Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Trump Insults Australian Prime Minister and Mexican President

February 4, 2017

Another day, another example of how absolutely, constitutionally unsuited for government, or even civilised company, Donald Trump is. Yesterday there was the news that Trump had managed to insult the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, and threatened the president of Mexico with invasion.

Trump had been discussing an agreement signed last November between Obama and the Ozzies in which America promised to take a few of the refugees coming to Australia, who were temporarily settled in the camps on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Dictator Drumpf really doesn’t like the idea of taking prospective immigrants to Oz, and made his opposition very plain. According to the Washington Post, the orange megalomaniac told Turnbull that it was ‘the worst deal ever’, accused the Ozzie PM of trying to send him the next Boston bombers and said he was worried that the deal would kill him politically. He also told Turnbull that he’d already spoken to four national leaders that morning, including Putin, and that this was the ‘worst call so far’. The phone call was expected to last an hour, but Drumpf rang off after only 25 minutes.

Here’s the Young Turks video in which John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss Trump’s highly undiplomatic phone call.

Then there are reports that in his phone call to the Mexican president, Trump is supposed to have accused the Mexican army of cowardice in trying to sort out the drug cartels, and threatened to send US troops to do the job instead. He is claimed to have said

‘You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.’

There have been denials that this was ever said from the Mexican president’s office, but it appears to be true. John Iadarola, discussing the report in the video below, suggests that the denial might be an attempt by President Pena Nieta to save face. When he stood up to Drumpf last week, his approval ratings unsurprisingly shot up. Trump talking to him like this looks like a humiliation, and so he may have wanted to cover it up to prevent his approval ratings plummeting accordingly. It does, however, unfortunately seem to be true.

Iadarola and Kasparian make the point in the video about Trump’s insulting phone call to Premier Turnbull that Drumpf is perfectly happy to bomb the nations of the Middle East, but as soon as their citizens want to move out and seek refuge in America, he’s gets upset. In fact Australia’s immigration policy is itself highly controversial. I can remember Duncan Steele, an Australian astronomer at one of the British universities, saying at the Cheltenham Festival of Science in the 1990s that their treatment of refugees made him ashamed to be an Ozzie.

As for the drug war in Mexico, the drug cartels are indeed ‘bad hombres’. Actually, I think that term gives a romantic gloss to gangs of utter scum, who are completely subhuman in their cruelty and barbarism. In one of the Mexican provinces where they’re particularly strong, the gangs were engaged in feminicido – feminicide – as a kind of very sick sport. They got their kicks raping and killing women. And far from being cowards, the Mexican cops, who take them on are as hard as nails. A few years ago the on-line humour magazine, Cracked, did a list of the toughest real life vigilantes. Top of the list was a secret organisation of Mexican coppers, dedicated to rubbing out the gangs and their members. The identities of their members were unknown, to prevent reprisals against their families. The overall impression given was that these men were like the Punisher, but even more ruthless and absolutely dedicated.

I’ve no doubt that the Mexican army isn’t as good, as well trained or as well equipped as the Americans. But considering that America and her allies are still in Iraq and Afghanistan after nearly a decade and a half, I really don’t see that the Americans would have any more success in dealing with the drug cartels than the Mexican authorities.

Quite apart from the fact that you don’t tell the head of a friendly neighbouring state that you’re going to invade his country if he doesn’t sort a domestic problem out. Trump really has no idea how that sounds, not just to other nations generally, but specifically to Latin Americans. There’s considerable resentment of America in Central and South America, particularly in Argentina. It dates from the 19th century. Before then, many Spanish American liberals were solidly in favour of the US as the kind of modern, progressive country they wished their nations to be.

Then the US invaded Mexico, and causing these intellectuals to reverse their previous positive attitudes. They became bitterly resentful of what they saw as the US’s contemptuous, colonialist treatment of Latin America. It was the start of what I think is called ‘Arielismo’, in which South America writers used the character of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the brutish servant of the wizard Prospero, as a metaphor for the imperialist contempt with which they perceived Americans treated their Spanish-speaking neighbours to the south and their culture.

The Young Turks in the video above also talk about how Trump’s brusque, insulting treatment of his Mexican opposite number may imperil the NAFTA trade agreement with Mexico. This has resulted in a loss of jobs in America, as firms have shifted their locations south to take advantage of the cheaper labour there. But they argue that it has also benefited America.

Trump is clearly one of the most undiplomatic presidents in American history. You really do wonder how long it will be before this loudmouthed buffoon starts another bloody war, or a major international incident, simply because he can’t keep a civil tongue in his head.

He can’t even be counted on to behave decently with our head of state. Mike a few days ago carried a story on his site that Prince Charles had been told not to lecture Drumpf on global warming, if he meets him, as otherwise the Orange Supremacist will ‘explode’. Now I’m well aware that not everyone reading this site is a monarchist, and the exaggerated deference, with which they’re treated should definitely go. I’m referring to all those arcane rules of behaviour, which dictate that you must only talk to the queen if she speaks to you. Those rules should have no place in the 21st century. But that does not excuse another head of state from going on a rant at ours.

Two South Asian Rock Bands

December 6, 2016

This is a little break from politics. Looking around the Net, I found a number of Rock/ Heavy Metal bands from India and Pakistan. Here’s two of them. This Punkh, a Hindi band, performing with the German robot rockers, Compressorhead.

And this is The Nuke, a band from Pakistan, performing their track, Waaday (Promises).

I don’t speak either Hindi or Urdu, and so have no idea what the lyrics mean. However, the music’s good, solid Rock and they both have the genuine spirit and aesthetic. I’ve put them up because they both contradict western perceptions of these nations’ culture. Unless you have some contact with these communities, you simply don’t expect either country to have anything in the way of Rock music. My guess is that most people in Britain would think of Ravi Shankar and sitar music, Bollywood, and possibly Bhangra in connection with Indian music. As regards Pakistan, most of our impressions of the area are reports of terrorism and Islamic militancy. There have, however, been concerts over here of Pakistani musicians performing traditional Sufi music. This shows an entirely different side of these nations’ culture and their music.

Alt-Right Meeting Celebrates Trump Victory with Cries of ‘Hail Trump’

November 22, 2016

As the Alt-Right starts settling into a position of power through their links to Trump, any pretense that they’re remotely mainstream is rapidly coming off, and their true Fascist face is coming through. In this piece from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, Michael Brooks comments on an Alt-Right meeting at the weekend in which the movement’s leader, Richard Spencer, laid bare the movement as White Nationalism. He declared that White people were the children of the sun, a race of conquerors and creators, who had been marginalised in contemporary America. At the end of the speech, a group of three of his stormtroopers cried ‘Hail Trump’ and ‘Sieg Heil’, with Nazi salutes.

Brooks comments that there are three components to the Alt-Right. One could be described as neo-Fascist, neo-Nazi or neo-Dixiecrat. Another section was people clustered around computer games. And then there was this, which was simply Fascist or Nazi.

He goes on to say that he would like to have Scott Atran on the programme. Atran’s an anthropologist, who conducted research interviewing terrorists, exploring what attracted people to it, and particularly what attracted young men. He’d like to ask him what was attracting young American men to the Alt-Right. He states that some of it is the sense of meaninglessness prevalent in late stage capitalism. He can see how this would attract young people to terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s more obscure in North America, but nevertheless it’s still a factor.

He also notes the role of sexual frustration. He states that he is not making this comment out of snark, but these men are putting all their emotional and sexual frustration and projecting it on to society. He notes that one of the two men in the photo has ‘hover hands’, the gesture some men make, who would like to touch their female companion, but are afraid to do so. Fascists are afraid of everyone, including women.

This last comment is very accurate. A large section of the Alt-Right seems to be Men’s Rights activists, who are bitterly anti-feminist. And many of them seem to resent the female gender simply because women don’t fancy them. Kevin Logan in his series of vlogs ‘The Descent of the Manosphere’ covers these individuals. Each of his vlog posts is on an individual denizen of the manosphere, who, in his view, is trying to drag our species back into the sea. The series now includes more than 30 posts. Not all of these men are misogynists through sexual frustration, but it accounts for a fair number.

The Nazi and Fascist movements considered themselves to be male, anti-feminist movements. They appealed to men of extreme right-wing views, who felt threatened by feminism. The Futurists, an artistic movement of militantly techno-Fascists, which celebrated the car, the aeroplane, the new machine age, speed and violence, declared in their manifesto that they advocated ‘scorn for women’. Ludwig Theweleit, a German historian, has gone further in the case of Nazism, arguing in his book, Male Fantasies, that it had a very strong homosexual component. This has been taken up in its turn by the American Right, who have argued that Nazism was militantly gay. 75 per cent of the SA were homosexual, but they were wiped out by Hitler during the internal purge of the Night of the Long Knives, and male homosexuals were interned in the concentration camps during the Third Reich. I think Sir Ian MacKellen acted in play about the imprisonment of gays by the Nazis in the 1980s, called Bent. In the case of the American Right and the Republican party, the homosexual element in the Nazi party is used to smear gays and the gay rights movement. The argument seems to be a simple syllogism: the Nazis were all gay, therefore, all gays are Nazis, or gay rights is a Nazi plot. It’s specious rubbish, like most of the stuff the Right spouts. Nevertheless, it’s believed.

Regardless of their sexuality, the Alt-Right is now a growing menace in America, and their potential to harm millions of people, and empower similar movements on this side of the Pond, is immense and terrifying. We need to stop them. Now.

Critical Biography of Benjamin Netanyahu Published

November 21, 2016

Also looking around the bookshelves last Friday, I found that someone has written a new biography of Benjamin Netanyahu. And from it’s title, somehow I don’t think it’s going to be complimentary about the Israeli leader. It’s called The Resistible Rise of Benjamin Netanyahu. This seems to be a reference to the Bertold Brecht play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which was a parable about the rise of Adolf Hitler. This portrayed the Nazi leader as an Italian gangster. It’s a pretty fair description of Hitler’s character and the way the Nazis themselves behaved in the 1920s and early 1930s, when they were involved in street fights with leftists and Jews and planned assassinations, culminating in the Night of the Long Knives, when the SS exterminated the ‘left-wing’ branch of the Nazi party, the SA. Historians of Nazism and the Third Reich, and politicians, who lived through this period have described Nazis as gangsters.

I’ve no doubt that Netanyahu will secretly bridle at the comparison. In the past, Israeli spokesmen have angrily denounced any comparisons between their country and the Third Reich as ‘anti-Semitic’. But the Israeli state has adopted many of the same murderous policies as Hitler’s Germany. It’s been engaged in a decades-long campaign of terror and murder against the Palestinians, with the ultimate aim of seizing their land and forcing them out of their ancestral homelands. Mass murder has been an integral part of this policy.

While comparisons with Nazi Germany are offensive, they’re also apt. And if the Israelis don’t want people to make those comparisons, their government should not act like Nazis and Fascists.

Poppy: 3D Printed Open Source Robot

October 27, 2016

I’ve put up several posts this week about robots and robotics, discussing the ultimate origins of H.B.O.’s WestWorld in Karel Capek’s 1920 play about a robot revolt, R.U.R. This has been performed using real, lego robots, and a short speech about the play given by a British robot, Robothespian, by Café Neu Romance at the National Technical Library in Prague. Robothespian also appeared on the BBC’s Breakfast TV show a couple of years ago in 2014.

The humanoids in WestWorld are less like today’s industrial machines and far more like the Replicants in Blade Runner or Capek’s original robots. They’re a kind of artificial biology created through synthetic chemistry, and produced through something like 3D printing, rather than today’s mechanical devices. Scientists are, however, exploring various synthetic materials, which would expand and contract similar to the way animal muscles move, which gives WestWorld’s humanoids a grounding in scientific fact, even if we are still a very, very long way away from such complex, truly intelligent and self-aware artificial beings.

Looking through some of the videos on robots on YouTube, I found the short video below for a small, humanoid robot, Poppy, created by a group of French scientists and engineers. This is interesting, as it shows how far robot technology has come, including their manufacturing methods, and how close we are to a true age of popular robotics. The machine is bipedal, and designed to be used as a research tool by scientists. It’s also open source and can be made at home using a 3D printer. It’s creators state that it’s a robot for everyone, and so while it can be used for serious research – the video shows the machine walking along a treadmill, for example – it is not solely for professional robotics scientists, but aimed at a popular market.

This brings the world of R.U.R. and other, similar works of SF, where everyone owns a robot, just that bit closer. Along with Star Trek’s universe, in which anything can be produced using a replicator, an idea which the late Arthur C. Clarke explored in his book, Profiles of the Future, some decades ago. Robots pose serious problems in the mass redundancies that have occurred and are threatening to become worse through their adoption in industry, as well as the possibility that they will overthrow and replace humanity as the dominant beings when their intelligence eventually exceeds ours. 3D printing also has its drawbacks and problems for the economy. One of these is how people will be able to make a living from manufacturing, when nearly anything at all can be made cheaply by anyone at home with a printer. We haven’t reached that stage yet, and possibly never will. Nevertheless, it’s a serious issue that needs careful consideration and debate.

Poppy isn’t the only open source robot available that can be created through 3D printing. A glance through some of the other videos available on this subject on YouTube shows that there are a number of them. No doubt this will grow as the technology improves and costs drop so that the technology becomes more affordable. Assuming that everyone isn’t put out of work by then as more firms decide its cheaper to employ machines than people.

Here’s the video for the Poppy robot:

Robothespian, the British Robotic Actor

October 25, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about a performance of Karel Capek’s classic play about a robot rebellion, RUR, at the Czech national library a few years ago by a theatre group, Café Neu Romance, using lego robots. The theatre company was the creation of Vive Les Robots, a Danish company set up to encourage public interest in robots and robotics. I said in the article that I thought it would be good if the play could be performed by full-sized robots, to give it the stature it deserves. I realise, however, that was unlikely given how massively expensive the animatronic technology is, that brings to life robotic puppets like Ry’gel from the SF series Farscape.

One British company, Engineered Arts, has created such a full size mechanical actor. It’s called Robothespian, and there are a number of videos about it on YouTube. The video below shows it, appropriately enough, talking about R.U.R. as part of Café Neu Romance, a robot arts festival, at the Czech National Technical Library in 2012.

Robothespian has also appeared on British breakfast television. In this clip from the Beeb’s Breakfast TV programme from 2014, the two presenters talk about, and sometimes to Robothespian with Dr Nigel Crook of Oxford Brookes University. The robot was created by Engineered Arts as a research project to explore the ways people interact with robots. Crook explains that it can respond to a number of voice commands, and the two presenters ask it questions such as what advantages robots have over human beings. Crook also explains that despite this ability, real intelligence is a long way off, and the problem of giving the robot the ability to hold a genuinely intelligent, wide-ranging conversation is very challenging. So right now, the machine responds giving the answers programmed into it by a human operator.

Robothespian, or Artie, as it is called, from RT – Robothespian – replies to the question about its usefulness that robots can perform simple, repetitive tasks accurately without tiring, or needing to go for breaks. They ask it if it could do their job. Its answer is that it certainly could, as all they do is read from an autocue. So when does it start?

The machine has a range of expressive hand gestures, a moving mouth, and two screens in its head, which show images of eyes. These blink, helping it show a number of expressions. They also show hearts, like those shown in the eyes of cartoon characters to indicate they have fallen in love. The two presenters are, however, advised to stand a few feet away from the robot. Crook explains it is compliant, which means that, unlike an industrial robot, it won’t blindly continue to perform a gesture if it accidentally strikes someone who happens to stand in the way. Similarly, it’s possible to pull the robot’s limbs away from where they’ve settled without damaging it. Nevertheless, the presenters were advised to stand clear of it just in case it accidentally flipped back and struck them.

As well as delivering monologues, Robothespian can also sing, giving a hilarious rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and do impressions, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Crook explains that it was built to act as a guide at museums, festivals and exhibitions. The two presenters ask about its gender, and are told that it’s creators think of it as male, as it’s been given a male voice.

Also on the show is a little feature about a robot toy, Caspar, which is used in schools to teach autistic children. The toy was being tried out as a teaching tool as autistic people can find it immensely challenging understanding other’s emotions. They also like things in a very set order. Caspar is useful in that its responses, although intended to mimic those of humans, are always the same. For example, when it smiles, that smile is always the same smile every time it makes that expression. And this regularity and constancy of expression is intended to be reassuring and non-threatening, so that the child using it finds it easy, or easier to do so, than more conventional forms of interaction with people.

Robothespian isn’t cheap. Crook explains that it costs about £50,000. Despite this, Engineered Arts have built more than one of them. In this video from last year, 2015, two of them sing, ‘I Am Not A Robot’.

I find robots and robotics interesting, but I am very much aware of the problems they pose. There are the general philosophical issues like human identity and uniqueness – how long before they develop real intelligence and consciousness, start performing sophisticated task like creating art or composing music, or resent at their enslavement and control by humans? There are also the very real social and economic problems caused by their manufacture. The more industry is automated, the more real jobs, that could be performed by people, are lost. The Beeb a few months ago broadcast a documentary which forecast that in the next 15-20 years a third of all jobs could be lost in Britain. You can certainly see it in retail, where a number of companies have replaced human staff with self-service tills, where you scan in yourself the items you want to purchase into the machine, which then takes your money and hands you your change and receipt. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to the emergence of a society very much like that of 2000 AD’s Megacity One. Judge Dredd’s home city has, thanks to robots, a massive unemployment rate of 95% or so. As a result, most people’s lives are marked by boredom and despair, a situation brought home in the classic ‘Judge Dredd’ story, ‘Un-American Graffitti’, featuring Chopper, a teenage lad trying to escape this crushing social malaise through ever more daring pieces of graffiti artwork. 2000 AD and the ‘Dredd’ strip in particular always had a very strong element of satire and social commentary, and this was one of the most outstanding examples of the strip telling an entertaining story while also describing the real situation many of its readers faced for real due to Thatcherism.

And unfortunately, despite the boom years of the 1990s, the prospect of long-term unemployment and grinding poverty has got worse, due to globalism and the spread of neoliberalism as the dominant political and economic ideology. This will only get worse unless humanity finds ways to manage robotic technology wisely, to create jobs, rather than to the replace them.

Young Anti-Zionist Jews Talk about their Beliefs and Activism

October 12, 2016

I’ve blogged several times in my pieces attacking Binyamin Netanyahu, the Likud party and the Israel lobby, and the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour centre-left, that there are many very courageous Jews and Israelis, who are also strongly opposed to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. This is another video I found on YouTube. It’s for an organisation, Young, Left and Jewish, and has the organisation’s website address at the end. In it, anti-Zionist Jewish young people describe their beliefs and activities to oppose and make people aware of the persecution of the Arabs.

One Jewish young woman describes how the trips to Israel provided by the Jewish organisations are designed to inculcate support for Israel, even going so far, if they can, to encourage Jews to immigrate there. Another young woman begins her story by telling a bit of her own family history. She is descended from two Holocaust survivors and a Nazi officer, and so is connected to both sides of the Holocaust. She shows a family photograph album, with photos of her parents and grandparents, including the tattoo of the number the Nazis’ had placed on the arms of their victims. She then describes how, on a trip to Israel, she and her friends encountered a group of Arab Israelis. She and they sat down to talk, and they discovered that they had much in common through their experiences of persecution, the Jews from the Nazis and the Arabs from the Israelis. She states that this is causing immense pain and outrage, and that this will continue for decades to come. Intercut with this bit is historical footage of Jews being herded into the cattle trucks to the death camps. Another young woman describes how she and her friends put on a play by Jews, for Jews, to explore and explain about the persecution of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. Yet another young woman tells how she heckled Ariel Sharon in order to tell ‘truth to power’.

In my posts about this issue, I’ve described the fierce hostility those Jews, who do campaign on the behalf of the Palestinians face from the Zionist establishment. Just as anti-Zionist gentiles are smeared as anti-Semites, Jews are accused of being self-hating, or ‘not proper Jews’. Or worse. Another young woman in this video talks about going to a Zionist meeting to hand round pamphlets and flyers about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She describes how she and others like her are accused of being ‘self-hating’, or because they oppose Israel, they must somehow be in favour of terrorism or Yasser Arafat. She describes how she was cursed and spat at, with women she describes as looking like typical Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) grandmothers raising their middle finger to her. One woman even turned away and covered her child’s eyes.
One Rabbi, R. Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine, states that he has received death threat for his opinions.

The video is accompanied by a couple of pieces of traditional Jewish song.

I was particularly struck by the young woman, who found a common thread of experience through her family’s suffering under the Holocaust, and the Arab Israelis’ persecution by the Israeli state. The Palestinians refer to the destruction of their country as the Nakba, which means the ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe’. Amos Oz in his book, The Israelis, describes how just as the Israelis attempt to recover the history of the numerous Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust, so the Palestinians similarly attempt to document and trace their communities, which have been exterminated by the Israelis.

He also includes in his book accounts and statements by Israeli soldiers of their mixed feelings, including guilt and sorrow, at seeing Arabs forced off their lands and from their property. Several of them felt that it could easily have been them made to depart from their homes by an overwhelming power. It struck me that these feelings, like those of the young woman in this video, came from the collective Jewish experience of being repeatedly under attack, and forced to move on through violence, including armed force. The Holocaust is the best known, and most extreme and horrific of this, but just one example in the long persecution of the Jewish people. And some soldiers – unfortunately, not all – were bound to have profound misgivings when they found themselves ordered to do precisely the same thing to others.

Opposition to Israel and its systematic persecution of its indigenous population isn’t a simple case of anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred. it is a response by principled women and men to the persecution of yet another people by a colonial settler state. Very many of those who support the Palestinians against the likes of Netanyahu are sincere anti-racists, including Jews, who feel that this persecution runs counter to the teachings of their own religion. I put up a video a few days ago of a mass meeting of Orthodox Jews in New York to protest against the state of Israel and the conscription of Yeshiva students into the armed forces. One of the rabbis speaking declared that Israel was sinning by turning the Jews, a peaceful people, into a militaristic nation. He called this ‘the hands of Esau’. Oz in the Israelis also claims that the Jewish and Israeli peoples are not militaristic, giving a Yiddish word for militarism. This, translated into English, literally means, ‘the silly games of gentiles’.

Unfortunately, Israel is a highly militarised society, which has had the ethnic cleansing of the original people of Palestine as its goal from the start. If there is to be a just peace, and genuine reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East, it will be done by principled people like those in this video.

More on Progress, the Groaniad, and the Israel Lobby

September 27, 2016

Lobster 70 also had some very interesting little snippets about the Israel lobby, and its connections to sections of the Labour party and the press, specifically ‘Progress’, and the Guardian.

‘Progress’ is the Blairite faction within the Labour party. In ‘Tittle-Tattle’ for that issue, Tom Easton praises Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star for his work investigating and exposing Progress and its dodgy donors. Hughes had written about the close connection between Tristram Hunt and David Sainsbury. As I’ve blogged previously, Sainsbury was a big corporate donor to the Labour party under Blair and Brown. He stopped funding the party as a whole when Ed Miliband became leader, but, according to Hughes, he continued funding Progress. Just as he continued funding the SDP rump under Dr David Owen after the rest of it had merged with the Liberals. One of the SDP’s members was Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee.

In November 2014 Hughes described Hunt’s speech at the previous Labour Conference, in which he made a joke about the secretive and numerically small nature of the faction, which did not go down well with the Progress hordes. He wrote

‘When I went to the Progress rally at the last Labour conference, Tristram Hunt was one of the speakers, where he declared he was “delighted to be with Progress” because “you might be an unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire, but you are OUR unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire”.

Here were two dozen true words spoken in jest. Hunt’s joke was so close to the bone that the shiny happy people of Progress — this is one of the biggest events on Labour’s fringe — seemed embarrassed into silence.

Hunt’s insistence that Progress was “the Praetorian Guard, the Parachute Regiment, the Desert Rats of Labour” also raised few laughs, even though the meeting took place in a Comedy Club at the edge of the Labour conference site. Even joking that Progress is new Labour’s shock troops was a bit too much.’

One of Progress’ board members is Patrick Diamond, who is a long-time associated of Peter Mandelson. He is the Vice-Chair of Mandy’s Policy Network, as well as frequently contributing columns to the Guardian. Progress’ president is Stephen Twigg, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel. Progress’ chair, John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness, contributed the foreword to the Labour Friends of Israel’s The Progressive Case for Israel. And when it seemed Liz Kendall was about to don the mantle of leadership for New Labour, she got a positive press from the Jewish Chronicle. The week after Labour lost the election, the newspaper ran the headline, ‘Labour Must Now Pass the Israel Test’. Which shows just how close New Labour is to the Israel lobby. And in another item in the same column, Easton states that another former chairman of the LFI is Jim Murphy, the head of Scottish Labour. Which sheds yet more light on his determination to block Rhea Wolfson’s attempts to get on to the NEC. Murphy persuaded her local Labour party not to back her because of her links to that terrible anti-Semitic organisation, Momentum, despite the fact that they’re not, and Wolfson herself is Jewish.

A further item, ‘Grauniada’, also comments that that the Graun’s connections to Zionism goes back ‘to the early days of both’, noting that the newspaper itself had told the story of its relationship with Israel in 2008 when it published Daphna Baram’s Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel. The same item also notes that Jonathan Freedland, one of the leading critics of Jeremy Corbyn, is also a columnist for the Jewish Chronicle.

All this shows the very strong connections between New Labour, the Labour Friends of Israel, and the Jewish Chronicle, and how they are absolutely united in their hatred of Jeremy Corbyn.

The same item in Lobster also speculates on how long the connection between the Graun and Zionism will survive, now that the new editor-in-chief is Katherine Viner. Viner and Alan Rickman produced a theatre production based on the diary entries and writings of Rachel Corrie. Corrie was the American peace activist, who was killed by bulldozer driven by the Israeli Defence Force in Gaza in 2003.

There’s also another section in that part of the magazine specifically about the Israel lobby. Most of the politicians reported in that item, ‘Israel Lobby News’, are Conservatives and Lib Dems, such as Eric Pickles, Nick Clegg’s head of communications, James Sorene, who went off to head BICOM, while local councillors elected in May that year were invited to join the Local Government Friends of Israel by Rachel Kaye, the Executive Director of We Believe in Israel. Kaye stated that the director of We Believe in Israel was Luke Akehurst, a former Labour councillor for Hackney, and had worked with Peter Mandelson’s former press secretary in the PR and lobbying firm Weber Shandwick.

Simon Callow on the Press’ Perverse Attitude to Gay Celebrities

July 21, 2016

Simon Callow was on the BBC’s One Show last night. He, and his co-stars Anita Dobson and Bill Paterson were on, talking about a forthcoming TV series in which they play a group of pensioners, who throw dignity to the winds and decided to grow old disgracefully. Callow’s character is a man, who finds that having reached 70 and done his duty of working for a living and raising children, he feels robbed of his life, and wishes to return to the time when he was 18, and dreamed of a world of poetry, booze and drugs. A kind of anti-Victor Meldrew, if you like. This led into an interesting little discussion about when people decide you’re too old to do various ‘young’ activities, like going to nightclubs, wearing skinny jeans and sneakers. All accompanied with a picture of Keith Richards in full Rock axeman mode, who is 72 and doing all of the above.

Apart from this little insight into changing attitudes to aging and the elderly, Callow also gave a very interesting little window into the bizarre and contrary attitude of Fleet Street in the 1980s. Callow’s gay, but his sexuality has always been something of an open secret. Indeed, he himself did not try to hide it at all, despite the advice of his friends. He tried to come out several times in the 1980s, but the press ignored it every time he did. This was thirty years ago when attitudes towards homosexuality were harsher than they are now. There were gay celebrities, like Jimmy Somerville and Mark Almond, but attitudes generally were so hostile that many stars were very firmly in the closet. I can remember Elton John and Freddie Mercury both suing the press for printing that they were gay, before they finally came out.

Callow believed that honesty was the best policy, and so described how he gave several interviews to the press, in which he admitted his sexuality. What is strange and interesting, is that the press didn’t want to know. They never printed these stories, according to the great man. He said that they wanted to find people out.

This, it seems to me, indicates a kind of cynical, calculating cruelty in the press’ attitude to dealing with same-sex attraction. Clearly, what matter to them was the scoop, the revelation of an aspect of a celebrity’s life that they’d otherwise like to keep quiet. A prurient, salacious attitude, cynically exploited to boost sales by intruding on other people’s private lives. it seemed to me to be little more than a nasty delight in publicly humiliating someone, who was vulnerable to abuse because of their sexuality.

They couldn’t get Callow, however, because unlike many of his contemporaries, he believed and still believes that gay people are better off being open about their sexuality. He specifically mentioned the T-shirt slogan produced by the gay activist group, Stonewall, ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’. Clearly, the press at the time were mightily upset that Callow wasn’t tormented by the idea of people knowing about his sexual orientation. If I recall correctly, I think it was known at the time that he was gay, but that nobody was bother. I can remember hearing about how he was gay when I was at school, when he was in a family serial on ITV. It didn’t stop any of the kids I knew, who watched the programme from doing so. Callow now is one of Britain’s best-loved thesps. He’s toured the country presenting a one man show on Dickens, and appeared in an early episode of the revived Dr Who as his hero. So his sexuality clearly hasn’t set him back there. Nor should it.

But the anecdote does show the weird, persecutory and exploitative attitude of the press towards homosexuality and other’s privacy. It’s another example of why Private Eye’s column about the newspapers is called ‘Street of Shame’.

Chunky Mark on the Very Undemocratic Labour Coup

July 16, 2016

Blair Purge Cover

Here’s another video from Chunky Mark, the Artist Taxi Driver. In this one, Chunky Mark delivers his rant, which is nevertheless very acutely observed, on the Labour coup. He describes why the coup plotters hate Jeremy Corbyn, and how absolute undemocratic they are.

He observes that the right-wing – the Tories and the media didn’t want Corbyn from day one. The Labour MPs hated his anti-war stance, including his rejection of Trident, his rejection of austerity, his support for building ‘not-for-profit homes’, nor for standing up for free education and holding the wretched vulture capitalists to account. The Right and the Labour MPs hate everything he stands for and his supporters. And the forthcoming Labour election, the Chunky One declares scathingly, is a fraud.

He states that the coup started with the resignation of Hilary Benn, but Angela Eagle had already bought and paid for a website with the title ‘Angela Eagle for Leader’. The Coup Plotters have raised the membership fee from £3 to £25, and excluded 130,000 new members. The NEC – the head council of the Labour party – has also banned constituency parties from holding meetings. They’ve suspended the largest local Labour party, that of Brighton, and launched an algorhythm to search social media to make sure that Labour party members do not use words like ‘traitor’. If they do, they are suspended. Corbyn’s supporters have been denounced as ‘Trots’ and ‘rabble dogs’.

Chunky Mark says that somebody observed that they’re living under a Tory government, they didn’t vote, going through a Brexit, that they didn’t vote for, and have a Tory prime minister, that nobody voted for, but that’s democracy. Now the one person, who could be democratically electable, has to be voted for again, because the Labour MPs don’t like him, and want to get rid of him. Chunky Mark rightly points out that we should be fighting the current, extreme Right Tory government, which is attacking people’s rights. The Labour Coup, however, have sent this country backwards. He states that the Coup Plotters’ dream seems to be to suspend the membership, leaving only the Labour MPs and their donors. He quotes the journalist, John Harris, who said, ‘There is a fetid cloud of acrimony over Labour, and it is the reek of death.’ The Chunky One observers that the plotters would rather see people’s vision of an alternative, better world die than attack the status quo. It’s all gerrymandering, backed by lies and smears. The massive increase in membership fee discriminates against the low waged, the unemployed, students and the elderly.

This is the Labour election fraud.

Chunky Mark’s right. This is the parliamentary Labour party, the official Labour party wedded to Tony Blair’s neo-liberal vision, the ‘New Labour’ that came into being with the removal of Clause 4, the article providing for nationalisation of the means of production, trying to defend itself from Old Labour, now that the neoliberal vision is being increasingly found to be bankrupt. New Labour came to power impressed with Thatcher’s popularity, and convinced by her own threadbare ideas. State control and planning was rejected, along with all but a minimal welfare state. The rich, private industry and the media barons were to be courted and won over, as without them, Labour, it was held, was unelectable. And besides, only private industry knows best how to run the economy.

Except that it’s become blindingly evident that they don’t, and more and more people are aware of this. But it runs against everything the Blairites have instilled in the party for the last quarter of a century. And I wonder, in some of this, how much simple careerism plays a part. There was already a revolving door between business, senior civil servants and ministers under John Major. It became wider, and even more sleazy and corrupt under Blair. And now MPs see the promise of a nice, lucrative career in the industries they helped to privatise, and win government contracts after their parliamentary careers have ended, disappearing.

Berthold Brecht once remarked of the East German Communist party, when they clamped down on their people after they dared to demand democracy, that the Communist party had voted democratically to dissolve the people and elect another. This is what an authoritarian and careerist Labour party machine is trying to do to its membership. They want to destroy the party, rather than see themselves and neoliberalism and its horrors fail.