maps

July 5, 2020

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grimes and Starkey Get Racist Discussing Slavery and British Imperialism

July 3, 2020

Yesterday the ever-reliable Zelo Street put up a very revealing piece about one of the videos Darren Grimes had put up on the Reasoned YouTube channel. Reasoned is yet another Conservative astroturf organisation set up by the group Media and Activism, the same people who brought you Turning Point UK. That’s the Turning Point UK which is the British subsidiary of the American conservative youth movement, Turning Point. It was officially opened by Dave Rubin and Candace Owens, who immediately showed her lack of historical knowledge by denying that Hitler was a nationalist, even though he said he was and it’s in the Nazis’ name. Worse, she said that she thought that Hitler’s actions would have been all right, if only he had stuck to Germany. Which obviously suggests she thinks the dismantlement of democracy, the imprisonment of political prisoners, and the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled would have been a-OK if it had been confined to Germany. I really don’t believe she meant to say that, but it illustrates how some people, especially on the right, really need to engage their brains and do some reading before their open their mouths.

Grimes should have avoided such massive historical illiteracy with his guest in the video Zelo Street discussed. This was Dr David Starkey, the expert on Queen Elizabeth I and the Tudors, who has himself presented and appeared on many history programmes. Grimes, who really looks like he should be in school studying for his ‘O’ levels rather than pumping out extreme right-wing propaganda for the Tories, had Starkey on to discuss British history. The video’s title was about BLM delegitimating (sic) British history. By which Reasoned presumably meant British imperial history. And the discussion became a car crash.

The pair debated the question of whether slavery was a genocide. This is a claim made by many Black activists, and it ultimately comes from the great American civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois had argued that it was, drawing on the descriptions of the devastation to African communities by the depredations of the slavers. Starkey denied that it was, on the grounds that the Black population had not only survived, but expanded. This is also true, and has been used by many historians and academics as an illustration of how human populations can recover quickly after they’ve been massively reduced.

You could also argue that slavery wasn’t a genocide on the grounds that, like Stalin’s purges and the deportations of whole ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, the point wasn’t to exterminate but to enslave and exploit. Back when I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol uni, I went to a seminar in the History department given by a lad on what officially counts as a genocide. There are a number of conflicting definitions. Atrocities that count as genocide under one are excluded under another. The only mass murder which fits all the definitions is the Holocaust. The speaker’s attitude was that historians and human rights campaigners should step back from trying to make precise definitions because they actually do more to obscure rather than illuminate. Instead there should be a commonsense approach, where people knew it when they saw it without worrying too much about quibbling details.

If this attitude is taken, then yes, slavery does count as genocide because of the destruction and death inflicted on African communities through slave raiding, and the very high death rate among the enslaved as they were taken across the Atlantic – 25 per cent of slaves died during the journey – and then put to work. Time Team a while ago conducted an excavation of a plantation, including the slave village, on one of the Caribbean islands. In the programme, Tony Robinson announced that the average life expectancy on the plantations was three years. This was regardless whether someone was one of the slaves or not. Life expectancy presumably improved, as it became the custom for the slaveowners to ‘season’ their slaves, letting them rest and recuperate for a year before setting them to work. But there was a debate over how hard slaves should be worked. Some planters recommending working them literally to death to get as much out of them as possible, and then simply buying more replacements. And the birthrate among slaves is always low. This has been true throughout history, from the Romans to the Caribbean and Americas. It’s why the British government started to try to ameliorate slave conditions of slaves owned by the crown in 1816, twenty years before slavery was officially abolished.

But it wasn’t so much Starkey’s denial that slavery was a genocide that was the problem, but the way he denied it. Starkey declared “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived”. The emphasis was Zelo Street’s, who said that here Starkey sounded like an apologist for apartheid South Africa c. 1980 but without the accent. He also said that “The honest teaching of the British Empire is to say quite simply that it is the first key stage of world globalisation. It’s probably the most important moment in human history, and it’s still with us,” adding, “Its consequences are still on … and in most ways, actually fruitful”. The Street comments “Not sure what the reaction to that would be in many of those countries that were given the benefit of this less than benign phenomenon, along with the brutal militarisation, enforced famines, and free trade that was only free if it suited the colonial power.” This is also true. The campaign for the independence of the Caribbean countries began in the 1930s with nationalists upset at the way their trade was hampered through its ties to Britain. They wished to develop their economies and sell goods to other nations, like America. And there were artificial famines across the empire produced and exacerbated by a rigid adherence to free trade. Starving populations were refused free or artificially subsidized, cheap grain because this would violate the principles of free trade. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts. And present-day globalisation is still creating misery for the world’s working people from the developing world to the west.

Starkey’s overall conclusion is wrong, but it has to be admitted that the British Empire also did some good. The expansion into Africa in the late 19th century was partly motivated from a desire to crush slavery and the slave trade, although this also led to establishment of systems of forced labour inflicted on the indigenous peoples on behalf of the European colonists. But what was offensive was obviously not so much what he said, but how he said it: ‘so many damn Blacks in Africa or in Britain’.

It’s at this point that you also wonder what Grimes and the video’s director and producers thought they were doing. If the video was being recorded rather than broadcast live, they should have stepped in and told Starkey that he couldn’t say that, then gone back and reshot the piece. But they didn’t. Nor did Grimes look uncomfortable as Starkey said it. Others would have pulled a face or shown some disapproval, but apparently Grimes cheerfully nods along. This resulted in one of the peeps on Twitter putting up a clip of him nodding in agreement to one of Adolf’s rants.

Zelo Street concludes that this should effectively terminate Grime’s and Starkey’s careers. He states

‘From here there should be no way back for either Starkey or Grimes, although Brendan O’Neill will no doubt be along soon to excuse the whole affair, blaming any criticism on “leftists”, “wokeism”, or some other excuse that allows him to pretend to understand George Orwell. Darren Grimes is fronting a racist endeavour.

Will broadcasters now think better of inviting Dazza on? Don’t hold your breath.’

It should, but it won’t. Not unless far more people see and comment on it so that any appearance by either of them is immediately greeted with strong objections and complaints. As it stands, however, I think Starkey is far too established as a TV personality and popular historian to suffer much from this, while it seems that no matter how noxious Grimes and the rest of the Paul Staines massive can be, they still seem to be feted as legitimate journalists.

Once upon a time Starkey bridled if someone accused him of racism. Now on this video, he seems to have shown that he is. And Grimes and his backers are too. And worse, they’re unashamed. If this isn’t checked, the racism will only get more overt and worse.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/darren-grimes-fronts-racist-endeavour.html

Afua Hirsh Is Wrong: Racists Are of All Colours and Have Told Whites to Leave

June 12, 2020

As I’ve mentioned before, a few days ago Tory hack Nick Ferrari showed how racist he was in a spat with Afua Hirsh on Sky News’ The Pledge. They’d been talking about the anti-racist iconoclasm which began with the pulling down of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. Hirsh had made a point about the need to reevaluate British history. Ferrari then asked the inevitable question ‘If you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?’ Hirsh was naturally angry, and told him that it was a racist question that was only ever asked of Blacks. No-one, she said, had ever asked it of a White person.

I’ve very little sympathy with Ferrari. He’s a right-wing loudmouth whose been spouting Thatcherite bilge for years. He was a regular guest on Alan Titchmarsh’s afternoon chat show all those years ago, which is one of the reasons I stopped watching it. The other was the Tory bias of Titchmarsh himself. Other celebrity gardeners and programmes on gardening are available, like Monty Don, Gaye Search and Carol Klein on Gardener’s World on Fridays. Ferrari did a phone interview with Mike on his programme on LBC a couple of years ago about Mike’s suspension from the Labour party and the allegations in the press of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Mike is very definitely neither, and was very well able to show that he wasn’t. I think this may have disappointed Ferrari, who may well have decided to do the interview into the hopes that he could catch this leftie out and show that Mike was one of those goose-stepping with Adolf. If that was the case, he was sorely disappointed.

And the taunt ‘Go back to your own country!’ is one that has been used again and again to Black and Asian Britons, many of whom have been in this country for generations at least. The Vikings imported ‘Blamenn’ – Black men into Cumbria c. the 10th century. There were Black troopers amongst the Roman legionaries stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, and Blacks are known to have been resident in London in the 12th century. The insult hurts and has left many Blacks psychologically wounded.

For some people, though, the question’s a fair one. A few years ago one of the islamophobic channels on YouTube showed a Beeb interview with a British-Eritrean playwright and activist, Aiwati. I apologise if I’ve got that wrong, as the clip didn’t show how it was spelt. Aiwati stated very clearly that he only celebrated and promoted Eritrean culture and identity. He hated Britain, and said that it actually hurt him to be called British. And so the producer asked him why he didn’t leave. He replied with something about having a family and a life here, and there not being the same opportunities in Eritrea. He also blamed Britain for the state of that country. When the interviewer politely said that it was independent and Britain had done much for the country, he simply said that it all could have been better. Which is no doubt true – other Black activists have made the same argument for their nations. But the fact remains that Aiwati’s hatred of Britain is in conflict with his desire to remain here.

Hirsh is also wrong in that Whites have been told to leave by racists. Recent migrants from eastern Europe have also been told to go back to their own countries. This has mostly common from the gammonati, who all voted for Brexit and hail Johnson and Rees-Mogg as true British heroes. But not all. Several years ago I was told by a London friend that there was a report in one of the papers there about a group of youths, who were convicted of racially abusing a White eastern European lad on a bus. The gang included Blacks as well as Whites. And White Brits have also been assaulted and abused with the same taunt. I can’t remember where I saw it, but one of the right-wing blogs or YouTube channels had a photograph of graffiti on a wall in one of the northern or midland towns. It read ‘Whites go home’. And round about the turn of the century Whites exceeded Blacks and Asians as the victims of racist assaults. Reading the articles about it now, it seems that Blacks and Asians considered together still constituted the majority of victims, but Whites were the single largest group. There was also a racist assault on a White man in Bristol, which was reported on Points West. SARI, the organisation that helps the victims of racism, responded by stating that they were open to everyone. Many of the posts on the real islamophobic blogs – I’m not going to mention them – are stories about Muslims being bad neighbours. I remember reading one about a man, who was forced to leave his home because of deliberate noise and nuisance from someone who wanted his house for an elderly relative.

Back here in Bristol, I also overheard  a snippet from a conversation between a young couple on the bus a few years ago. The young man was Black, and the woman White, and were talking about someone they knew in one of inner city districts. The lad said ‘He’s the only White boy in _, and the shit he gets. I don’t know why he doesn’t move.’

There is also racist friction and violence between ethnic minorities. Boy George mentioned this years ago in an interview with everyone’s favourite computer-generated video jockey, Max Headroom. For which Headroom called him ‘brave’. But it’s true. There were riots in Birmingham, I believe, a few years ago between Blacks and Asians. And I’ve heard it from people, who worked in one of Bristol’s inner city school that there were more and worse gang fights between two groups of Asians than between Blacks and Whites.

Racism is not simply about Whites using their power against Blacks. But very often it is simplified as such for political reasons. I’ve known Black activist groups decry the reportage of Black violence as ‘racist’. I’ve no doubt this comes from the way such reports have been used by the racist Tory press to work up hatred and hostility against them. A year or so ago an Asian activist tried to raise the issue of violence and racism between ethnic minorities with Diane Abbott. She refused to take up the issue, arguing that it would be exploited by the White establishment to continue discrimination against all ethnic minorities. She has a point. I don’t doubt that’s how it would be used. But it also means she’s dodged an uncomfortable issue.

Racism in Britain really is more complex than simply Whites hating and keeping Blacks and Asians down. But that is really the impression gained, and it means that the other forms of racism aren’t discussed and tackled.

But if we want to make Britain and genuinely anti-racist society, that is precisely what must happen.