Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

April 3, 2021

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

March 18, 2021

Okay, I finally stayed up last night to listen to Radio 4’s Tom Mayhew Is Benefits Scum. I blogged about this programme a little while ago when I first read about it in the Radio Times. I said that it looked like it was worth listening to, as it seemed that it would tell the truth about what it’s really like to live on benefits. This is as opposed to the various ‘poverty-porn’ documentaries like Benefits Street, that seek to portray everyone on welfare as a scrounger. Unfortunately, it’s on at 11.00 pm on Wednesday evenings, which is a bit past my usual bedtime. But last night I actually managed to stay up and listen to it.

It’s not long, only a quarter of an hour in length, and mixes staged recreations of meetings with Jobcentre staff and benefits advisors, and stand-up, observational comedy based on Mayhew’s own experience of the benefits system. He also had a guest performer, Francesca Inez, a disabled woman, who gave her own perspective on how unfair and humiliating the system’s treatment of the disabled is.

It started out in the Jobcentre, where Mayhew was being asked by the clerk if he had really been spending 35 hours a week looking for work. Had he gone for that job as a miner as he should have done? Going out, he found his friend Francesca lying on the floor. She had gone through the process of seeing what would be the ideal job for her, and told it was ballet dancer. She had fallen over trying to practise. Mayhew commiserated with her, telling her that the machine had told him his ideal jobs were footballer, boxer and the Queen’s butler.

This sketch led into Inez herself talking about the grotesque injustice of the benefits system. She said people ask her what should be the proper relationship between government agencies and the disabled over benefits. She said it should be a partnership between the government and the claimant’s doctor. Unfortunately, this had been scrapped by New Labour, who had decided that a sizable number of claims for disability benefit were fraudulent, and so had introduced the Work Capability Test. In fact, the proportion of fraudulent claims was 0.05 per cent, so it was in fact easier for Mayhew to get a job as a footballer than to commit benefit fraud. She asked who would seriously want to be unable to go out on their own, to go to the toilet on their or prepare their own food, all for the sake of £100 a week. She was also massively unimpressed by the clerks the Department for Work and Pensions send round to make sure that claimants really are disabled. ‘Oh, I’m just here to see if you’re still wobbly’, she imitated one saying. He reply was ‘Well, I’ll give you a wet shave, and then you tell me.’

Mayhew also attacked the sanctions system. He thought you were only sanctioned if you deliberately tried to mislead or play the system. But no! He found himself sanctioned for eight weeks simply because he’d sent the wrong form in. But he’d been told that it would take eight weeks for his case to be reviewed. How strange, then, that he had his benefits restored after only four after he’d written to him MP. He then gave a shout-out to David Gauke, a Tory, saying how weird it was that a Tory MP should actually help someone on benefit.

He argued that it was wrong to call welfare payments ‘benefits’. Benefits sounds like something extra on top of one’s wages. Instead it should be called ‘Survival Money’, because you needed it to survive. This would make it difficult to have people thrown off it as well. Depriving someone of benefits sounds much better than removing their survival money. And as for sanctions, how does being hungry make someone better at finding work?

He also joked about the massive lack of self-esteem people on benefits have. He told one story of how he’d been accosted by a man while walking back from the Jobcentre. The man had told him that he should carry himself with a bit more confidence, head held high, because if he’d been a mugger, Mayhew would have been an easy target. It was, Mayhew jested, a Virtual mugging in which he’d been robbed of his self-respect. He then told another one about a mugger marching him to a cash machine, telling him he was going to leave him with nothing. ‘How kind of him to clear my overdraft!’

More seriously, Mayhew told a chilling anecdote which showed how easy it is for desperate, starving young men to be reduced to selling their bodies for sex. He’d met someone at a gathering, and they promised to get in touch with each other again via email. A few months later he got one from this man. Mayhew replied to him, saying he was in a bad patch financially, and asked him for £50. He told him he’d be able to pay him back in two month’s time. The man replied that he couldn’t give him any money, but he would pay him £200 to have sex with him. Mayhew joked that he didn’t, as he wouldn’t do anything like that for less than £350. But for a moment he was tempted. Poverty has often forced desperate women into prostitution, but this story showed it could also happen to men.

I had a great, appreciative comment by Mayhew to my original blog piece about his programme. He asked me if I could do something to further publicise his programme, because he’d been going through the papers and hadn’t found any reviews of it. Listening to his programme, it was easy to understand why: he was too sharp, and told the truth.

Right-wing rags like the Heil, the Scum and the Depress sell copies by spreading moral panic about benefit claimants. They actively paint them as scroungers and malingerers, as does right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. Although rather more polite, the same attitude also pervades the Torygraph and the Times. These papers very definitely do not want their Thatcherite ideals contradicted by people, who’ve been at the sharp end of the system, showing their readers they’re perfectly decent, honest people and telling them how dysfunctional, humiliating and malign the system really is.

And unfortunately I don’t see the supposedly left-wing press being much better. The Mirror, the Graun and the Absurder have all struck me as being Blairite New Labour, who wholeheartedly embraced Thatcher’s contempt and persecution of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. The Graun has many times urged people to vote Lib Dem in recent elections, so again, these papers won’t want their readers disabused of some of their received notions.

Added to this is the current campaign by the Tories and their lapdog press to destroy the Beeb. This is partly because the Tories depend for their propaganda on the favour of Rupert Murdoch and his papers, who hates the Beeb as an obstacle to his domination of the global media. They also hate the idea of a state TV broadcaster as part of their opposition to any kind of state intervention, as well as the idea of an impartial, public service broadcaster. Hence the attempt to set up various rivals to the Beeb by the Times.

As a result, the papers have been running stories about how the BBC is too left-wing and too ‘woke’. Belfield put up a video a day or two ago rejoicing over the cancellation of Nish Kumar’s The Mash Report. Director-General Tim Davie had supposedly cancelled it because it was too biased towards the left. Belfield went further, and claimed that the real reason it was axed was because it wasn’t funny and was helmed by a ‘box-ticker’ – his term for a person of colour or other minority, who’s been given a job because of their identity rather than talent. Kumar’s Asian, so Belfield’s comment looks just a tad racist to me. Belfield claimed that cancelling Kumar’s show wouldn’t make any difference, as the Beeb as a whole is too left-wing and needs to be privatised.

It’s obvious from this that the right-wing media, then, aren’t going to give a good review to an explicitly left-wing comedy show. I also think that class is also an issue here. New Labour, it has been pointed out, was liberal but not socialist. Blair had turned his back on the working class, and instead New Labour concentrated on trying to recruit the middle classes. The left-wing elements of New Labour ideology was a concern with combating racism and other forms of prejudice, such as against gays, and promoting feminism and better opportunities for women. I think defending and promoting the disabled is in there, so long as they are properly respectable and not benefit scroungers. Mayhew is working class, and so isn’t of interest according to New Labour ideology.

All of which means that, unfortunately, the press isn’t prepared to give a hearing to something like this. Which is a pity, as it’s very good. Mayhew tells his stories and his jokes in a normal, conversational tone. He doesn’t harangue or shout for effect, as many comedians do. And he’s actually very witty. To simulate a studio audience, the show used canned laughter because it was impossible to have a live audience due to the Coronavirus. Mayhew made a couple of jokes about how the imaginary audience hadn’t paid for their tickets. He then told how, after one gig, he’d been accosted by an unhappy audience member. Why didn’t he get a proper job instead of standing there complaining, asked the man. To which he replied, ‘Have you seen my show?’ He then commented that at least he was a Tory who had paid for his ticket. He also made jokes about other people, being paid to do nothing all day. Like MPs.

It’s a pity the shows on so late on a weekday night, as it’s a funny, necessary antidote to the constant propaganda being pumped out about benefit claimants being scroungers. I don’t know anything about Francesca Inez, but from what I heard she deserves a place with the other disabled comedians, who have appeared on TV. At the very least, she deserves an endorsement from DPAC because of the way her comedy tries to bring their concerns to public attention. The show also demonstrates very clearly why we need a public service broadcaster, as it’s only a broadcaster like the Beeb that would take a chance on a show like it.

I think it’s only a four part series, and concludes next week. If this sounds like the kind of thing that tickles your funny bone and you also agree with its message, then please tune in.

I hope this is the start of a great career for Tom Mayhew, and that the show later gets repeated in an earlier slot when hopefully more people can hear it.

Twitter Peeps Educate Universities Minister About What Decolonising the Curriculum Really Means

March 3, 2021

It’s not about censoring history but about including the ignored or omitted perspectives of the colonised peoples themselves.

Zelo Street put up a brilliant piece on Sunday refuting nonsense printed in the Torygraph by their reporter Christopher Hope. Hope had been talking to the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, who was extremely concerned about the ‘culture war’ being waged in the universities. She was afraid that those unis, who were decolonising their curricula were engaged in a massive piece of historical censorship. Like the former Soviet Union, they were removing those incidents that were not regarded as stains. This greatly concerned her as a former history student who was also a vehement champion of preserving our history.

This provoked a number of academics and/or students, whose universities were involved in this restructuring of their history curricula, to put her right. They informed her that this wasn’t about removing awkward parts of British colonial history, but adding to it by including the perspectives of the subject peoples we ruled and all-too frequently abused and exploited.

Alex Stevens from the University of Kent put this up:

Dear [Michelle Donelan] ‘Adding stuff in to enrich our understanding’ is *exactly* what decolonising the curriculum is doing at my university”.

Edward Anderson of Northumbria University also agreed, posting the following

When we decolonise curricula, it’s almost always ADDING more stuff in: scholarship & perspectives from the Global South, source material of the colonised not just coloniser, etc. [Michelle Donelan] must know this, but chooses to peddle a straw man, fictitious idea of what uni’s do”.

Coventry University’s Andrew Jowett backed this up with his remark

She has no idea what she’s talking about. It’s not about ‘taking things out’ of the curriculum, it’s about contextualising what is taught and ensuring other cultures and indigenous peoples are represented in the curriculum. Maybe she should attend a webinar on it”. 

And then came Dr. Priyamvada Gopal, who teaches colonial literature at Cambridge

 “Let’s break this down for [Michelle Donelan]. When we ‘decolonise’, we put the ‘offensive’ bits BACK IN. To give a random example, we tell [the] story of Winston Churchill not just as unimpeachable war hero–but as a man of empire & race science. We don’t pander to white snowflakery”.

Gopal was the centre of controversy last summer in the Black Lives Matter protests, when she was falsely accused of hating Whites because she’d put up a tweet ‘White don’t matter as White lives’, which I think she intended to mean that White lives have no more or less intrinsic value than anyone else’s. Their value lay simply in being human lives. This was in response to an enraged White chap flying over a local football match on a plane towing the banner ‘White Lives Matter’. I think another of Gopal’s tweets had been altered and the fake version reproduced by the right-wing press to present Gopal as wishing for a real White genocide. Gopal sued for libel, and I believe won.

The comments about Churchill were provoked by the denunciation s of the Great Man at a conference on his legal at Churchill College, Cambridge. Churchill was denounced by some of the speakers as responsible for the horrific Bengal famine, which killed 3-6 million Indians, and a White supremacist. Kehinde Andrews, a prominent Black racial activist, was present at this event, who is notorious for claiming that the British Empire was worse than the Nazis.

This provoked a reaction from offended Tories, like Nicholas Soames, who declared that if they were going to denounce the British wartime PM, then they shouldn’t use his money. The right-wing historian of Africa and the British Empire, Andrew Roberts, also wasn’t impressed. He is the co-author of a paper, published by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, defending Churchill. But I think that the allegations against Churchill are absolutely correct. He was an imperialist and White supremacist. It was the dominant ideology of the time and obviously very strong in the British and colonial ruling class. He was also responsible for the Bengal famine through the sequestration of their grain in order to feed British troops in Europe. The result was mass starvation in India, while the emergency requiring its use never came. Nevertheless, Churchill refused to release it to where it was really needed, blaming the Indians themselves for their plight. It was all their fault for having too many children. His attitude shocked many senior British officers and colonial administrators, who compared him to the Nazis.

Zelo Street described Donelan’s interview and her views as

Once again, we have a Government minister apparently not in command of their brief, with their ignorance amplified by a shameless propagandist for the sole purpose of riling up his paper’s base and demonising purveyors of inconvenient thought.

He concludes that, as for her reference to the Soviet Union, that is exactly where her government is taking us, but you won’t read it in the papers. Quite. We have a very authoritarian government, which really is determined to censor history. And the press are right behind her.

This looks like an attempt by a failing government to whip up some popularity by playing the race card. The approved Tory view of the British Empire as essentially benevolent is under attack from evil lefties, and so must be defended at all costs. Just as Britain is being invaded by all those evil refugees crossing the Channel in dinghies.

Meanwhile, people continue to die from the Coronavirus, and the government is determined to push through the welfare cuts which Mike has documented as killing the poor, the disabled and the unemployed.

But we mustn’t look there. They’re just welfare scroungers. We must be worried about the attack on our imperial history and great leaders like Winston Churchill. Even when those attacks are historically accurate.

See: Zelo Street: Decolonising Drivel Deceives No-One (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

A Real Steampunk Car and Motorcycle

February 19, 2021

Steampunk is a form of Science Fiction which speculates on what the world would have been like if they’d managed to invent cars, computers, aircraft and space and time travel. It follows Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s novel, The Difference Engine, set in an alternative past where Charles Babbage’s pioneering computer, the difference engine of the title, has been built and Britain is ruled by Lord Byron. It’s heavily influenced by early SF writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. But some of the machines and inventions in the genre are very close to reality. In fact there was a history book published the other year with the title The Real Victorian Steampunk, or something like that. George Cayley in Britain invented a glider, while a Frenchman, Giffard, developed a dirigible airship in the 1850s and successfully demonstrated it by flying around the Eiffel Tower. And from the first years of the 19th century onwards, inventors were busy developing the first antecedents of the modern car and motorcycle, driven by steam, of course.

I found these two videos on Wildlyfunny’s channel on YouTube. They look like they’re from a steam rally somewhere in eastern Europe, though the blurbs for them doesn’t say where and I’m afraid I don’t recognise the language. This one below is of the 1886 Baffrey Steam Car.

Steam car Baffrey 1886 / Parní vůz Baffrey – YouTube

This second video looks like it’s from the same rally, and is of the 1869 Roper steam motorcycle, invented by Sylvester Howard Roper and demonstrated at fairs and circuses across the US. According to a couple of the commenters, Roper became the first motorcycle casualty when he was killed in a race against seven, ordinary human-powered bicycles.

The FIRST Steam Motorcycle in the world, ROPER 1869 year! – YouTube

The sheer inventiveness of the Victorians never ceases to amaze me, and you do wonder what would have happened had these machines taken off before the invention of the modern internal combustion engine. One of the reasons why they didn’t, and it was only until the invention of the modern petrol/ diesel driven automobile in the later 19th century that cars became an effective rival to horse-drawn transport, is because steam engines weren’t a sufficiently effective power source. It’s also why they were unable to develop steam-driven airplanes. Nevertheless, these machines are still awesome in their ingenuity and a fascinating episode in the history of the automobile.

Real Boob Armour from the Middle Ages?

January 3, 2021

There was a bit of controversy a few months ago over an episode of the Star Wars spin-off TV show, The Mandalorian. The Mandalorians are a race of mercenaries, one of whom was the Star Wars film villain, Boba Fett. The show’s titular character roams the Galaxy with a baby clone of Yoda righting wrongs as law and order has broken down in the battle between the Empire and the Rebellion. Or I think that’s what the show’s about. The row erupted over an episode which showed female Mandalorians wearing fitted breastplates shaped for women’s breasts. Feminist critic of video games and the SF/Fantasy genre was not impressed, and posted a tweet expressing her disapproval.

She was then answered by the show’s fans, who certainly did not believe that such armour was sexualising or demeaning women. Many of those rebutting Sarkesian were women. One of them posted an interesting piece by a female veteran of the Iraq invasion, who described how uncomfortable the breastplates worn by American squaddies are, particularly for women. She wanted breastplates shaped for women’s breasts. Others pointed out that women boxers today wear breastplates to protect their boobs.

I found this picture of a set of armour from the later Middle Ages at Churburg in Frederick Wilkinson’s Arms and Armour (London: Hamlyn 1978) p. 66. As you can see, the breastplate really is only a strip across the upper torso, leaving the stomach, throat and shoulders protected by chain mail. I don’t doubt that the armour was made for a man. There are records of women fighting in armour during the Middle Ages, such as Joan of Arc, but they were very much exceptions to the rule. When they did fight, they wore men’s armour. However, looking at the Churburg armour, it does seem to me to be the kind of armour women may have worn if they were a regular part of medieval armies and it was made especially for them.

There’s an awful lot of SF and Fantasy in which the women warriors do indeed wear very little. But I don’t see the female breastplates on the Mandalorian as sexualising the women mercenaries. Indeed, from the above illustration – which is admittedly for a man – it does seem to be the kind of armour fighting women would wear in such a society.

Talk Radio’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Rod Liddle Get Upset about British Universities’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders

January 1, 2021

And now for a much more serious subject. The day before yesterday, 30th December 2020, Talk Radio posted this video on YouTube of one of their presenters, Kevin O’Sullivan, talking about the compilation of a Dictionary of British Slave Traders by a group of British universities with that fixture of the right-wing press, Rod Liddle. The project is led by a professor Pettigree, and involves the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and University College London. O’Sullivan quotes Prof. William Pettigree, who said that after Black Lives Matter it was important that there should be further, accurate information on the breadth of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. As you can imagine, neither O’Sullivan nor Liddle are fans of the project. Some of their arguments are good, but others are just them using the issue to ride the usual Conservative hobby horses of attacking state education.

Non-White Slave Trade Ignored

The Dictionary will have 6,500 entries, including small investors, women, and people, whose involvement in the Abominable Trade has not been mentioned before. O’Sullivan claims that this is a device for finding out whether a perfectly respectable living person had an ancestor 350 years ago, who invested £5 in a plantation, and then make their blameless descendant into a pariah and get them sacked. He states that we need the Dictionary ‘like a hole in the head’, denounces the obsession with the slave trade as a ‘national sickness’. Liddle, who is introduced as writing for the Sun, the Spectator and the Sun on Sunday, agrees, calling it ‘self-flagellating imbecilic obsessiveness’. He states that the Dictionary isn’t about anyone, but specifically the White English. It doesn’t mention the Ottoman Empire, the people, who profited from the slave trade in the West African countries, specifically Ghana. He states that he was in a cab a couple of months ago, whose driver was Ethiopian. The driver told him how much he hated Britain. When Liddle asked why, he was told that it was because Britain was the country that invented slavery and enslaved whole nations. He’d never heard of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire or the slavery that continued in his own country for hundreds of years after Britain had stopped it. He’d never heard of the fact that Britain was the first country to abolish it. Liddle also makes the point that Ethiopia, where it continued, had never been colonised. Liddle goes on to claim that universities are implanting in people’s minds the notion that it was only the British, who were slavers and had this wickedness. This is, he said, reflected in ‘that very stupid woman, who is head of the British Library’, Liz Joly, who said that ‘White people invented racism’. Liddle goes on about how we also invented television, the printing press, democracy, but we invented slavery, sin and mosquitoes. It’s utter rubbish and time we got over it.

The Coronavirus Lockdown Prevented Criticism of BLM at Football Matches

O’Sullivan dismisses Pettigree’s comments about the need for the Dictionary as nonsense, and describes the obsession with the slave trade as a kind of ‘national insanity’. He asks why the country is obsessing about the actions of slave traders who lived three centuries ago. Liddle says we’re not obsessing. It’s a tiny, tiny minority, who are obsessing. And they’ve been partly able to get away with it because of the Coronavirus. This has allowed footballers to take the knee in support of an organisation that wishes to abolish the family and capitalism. This wouldn’t have happened if there had been fans in the ground, because as soon as fans were allowed, they booed. This occurred not just at Liddle’s club, Millwall, but also at Colchester and Dallas in the US. They’ve got away with this because this year has meant the lone voice of the common sense public has not been heard. O’Sullivan agrees with him, stating that the people have been eclipsed by the lockdown and the authorities in politics and football have been allowed to proceed without comment from the public and fans. Liddle states that it’s a salutary lesson that when these restriction are placed on our lives, there is nothing they won’t try to get away with. He then goes to tilt at the Beeb, stating that they used the Coronavirus as an excuse to ban the words to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule, Britannia’.

Liddle Attacks his Daughter’s State School for views on British Empire

O’Sullivan agrees with him that the obsession with slavery and the ‘Woke’ thing is that of a tiny, tiny minority, who are vocal and noisy. He hopes that in this coming year, 2021, the Dictionary never gets published, and that the people’s voice gets heard and we are able to push back against these noisy people. Liddle then describes how, when his daughter went to state school last year, she was taught in her history lessons, which went uncontested, that the reason Africa was in poverty was because of colonialism. He states that this is easy to disprove, as Ethiopia, which was never colonised, is exactly the same as Eritrea. Both countries are equally impoverished and despotic. Liberia, which was never colonised, is as badly off as Sierra Leone next door. Singapore, on the other hand, was colonised for 200 years, and is the most affluent country in the world. There is, Liddle claims, a reluctance to face the truth because of this liberal mindset. This is based on a fallacy, which falls apart if you pick at it.

O’Sullivan then asks Liddle if they teach Critical Race Theory at his daughter’s school. This ‘controversial and very dubious philosophy’ is being taught in schools all over the country, which states that if you’re White, you’re racist, even if you don’t think you are. He states that it’s fine if adults want to learn this nonsense, but really dangerous to teach it to children in schools. Liddle again agrees with him, says he’s sure his daughter was, and that they got her out of it not just because they were teaching ‘that rubbish’, but because most of the time they weren’t teaching at all. There were no lesson during the Covid outbreak, not even online, O’Sullivan jokes that it was probably better that she was getting no lessons at all then. Liddle replies that she got lessons from him on how the British Empire brought decency and democracy to the world as a corrective for five minutes.

Rod Liddle criticises ‘self-flagellating’ Dictionary of British Slave Traders – YouTube

There are several issues to unpack here. Firstly, if the Dictionary was only an academic exercise in researching the depth of British public involvement in the slave trade, then I don’t think there should be any objection to its compilation and publication. There’s already been considerable research on the subject. A little while ago one historian of the subject said that they were actually astonished by how widespread participation in the slave trade and slavery was, with ordinary members of the public investing their money in it. In fact you could easily produce a list of British slaveowners simply by going through the government’s Blue Book published c. 1840 for the compensation given to the slaveowners after abolition. From the 1820s onwards the British government passed legislation designed to halt the illegal importation of slaves in their colonies by passing legislation demanding that all slaves be registered. This could also be used. The compensation returns and slave registries might have some surprises for those, who believe that only White people owned slaves. Several of the slaveowners in the Caribbean included the Maroons, the free Black communities outside British law. I also believe, though I’m not sure, that the free people of colour, the free Black population, may also have owned slaves.

Real Danger of Innocent People Demonised for Ancestors’ Involvement

O’Sullivan’s claim that the book would be used to denounce and pillory perfectly decent people for what their ancestors did hundreds of years ago is hysterical, but unfortunately also a real possibility. I had to make a similar decision myself when I was working in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. It seemed that there was a strong possibility that some of the people described as slavers may have been the remote ancestors of people I knew personally. I had to think very carefully about telling them, and was eventually advised against it by one of their close friends. They told me that I shouldn’t tell this person about their possible connection to the slave trade, because they were very anti-racist themselves and the information would only upset them. I’ve no doubt that this is true of very many people. I also think that behind some of outrage from O’Sullivan and Liddle, but which goes unspoken, is the fear that it will be used by activists to demand reparations for slavery. I’m not sure how much this will affect ordinary people, though. In the 18th and 19th centuries most people in this country were the ‘labouring poor’, who comprised 90 per cent of the population. These had problems enough paying for food, clothing and accommodation. They wouldn’t have had the disposable income to invest in anything, never mind slaves or plantations, even if they were so inclined. Really we’re only talking about the middle classes and aristocracy as investors and slaveowners. Reparations for slavery are a different issue, but this has its dangers too. Over time, many of the wealthy or comfortably off people, who owned slaves, will have lost their money. All it would take to cause real controversy and angry backlash is if poorly paid people struggling to make ends meet get a demand for reparations from richer Black people. If that happens, you can expect the story to be all over the Heil, Depress and the rest of the press like a rash.

Need to Teach Extra-European, Islamic and Asian Slavery and Slave Trade

I also agree with O’Sullivan and Liddle that more should be taught about extra-European slavery. This includes that of the Arabs and Muslims in north Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic slave trade from east Africa across the Indian Ocean. Liddle is also quite right about the Ethiopians practising the slave trade. Way back in the 19th century we sent a punitive expedition into Abyssinia to stop them raiding British territory for slaves. One of the books we had in the library at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was Major Darnley’s Slaves and Ivory. This was published in the early part of the 20th century and described Darnley’s own personal undercover investigation of slavery within the Abyssinian empire. Darnley published the book to make the public aware that the Abyssinians were still raiding British Uganda for slaves, and that the Ethiopian princes were destroying whole regions of their own empire through such raids. He wished to generate sufficient outrage that public opinion would swing behind a British invasion of the country. Dame Kathleen Simon, a determined foe of slavery, actually praised Mussolini and the Italian Fascists in her book on it for their invasion of Abyssinia, which she felt would at least extinguish slavery there. I do think there is a real need to teach this aspect of the slave trade to counter the notion that it was only Britain that was only, or primarily responsible for it. Britain wasn’t the first country to outlaw it – that was Denmark – but we were the leading country to do so and insist that other nations follow.

The East African Slave Trade in the 19th Century, from James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006) 129.

Concentration on Western Slave Trade Product of Black Rights’ Movement

Research into the historic slave trade has been linked with the campaign for Black liberation since the time of W.E.B. Dubois. Hence the fixation on it by contemporary anti-racist activists. Driving this is the continued impoverishment and disadvantaged condition of the Black community as a whole. But real, Black chattel slavery has re-emerged in Libya and in sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda. There is little interest in combating slavery there. When right-wing critics urged western anti-racist activists to do so, the response has been that it should be ignored as a distraction from continued demands for racial equality here in the West. Kate Maltby, a White contributor to the I, made that argument in its pages a few months ago. She has a point, but it’s still no reason to ignore real slavery as it exists now in order to concentrate on angry denunciations for past crimes. There are books published on non-European slavery. Jeremy Black includes it alongside western slavery in one of his books. James Walvin includes maps of the African and Indian slave trade and routes alongside transatlantic slavery in his Atlas of Slavery. There are books on African slavery, and there is a particular study of the Islamic slave trade, Islam’s Black Slaves: A History of the Other Black Diaspora, by Ronald Segal. I think, however, that there may be some objection to teaching about these slave trades from some anti-racist activists, who may feel that it would somehow be racist or even islamophobic to do so.

Liddle Promoting Privatisation of State Education with Comments

But as you can hear from the video, O’Sullivan and Liddle were also determined to use the issue of slavery to attack other right-wing bugbears. Like the Coronavirus lockdown. This is there to save lives, but it’s too much for the right, who favour the economy at the expense of people’s lives. Hence the rant about footballers taking the knee for Black Lives Matter. Liddle also uses it, surprise, surprise! – to attack state education. We’ve been this way before. I remember the rants of the right-wing press under Thatcher, when the Scum, Heil, Depress and the rest ran stories about children in state schools being indoctrinated with left-wing propaganda, like Peace Studies, while anti-racist fanatics in Brent forced them to sing suitably altered nursery rhymes like ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’. That was a lie put out by the Scum, supposedly, but I’ve met people, who swore they sang it at school. Thatcher used those fears to push through her creation of academy schools, telling the British public that it would put them in control of their children’s education. And this would be taken out of the hands of evil, left-wing Local Education Authorities. In fact, Thatcher’s academy school programme was a complete flop. It was being wound up by Norman Fowler before Blair took the idea out of the Tory dustbin, dusted it off and then made it official Labour policy. And unfortunately the wretched schemes been going ever since. In fact academy schools are not better than state schools and are far more expensive. They should be wound up and education renationalised. But this would upset the parasites running the academies. I don’t think it’s an accident that Liddle came out to rant against state education when he writes for the Scum, as Dirty Rupe would like to move into education as well.

Neo-Colonialism and African Poverty

As for the terrible condition of modern Africa and the legacy of British colonialism, it’s quite true that much of the continent’s problems don’t come from it, but from the rapacious venality and ruthless tyranny of their post-independence rulers. But we took over these countries partly to exploit their resources, and their poverty is partly caused by the Neo-colonial economic system that prevents them from industrialising and confines them to exporting raw materials to the Developed World. I can remember being taught all this in ‘A’ Level Geography nearly forty years ago from teachers, who were definitely not Marxists trying to indoctrinate us. As for the success of Singapore, this can be used to support the socialism Liddle and O’Sullivan fear and despise. Singapore’s leaders were influenced by the Fabians and their belief that the state should take a leading role in the economy. Singapore ain’t a socialist country, but its success does refute Thatcherite free market economics.

While O’Sullivan and Liddle thus are quite reasonable in their criticisms of the proposed Dictionary, they are using it as a tool to promote a wider, right-wing agenda. One that will cause further poverty and endanger lives, but will benefit their paymasters in the press barons and big business.

Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated – But Do They Really Have a Nuclear Weapons Programme?

November 27, 2020

I’ve just seen this report on YouTube from the Beeb reporting the assassination of the top Iranian nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Reports were confused at first, with the Iranian nuclear authority claiming that Fakhrizadeh had survived, but the country’s defence minister then confirmed that he had died. The Beeb’s Middle East editor for the World Service, Sebastian Usher, states that he was the head of Iran’s cover nuclear weapons programme. This has been extremely controversial for years, and is at the heart of the way Israel and America look at Iran. They see Iran as close to becoming a massive risk all across the region because of its nuclear programme. Fakhrizadeh was the ‘father’ of the nuclear weapons programme, and so the prime target, particularly for anyone trying to send a message by whoever was responsible that action would be taken against their weapons programme.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards said that these attacks had happened in the past and have been revenged in the past, and would be revenged this time. Usher states that was quite true. Between 2010 and 2012 there was a spate of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, four of whom were killed in relatively mysterious circumstances, but Iran blamed the Israelis. Netanyahu hasn’t made any comment on what has just happened. Usher states that we should look at the context of this assassination. Trump was in power with a very overt foreign policy from Saudi Arabia and Israel, which had a very strong attitude and ‘strategy of maximum pressure’ against Iran. Usher says that in the last few weeks there has been speculation what Trump’s administration would do to get its message across and make it more difficult for the president elect, Joe Biden, if he were to try to go back to the Iranian nuclear deal which Trump walked away from in 2018.

Top Iranian nuclear scientist assassinated – BBC News – YouTube

I’m calling bullshit on some of this. I’m not at all sure that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons programme – not after the lies Netanyahu and the Americans have told in the past, and definitely not after the total hogwash we were also fed about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.

Readers of this blog will know that I despise the Iranian regime. They are a bunch of corrupt mass-murderers and torturers, who oppress and rob their people. But it’s a very good question whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons. As the Beeb report says, concerns about this have been around for years. The Iranians do have a nuclear programme, but denied it was military. They said it was all about supplying domestic power. Some western commenters I’ve read have said that’s probably true. Iran’s economy is heavily dependent on oil exports. They want to increase these, and so it would make sense for them to develop nuclear power to generate electricity for their people, so they can export more to the rest of the world.

I also remember how Netanyahu nearly a decade ago now was screaming that the Iranians were close to developing a nuclear bomb, and that action had to be taken against them soon. It was a lie from a man all to practised in lying. It was contradicted by that mamzer’s own security service and his generals. Unsurprisingly, William Blum has a chapter on Iran and the US’ hostility and lies about it in his book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He talks about the scare in 2007 when the Israeli state was telling the world that Iran was on the point of developing nuclear weapons and a threat to Israel. But three months before that, Tzipi Livni, the same foreign minister making the claim, had said instead that the Iranian nuclear weapons programme was not a threat to Israel. Blum also quotes Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, on how cooperative the Iranians were when the Americans negotiated with them in the 1990s.

The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan [early 199s], in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that ‘the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance [Afghan foes of the Taliban] to make the final concessions that we asked for.’ Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, ‘looked down and rustled his papers.’ No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They’re mad. (p. 104-5).

Dobbins himself states that it was the Iranians who included the references to democracy and the War on Terror in the Bonn Agreement and insisted that the new Afghan government should be committed to them.

Blum goes on

Shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran made another approach to Washington, via the Swiss ambassador, who sent a fax to the State Department. The Washington Post described it as ‘a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table – including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.’ The Bush administration ‘belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax.’ Richard Haass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Iranian approach was swiftly rejected because in the administration ‘the bias was toward a policy of regime change.’ (p. 105).

Blum concludes

So there we have it. The Israelis know it, the Americans know it. Iran is not any kind of military threat. Before the invasion of Iraq I posed the question: What possible reason would Saddam Hussein have for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? He had no reason, and neither do the Iranians. (p. 105).

Blum also has a chapter on Iraq, and how Hussein tried again and again to make a peace deal with the Americans and show them he didn’t have WMDs. And each time he was rebuffed. A little while ago Trump had an Iranian general assassinated in a drone strike, and there are reports that he would have liked to have had others assassinated in the final days of his presidency. He’s frustrated that he couldn’t. We don’t know who was behind this assassination. It could be the Israeli state, or the Saudis, but it may very well be Trump.

And I’m afraid that over the next few days or weeks, we shall hear more about an Iranian nuclear weapons programme and how they’re a threat to America and its allies. And I fear that the hawks are also preparing to demand war with Iran. If they are, then we’ll hear all the same lies we were told about Saddam Hussein and Afghanistan – that the Iranian government is a tyranny oppressing its people, and that we shall go in there to give them democracy and freedom while eliminating them as a threat to the region’s peace.

But any invasion very definitely won’t be for the benefit of the Iranian people, or to give them freedom and democracy. It will be for the same reasons Iraq and Afghanistan were really invaded – for the oil and the maintenance of American geopolitical power. Plus in the case of Iraq, American and western multinationals also wanted to buy up the country’s state industries.

And the results of any invasion of Iran will be the same as Iraq: bloody carnage. There will be ethnic and sectarian violence, the country’s economy will collapse and unemployment skyrocket. Whatever the country has of a welfare state will disappear and the position of women will get worse. Iran is an Islamic theocracy, but it was also one of the most westernised and industrially advanced societies in the Middle East. I think it still is. The Iranian middle class go skiing in the mountains during which they sport the same fashions as the west. Yes, it part of the developing world, but I got the impression that it was also a comparatively rich and sophisticated country.

We’ve got no business whatsoever invading Iran and the other Middle Eastern nations, and so much of what we’ve been told about them, about the threat they pose, is just one lie after another. And it’s utterly disgraceful that our leaders sent our brave young men and women to fight, die or come back maimed and scarred in body and mind, not to defend this country, but simply so the multinationals can see their stocks and their managers’ salaries rise.

We were lied to about Afghanistan and Iraq. And I’m afraid our leaders will lie to us about Iran, and the Beeb will repeat these lies.

For the sake of millions of people, No War!

Who Decided ‘Jewish Community’ Meant ‘United Synagogue’

November 19, 2020

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension was lifted yesterday and he was readmitted to the Labour party. So there was, unsurprisingly, a mass outcry by the usual troublemakers, liars and smear merchants. Starmer responded by fudging the issue and refused Corbyn the Labour whip. This is, as Mike has pointed out, gross political interference of the type which the EHRC report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party condemned in the first place. He has also broken any number of Labour party internal regulations, as the Skwawkbox has clearly demonstrated. He’s done absolutely no good, except to annoy people with an unacceptable compromise. Unacceptable, because Corbyn’s supporters are still outraged by his unjust treatment of the Labour leader, while the smear merchants won’t be satisfied by anything less than his expulsion and the complete prostration of the Labour party to their own ultra-Zionist views.

Margaret Hodge

Among those crawling out from under the rocks to attack Corbyn were Margaret Hodge, Jessica Elgot, Rachel Riley, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Community Security Trust, none of whom are unbiased by any means. Hodge is the stupid, lazy and arrogant Labour MP who got herself suspended for calling Corbyn a ‘f**king anti-Semite’ in parliament. She then got herself readmitted after she started bleating about how terrifying her suspension was, and that it must have been like the terror experienced by German Jews under the Third Reich when they were waiting for a knock from Gestapo.

Her treatment was nothing like that horror, and she insulted the victims and families of those, who really had been imprisoned in the concentration camps. Her suspension was extremely lenient, no doubt helped by the fact that the media was very definitely on her side. Others would have received far harsher punishment. And her stupid, facile comments prompted an outrage response from Jews and gentiles, whose relatives had been victims of the Nazis.

But we shouldn’t be quite so surprised at her tactlessness. This is a woman who signally failed to do anything about real Nazism and anti-Semitism in her constituency. So much so that when the BNP had seven members elected to the local council in Tower Hamlets, their leader, Derek Beacon, sent her a bouquet of flowers in appreciation. She was also responsible for suppressing a report into child abuse in the council, then tried to blame its suppression on Corbyn. Apparently she was threatening to the leave the party if Corbyn was readmitted. If she did, it would be no loss to anyone, but unfortunately she hasn’t.

Jessica Elgot, Israel Lobbyist

Jessica Elgot is another Blairite, and if memory serves me right, she used to work for one of the Israel advocacy organisations. Which should immediately tell you that she isn’t concerned about genuine anti-Semitism, but simply protecting Israel.

Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Gaza and Islamophobia

The same applies to the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and its odious boss, Gerald Falter. Falter founded it in 2014 or thereabouts because he was shocked at the way British public opinion had turned against Israel because of the bombing of Gaza. His wretched organisation is tinged with Islamophobia. On its website it declares that most anti-Semites are Muslims, and one of its patrons is a Hindu bigot who hates Islam, Christianity and those at the very bottom of the Hindu caste system. This character founded Operation Dharmic Vote to mobilise right-wing Hindu voters partly because he was outraged that high-caste Hindu doctors had to treat the people previously described as ‘the Untouchables’.

Community Security Trust and Violence Against Protesters

Then we come to the Community Security Trust, a volunteer police force set up to protect Jews and their property from attack. This would be all well and good, if that was all it did. But its members are supposedly trained in self-defence by the Israeli security forces and have been responsible for instances of violence themselves against protesters demonstrating against Israel. In one case Jewish and Muslim demonstrators were forcibly separated. Others were struck and beaten, including women, the elderly and a rabbi.

There’s also more than a little racial favouritism being shown in the establishment of the CST. I don’t know of any other ethnic group, which is allowed to have its own volunteer police trained by a foreign country. It can be argued that other ethnic groups deserve such a force more, as this is relatively little anti-Semitism compared with the prejudice against Blacks, Asians and Muslims. Can you imagine the reaction of our absolutely unbiased right-wing press if, say, Britain’s Black community had their own police force organised and trained by the Jamaicans or Nigerians? Or the Hindus trained by the Indian army? Or British Muslims with Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan? They’d have a screaming fit and yell that we were being taken over by foreigners. But the CST is allowed to continue with the full cooperation of the British state and police.

Rachel Riley

As for Rachel Riley, this is a woman, who seems to have a visceral, personal hatred for the Labour leader and his supporters. She was on Talk Radio yesterday telling the world how terrible the Labour leader was, because he laid a wreath on the grave of the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the murder of the Israeli Olympic team in 1974 when he was attending some kind of gathering in Tunisia. This would have been extremely difficult, as Zelo Street has pointed out, because those monsters are buried in Libya.

Corbyn’s critics have been presented as representative of the British Jewish community as a whole. They aren’t. They are representative only of the right-wing, ultra-Zionist British Jewish establishment. Corbyn had many friends and supporters in the Jewish community, as have others, who have been smeared as anti-Semites, like Ken Livingstone. Corbyn was particularly respected by the Haredi community for his help in preserving their historic burial ground from redevelopment. He was also supported by Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas, with whom he spent a Passover Seder. Which enraged the Board of Deputies, who claimed it was a snub to the ‘Jewish community?’

Jonathan Sacks, Sectarianism and the March of the Flags

What Jewish community? As many Jewish left-wing bloggers have pointed out, there is no monolithic Jewish community, and the Board of Deputies only seems to represent the United Synagogue. And many of Corbyn’s other critics seem to be members, such as the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. Sacks died last week, and obituaries appeared praising him and his work. I’ve no doubt he was an excellent fellow in many respects, but he was also a sectarian bigot with a fanatical devotion to Israel. He caused outrage a few years ago when he, an Orthodox Jew, declared that Reform Jews were ‘enemies of the faith’. This is the language of religious hatred, uttered by bigots before launching terrible attacks on their victims. Christian anti-Semites no doubt have said the same when persecuting Jews. Sacks was also an opponent of homosexuality, before opportunistically changing his mind and declaring that people had to be more open and accepting. He also led a group of British Jews on the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. This is the Israeli equivalent of the various Orange marches in Northern Ireland, when the Protestants of the Orange Order march through Roman Catholic areas. In the case of the March of the Flags, it’s when Israeli boot-boys march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem to provoke and intimidate them. During these marches, Palestinians are insulted and abused, and their property vandalised. Liberal Jewish organisations asked Sacks not to go, but he refused. But what I also found interesting was that he seemed to be another member of the United Synagogue. The obituaries mentioned that he belonged to the Union of Hebrew Congregations, which looks to my inexpert eye as the United Synagogue by any other name.

The United Synagogue and the Corbyn Smears

Some of the Jewish journos, who took it upon themselves to write pieces smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite are also members of the United Synagogue. The I published several of these pieces, noting at the bottom of the article the writer’s membership of the denomination. Which raises a few questions.

Are all, or the majority of those smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semites members of the United Synagogue? And if they are, who decided that the United Synagogue and its members spoke for all of Britain’s Jews? After all, it’s as if someone decided that only Tory Anglicans represent British Christianity. And when they produce stats claiming that Israel is important to the identity of 77 per cent of British Jews, is this really representative of all of the British Jewish Community? Or is it once again just confined to the United Synagogue?

All of Britain’s Jewish community deserve to be heard on the issue of Corbyn and Israel, not just Tory-voting ultra-Zionists and the United Synagogue.

Blasphemy Laws and the Muslim Protests Against France

November 3, 2020

Over the past week or so we’ve seen mass protests across the Islamic world, including the Islamic community in Britain, over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. These have followed the assassination of school teacher Samuel Paty for simply showing his class the cartoon as part of a lesson about free speech. It’s been pointed out in articles in the I that Paty was far from a racist or Islamophobe. He had taken lessons in Islam in order to understand his Muslim students better, and had warned the Muslims in his class what he was about to do so they could leave to avoid being offended. One girl remained, told her father, her father told the local mosque, the mosque told the community. And a Chechen Islamist heard them, and took matters into his own hands. Other Islamists have carried out further attacks on innocents, who had absolutely no part in the affair. Three people, including a priest, were stabbed to death in a church, simply for being Christians, and there have been shootings in other nations.

The murders of these innocents has not been denounced by the Muslim protesters, however. Instead we have seen former cricketer Imran Khan, now leader of an Islamic party and the president of Pakistan, denounce Macron for the publication of the cartoon. He has been joined by Turkish president Erdogan, another leader of a Muslim party Who wouldn’t know free speech if it came up and bit him on the elbow. Tunisia has also denounced France, and when I looked online last night, Islamists in Bangladesh were giving their government a few hours to sever links with France.

It’s been reported that Khan has been complaining about the hurt felt by Muslims around the world about the publication of the cartoons. Supposedly the right to free speech does not mean the right to offend. But others have pointed out over and over again that that is precisely what it means. The type of free speech that only permits what is inoffensive is no free speech at all.

At the heart of this are the Muslim blasphemy laws. This is an attempt to impose them on France and, by implication, other western nations. However, Muslim are a minority in Europe and so the only arguments Khan and the others can use against Europeans is that their feelings are hurt, and that there will be political repercussions.

I looked up the article on blasphemy in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP 1997). This provides information on the concept of blasphemy in Christian, Judaism and Islam, its punishments, and the problems of enforcing such laws in Britain. It runs

Blasphemy (Gk: ‘speaking evil’ ). Impious or profane talk, especially against God; and in many western legal systems , the offence of reviling God or Jesus Christ or an established church. To be blasphemous a publication must be intended to shock and endanger the moral fabric of society; one that is merely anti-religious (e.g. denying the existence of God) is not. In England in 1977 the editor of Gay News was convicted of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem which portrayed Christ as a practicing homosexual. This was the first successful prosecution for blasphemy since 1922, and showed the difficulty of objectively applying the common law definition. The appearance of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, raised the issue whether blasphemy should be extended to become a more general offence (in the UK), or whether it is an offence in the domain of inciting unrest.

‘In Judaism, ‘blasphemy’ is speaking scornfully of God (Heb. gidduf, heruf) and is described euphemistically as birkat ha-shem (‘blessing the name’, i.e. God). According to Leviticus 24. 10-23, the penalty for cursing God is death, but in discussing this passage, the rabbis defined blasphemy in such a way that it became an improbable crime-and thus the death penalty did not need to be invoked. Excommunication (herem) became the punishment in any case once legal autonomy had been lost…

‘The nearest equivalent in Islam is sabb, offering an insult to God. Qur’an 9.74 condemns those who sear by God that they said nothing but in fact spoke a word of rejection (kalimat al-kufr) after they had become Muslims. This relates blasphemy closely to apostasy (ridda). The expression of contempt for God, the Prophet Mohammed, the angels, or the traditional explications of revelation constitute the offence. Accidental blasphemy is not usually excusable (though Malikites allow it if it is expressed by a recent convert to Islam).. The punishment varies between different Schools of Islamic Law -e.g. the Hanafites remove the offenders legal rights, declare his marriage invalid, and declare any claims to inheritance or property void; the Malikites demand immediate execution of the death penalty.,’

The British prosecution for blasphemy mentioned in the article was brought by Mary Whitehouse, who made it her professional duty to be offended about everything. The gays on the opposite side took this as an attack on them, and launched their own protests against Whitehouse. There’s a comic aspect to this, as Whitehouse recalled that she woke up one morning to find militant gays marching about her garden waving placards.

I think the enforcement of the blasphemy laws is more or less impossible. They’re a dead letter, if they haven’t been repealed. As an example, just consider how many TV comedians since then have expressed their own contempt for Christ and his followers. The comedians Lee and Herring regularly did so on their BBC 2 programme, Fist of Fun. It came as a surprise to me a few years ago when Muslims around the world were again up in arms demanding the execution of blasphemers because of something Pope Benedict said about Mohammed in a speech when one of the two appeared on television attacking Islam. When they were interviewed by the short-lived mag Comedy Revue in the 1990s, they were asked about their attacks on Christianity and whether they would do the same to Islam. They laughingly made it clear that they definitely wouldn’t because they were afraid of violence and attempts on their lives. And thought themselves very clever for doing so. Which shows the British media establishments general attitude to Christianity.

The Muslim blasphemy laws are extremely dangerous. At the moment there are 200 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. Most of these are probably entirely spurious. They’re brought for entirely cynical reasons, such as getting rid of an opponent in a dispute over a completely unrelated issue. Muslims have also claimed that their attacks on Christians were also motivated by the outrage they felt at blasphemies committed by their victims. But some of it seems to me to be an attempt to enforce the Pakistani caste system. Indian and Pakistan Islam has a caste system like Hinduism, only not as severe. Most of the Christian community in Pakistan are of the lowest caste, and many are bonded labourers in brickyards, effectively slaves. One of the Christian women accused of blasphemy was accused after she brought water from a well to a group of Muslim women. Along the way she took a sip of the water. It looks to me that the real crime here was that she broke their laws of caste purity, and that the accusation of blasphemy was added on after this offence.

The ex-Muslim vloggers the Apostate Prophet and Harris Sultan have also pointed out the hypocrisy in Khan’s denunciations. When western countries have criticised Pakistan for human rights abuses, Pakistan has simply told them to mind their own business. But when France defends the publication of cartoons Pakistan and its Islamic leadership find offensive, suddenly he’s justified in interfering in their affairs. He has also denounced the closure of radical mosques and the expulsion of extremist imams as an attack on Islam. It isn’t. It is simply France protecting itself against Islamist violence, in the same way right-wing terrorist groups are banned. And Khan is again being hypocritical in his denunciations. When the Taliban made a series of bloody attacks in Pakistan a few years ago, the armed forces and security services cracked down hard. According to the two above vloggers, they went from house to house in the province of Waziristan arresting anyone with a beard. I haven’t linked to the two because I don’t want to offend any Muslims reading this blog. But you can Google the articles on YouTube if you want to find out more.

Macron should stand firm against all this. Blasphemy laws are a severe attack on free speech, and the penalties inflicted for it and the flagrant abuse of such accusations are particularly dangerous. Freedom of speech and conscience, including that of Muslims, is far too important to be sacrificed because of hurt feelings and outrage.

‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

October 26, 2020

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.