Archive for the ‘Rome’ Category

The Sky at Night on the Vatican Observatory

June 14, 2017

Tomorrow evening, Thursday, 15th June 2017 at 11 O’clock on BBC4 the Beeb’s repeating its Sky at Night special on the Vatican, ‘Inside God’s Observatory’. This was first shown on Sunday at 10.00 pm.

The blurb for it for Sunday in the Radio Times runs

Maggie Aderin-Peacock and Chris Lintott have been granted rare access to the Vatican and its little known observatory, the Specola Vaticana, perched on a hill top 30 km outside Rome. They explore the observatory’s rich history, going inside the Vatican walls to visit the Tower of the Winds – a secret antique sundial that helped revolutionise the calendar – and the remains of a nest of telescopes, atop an old medieval church where the science of spectroscopy was born. (57).

A few years ago, New Scientist interviewed the head of the observatory, Guy Consolamano, an American, who is a monk as well as an astronomer. There have also been other programmes on the observatory on the Beeb over the years. I seem to recall there being one in the 1990s on the radio. I’ve got a feeling the Observatory was set up by one of the popes as an attempt to undo some of the damage to the church’s reputation caused by Galileo’s trial for heresy. It was to show that the church wasn’t against science, and I believe that since then the popes have been very careful not to say anything about the scientific validity of scientific theories.

The Observatory’s also interesting because in the 19th century, its mathematical calculations were performed by nuns, who were referred to as ‘computers’. Which is obviously of interest for the history of women in science.

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.

The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.

The Real Reason for May’s Bizarre Walk?

May 9, 2017

Statue of an actor from ancient Rome. Or an earlier incarnation of Theresa May, who was stuck like it when the wind changed.

This is another ad feminam attack. But, as Barry Norman never said, ‘and why not?’ The Tory press has made enough of them against Jeremy Corbyn.

My father the other day observed that May seemed to walk peculiarly, like a duck with haemorrhoids. I suggested that it might be due to over thirty years of bad Tory policies causing constipation. As it is, her speeches remind me of the works of Grunthos the Flatulent and his epic, 12 book poetry cycle, Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

So for better gastric health, vote her out, and Labour in.

Does May Look like an Actor from Ancient Rome?

May 8, 2017

I know this is ad feminam, but I couldn’t resist it. Not when the Tory press has flung out so many ad hominem attacks at Labour politicos and trade unionists over the years.

In his article on Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May running away from the British public yesterday, Mike has a photo of the Tory leader in full grimace.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/07/how-does-jeremy-hunt-respond-to-the-public-like-theresa-may-he-runs-away/

Looking at her, I was reminded of a picture of a Roman statue of an actor, now in the Petit Palais Museum in Paris.

It all brings to mind what Frankie Howerd would’ve said as Lurcio in Up Pompeii, ‘Titter ye not! Oooooh, she’s off again! Don’t mock! You mustn’t mock! It’s rude to mock the afflicted.’

Howerd was one of the greatest funny men this country has produced, who gave millions joy with his own brand of comedy. May and the Tories are also clowns, but it’s a black farce and the only laughter is what Russian writers call ‘the laughter through tears’.

The ancient Greek word for ‘actor’ is ‘hypocrite’. And that’s what the Tories are: massive hypocrites, pretending to care about ordinary people, ending poverty, protecting the NHS, while doing the exact opposite.

Help end their hypocrisy and cruelty by voting Labour on June 9th.

Weak and Wobby May Gets Hit with the Mugwumps

April 29, 2017

Which can be very painful, and requires careful treatment.

Mike yesterday put up a piece describing the way the ‘strong and stable’ Tories, led by weak and wobbly Theresa May were disintegrating before our very eyes. This features some cool video and sound clips clearly showing May looking and sounding lost. Literally, in one case, where she really doesn’t know where she is.

Boris Johnson had attacked Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’. So when May appeared on his show, Chris Doidge of Radio Derby asked her if she knew what it was. Listen to it. She doesn’t answer him, but immediately answers a completely different question, about how the Tories represent ‘strong and stable leadership’. Thus giving those trying Mike’s Tory election drinking game their first sup of booze of the day.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines the term as

An Algonkin word meaning a chief; in Eliot’s Indian Bible the word “centurion” in Acts is rendered mugwump. It is now applied in the USA to independent members of the Republican party, those who refuse to follow the dictates of a Caucus, and all political Pharisees whose party vote cannot be relief upon. It is also used in the sense of “big shot” or “boss”.

Johnson was probably thinking of this definition to insult Corbyn by reminding him of the way many members of his party had conspired against him. But it’s also something of a Tory own goal, as there’s clearly opposition to her in her own party. Otherwise, why would the Sun have put such bug-eyed headlines as ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ on their front page?

Of course, in the David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of William S. Burrough’s novel, The Naked Lunch, the mugwumps are the weird lizard-like creatures the hero sees, thanks to the hallucinatory effects of the pest poison to which he has become addicted.

A mugwump and friend discuss May’s strong and stable Tory leadership.

Ah, but who knows what rarified pleasures go on behind the closed doors of the Bullingdon Club!

Then there’s the clip of her appealing to people to come to ‘this particular town’. As one of the Tweeters Mike quotes points out, she doesn’t know where she, and isn’t pleased to be there. Another Tweeter also points out that she looks to the right and down, which is a classic ‘tell’ of liars.

Thursday she turned up in Leeds to give a speech at a workplace. Another Tweeter stated that the clip of that, too, is deceptive. She gave her talk after work, to an audience that as exclusively invited. Far from being a great popular speaker, like Corbyn, it’s all very carefully stage-managed.

There’s a comparison to be made there with Stalin and Mussolini. Stalin also wasn’t a great public speaker, contrary to the impression that mad dictators bent on genocide are always great orators. He used to give his speeches at the annual May Day parades via gramophone records, with a very carefully vetted audience as far away from him as possible.

As for il Duce, the old thug was surrounded wherever he went with members of his secret police in plain clothes. Thus he was always guaranteed an appreciative audience to the exclusion of any real members of the public, who may have wanted to see him. At one public gathering, he asked all the plain clothes thugs to take a step back so that he could see the genuine public. Well, they did, and he didn’t: the crowd was entirely made up of secret policemen, like one of the jokes from G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

And Nero also surrounded himself with a sycophantic claque of followers, whenever he fancied himself as the great lyric poet at the theatre. He’s infamous for fiddling while Rome burns. Which is a fair analogy for May’s performance in Britain under Tory leadership. She’s also warbling on to a hand-picked claque, posturing as the great orator, while the country collapses in poverty thanks to her party’s massive economic mismanagement and determination to grind working people down through welfare cuts, wage freezes and the privatisation of the NHS.

The Case for Prosecuting Blair as War Criminal for Iraq Invasion

April 8, 2017

War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005: The Case against Blair, by Nicholas Wood, edited by Anabella Pellens (London: South Hill Press 2005).

This is another book I’ve picked up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. It’s an angry and impassioned book, whose author is deeply outraged by Blair’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the consequent carnage and looting and the massive human rights abuses committed by us and the Americans. William Blum in one of his books states that following the Iraq War there was an attempt by Greek, British and Canadian human rights lawyers to have Bush, Blair and other senior politicians and official brought to the international war crimes court in the Hague for prosecution for their crimes against humanity. This books presents a convincing case for such a prosecution, citing the relevant human rights and war crimes legislation, and presenting a history of Iraq and its despoliation by us, the British, from Henry Layard seizing the archaeological remains at Nineveh in 1845 to the Iraq War and the brutalisation of its citizens.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

After conversations with Rob Murthwaite, human rights law lecturer, the author presents a claim for investigation by The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB The Hague, The Netherlands, that there have been breaches of the ICC Statute by members of the UK Government and Military in the run up to and conduct of the war with Iraq. That there is also prima facie evidence that the Hague and Geneva conventions, the Nuremberg and the United Nations Charters have been breached, and that this evidence may allow members of the UK and US Governments, without state immunity or statute of limitations, to be extradited to account for themselves. The use of hoods, cable ties, torture, mercenaries, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, aggressive patrols and dogs, is examined. Questions are raised over the religious nature of the war, the seizure of the oil fields, Britain’s continuous use of the RAF to bomb Iraq in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1990s archaeologists acting as spies, the destruction of Fallujah, the burning and looting of libraries, museums and historic monuments; and the contempt shown towards Iraqis living, dead and injured.

In his preface Wood states that the conversation he had with Rob Murthwaite out of which the book grew, was when they were composing a letter for the Stop the War Coalition, which they were going to send to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Wood himself is an archaeologist, and states that he is particularly shocked at the imposition of American culture in Saudi Arabia. The book’s editor, Anabella Pellens, is Argentinian and so ‘knows what imprisonment and disappearance mean’.

In his introduction Wood argues that there were four reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first was to introduce democracy to the country. Here he points out that to Americans, democracy also means free markets and privatisation for American commercial interests. The second was to seized its oil supplies and break OPEC’s power. The third was Israel. The United States and Israel for several years before the War had been considering various projects for a water pipeline from the Euphrates to Israel. The Israelis also favoured setting up a Kurdish state, which would be friendly to them. They were also concerned about Hussein supplying money to the Palestinians and the Scuds launched against Israel during the 1992 Gulf War. And then there are the plans of the extreme Zionists, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere, to expand Israel eastwards into Iraq itself. The fourth motive is the establishment of American military power. Here Wood argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was not enough simply to invade Afghanistan: another country had to be invaded and destroyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American military machine.

Chapter 1 is a brief history of Iraq and its oil, with a commentary on the tragedy of the country, discussing the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion in the context of British imperialism, with another section on British imperialism and Kuwait.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the laws and customs of war, which also includes the relevant clauses from the regulations it cites. This includes

Habeas Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215

The establishment of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross

The Hague Convention of 1907: Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This includes a summary of the main clauses, and states the contents of the regulations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945
This sections shows how the judgements are relevant to the British invasion and occupation of Iraq. It also gives a summary of the judgments passed at the Nuremberg trials, beginning with the indictment, and the individual verdicts against Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Frick, Streicher, Rosenberg, Frank, Funk, Schacht, Doenitz, Raeder, Von Schirack, Sauckel, Jodl, Von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Von Neurath, Fritzsche, and Borman.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocols, containing extracts from
Convention 1 – For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field; Convention III – Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; IV – Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War.

There are also extracts from

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954;

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.

Protocols to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious Or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva 1980.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention and the treaty banning mines.

A summary of the rules of engagement for the 1991 Gulf War, which was issued as a pocket card to be carried by US soldiers.

The 1993 Hague Convention.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002.

The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the incorporation of the Rome Statute into British law. This gives both the aims of the act and a summary of the act itself.

Lastly there are a few paragraphs on the Pinochet case of 1998, and extradition as a method of bringing justice.

Chapter 3 is on allies in war as partners in war crimes committed.

Chapter 4 is on the deception and conspiracy by Bush and Blair, which resulted in their invasion. This begins by discussing the American plans in the 1970s for an invasion of the Middle East to seize their oil supplies during the oil crisis provoked by the Six Day War. In this chapter Wood reproduces some of the relevant correspondence cited in the debates in this period, including a letter by Clare short.

Chapter 5 describes how Clare Short’s own experience of the Prime Minister’s recklessness, where it was shown he hadn’t a clue what to do once the country was conquered, led her to resign from the cabinet. Wood states very clearly in his title to this chapter how it violates one of the fundamental lessons of the great Prussian militarist, Clausewitz, that you must always know what to do with a conquered nation or territory.

Chapter 6: A Ruthless Government describes the vicious persecution of the government’s critics and their removal from office. Among Blair’s victims were the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, who killed himself after questioning by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and MOD and an intense attempt by Blair and his cabinet to discredit him; the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavin Davies, the Beeb’s chairman, and the reporter, Andrew Gilligan. Others target for attack and vilification included Katherine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Dr Brian Jones, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Deputy Legal Advisor to Foreign Office, George Galloway, Paul Bigley, the brother of the kidnap victim Ken Bigley, and Clare Short. Bigley’s apartment in Belgium was ransacked by MI6 and the RFBI and his computer removed because he blamed Blair for his brother’s kidnap and beheading by an Iraqi military faction. There is a subsection in this chapter on the case of Craig Murray. Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who got the boot because he told the government that the president was an evil dictator, who had boiled someone alive. This was most definitely not something Blair wanted to hear.

Chapter 7 is a series of cases studies. Each case has its own section, which includes the relevant Human Rights and war crimes legislation.

7A is on the breakdown of the country’s civil administration and political persecution. The two are linked, as Blair and Bush had all members of the Baath party dismissed from their posts. However, membership of the party was a requirement for employment in public posts across a wide range of fields. Wood points out that you could not even be a junior university lecturer without being a member of the party. As a result, the country was immediately plunged into chaos as the people who ran it were removed from their positions without anyone to take over. In this chapter Wood also discusses the unemployment caused by the war, and the disastrous effect the invasion had on the position of women.

7B is on the destruction of services infrastructure.

7C is on damage to hospitals and attacks on medical facilities.

7D is on the destruction and looting of museums, libraries and archaeological sites. Remember the outrage when ISIS levelled Nineveh and destroyed priceless antiquities in Mosul? The US and Britain are hardly innocent of similar crimes against this most ancient of nation’s heritage. The Americans caused considerable damage to Babylon when they decided to make it their base. This included breaking up the city’s very bricks, stamped with the names of ancient kings, for use as sand for their barricades around it. Remind me who the barbarians are again, please?

7E – Seizing the Assets is on the American and British corporate looting of the country through the privatisation and seizure of state-owned industries, particularly oil. This is very much in contravention of international law.

7F – Stealing their plants. This was covered in Private Eye at the time, though I’m not sure if it was mentioned anywhere else. Iraq has some of the oldest varieties of food crops in the world, among other biological treasures. These are varieties of plants that haven’t change since humans first settled down to farm 7-8 thousand years ago. Monsanto and the other GM firms desperately wanted to get their mitts on them. So they patented them, thus making the traditional crops Iraqi farmers had grown since time immemorial theirs, for which the farmers had to pay.

7G describes how the Christian religious element in the war gave it the nature of a Crusade, and religious persecution. The aggressive patrols and tactics used to humiliate and break suspects involve the violation of their religious beliefs. For example, dogs are unclean animals to Muslims, and would never be allowed inside a house. So dogs are used to inspect suspect’s houses, even the bedrooms, by the aggressive patrols. Muslims have their religious items confiscated, in contravention of their rules of war. One man was also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is was against his religion as a Muslim. The message by some of the army ministers and preachers that Islam is an evil religion means that Iraqis, as Muslims, are demonised and that instead of being viewed as people to be liberated they are cast as enemies.

There are several sections on the restraint of suspects. These include the use of cable ties, hoods, which have resulted in the death of at least two people, setting dogs on people, standing for hours and other tortures, which includes a list of the types of torture permitted by Donald Rumsfeld, aggressive patrolling, killing and wounding treacherously – which means, amongst other things, pretending to surrender and then shooting the victims after they have let their guard down, marking the bodies of victims in order to humiliate them, the deliberate targeting of the house owned by the Hamoodi family of Chemical Ali, the mass shooting from aircraft of a wedding party in the Iraqi desert by the Americans, but supported by the British; another incident in which people gathered in a street in Haifa around a burning US vehicle were shot and massacred; cluster bombs, including evidence that these were used at Hilla; the use of depleted uranium. Thanks to the use of this material to increase the penetrating power of shells, the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers and birth defects has rocketed in parts of Iraq. Children have been born without heads or limbs. One doctor has said that women are afraid to get pregnant because of the widespread incidence of such deformities; the use of mercenaries. Private military contractors have been used extensively by the occupying armies. Counterpunch has attacked their use along with other magazines, like Private Eye, because of their lawlessness. As they’re not actually part of the army, their casualties also don’t feature among the figures for allied casualties, thus making it seem that there are fewer of them than there actually is. They also have the advantage in that such mercenaries are not covered by the Geneva and other conventions. Revenge killings by British forces in the attacks on Fallujah. 7W discusses the way the Blair regime refused to provide figures for the real number of people killed by the war, and criticised the respected British medical journal, the Lancet, when it said it could have been as many as 100,000.

In the conclusion Wood discusses the occupation of Iraq and the political motivations for it and its connection to other historical abuses by the British and Americans, such as the genocide of the Indians in North America. He describes the horrific experiences of some Iraqi civilians, including a little girl, who saw her sisters and thirteen year old brother killed by British soldiers. He states that he hopes the book will stimulate debate, and provides a scenario in which Blair goes to Jordan on holiday, only to be arrested and extradited to be tried as a war criminal for a prosecution brought by the farmers of Hilla province. The book has a stop press, listing further developments up to 2005, and a timeline of the war from 2003-5.

The book appears to me, admittedly a layman, to build a very strong case for the prosecution of Tony Blair for his part in the invasion of Iraq. Wood shows that the war and the policies adopted by the occupying powers were illegal and unjust, and documents the horrific brutality and atrocities committed by British and US troops.

Unfortunately, as Bloom has discussed on his website and in his books, Bush, Blair and the other monsters were not prosecuted, as there was political pressure put on the ICC prosecutor and chief justice. Nevertheless, the breaches of international law were so clear, that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld was forced to cancel a proposed holiday in Germany. German law provided that he could indeed be arrested for his part in these war crimes, and extradited to face trial. To which I can only salute the new Germany and its people for their commitment to democracy and peace!

While there’s little chance that Blair will face judgement for his crimes, the book is still useful, along with other books on the Iraq invasion like Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the works of William Bloom, in showing why this mass murderer should not be given any support whatsoever, and his attempt to return to politics, supposedly to lead a revival of the political centre ground, is grotesque and disgusting.

The book notes that millions of ordinary Brits opposed the war and marched against it. Between 100 and 150 MPs also voted against it. One of those who didn’t, was Iain Duncan Smith, who shouted ‘Saddam must go!’ Somehow, given Smith’s subsequent term in the DWP overseeing the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of benefit claims after their benefits were stopped, this didn’t surprise. He is clearly a militarist, despite his own manifest unfitness for any form of leadership, military or civil.

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

On Thursday Mike also posted a short piece about another minority that is now under by Donald Trump – transgender people. After trying to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries, Trump has decided to revoke Barack Obama’s legislation about the use of toilets by transgender students. Obama ruled that students should be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than biological sex. This has been too much for Trump and the Republicans. In his article commenting on Trump’s repeal of the ruling, he makes the point that transgender people don’t pose any threat to the people of the US, as far as he could see. But Trump’s discrimination against them does make him a threat to the transgender community.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/23/transgender-students-are-targeted-for-hate-by-trump/

Milo Yiannopolis, one of the Alt-Right Breitbart squadristi, turned up on the Bill Maher Show on American TV. Yiannopolis is a strange, contradictory figure – a half-Jewish, self-hating gay with a Black boyfriend, who is bitterly anti-feminist and also very racist. Yiannopolis tried to claim that the ruling was quite correct, because there was a dangerous of transvestites entering female toilets to abuse women and girls. He claimed that there was a far greater rate of sex offences amongst transgendered people than amongst ordinary, straight individuals.

Where did he get this statistics? Where do you think! He made it up. And while Maher apparently did little but fawn over Yiannopolis, according to some viewers, one of the guests, Larry Wilmore, solidly refuted Yinnopolis comments again and again. See this video below.

For some reason, the Republicans have had a bee in their collective bonnets about transgender people for some time now. In fairness, not all of this concern is fear-mongering based on prejudice. Right-wing critics of the current medical attitudes towards those, who have problems with their gender identity, have pointed to a paper by a doctor, which has questioned whether many of those undergoing gender realignment surgery really want to be women. According to the paper, those undergoing the transition have a higher rate of suicide than those who remain in their biological gender. Now, there have been instances where people, who have made the transition, have regretted it and taken their own lives. There was a case in the British papers a few years ago about a transwoman, who drowned herself in a river. She left a note stating that she now wished she could return to being a man.

Such cases are tragic, and should be a cause of legitimate concern. But I don’t think this is really what’s driving the issue.

This is really all about cultural decline and the politics of masculinity. The Right has a very traditional attitude towards gender roles. I’ve blogged before about the various right-wing politicians in America, like the highly obnoxious Anne Coulter, who don’t even believe women should vote. The idea that gender roles, and gender identity itself, can be fluid and subject to change is bitterly rejected. Hence this attack on the toilet rights of transgender students.

One of those, who has weighed into this debate is the anti-feminist philosopher, Camille Paglia. Paglia had been a feminist, I gather, before she did a complete reversal some time in the 1990s, and decided that feminism was damaging men and having a generally destructive effect on society as a whole. I think she still considers herself some kind of feminist, but, as Mel Smith’s blokeish character on his and Griff Rhys Jones’ spoof of the BBC talk show, After Dark, she seems to be ‘the kind of feminist, who is not a feminist at all’.

There’s a video on YouTube of her arguing in an interview that transgenderism is responsible for the fall of all civilisations, from ancient Rome to the European empires of the 19th century. This can be seen in the way Greek art moved from depicting muscular hunks to a more androgynous style of masculine figure.

I don’t know enough of Greek art to refute this, but I know enough history to say that it’s twaddle. Despite the comments by Roman moralists, like Tacitus, about the decadence of late Roman society, what actually brought the Empire down were a mixture of severe economic, political and military problems that have precious little to do with gender identity. If at all. The late Roman empire was beset by galloping inflation, massively disproportionate taxation falling on the poor as the senatorial elite sought to evade the tax burden, depopulation caused by plague as well as economic decline, and, of course, the barbarian invasions.

In the east, the late Roman and Persian Empires were overrun by the Muslim Arabs basically because they had fought each other to exhaustion, and simply no longer possessed the military power to fight off the invading Arabs. In the case of Egypt and some of the other eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs offered religious tolerance to Christian denominations persecuted by the official Greek church. The politics of gender identity simply weren’t involved.

As for the European empires, these fell, retreated or transformed themselves due to the rise of nationalist movements in their colonies and the decline of the metropolitan centres. Much of this was hastened by the Second World War. Britain and France emerged exhausted from the conflict, and global power passed to America and the Soviet Union. Again, gender politics weren’t involved.

Paglia, however, draws on the literature of late Victorian writers, including the French Decadents, for her views. These did see the decline of gender identity and roles as a sign of cultural and racial decline. The French Decadents, who saw madness and genius as inextricably linked, celebrated androgyny, while at the same time holding very strong misogynist views. They felt that, like ancient Rome, the fall of the new French empire was also inevitable, and were going to enjoy being Decadent as much as possible during it.

Paglia’s fears about the social damage created by the decline in traditional notions of gender and sexuality are also really a symptom of more general fears of American social and imperial decline. Martin Pugh in his book on the rise of British Fascism between the First and Second World Wars, comments on the role played in its rise by the moral panic created by Pemberton Billing about homosexuality. Billing was a right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the British war effort during World War I was being undermined by gays working for the Germans. He claimed to have a black book with the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’. He was sued for libel by at least one of the people he smeared, but the trail collapsed when he accused the judge of being gay.

Pugh also points out that this period also saw the rise in fears about lesbianism for the first time. He states very clearly that the reason why the British government had not legislated against female homosexuality in the 19th century was because they simply didn’t see it as a threat. It was not because that they, or Queen Victoria, depending on the version of the myth you’ve heard, didn’t think it exist, or because Victoria herself didn’t think it was physically possible for two women to have sex. She and they knew it happened, but weren’t bothered about it. It wasn’t considered to be a threat to society like male homosexuality.

This all changed after the First World War. Pugh makes the point that it was widely believed that the War had killed the flower of British manhood – all the really intelligent, brave and capable men. The guys, who were left, were the second raters. As a result, British society was in crisis, a crisis which only aggressively masculine parties like the NSDAP in Germany and the Fascists in Italy could hope to correct.

And something similar has also occurred in America. It’s been argued that the rapid expansion of Communism after the War was a profound shock to America, not just to the self-confidence of capitalism, but also to notions of American masculinity. This can be seen in depictions of Jesus. For a period after WW2 the traditional depictions of Christ with rather soft features disappeared in favour of more ruggedly masculine representations of the Saviour.

America is a very masculine society, and the link between capitalism and masculinity is very strong in the parties and ideologies of the Right, the Republicans and Libertarians. The Left, and its egalitarianism, is seen as anti-masculine and unpatriotic. It is not accident that Richard Spencer in one of his wretched speeches tried to appeal to American women by saying that his movement offered them ‘pregnancy and strong government’. With the involvement of the gun lobby, we are very much back in the realm of Mussolini’s Fascist slogan ‘Fighting is to man what motherhood is to woman.’ The American Right also strongly opposes women entering the workplace, feeling that they should stay at home instead to raise children to counteract White demographic decline.

This is the real ideological background to Trump and the Republicans’ attack on transgender people. The actual number of transgender people, as a percentage of the population, is probably very small. They’re not really a threat to anyone. Instead, this all about the politics of gender as part of the wider issue of racial decay and American imperial decline.

Jesus in the Food Bank Queue

December 9, 2016

I’ve been attending the Advent course run by one of the ministers at our local church. The theme is hospitality in the Bible and the early church, and the obligation this lays upon modern Christians to live and work for the poor, the marginalised and strangers. Last night one of the texts studied was Christ’s words ‘For as you do to the least of them, you do to me’. Christ made clear that the people, who will be saved at the Last Judgement, will be those who fed, clothed and tended Him when He was in need. By which He meant the poor, the hungry, the sick and the outcast.

He talked about how he had visited a church in Washington D.C. He pointed out that not all of the city is like the White House and the government buildings. Beyond this well-kept, affluent area is are districts of the most desperate poverty. The church he’d visited had maintained a food line for the area’s poor. He stated that these were people, who were forced to use it to make ends meet until their next paycheque came. He was particularly impressed by one of the women serving at this food bank. Every morning she prayed to serve Jesus when she saw him again in the queue that day. She didn’t mean she literally saw Him, but as He was present in the poor peeps, who turned up for their food. It was a powerful, modern application of Christ’s teaching.

He also produced quotations from the Early Church Fathers about the Christian duty to work for the poor, even when personal charity was being undermined somewhat by the institutional charity – hospitals, hostels, orphanages and monasteries of the late Roman Empire after Constantine’s conversion. Hippolytus, for example, advised that every citizen, who was able should build a guest chamber on to their house. And one of the other Church Fathers described one of the hospitals as a city for the poor, by which they could meet the rich as equals.

These are very strong, challenging demands for Christians to practise the charity taught in the Bible, and to seek out, identify with and support ‘the fatherless, the widow and the foreigner’, and bring to their feasts ‘the poor, the lame and the blind’.

Unfortunately, Contemporary neoliberal politics since Thatcher and Reagan has demanded that the institutional care provided by the state should be cut back, with disastrous results. They believed that this would strengthen the Church by forcing people to fall back on private charity. Hence we now have the spectacle of various charities actively seeking out government contracts, and fully supporting the hideous policies of sanctioning and marginalisation that are forcing more people into poverty, misery, starvation and, in extreme cases, death. And the charities themselves are under threat. The figures provided by the Trussell Trust of the numbers of people using their food banks have been attacked by the Tories for the simply reason that they give the lie to their propaganda that austerity – meaning benefit cuts and wage freezes – have somehow made people better off.

I fully support the charities and their workers, who do genuinely work for the poor. One of the most acute accounts of what it is like to work at the sharp end trying to aid those pushed into need by the government’s policies comes from the blogs and vlogs of people working in food banks. I’ve reblogged some of these. But private charity isn’t enough. We need the support of the state, and active welfare policies to empower the poor, disabled and marginalised, including the working class.

As for Theresa May, and her claims to be guided by her Christian faith, before she does so, she should meditate very much on how Our Lord is present in the poor. She may well do so. But I’ve seen no evidence of her doing anything genuinely to alleviate poverty.

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.