Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Antique Technology in the Science Museum: Samuel Moreland’s Calculator

July 15, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a copy of the Souvenir Guide to the Science Museum. This was a photographic guide to some of the Museum’s exhibits, which include Islamic alchemical apparatus, an iron lung, the wright flier, and a BBC television receiver from the 1920s among many, many others.

One of the early pieces of scientific equipment is a mechanical calculator constructed by the English inventor, Samuel Morland in 1666.

The guide explains

French mathematician Blaise Pascal made the first working mechanical calculator in 1642, and several mathematicians and inventors attempted to emulate or improve on his design. Morland’s device, shown here, could add, multiply and divide; the wheels were operated by a steel pin that was stored in the slot in the machine’s lid. Morland also invented a megaphone – or, as he called it, the ‘Tuba Stentorphonica’ and a water pump for spraying water to put out fires. (p. 40).

The Science Museum is, of course, also the home of the most famous of the historic calculating machines, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, which has been hailed as the world’s first programmable computer. It was also the central theme of Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s Steampunk SF novel, The Difference Engine, which imagined an alternative 19th century, in which the Difference Engine had been built and ushered in a steam-powered information age in a Britain governed by a scientific elite under the premiership of Lord Byron.

It seems to me that Babbage’s machine was the culmination of a long process of invention, where mathematicians, scientists and engineers designed and constructed mechanical calculating machines. Pascal’s was the first of these. But I think the ultimate idea actually goes back to the 14th century Spanish poet and mystic, Ramon Llul. Alan Chapman, the astronomer and Christian apologist, says in his book, Slaying the Dragons, that Llul attempted to show that God’s existence was encoded in the structure of mathematics itself, and that this inspired a number of later writers to design calculating machines.

Cartoon of Thatcher, General Pinochet, and the Man He Overthrew, Salvador Allende

June 29, 2017

This is another of my cartoons against the Tory party and its vile policies. This one is of the leaderene herself, Margaret Thatcher, and her Fascist friend, General Pinochet. Thatcher was great friends with Chilean dictator. He had, after all, given Britain aid and assistance in the Falklands conflict against Argentina. After the old brute’s regime fell, she offered him a place to stay in London and was outraged when the New Labour government tried to have him arrested and extradited to Spain on a human rights charge. Amongst the tens of thousands the thug’s administration had arrested and murdered over the years was a young man from Spain, and his government naturally wanted the old butcher arrested and tried.

The figure on the right of the picture is Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president Pinochet overthrew in 1975. Allende was a Marxist, and one of his policies was to break up the vast estates and give the land to the impoverished peasants. This was all too much for the Chilean military-industrial elite and the Americans.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, the Americans had been working to overthrew any and all left-wing governments in South and Central America and the Caribbean. These regimes were attacked because they were supposedly Communist or sympathetic to Communism. Many of the governments that the Americans plotted against or overthrew were actually far more moderate. They were either democratic Socialists, like Jacobo Arbenz’s administration in Guatemala, all were liberal. In many cases the accusation that they were Communists was simply an excuse to overthrow a government that was harmful to American corporate interests. Arbenz’s regime was overthrown because he wished to nationalise the banana plantations, which dominated the country’s economy. These kept their workers in a state of desperate poverty little better, if at all, than slavery. Many of these plantations were owned by the American United Fruit corporation. The Americans thus had Arbenz ousted in a CIA-backed coup. They then tried to justify the coup by falsely depicted Arbenz as a Communist. Marxist literature and material was planted in Arbenz’s office and photographed, to appear in American newspapers and news reports back home. The result of the coup was a series of brutal right-wing dictatorships, which held power through torture, mass arrest and genocide until the 1990s.

Allende was a particular problem for the Americans, as he had been democratically elected to his country’s leadership. This challenged the Americans’ propaganda that Communism was always deeply unpopular, anti-democratic, and could only seize power through coups and invasions. So the CIA joined forces with Allende’s extreme right-wing opponents in the military, business and agricultural elites, and fabricated a story that the president was going to remove democracy and establish a dictatorship. Allende was then overthrown, and Pinochet took power as the country’s military dictator.

In the following decades, 30,000 people were arrested by the regime as subversives, to be tortured and killed. Many disappeared. The campaign by their wives and womenfolk to find out what happened to them, which began in the 1980s, still continues. A few years ago, the BBC in once of its documentaries about the Latin America, visited Chile and filmed in the former concentration camp where the regime’s political prisoners were interned. It was situated high up in the Chilean desert. The place was abandoned, decaying and strewn with the desert dust, but still grim. The presenter pointed out the wooden building where the prisoners were tortured. It was called ‘the disco’, because the guards played disco music to cover the screams of the prisoners when they were raped.

As well as supporting its dictator against the threat of a popular Marxist regime, Thatcher and the Americans under Ronald Reagan also had another reason for taking an interest in the country. Thatcher and Reagan were monetarists, followers of the free market ideology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. Friedman’s ideas had also been taken up Pinochet, and Friedman himself used to travel regularly to the country to check on how they were being implemented. So much for the right-wing claim that free markets go hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. All this came to an end in the 1990s, when a series of revolutions and protests throughout Latin America swept the dictators from power.

The links between Thatcher’s and Reagan’s administrations and the brutal dictatorships in South and Central America, as well as their connections to domestic Fascist groups, alarmed many on the Left in Britain. She also supported a ‘strong state’, meaning a strong military and police force, which she used to crack down on her opponents in Britain, such as during the Miner’s Strike. There were real fears amongst some that she would create a dictatorship in Britain. These fears were expressed in the comic strip, V For Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, which first ran in the British comic, Warrior, before being republished by DC in America. This told the story of V, an anonymous escapee prisoner and victim of medical experimentation at one of the concentration camps in a future Fascist Britain, and his campaign to overthrow the regime that had tortured and mutilated him. A film version also came out a few years ago, starring Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as the heroine, Evie, John Hurt as the country’s dictator, and Stephen Fry as a gay TV presenter. As is well known, it’s from V For Vendetta that inspired protest and revolutionary groups across the world to wear Guy Fawkes masks, like the strip’s hero.

To symbolise the mass killings committed by Thatcher’s old pal, I’ve drawn a couple of human skulls. Between them is a fallen figure. This comes from a 19th century American anti-slavery poster, showing the corpse of a Black man, who was shot dead when he tried to claim his right as an American citizen to vote. Although it came from a different country and time, the poor fellow’s body nevertheless seemed to symbolise to me the murderous denial of basic civil liberties of the Fascist right, and particularly by local Fascist regimes around the world, installed and kept in power by American imperialism, and its particular oppression of the world’s non-White peoples.

New Labour came to power promising an ethical foreign policy under Robin Cook. Apart from Pinochet’s arrest, this went by the wayside as Tony Blair and his crew were prepared to cosy up to every multimillionaire thug, dictator or corrupt politician, who were ready to give them money. Like Berlusconi, the Italian president, whose Forza Italia party had formed a coalition with the ‘post-Fascists’ of the Alleanza Nazionale and the Liga Nord, another bunch, who looked back with nostalgia to Mussolini’s dictatorship. This crew were so racist, they hated the Italian south, which they nicknamed ‘Egypt’, and campaigned for an independent northern Italian state called ‘Padania’.

Jeremy Corbyn similarly promises to be a genuine force for peace, democracy and freedom around the world. He might be another disappointment once in power. But I doubt it. I think he represents the best chance to attack imperialism and exploitative neoliberal capitalism.

So if you genuinely want to stop Fascism and exploitation here and abroad, and end Thatcher’s legacy of supporting oppressive right-wing regimes, vote Labour.

Real Warp Physics: Travelling to the Pleiades in a Hyperspace with Imaginary Time in 1.3 Years

June 20, 2017

Now for something a little more optimistic. Don’t worry – I’ll get back to bashing the Tories and their vile policies shortly.

Looking through a few back copies of Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, I found a paper by a Japanese physicist, Yoshinari Minami, ‘Travelling to the Stars: Possibilities Given by a Spacetime Featuring Imaginary Time’ in JBIS vol. 56, no. 5/6, May/June 2003, pp. 205-211. The possibility of Faster Than Light travel is taken seriously by a number of physicists, engineers and space scientists, and a number of papers on the possibility of using warp drive or other advanced systems to travel to the stars have been published since Marcel Alcubierre published his paper showing that warp drive was possible, if only in theory, in the 1990s. Incidentally, one of Alcubierre’s names using the Spanish system was ‘Moya’, which was also the name of the living space ship in the SF TV series, Farscape.

In the article, Minami discusses the physics of hyperspace, using some seriously difficult maths to prove that it is in theory possible to travel to the Pleiades, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters, a star cluster 410 light years away in 1.3 Earth years. Without some form of FTL drive a round trip to the Pleiades in a spacecraft travelling at 0.99999 per cent of the speed of light would take 820 years, although due to time dilation the crew would only experience the journey as 3.6 years long.

Minami acknowledges that imaginary time is a difficult concept, and gives some examples of how contemporary scientists are nevertheless incorporating it into their theories and experiments. For example, Stephen Hawking has used imaginary time as part of his attempt to unite relativity and quantum physics. In real time, the universe has a beginning and an end in singularities in which current physics breaks down. However, no such boundaries exist in imaginary time, and so imaginary time may be far more basic as a fundamental property of the cosmos.

He also discusses the way quantum tunnelling is utilised in a number of electronics components. These are the tunnel diode, the tunnel transistor, the tunnel diode charge transformer logic and other devices. Quantum tunnelling is the phenomenon in which a sub-atomic particle can travel slightly faster than light if it has imaginary momentum.

This is seriously mind-blowing stuff. I can remember the excitement back in the 1990s or perhaps the early part of this century, when a team of physicists showed it was possible to use quantum tunnelling to send information slightly faster than the speed of light, something which was previously thought impossible. For SF fans, this raises the possibility that one day Faster Than Light communication devices – the ansibles of Ursula le Guin and the Dirac Telephone of James Blish, could become a reality.

The paper then discusses the possibility of using wormholes or cosmological theories, which posit that the universe has extra dimensions, such as Kaluza-Klein Theory, Supergravity, Superstrings, M theory and D-brane theory to enter hyperspace. Minami states that one form of wormhole – the Euclidean – is considered to include imaginary time in their topology. However, using such a wormhole would be extremely difficult, as they’re smaller than an attempt, suffer fluctuations and the destination and way back is ultimately unknown.

He therefore does not make any detailed suggestion how a future spacecraft could enter hyperspace. But if a spaceship was able to enter hyperspace after accelerating to with a infinitesimal fraction of the speed of light, a flight which lasted for 100 hours in hyperspace would appear to last only 70 hours to an observer on Earth.

He then considers a mission in which a spaceship leaves Earth at a tenth or a fifth the speed of light. After escaping from the solar system, the ship then accelerates to near-light speed. Such a spacecraft would be able to reach the Pleiades in 1.8 years ship time, which 1.3 years have passed to the scientists waiting back on Earth. This method of transport would not violate the causality principle, and could be used at all times and everywhere back in real space.

I don’t pretend for a single moment to be able to follow the maths. All I can say is that, if a hyperspace with an imaginary time exists, then, as Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard would say, ‘Make it so!’

Paul McGann Makes Powerful Appeal to People to Register to Vote

May 17, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has also reblogged a video by Paul McGann on behalf of the Labour Party, in which he appeals to people to register to vote if they have not done so yet. If they don’t, and therefore won’t be allowed to vote, then they will have no voice in how the country is governed, and over vitally important issues and causes like the NHS.

So please don’t lose your voice, and register.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/17/a-powerful-appeal-for-people-to-register-to-vote-from-paul-mcgann/

This is now more important than ever. The Tories, like their vile counterparts, the Republicans, in America, have changed the voter registration legislation in the hope that this will prevent more people from voting. These changes mean that many people, who believe they are registered to vote, may not be so in fact. If they come to the polling station, they will be turned away.

And I don’t doubt for a single minute that the Tories are hoping that enough of the British people will be apathetic or so fed up with politics, that they will stay away from the voting booths, and so allow them to win by default.

Republican politicians in America have let the cat out of the bag regarding their own electoral reforms, and openly admitted that it is to prevent supporters of the Democrat party, and especially the young, the poor, students and Blacks from voting. I’ve reblogged videos from The Young Turks and Secular Talk that have covered this.

These are the groups in America that vote Democrat, and young people and ethnic minorities are also the parts of the population which are more inclined to vote Labour over here.

And despite all their attempts to appear hip, anti-racist, and entirely cool with gays and the new attitudes to gender and sexuality, I don’t doubt that these are also the groups the Tories also fear and despise. They clearly have absolute contempt for students, as shown by the massive increase in student fees and levels of debt that occurred in the seven years we’ve been ruled by these scoundrels.

So please, if you have any doubt, take McGann’s advice. You really can’t afford not to.

Incidentally, looking at McGann in the video, it seemed to me that with the distinctive haircut, long, angular face and tweed jacked, he was channelling a certain Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm, 1984 and the Spanish Civil War memoire, Homage to Catalonia. Orwell was a convinced Socialist, who wrote a book looking forward to a revolution that would bring about a distinctively English form of Socialism in his book, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English. He was a bitter critic of Communism and totalitarianism, because he had witnessed the way the Communist party under Stalin had betrayed its left-wing allies and murdered their members during the Spanish Civil War. Orwell, like so many other idealistic young people across Europe and America, had personally fought in the War, joining a brigade affiliated to POUM, a non-Marxist Socialist party. He was also strongly impressed with the achievement of the Spanish Anarchists in creating a genuinely Socialist society, in which the workers and peasant owned and managed the farms and industry themselves, before they were defeated and massacred by Franco.

Back in Britain, Orwell worked as a journalist as well as a novelist. He was a convinced anti-imperialist through his experiences as a serviceman in Burma, then part of the British Empire. To understand the depths of hardship working people were experiencing during the Great Depression, he lived for a time as a tramp. This led to the book Down and Out in London and Paris, and The Road to Wigan Pier. This last was reprinted a few years ago because of its relevance to the poverty caused by the Tories through austerity. He also satirised British bourgeois culture and values in Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

As a political journalist, he argued that its writing should be as clear and lucid as possible. There have been criticisms of his remarks and recommendations about how it should be written, but his comments have been taken extremely seriously. His stature as one of this country’s foremost political writers is recognised in the fact that there is a literary award named after him, the Orwell Prize, for political writing.

So in the above video, you have a brilliant actor, Paul McGann, channelling one of the greatest political writers.

Brilliant! as they used to shout on the Fast Show.

Michael ‘Poundland Pinochet’ Howard Rattles Sabre over Gibraltar

April 3, 2017

Mike over Vox Political posted up a piece today reporting Michael Howard’s belligerent comments about Gibraltar. Theresa May didn’t mention Gibraltar when she gave the EU her notification that Britain would like to trigger Article 50. As Spain also has territorial claims to the Rock, the EU then inserted a clause stating that Spain would have a veto over any negotiations.

This has caused Howard to start getting his toy sword out, and start waving it around whichever parliamentary play room he now inhabits. Howard has declared that Britain will defend Gibraltar, and that the country will rally round the Tory party, just like they rallied around Mrs T. over the Falklands.

Mike over at Vox Political points out how stupid this is, and includes a selection of tweets about it from the many others, who also think that Howard has gone off the deep end. At least one of them points out that NATO countries cannot go to war on each other. Others point out that the EU was formed to stop European countries attacking each other. And there’s a piece from 2000 AD’s Calhab Justice way back in the 1990s, in which Britain nukes Spain over Gibraltar.

And Mike also points out that Gibraltar, unlike England, voted to stay within the EU.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/04/03/poundland-pinochet-michael-howard-thinks-uk-should-declare-war-on-spain-over-gibraltar/

There are number of aspects to this latest piece of Tory warmongering that need to be commented on. Firstly, the Tories have nearly always been the War Party. During the 1990s under Blair the situation was reversed, and many Tories campaigned against his evil and mendacious invasion of Iraq. Now that they’re in power, the situation has reversed again and the Tories are back to demanding more fire and blood. As usual.

Now dictatorial regimes faced with a domestic crises often start an international crisis in order to divert attention away from their weaknesses. Franco used to do it too with Gibraltar. As soon as his regime started to look insecure and unrest increased, he’d start banging on about sovereignty in order to get the Spanish people to rally round him. Mussolini and Hitler were both imperialists by conviction, rather than expediency, but they also used their imperial ambitions to divert resentment away from their regimes to the countries they fought and invaded.

Now under Theresa May, Michael Howard is using the same tactic.

Which suggests that you really can’t trust the polls. They may show that the Tories are way ahead in the polls, but the fact that Howard feels that a war is needed to rally Brits around them, and raise the spectre of Thatcher and the ‘Falklands Factor’ again, suggests otherwise. Whatever the polls say, it appears that secretly some Tories are very worried.

Good. Let’s make ’em petrified.

Howard talks about Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands, but it could very easily have gone the other way. At the time, Thatcher was cutting back the armed forces. I got the impression that we were able to defeat the Argentinians because we had the help of the Americans and Chile.

The Tories have similarly cut back the armed forces since David Cameron took power. Even before then, British troops in Afghanistan had problems acquiring needed kit, to the point where Private Eye reported that they were being nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ from their American comrades because they were forced to borrow theirs.

America also cannot be relied upon to give its support automatically to Britain. Britain lost the Suez canal when it was seized by Nasser back in the 1950s, because the Americans refused to back Eden’s proposal for military action. This effectively ended Britain as a leading superpower, and our replacement by the Americans.

Lobster’s editor, Robin Ramsay, is very critical of the EU as an instrument of economic domination across the Continent in favour of big business. He’s run several articles arguing very strongly, and with very good evidence, that Britain’s membership of the Common Market, or EEC, as it then was, was due to lobbying by right-wing business groups and the Americans. Now I don’t support Brexit, but do accept that there is much about the EU that is undemocratic and massively needs reform. I mention that the Americans pressured us into the joining the EEC to make the point that they may not support us if we withdraw.

In short, the Americans will embarrass May’s government by denying Britain their support to safeguard their own interests, just like they did Eden.

But let’s suppose that somehow, Britain did go to war with Spain. This could escalate, as both sides start trying to find allies. It’s unlikely, but this could end up with NATO divided, and several of its countries shooting and bombing each other.

In which case, congratulations, Howard and May. You’ve just destroyed 70 years of western European peace and divided a continent, causing massive bloodshed. Because you wanted to get yourselves re-elected by causing another Falklands War.

And finally there’s a lesson from the First World War. This was opposed by radical Socialists across Europe as an imperialist war. It was fought by the great powers for the benefit of big business. The ordinary Brit, Frenchman, German or Austrian was being told to sacrifice his or her life for the profit or their country’s ruling classes. Ordinary working people across Europe had more in common than national divisions, and so should not participate in a fratricidal war.

The same criticism applies exactly today to Howard’s ludicrous outburst. Neoliberalism is the economic doctrine espoused by the political elites across Europe and the rest of the globe. But it is doing nothing to benefit the poor and working people. Indeed, quite the opposite. Poverty is increasing. Now Howards wants to start a war with Spain, or threaten a war with Spain, so that his neoliberal party of exploiters can benefit by bamboozling working people into dying on their behalf.

Just like Blair did in the invasion of Iraq.

We were lied to about that war. Millions have perished and been displaced as a result. We will not be lied to again.

Policeman Killed by Terrorist Should Get Award for His Sacrifice

March 23, 2017

I’ve been listening to the news about the vile terrorist attack that occurred in London yesterday. Like everyone else, I’m disgusted by this man’s horrific attack on the innocent ordinary citizens on the bridge, including Aysha Frade, a Spanish teacher at a sixth form college, and the French students, who have been injured.

I believe that Keith Palmer, the police officer stabbed to death by the terrorist, should be posthumously given an award for his heroism in sacrificing his own life to defend the politicos, civil servants, members of the public inside the palace of Westminster.

I also have nothing but respect for the response of the medical staff of one of the hospitals, who rushed out to give immediate aid to the victims. This too was an act of bravery, as they did not know whether they themselves would also be targeted for attack.

Of all the speeches being made by the politicians about it, I think one of the most profound points was made by Ken Livingstone. Livingstone pointed out that London had survived the Blitz, and would survive this. He also said that the terrorists’ intention is to provoke non-Muslims to attack Muslims. However, after the 7/7 attacks, not one Muslim was attacked in retaliation. He followed this with the observation that the people coming to our country are attracted by our values of tolerance and community, and don’t want to change them.

It’s an excellent point, and needed to be said before the bigots of the extreme right try to capitalise on this terrible incident to demonise Muslims in turn, and create the hatred and division the killer and his vile collaborators want.

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day today. According to Wikipedia, it was first started by the Socialist Party of America, who held the first Women’s Day in New York on February 28th, 1909. Following a suggestion by Luise Zietz at an International Women’s Conference in August 1910, it was then celebrated the next year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It then spread to the Russian Empire, and became a formal day of celebration under Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai after the Bolshevik coup. It was then celebrated mostly by the Communist countries until 1975, when the UN inaugurated International Women’s Day.

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

The earliest organized Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.[3] There was no strike on March 8, despite later claims.[5]

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark.[6] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference.[7][8] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women.[9] The following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.[3] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.[7] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune.[7] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.[2] Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.[7]

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8.[5] In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.[5] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.[5][10]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.[11]

In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Petrograd, Russia, on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[5] Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”[5]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists in 1936.[7] After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.[12]

The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.[13]

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. The article then explains

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world”.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks released the news that the organisers of the Women’s Marches in America were planning a Women’s General Strike against Trump. I don’t know if this is actually taking place, but there are a number of articles about it in today’s I newspaper. Including a report that the veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, has called Trump a ‘walking violation of women’s rights’. Which is true, unfortunately.

So I’d like to give my best wishes to all the females readers of this blog on this special day.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

British Interplanetary Society Paper on Terraforming Mars with Microorganisms

January 1, 2017

Yesterday I put up a couple of articles on terraforming the various planets of the Solar system, including Mercury, Venus and Earth’s Moon, as well as Mars. There have been a couple of really interesting comments posted to them. Florence, one of the great people, who read this blog, stated that she was a microbiologist. She was very much looking forward to working on microorganisms for Mars, but unfortunately that, and much of the rest of the space programme, vanished.

As well as Carl Sagan’s suggestion in the 1960s that blue-green algae could be used to create a breathable atmosphere and Earthlike environment on Mars, a number of scientists have also suggested using microorganisms to terraform the Red Planet. Twenty years ago the American Astronautical Society published a series of papers, edited by Robert M. Zubrin, about the colonisation of Mars, From Imagination to Reality: Mars Exploration Studies of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society: Part II: Base Building, Colonization and Terraformation (San Diego: Univelt 1997). This included a paper, ‘Genetic Modification and Selection of Microorganisms for Growth on Mars’ by Julian A. Hiscox and David J. Thomas.

bis-mars-terraforming

The abstract for this paper reads

Genetic engineering has often been suggested as a mechanism for improving the survival prospects of terrestrial microorganisms when seeded on Mars. The survival characteristics that these pioneer microorganisms could be endowed with and a variety of mechanisms by which this can be achieved are discussed, together with an overview of some of the potential hurdles that must be overcome. Also, a number of biologically useful properties for these microorganisms are presented that could facilitate the initial human colonisation and ultimately the planetary engineering of Mars.

After an Introduction, in which they state that the terraformation of Mars could be a two-stage process, with the construction of an Earthlike environment by microorganisms being the first, they then proceed to the following sections:

2. Selection of Bacteria for Mars The Search for a Marsbug, which discusses the suitability of terrestrial microbes for the process, such as the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiops and the extremophiles, which occupy of extreme environments here on Earth;

3. Genetic Engineering – A simple Matter of Cut and Paste;

4. Genetic Modification and Selection;

5. Gene Expression, with subsections on

1) Survival Properties – Tolerance to Peroxides; Osmotic Adaptation; UV Resistance; Tolerance to High Intracellular Acid Concentrations; Endospore Formation;

2) General Properties, with further subsections on photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, and denitrification;

6. Uses of GEMOS and Some Speculations,

and then finally the conclusion and acknowledgments.

The conclusion reads

The introduction of microorganisms on Mars will greatly facilitate colonisation, both during initial attempts and in establishment of a stable ecosystem, either in enclosed habitats or at the end of ecopoiesis or terraformation. During the initial stages of ecopoiesis climatic conditions on Mars will be limiting for most terrestrial microorganism. By using genetic modification and directed selection under simulated Martian conditions, it may be possible to greatly enhance the survival capability of microorganisms during the alteration of the Martian climate to more clement conditions. Such microorganisms could be used to facilitate any planetary engineering effort. For example, they could be used to release Co2 and N2 from putative carbonate and nitrate deposits.

The genetic alteration of microorganisms will not be so much of a problem of introducing foreign genes into the organism but more a matter of understanding and controlling the regulatory pathways for the expression of such genes. However, such understandings will provide valuable insights into genetics, not only for increasing the productivity of microorganisms on Mars but possibly for Earth.

I’ve got very strong reservations about genetic engineering and modification, but here there is a strong case if it can be used to bring life to a sterile world. Assuming, that is, that Mars does not already possess life. In a way, the article’s ironic. Over a century ago, H.G. Wells had a germ, the common cold, destroy the invading Martians in his book, The War of the Worlds. Now terrestrial scientists are discussing using such organisms as ways to creating a living environment on the Red Planet.

Scottish Economist Mark Blyth’s on Neoliberal Economic Cause of Trump and Global Fascism

December 3, 2016

Mike early today put up a piece about a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, in which the Labour leader correctly described the extreme right-wing parties and their leaders as ‘parasites’, feeding off the despair and poverty that had been created through Conservative economic policies. They blamed their economic problems on immigrants, racial minorities and the poorest and weakest members of society. What was needed was for centre-left parties to reject the political establishment, and devise policies that would help people take power for themselves.

The report cited by Mike quoted Corbyn as saying:

“They are political parasites feeding off people’s concerns and worsening conditions, blaming the most vulnerable for society’s ills instead of offering a way for taking back real control of our lives [from] the elites who serve their own interests.

“But unless progressive parties and movements break with a failed economic and political establishment, it is the siren voices of the populist far right that will fill the gap.””

Mike makes the point that this effectively damns New Labour and its legacy. Blair’s espousal of neoliberal, Thatcherite economics allowed the country’s remaining state assets to be sold off by the Tories and Lib Dems, and made the country ready for the rise of far right politicians such as Theresa May and Nigel Farage.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/03/far-right-politicians-and-their-supporters-are-parasites-says-corbyn-calling-for-rejection-of-the-establishment/

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the only person making this point. Over a week ago Michael Brooks, filling in for Sam Seder as the anchor on the left-wing internet news show The Majority Report, discusses the economic causes behind the rise of racist authoritarianism around the world. And it is global. Trump has been elected the next president of the United State, Marine Le Pen’s Front National is leading the polls in France, the neo-Fascist Fidesz party is in power in Hungary, and Brexit in England is part of this pattern.

Mark Blyth, a Scottish political economist and professor of international political economy at Brown University gave a speech at the university’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs which laid bare the roots of the origins of these illiberal, Fascistic movements in the massive poverty and social inequality created by neoliberal economics. Brooks plays a clip from his speech, and then adds his own comments afterwards.

Blyth states that from 1945 to 1975, the world’s governments were concentrating on full employment. He states that there is an economic law called the Lucas Critique, which states that in any economic policy, someone will try to game it to serve their ends. And in the case of the strategy of creating full employment, both unions and employers tried to game the system, with the result that inflation increased massively. This principally hurt the creditor class – the financial sector – who decided to hit back by liberating the banks from government control and creating an integrated global economy. This included globalising labour, so that they could not demand fair wages. If they did so, their jobs could be closed down and moved overseas. He also makes the point that the international trade agreements concluded during this period have been made with little regard for the interests of ordinary people themselves. You can see this in the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. If you look this up on the web, you will find a 700 page document negotiated between governments and major corporations, but with little input from civil society. Ditto for the treaties of the European Union. People have realised that for the past thirty years from 1985 onwards, massive amounts of money has been made, but these have all been passed upwards to an infinitesimally small number of people.

The result is massive poverty. He makes the point to his audience at the uni that they don’t have to go very far to see the consequences. All they have to do is go to north-west Providence, in Rhode Island. There they can see the stores offering to cash cheques on demand, or selling or fixing goods cheaply. People are fed up, and use every opportunity to show it. This was demonstrated with Brexit in England and Wales, and in the Constitutional Referendum in Italy.

And there is also a macro-economic underpinning to these movements here. Successive governments have targeted inflation, and Blyth states that he can see no reason why the Lucas Critique should not also apply here. We now have a situation in which 3 trillion euros have been dumped into the money supply through quantitative easing, and it has not caused inflation. This has caused other problems. When banks have been bailed out and taken over by governments, so that they have been dumped on the public, the creditors fight even harder to get their money back. This can be seen in the case of Germany versus the rest of the Eurozone. This has set up a conflict between creditors versus debtors. On the left, it’s produced Podemos in Spain. On the right, it’s created the Front National in France. Trump’s part of this trend. Misogyny and racism are part of the mixture that has thrust him to power, but if you look at areas like America’s rust belt, you also see that part of it is also economic.

Brooks adds that this is true, and like Corbyn, he makes the point that if there is no serious left-wing response which deals with an economic system that has been created to serve a tiny elite, it will open the door to the ugly things that are also present in the system.

In America, this is White Supremacism. He states that it’s in America’s DNA. The country was founded on genocide, slavery, apartheid and racism, of which there are different kinds, including discrimination against Asians and Hispanics. It is a profoundly racist country. The situation has also been made worse through the misalignment in the Democrat Party. There is a split between those who want social liberation, and those who want to reign in the corporate interests and break up the big cartels. This wasn’t quite so pronounced twenty years ago under Bill Clinton, who was willing to use racial demagoguery. Brooks states that the only way to tackle the rise of racism in America is to combine the two goals of creating greater opportunities for women and minorities, and attacking the power of the big corporations. The Third Way, neoliberal nonsense is unable to do this. The age of neoliberalism is over. The reign of neo-Fascism is now in.

Blyth, Brooks and Jeremy Corbyn are all exactly right. But you won’t hear it from the establishment press, or the Beeb, or any of the mainstream news outlets, which are there to serve corporate interests. And those interests want to prop up neoliberalism as long as possible. Hence we have the supposedly liberal press – the Guardian and Independent, viciously attacking Jeremy Corbyn and demanding his removal in favour of a safe Blairite leader. There’s a piece in today’s I newspaper by Janet Street-Porter asking why Ed Balls can’t be leader of the Labour party. She makes the point that he’s a fellow of Harvard University, and so intelligent. Balls academic qualifications aren’t in question here. All of the New Labour clique were well educated men and women, and the majority of them had spent periods studying in America. That’s the problem. They are the products of the British-American Project For the Successor Generation, a Reaganite programme set up to influence rising politicians in the 1980s so that they followed the Atlanticist line. And you can see the effects in the case of Tony Blair. When he started out, he was for unilateral nuclear disarmament. They he spent four weeks in America as a guest of the think tanks involved in the programme, and came back a convinced supporter of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. And Balls was an integral part of New Labour, and the Thatcherite/ Reaganite policies it pursued.

And that’s exactly what Janet Street-Porter and the other, supposedly left-wing hacks want: Thatcherism, but under a left-wing guise, which is essentially no different from that of the Tories.

It’s why Tony Blair has also returned, and is talking about his plans to set up an institute to promote ‘centrist’ politics next year. His politics aren’t centrist, as Mike’s pointed out: they’re far right, neo-liberal. They punish the poor, the ill, the unemployed and disabled for the profit and big businessmen like David Sainsbury. I’ve no doubt Blair is genuinely afraid of the rise in racism across the Continent. But he’s also terrified of the re-emergence of genuine socialism and of ordinary citizens taking back power from the corporations and the bankers. Hence his stupid and misguided plans for the institute. He hasn’t realised that his policies are part of the long chain of causes of the present political crisis, going all the way back to Thatcher. His institute isn’t going to solve the problem of racism and authoritarianism across Europe. It’s going to make it worse. If it ever gets going, of course.