Archive for the ‘Rome’ Category

Boris Johnson – A Racist Candidate for a Racist Party

June 21, 2019

A few days ago, Ian Blackford, an SNP MP caused an uproar in parliament by having the temerity to call Johnson what he is, and say what a very large number of the British public are thinking and saying: that Johnson is a racist. He cited a poem Johnson had published in the Spectator when he was its editor, about how a giant wall should be built around Scotland and the gates closed to turn it into a giant ghetto, who inhabitants should be exterminated. He mentioned again Johnson’s infamous comments about Black Africans, describing African children as ‘grinning pickanninies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, as well as his infamous Torygraph article attacking the burka. He described those women, who chose to wear it as looking like letterboxes or bin bags. This caused a storm of outrage from the Tories, who accused Blackford of unparliamentary conduct and Blackford did get a caution from Bercow as a result. But as Mike showed today on an article in his blog, very many ordinary Brits on Twitter agree with Blackford. Johnson is a racist, and indeed, so is his party. This was also made very clear by a post about Johnson and his noxious racism on Zelo Street. Johnson had been asked about his derogatory comments about Muslims. He responded by saying that he was mistaken, and apologised, but he felt that people wanted someone who talked straight about these issues to be their Prime Minister. This drew massive applause from the Tories. The article pointed out that the article wasn’t mistaken, it was racist, and by applauding him and supporting his leadership bid, the Tories were showing that they supported and shared his racism.

Now there are stresses created by multiculturalism and the problems of adapting to an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse society. One the one hand, there are fears that alienated Muslims and other minorities may create parallel societies away from mainstream institutions and values. On the other, many Whites do feel marginalised by the growth of non-White communities, with the ‘White flight’ from the multiracial urban centres to the suburbs or rural communities. A few months ago there was a documentary about the last Whites in the East End of London, which discussed how the number of Whites in this part of the capital was declining as they moved away and the older generation died off. Several of the people interviewed on the programme were Black and Asian, who lamented how the White members of their shared community were dwindling. One Muslim gent lamented that his son or children would not see any more White people in this area.

But the Tories don’t try to solve these problems constructively. They don’t try to bring people of different colours, ethnicities and religions together. They just try to exploit White, and particularly White English racism and resentment for their electoral advantage. 

The animus towards Scotland is a case in point. The poem’s recommendation that the Scots people should all be imprisoned behind a gigantic wall actually seems to me to be highly unoriginal. Apart from the fact that the emperor Hadrian did it with his wall, it was done again more recently in the horror flick World War Z. In this Hollywood blockbuster, the world is suffering from a zombie apocalypse. The whole of Scotland, or as near as makes no difference, gets infected, and so they’re sealed off from the rest of Britain behind a wall and an enormous part of gates. I did wonder what the great Scots philosopher and political scientist, Rab C. Nesbit, would have said about it all. Probably ‘What in the name of God! Govan’s no that bad!’

I don’t think the poem was by any means isolated. From what I can remember, it was probably part of a campaign against Scotland, the SNP and New Labour, and with the latter, specifically Gordon Brown. I can remember the Heil publishing a series of articles in which he more than suggested that Scotland was now far more privileged than England. Devolution meant that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish now had their parliaments and assemblies, but the English didn’t. And while the English couldn’t vote on Scots issues, thanks to devolution, the Scots were voting on English matters. Moreover, New Labour’s leadership was dominated by Scots – Tony Blair, Derry Irvine and Gordon Brown. The attacks on the Scots were a very cynical ploy by the Tories to overturn Labour’s majority. Labour held the majority of British constituencies, but this depended on their seats in Scotland. If those were removed, then the Tories would hold the majority of seats in England. I’ve heard that during New Labour’s term in office, the Tories were on the verge of breaking up and that there were suggestions that the party should be dissolved and rebranded instead as the ‘English Nationalists’. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do remember reading articles in the Heil about the fate of the Tory party if Britain and Scotland went their separate ways. This seems to be the background to that nasty little piece of anti-Scots bigotry in the Speccie.

And the Spectator tried the same with Blacks.

They had to be more careful about this, as they couldn’t get away with it to the same extent as their sneers about the Scots. The Scots are largely White Europeans, rather than a race, nor a persecuted minority in the same way as Blacks and other people of colour have been, and so it’s permissible to make jokes about them or abuse them in ways that would be viewed as racist if done to other groups. But the Spectator tried the same tactics. Way back c. 2004 it ran an article, ‘Blackened Whites’, argued that Whites were unfairly accused for racism. This started out by saying that despite all the rhetoric of multiculturalism and pluralism, there was one group that wasn’t welcome in the streets of central London: White men. London certainly is a very ethnically diverse city, and the last time I looked at the stats over a third of its population were Black or Asian. But that doesn’t mean that Whites aren’t welcome in central London, or other areas where there’s a large Black or Asian population. It looks to me that the article was attempting to play up the resentment some White men feel about affirmative action programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and women. And in this the Tories were – and still are – copying the Republicans, who were deliberately targeting ‘angry White men’.

And this is apart from the Speccie’s contributor, Taki, the Greek playboy, who regularly made racist and anti-Semitic comments in his column. Most recently he caused offence once again when he published a piece praising the Greek Golden Dawn, a bunch of Nazis, who beat up immigrants and left-wingers. One of their leaders was charged with the murder of a left-wing activist.

There is also the deeply ingrained racism of the Tory papers the Scum, Depress and Heil. Or the scandal of institutional Islamophobia in the Tory ranks, as well as the long tradition of racism within the Tory party. Some of us can still remember the scandal caused by the Union of Conservative Students and their racist antics, including the demand that the Tory party should adopt racial nationalism – the ideology of the Nazi fringe, like the National Front and BNP – as their official policy in the 1980s. Zelo Street has also published a series of articles about the findings of one individual on Twitter or Facebook, who revealed the viciously racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts by supporters of Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogge on social media.

Despite David Cameron’s efforts to modernise the party and clean up its image, the Tories are still very much a racist party, and so its no surprise that a sizable number of them are supporting Boris Johnson’s bid to lead it.

As for how we should deal with them, I remember the episode of Rab C. Nesbit in which Burnie, the younger of his two sons, decides he’s a Nazi. This ends with Nesbit grabbing Burnie’s ear to administer a suitable walloping while singing ‘Gettest thou to buggery, thou horrid little shite’. I don’t support cruelty to children, and we can’t do it to Johnson. Unfortunately.

But we can all recognise his racism and that of his vile party, and take our votes and our hopes for a better Britain elsewhere.

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

June 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jodi Magness’ Book on Archaeology of Early Islamic Palestine in Oxbow Book Catalogue

March 31, 2019

I also found Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine (Eisenbrauns 2003), listed in the bargains section of Oxbow Book News for Spring 2019. The blurb for this goes as follows

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest, and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

It’s hardback, and is being offered at £14.95, down from its publication price of £42.95.

Magness is an Israeli archaeologist, and I’ve read some of her books on the archaeology of Israel. This is interesting, as it adds yet more evidence against the Zionist claim that there was no-one living in Palestine before the arrival of the first Jewish colonists in the 19th century. I don’t know how far back they extend this claim, because obviously Palestine was inhabited at the time of the Crusades, otherwise there would have been no fighting in the Holy Land when the Crusaders conquered from the Muslims. In his book, Ten Myths About Israel, Ilan Pappe thoroughly demolishes the myth that Palestine was uninhabited, and cites works by a string of other Israeli historians against the assertion that it wasn’t, made by the Israeli state.

I’m also not surprised that it flourished after the Islamic conquest. Before the Muslims conquered the region, they were held by the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern Roman empire. This was declining like the western Roman empire, although unlike the west it struggled on until the fall of Constantinople itself in 1450. During the late Roman and Byzantine period, I understand that the empire’s population and towns shrank, with the exception of Constantinople itself. There was also severe persecution as the Greek Orthodox and associated Melkite churches attempted to suppress the Syriac and Coptic churches, who were viewed as heretics. The result of this was that the persecuted Christians of these churches aided and welcomed the Muslim conquerors as liberators. Their incorporation into the emerging Islamic empire made them part of a political and economic region stretching from Iran and parts of India in the East to Spain in the West. This would have stimulated the provinces economically, as would a century of peaceful, or comparatively peaceful rule following the Muslim conquest.

Hitler Against Politicians and Nazis Functionaries on Management Boards

December 15, 2018

Hitler’s Table Talk (Oxford: OUP 1988) is also interesting for what it reveals about the Fuhrer’s attitude towards politicians sitting on the boards of private companies. He was against it, because he believed that it merely allowed the companies to enrich themselves corruptly through getting their pet politicos to give them government subsidies. Hitler said

No servant of the state must be a shareholder. No Gauleiter, no Member of the Reichstag and, in general, no Party leader must be a member of any board of directors, regardless of whether the appointment is honorary or paid; for even if the individual were actuated solely by the interests of the State and even if he possessed the integrity of Cato himself, the public would lose faith in him. In capitalist states it is essential for a great enterprise to have in its employ men of influence – hence the large numbers of members of Parliament and high official who figure on boards of directors. The amounts disbursed to these personages in directors’ fees, share of profits and so on is more than recouped by one or two fat government contracts which they are in a position to secure for their company.

The Danube Shipping Company, for example, paid out eighty thousand Kronen a year to each of the dozen Members of Parliament, who sat on its board of directors. But it recouped itself many times over for this expenditure through the influence these men were able to exercise in its favour. All the competition was eliminated and a virtual monopoly was gained – all to the detriment of the state, or, in other words, of the community. It must therefore be accepted as an absolute principle that no Member of the Reichstag, no civil servant and no party leader must be in any way connected with business of this nature. (pp. 594-5).

When an official retires from state service, he should not be allowed to enter a line of business with which he previously had official dealings. For one may be quite sure that any firm would be gladly employ him – not on account of the services he could render, but for the connections which he undoubtedly would have. If this were not so, then directors would not earn fees amounting to thirty-six marks a year-and more. Further, it is a scandal that men of this kind should usurp the positions to which others have a prior claim, namely, those who have passed their whole lives in the service of an enterprise and have risen, step by step, to the top. This one characteristic is alone sufficient to demonstrate their immorality of the whole system. (pp. 595-6)

Hitler had discussed the case of the Danube Shipping Company and it corrupt connections to the German parliament on a previous occasion. He said

The problem of monopolies handed over to capitalist interests interested me even in my boyhood. I’d been struck by the example of the Danube Shipping Company, which received an annual subsidy of four millions, a quarter of which was once shared out amongst its twelve directors. Each of the big parties was represented in this august college by at least two of its members, each of them pocketing about eighty million kronen yearly! One may feel sure that these mandarins saw to it that the comrades voted punctually for the renewal of the subsidy! But the Socialists were acquiring more and more importance, and it happened that none of their lot was on the board. That’s why the scandal broke. The Company was attacked in the Parliament and in the press. Threatened with being deprived of the subsidy, it replied by abolishing the passenger-service. And since the politicians on the board had already taken care that no railway should be built along the Danube, the riverside populations were the chief victims of these arbitrary measures. A solution of the conflict was found quite rapidly-and you can imagine which! Quite simply, the number of members of the board was increased to fourteen, and the two new seats were offered to two well-know Socialists-who hastened to accept them.

What makes England so fragile is that her whole economic system is founded on similar principles.

From the moment of our seizure of power, having my own set ideas on the subject, I took the precaution of forbidding every director of a company to be a member of the Reichstag. Since men who have interests in a private company cannot be objective on a great number of questions, I likewise forbade office-holders in the Party to take part in business of a capitalist complexion. The same prohibition applies, by the way, to all servants of the state. I therefore cannot allow an official, whether he belongs to the Army or to the civil administration, to invest his savings in industry, except in companies controlled by the state. (pp. 366-7).

Hitler was a murderous tyrant, and he and his foul regime were responsible for the deaths of 11 1/2 million innocents in the concentration camps – 6 million Jews and 5 1/2 million assorted gentiles. He was responsible for a War that killed 40 million or so. And if he had won the War, he would not only have exterminated the Jews, the Gypsies and the disabled, but also the Slav peoples of eastern Europe, the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians.

But in the instance, Hitler is absolutely right, however offensive it is to say it. The corporate system, which has emerged in America and Britain is a menace to politics and society. In America, private companies heavily donate to the main political parties and the campaigns of individual politicians. It’s why Congress is now notorious for not doing what ordinary electors want, but passing legislation that only benefits big business. This has resulted in massive disaffection amongst the American public, only 19 per cent of whom has said in polls they trust the government to work for them. And because Congress no longer expresses the wishes of the people, but the capitalist oligarchy, a study by Harvard University a few years ago concluded that America was no longer a functioning democracy.

And Britain is very much suffering from the same situation. A recent study showed that most politicians in parliament were held directorships in at least one company, and so a significant proportion of them – well over half – were millionaires. During New Labour’s period in office, very many company directors and senior managers were put in position of government, frequently on those bodies that were supposed to be regulating their industries. And this followed the pattern set by John Major’s Tory government, which became mired in a scandal over this sleaze. George Monbiot, who is very definitely not a Nazi, described the situation under New Labour in his book, Captive State. As did Rory Bremner and the Johns Bird and Fortune in their book, You Are Here. Private Eye has also continually reported the close connections between politicians, civil servants and private companies, and the revolving doors between government and industry, particularly regarding defence. And again, this bears out what Hitler said:

What makes England so fragile is that her whole economic system is founded on similar principles.

And you know that when a mass-murderer like Hitler is right, something is very, very seriously wrong. This has got to change, and private enterprise has to be forced out of politics.

Outcry over Firms Microchipping Workers

November 12, 2018

I found this very ominous story in today’s I, for the 12th November 2018. It seems some firms are inserting microchips into their employees, and employers’ groups and trade unions have rightly come together to condemn it. The article reads

Both the employers and trade unions representative bodies have expressed alarm at reports that UK firms are considering implanting staff with microchips for security. UK firm BioTeq says it has already fitted 150 implants while Swedish firm Biohax has claimed it is in discussions with several UK firms. (p.2).

This is deeply sinister stuff, straight out of the X-Files. Never mind the bonkers conspiracy theories about aliens inserting implants into our bodies to control us, ordinary human capitalism is beginning to do that. From the article it seems that the chips are simply there to make sure employees are who they say they are, but this is nevertheless a real totalitarian move. As it stands, employees in some companies are very closely monitored. Private Eye printed a story a few months ago about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, wished to have motion sensors attached to their hacks desks to make sure they weren’t moving around too much. They had to abandoned this intrusive and hare-brained scheme because it was resented so much by the hacks. Nevertheless, if this goes ahead uncontested, I can see more firms adopting the practice, right up to the government. After all, what better way to cut down on crime, identity theft and illegal immigration than have everyone implanted with a microchip containing all their biographical and biometric details. Blair’s government was, after all, considering passing legislation to establish compulsory electronic identity cards carrying biometric information. And I’ve no doubt other, deeply authoritarian regimes around the world would be all too enthusiastic about adopting the policy.

It also reminds me of the one part of the millennialist beliefs held by Fundamentalist Christians about the End Times and the one world global superstate they’re afraid of. In this myth, which has been around since the 1970s, once the global Satanic dictatorship is established with the Antichrist as its head, it will order barcodes to be marked on everyone’s hands and forehead. Those who don’t have the barcodes will be unable to buy or sell. It’s how they believed the prophecy in the Book of Revelation in the Bible that the Antichrist would have everyone marked with the number 666 on their hands and foreheads would come true in the modern world.

I really don’t believe in the religious right’s millennialist fears. One interpretation of the Book of Revelation is that it’s a coded description of the persecution the early church was experiencing under the Roman Emperor Nero. Both the Romans and Jews used various number codes, in which letters of the alphabet had certain numerical values. These could be used in ordinary secular ways, as well as in number mysticism, in which people tried to discern a deeper meaning in religious or mystical texts through adding up the numerical value of particular words. 666 corresponds to ‘Neron’, a form of Nero. He’s also believed to have been the person described in the Book of Revelation as ‘the great beast’, because as a young prince, before he got into power, he and his cronies thought it was jolly japes for him to go round Rome dressed as a beast and attack people. I think this is probably the right way to interpret that part of the Bible, rather than seeing it as a literal prediction of an imminent end of the world.

But even so, when faced with reports that the firms are trying to implant their workers with microchips, and Blair and authoritarian politicians after him would like to make it compulsory for us all to carry biometric electronic identity cards, I do wonder if the Fundamentalists have a point.

Oscar Romero, El Salvador’s Martyr against Fascism

October 27, 2018

I noticed in an article in the I newspaper a couple of weeks ago that the current Pope, Francis, has canonized two saints recently. One of these was Oscar Romero, an archbishop of El Salvador, who was martyred in 1980s by gunmen for the Fascist government. The entry for him in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, (Oxford: OUP 1997) runs

Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917-80), Christian archbishop of El Salvador, assassinated in 1980. He studied theology in Rome, 1937-43, became a parish priest and bishop of Santiago de Maria in 1974. Thought to be a conservative bishop (not least because of his support of Opus Dei), he was appointed archbishop in Feb. 1977, in the expectation that he would not disturb the political status quo. Three weeks later, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, together with two others was gunned down in his jeep. The even was, for Romero, a conversion. He began a ministry of outspoken commitment to those who had no voice of their own. Paul VI gave him encouragement, but the accession of John Paul II, with its cult of the pope and movement away from the vision of Vatican II, led to an increasing campaign against Romero in Rome. The details of this are disputed. It appears that John Paul asked him not to deal with specifics but to talk only of general principles; Romero tried to explain that specific murders in El Salvador were not adequately dealt with by stating general principles. The Vatican response was to appoint an apostolic administrator to oversee his work, but Romero was killed before this could be put into effect. He returned from his last visit to Rome to the slogan painted on walls, ‘Be a patriot, kill a priest.’ He was killed as he said mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital where he lived. (p. 823).

Pope Francis has supported a range of broadly left-wing initiatives, like refusing to condemn Gays and making the Church more supportive of the global poor. Mike and I went to an Anglican church school, and we were told about the martyrdom of Romero as part of the way totalitarian regimes, Fascist and Communist, were persecuting Christians. The Fascist regimes in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala were given considerable support by Reagan’s government, including his statement that the Contras in Nicaragua were ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And elements of the Tory party under Thatcher were very friendly towards the Central and South American dictators. The Libertarians of the Freedom Association had one of the leaders of one of El Salvadorean dictator Rios Montt’s death squads come over as their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners. This was when Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, was a member.

These Fascist regimes have been supported by Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and promoted to their peoples as protecting and supporting Christianity and religion generally against godless Communism. The Communist bloc has indeed ferociously persecuted Christians and other peoples of faith, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Taoists. But as the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero shows, and those of many other Christian clergy, monks, nuns and laypeople by the Fascist regimes in Latin America show, these regimes don’t automatically respect religious beliefs. They tolerate religion only in so far as it agrees with their political ideas. The moment people of faith speak out against poverty, injustice and oppression, they will kill them as readily as they will murder, maim and torture anyone else.

Pope Francis’ canonization of Romero is a great, praiseworthy act, which I hope will be applauded by all Christians concerned with preserving human rights, freedom, and dignity from persecution and oppression.

A Few Sharp Quotes about Thatcher and the Tories

October 21, 2018

I also found a couple of sharp quotations about the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the same issue of Focus, which had a comment from Martial. Martial said that man loved malice, but only against the fortunate and proud, not the unfortunate. It’s completely the opposite case with the Tories, who are only too full of malice towards the unfortunate. Here are the quotes printed in the magazines against Maggie.

She sounded like the Book of Revelations read out over a railway public address system by a headmistress of a certain age wearing calico knickers.

Clive James.

She only went to Venice because someone told her she could walk down the middle of the street.

Neil Kinnock.

A semi-house trained polecat

Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit.

And on Ronald Reagan:

A masterpiece of the embalmer’s art.

Gore Vidal.

And there are many others about the Tories. I think it might have been Roy Hattersley, who said that there wasn’t a British tradition Thatcher hadn’t struck with her handbag, and described her as a ‘bargain-basement Boadicea. And it was also him, or someone else from the Labour party who described being attacked in parliament by Douglas Hurd as like being savaged by a dead sheep.

And a friend of mine, who used to be a member of the Tory party, was fond of the quote, ‘The Tory party is an organized hypocrisy’.

Out of Hospital for Myeloma Treatment

July 7, 2018

Way back on the 18th of last month I posted that I was going into hospital for 2 1/2 weeks for the intensive dose therapy for myeloma. Myeloma is a type of blood cancer, which causes anaemia, loss of calcium, and attacks the bones and kidneys. Since about a decade ago it’s been treated with a number of drugs, which avoid the side-effect of traditional chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with the disease last September.

However, after that phase of the course of treatment has finished, they then call you in for a more intense course of treatment to drive the disease further back into remission. Your own stem cells are removed, ready to be returned to you to jump start your own immune system. You are also called into hospital and put in isolation. In Bristol’s BRI you are given your own room. You have a piccline inserted running from your bicep to almost to your heart, through which they administer the drugs. They then give you a dose of malophan, the drug that they originally used to treat the disease.  The next day, they also give you back your own stem cells, and a few days later they also give you back the platelets they removed.

Throughout the whole period you are carefully monitored, given drugs, both in pill form and in infusions to deal with the effects of the cancer treatment. The doctors see you every day to see how you’re coping. If you have problems eating, you may also a nutritionist, while a physiotherapist will also visit to advise you on gentle exercises if you are weak.

I shudder to think how much all this would cost under the private insurance system in America, which the Tories  and New Labour so much admire, even while they’re prating about how much they ‘treasure’ the NHS.

They released me yesterday, and it’s good to be home. The treatment has, however, left me as weak as the proverbial kitten, with a sore mouth, and diarrhoea. I’ve been prescribed and given mouthwashes and drugs for some of these effects. The booklets for the treatment state that it may be 2/3 months, or even 5-6 months, before you make a complete recovery. So don’t expect very much energetic blogging!

I cannot fault the treatment given by the medical and the ancillary staff. They were professional, friendly, courteous and reassuring. I found the treatment very difficult, but they were at pains to say, ‘This is not the ‘new you’. You will recover.’ And it can be very interesting talking to the ancillary staff, some of whom were non-White immigrants, and hearing their stories and perspectives. The NHS certainly has benefit from the skills and dedication brought to it by its medical professionals and ancillary staff from across the world, whether Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, or eastern Europe. And the health service is suffering because many of these are being forced to return home, or look elsewhere for work, because of Tweezer and Brexit.

I’m afraid I haven’t been blogging very much while in hospital, despite my best intentions. Their wifi system simply wouldn’t let me. The hospital wifi system was insecure, so that anyone geographically near me could see my passwords if I went to a site that require them. So the system simply refused to let me on after I posted up those couple of pieces to the blog about George Galloway winning his libel battle against the Torygraph, and New Labour’s desperate policy to stop NHS hospitals owning and operating their own MRI scanners, as opposed to leasing them from private firms. So I spent my time in bed trying to read an SF novel by the awesome Paul McAuley, and re-reading a few old copies of Private Eye and Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket. This last is a collection of James’ old TV reviews from the 1970s from the Observer. James started out as a radical socialist, and then move right, eventually ending up in the Torygraph. An intellectual, with a tendency to show off, he nevertheless took trash culture very seriously, at a time when many intellectuals did dismiss television. One of the jokes about it used to be ‘Why is television a medium? Because it’s neither rare nor well done’. Which is true of a lot, but not all. And James stated that heartfelt trash culture was worth far more than bad high art, like Michael Tippet’s A Child Of Our Time. The ’70s were also the  decade of the Vietnam War and the horrors of the CIA coup in Chile, George Kissinger’s support of genocidal, murderous dictators across the world as part of the campaign against Communism, Watergate, and TV dramas about the Holocaust, all of which he reviewed, along with Star Trek, Dr. Who, Miss World, the World Disco-Dancing Championships, the footie and the athletics. Quite apart from more highbrow productions of Shakespeare, intense dramas, and the horrors of the classic BBC series, I, Claudius, set under the deprave reign of Caligula.

He also reviewed an interview with the old Fascist, Oswald Mosley. Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, and a series of successive Fascist movements after the Second World War. He was very definitely persona non grata for many years, until he partly rehabilitated himself with the publication of his autobiography, My Life.  He then got a job doing book reviews for the Telegraph. Mosley was a fan of Mussolini and then Adolf Hitler. When Mussolini was overshadowed by Hitler as the great Fascist dictator, Mosley changed the name of the BUF to the ‘British Union of Fascists and National Socialists’. He corresponded very amicably with the Nazis, although claimed during the War that in the event of an invasion of Britain he would not serve as this country’s Quisling, the traitor leader of Norway. And in the interview the old thug constantly denied being an anti-Semite, claiming that the attacks and violence were instead all the fault of the Jews. All the while making it clear that he still identified them with the ‘money power’, which was secretly ruling from behind the scenes. James said of him that he didn’t so much proclaim anti-Semitism as embody it. There’s much to blog about in James’ TV criticism from this period. I especially want to do a piece about this interview with Mosley to show the difference between real anti-Semites, and those decent people, who have been smeared as such by the Israel lobby, New Labour and the Tory press. People like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, mike, my brother, Tony Greenstein and so many, many others. Absolutely none of whom are in any way, shape or form anything like the real Nazis and anti-Semites, like Mosley or the characters now crawling out into public view from the Alt-Right and Libertarians.

I spent part of yesterday evening trying to answer the various comments that had built up on this blog over the past few weeks. I really appreciate all the messages of support and encouragements to get well and get blogging soon! It was really great and encouraging to read. I feel fortunate that I have people like you all following my blog.

I’m still quite ill at the moment, but I hope to pick up and carry on blogging as far as I can. And I hope you all are enjoying good health, and haven’t suffered too much from the heat these past weeks. With luck, it shouldn’t be too long before it’s business as usual. I hope.

 

 

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

New Series Next Tuesday on African Civilisations

May 23, 2018

Next Tuesday, 29th May 2018, at 10.00 pm there’s a new series beginning on BBC4 entitled Africa’s Great Civilisations. It’s a six part series, with the first part on ‘origins’. The blurb for it on page 77 of the Radio Times reads

Henry Louis Gates jnr. takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. he takes in the city of Great Zimbabwe, the pyramids of Meroe and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia.

The little piece about it on page 75 by Gill Crawford also gives the following description of the show:

Celebrated African-American literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents this wide-ranging, grand-scale six-part history of the African continent, originally shown by the PBS network in the US.

In this first episode, we start in the heart of Ethiopia, where the story of humanity began. And while we now that many African peoples migrated away from the continent to create other societies, others stayed to form great civilisations in Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria, culminating in the Queen of Meroe who stood up to the might of the Roman Empire.

It’s a fest of splendours, and Gates is an eloquent guide.

There have been a number of series on African history over the years. Back in the 1980s the Black African historian, Dr. Ali Mazrui, and the White Afro-centrist historian, Basil Davidson, both presented series on Africa. Eight years ago in 2010 the Black art historian, Gus Casely-Hayford also presented a splendid four-part series on BBC 4, The Lost Kingdoms of Africa, on the continent’s pre-colonial civilisations. I also seem to recall a BBC4 programme, which I thought was presented by Aminatta Forna, but I might be wrong, on the great Islamic civilisation of medieval Timbuktu.

Africa has been the centre of some very advanced civilisations, such as Benin and its superb bronzes, Nubia and the Swahili of what is now Tanganyika. The Swahilis built their cities from coral, and covered them with a limewash made by burning the same material.

Ancient Meroe, however, remains a mystery. It was a literate civilisation, using Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they left inscriptions on their monuments, like their pyramids. However, their language is unrelated to any spoken today, and no parallel texts in known languages, like the Rosetta Stone for ancient Egyptian, have been found. So although we can read their tests, we’ve no idea what they mean. Who knows what wealth of information is in there? It’s all very frustrating. Grrr!