Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

October 20, 2020

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

October 12, 2020

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

September 22, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.

(pp.379-82).

It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Black Activists Plan Blacks-Only Town ‘Wakanda’ in Georgia

September 15, 2020

This comes via the Midwestly channel on YouTube. Midwestly is a White guy and his views seem to be Conservative. He’s posted criticisms of Black Lives Matter and the riots that have broken out in its name. But he also says that there’s nothing wrong in this, and gives them his support. He just feels that it’s not the way to bring people together, and that it creates division. He also makes the point that if it was done by Whites, it would be considered Alt Right.

Yes, yes, it would. and there is plenty wrong with a town founded deliberately to exclude or marginalise people simply because of their race or ethnicity.

Ashley Scott, Renee Walters, and the Foundation of the new ‘Wakanda’

According to the Insider, two Black Activists, Ashley Scott, a real estate agent from Stonecrest, Georgia, and her friend Renee Walters found 96.71 acres of land in Georgia. They then persuaded 19 Black families to purchase the land with the intention of setting up a town. Called ‘Wakanda’, presumably after the fictional African supertechnological state in the movie and comic Black Panther, it will be primarily for Blacks, although pro-Black White allies will be permitted to apply. One of the points Midwestly makes is that Georgia doesn’t have the fictional element Vibranium upon which Wakanda’s advanced technology is based. And so it ain’t gonna be Wakanda without the Vibranium.

Scott said that the year had made her feel distraught and was looking for ways to feel empowered. She also said that she envisioned ‘a place where we can all be proud and have human dignity, honour and respect, and equality amongst our Black people because we have Black talent.’

The Freedom Georgia Initiative

This produced the Freedom Georgia Initiative, which will spend the next three to five years installing everything from wi-fi and water before planning residential, retail and recreation areas. MidWestly makes the point that the amount of land purchased gives each family about five acres, which isn’t a lot, plus retail, plus recreation and plus public works. He also says it doesn’t sound like freedom.

Scott wrote an article for Blavity stating that the group saw the land as a fresh start with a city that could be a shining example of being the change they wanted to see by supporting Black families and companies. She said that they wanted to be involved in creating the lives they really want for their Black families. And maybe, just maybe, create some generational wealth for ourselves by investing in the land and their core values and beliefs. The intiative is, apparently, geared to offering a Black centric community a fresh start after the fall of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street by White supremacists and poverty enforced by Jim Crow laws.

Scott said that ‘it’s not even a Black thing. It’s a place where we can all be proud and have human dignity, honour and respect, and equality amongst our Black people because we have Black talent.’ Walter told Insider that despite major figures calling for change and speaking out in favour of Black America in recent months, the two hope the project can be an example to those that advocating for significant change can begin on an individual level.’ He comments that it’s cool they want to get out of the city, but that it sounds like they want segregation. Well, that’s the way it sounds to me!

Practical Problems

He goes on to read from a second article, which says that the planned colony is in Wilkinson County in rural Georgia, and that the group initially looked into Toomsboro, Georgia, until they were told that it wasn’t for sale. This second article calls it a ‘Black only safe haven called ‘Freedom’.’ But it also adds that pro-Black families can apply to live there. Midwestly asks what ‘pro-Black’ means. They also intend to clear the land for farming and fishing. He states that they don’t have nearly enough land for what they intend to do. Even if the 19 families only have one acre plots each, leaving 50 acres for building a lake, retail stores, it would mean that everyone would have to move into condos to make it work. He said that if it was him, he would want to have land with his home, because without land you aren’t going to create wealth.

Segregation and the Alt-Right

Midwestly says he wishes them all the best because they’re private citizens buying land to do what they want. It’s just that if White people did this, it would be called something different, like an ethnostate. Yes, because that’s what it very much looks like from here, the intended ethnicity of the settlement notwithstanding. He goes on to say that it’s what the Alt Right is talking about, and he doesn’t necessarily like all that division, after the University of Michingan launched its Whites and non-Whites separate cafes. This isn’t the way to create unity. It just creates more division. And ultimately it’s heartbreaking to see people talking about this stuff as if it’s stunning and brave.

Here’s the video:

Conservatives, Race and Property Rights

Midwestly is coming at this from the Conservative view that the private individual should be able to do whatever they like on their own land. This is, apparently, the reason Barry Goldwater opposed desegegration. He was not an opponent of Black improvement. I have seen it argued that he was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also, supposedly, desegegrated his department store. But he thought that compulsory desegegration was an attack on individual freedom and property rights. But Midwestly is clearly troubled by the racism at the heart of this project.

Ideal Communities an American Tradition

In some ways, the project part of a long tradition of people trying to found better, more perfect communities in the New World. It was behind the Pilgrim Father’s decision to migrate, as was explained in this Sunday’s edition of the Beeb’s Christian programme, Songs of Praise. They intended their new settlement to be a shining beacon. It was the Puritan settlers who gave America its vision of itself as a uniquely more community, a shining city on a hill. It saw British nonconformists take to America ideas of democracy and religious tolerance which influenced the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It should be pointed out, however, that the Founding Fathers determinedly weren’t democrats, and explicitly stated that the franchise should be restricted to elite White males to stop the poor majority oppressing the rich.

In the 19th century political radicals like the British poet Robert Southey, the Scots Utopian Socialist Robert Owen, and the followers of the French Utopian Socialist Fourier all tried to set up their own Utopian Communes in the US. These failed, though the Oneida community survived by reforming itself as a joint-stock company. A Jewish emigrant to the US also hoped to found a Jewish state there. I think this was originally going to be in the region of Niagara in New York State. And then there’s Utah, which founded by the Mormons as a theocracy for their faith before it joined the US.

Free Black Villages in the British Caribbean

In the Caribbean, radical Baptist missionaries founded free Black townships with like Sligoville, New Birmingham, Piedmont, Hoby Town, named after the British abolitionist Dr. Hoby, Unity, Refuge, which was originally named Wilberforce after the great British abolitionist, Kettering and Granville, named after another British abolitionist, Granville Sharpe, Buxton and Victoria. The radical Baptist missionary William Knibb estimated in 1840 that there were about 200 free villages with 8,000 inhabitants between them spread about Jamaica. Free Black towns were also established in Demerara and Berbice, now part of Guyana, starting with Northbrook Estate and then Den Amstel. They were also set up in Antigua. By 1842 they numbered 27 such villages with a total population of 3,600.

These villages were set up to protect Black people from re-enslavement by the planters. I don’t know if there were free Black communities established by abolitionists in the 19th century. But America’s Black community, while depressed and impoverished, is not enslaved. That came to an end with the Civil War. Nor do they have official implemented, state-sanctioned segregation. That came to an end in the late ’60s when Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. The Black community is, generally speaking, deprived and disadvantaged. But it is not enslaved, nor legally subject to discrimination. At least, not overtly. Blacks have voting rights, and there are Black politicians and members of the judiciary and legal profession. Since at least the 1980s, various affirmative action legislation has been passed with the deliberate intention of giving Blacks greater opportunities, freedom and prosperity and giving them genuine social and economic equality with mainstream America.

Nation of Islam, American Black Nationalism and White European Communes and Colonies

The proposed establishment of this town seems more like the separatism of the Nation of Islam. This demands the creation of an independent Black nation made out of five of the states of the southern US. Elsewhere in the world, it recalls Liberia, which was founded by American abolitionists as a country for freed American slaves, just as Britain attempted to do the same with Sierra Leone in the late 18th century.

And yes, it also resembles the communes proposed by White supremacists and Nazis, like those in the Hayden Lakes area of the American Midwest. Nietzsche’s cousin, Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche, was a proto-Nazi. She tried to found a perfect community of racially pure Germans in South America. But rather than finding prosperity, the community instead became poor and inbred. Over on this side of the Atlantic, there was also a move by two White British Nazis to buy a farm in France to build a pure, White colony there. This was passionately attacked by British anti-Nazis. Hope Not Hate have published an article about it, and it seems that after all these long years it’s come to nothing. Except that the Nazis behind it seemed to have spent their time trying to kill each other.

Return to the Ghetto

A few years ago in the 1990s or thereabouts there was talk about a ‘return to the ghetto’ amongst American Blacks. You can understand this. As a general rule, people prefer to live among their kind. This may be members of the same religious group, race, or ethnicity. For example, San Francisco has its Chinatown and Chicago a Little Italy, which was the main location of that city’s Italian community. But there is a difference between voluntary settlements, which just happen to be areas where a particular religion or ethnicity happens to live, and those deliberately planned which consciously exclude people because of their race.

Pro-Black Apartheid and the International Third Position

Round about 1985 the British newspaper, the Observer, published a piece fearing the demand for apartheid in Britain by sections of the Black community. It was a direct attack on the Black activist and Labour MP, Paul Boateng, who had called for autonomous Black communities in Britain. Now it seems that the same drives and demands have resurfaced in America by Black radicals in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

And there’s a section of the White Nazi movements which wants the same thing. In the 1960s Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. They both saw a common interest in dividing America on racial grounds. The Blacks would have the eastern seaboard, while the rest of America would be reserved for Whites. In the 1990s there was a strain of British Fascism called the Third International Position. This wanted separate communities for Blacks, including their own schools. It was opposed by the majority of Nazis, like the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, who wanted their total repatriation. But it was also opposed by mainstream anti-racists and opponents of apartheid.

But now it appears apartheid is back, and being championed as pro-Black and anti-racist. It shouldn’t matter who’s doing it. Segregation and apartheid is always wrong, and should always be fought and combated.

Don’t Be Fooled – Boris Wants to Strip You of Your Human Rights

September 15, 2020

Mike put up a piece on Sunday commenting on an article in the Sunday Telegraph that our lawbreaking, lawless Prime Minister and his gang intend to withdraw Britain from the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. This has been a goal of the Tories for nearly a decade. Mike was warning about this as long ago as 2013. Cameron was trying mollify us by saying that they’d replace it with a Bill of Rights. Presumably the title of this proposed Tory replacement was chosen to remind everyone of the Bill of Rights that was issued after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was a piece of revolutionary, progressive legislation in its time. However, any Bill of Rights the Tories pass is going to be a highly-diluted replacement for the Human Rights legislation they’ve repealed. If we see such a bill at all. Mike states that the Torygraph article was behind a paywall, so he couldn’t see it. But what he could made no mention of it.

Don’t be fooled. The Tories are an authoritarian party with a dangerous, Stalin-like cult of personality under Generalissimo Boris. Boris has shown us he’s more than willing to break the law to get what he wants, such as illegally proroguing parliament and deceiving the Queen, and now getting his loyal minions to troop into the lobbies to pass a law breaking our international agreements with the EU. He, and they, are a real, present danger to democracy.

The Tory faithful are no doubt welcoming this as some kind of move that will enable them to deport the illegal immigrants – meaning desperate asylum seekers – they tell us are invading this country. There’s also the long-standing complaint that human rights legislation protects the guilty at the expense of their victims. But Conservative commenters on the British constitution have also quoted the 18th century British constitutional scholar, Lord Blackstone, who said that it was better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man wrongly punished. The Tories do not want to repeal this legislation because they somehow wish to defend Britain from invasion by illegal immigrants, nor because they wish to protect people by making it easier to jail criminals. They want to repeal this legislation because it protects the public and working people.

One of the reasons the Tories hate the EU is because of the social charter written into its constitution. This guarantees employees certain basic rights. Way back when Thatcher was a power in the land, I remember watching an edition of Wogan when the Irish wit of British broadcasting was interviewing a Tory MP. The Tory made it clear he had no problem with the EU predecessor, the EEC or Common Market. This would have been because, as the European Economic Community, it offered Britain a trading area for our goods and services. What he made clear he didn’t like was the Social Charter. He and the rest of the Tories want to get rid of it in order to make it even easier to sack workers at will, and keep them on exploitative contracts that will deny them sick pay, maternity leave and annual holidays. They want more zero hours contracts and job insecurity. As well as the right, as Mike also points out in his article, to persecute the disabled, for which the Tory government has also been criticised by the EU and United Nations.

The Tories have also shown their extreme authoritarianism, like Blair before them, in passing legislation providing for secret courts. If the government considers it necessary because of national security, an accused person may be tried in a closed court, from which the public and the media are excluded, using evidence which is not disclosed to the accused. This breaks the fundamental principles of democratic, impartial justice. This is that justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. Hence the traditional practice of making sure people are tried with the public present. The secret courts are far more like the grotesque, perverted judicial systems of Kafka’s novels The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrific reality in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Tories are also keen to undermine British liberty in another way as well, by reintroducing identity cards. These were carried during the War, when Britain was in real danger from Nazi invasion and Fascist spies and saboteurs. But afterwards, as Zelo Street has reminded us, the government withdrew them because they were seen as a threat to traditional British freedom. Now Dominic Cummings wants to bring them back. So did Thatcher when I was at school in the 1980s. She didn’t get very far. It was rejected then, it should be rejected now.

Apparently the new identity cards will be online or something like that. But this won’t make counterfeiting them any more difficult. Way back in the 1990s the Indonesia government, hardly a bastion of liberal democracy, introduced a computerised identity card. This was supposed to be impossible to hack and and fake. Within a week there were fake cards being sold in the country’s markets.

This looks like a step towards the biometric identity cards Blair was also keen on in the late 90s. These were also condemned by privacy campaigners and opponents of state surveillance, and which eventually seem to have petered out. But it seems that the forces that were pressing for them then have now resurfaced to repeat their demands. And if they’re being made by a government determined to ‘get Brexit done’, then these cards cannot be blamed on the EU, as they were when I was at school.

The Tories have also shown themselves intolerant of demonstrations and protests. When Cameron was in power, he sought to stop or limit public demonstrations through legislation that would allow local authorities to ban them if they caused a nuisance. Mass gatherings and protest marches frequently can be a nuisance to those stuck behind them. But they’re tolerated because freedom of conscience and assembly are fundamental democratic rights. Cameron wished to place severe curbs on these rights, all in the name of protecting communities from unwelcome disturbance. And, in the wake of the Extinction Rebellion blockade of Murdoch’s printing works, Priti Patel wishes to have the press redefined as part of Britain’s fundamental infrastructure in order to prevent it from disruption from similar protests in future. Now that newspapers sales are plummeting thanks to the lockdown to the point where right-wing hacks are imploring you to buy their wretched rags, you wonder if she’s considering legislation making their purchase and reading compulsory.

Don’t be deceived. The repeal of the human rights act is an outright attack on traditional British freedoms by an authoritarian government intolerant of criticism and which casually violates the fundamental principles of justice and democracy. It may be dressed up as protecting decent, law-abiding Brits from crims and illegal immigrants, but this is just another pretext, another lie to get the sheeple to accept it. Tony Benn once warned that the way the government behaves to refugees is the way it would like to behave to its own citizens. He was right, and we shall it when the Tories withdraw from the European legislation currently protecting us.

I’ve no doubt the Tories will try to disguise this through retaining a sham, hollowed out semblance of justice, free speech and democracy. Just like the Soviet Union drew up constitutions guaranteeing similar freedoms to disguise its vicious intolerance. On paper communist East Germany was a liberal state and multiparty liberal democracy when the reality was the complete opposite. Even Mussolini made speeches claiming that that Fascist Italy was not a state that denied the individual their liberty.

The Tory withdrawal from EU Human Rights law is an outright attack on our British freedoms, not a gesture of defiance against European interference. It’s another move towards unBritish, but very Tory, despotism and dictatorship.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/online-id-cards-polecat-megalomania.html

History Debunked on Anglo-Saxon Slavery in Bristol

September 7, 2020

Yesterday there was another Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol. The demonstrators walked through Cabot Circus, and there was a speech by one of the Green party councillors for the city calling for Bristol to apologise for its part in the slave trade. She told the news teams that it was about reparations and would send an inspiring message to the community in Britain and around the world.

In fact, as this video from History Debunked shows, the slave trade in Bristol dates from long before the transatlantic slave trade which began in Britain from the 16th century onwards. Bristol was a major centre of the slave trade in the 11th century, exporting White English slaves to Dublin, from which they were exported further abroad. He states that about 10 per cent of the population of Bristol during this period were slaves. He also goes on to say that Dublin, Waterford and other Irish towns were founded by the Vikings as slaving centres and tells the old story of how Pope Gregory came to send missionaries to evangelise the English. The Venerable Bede recounts in his History of the English Church and People how the pope was passing through the slave market in Rome. He saw two beautiful, blond children for sale. When he asked the slave dealer who they were, he was told, ‘Angles’. The Angles, along with the Saxons and Jutes, were one of the Germanic tribes that came to form Anglo-Saxon England. It’s from the Anglo-Saxon form of their name that the world ‘English’ is derived. Gregory then replied with a pun in Latin: ‘Non Angli, sed angeli’ – ‘Not Angles, but angels’. He also makes the point that St. Patrick was also a slave. He was English, and was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave by pirates. This is also correct, though I don’t think Patrick was English. He would have been British, coming from part of the British Isles that hadn’t yet been conquered by the advancing Anglo-Saxons, and may well have spoken a form of early Welsh. Certainly one of the places which claims him is in Wales.

This is all fact. Bristol was a centre of the slave trade in Anglo-Saxon England. In the 11th century the Anglo-Saxon bishop Wulfstan visited the city to preach against it. He was so successful that the citizens turned on the slavers, beat them and threw them out. However a hundred years later it was still dangerous to visit the Irish ships in the harbour alone at night. In the 12th century a team of French clergy went on a tour of England to raise funds for rebuilding one of their cathedrals after it fell down in a disaster. One of the places they visited was Bristol, where one of them had dinner one evening with an Irish ship’s captain aboard his vessel. When the visiting clergyman told his host, he was warned that it was very dangerous. The ship’s captains would invited the unwary aboard to have dinner, but then kidnap them, slip anchor and sail off. The cleric wisely didn’t go back for a second visit the next night.

History Debunked seems to be a man of the right, and many of his videos are arguments against some of the fake history that is being told as part of the anti-racist campaign. In one video, for example, he refutes the claim that the Black inventor Benjamin Banneker built the first clock in America. He didn’t. Banneker did make a wooden clock, but these were also being made in the US long before him. While this is obviously going to be controversial, as far as I can make out the history is absolutely sound.

I’m putting the video up here because I really honestly don’t believe that Black Lives Matter in Bristol and its marchers are aware that slavery and the slave trade in Bristol predated that of Black Africans. I think they want a simplistic narrative in which slavery is just something that racist Whites did to Blacks. But slavery existed all over the world, and while Black African slavery is a crime and holocaust, White slavery existed in Europe, and White Europeans were enslaved by north Africans from the Middle Ages right up to the French conquest of Algeria in the early 19th century. This is also part of the history of slavery, and needs to be included and remembered in any discussion.

Lobster Review of Book on the Real Reasons for Trump’s Hostility to China

September 5, 2020

The conspiracy/parapolitics magazine Lobster has put up a fascinating piece by Scott Newton, ‘The USA, China and a New Cold War?’ reviewing Jude Woodward’s The US vs China: Asia’s New Cold War?, published in 2017 by Manchester University Press. Woodward’s book is an examination of how Western attitudes towards China fell from being extremely positive in the first decade of this century to the current state of tension and suspicion. The chief causes for this, according to the pronouncements of our politicos and the media, are concern over massive human rights abuses in Sinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere, Chinese territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea, which threaten western strategic interests and the other neighbouring countries, and the threat to national security posed by Chinese companies, particularly in telecommunications and social media. Woodward’s book turns these assumptions upside down. She recognises that there are real concerns about Chinese human rights abuses and the persecution of the Uighurs, but argues that this situation is far more complicated. And the real reason for America’s change of attitude to China is due, not to Chinese authoritarianism, but because China represents an emerging threat to America’s status as the world’s dominant superpower and their attitude towards capitalism is very different from American neoliberalism.

Relations between China and the West were initially positive and very good because the new, capitalist China had helped prop up the global economy after the financial crash of 2008. The development of the country’s infrastructure created a huge demand for raw materials, which benefited other countries around the world, including the west. The introduction of capitalism is also transforming China. It’s gone from a largely agricultural nation to an industrial and commercial superpower. In 2013 it passed America as the world’s largest trading nation. later on this century it is expected to surpass America as the world’s most prosperous nation both as a country and in terms of per capita GDP.

China’s build up of military forces in the South China Sea is seen by Woodward as a defensive posture against the Americans. They’ve assembled a large naval force in the area, which poses a threat to Chinese access to the Straits of Malacca. 80 per cent of the oil imported by China and much of its merchant shipping pass through the Straits, hence Chinese determination to defend them. Woodward believes that China believes in a multipolar world, and has neither the economic power nor the will to establish itself as the world’s ruling nation.

Nor is China pursuing its economic and commercial interests at the expense of everyone else, as has also been alleged. Woodward argues that while western capitalism views trade as a competition between two parties, in which one party must beat and impoverish the other, the Chinese instead really do see it instead as benefiting both parties.

The oppression of the Uighurs and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong by the Chinese government are real and matters of serious concern, but the West is also covertly attempting to interfere in China’s control of these regions. This is through the National Endowment for Democracy, the non-state outfit to which the American state has given the task of regime change after it was taken away from the CIA in Hong Kong, and through sponsorship and funding of various extreme nationalist and Islamist groups in Sinjiang. Newton writes

But the picture is not clear cut. The Chinese government has
complained about unhelpful ‘foreign interference’ in Hong Kong and there
is evidence to support this. Senior US politicians such as Vice-President Mike Pence have met leading members of the opposition in Hong Kong,
and civil society organizations there have received significant financial
support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA spinoff established in 1983 to promote what later became known as ‘regime
change’. This has, of course, always been change to one committed to a
political economy characterised by neoliberalism, in other words by free
market capitalism. In Hong Kong the NED has been financing groups
since 1994. A China Daily article from 2019 stated that the NED has been
financing groups in Hong Kong since 1994 and that the Hong Kong Human
Rights Monitor received $1.9 million between 1995 and 2013. A search
of the NED’s grants database further reveals that, between 2016 and
2019, the (US-based) Solidarity Center received more than $600,000 and
the (US-based) National Democratic Institute $825,000.

As far as Xinjiang is concerned, the real story is complex. This area is
rich in oil, gas and ‘other natural resources and profoundly important to
China’s national security’. The region borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At times of invasion and civil
war in Chinese history it has tended to fall under foreign influence: for
much of the twentieth century until the mid-1980s the Soviet Union
played a powerful role in the province’s politics, backing separatist
groups. This role has now been taken by the USA, which is funding a set
of far-right and fundamentalist Islamic organisations such as the Victims
of Communism Memorial Foundation in a bid to promote instability in
Xinjiang and perhaps even its detachment from China itself.

The efforts of these shadowy parapolitical outfits have been
supported by another NED-financed group, the World Uyghur
Congress(WUC), which is keen to promote the creation of a separate
Turkic State out of Xinjiang. WUC is linked to the extreme Right in Turkey,
notably to the Fascist Grey Wolves organization. Finally there is the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) whose objective is also the
establishment of an independent state carved from Xinjiang, known as
East Turkestan. The EU, UN Security Council and indeed the US
government have all identified ETIM as a terrorist organization linked to
Al-Qaida. In addition to its activities in the Middle East, during the last
twenty years ETIM has carried out terrorist attacks in China, including in
Xinjiang. Given Xinjiang’s strategic importance to China’s security and
territorial integrity and given the nature of the externally-trained and
funded agencies at work in Xinjiang, the attitude of the Chinese State to
dissidents there cannot be called surprising, even if the taking of a
repressive line has exacerbated problems in the region. It has also
provoked increasing global disquiet and has contributed to international
tension, though it cannot be said to be the root cause of this, which stems
from changing geopolitical conditions.

Woodward also argues that current American hostility to China comes from the conviction that America really is divinely ordained to be the world’s governing nation with a particular mission to promote free market capitalism. America demands trade at the expense of privatisation, the suppression of organised labour, and the free movement of capital. The Chinese have no interest in promoting any of this. They’re solely interested in trade, not in the economic and political transformation of their partners. Newton writes

It may not seem rational for the US to pursue a confrontation here but two quotations explain the reality from Washington’s perspective. The first is the comment of former French Foreign Minister Hugo Vedrine that ‘most great American leaders have never doubted . . . that the United States was chosen by Providence as the “indispensable nation” and that it must remain dominant for the sake of humankind’. The second is a comment by Perry Anderson that the US state acts ‘not primarily as a projection of the concerns of US capital, but as a guardian of the general interest of all capitals, sacrificing – where necessary and for as long as needed – national gain for international advantage in the confidence of the ultimate pay-off’.

In other words, the US both writes and polices the rules of the game
and the rise of China represents a de facto challenge to this hegemony.
On the surface this seems a strange observation. China has engaged very
successfully and indeed supportively (shown by its reaction to the 2008-9
Crash) with global capitalism. But it does so in a qualified way, or, to
paraphrase Xi Jinping, ‘with Chinese characteristics’. Not only does the 33
Chinese economy continue to operate a large state-owned sector but its
financial system is closely regulated, with controls over the currency and
over capital movements. China does not possess the conviction that
private economic activity trumps public enterprise, that government
should be small, organised labour suppressed, trade free and
international capital flows unhindered. Its assistance for developing
nations is not accompanied by requirements that states cut spending,
privatise public industries and services and liberalise the foreign trade
sector. In short China has never, in practice, endorsed the neoliberal
norms of the ‘Washington consensus’ established during the 1980s and
there is a real prospect that, if it does become the world’s largest
economy, it will seek to re-write the rules of the game in a way that is not
compatible with free market capitalism. This is what the US fears and its
strategy is therefore directed to forcing China to accept Washington’s
leadership and ‘enter the world family of nations’ on US terms or it would
face the likelihood of pre-emptive diplomatic, economic and, if necessary,
military action to halt its rise. As Woodward points out, this approach is
designed to ensure not only protection of the interests of global capital
but to secure ‘a longer-term pay-off’ for US domestic industry and finance
‘by preventing China reaching the point of competing at US levels of productivity and technology’.

It’s very doubtful if this new policy towards China will succeed. Many of the surrounding Asian countries have embraced China as a new market for their goods, while much of the American commercial hostility comes from firms and industries threatened by Chinese competition. Newton concludes that other countries may choose not to follow America’s lead but there will be considerable pressure on Britain to do so following Brexit. He writes

There is clearly a strong push within the British establishment, coming mostly from within the Tory Party and its friends in the City and the armed
services, in favour of military deployment in support of US forces in the
Far East, even if few other nations are willing to join. This might make
sense for the complex of defence industries, banks, hedge funds and
private equity firms at the core of modern British Conservatism but it is
hard to see what benefit there is for the rest of us in the UK from
confrontation with a nation which appears to harbour no aggressive
intentions to foreign countries and seems destined to become within a
short time the world’s largest economy.

See: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster80/lob80-usa-china-cold-war.pdf

In short, the new strained relations between China and America are a result, not so much of Chinese aggression, but due to Trump’s America trying to maintain itself as the world’s dominant nation economically and militarily. In this America is determined to promote its own very predatory form of capitalism, which is challenged by the less extreme form embraced by China. And it’s a situation that may benefit the military-industrial complex and financial sector that supports to the Tories, but won’t provide it to anyone else.

‘I’ Article about Micro Robots That Can Repair Body from Inside

August 28, 2020

Here’s a piece of optimistic science news. Yesterday’s I for 27th August 2020 carried this article by Tom Bawden, ‘Microbots can be injected to repair human body’, reporting that scientists have developed tiny robots that may injected into the body to carry drugs or repair tissue. The article runs

Scientists have created a new kind of microscopic walking robot that is shorter, thinner and narrower than the width of a human hair and can be injected into the body in a syringe.

Researchers hope that this new kind of robot – the first to carry and use onboard electronics – can be used to deliver drugs deep into human tissue or to sew up miniature blood vessel wounds deep in the body.

They hope that within five to 10 years the robot – currently a prototype that has been tested successfully in the lab – can be developed into smart, autonomous devices that can explore an area without the need of human guidance, according to a study in the journal Nature.

In their current form, these are the first microscopic robots that incorporate semiconductor components, allowing them to be controlled with electronic signals.

Each bot consists of a circuit made from silicon photovoltaics – which convert light into electricity and functions as the torso and brain – and four electrochemical “actuators”; components that function as legs.

The researchers control the robots by flashing laser pulses at different photovoltaics, each of which charges up a separate set of legs. By toggling the laser back and forth between the front and back photovoltaics, the robot walks.

“Machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds”, said Marc Miskin, of the University of Pennyslvania.

There’s also a snippet stating that they hope to use the robots for neurology:

The researchers are exploring ways to soup up the robots with more complicated electronics that could result in swarms of microscopic robots being dispatched to probe large areas of the human brain.

Scientists have been working on such robots for a long time. I think the ultimate goal is to develop nanorobots – robots so tiny that they could climb inside and repair cells. It’s been suggested that such machines could be so effective that they’d give people immortality. On the other hand, such nanobots have also raised the spectacle of the ‘grey goo’. In this scenario, scientists develop self-replicating nanomachines that simply turn everything into a grey goo. These escape, and destroy the world. I think we’re a long way from that just yet. The robots do, however, remind me of the old SF movie, Fantastic Voyage, in which a crew and their submarine are miniaturised and injected into a wounded scientist to save his life. But obviously without the miniaturisation technology and Raquel Welsh, who was one of the stars.

However, from reading the article it seems that they haven’t quite perfected remote control. I don’t see how using a laser to guide its legs would work if the robot was injected far away from a light source inside someone. But perhaps I’m missing something. I also have grave doubts about using them to explore the human brain. I’m very much aware that this would be immensely useful, considering how little we still know about it, but the technology seems to me also to have the potential for massive abuse. For example, if swarms can be injected into the brain to explore, it’s possible that they could also be used to alter the brain and control the person on whom they’re being used.

There’s clearly much potential here, but I wonder how long it will actually be before there are any practical machines developed from these devices.

 

Mr H Reviews Raves about New Russian SF/Horror Flick ‘Sputnik’

August 23, 2020

This is something a bit lighter for a Sunday morning. Mr. H Reviews is a YouTuber, who discusses genre film – Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. In this video he posted the other day, he praises a new Russian SF film, Sputnik. There are no spoilers, but he briefly sums up the plot. It’s set in in the Cold War, and is about a cosmonaut, who returns from space with something alien. It seems to be in line with films like Alien, although it also reminds me of Britain’s own Quatermass.This classic piece of British SF Horror first appeared as a Beeb TV series in the 1950s, before being filmed by Hammer. It was also about an astronaut, Caroon,from a British manned space mission at a time when we did indeed have our own space programme and were the third space power along with the Russians and Americans. He returns alone from space, his two fellow astronauts mysteriously disappeared, in a coma. It then emerges that he too is carrying a hostile visitor, and is slowly mutating into a threat to all life on Earth. Mr. H. also compares it to the much more recent movie, Life, which is also about a group of astronauts discovering and having to deal with a hostile alien entity in orbit.

Mr. H. is impressed by the film’s high production values, especially as it had a budget of 190,000 Roubles, which equates to about $2.5 million. I can’t say I’m surprised. Russia, for all its role as a global superpower, has a much smaller economy. When Simon Reeve toured it in a BBC documentary series a few years ago, I think he said that it’s economy was the size of Italy’s. It’s tiny for such a large country with a similarly large population. But that does mean that films can be made more cheaply there.

And the Russians are certainly capable of producing SF movies of the same quality as Hollywood blockbusters. A year or so ago before the lockdown I found in HMV a Russian superhero movie, Guardians. This was about a group of men and women from across the Russian Federation – one was from a nomadic people from Central Asia, another from one of the countries in the Caucasus, who have been given superpowers through a secret Russian government programme. But they now have to team up against an old threat  – the former chief of another underground project, that was shut down by the KGB, who is now determined to take over the country and the world.

It’s rather like contemporary Hollywood SF/ superhero movies with its theme of secret, unethical government experiments. And of course, as it’s a Russian film, it culminates in a battle over Moscow. If it was American, it would obviously be New York or LA. Guardians is a Russian language film, so you have to deal with subtitles, but it does show that the Russians are capable of producing genre movies of the same standard as Hollywood. And it’s also interesting to see how the Russians take over and adapt the plot and tropes of the western superhero genre.

I haven’t seen Sputnik, and so really don’t know anything about it apart from what Mr. H. says in the review, but it looks interesting. Here’s his video.