Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

May 13, 2020

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Lobster on the Prosecution of Craig Murray and Mountbatten, Mosley and the Abortive 1968 Coup Against Wilson

May 10, 2020

Robin Ramsay, the head honcho of the parapolitics site Lobster, has just updated the ‘News from the Bridge’ section of the current issue, no. 79, with some very interesting little snippets. One of these is about the current prosecution by the Scots authorities of Craig Murray for contempt of court.

Craig Murray and the Possible Framing of Alex Salmond

Murray’s crime is that he commented online about Alex Salmond’s trial while it was happening, stating that he believes that Salmond was framed by the Scottish state. Murray also knows four other people, also supporters of Scots independence, who have similarly been visited by the cops from the ‘Alex Salmond’ team, because they also blogged or posted about the case. Murray says, as quoted by Lobster,

The purpose of this operation against free speech is a desperate attempt to keep the lid on the nature of the state conspiracy to fit up Alex Salmond. Once the parliamentary inquiry starts, a huge amount of evidence of conspiracy which the court did not allow the defence to introduce in evidence during the criminal trial, will be released. The persecution of myself is an attempt to intimidate independent figures into not publishing anything about it.The lickspittle media of course do not have to be intimidated. To this end, I am charged specifically with saying that the Alex Salmond case was a fitup and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated. So I thought I would say it again now:

The Alex Salmond case was a fit-up and a conspiracy in which the Crown Office was implicated, foiled by the jury. If Scotland is the kind of country where you go to jail for saying that, let me get my toothbrush.’ (emphasis in the original)

I honestly don’t know how credible this allegation is. Unfortunately, powerful men do take sexual advantage of the women around them, as the Harvey Weinstein scandal has glaringly showed. But Salmond was acquitted because he was able to show that he was not where he was alleged and with the women he was accused of assaulting at the time the attacks were supposed to have been committed. The suggestion that Salmond was framed by the Scots state, presumably to prevent Scotland gaining independence, does seem to pass beyond the limits of credibility. It looks like a conspiracy theory in the pejorative sense of the term.

Unfortunately, the British state does smear opposition politicians. IRD did it in the 1970s when they falsified all manner of documents and manufactured fake reports, published in various newspapers and magazines, that Labour politicians like Tony Benn were IRA or Communist sympathisers and agents of the Soviet Union when they definitely weren’t. We’ve seen the same tactics revived just last year, when they were used by the Democracy Initiative and its parent body, the Institute for Statecraft, against Jeremy Corbyn and other European politicos and public figures, who were deemed too close to Putin. And far from being a private company, the Democracy Initiative had links to MI5 and the cyberwarfare branch of the SAS.

The Beeb also played its part in broadcasting disinformation about Salmond and Scots independence. Remember the way the Corporation successively edited the answer Salmond gave Nick Robinson to a question about how it would affect the Edinburgh financial sector. Robinson asked him if he was worried that the big financial houses in the Scots capital would move south if Scotland ever became independent. Salmond gave a full reply, stating that this would not be the case. This was edited down during the day so that first it appeared that Salmond didn’t give a proper reply, before it was finally edited out altogether. Nick Robinson then claimed in the final report about it that Salmond hadn’t answered the question.

Britain has also intervened in other countries to remove politicians that were deemed an obstacle or a threat to British interests. These were mostly interference in the elections and politics of former colonies and independent states in the Developing World, like the coup that overthrew Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953. But the British governor of Australia was also persuaded by the Tories to remove Gough Whitlam from office in the 1970s in an overt display of British power.

Scottish independence is a threat to the continued existence of Great Britain as a state. It also has powerful implications for Britain as a global power. Mike or one of the great left-wing bloggers has stated that if Scotland did become independent, Britain would no longer be large or populous enough to hold a position on the UN security council. While a covert campaign to frame and discredit Salmond seems incredible to me, I honestly don’t think it can be fairly discounted.

Mountbatten and Mosley as Figureheads for an Anti-Wilson Coup

The other snippet that I found particularly interesting ultimately comes from Andrew Lounie’s new e-book The Mountbattens. The books follows a number of others in stating that in 1968 the former viceroy of India was approached by the chairman of the Mirror group, Cecil King, to help overthrow Harold Wilson and form a government of national unity. This is similar to the proposals for other coups against Wilson made in the middle of the next decade, the ’70s. See Francis Wheen’s book, Strange Days Indeed. What boggles my mind, however, is that before King approached Mountbatten, he’d gone to Paris to ask Oswald Mosley if he’d be interested. How anyone could ever believe that a Fascist storm trooper like Mosley could ever be an acceptable leader of any kind of British regime, or that a country that had interned him and fought against the political order he represented during the War would ever accept him, is frankly incredible. Mountbatten had met King with the government’s scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman. When King mentioned that he’d met Mosley, Zuckerman walked out followed by Mountbatten. This is the standard version of the event. Lounie’s book differs from this by claiming that Mountbatten didn’t particularly object to becoming the head of such a junta, and was even taken with the idea.

The book also claims that Mountbatten was bisexual, and recklessly pursued younger men. He was also, it is alleged, supplied with boys from the Kincora Boys’ Home.

I hadn’t read before that King had tried to interest Oswald Mosley in leading a British government after a military coup. This is significant in that it shows that some elements of the British media establishment were more than willing to install a real Fascist as leader rather than tolerate a democratically elected socialist government under a leader they despised, like Wilson. 

See:https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

and scroll down to find the snippets ‘Craig Murray under attack’, and ‘The Mountbattens’.

 

Is This the Most Insulting Comment Aliens Have Said to an Abductee?

April 29, 2020

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Clarke’s The UFO Files, a history of UFOs in Britain from the phantom airship scares of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the abduction experiences from the 60s onwards, the 70’s craze created by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, right up to the years immediately preceding the book’s publication in 2009. The book was written to accompany the release of the government’s files on UFOs by the National Archives, and is naturally based on the records compiled by the MOD, the Air Ministry, RAF and armed forces, and the Airmiss inquiry group, which investigates near misses between aircraft.

It’s a fascinating book that shows that UFOs have been around for over a century and that the government and the British military don’t really know any more about them than anyone else. The aliens haven’t established secret bases in Britain, and neither to the RAF or anyone else for that matter have alien bodies stashed away in a secret hangar somewhere. The official government line, repeated over and again, is that UFOs or of ‘no defence significance’, and they really don’t want to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’ve therefore investigate UFO sightings and encounters when it affects national security, such as if the UFOs may actually be foreign planes. The last government report on the phenomenon concluded that most of them were generated by people wrongly identifying a variety of artificial objects and natural phenomena. Those that couldn’t be properly identified, were probably poorly understood meteorological phenomena, electromagnetic plasmas, which could also create hallucinations through interfering with the brains of witnesses. This part of the report was, however, attacked by scientists on its release as pseudoscience.

But very many of the UFOs reported over the years have been people mistaking a variety of normal objects and phenomena for alien craft. During the First World War, an anti-aircraft crew at an army base in Cumbria fired at what they honestly believed was a German Zeppelin. Except that an officer, arriving at the scene, reported that he saw them staring at a star. It was discovered during the Second World War that flocks of migrating birds could make radar trails very much like approaching enemy aircraft, although the airmen sent up to intercept them would find no-one except themselves up there. During the Cold War, UFO reports were generated by the Americans releasing the Mogul spy balloons from their base in Scotland, as well as later flights by spy planes like the U2 and SR-71. These were so secret, the Americans didn’t inform their NATO allies in the countries across which the planes and balloons traveled on their way to the USSR. As a result, RAF jets were scrambled to intercept these unidentified aircraft, while there was a spate of UFO reports along the German border.

Some UFO sightings were also caused by particularly spectacular fireball meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of these was responsible for the Berwyn mountain crash, dubbed by some ‘the Welsh Roswell’. A series of meteors were seen over England, followed by an earthquake measuring 4-5 on the Richter scale centred in Bala. It was feared that a military plane had crashed on the mountain, as several had done so previously. The RAF therefore sent up a mountain rescue squad, which found nothing and came back down again. This was subsequently inflated into stories of the RAF’s retrieval of a crashed UFO and alien bodies.

Other sightings were caused by the re-entry of Soviet spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. This is believed to be the cause of the Rendlesham Forest incident, ‘the British Roswell’, in which a group of American squaddies from a USAF base entered the forest to encounter a triangular UFO in 1980. It seems that the Americans seen the rocket for a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite re-entering, and then the lights from a nearby lighthouse, believing they came from an alien spacecraft.

One MOD scientific/intelligence officer believed that most UFO reports could be satisfactorily explained if they had been investigated immediately they occurred, rather than sometime afterwards. Nevertheless, there are encounters that are still genuinely perplexing. Such as the report a trucker driving through Devon in the ’70s made at a local police station. He had been driving along the main road there when a craft shaped like a mushroom descended, landing on the road ahead, out of which came six short figures wearing uniforms. After gesturing at him, the creatures eventually got in their spacecraft, which lifted up into the air and flew on, leaving the trucker shaken by the experience.

And then there’s the encounter reported by a gent in Basingstoke in 1968. The fellow had been walking down by the canal one morning when a UFO descended and he was taken aboard by their occupants. They examined him, before telling the poor chap, “You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes.” Popular SF, which seems to have strongly influenced the content of UFO encounters, has been full of tales of evil aliens coming to other to conquer and enslaved humanity, and carry off people off for breeding purposes. It’s usually females, as in the SF B-movie Mars Needs Women, but sometimes men as in the 1949 Hammer flick, Devil Girl from Mars. This episode occurred around about the time of the Villas Boas encounter, when a Brazilian farmer of that name had been abducted by aliens and forced to have sex with a red-headed alien woman. Possibly the crew of the Basingstoke UFO also had something similar in mind. If so, both they and the poor bloke they abducted were out of luck. Or perhaps they had in mind something far more unpleasant, in which case their intended victim was lucky. The Contactees, who met peaceful aliens in the 1950s, and the abductees from the 1980s onwards, were given messages by humanity by the aliens they encountered. These tend to moralistic sermons preaching international and intergalactic brotherhood, peace, an end to nuclear weapons and concern for the environment. Sometimes they include descriptions of the aliens’ own planets and their societies. Sometimes they’re even whisked away on journeys to these distant worlds. This poor fellow didn’t get any of that, just the blunt statement that he was too old and infirm for them. He was spared the horror and humiliation of being examined and experimented upon, but their comments still seem just a tiny bit insulting. They could have put it a bit more tactfully.

My own feeling is that UFOs, when they aren’t misidentified normal objects or phenomena, are internal visionary experiences drawing on the imagery of Science Fiction, but expressing deep-seated human fears and needs. I don’t know what generates them. I think some are probably the result of poorly understood psychological states, such as sleep paralysis. But I also wonder if others are genuine encounters with something paranormal, something that in previous centuries took the form of fairies and other supernatural beings, and now takes the form of aliens and spaceships as images more suitable for our technological society.

While David Clarke’s done excellent work researching the government’s UFO archives, and has shown that very many of them have entirely rational explanations, there may still be something genuinely paranormal out there. But it didn’t want the man from Basingstoke it encountered on that day in 1968.

Starmer Snubs Scotland by Appointing Nandy Shadow Foreign Secretary

April 8, 2020

More bad new for traditional, old Labour centrists like myself – the real Labour centrists, not the neoliberal, Thatcherites that came in with Blair. Keir Starmer has appointed Lisa Nandy his shadow Foreign Secretary. She’s another Blairite like him, but her appointment also means that he’s given up any hope of winning back Scotland for Labour. Nandy once offered her opinion on how to deal with Scottish independence by saying that we should look to Spain on how they dealt with separatism. Mike in his article stated that Scots would regard her as violent and offensive.

She was referring, of course, to the Spanish government sending in troops and militarised police into Catalonia after the head of the regional government there declared independence. I realise that the issue isn’t quite as black and white as it might appear, and that not all Catalans were behind their president’s decision to secede. But many people were appalled by this use of force on a democratically elected regional government, and the authoritarian brutality with which it was suppressed and its members and activists arrested. Tony Greenstein was one of those, for example, who decried it on his blog, and the refusal of the EU government to intervene in the Catalans’ favour.

Which raises the question of what Nandy believes a British government should do if something similar happens in the UK. If Nicola Sturgeon unilaterally held another independence referendum, and the majority of Scots voted in favour so that Sturgeon began formal moves to secede, would Nandy really support sending the troops in? That would turn even more Scots against Britain, and would create a situation north of the border very similar to Northern Ireland after we sent troops in there. It would create resentment and disaffection, which would in turn lead to violence in the shape of protests and terrorism.

I can’t really see this scenario happening. Sturgeon definitely wants a second referendum, but I’ve seen no indication yet that she means to break the law and hold one without the support of the UK government. But she was, however, determined to press for one. Nandy’s comment may well have been no more than a thoughtless remark given on the spur of the moment, rather than a genuine, deeply held opinion. But even so, it won’t endear her to the Scots or anyone else who believes in the democratic process of debate, elections and negotiations, rather than the use of the mailed fist.

And away from Scotland, it also doesn’t say much for her suitability as Foreign Secretary. Her stupid remark about Spain, with its implicit approval of the Spanish government’s actions, isn’t just offensive to Scots and Catalans. The Basques also have a very strong independence movement, which included a terrorist wing, ETA. Nandy obviously should not condone or support terrorism, but her comment also bodes ill for a peaceful Basque government, should they declare independence. As it does for any independence movement, anywhere. She has shown that she will support the dominant national government against separatists, and that has very serious implications for those movements in countries, whose government is definitely brutal and oppressive. One of the great iniquities of the late 20th century was that no government raised a protest against Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1971 or thereabouts. Yet during the following thirty years the Indonesian government and its troops massacred about a third or a half of the island nation’s people.

The case of Catalonia is also disturbing, because for many people across Spain and Europe the government’s actions were reminiscent of Spain’s former dictator, General Franco, and his brutal regime. Franco seized power by overthrowing the democratically elected Republican government. This included a range of political parties, from Liberals to Socialists and Communists, and so was not a Communist regime, as its opponents tried to paint it. However, the Anarchists had seized power in Catalonia, and so Franco made a deliberate point of retaking that region before taking Madrid and formally ending the war. His regime then embarked on a reign of terror, massacring their former opponents. Their mass graves are being excavated by archaeologists, as people demand that the memories of the brave men and women, who died fighting Franco, be commemorated and their sacrifice recognised and celebrated. It’s controversial, because there are figures on the right, who would rather this did not happen. And the squalid dictator’s own mausoleum is the focus of particular rancour and controversy. Franco claimed it commemorated all the victims of the war, but in reality it’s just a monument to Franco and his goons, the Fascists and Falangists. Modern Spain’s suppression of Catalan independence may well carry overtones of Franco’s brutal suppression of the province. This might be a superficial impression, but if it’s there, it’ll be a powerful feeling of renewed historical grievances. And Nandy definitely should not say anything to stoke them.

Domestically, her appointment also shows that Starmer and the Blairites aren’t interested in appointing someone more suitable, who would stand a chance of reviving Labour up there. And without Scotland, there’s no chance of Labour winning a general election, which means we’re going to be faced with more years of Tory rule.

And that show you in turn how malicious the Blairites are. They would rather Labour lost elections and the Tories continued their campaign of privatisation, including the selling off of the NHS, and the dismantlement of the welfare state, rather than have a socialist in charge of the Labour party and in power at No. 10.

I hope I’m wrong, and that Nandy turns out to be a better shadow minister than she appears and that Starmer at least tries to win back Scotland. But for now the omens aren’t good.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/06/nandy-appointed-shadow-foreign-secretary-labour-has-no-plans-to-regain-scottish-seats/

A Multiple Language Dictionary for Archaeologists

March 26, 2020

Anna Kieburg, The Archaeological Excavation Dictionary (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Archaeology 2016).

This was another book I got from the bargain book mail order company, Postscript. It’s a dictionary of archaeological words, with over 2,000 entries, in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. The Arabic and Greek words are also given in those languages’ alphabets as well as in an English transliteration.

I’m putting this up as archaeology truly is an international discipline. Both professionals, students and volunteers travel across the world to work on digs. There is a guide book, published annually, for volunteers wishing to work on various digs right across the globe, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Also, I’ve noticed that some of the books published by the archaeological publishers, like Oxbow, are also in foreign languages. In the case of Oxbow, it’s mostly French or German.

Archaeology is a truly international subject, with professionals, students and volunteers travelling to digs right across the world. There’s a guide, published annually, for people to wishing to work on them, listing sites in the Americas, Europe and so on, and what they need to take with them. I’m putting the book up on this blog as I thought it might be useful for other archaeologists, or ordinary people interested in archaeology, once the world’s recovered from the Coronavirus and everything’s started up again.

But thinking about archaeology and languages, I wonder if anyone’s ever published such a dictionary for the Celtic languages in the UK? I know the vast majority of people in Britain can speak English, and I doubt if anyone on a site has ever been asked if they could explain what they’ve found in Welsh, Gaelic or Erse, but still, there might be a demand by local people in areas where those languages are spoken for someone to say something about them in them, if only as a source of local pride and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Programme on Welsh 20th Century Decline

March 11, 2020

This might be of interest to Welsh readers of this blog, particularly as Mike’s a long-time resident of mid-Wales. Next Monday, 16th March 2020, Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme on how Wales declined during the last century. The programme, Wales: A 20th-Century Tragedy?, is described thus in the blurb on page 131 of the Radio Times:

Simon Jenkins looks at the fortunes of Wales over the past century, asking how it might be possible to restore some glory to its valleys and mountains.

Rather more information is given in the short piece about the programme on the opposite page, 130, by Chris Gardner. This says

Simon Jenkins is passionate about Wales, the land of his father. His 2008 book Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles showcased the beauty and majesty of Welsh architecture, but the author and journalist is now worried for the nation’s future, citing among other factors the rise in the poverty index, while counties just over the border, such as Cheshire, have become richer. Examining Wale’s illustrious cultural, political, industrial and intellectual heritage over the last century, Jenkins uncovers historical reasons for this comparatively recent decline.

I think the major reason for this decline has been decline of the major Welsh industries during the last century – coal mining and iron working. There have been various history programmes on the Beeb that have shown that Swansea and Cardiff were major centres of the copper and iron industries from the 19th century onwards. I think Swansea was the world centre of copper production at one point, so that it was nicknamed ‘Copperopolis’. But this all gradually vanished due to competition from cheaper, foreign products. And this has continued into this century under the Tories, as we saw a few years ago with the proposed closure of one of the last surviving steelworks in the principality.

The country also hasn’t been helped by the fact that we haven’t had a Welsh prime minister, or one whose constituency was in Wales, for a long time. I seem to recall that Cardiff became the great city it is, housing Wales’ national museum, partly because Lloyd George wanted to turn it into a great national centre for Wales, like England and Scotland had London and Edinburgh respectively. The Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, attempted to do something for Wales, from what I recall, by diverting money that was earmarked to go to Bristol’s Portbury Docks to Cardiff. But his tenure of 10 Downing Street ended with Thatcher’s victory in 1979. And the Tories made it very plain that they weren’t going to help ailing industries, so that coal pits, and iron and steelworks up and down Britain were closed. This was partly because she wanted to destroy the coal industry so that a Tory government could no longer be overthrown by the miners, as Ted Heath’s had in the early ’70s.

I don’t know why Cheshire should have become more prosperous, unless it’s connected to the success of Liverpool FC. A friend of mine from that way told me that there’s a district in the county, which has become the country home of rich Liverpudlians, including footballers. Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 8.00 pm in the evening.

 

American Conservative Demands Beeb’s Privatisation Because Feminism, Muslims and Non-Binary Haircuts

February 28, 2020

Boris Johnson and his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings, have made it very clear that they want the Beeb privatised. They’re talking about removing the licence fee and turning it into a subscription service. This is because they claim that the Beeb is full of evil lefties, who are biased against them. The evidence from the BBC newsroom, at least, completely contradicts this. The Beeb followed the rest of the right-wing press in viciously attacking and smearing the Labour Party and its leader at every opportunity. And that included pushing the anti-Semitism smears. But this is the propaganda line Boris takes in order to justify his running away from everything but the softest interviews, and for the eventual privatisation of the Corporation itself.

The Tories hate the BBC partly for ideological reasons, partly out of simple political strategy and partly out of venal self-interest. They despise the Beeb as a nationalised industry and because, the present state of the Corporation notwithstanding, it has in the past criticised, contradicted and refuted Tory claims. Hence the Tories have claimed the Corporation was against them under Thatcher and John Major, and made the same threats of removing the licence fee. They also want to privatise it because many of the parties’ chief donors and supporters are the owners and proprietors of rival broadcasters, like Rupert Murdoch. They’re jealous of the Beeb’s dominant position in British broadcasting, and want to see it go so that their networks will fill its place. These rival networks also include American broadcasters, who have been buying into British TV companies since at least the 1990s.

And earlier this week, the American Conservative broadcaster Lauren Chen joined all the British Tories demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Who? Good question! Chen’s young American woman with her own internet show, discussing issues from a right-wing perspective. You can find her videos up on YouTube. I found one of them earlier this week, in which she ranted about how the Beeb needed to be privatised because of a programme produced by BBC Scotland, The Social. No, I hadn’t heard of it, either. I doubt many people in Britain have. But Chen had, and was furious. Because the Beeb was using it to push far left Social Justice Warrior propaganda on ordinary, Conservative-voting Brits!

This was because the programme had featured short pieces in which a variety of people talked about the issues that were important to them. Those Chen seized on and used as the subject for her video were a piece by a young woman complaining that men were all sexist and didn’t go to female-led movies. This would mean that the Oscar’s committee, over two-thirds of whom were male, wouldn’t give an award to Little Women. Another woman, who identified as non-binary, complained that she couldn’t get a suitably androgynous haircut.  A dominatrix appeared to talk about her profession and complain that people didn’t respect BDSM as they’d been conditioned to think of it as deviant. Another woman argued that Islam believed in the equality of all, whether male or female, while firmly wrapped up in a burqa so that only her eyes were visible. Then there was a young man arguing for Christianity. These all showed the Beeb’s liberal, progressive bias. It using taxpayer’s money to push feminist, LGBTQ+, Muslim propaganda. And it only broadcast the Christian because he was weak, woolly and unconvincing, and so showed how they wanted to present the religion.

Now I can’t say that those pieces would have been of interest to me, and I doubt they would to many other Brits. Some of the arguments were quite flimsy. For example, a number of vloggers on cinema dispatched the claims about sexism and Little Women a few weeks ago before the Oscars. They pointed out that there have been scores of female-led films, that have attracted a male audience. I don’t know if they mentioned it, but I’m fairly sure one was Annihilation. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, this was an SF tale of a group of female squaddies investigating a mysterious zone in which the laws of nature had been subtly altered and plants, animals and humans mutated by a meteorite. This was a zone of eerie beauty and equally weird menace, and the film was highly praised. A male psychologist argued that it wasn’t because they were female-led that meant men had no interest in certain types of movie. Rather men were generally interested in tales which either contained violence or danger, or which had a strong element of good versus evil. And a number of female vloggers also said that they weren’t interested in seeing Little Women either, because there had been so many other adaptations of it. As for the non-binary woman and her haircut, as Chen pointed out, that was an inconvenience. Plenty of other people also have problems finding the right hairdresser or barber.

Behind all this, however, was her argument that the Beeb should privatised because then market economics would prevent it from foisting these opinions on the British public. The Beeb shouldn’t be using taxpayer’s money to produce material like this. Instead she told Brits that the money would be better spent on our failing health service. Well, our health service does need more money, but it’s only failing because the Tories also want to privatise it and sell it to American private healthcare companies. And it is true that if the Beeb was privatised, it probably wouldn’t be able to produce shows like The Social, because they wouldn’t be commercial. No-one would watch them, and they wouldn’t attract advertising revenue.

And this argument shows that Chen either knows nothing, or simply doesn’t care, about the ethos of public service broadcasting. The Beeb produces videos like those Chen attacked, not because it’s full of evil Commies determined to destroy mainstream British culture and turn everyone into BDSM, non-gender specific feminist Muslims, but because it has a duty to serve the public. That means that its content has to reflect a range of opinions, include those, who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. Like women worried about how well a classic girls’ movie would do at the Oscars, fetishists, Muslims, the queer and transgender, and even the odd Christian. They pay their taxes and in a democratic state, have the right to make their views heard. They’re given a platform because free speech is a public good above the requirements of pure commerce, according to the ethos of public broadcasting. And everyone should be entitled to their opinion, regardless of whether it is held by the majority or not.

Chen isn’t defending free speech. She’s arguing for its denial.

As for The Social itself, I went to its homepage at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039wndg

This simply states that

BBC The Social is an award-winning digital platform based in Glasgow that develops creative new talent.

We help develop ideas and commission content to publish across the BBC and our content reaches millions of people every week.

And most of their videos aren’t particularly political or contentious. Yes, their site has a section on LGBTQ+ videos, and as well as one about a young man coming out as gay at church. But they also have videos on disability in Scotland, the problem of living with a kind of alopecia, deafness, overcoming the stigma of being a single mother, and many other topics and issues. It seems to be ordinary community broadcasting, in the sense that it gives people in the wider community an opportunity to talk about issues that are important to them. It’s similar to a number of shows that have appeared on British TV, such as Brass Tacks back in the 1970s, and the 4 Thought short films on Channel 4.

You don’t have to agree with what these films are about to recognise that they are part of the reason public service broadcasting must continue in this country. The Beeb’s Tory bias is doing it no services by alienating its traditional left-wing supporters. But it’s important that the Beeb should continue, even if most of the newsroom and its senior management should be sacked.

Because ordinary people, including the transgender, Muslims, Christians, the disabled, and whoever else – should have a voice, and not just Tories and the owners of big multimedia firms.

 

Beeb Producers Decide News Programmes’ Slant Before Shootingll

February 17, 2020

A few days ago I put up a review of Robin Aitken’s Can We Trust the BBC? (London: Continuum 2007). This argues that the Corporation isn’t full of Conservatives and has a right-wing bias, but the opposite: that it is crammed full of left-wingers and has a marked, institutional bias against Conservatives and the monarchy, former British empire and Christianity. While Aitken musters a considerable amount of evidence for this, he also ignores the far greater amount of evidence against his view. The Beeb has nearly always been biased against the Labour party and the trade unions, although I’m prepared to admit that there may have been pockets in the Beeb, like Scotland, where Aitken started his career, that may have been more left-wing. If this changed, it was while the Beeb was under the control of John Birt and Greg Dyke. But while Dyke may have been a member of the Labour Party, he was a New Labour convert to the free market. Which means he definitely wasn’t Old Labour. Since the departure of Dyke, the Beeb has become very blatantly biased against Labour and especially against Jeremy Corbyn. It did as much as the rest of the media to push the anti-Semitism smears.

But there is one part of Aitken’s argument that I believe, and still think remains true today, even after Brit’s departure and the Beeb’s alleged return to the Right. Aitken states that Birt wasn’t satisfied with merely presenting the news. He wanted the Beeb to contextualise and explain it. And this meant that news and documentary producers decided on their programmes’ content and direction before they shot any footage or interviewed anyone. Aitken writes

I saw Birtism close up when I moved to the Money Programme. This long-established show had a loyal audience for its Sunday evening slot, but the old populist format was viewed with disdain by Birt. What he wanted was analysis, and lots of it. The new programme style was uncompromising. A subject would be chosen – say electricity privatisation – and a storyline worked out. A detailed script including putative interviews was worked up before a single word had been uttered by an interviewee, or a frame of film shot. We worked from written sources (previous articles/ analyses by academics) and briefings by individual experts.The fine detail of these scripts was obsessively wrangled over until, finally, filming actually began. The task then was to make sure reality conformed to our preconceptions.

All this accorded with Birt’s philosophy. In his autobiography, The Harder Path, he writes: ‘Directors and reporters were sent off with a clear specification of the story their film should tell … [they] … had lost the freedom of the road; they had forfeited much of their discretion’. Birt had encountered stiff resistance to this methodology at Weekend World, similarly at The Money Programme the producers and reporters resented the new straitjacket but had to embrace the new orthodoxy. (pp. 23-4).

My guess is that this system is still very much in place. It’s why the Beeb has followed the rest of the media in demonising the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic. And it’s particularly responsible for the horrendous bias of the Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This was so extreme that it sparked a storm of complaints and resulted in the production of a documentary film refuting it. A film that inevitably was attacked by the same fanatical Zionist witch hunters responsible for the smears against Labour.

The Corporation’s bias may have changed from Labour to Conservative – if it was ever ‘Labour’ in the first place – but the mindset and methodology behind the biased reporting is exactly the same.

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

February 15, 2020

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Channel 4 Threatened by the Tories with Privatisation… Again

February 6, 2020

The ‘Viewpoint’ column in next week’s Radio Times, for the 8th to 14th February 2020, contains an article by Maggie Brown, ‘Saving Thatcher’s baby’, about the problems confronting Channel 4. It begins

In 2020, Channel 4 is facing a number of challenges. Its staff are scattered to the winds, Channel 4 News is under attack from the Government, and the threat of privatisation looms. Is the pioneering broadcaster, which was launched in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, facing an endgame?

She then describes how the broadcaster has moved its headquarters out of London and into Leeds, with hubs in Glasgow and Bristol with more programmes filmed in the regions, such as Manchester and Wales, and changes to the broadcasting schedules with the introduction of new programmes. One of these will be Taskmaster, taken from the Dave digital channel. Brown comments that the programme’s acquisition by Channel 4 is an attempt to boost audiences, but is also ‘a symptom of the tricky compromises and tightrope that C4 has to walk.’ She continues

It is a public service broadcaster “funded by advertising, owned by you”. It must also rally support as an alternative public service broadcaster to the BBC in the face of a hostile Conservative government that is needled by its mischievous independence and most recent mockery (that melting ice sculpture after Boris Johnson failed to show up for a climate change debate).

But relations with Conservative governments have always been tense, with liberal Channel 4 News and tough current affairs programmes such as Dispatches the lightning conductors. After the climate change debate last November, privatisation was immediately threatened again: a knee-jerk response.

She ends the piece by stating that the broadcaster’s business team will remain in London. She sees this as an indication that the broadcaster will not only confound the pessimist’s predictions of its impending demise, but will actually thrive. The business team have the Thatcherite values of self-reliance, and it’s this quality that will allow the broadcaster not only to survive but flourish.

Hm. Possibly. My own feeling is that if Channel 4’s business team manages to save the broadcaster, it won’t be because of an nebulous ethos of ‘self-reliance’, but because it will reflect the views and demands of metropolitan business. The same businesses that fund the Tory party.

She is, however, right about the Tories having a persistent distrust of the broadcaster. Thatcher set Channel 4 up in order to be an alternative to BBC 2. It was to serve communities that the Beeb channel didn’t, like ethnic minorities. It was also to excel in news coverage, as well as alternative arts and sports. By the latter, Denis Thatcher actually meant yachting. What that meant in practice was that the programme broadcast opera, as well as Indian cinema, a serial of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, a history of the madrigal, the pop show, The Tube, and a variety of comedy shows. These included Who Dares  Wins, a sketch show whose cast include Rory McGrath and Tony Robinson, the classic satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, and Desmond’s, which was set in a Black barbers, and launched a wave of Black comedian in Britain. It also had a history of Africa presented by the White afro-centric historian, Basil Davidson, and a news programme about the continent with Black presenters and reporters.  It also showed Max Headroom, which consisted of pop videos hosted by the eponymous Max, the world’s first computer-generated video jockey. Offsetting all the highbrow stuff were sexually explicit films and programmes, which was the closest teenage schoolchildren could get to viewing porn before the internet. It was the sexually explicit stuff that particularly annoyed the Daily Mail, who branded the broadcaster’s controller at the time, Michael Grade, ‘Britain’s pornographer in chief’. The Channel responded to this by broadcasting programmes for gays and lesbians. Amid the furore, one of the most sensible comments was made by the archdeacon of York. When they asked the good churchman what his view of the broadcaster showing a series about lesbians, he replied, ‘Well, who’s going to watch that if there’s Clint Eastwood on the other?’ Quite. Now I understand that one of the channels is bringing back The ‘L’ Word, a lesbian soap opera first shown at the beginning of this century. Quite apart from Channel 4’s own gay soap opera, Queer As Folk.

Private Eye seemed to regard Channel 4 back then as condescending and pretentious. Its literary reviewer sharply criticised a book by its then chief, Jeremy Isaacs, because he made it plain he wanted to bring the British public material like miner’s oral history and so on. When people complained that people didn’t want some of this, Isaacs replied that they had latent needs, needs they didn’t know they had, until someone showed them the material they’d been missing. It was this comment that particularly aroused the reviewer’s ire. But Isaac’s was right. Sometimes you don’t know if there’s a demand for a subject, until you offer people the chance of trying it. And Channel 4 really tried to expand, create and satisfy a market for culture. Oliver Letwin, the former sketchwriter for the Daily Mail and now the Times, actually praised the broadcaster for this in his book, Bog Standard Britain. The broadcaster’s programming always hit and miss. Amid the good stuff there was also much material that was rubbish. And while it had the reputation as rather left-wing, it also carried a programme of political discussion for Conservatives, Right Talk. On the other hand, its opera performances actually managed to reach a decently sized audience, showing that ordinary Brits wanted and would watch highbrow culture.

Its average audience, however, was tiny, and there was pressure on the broadcaster, like the Beeb, to produce more popular programmes to give the British public value for money. Hence the channel became much more mainstream in the 1990s. Its audience grew as expected, but the country lost out as the channel no longer tried to expand the public’s minds and tastes as it once had. And as I said, this was lamented by Letwin, among others, a supporter of the very party that had spent so much time decrying and criticising the channel for being too daring and alternative.

If I remember correctly, the Tories have privatised the channel before. There have been at least two part-privatisations, where the government has sold off some of its share in it. One was under Thatcher, when she was privatising everything. I think the other may have been under Major, who continued her programme. I have a feeling that the second privatisation may have been a cynical move by the Tories to try and work up some enthusiasm for the government. It was announced with the fanfare the Tories usually gave the privatisations, presenting them as some kind of exciting generous opportunity granted to Britain’s workers. Thatcher was trying to create a shareholder democracy, where ordinary people would own shares as participants in capitalism. That’s all died the death a long time ago. The shares given to the workers in the privatised industries have all been sold on, and are now in the hands of a few big businessmen. The council houses she sold off have been bought by private housing associations for profit, and there’s now a housing shortage. And the privatisations were never as popular as the Tories tried to make us all believe to begin with. Support for them, according to polls done at the time, never rose about fifty per cent.

Channel 4 news has a reputation for excellence. Which is undoubtedly why the Tories now despise it and are discussing privatisation again. Britain’s publicly owned broadcasters are under threat because they are obstacles to Murdoch, the Americans and the British private broadcasters, who fund the Tories, dominating British television. They also despise them because they’re supposed to be impartial, unlike the private networks, which would be free to have whatever bias their proprietors chose. And besides, as this week’s attempts to dictate to the media, who could and could not attend BoJob’s precious lobby briefings shows, the Tories want to impose ever more restrictive controls over the media. The end result of that process, if it goes on is, is the rigorous, authoritarian censorship of totalitarianism.

I dare say that if the Tories do go ahead and privatise the Beeb and/or Channel 4, it’ll be presented as some kind of great liberalisation. The British public will be freed from having to support them, and they will have to take their chances in the market place, according to the tenets of Thatcherism. But if that happens, public service broadcasting will have been destroyed along with what should have been cornerstones of media impartiality.

But considering how relentless biased the Beeb has been against Labour and in favour of the Tories, their news desk has done much to destroy that already.