Archive for the ‘Wales’ Category

Book for Learning Arabic in Three Months

November 27, 2020

Mohammad Asfour, Arabic in Three Months: Simplified Language Course (Woodbridge: hugo 1990).

I bought this nearly thirty years ago when I was briefly trying to do a postgraduate degree on Islam in Britain. Hugo are a publisher specialising in languages. According to the blurb and the introduction, this book is written for people, who want to speak the language but don’t want to be able to read or write it. There are a number of different dialects spoken in different countries, but the book states that the standard, written language isn’t used in ordinary verbal communication and it’s very unusual for foreigners to use it. The author is a professor at the University of Jordan, and so the form used is the Jordanian dialect, which will allow the student to converse in ‘almost any Arabic speaking country’.

Along with the chapters taking the reader through the language, there’s also sample conversations and an Arabic-English mini-dictionary in the back. Like many other language books, this also includes written exercises, whose answers are also in the back of the book.

I bought it because I wanted to get an idea of what the language was like before learning the script. That’s almost certainly a mistake, if the spoken and written forms of the language are so different. You almost certainly need to learn the standard language if you also wish to be able read and write it. No language is easy, but some are definitely more difficult than others. Arabic is a Semitic language like Hebrew, Syriac and some of the languages spoken in Ethiopia. They’re very different from the Indo-European languages, like French, German, Welsh, Polish and so on spoken in Europe, and so Arabic is particularly difficult. So much so that I eventually gave up.

I think the book was partly written for tourists to the Middle East, as well as possibly people from the English-speaking world working out there, but not in jobs which require the literary language. I remember one of the words in the vocabulary is ‘funduq’, which I think means ‘hotel’. It’s also a sad reflection of the politics of the region that another word that crops up is ‘inqilab’, which means ‘coup’ or ‘uprising’.

Unfortunately since the attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing chaos of the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, the Syrian and Libyan uprisings and the rise of Islamic State, much of the region is in turmoil and far too dangerous for western tourists, quite apart from the international lockdown everywhere due to the Coronavirus. Still, hopefully peace will return to this fascinating, ancient and historic part of the world, and Europeans will once again to be able to visit it and meet its peoples in peace and friendship.

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.

‘I’ Article on Revelations about Police Unit Set Up to Infiltrate Protest Groups

November 6, 2020

Tuesday’s I, for 3rd November 2020, also carried a story by Margaret Davis, ‘Secretive police unit ‘infiltrated a range of groups’, about information about the Special Demonstration Squad and its activities that has come out in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The article runs

A shadowy and controversial Metropolitan Police unit was originally set up amid protests over the Vietnam War in the late 60s, a public inquiry has been told.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, which has cost £30m so far, began hearing evidence yesterday about undercover policing in England and Wales between 1968 and 2008.

The counsel to the inquiry, David Barr QC, said that the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was set up because there were official concerns that public anger over the conflict and unrest in Europe, particularly in Paris, signalled that far-left groups in England and Wales were planning disorder in the UK.

It has emerged that for decades undercover police officers infiltrated a significant number of political and other activist groups, in deployments which typically lasted for years.

“The information reported by these undercover police officers was extensive. It covered the activities of the groups and their members. It also extended to the groups and individuals with whom they came into contact, including elected representatives.

“Groups mainly on the far left but also the far right of the political spectrum were infiltrated, as well as groups campaigning for social, environmental or other change.”

The-then home secretary, Theresa May, set up the inquiry in 2015 after widespread condemnation of the tactics used by secret units. “The inquiry will be seeking out the truth,” Mr Barr said. “Publicly wherever that is possible, so the full facts become known and appropriate recommendations can be made for the future conduct of undercover policing.”

Some of the methods employed included using names of dead children as undercover identities without their families’ consent.

A number of women, including at least one who had a child with an undercover officer, were deceived into sexual relationships.

Initially the SDS, also known as the Special Operations Squad and nicknamed “the Hairies” because of undercover officers’ hippie appearance, targeted only far-left groups and those associated with Irish civil rights campaigns.

Now it was quite right for the state to set up groups to infiltrate some of these groups. The late 60s were the time when the Weathermen were blowing up things across America and in Europe there were radical, ‘Maoist’ Marxist organisations also committing terrorist outrages. I still remember the Bader-Meinhof Gang in the 1970s in Germany. Over here, apart from the IRA and other Northern Irish terrorist groups, there were other, smaller groups that were taking up violence. One of these was the Angry Brigade, who blew the door off the house of a Tory MP with a bomb. Although no-one was fortunately killed, they were arrested before they could go further. The One Show a few years ago had an item on them and their bombing campaign, and in the opinion of one of the cops interviewed on the programme, they would have gone on to kill people.

The problem isn’t that the cops infiltrated and disrupted genuinely extremist, violent groups but that they also infiltrated other, mainstream left-wing organisations in order to destroy them and smear their members. And as the scandal over the wretched Institute for Statecraft and the Democracy Initiative shows, the British state is still determined to smear the left, and recent Tory legislation trying to define what is a subversive group includes even some of the most innocuous organisations.

The SDS and similar organisations are out of control and a real threat to democratic left-wing politics and organisations, and they’ve been seeking to disrupt and undermine them for a very long time. It will be very interesting to see what else comes out about this branch of Met during this inquiry.

‘I’ Newspaper: Wales Getting Ready to Nationalise Railways

October 23, 2020

Today’s I for 23rd October 2020 has an article by Adam Hale, ‘Railways set to be nationalised’, reporting that the Welsh government is about to nationalise the railways in the principality because of falling passenger numbers due to the Coronavirus crisis. The article runs

The Welsh Government has decided to nationalise its railways following a significant drop in passenger numbers because of coronavirus.

The country’s transport minister Ken Skates said bringing day-to-day rail services for its Wales and Borders franchise under public control would help secure the future of passenger services and protect jobs.

Private firm KeolisAmey has run the franchise in Wales for just two years after taking it over from Arriva Trains Wales.

Mr Skates added that: “The Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.”

It’s excellent that this is being done. The railways should never have been nationalised. Indeed, in Britain, sections of the rail network have had to be handed back to the state to manage almost as regularly as clockwork. Unfortunately, they’ve always then been given to another private operator because of the dogma that private enterprise is always better and more efficient than the state. Even when it glaringly isn’t, as the past four decades of dismal failure by the privatised utilities companies has abundantly shown.

There is a very strong movement for the railways across Britain to be renationalised, as shown by previous press reports about criticisms of private railway companies and the franchising system. So far, however, many of the recommendations for the system’s reform simply demand alterations to the franchising system. It’ high time this was all stopped, and the rail companies renationalised across Britain.

I’ve no doubt that the Welsh renationalisation will be successful, but it will be uncomfortable for the Tories and New Labour because of their insistence on the absolute primacy of private enterprise. If it is successful, then you can expect articles by some Tories across the border here in England recommending their nationalisation. I think Lady Olga Maitland wrote one for the Tory papers the other year. But there will also be attempts by the Tories to rubbish it, and the Welsh ministers responsible in order to put the voting public off it over here.

Because if the railways are successfully nationalised, who knows where it would stop! The state could start taking over electricity, water, gas and even healthcare. Shocking!

They also might consider it better to feed hungry schoolchildren rather than send them to school starving while wasting money on fat contracts for firms run by Tory ministers and their friends.

Disgusted at Tory Simon Hoare Abstaining on Internal Markets Bill and Threat to Peace in Ulster

September 29, 2020

I’ve got no new information to add to this. Mike and the peeps on Twitter have said it all very eloquently and cogently. But I felt I had to add my voice to theirs condemning Simon Hoare, the Tory chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee and his disgusting announcement that he is going to abstain on the government’s Internal Market Bill. This is the piece of legislation that will break international law by contradicting our treaties and agreements with the EU. And it’s a real threat to peace in Northern Ireland because it imposes a hard border between the Six Counties and the Republic. But it was an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement that the border would remain open.

The Americans have already warned the Tories that if th20 years e Bill gets passed, any future agreement with Britain is gone. That means that all Johnson’s rubbish and guff about getting a good deal with America is just null and void, bluff, bluster, propaganda and lies.

But the real harm could be to the people of Ulster. Those of us of a certain age can remember the horrors of the twenty years or so of terrorism in Northern Ireland and the IRA’s bombing campaign on the mainland. I don’t know how many people were killed, maimed and injured. I do remember the day the IRA bombed Magg’s department store in Bristol. Fortunately no-one was hurt. It wasn’t just the IRA – Loyalist paramilitaries also carried out their atrocities, and there is more than ample evidence that British armed forces, which were originally sent into Ulster to keep the peace impartially, actively colluded with them, as well as the infamous Bloody Sunday Massacre.

The Daily Heil has been fiercely critical of the NI peace agreement, claiming that contrary to all the publicity the paramilitaries are still active. Well, I think one of its editors, David English, was a member of the Loyal Orange Order. Their anti-Catholic activities resulted in a concerned British government launching an investigation into them in the late 19th century, as I found out while working in the archives of the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. I dare say they are. But the violence seems to be very, very much less than I remember and there does seem to be, or at least was, a real atmosphere of positivity and optimism. The great people of Ulster really did seem at last able to live in peace with the hope that tomorrow would be better. Ordinary, innocent people didn’t have to live in the fear that they were going to be shot or bombed in their homes, pubs or work.

Too many people from both the Nationalist and Loyalist communities and politicians of goodwill from Britain, Ulster and Eire and worked too hard and risked and sacrificed too much for this fragile peace to be put in jeopardy. I know personally people from both communities in Northern Ireland, who hate the bigotry and violence.

No-one should die or live in fear simply because Boris and the Brexiteers – surely the name of a really grotty pop band – want to stick two fingers up to the European Union. Abstention isn’t an option: this is just Pilate washing his hands at Christ’s crucifixion again. Hoare might have eased his conscience, but it’s a weak gesture simply so that he hangs on to his job.

You can’t abstain. Not when people’s lives and the political stability of an entire province hangs in the balance. He should do the decent thing and vote against.

Just as Starmer had no business ordering the Labour Party to abstain but not to vote against more Tory legislation granting British forces immunity from prosecution for war crimes.

This could all blow back in Tories’ faces. A majority of Ulster Protestants also want to keep the border open. The province voted to remain in the EU, and some political commenters have argued that this leaves the way open for Eire winning them over and so creating a united Ireland. I think this is far too optimistic, but who knows? If all the people of Ulster want to join Eire rather than have their trade and personal contacts disrupted by a harder border, than there honestly can be no argument. Not if it was the result of a genuinely democratic campaign free of intimidation from the men of violence.

There’d be a united Ireland, and Cameron and Boris would have succeeded in breaking the Union of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. And when Blair made peace in partnership with Eire and the Americans, some people claimed that he had betrayed his people.

No: he and his partners gave them peace. A peace that Boris is set to destroy and Hoare is doing nothing to preserve.

The Tories are a disgrace. A murderous disgrace. The people of Ireland and Britain deserve better. And the Tories deserve nothing but our hatred and contempt for their willingness to risk more violence.

As I said, disgusted.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/29/tory-hoare-branded-a-coward-for-plan-to-abstain-on-bill-that-threatens-peace-in-northern-ireland/

Scumbag Starmer Sacks Nadia Whittome Behind Back But Tells Fascist Guido Fawkes

September 25, 2020

This is another incident which shows the real, intolerant, treacherous face of Starmer’s administration. And it could have come straight out of the Blair playbook. Yesterday Starmer sacked three MPs from their posts as Parliamentary Private Secretaries – Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake because they had the conscience and the guts to vote against the government’s Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21. The ladies objected to the bill’s provisions that would have exempted British service personnel for prosecutions for torture committed overseas. Starmer, however, had set up a one-line whip demanding that the Labout MPs abstain.

Other MPs from the ‘Corbynite’ wing of the party also had the courage to vote against the bill. They were: Diane Abbott, Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon, Ian Byrne, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Lavery, Rebecca Long-Bailey, John McDonnell, Kate Osamor, Kate Osborne, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Zarah Sultana, Jon Trickett, and Claudia Webbe. Kudos and respect to all of them.

Lobster has put up a number of articles about the involvement of British armed forces in war crimes and supporting brutal dictatorships. At the moment the British military is giving training to 17 regimes, including the Chinese, that are on a list of thirty which are of concern because of their history of human rights abuses. The SAS was also involved in training the Sri Lankan army in its brutal war against the Tamil Tigers, which included reprisals and atrocities against the civilian Tamil population. A recent book on war crimes by the ‘Keenie Meenies’, a British mercenary company, also notes that, although they’re not formally part of the British army, they too have been used by the British state to give military support to some very unpleasant movements and regimes at arm’s length. Like the Mujahiddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Fascist regimes in Central America in the 1980s. Going further back, British armed forces were also responsible for brutal reprisals against Black Kenyans during the Mao Mao rebellion, including torture and mutilation. The victims of the atrocities were only granted compensation after a long legal campaign a few years ago. For details of the atrocities themselves, see the book, Africa’s Secret Gulags.

Mike also points that Starmer’s order that Labour should abstain on the bill, but not vote against it, is similar to Harriet Harman’s order a few years ago that Labour should also abstain on a Tory welfare bill that would further cut benefits and impoverish claimants. It’s all part of the Blairite strategy of trying to appeal to Tory voters at the expense of the people they should really be standing up to protect. But they try to make it seems that they’re also paying attention to their working class and socialist base by abstaining. It’s unconvincing. To me, it recalls Pilate in the Gospels washing his hands and walking off when the Sanhedrin brought Christ before him to be crucified.

What makes Starmer’s decision particularly noxious, however, what adds insult to injury, is the way it was done. Whittome was not told she was sacked but a Labour ‘representative’ – some of us can think of other epithets for this unnamed person – instead went of an briefed Guido Fawkes. That’s the far-right gossip and smear site run by Paul Staines. Staines is an extreme right-wing Tory and libertarian, who’d like to ban the trade unions and other working class organisations, privatise everything, including the NHS, and get rid of the welfare state. When he was a member of the Freedom Association back in the 1980s, the organisation invited the leader of a Fascist death squad from El Salvador as their guest of honour at their annual dinner. Other guests, I think, included members of the South African Conservative party, who were staunch supporters of apartheid. He was also mad keen on the various psychedelics that were coming into the rave scene in the 1990s, including and especially ‘E’. It’s disgusting that anyone in the news should have been told before Whittome herself, but especially a Fascist like Staines and his squalid crew.

And Mike has pointed out on his blog that this is exactly the same tactic the Blairites in the Labour party used to stab him in the back. Mike was suspended for anti-Semitism the evening before he was due to stand as a Labour councillor in the mid-Wales elections. But he only found about it when a reporter from one of the local Welsh papers rang him up to ask him about it. And then some other weasel at the NEC went off and leaked Mike’s details to the Sunset Times, which then ran a feature smearing and libeling him as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Which Mike has never been, and very strongly and utterly condemns, as he has all racism.

But this also brings to mind the negative briefing Blair himself conducted against those MPs, who dared to go ‘off-message’ during his regime. Notable victims included Clare Short, who I think also clashed with him over his definitely unethical foreign policy. If a Labour MP or senior figure dared to contradict one of the Dear Leader’s policies or announcements, Blair and Campbell called the media hacks in for an anonymous briefing in which they or a representative then attacked the dissenting MP.

And now it seems that these old tactics have returned under ‘centrist’ Keir Starmer.

The Labour party is haemorrhaging members because of the way Starmer has turned his back on the great, socialist, genuinely Labour policies that Corbyn and his team were determined to return to. Mike’s pointed out that so far Starmer has broken 9 of his pledges to uphold them. Including his commitment to add 5 per cent tax to the upper right for big earners. That’s the multi-millionaires who have benefited from massive tax breaks, funded by savage benefit cuts to the poor and starving at the bottom of society, and who have squirreled their money away in offshore bank accounts. Including companies like that well-known patriotic group of papers and media, News International. Black members are particularly bitter and disappointed because of Starmer’s scant regard for the Black Lives Matter movement, which he dismissed as a ‘moment’.

Starmer has done nothing against the intriguers, who cost Labour the 2017 and 2019 elections, and who were responsible for the racist bullying of three senior and respected Black Labour MPs. Instead, the intriguers are arming themselves with lawyers and claiming that they have been smeared. And it shows how low Private Eye has fallen that the satirical magazine is uncritically pushing these claims, just as it was an enthusiastic supporter of the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn and his supporters.

Mike yesterday put up a piece commenting on this grossly shabby action by Starmer, including citing some very excellent tweets from the public. They include people like Tory Fibs, Kelly-Ann Mendoza and Rachel Swindon. But my favourite comment is this from Mark Hebden

Nadia Whittome has essentially been sacked for voting against war crimes.

The Labour Party is the Party of War criminality again then

Yes, just as they were when Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq.

Mike has pointed out that Labour is behind the Tories in the polls, although Starmer himself is actually more popular than Boris. He asks, quite credibly, if this is because the Labour party acts like this to betray its own members.

What comes out of this is that Starmer himself is another intriguing Blairite and that he and his scuzzy advisors really haven’t learnt that not only are such tactics against one’s own unacceptable in themselves, they will also make you unpopular with the public. The press didn’t hold back on using these negative briefings against Blair and Brown when they did it, in order to make them look personally unpleasant and untrustworthy. Which they were.

Starmer is damaging the Labour party. I wish the poll result were the reverse. I wish Labour was surging ahead of the Tories, and it was Starmer behind Boris. It is no more than he deserves.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/24/keir-starmers-labour-is-unpopular-because-he-supports-war-crimes-and-sacks-people-who-dont/

Have Astronomers Found Traces of Life on Venus?

September 19, 2020

The big story on Tuesday was that astronomers had discovered traces of a gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The gas is produced by living organisms, and so it’s discovery naturally leads to the possibility that the second planet from the Sun may be the abode of life.

The I’s edition for 15th September 2020 reported the discovery in an article by David Woods entitled, ‘Forget Mars, a startling discovery may mean there’s life on Venus’. This ran

Alien life could be thriving in the clouds above Venus: a team of astronomers detected a rare gas in its atmosphere, according to a study involving British researchers.

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has a surface temperature of 500o C, and 96 per cent of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide. But the discovery of phosphine, around 31 miles (50Km) from the planet’s surface, has indicated that life could prosper in a less hostile environment.

On Earth phosphine – a molecule of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms – is associated with life. It is found in places that have little oxygen, such as swamps, or with microbes living in the guts of animals.

A group of British, American and Japanese scientists – led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University – first identified Venus’s phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The presence of the gas was confirmed at an astronomical observatory of 45 telescopes in Chile. The discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Professor Greaves said: “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock.” Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, a Royal Greenwich Observatory astronomer, who was part of the research team, added: “This was an incredibly difficult observation to make. We still have a long way to go before we can confirm how this gas is being produced but it is definitely an exciting time for science.”

The team is now awaiting more telescope time to establish whether the phosphine is in a particular part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. While the clouds above Venus have temperatures of around 30oC, they are made from 90 per cent sulphuric acid – a major issue for the survival of microbes.

Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, has called for a new mission to Venus to investigate the findings.

This reminds me somewhat of the excitement in the 1990s when scientists announced that they may have discovered microfossils of Martian bacteria in a meteorite from the Red Planet found in Antarctica. The above article was accompanied by another piece by Woods, ‘Nothing found since claims awed Clinton’, which described how former president Clinton had made an official announcement about the possibility of life on Mars when the putative microfossils were found. The article states that confirmation that these are indeed fossils is lacking. It also notes that 4,000 exoplanets have also now been found, and that some of them may have life, but this has also not been confirmed. Astronomers have also been searching the skies for radio messages from alien civilisations, but these haven’t been found either.

Dr Colin Pillinger, the head of the ill-fated Beagle Project, a British probe to the Red Planet, also argued that there was life there as traces of methane had been found. This looked like it had been produced by biological processes. In a talk he gave at the Cheltenham Festival of Science one year, he said that if a Martian farted, they’d find it.

A few years ago I also submitted a piece to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that there might be life in Venus’ clouds. It was based on the presence of organic chemicals there, rather similar, I felt, to those on Saturn’s moon, Titan, which at one time was also considered a possible home of alien life. I got a letter stating that the Journal was going to run it, but in the end they didn’t. I think it may have been because another, professional astronomer published an article about it just prior to the proposed publication of my piece. I think I threw out the Journal’s letter years ago while clearing out the house, and so I don’t have any proof of my claim. Which is obviously disappointing, and you’ll have to take what I say on trust.

The possibility that there’s life on Venus is interesting, and undoubtedly important in its implications for the existence of life elsewhere in the cosmos if true. But I think that, like the Martian microfossils, there isn’t going to be any confirmation for a very long time.

History Debunked on Anglo-Saxon Slavery in Bristol

September 7, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

August 15, 2020

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

Nandy and Starmer Determined to Privatise NHS as Much as Tories

July 21, 2020

Mike put up a great, very disturbing piece on his blog yesterday, revealing that its seem Lisa Nandy and her boss, Kier Starmer, are every bit as determined to sell the NHS to foreign, mostly American companies as the Tories. Nandy told Andrew Marr on his show that neither she nor Starmer would have disclosed that the NHS was part of the deal with America in the secret trade talks. Aaron Bastani tweeted that ‘It is incontrovertible the publications of these documents was in the public interest. Labour supporting the ‘secret state’. He also added ‘This is probably the most telling comment of the Starmer leadership. Faux patriotism counts more than stopping American corporations buying parts of the NHS.’

Mike commented that it was an act of treachery. He reminded people that the NHS was founded in 1948 based on the Beveridge Report. The Tories opposed it bitterly, but you won’t heart that today now that they’re making money out of it. And now Labour are determined to jump on the privatisation bandwagon. He concludes

It seems no matter which party the public support, we’re going to end up with a privatised health system that only the richest of us will be able to afford. If you want to know why you won’t be able to pay for health care, look up all my articles about the criminal US insurance firm Unum.

If you know anybody who voted Conservative in December, or for Starmer before April 4, why not ask them if they knew they actually intended to end their own entitlement to medical treatment?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/20/the-labour-party-founded-the-national-health-service-why-are-its-inheritors-so-keen-to-let-it-die/

In fact the origins of the NHS go back to Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s minority report on British healthcare back in the very beginning of the 20th century. Bastani has also pointed out – and I think he’s right – that it was based on the excellent municipal healthcare system at Tredegar in Wales. In the 1930s the Socialist Medical Society was demanding state medicine, and this became official Labour party policy later in the decade.

Labour’s reversal on this issue came with Blair. Blair accepted uncritically all of Maggie Thatcher’s dogmas about private enterprise being superior to that of the state, and continued and expanded the Tory policy of the PFI, under which hospitals were to be built partly using private enterprise, who would be allowed to run them. When he set up the polyclinics and health centres in the early part of this century, they were to be set up and run by private healthcare companies, like Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. Alan Milburn, his wretched health secretary, wanted to privatise the NHS so that it would simply be a kitemark on services provided by private companies. The Care Commissioning Groups brought into manage doctor’s surgeries was, on the advice of the private healthcare officials advising Blair, empowered to contract in services from the private sector, and raise money from private enterprise.

This was interrupted when Corbyn came to power in the Labour. Corbyn demanded the renationalisation of the NHS, which is one of the reasons the Blairites so heartily opposed him. Renationalisation is still official Labour policy, but Nandy’s comments show how seriously she and Starmer take it.

Nandy, Starmer and the Blairites are red Tories, determined to make you pay for your healthcare. Get them out!