Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

Pictures of Britain’s Wartime Flying Ladies and Engineers

April 5, 2020

A little while ago I put up a post about a series of books written by Captain W.E. Johns. These were naturally about the female counterpart of his great hero, Biggles, a longtime favourite of British children’s fiction. This was Worrals, a member of the ATA, the wartime aviation service, which included women that delivered new planes to the RAF. In a series of three books, Worrals and her friend Frecks became uncovered a Gestapo plot, eventually parachuting into occupied France to fight the Nazis responsible.

One of the other books I ordered from the same mail order company specialising in bargain books, was Britain in Pictures: Aviation (Lewes: Ammonite Press/Press Association 2012). This is a collection of photographs of aircraft in Britain from the very earliest flights, such as the gas balloons used by the army during the First World War, right up to today’s high performance jets and helicopters. It also includes a photograph of the Swiss aviator, Yves Rossy, who successfully crossed the Channel in 2008 on a homemade, jet propelled wing. A far less successful attempt, also reproduced in the book, was that of Frenchman Stephane Rousson, who tried to fly from Hythe in Kent to Calais in a pedal-powered airship, the Mlle. Louise. Sadly, high winds preventing him from completing his journey. But I like and admire the inventors, hobbyists and eccentrics who create new aircraft to take to the skies like the great pioneers of aviation over a century ago.

The book also contains photographs of the women of the ATA – Air Transport Auxiliary – and WAAF – the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Here are a few of them.

This one is of Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower in a de Havilland Tiger Moth trainer. She was a pilot and author, and was the head of the women’s branch of the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. Sadly she died in childbirth in 1947.

This one is of a group of ATA women pilots in their flying gear, ready to go to work, from 1939. The book says that they received no conversion training for new aircraft. They were simply given the machine’s handbook and expected to get on with it!

This is a photo of three of the first nine women to join the ATA – Mrs Marion Wilberforce, Miss Rosemary Rees and Mrs G. Patterson. All three of these ladies survived the War.

This photo is of two flight mechanics from the WAAF painting squadron markings on the fuselage of a Hawker Hurricane. Members of the WAAF didn’t fly, but they did perform a number of other valuable duties during the War.

It was ladies like these, who did their bit to defeat the Fascist threat. I salute them, and the women and men, who have followed them into aviation, to ‘slip the surly bonds of Earth, and touch the face of God’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoon: A Tory Nightmare

March 7, 2020

Here, for your enjoyment, is another of my cartoons satirising the Tory party and the horrors that lead it. This one isn’t based on a science fiction or Horror film, but a great piece of art by the 18th century Swiss painter, Henry Fuseli. Fuseli’s ‘Nightmare’ is a masterpiece of Gothic art. It shows a sleeping woman, a naked imp with a sinister grin crouching on her stomach and a white horse looming over her. I also based it on that photo of the Honorable Member for the 18th century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, lounging, dozing on the green benches in parliament. Which seemed to show how seriously he took the proceedings, and especially the grinding poverty and deprivation his government has inflicted on normal people.

I’ve therefore tried to depict this image in the style of Fuseli’s masterpiece. The sleeper is Rees-Mogg, and the crouching imp is supposed to be our comedy Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Although I’m afraid that my drawing of him here makes him somewhat effeminate, more like a girl. It’s purely accidental, I assure you. And the head of the horse looking at them both is a skull, representing the death and suffering the Tories inflict on people, the economy and British society.

I hope you enjoy it, and please, don’t have nightmares!

 

Private Eye Attacks Hypocrisy of Non-Dom Tax Dodging Press Barons

January 29, 2020

Five years ago in 2015 the then leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, outraged the press barons in Fleet Street by suggesting the abolition of non-dom tax status for people actually living in the UK. This frightened them, as many of them, such as Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the I and Evening Standard, David and Frederick Barclay, the weirdo owners of the Torygraph, and Heil owner Viscount Rothermere, also avoid paying British tax through non-dom status. There was therefore a flurry of articles in their papers scorning Miliband’s suggestion and declaring that if it came in, it would bankrupt Britain by forcing all the millionaires in London and elsewhere to flee the country. And the papers certainly did not tell their readers that there was more than a bit of self-interest behind their attacks on Miliband.

Private Eye, which, according to editor Ian Hislop, skewers humbug, therefore published an article in their ‘In the Back’ section, ‘Street of Sham’ in the issue for 17th to 30th April 2015 attacking this fine display of gross hypocrisy. The piece ran

So consuming was the Tory press’s rage at Ed Milibands’s plan to make Russian oligarchs and gulf petro-billionaires in London liable for the same taxes as British citizens, its hacks forgot to declare their interest.

“London backlash over Ed’s non-dom attack,” boomed the front-page of the London Evening Standard, as if a mob had descended on Labour HQ to defend London’s much-loved oligarchs and hedge-fund managers. “Attacking non-doms could backfire on us,” continued an editorial inside. Sarah Sands, the Standard’s Uriah Heepish editor, did not risk her career by saying who the “us” included – namely her boss, Standard proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian who last year dodged the Eye’s repeated questions over his own domicile.

Silence infected the Telegraph too, where not one of the reporters who warned that Labour’s “cataclysmic” decision would drive away “tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and business leaders” mentioned that their owners, the weirdo Barclay twins, reside in Monaco and the Channel Islands to avoid British tax.

Instead they quoted James Hender, head of private wealth at Saffery Champness accountants, who warned that the rich may leave. The Telegraph didn’t tell its readers that Hender boasts of his long experience ensuring that “the most tax efficient strategies are adopted for non-UK situs assets” for his non-dom clients.

It was the same at the Mail, which failed to declare that its owner, 4th Viscount Rothermere, is treated by the tax authorities as a non-dom. And at Sky, political editor Faisal Islam reported that “Baltic Exchange boss Jeremy Penn slams Labour non-dom plans” without declaring that his owner, Rupert Murdoch, does not pay UK tax and that Penn acts for super-rich shipping owners.

Jolyon Maugham QC, who has advised Labour and the Tories on tax reform, tells the Eye that any reader silly enough to believe the Tory press and tax avoidance industry should look at what they said in 2008, when Labour introduced the first levies on non-doms.

Back then the Mail then said the central London property market would crash as non-doms sold up and moved to Switzerland. In fact, between Labour introducing the levy and 2014, prime central London property prices rose 41 percent. At the end of 2014, Knightsbridge estate agent W.A. Ellis said 54 percent of sales were to overseas buyers.

The Mail was equally certain the City would suffer. On 8 February 2008 it cried that the levy “risks the City’s future”. The British Banking Association warned of “a devastating blow”. The Telegraph of 12 February 2008 said that “the country’s wealthiest individuals are being bombarded with leaflets and letters explaining how easy it would be to relocate to Switzerland, Monaco and a host of other countries”. Not to be outdone, Mike Warburton, senior tax partner at accountants Grant Thornton, said the levy was the “final straw”.

If a word of this had been true, there would be no non-doms left for Milband to tax. As it is, there are 115,000 because, as Maugham says, London remains a “very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy. And that won’t change.” Or as the Financial Times put it: “The many advantages of London as a financial centre do not dissolve simply because of a change in a hitherto generous tax treatment of resident non-domiciles.”

The pink ‘un has only recently realised the iniquity of the non-dom rule, with an editorial last month calling for its abolition. Editor Lionel Barber modestly claims some credit for Miliband’s stance. But as editor for almost a decade, why was he so late to the party? Surely not because, until 2013, FT owner Pearson was run by US-born Dame Marjorie Scardino, who would certainly have qualified for non-dom status and whose London flat, the Eye revealed, was owned via an offshore company?

The Daily Mail’s owner, Lord Rothermere, is a particularly flagrant tax dodger in this regarded. The current Rothermere inherited the status from his father, who really was not resident in the UK. He lived in Paris. But Rothermere junior appears very much to have made Britain his permanent or at least primary residence. He has a parking space in London, and the Eye reported a few years ago he was extensively renovating his stately home in the West Country.

The non-dom tax status, offshore banking and other ways used by the corporate and super rich to avoid tax are part of the reason for the increasing impoverishment of everyone else. They aren’t paying their fair share of the tax burden, but receiving massive tax handouts instead. Thus the NHS and other important services are deprived of money. The tax burden is then passed onto ordinary, working people. This reduction in taxes for the rich used to be justified under Thatcher with the argument that the money the rich saved would somehow trickle down to the rest of us. This hasn’t worked. It doesn’t encourage the rich to open any more businesses or employ more people. The money just sits in their accounts earning more interest.

It also doesn’t the rich closing businesses and laying people off either. This was shown a year or so ago in America, when one of the corporate recipients of the Republicans’ tax cuts closed a branch or a factory, laying hundreds of workers off.

And the purchase of London property by foreigners is also a further cause of poverty. Ordinary people in the Smoke can’t afford to buy homes as rich foreigners – not asylum seekers or migrants – push property prices up far out of their reach. Some of these homes are simply left empty as an investment in what is known as ‘land banking’. This has a knock-on effect for the rest of the UK. Here in Bristol property prices have also risen to extremely highly levels through Londoners forced out of the capital relocating to the city. And in turn, some Bristolians are looking for cheaper homes elsewhere in places like Wales.

London still is a ‘very nice place to live, if you’re wealthy’, but the tax cuts which make Britain so comfortable for the global rich are causing poverty, misery and homelessness for everyone else.

And this is applauded and cheered by hypocritical press magnates and editors.

Boris Johnson’s Speech Promoting NHS Privatisation

December 8, 2019

Last Wednesday Mike wrote a piece demolishing the Tories’ claim that more people trusted them with the NHS than Jeremy Corbyn. It showed how the Tories are privatising the Health Service, and included a video from Red Roar of a 2002 speech by the boorish profiteer masquerading as our Prime Minister. In it, Johnson talks about the number of people taking out private health insurance, and demanded an end to the ‘monolithic, monopolistic’ NHS. The post containing the video is at https://www.theredroar.com/2019/12/exclusive-clip-boris-johnson-called-for-break-up-of-monolithic-monopolistic-nhs/

And see Mike’s article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/04/who-do-you-trust-with-the-nhs-boris-privatisation-johnson-or-jeremy-investment-corbyn/

Johnson was annoyed because Gordon Brown, the-then Chancellor of the Exchequer, had closed a tax loophole for people with private health insurance. As a result, 200,000 people had closed their policies. He then waffled on about how he supported the inclusion of private healthcare into public healthcare policy because he’d seen how much better those nations that included it were than the NHS, and not just because they were generally better funded.

Now let’s deal with this tripe. The NHS has always been underfunded ever since its inception. When it was set up the Labour government did not build any new hospitals. That had to wait. Nevertheless, the NHS was an immediate improvement of what came before it. Previously millions of Brits had only been able to afford healthcare through private insurance. There was state health insurance, but only a for a limited number of workers. There also were charity hospitals, but these varied immensely in quality. The very poorest could expect to be treated at municipal infirmaries, but the treatment there could also be extremely poor. Millions of Brits therefore had no proper health coverage, and so suffered from poor health and inadequate treatment.

Britain has since lagged behind many other countries in the Developed World in the amount of state funding given to its health service, and in provision of hospitals and other services. These aren’t necessarily improved through private enterprise. The Private Finance Initiative, which was supposed to increase funding for the construction of hospitals through opening them up to private investment, hasn’t worked. Private enterprise does not like shouldering the costs of construction and operation, and expects the state to bail them out when things go wrong. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis point out in their book NHS – SOS that private hospitals are generally smaller than those built and run by the state. The PFI has been marked by massive cost overruns, and the closure of existing hospitals as part of cost-cutting measures. The new hospitals built to replace them have often been smaller, despite being more expensive. And private healthcare does not wish to treat the old, the poor, or people with pre-existing conditions, as there is little or no profit in them. They make their profit treating relatively fit, healthy people. Hence the Tory conference one year, according to Private Eye, had a talk sponsored by one of the private healthcare companies about how the Health Service could do something for the ‘worried well’. It’s also why the American healthcare companies, as well as our own, like BUPA, Circle Health, and Virgin Healthcare, are so desperate to get NHS contracts.

Johnson seems to be supporting something like the Swiss healthcare system. This is a mixture of state and private health insurance. For the poorest, their health insurance is paid entirely by the state. The richest also have purely private health insurance. Most people have a mixture. Now the Swiss woman, who told me this believed that her country had better hospitals than ours, but she felt that her country would still face a similar decline in medical provision through cuts in state funding. I am also unsure what the cost of private medical insurance for most people would be if such a system was introduced in Britain. But whatever it would be, most people would still end up having to pay for some medical services, and these would not be cheap.

The NHS should not privatised, but that is exactly what Boris Johnson wishes to do. And people’s health will suffer. Don’t let him and the Tories do it. Vote Labour, and keep the NHS properly nationalised and funded.

 

Anton Petrov Shows Paintings of a Space Future that Never Came

October 19, 2019

And now for something a bit more cheerful. Anton Petrov is the Russian presenter of the YouTube show, ‘What Da Math’, about space and astronomy. The video below is the second part of his tribute to the Russian cosmonaut, Alexey Leonov, who passed away on October 11th, 2019. Leonov was the first man to make a spacewalk, but as his previous video also showed, he was also an artist. He worked with another artist, Andrei Sokolov, on the illustrations for a number of popular science books. Petrov’s earlier video showed some of them. This is a longer look at those paintings, which Petrov dedicates to those who dedicate their lives to inspiring humanity.

The paintings shown are truly beautiful. Yes, there are landscapes of the dull grey moons and the metal  of rockets and space stations against the black of space. But it’s also a universe of rich, deep colour – vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens – the light of alien suns on the unearthly landscapes of distant worlds. They’re depictions of a future that never arrived, done when it seemed that Russia would win the space race and Communism would lead humanity to a more prosperous, technological future of international proletarian brotherhood. Progressive humanity would at last realise its destiny and conquer space, moving outward to space stations, the moon and then the rest of the Solar system and the stars beyond. It never happened. Communism collapsed, and the Soviets lost the space race. They had a record of spectacular firsts – first satellite, first man in space, first space walk, a series of successful probes to the planets and a solid record of prolonged life and research in orbit in the Salyut space stations. But they were beaten to the Moon by the Americans. The massive N1 rockets that would have taken them there kept blowing up until the programme was finally cancelled. Instead of sending a man, the Russians had to send instead an automated rover, the Lunakhod. In itself, this is no mean achievement, but it couldn’t match that of Armstrong, Aldrin and their successors. But these paintings look forward to that failed future.

However, it’s possible that something like the future they envisaged may yet come to be. Not created solely by the Russians, of course, but by all the other countries that are now entering space. Nations like India and China, as well as America, Britain and France, Germany and Switzerland with their designs for space shuttles. And if the Space Age really is going to arrive at last, it’s been a very long time coming. It’s fifty years since Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, and some of us would humanity to return for good. The Space Race always was somewhat artificial in that it was driven by largely political reasons, as both the Soviets and Americans tried to show which of their systems was superior by outperforming the other. But if the head of the Russian space programme, Sergei Korolyov had not died, but had lived to guide the design and construction of the N1, I think the situation might have been very different today. The N1 might have become a success, and the Russians just might have sent their own people to the Moon. They may not have beaten the Americans, but they would have come a very close second. And if that had happened, I don’t doubt that we’d have had a permanent base on the Moon. Just to make sure that the Soviets didn’t have all the place to themselves.

According to Petrov, the paintings themselves were taken from old postcards which are very difficult to get hold of. This is a pity, as these are paintings that would, I am sure, find an audience among western as well as Russian space fans and enthusiasts. There is a market for books and albums of SF and Fantasy art. Waterstones even has on its SF, Fantasy and Horror shelves collections of 100 postcards of Science Fiction book covers. Some of the published histories of SF, like John Clute’s Science Fiction: An Illustrated History – use illustrations from the novels, pulps and other magazines. There is thus space available, if I may use that phrase, for a similar volume of Russian and eastern European space art. Tarkovsky’s great Science Fiction films, Solaris and Stalker, are considered to be two of the classics of SF cinema. Similarly the Czech SF film, Ikarus IE was shown a couple of years ago at a British cinema. So why not a showcase of Russian and eastern European space art?

Petrov in his tribute was pessimistic about public interest in science, quoting a Russian film director, Kushantsev, who believed that there was no demand for popular science. In his opinion, people had regressed to the level of animals, wanting only to eat and sleep. I think this is too pessimistic. I can’t comment on Russia, but there certainly is a great interest in space and astronomy in Britain and America, as shown by the numerous series Brian Cox has churned out for the Beeb. Since the fall of Communism, western countries have filmed at Star City, the Russian centre of their space programme covering astronauts training for their missions to the International Space Station. Wannabe space tourists were offered the opportunity to train there themselves a few years ago, for the modest fee of £7,000. Russia is the country not just of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, but also Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the deaf school teacher who investigated the problems of space travel and living in space in the 19th century. I therefore feel sure that there is an opening for a series on space fact, perhaps something like the British Sky At Night, on television presented from Russia, but perhaps with an international team.

In the meantime, however, we can admire these paintings. And I hope Anton Petrov, and other YouTube broadcasters on space and astronomy, like John Michael Godier and Isaac Arthur, will continue to educate and inspire new generations of humanity on their channels. 

Video on Proposed Swiss Space Shuttle

October 13, 2019

This is an interesting little video from Swissinfo on YouTube about Swiss Space Systems, a company set up by engineer Pascal Jaussi, which is developing another space shuttle concept. Jaussi was inspired to become a space scientist as a child after he was given a copy of the Tintin book, Tintin on the Moon. His company’s design for the shuttle will have it taken up to 10,000 metres by a passenger jet acting as the shuttle’s first stage. The shuttle will then leave the jet, flying up to a higher altitude, where it will launch a satellite, which will then ascend to its final orbit using its own rockets. The shuttle is initially intended to be a satellite launcher, but later missions will be crewed.

Jaussi’s company does not intend to develop any new technology, but is simply trying to use and integrate already existing technology from America, France and Russia. This is aided by Switzerland’s neutral status. The American’s would understandably be extremely reluctant to give sensitive technology to the Russian the firm, which is building the engines for Jaussi’s shuttle. They’re the same as those in the Russian Soyuz rocket. The French aerospace firm Dassault is responsible for constructing the shuttle’s airframe. The company’s based in Jaussi’s home town of Payerne, in Vaud canton. He would like to build the launch complex there with another, launch complex without an accompanying crew planned for Croatia. The video also shows the shuttle’s cameras being tested in Canada. The video was posted four years ago in 2014, and states that the first test flights were planned for 2018.

This is another version of the Jet/shuttle combination initially proposed by Sanger in Germany. I’ve already blogged about British shuttle proposals using the same idea, Spacebus and Spacecab, by David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins.  The Swiss design is interesting, but 2018 was last year and the fact that we haven’t heard anything more of this fascinating project suggests that it’s experiencing difficulties. I hope that these are just a minor setback, and that we can look forward to the Swiss joining the other nations now entering a new Space Age, one that will lead to the proper exploration, industrialisation and hopefully colonisation of the solar System.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boris Appoints Security Threat Priti Patel To Cabinet

August 2, 2019

Last week, Boris Johnson appointed Priti Patel to be the new Home Secretary. This is deeply ironic, as the thoroughly objectionable Patel was thrown out of the cabinet by Tweezer in 2017 after she was caught holding unscheduled meetings with Israeli ministers and supporting their objectives in the UK, purely on her own initiative. The woman, who is now in charge of British national security, is actually a threat to it.

This is not hyperbole. Israel is a foreign power, no matter how many Zionist fanatics claim criticism of it is offensive because it’s important to their sense of Jewish identity. It’s supposed to be a friendly country, but all too frequently doesn’t behave like one. Allied, friendly nations aren’t supposed to spy on each other. But Israel does. They were caught spying on British citizens back in the days of Thatcher. She, however, certainly didn’t tolerate it. Not only did she thoroughly reprimand the Israelis, she also threatened to have their spy base over here closed down and thrown out of the country. The Israelis duly apologised and stopped.

This was in complete contrast to what happened when they did the same under Blair. Instead of threatening to close them down, the war criminal gave them a mild reprimand, essentially a slap on the wrist. Possibly he was prevented from going further because the money that funded his office, and which allowed him to be independent of the trade unions he despised, was raised through Lord Levy, whom he had a met at a gathering of the Israeli embassy, and came from pro-Israeli businessmen.

And we’ve seen over here how the Israelis have absolutely no qualms in meddling in our politics with al-Jazeera’s revelations in their documentary, ‘The Lobby’. This caught Shai Masot, an official at the Israeli embassy, conspiring – and that is the right word – with a member of the civil service – to have Alan Duncan dropped from Tweezer’s cabinet because he was a supporter of the Palestinians. He was to be replaced with someone more supportive of the Israelis. Like Boris Johnson, whose name was most definitely mentioned. And then there’s the still murky links between Joan Ryan and Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli embassy. Ryan was caught on camera stating that she’d been given a million pounds by the Israeli government, but didn’t say what the money was for. So what was it for? It’s an obvious deduction that the money was given to make the Labour party, or at least certain individuals within it, more pro-Israel. But, alas, we didn’t learn how, and asking questions of that sort gets you tarred as an anti-Semite. Even if it’s a fair question to ask of money coming into any political party, from any foreign government.

The Israelis are also known for carrying out assassinations and other intelligence operations abroad. A few years ago it was reported by the mainstream media that an Arab militant had apparently been shot by the Israeli intelligence services in one of the other Arab nations. The Beeb report made it clear that this was not an isolated incident. But the Israelis also aren’t afraid of carrying out such operations in friendly countries in Europe. Back in the 1990s the cops in one European country caught Israeli spies trying to snatch a Arab militant from a block of flats. I think it might have been in Switzerland, but a friend of mine tells me it was Sweden. Whatever. These idiots, who were less James Bond as Johnny English, decided that their operation should best be done under cover of darkness. So they cut the electricity to the entire building at the junction box. Sweden’s – or Switzerland’s – finest were alerted, and hurried round to throw the clowns into the party van. There was much anguished comment in the paper afterwards over how the Israeli security services, who once smuggled Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin to the West three days after it was made by the Russian president, could have fallen so low. How was it that such an efficient, highly professional organisation could now have become a bunch of bungling morons?

And I’ve also heard friend of friend stories from people in this country, which claim that they were spied upon by Mossad for their contacts with other Israelis. How much truth there is in these rumours I honestly don’t know. I’ve never asked the people concerned themselves, and it could just be paranoid rumour and nothing more. Like some of the stories about people being spied on by MI5, the CIA, the KGB or the Red Chinese or whoever. On the other hand, as the Israelis have been caught interfering in our politics and spying on us and other friendly nations, it could well be true.

By making these highly unofficial meetings with senior Israeli figures, Patel showed she was quite prepared to work with them outside the knowledge and permission of her own government. She was prepared to collaborate with them against her own government. And in appointing her to his cabinet, Boris Johnson has shown that he has absolutely no objection to his ministers operating in this way and that he will docilely accept Israeli interference in British domestic affairs, even when they undermine the normal processes of democracy.

Priti Patel is a threat to British national security and the personal safety of British citizens. Just as Boris is also ready either to look the other way, or willing comply with Israeli conduct that would be roundly condemned and prosecuted by other leaders and nations.

And it isn’t anti-Semitic to say that.

Get them both out!

The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

Antisocial Media’s Funniest Conservative and Far Right Self-Owns of 2018

January 1, 2019

Christmas and the New Year is the time when the media traditionally look back over the events of the preceding year. It’s in this spirit that left-wing YouTuber Antisocial Media presents this video of what he has judged to be the funniest Conservative and Far Right self-owns of the past year. As a run down of the right’s greatest fails, it naturally has the old Top of the Pop’s music, which was played when the programme went down the charts for that week. It also begins with someone who looks a bit like Trump, or maybe is Trump, dancing with a load of other businessmen. Antisocial Media says he’s had to leave many fails out, simply because there’s been so many of them and he doesn’t have time to fit them all in. But if there’s enough interest, perhaps he’ll do another video looking at other fails.

These fails are all attempts by the Conservatives and the Far Right to ‘own the libs’ by triggering them. These have repeatedly backfired to such an extent that Trump aide Nikki Haley has appealed to college Conservatives in the US not to do it. But like the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the World, ‘still they come’.

The first fails covered include Charlie Kirk, an American right-wing media voice, losing his temper and trying to start a fight with Cenk Uigur of The Young Turks at Politicon, a Conservative gathering. Kirk also made himself look massively stupid by posing outside a university wearing a nappy and with a baby’s dummy. Presumably this was done to try to suggest they were all sensitive crybabies. It didn’t work, and Kirk was just left looking stupid. These fails are all just shown in passing, before Antisocial Media goes on to give a more detailed look at particular instances of spectacular right-wing failure. These are

* The Trumpy teddy bear, that came complete with an American flag stuffed inside it.
* Canadian right-wing psychology professor Jordan Peterson, for saying in an interview that men and women can’t work together because of lipstick; and for publicly opposing pornography as harmful, then appearing – clothed, mercifully – in the pages of Penthouse, a pornographic magazine.
* A member of Fascist gang, the Proud Boys, trying unsuccessfully to rip up a placard he’d just snatched from left-wing Antifa protesters.
* Female YouTube gun nut Gun Girl trying to sell her fans T-shirts with the slogan that nothing would make feminists angrier than buying it. Because feminists are angry at the patriarchy, not someone trying to rip off their fans.
* The Generation Identity anti-immigration group building a fence on the Franco-Swiss border to prevent illegal immigration. A fence so flimsy that illegal immigrants could knock it down or jump over it.
* Right-wing internet personality Ian Mile Cheong getting grumpy on Twitter because of a woman’s comeback to one of his tweets.
* James Wohl, a 20 year old MAGA troll and massive Trump fan, who was caught for his part in a massively inept plot to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a sexual predator.

And then comes Antisocial Media’s top 3 greatest fails. They are, in reverse order

At No. 3, the NPC Meme. This is an internet meme of grey people all repeating the same empty slogans and phrases. It was supposed to show how the Left is all mindlessly alike. But instead, it’s popularity shows how mindlessly alike the Right are with their limited vocabulary of slurs and insults like ‘Soyboy’, ‘Cuck’ and so on.

No. 2, internet right-wingers Carl Benjamin, AKA Sargon of Akkad, Mark Meechan, alias Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson and Milo Yiannopolis joining UKIP. UKIP as a party are irrelevant and nearly dead. They campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, and achieved it with the referendum. There is thus absolutely no point to them. This section of the video also shows former Tory MP Neil Hamilton welcoming them into the party. Antisocial Media remarks that no-one really remembers him either. If they do, they’ll probably be like me, and remember him primarily because of the court case between him and Mohammed al-Fayed, then the owner of Harrods. Al-Fayed had bribed him to ask questions in parliament, which is illegal. Hamilton took the money without doing what the Phoney Pharaoh requested, so al-Fayed sued him for breach of contract. It was the kind of case you wished both could lose. And then there is was the instance where Benjamin, who believes he’s ‘centre left’ and a liberal, albeit of the ‘classical’ type, showed himself cutting up his Conservative party membership card and displaying his new, UKIP card. Obviously, he would have a Conservative membership card if he was really a liberal. Then the party put up a poster with Benjamin, Dankula and Watson on, proclaiming that it was ‘the party of British values’. This failed because they were all shown looking utterly miserable. And then there’s Gerard Batten’s utterly reprehensible appointment of Islamophobe Tommy Robinson.

But at No. 1 is the balloon satirizing Sadiq Khan. Antisocial Media says he chose it because it’s not just one fail, it’s thirteen all rolled into one.
The balloon was supposed to be a response to the Trump balloon, which showed the American president as a literal manbaby in a nappy clutching a mobile phone. This instead showed Sadiq Khan as an adult wearing a bikini. Here are some of the reasons it failed.

* It was changed from the initial design, which was a straight out copy of the Trump balloon design.
* It came two months after the Trump balloon.
* The balloon’s bikini has to be explained. It’s a reference to Khan’s banning of an advertisement telling women to get ‘beach body ready’. But everyone’s forgotten that. In fact, Khan banned the advert for a very good reason. He was afraid that it would promote an unhealthy obsession with body image in girls. And I think he was right.
* They gave the balloon a hooked nose, which Khan doesn’t have. Yanni Bruere, who organized it, was also caught tweeting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. A law student told him online that he had just destroyed any chance he had of a legal career.
* It was a colossal failure to provoke Khan. He not only approved the balloon’s flight, but was entirely untroubled about people trying to send him up.
* Bruere himself lives in Spain, not London, so it’s a good question why he’s bother about the safety of Londoners.
* He also gave up a managerial job, because they wouldn’t give him the time off to organize his balloon and demonstration. So he made himself unemployed.
* It cost 60,000 pounds to make and organize, and hardly anyone turned up.

Antisocial Media concludes that the Right could cure depression if they put on a stunt like this every week, and calls for them to carrying on doing so!
He also attacks Piers Morgan for getting upset about the Trump balloon passing the statue of Winston Churchill. So Trump balloon had an added bonus for upsetting him. It’s always good to annoy Piers Morgan, now destroying Susanna Reed on ITV’s breakfast TV.

This obviously isn’t a complete rundown of right-wing madness and ineptitude, but it does include some of the best. There are some others, which weren’t in there. Like deranged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones coming on his show dressed as a gay frog. It also doesn’t have Tweezer dad-dancing onto the stage at the Tory conference. However, it does show some of the greatest, most ridiculous antics of the transatlantic right, which are well worth laughing at. And I’m sure this year will bring us many, many more.