Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

November 25, 2020

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.

Why the World Hates America and the West: We Bomb, Kill and Wreck their Countries

November 24, 2020

One of the issues William Blum repeatedly tackled in his books about the crimes of American imperialism was the complete failure of the American political establishment and the general public to understand why their country is so hated by the rest of the world. He produces quote after quote from American politicians, civil servants and senior military officers declaring that America has America’s actions have always been for the good of those nations they’ve attacked, whose politicians they’ve overthrown or assassinated and whose economies they’ve destroyed and plundered. In their opinion, it has always been done by a disinterested America for the benefit of other nations. America has been defending freedom from tyranny and trying to rebuild their economies through free trade capitalism. And American forces have never been responsible for the deliberate targeting of civilians and have been concerned to rebuild the countries afterwards.

Again and again Blum shows that this is all lies. America has overthrown and interfered with democratically elected regimes as well as dictatorships. It has installed vicious fascist dictators, mass murderers and torturers in their place. It has stolen countries’ industries so that they could be acquired by American multinationals. It has hypocritically deliberately targeted civilians, even while denouncing its enemies for doing so. And while it has signed contracts obliging it to pay compensation to the nations it has attacked, like Vietnam and Serbia, these treaties have never been honoured.

But the American state and public have absolutely no idea why America is so hated and resented, particularly in the Muslim world. They’ve set up think tanks to try to work out why this is, and hired public relations companies to find ways of persuading the rest of the world why America is a force for good. In their view, this hatred is due not to America’s vicious imperialism per se, but simply to their mistaken views of it. In 2005 the Smirking Chimp, George W. Bush, sent his Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy on a tour of the Middle East to correct these mistaken impressions. She did not have an easy time of it, particularly in Turkey, where they told her where the people of that country made their views very clear. She told the crowd that sometimes to preserve the peace, America believed war was necessary, and repeated the lie that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, women were being better treated in Iraq. She got angry replies from the women present, to which she responded that this was just a PR problem, just like America had in other places around the world. The Arab News, the leading English-language newspaper of the Arab world, described her performance as ‘Painfully clueless’.

See: America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, p. 29.

But some sections of the American political and military establishment have a far better idea of the cause of this hatred. In 1997 a study by the Department of Defense concluded that ‘Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States’.

And former President Jimmy Carter also realised that American military action in Lebanon and the consequent killing of Lebanese civilians had cause the people to hate America. He told the New York Times in an interview in 1989 that

We sent Marines into Lebanon and you only have to go to Lebanon, to Syria or to Jordan to witness first-hand the immense hatred among many people for the United States because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers – women and children and farmers and housewives – in those villages around Beirut…. As a result of that… we became kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of our hostages and that is what has precipitated some of the terrorist attacks.

See Blum’s Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, pp. 34-5.

General Colin Powell in his memoir discusses the American military actions in Lebanon in 1983. Instead of blaming the terrorist attacks subsequently launched against America on Muslim hatred of western democracy and liberty, he recognised that they were only acting as America would if it were attacked.

‘The U.S.S. New Jersey started hurling 16-nch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would.’ (p. 35).

A 2004 poll by Zogby International of public opinion in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates came to the following conclusion, as reported in the New York Times:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: ‘What is the first thought when you hard “America?” respondents overwhelmingly said: ‘Unfair foreign policy’. And when asked what the United states could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were ‘stop supporting Israel’ and ‘Change your Middle East policy’…. Most Arabs polled said they believe that the Iraq war has caused more terrorism and brought about less democracy, and that the Iraqi people are far worse off today than they were while living under Hussein’s rule. The majority also said that they believe the United States invaded Iraq for oil, to protect Israel and to weaken the Muslim world. (pp. 37-8).

Which is more or less true, as Greg Palast has also shown in his book, Armed Madhouse.

The Defense Sciences Board, which advises the Pentagon, partly confirmed these findings in a report published in November 2004:

“Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet Rule. This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies-except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends…. Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies…when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…. [Muslims believe] American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.” (p. 38).

Unfortunately, our government and public opinion shares the same attitude as the American imperialists. This was shown by the full backing of the Iraq invasion and, indeed, the whole neo-Conservative foreign policy by the unindicted war criminal, Tony Blair and the propaganda of the lamestream British media. If you believe Daily Mail hack, Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Philips, the cause of these attacks is simply Islam. It isn’t. It’s western foreign policy in the Middle East.

If we really want to do something to stop the terrorist attacks on our countries, we could start by stopping bombing, invading and looting other countries around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, even with the accession of Biden to the presidency, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Unfunny Comedian Jokes about Killing Corbyn Supporters on Have I Got News For You

November 24, 2020

I didn’t watch Have I Got News For You last Friday. I’ve gone off the programme. It’s definitely past it’s sell-by date, in my opinion. Not only is it not as funny as it was when it first appeared in 1990 or thereabouts, I’ve got sick and tired of its right-wing bias.

Right-wing, when the Tories have also moaned about the Beeb being full of ‘woke’ lefties? Yes. A few years ago it was denouncing Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, despite the fact that the Maidan Revolution was a very carefully planned piece of regime change by the Americans using the National Endowment for Democracy. The regime they had installed was definitely pro-western, and supported by real Nazis, who were goose-stepping around in uniforms taken from SS auxiliary units in the Second World War. And it seemed to me that the Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainian population were being victimised, so under international law Putin, thug though he is, had every right to invade to aid them. But you didn’t hear this from the Beeb, and especially not on Have I Got News For You. Just more propaganda from the American and British establishments.

Ditto with the programme’s attitude to Corbyn. I stopped watching it because week after week, all you heard from Have I Got News For You was them pushing the anti-Semitism smears. Corbyn was an evil anti-Semite, and the Labour party was a foul, seething cauldron of anti-Jewish hatred. It was the standard media line, and shows the groupthink of the lamestream media. And it was the same on Friday, I gather.

According to a video put up yesterday by right-wing Youtuber and radio host, Alex Bellfield, the programme had included a comedian, Fintan Torbin/Toibin/Tobin, oh, whoever. Torbin was definitely a supporter of Starmer, and said that just when Labour looked like becoming a serious opposition, back came Corbyn. He then compared his supporters to fans of Bob Dylan, whom he considered to be just as infuriating. He said that they should all be killed by bombing Glastonbury. I’ve got a feeling this might be a reference to an incident at the festival a few years ago when the Labour leader appeared on stage, and was roundly greeted by the audience. That’s clearly rankled Blairites like Torbin for a very long time. It also makes you wonder about his hatred of Dylan. I can’t say I’m a fan of him, and some of his stuff is undoubtedly overrated, I’m sure. But it’s a bit much to talk about killing his fans.

Torbin’s joke is a clear example of Beeb anti-left wing bias. But not to Bellfield, who has a bitter hatred of the corporation. He has some kind of personal vendetta against them too, and so makes videos claiming that it’s full of ‘woke’, Guardian-reading lefties. pushing minority identity politics and gender confusion on the young. Now I think he’s right in that the Beeb does back, or wishes to be seen to back, anti-racist, feminist and pro-gay and trans policies. But when it comes to working class politics as a whole, the opposite is the case. It is very solidly pro-Tory, anti-Labour and anti-trade union, and has tireless and relentlessly pushed austerity, as the Kushner brothers have pointed out in their excellent book, Who Needs the Cuts?

Torbin’s unfunny joke obviously provoked outrage from the viewing audience. Bellfield considers this hypocritical, considering that Jo Brand was allowed to get away with a joke about stabbing Nigel Farage. Well, the arch-Blairite Labour MP Rachel Reed also made a comment about stabbing Corbyn in the front, but I don’t see Bellfield getting upset about that. Which shows just how partisan he is. He claimed that the outrage at Tobin’s joke was another example of the hypocrisy of the Beeb against right-wingers. He’s wrong. I think the Beeb, or at least the host, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, may have been genuinely surprised at the strength of the reaction against it. It seems to me that, considering their long record of pushing the anti-Corbyn line, the Beeb invited Torbin on because they knew he hated Corbyn and would make a suitable joke or comment about him. They just didn’t expect that a large, vocal part of the audience would take issue with it.

Just as the sheer strength of support for the Labour leader is causing problems for Starmer and the Blairites, who clearly hadn’t expected such opposition to their attacks on Corbyn and attempts to purge his supporters.

An 18th Century Rabbi’s Defence of Religious Criticism of the Rich and Powerful

November 23, 2020

Whenever any clergyman or religious figure dares to criticise them, the Tories always issue this refrain: that the reverend gentleman has no business doing so, and if he stuck to promoting his religion, the seats in his place of worship would have more worshippers on them. This has been largely directed at the Tories’ critics in the Anglican Church, especially since the Church’s report published under Archbishop Runcie about the increase in poverty in Britain. I also recall that arch-Thatcherite Norman Tebbitt also made some insinuations, based on the sing-song voice and other mannerisms characteristic of a certain type of Christian clergyman at the time, that Runcie somehow was totally wet and weedy. This was in complete ignorance that Runcie had been an army chaplain and so ferocious that he was known as ‘Killer Runcie’.

But an 18th century German rabbi, Jonathan Ben Nathan/ Nata Eybeschuetz/ Eybeschitz, had an answer to such accusation. He felt that religious people had the right to attack the conduct of public figures and that this made them more popular with ordinary people, not less. I found this stated in the article on him in Bowker’s Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. This says that

In his work as a rabbi, he took the view that religion is n ot confined to ‘the religious’, i.e., that teaching and preaching must reach out to affect the conduct of public life. ‘It is regrettable that our preaching is dealing constantly with out duties to God. Let the preacher protest, with a prominent voice, against the malpractices of prominent men, and the people will come to love him and delight in his sermons. (p. 332).

So clearly criticism of the rich and powerful hadn’t driven people away from religion, at least in his experience. I’m aware that explicitly party political statements by people of faith, or statements that may be interpreted as such, can be divisive. There are as many people repelled as attracted when right-wing Christian ministers start attacking gay marriage, for example. But there should be a place for religious criticism of the powerful and their policies, and especially when they harm the poor and defenceless. That’s been a vital element of the Jewish and Christian witness ever since the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, which states very clearly that the Almighty defends the poor, weak and marginalised against the rich and powerful.

Jeremy Corbyn was in no way an anti-Semite, and he had no lack of Jewish supporters because of the depth of his commitment to defending their interests as part of his staunch opposition to every kind of racism. As did Ken Livingstone, who said on an interview with George Galloway on RT’s Sputnik, that Jews greeted him on the street and told him they knew he wasn’t an anti-Semite.

But these Jews were sidelined and deliberately ignored by a political establishment that feared Corbyn as the radical, genuinely socialist leader working Brits of all colours, ethnicities and religious views need. Instead they parroted the smears of him and his supporters as anti-Semites by a true-blue Tory Jewish establishment. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had even sent a message congratulating Theresa May when she became Prime Minister. And the Board then went berserk accusing Corbyn of snubbing the Jewish community when he chose to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing Jews of Jewdas. Well, the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbinate really only represent the United Synagogue, which has taken upon itself to try and present itself as the sole true Jewish community, despite that there has never been a monolithic Jewish community. No rabbi has more authority than any other, and there is the old Jewish saying I’ve found ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. Jewdas are a part of Britain’s diverse Jewish community, and they almost certainly invited him, so his attendance at their Passover Seder definitely wasn’t a snub to the Jewish community. Only the rich, pompous Tory section.

The Tories should stop trying to shut their left-wing critics, both Jews and Christians, up. They have a right and religious duty to defend the poor and meek against the rich and powerful.

And it’s high time that the media dropped the partisan anti-Semitic contempt for left-wing Jews, and allowed them to speak. Because the Thatcherite, Tory policies Ephraim Mirvis appears to approve of are harming working, sick, disabled and elderly Jews and well as gentiles.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Yes, The British Jewish Establishment Really Is Just the United Synagogue

November 20, 2020

This is a kind of addendum to the post I put up yesterday, which asked who decided that the United Synagogue represented all of British Jewry. I did this because so many of those accusing Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism were its members or representatives, such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the late former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, and various hack journos writing for the I and other newspapers.

Now it seems that my suspicion is confirmed. I went and looked up ‘United Synagogue’ in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997). This says on page 1005

Association of Ashkenazi Jewish congregations in Great Britain. The organisation was established by Act of Parliament in 1870. It supports the British Chief Rabbinate, the London Bet Din and all the synagogues which accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.

The Ashkenazi are eastern European Jews, who traditionally spoke Yiddish. The other branches of Judaism are the Sephardim, who are descended from Spanish Jews, whose traditional language was Ladino, a form of Old Spanish, and the Mizrahim, Arabicised Jews from the Middle East. Left-wing Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn have also pointed out that the Board of Deputies really only represents the Board of Deputies, and that the Chief Rabbinate conflicts with the traditional Jewish view of rabbinical authority. This states that no rabbi has more authority than any other. This means that while Chief Rabbis like Sacks and his successor, Ephraim Mirvis, can bluster and pontificate about how critics of Israel are terrible anti-Semites, other rabbis and their congregations are under no obligation to believe them.

The Jewish establishment and its institutions, which claim to speak for all Britain’s Jews, really just seem to be the United Synagogue and its inmates trying to present themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of Britain’s Jews. Hence the rage at Jeremy Corbyn for daring to spend a Passover Seder with the left-wing, socialist Jews of Jewdas. Well, they obviously invited him, unlike the true-blue Tories of the Board and Chief Rabbinate, who didn’t and instead sent glowing congratulations to Tories like Tweezer when she slithered into No. 10.

I feel that the next time someone from the Board or Chief Rabbi turns up to tell us all that Corbyn is a terrible anti-Semite and an existential threat to British Jews, they should be accompanied by an explanatory warning caption at the bottom of the screen. Like those that accompany adverts, or the statements the Beeb makes when it has to mention a specific product. This caption should go

‘The Board/ Chief Rabbinate/other pompous smear merchant is a fully-owned subsidiary of the United Synagogue. Contains parts manufactured in Israel. Other forms of Judaism are available. ‘

Afghanistan: US Supported Islamist Fighters in order to Provoke Russian Invasion

November 18, 2020

Here’s another piece of US myth-making that William Blum skewers, the story that America only started funding the Islamist fighters, the Mujahideen, after the Russians invaded. America supported them as a resistance movement against Soviet occupation. In fact, the truth is almost the direct opposite. The Russians invaded the country because the US was conspiring with the Mujahideen to overthrow its secular, but pro-Russian, government. Blum writes in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Russians were not in Afghanistan to conquer it. The Soviet Union had lived next door to the country for more than sixty years without any kind of invasion. It was only when the United States intervened in Afghanistan to replace a government friendly to Moscow with one militantly anti-communist that the Russians invaded to do battle with the US-supported Islamic jihadists; precisely what the US would have done to prevent a communist government in Canada or Mexico. (p. 83).

In fact America supported the Islamist insurgency against the Afghan government in order to provoke the Soviets to invade. In his book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (London: Zed Books 2014), Blum states

Consider Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. In a 1998 interview he admitted that the official story that the US gave military aid to the Afghanistan opposition only after the Soviet invasion in 1979 was a lie. The truth was, he said, that the US began aiding the Islamic fundamentalist moujahedeen six months before the Russians made their move, even though he believed-and told this to Carter, who acted on it-that “this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted this decision.

“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Besides the fact that there’s no demonstrable connection between the Afghanistan war and the breakup of the Soviet empire, we are faced with the consequences of that war: the defeat of a government committed to bringing the extraordinarily backward nation into the 20th century; the breathtaking carnage; moujahideen torture that even US government officials called “indescribable horror”; half the population either dead, disabled or refugees; the spawning of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, who have unleashed atrocities in numerous countries and the astounding repression of women in Afghanistan, instituted by America’s wartime allies. (pp.5-6).

It’s ironic that one of the countries that became a victim to Islamist terror was America itself. The Soviet withdrawal convinced the terrorists that they could defeat America, just as they had defeat its rival superpower. And so they plotted the attack launched on 9/11.

Blum also makes it very clear that the subsequent American invasion of Afghanistan also wasn’t in reprisal for the attack, which was the overwhelmingly the work of Saudi nationals with deep connections to the Saudi secret services. It wasn’t done to free the Afghan people from the repressive Islamist government that the Americans had actually helped to install. No, the Americans had been on good terms with the Taliban. When the Taliban was willing to cooperate with them over the construction of an oil pipeline. When talks stalled over that, the Americans threatened them with military action and then invaded six months later.

America’s wars in Afghanistan are all about geopolitics and protecting American oil interests, nothing more. And the Afghan people, not to mention everyone else killed and maimed by the Islamist terror groups those wars have produced, are the real victims. And that includes our brave boys and girls, who have been sent in kill and die for the profits of western multinationals.

And America’s legacy of terror in the Middle East naturally worries people from the region. I’ve spoken to people from those countries, who told me they were worried about Joe Biden. They weren’t impressed with Trump, but they were worried about Biden, because of his connection to Carter. Carter was the US president at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. I don’t think you can blame him for that, as you can the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The Americans really didn’t see the Iranian revolution coming, and when the Ayatollah Khomeini did arrive, they completely failed to realize what would happen. The CIA believed that he would lead a peaceful revolution like Gandhi. If only. However, America did support the Shah, who by the time of the Islamic revolution was a bitterly hated absolute monarch who ruled through terror.

It seems everything we’ve been told about Afghanistan is a lie, a lie that is continually told by the lamestream media and the western political-industrial establishment.

And the broader message is that just as you can’t believe what you’ve been told about Afghanistan, so you shouldn’t believe anything else about the supposed benign actions of the American empire and its allies either.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

November 16, 2020

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

‘I’ Report of Successful Test of Virgin Hyperloop Maglev Train

November 13, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science/technology news. Tuesday’s I, for 10th November 2020, carried a piece by Rhiannon Williams, ‘New tube: Hyperloop carries first passengers in 100 mph test run’, which reported that Virgin Hyperloop had successfully tested their proposed maglev transport system. This is a type of magnetically levitated train running in a sealed tunnel from which the air has been removed so that there is no atmospheric resistance. The article ran

Two passengers have become the first to use Hyperloop, a technology which claims to be the future of ultra-fast ground transport.

The demonstration took place on a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas on Sunday.

Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and Sara Luchlan, the company’s head of passenger experience, climbed into a Virgin Hyperloop pod before it entered an airlock inside an enclosed vacuum tube.

Footage showed the pod taking about 15 seconds to complete the journey as the air inside the tube was removed, accelerating the pod to 100 mph before it slowed to a halt.

The futuristic system is intended eventually to allow journeys of up to 670 mph using electric propulsion, and magnetic levitation in a tube, which is in near-vacuum conditions.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial bullet train, which also uses magnetic levitation, is capable of top speeds of 3000 mph, meaning it could end up being considered slow by the Hyperloop’s theoretical future standards. The fastest speed achieved by a maglev train was 375 mph on a test run in Japan.

Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 and builds on a proposal by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The technology could allow passengers to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which are 45 miles apart, in just four minutes, the company’s previous chief executive, Rob Lloyd, told the BBC in 2018.

Ms Luchlan described the experience as “exhilarating”. It had, she added, been smooth, and “not at all like a rollercoaster”.

The business hopes to seat up to 23 passengers in a pod and make its technology “a reality in years, not decades”. Jay Walder, the current chief executive, said: “I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?’ With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

Hyperloop is a new mode of long-distance transportation that uses electromagnetic levitation and propulsion to glide a vehicle at airline speeds through a low-pressure tube.

Electromagnetic coils along the tube are supplied with an alternating current, causing them to rapidly switch polarity. Permanent magnets beneath the pod are attracted then repelled, creating forward motion and magnetic levitation.

It then shows a diagram of various other high speed vehicles with the proposed Hyperloop system for comparison. These are

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

Well, colour me sceptical about all this. The ‘Virgin’ part of the company’s name makes me wonder if it’s part of Beardie Branson’s empire of tat. In which case, we’re justified in wondering if it this will ever, ever actually be put into operation. After all, Branson has been telling the good peeps, who’ve bought tickets for his Virgin Galactic journeys into space that everything’s nearly complete, and they’ll be going into space next year, for the past 25 years or so. I don’t believe that his proposed Spaceship 1 or whatever it’s called will ever fly, and that the whole business is being run as a loss so he can avoid paying tax legally. I don’t know how much it would cost to set up a full scale Hyperloop line running between two real towns between several stops within a single city like a subway, but I’d imagine it’d cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. I think it’s too expensive for any government, whether national or local authority, to afford, at least in the present economic situation.

And on a more humorous level, it also reminds me of the rapid transit system in the 2000 AD ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. This was set in a far future in which humanity cowered underground, ruled over by the Terminators. They were a kind of futuristic medieval crusading order, dedicated to the extermination of all intelligent alien life, led by their ruthless leader, Torquemada. Earth was now called Termight, and humanity lived in vast underground cities linked by rapid transit tunnels. A system similar to the Hyperloop, the Overground, ran across Termight’s devastated surface. Termight’s surface had been devastated, not by aliens, but by strange creatures from Earth’s future, which had appeared during the construction of a system of artificial Black and White Holes linking Earth to the rest of the galaxy. These creatures included the Gooney Bird, a giant predatory bird that looked like it had evolved from the Concorde plane, which swept down from its nest in an abandoned city to attack the Overground trains and feed them to its young.

From: Nemesis the Warlock: Volume One, by Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Jesus Redondo (Hachette Partworks Ltd: 2017)

The Hyperloop’s too close to the fictional Overground system for comfort. Will the company’s insurance cover attacks by giant rampaging carnivorous mechanical birds? The comparison’s particularly close as Termight’s surface is a desert waste, and the system was tested out in the Nevada desert.

I realise that ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ is Science Fiction, and that even with its successful test run on Tuesday, it’ll be years before the hyperloop system ever becomes a reality, but I think it might be wise to avoid it if it ever does. After all, you wouldn’t want to be on it when the metal claws and beak start tearing through the tunnel.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.