Posts Tagged ‘2000 AD’

Study Finds Gaelic-Speaking Ulster Protestant Soldiers in First World War

January 7, 2022

After the fuss over Colston’s statue, with the right claiming the acquittal of the four chiefly responsible is a terrible travesty of justice that threatens British history, here’s a story about Ulster history which I hope is far more positive. A few weeks ago one of the left-wing papers – I think it may have been the Independent – reported that researchers had gone through the records of soldiers from Protestant west Belfast, who had volunteered for service before the First World War. They found that 70+ of the men were Gaelgheoir, Gaelic-speaking. The claim was made by Turas, a group set up to encourage Protestants to learn the Erse language.

This is truly amazing, if true. Irish Gaelic is a beautiful language with a long and great literature. This includes the great myths and legends of the Irish Gaels, like the Lebor Gabala, the ‘Book of Conquests’ and its stories about the ancient Celtic gods, the Tuatha de Danaan, or tribes of the earth goddess Danu. This was one of the sources 2000AD writer and creator Pat Mills drew on when for the Celtic warrior strip, ‘Slaine’, he created with his then-wife Angela, now Angela Kincaid, a successful children’s illustrator. But because of its association with Irish nationalism, there’s considerable hostility to it amongst the Ulster loyalist community. There was bitter opposition a few years ago amongst Loyalist politicos to a move by Sinn Fein to have Gaelic taught in Ulster schools. Long before that, at the time of the nationalist agitation before World War I, speaking Gaelic to a policeman could get you arrested. This opposition also led to hilarious mistakes. A little while ago Private Eye reported some Ulster politicos raised a furore against the slogan on a bus. This was in Gaelic, they claimed, as so was part of some nationalist attack on Protestant Ulster identity. In fact it was a tourist bus and the language was French.

The British did try to ban the Gaelic language along with the rest of the Gaelic culture in Ireland in the 16th and 17th century onwards as part of the long-running centuries of conflict between the Anglo-Normans and Irish. But I was taught when studying the history of European contacts with the outside world, that there was a period in the 16th and 17th century when Britain was careful not include religion as a uniform cause for hostility to the Gaels because some of the clans were Protestant. I’d be very interested indeed if any examples of Protestant literature in Gaelic has survived.

Hopefully this discovery may bring Protestants and Roman Catholics, Loyalists and Nationalists to an understanding that Irish identity and history is far more complex than generally realised. Historians and archaeologists of medieval Ireland have pointed out that Gaelic speech could extend far into the territories of the English Pale. Anglo-Norman lords often spoke Gaelic themselves, and one Gaelic bard spoke openly about is own mercenary attitude to the two ethnicities. He stated quite clearly he played and composed poems for both Gaels and Normans so long as they paid him. If he was performing for a Gaelic chieftain, he’d sing about how the Irish would ultimately be victorious and push the Anglo-Norman foreigner back into the sea. If he was performing for a Norman lord, he’d sing about how the Anglo-Normans would ultimately sweep the Gaels into the sea.

I hope this discovery will bring the people of Northern Ireland closer together, create greater respect between the two communities and show that Ulster can also be a multilingual community, speaking both English and Erse, regardless of religious affiliation.

For further information on medieval Ireland and English colonisation in the Middle Ages, see the chapters on Ireland in Medieval Frontier Societies, edited by Robert Bartlett and Angus Mackay (Oxford: Clarendon 1989).

China Reinforcing Army with War Robots Along Border with India

January 1, 2022

More robot news, but this time it’s really sinister with very grave implications not just for the Indo-Chinese region, but for the survival of the human race. Because the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has just posted military robots along the Tibet border to reinforce its human personnel.

This chilling video comes from Gravitas, part of the WION, World Is One network. I started getting their reports on YouTube on my mobile. I don’t know who WION is, but the accent and the concentration on south Asia, India, Pakistan and the surrounding countries, suggests that they’re Indian. They’re interesting, as they present the news from a different national perspective. Nearly a week ago they posted a report about a special forces unit in the American army in Syria acting as a death squad through drone strikes that also killed innocent civilians as well as soldiers. It’s the kind of news al-Jazeera reports, and gets labelled as Islamist propaganda by an outraged American right for doing so. There were calls a few years ago to ban al-Jazeera in America, and I wonder how long WION and Gravitas will go on before they’re faced with similar opposition.

According to this report, China has stationed 88 ‘Sharp Claws’ war robots and 120 ‘Mule-200’ robots along the frontier. The human soldiers had trouble adjusting to the high altitude in Tibet. The Sharp Claws are true robot weapons. They consist of a machine gun mounted on tank tracks with a camera so they can see where they’re going. At the moment they’re operated remotely by a soldier, but Beijing would like to make them autonomous. The Mule 200s are transport vehicles intended to carry supplies like ammunition. Beijing is also keen to develop other autonomous robots. The army wants to develop land-based robots, the navy robot subs and their air force intelligent drones. The Chinese government roped a number of private firms into developing them, including TenCent, Waowei, and at least three others, who were all declared robot champions. The UN is concerned about the increasing use of autonomous robots, and tried to set up an international treaty to restrict them. But this failed due to lack of support from the main countries producing them, a tactic that has worked to Beijing’s advantage.

Back in the ’90s many scientists were extremely worried about the real possibility of a robot takeover. Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at Reading University, begins his book March of the Machines, with a description of life in 2050. The machines really have taken over. Humanity has been largely wiped out, and the remaining humans are lobotomised, neutered slaves used by the machines for work in environments they cannot operate in, and in fighting those human communities that have remained free. When one company reported they were developing war robots for real, they were met with an angry response from many leading scientists telling them not to, because it would pose a real threat to the human race. Warwick was deeply depressed at the threat, and only recovered through exploring the possibility of augmenting humanity through cyborgisation. A few months ago Panorama posted a documentary, ‘Are You Worried Yet, Human?’, about China’s use of robotics and AI to control and monitor its population. And in one test, warplanes were remotely piloted, not by humans, but by a computer. This successfully shot down a piloted warplane.

This looks all too much like the scenario behind the Terminator movies, and we’re in big trouble if someone develops something like Skynet for real. As Isaac Arthur says in a video about robot rebellion in one of his Science and Futurism videos, ‘Keep them stupid, keep them dumb, else you’re under Skynet’s thumb’. Quite.

We don’t need these machines. They are a real threat to the human race. Robots operate through machine logic and programming. They don’t have the moral judgement of humans, although there has been precious little of that shown in wars. And perhaps this is why China, a totalitarian state committing genocide against the Uighurs in Sinjiang, is using them.

If we must have war robots, let them be moral, intelligent, humanoid machines like Hammerstein of the long-running 2000AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’. A robot soldier, who fights for peace, democracy and justice against the tyrants of Earth and Mars. We need robot soldiers like him, not automatic mechanical killers, and far fewer wars and conflicts.

As Hammerstein says in the comics ‘Increase the peace’. Until we have robot warriors like him, the UN is right. Autonomous war robots need to be strictly controlled, no matter who has them.

Six Robot Animals from Festo Robotics

December 17, 2021

Here’s another fascinating little video about robots. It’s not just humanoid robots that the cybernetics companies are developing, quite apart from the machines that aren’t intended to resemble people, like the industrial robotic arms. They’ve also been developing robot animals. Boston Robotics did it with their ‘Big Dog’ robots, which were intended as carriers for the American army. The project eventually failed because the noise from the machines’ electric motors would have been too loud for the stealth needed on combat missions. The machines, however, do strongly resemble dogs. Festo Robotics have taken this further and developed robotic versions of various animals, as this video from Inventions World on YouTube shows. The machines are a flying fox; jellyfish; a wheelbot, that can curl up and roll along before uncurling itself to walk on crab-like feet, somewhat like the robots that Obi Wan Kenobi and his teacher first encounter aboard the Trade Federation’s craft in the first Star Wars prequel, the Phantom Menace; a bird; butterflies; and a kangaroo. Well, actually the last one is more like a wallaby. It’s not as large as an Australian kangaroo. But this one clearly has some intelligence, as the video shows a young woman telling it turn round and move to a different place by pointing. I think she’s able to control it through a device wrapped around one of her arms.

These are amazing machines, beautiful and graceful. I wonder what a whole ecology of such robots would be like. There have been attempts to depict such an environment. There was a short-lived strip in 2000 AD, ‘Metalzoic’, set in the far future when humanity had been ousted as the dominant creature on Earth by robots with the ability to reproduce. There was thus a whole ecology of robot animals, and the strip followed the adventures of a group of robot cave people as they sought out the God-Beast, a robot mammoth which contained the master programme controlling this mechanical world. And a few years before that, Valiant ran a story in their ‘Spider’ strip, in which the brooding genius and his minions were forced into fighting another evil genius, who had created his own synthetic robotic environment on his secret island. ‘The Spider’ was a British strip that had zilch to do with Marvel’s Spiderman. According to the Bronze Age of Blogs, now sadly closed down, ‘The Spider’ was a criminal mastermind, who had decided to fight other criminals because they were too stupid or otherwise beneath him. You wouldn’t know it from reading the strip, as until art robot Kevin O’Neil introduced it in 2000 AD, artists, writers and letterers weren’t credited in British comics, but the writer on the strip was Joe Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman! These machines would also have delighted the Futurists, although I fear they had a darker, more violent purpose for them. One of their manifestoes called for the creation of biomechanical animals to train boys in war. I’d rather have such creatures made for the sheer delight of their invention and their graceful beauty. The bird in particular reminds me of one of the characters in M. John Harrison’s science fantasy novel, The Pastel City, who makes robot birds. As a result, his castle is surround by flocks of them. Perhaps as the technology advances we might expect similar robots along with the other robotic toys now available.

Private Eye on the Massive Failure of the Pepper Commercial Robot in Japan

December 1, 2021

I found this highly amusing little snippet in Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in their edition for the 6-18 August 2021. It’s report from the Japan Times about a Japanese company suspending manufacture and recalling thousands of their robots due to malfunctions and poor performance. The article runs

“We have suspended production of our Pepper robot,” a spokeswoman for Softbank Group Corp told reporters in Minato (Tokyo), “the AI robot, home companion and store assistant that we first marketed in 2014. We are in discussions with our French robotics unit about potential job reductions.”

Over the past seven years, 27,000 Pepper robots have been produced, and marketed as the world’s first AI robots, but many were sacked by the companies that bought them for inappropriate behaviour. “We bought one for our flagship Edinburgh store,” said a spokesman for Margiotta grocery chain, “but fired it because it kept telling customers ‘to look in the alcohol section’ when they asked it where things were.” Funeral director Osamu Funaki bought a Pepper robot to recite sutras during ceremonies, but sacked it after repeated malfunctions, lamenting “what if it refuses to operate in the middle of a ceremony? It would be such a disaster.” A Japanese nursing home purchased three Pepper androids to lead community singalongs, but dismissed them for repeatedly breaking down.

“Pepper did a lot of harm to genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations,” Professor Noel Sharkey observed. “But it was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers. I’m happy to see an end to it.”

This is less the ruthlessly efficient killing machines of The Terminator franchise or the similarly murderous androids of the early Tom Baker Dr. Who story, ‘The Robots of Death’ or any number of other stories in which the machines rise up to exterminate their human masters. It isn’t like Judge Dredd’s Megacity One, where automation and the use of robots has created a 95 per cent unemployment rate. No, it’s the Sirius Cybernetics Company from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose products are so uniformly terrible that the complaints division now covers the major land masses of three whole planets, as this clip from the Beeb TV series on Michael Snow’s channel on YouTube explains:

As for the robots being sacked, for comics readers of a certain age this sounds like they suffered the same fate as those poor machines that were sent down to be ripped apart by the frightening, but also frighteningly stupid demolition robot Mekquake in the ‘Robusters’ and ‘ABC Warriors’ strips in 2000 AD. Mekquake was always being frustrated at not being able to destroy the strips’ two heroes, Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer droid, and Hammerstein, an old war robot, who continually outwitted him. But if robots keep being manufactured with the same spectacular flaws as the Pepper robot, it probably won’t be long before someone invents a Mekquake-style machine to take care of them. Oh, by crikey, yes, as the thuggish old machine used to say!

Rojaws and Hammerstein prepare to meet Mekquake for the last time. From ABC Warriors – Return to Robusters, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, (Rebellion: 2015, 2016).

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I’ve also written the following books, which are available from Lulu.

The Global Campaign, Volume 1

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The Global Campaign Volume 2

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For a Worker’s Chamber

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Privatisation: Killing the NHS

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Crimes of Empire

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Cartoonist Kayfabe Look at Punk Artist Raymond Pettibon

November 18, 2021

Cartoonist Kayfabe are a pair of comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, who make video talking about comics and great comics artists on YouTube. In the video below they go through a couple of collections of work by Raymond Pettibon, a radical Punk artist, who created posters, zines and fliers for a number of bands, particularly Black Flag, in which his brother played. His work has a very raw, outsider style, though the Kayfaber’s state that he’s the only outsider artist you could take in to art school and still be taken seriously by the professors. His more recent work goes off into politics, particularly savage criticism of the Gulf War and Iraq invasion since 2003.And far from being underground or marginal, Pettibon’s work now goes for exorbitant prices. They mention one of his pieces going for $820,000.

His work itself includes Christian imagery, which the Kayfaber’s feel is based on the notorious Christian comics Jack Chick was putting out in the 1980s. I remember those from College, where several friends of mine in the Christian Union were into them. I despise them. They were extremely right-wing, venomously anti-Catholic and very much in the hellfire and damnation style of preaching. In my experience, this does the very opposite of persuade people to accept Christianity. I come from an Anglican family, but my mother told me that for a time she and her mother – my gran – attended the local Baptist church. This was because the local Anglican priest was all about scaring people with the terrors of hell and my grandmother, who was certainly no religious sceptic, didn’t agree with it. Some of Pettibon’s art is also sexually explicit, so be careful where you’re viewing it. He also did an iconic page for the Hernandez’ brothers’ Love and Rockets.

I thought I’d put the video up here as I’ve talked in the past about the underground political comix of the 1960s and their successors in the left-leaning comics of the ’80s and ’90, like Crisis and its strip, ‘Third World War’, produced by the 2000 AD crowd. I thought this might be of interest to those who share a similar curiosity about the underground press, and who may also want that style of comics revived.

Satanic Murderer Linked to Neo-Nazi Order of the Nine Angles

October 29, 2021

This is interesting. According to an article in today’s Evening Standard, Danyal Hussein, the murderer of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, was on an internet group run by a Nazi Satanist connected to the Order of the Nine Angles. The article, entitled ‘Danyal Hussein: Calls to ban Nazi-occultist group after Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman’ runs

‘Campaigners have renewed a call to ban a UK-based Nazi-occultist group following the Satanist murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.

Killer Danyal Hussein, 19, was jailed for life on Thursday for the murder of the sisters as part of a twisted demonic pact to win the lottery.

Hussein is believed to have been influenced by a black magic practitioner called EA Koetting, who promotes his work to more than 80,000 followers on YouTube.

Since his Old Bailey trial, it has emerged that Hussein was an active member of online forum Becoming A Living God, set up by Koetting.

The American author has associated himself with a group called Order of Nine Angles (O9A) and its US branch, Tempel ov Blood, which has been linked to a string of recent terrorism cases in Britain.

As Hussein was jailed for life for the sisters’ murders, Nick Lowles, chief executive of anti-fascism campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “Danyal Hussein was influenced by a man associated with the Order of Nine Angles before he launched his attack.

“This is yet another reason why the Government must move to ban this Nazi-occultist group.

“Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman had their lives stolen by this murderer, and the ideology which propelled him. Their families’ lives have been devastated.

“The Order of Nines Angles’ appearance in the story of these horrendous murders is shocking but shouldn’t be surprising.

“We have been warning of their promotion of terrorism and sexual violence, and called on ministers to act by banning the group.

“The Order of Nine Angles is determined to promote and inspire terrorism. They must be banned.”

Last week, Facebook announced that it had removed Koetting’s page and Instagram account for violating its Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policies, and YouTube said a review is under way. The PA news agency has previously contacted Koetting for a response.’

A few months ago when Danyal Hussein was arrested and charged with the murder, History Debunked put up a video suggesting that it was caused by Hussein’s own belief, as a Muslim, in the djinn. He stated that in his experience, it was very common amongst British Muslims and he had overheard Muslim students in his class discussing how one of their female relatives was being tormented by one of these spirits. That is why a murder, like something from the Middle Ages when people believed witches like Faust sold their souls to the Devil, and practiced human sacrifice, had returned to Britain.

Hussein did believe in the djinn, but it’s a bizarre twist that he was in fact motivated in this horrific act by a neo-Nazi. This might explain why the murder victims were two Black women, however. The Order of the Nine Angles is mentioned in Nicolas Goodrick-Clarkes book on contemporary Nazi occultism, The Black Sun. They sound absolutely bonkers, as if someone combined Norse mythology with a bit of crude Jungian theorising after reading the 2000 AD strip, Nemesis the Warlock, and thought that Torquemada was a good role model. The nine angles supposedly refer to the nine levels of Yggdrasil, the world-tree connecting the nine world in Viking myth. These are inhabited by acausal beings. The Order rejects the Theory of Relativity for the same reason the original Nazis did: Einstein was Jewish. After conquering the world and subjugating the non-White races, they aim to develop interstellar space travel and are eagerly awaiting the emergence of the future galactic emperor, Vindictus. Or something like that. The Nemesis the Warlock strip was set in a far future galaxy in which humans lived underground in a totalitarian hell. Earth was renamed Termight, and ruled over by Torquemada, grandmaster of the Terminators, a military order dedicated to exterminating all intelligent alien life. Creators Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill based it on the cruelty and corruption they had experienced in their communities growing up as Roman Catholics, though bigotry, hypocrisy and intolerance certainly aren’t confined to any one religion. They’re found right across all human ideologies and religions as part of the human condition. Mills and O’Neill were making metaphorical statements about racism in wider British society and particularly at the National Front, which was then on the rise. The strip was launched after a series of racist murders and the rise of anti-racist youth groups to oppose it like Rock Against Racism. But the Order of the Nine Angles with its cult of Vindictus does sound like its creators read ‘Nemesis’ and thought Termight was cool, as against the real fans of the strip, who knew it lampooned such Nazi prats. I have to say, though, that I don’t think anyone in the Order of the Nine Angles has read the strip or been influenced by it. It just seems to me that Mills’ and O’Neill’s creation, which still retains a cult following amongst comics fans, was all too accurate in its depiction of the mentality of these psychopathic nutters.

As for Hussein, it’s ironic that a man of colour was influenced by a Nazi, who would no doubt have looked down on him personally because of his race. And it shows that the motives behind his murder is much more complex than simple explanations that it was all down to Islamic superstition and immigration.

Alexander Bogdanov, Soviet SF Writer and Originator of Fully Automated Luxury Communism

September 18, 2021

One of my friends gave me a copy of A.M. Gittlitz’s I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism, for which I’m really grateful. It’s fascinating! Posadism is a weird Trotskyite sect, founded by Posadas, the nom-de-guerre of Homero Cristalli, an Argentinian Marxist. They were hardline Marxists, joining other Communist and Trotskyite guerrillas fighting a war against capitalism and Fascist oppression across Latin America and Cuba. From what I remember from an article about them in the Fortean Times, they also looked forward to an apocalyptic nuclear war that would destroy the capitalist nations and allow the workers of the world to seize power. This is frightening, as any such war would have destroyed the planet or at least killed countless billions and sent the survivors hurtling back into the Stone Age. Unfortunately, it was also shared by Chairman Mao, who really couldn’t believe why Khrushchev hadn’t launched a nuclear attack on America during the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev was certainly no angel. During Stalin’s reign he was responsible for organising purges of dissidents in Ukraine and when in power led a brutal crackdown on religion that sent thousands of people of faith, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, shamanists to the gulags. He was also responsible for creating the system of curtained shops which served only members of the Communist party. But in refusing to start a nuclear war, Khrushchev helped save the world and showed himself a far better man than Mao.

But Posadas also had some other, rather more eccentric views. He believed in establishing contact with intelligent aliens and also believed dolphins were another intelligent species with whom we should establish real, meaningful contact and understanding. A college friend of mine told me that they wanted to make contact with aliens because of their belief in the inevitable victory of Marxism. If there were alien civilisations, they reasoned, they would have achieved true, Marxist socialism and could therefore help us do the same. It sound completely bonkers, but they took their views on dolphin intelligence from the scientist and psychologist John Lilley. Many others shared their views. I have a feeling that dolphins feature in several of Larry Niven’s novels as intelligent creatures with whom humans have a relationship as equal species. To help them interact with us, they have been given artificial arms and mobile pods containing the water they need to support them.

There was a brief resurgence of Posadism on the Net in 2016, and the book contains amongst its illustrations a number of memes posted by them. One contrasts the despair and defeatism of capitalism and the mainstream socialist parties with Posadism. It features a grey alien looking on accompanied with slogans like ‘Solidarity with the space comrades’ – not ‘space brothers’, note, like the old-fashioned UFO contactees talked about, but Marxist aliens determined to overthrow capitalism. Other slogans included ‘It’s Communism, Jim, but not a we know it’, clearly a parody of the famous line from Star Trek, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’. And there’s also a parody of one of the famous sayings of the Space Prophet himself, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Posadist meme reworked this as ‘Dialectical Materialism so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.’ They are also in favour of fully automated luxury communism. This is the doctrine, embraced by Yannis Varoufakis amongst others, that mechanisation will make most workers redundant. To prevent the immense harm this will do, the only choice will be for the state to take over industry and run it so that everyone has free access to goods and services. This got reworked in one of the Posadist memes as ‘Fully automated luxury gay communism.’ I have to say this sounds distinctly unappealing. Not because I’m opposed to gay rights, but because it sounds like only gays will be allowed into the new utopia. I hope if it comes, it will benefit everyone, whatever their sexuality.

In fact the idea of fully automated luxury communism and alien contact goes back a long way in Marxist history. Alexander Bogdanov, an early rival to Marx, wrote an SF novel, Red Star. Inspired by Tsiolkovsky, the Russian rocket pioneer, and H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, this was about a revolutionary from the 1905 anti-Tsarist uprising, who is abducted to Mars. Martian society is advanced both technologically and socially. All the factories are automated, so that goods are plentiful and money is obsolete, as everyone has access to all the goods and services they need or want. As a result, Martians share their possessions. What work remains is entirely voluntary, but done idealistically for the good of society. This includes young Martians donating blood to increase the lives of the elderly. (see page 5 of the above book).

As the Bard says in The Tempest ‘Oh brave new world that hath such people in it!’

Posadas was an eccentric with some extremely dangerous views, but some of his ideas aren’t so daft. If mechanisation proceeds, then I feel that fully automated luxury communism, or something very like it, will have to come into existence. It’s the only humane alternative to the grind mass poverty and despair depicted in dystopian SF stories like 2000 AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’, where 95 per cent of the population of Megacity 1 is unemployed and films like Elysium, where the world’s masses live in shanty towns, workers are exploited and disposable, and the rich live in luxury orbital colonies.

And serious scientists are still looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, following American astronomer Frank Drake and scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan. Interestingly, the book states that Sagan, a Humanist and left-wing activist, denied being a Marxist. But he and his wife Anne Druyan smuggled copies of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, so that Soviet citizens could read its real, suppressed history. I think most SETI scientists believe that real aliens would probably be so different from us that their political and institutions may well be inapplicable to us. Nevertheless advocates of SETI believe that aliens may nevertheless be able to give us vital scientific information, including the cure of disease and how to extend our lifespan. It probably won’t be Marxism, but if the aliens do have something like it or Fascism, then these ideologies will become popular on Earth after contact.

Communist aliens sounds like a ridiculous idea, but until we make contact, we won’t know if there are or aren’t any.

As for the Martian society of Red Star, the absence of a money economy, the abolition of scarcity and work as a purely voluntary activity sound very much like the Federation in Star Trek. Thanks to contact with the Vulcans and other aliens, humans had overcome racism, poverty and starvation. People didn’t need to work, but they did so in order to better themselves. It should be said, though, that the series never openly advocated socialism. It simply said that ‘the economics of the future are different’ and implied that both capitalism and socialism had been transcended. Nevertheless, the parallels are so close that the far right, like Sargon of Gasbag and his fellow Lotus Eaters, have been moaning that Star Trek’s communist. I doubt it, not least because the actress who plays Seven Of Nine is married to a Republican politico. I think Star Trek is broadly liberal and presents an inspiring utopian society. One of the complaints about Star Trek: Picard is that it has now abandoned this utopian optimism in favour of portraying the Federation as a standard SF dystopia and that it’s liberal slant has become too shrill and intolerant at the expense of good stories, plots and characterisation. Utopias are unattainable, but we need them to inspire us, to show us that ‘another world is possible’ and that, in the words of The Style Council, ‘you don’t have to take this crap/ You don’t have to sit back and relax’. Or work yourselves to death to increase the profits of already bloated big business elites.

Apart from this, the book is also a fascinating look at the history of Marxism in Argentina and Latin America, and I intend to review on this blog when I finish it.

As for aliens, well, I’d rather we made contact with benign Space Comrades than the little Grey buggers that haunt our nightmares of UFOs, abductions and malign conspiracies at the moment.

And yes, the title very definitely is taken from the poster of a UFO hanging in Fox Mulder’s office in the X-Files.

The Irish Nationalists on Multinational Agribusiness Land Clearances in Africa

June 3, 2021

Two of the many great commenters on this blog, Brian Burden and Gillflowerblog, are concerned about my watching too many videos from the far right. As they have pointed out, the danger with it is that it can turn you a Tory after a night of bad, troubled dreams. Just like the hero of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis turns into a beetle after a similar disturbed night. I’ve no time for Fascism or the far right. The horrors of the Nazi and Fascist tyrannies are so enormous and vile that no sane, decent person can ever support them. The most infamous of those is the murder of 6 million Jews, and 5 1/2 million assorted gentiles in the Nazi death and concentration camps, but it also includes the atrocities by the Ustashe regime in the former Yugoslavia and by the Italian Fascists against the Arabs and Ethiopians. But it seems that amid the racism and xenophobia the Irish far right are uncovering some very disturbing facts about the actions of multinational corporate capitalism in sub-Saharan Africa that could very easily form part of a liberal critique and politics of international protest.

For some reason YouTube’s put up for my viewing a series of videos from the Irish Nationalist Party, despite the fact that I’m not Irish and definitely not a member of the far right. But they are interesting because of what they show about the issues now driving the rise of the nationalist right in Eire. From what I’ve seen in these videos, the Nationalists are against the EU, mass immigration, gay and trans rights and multinational finance capitalism. Their attacks on finance capitalism are superficially entirely reasonable. They hate the way Ireland and its enterprises have been parcelled up and sold off to foreign owners through offshore holding companies and tax havens. They’re right. This is also what has been done over here in Britain, and is still being done by the Tories. They rightly criticise the government for bailing out the banks responsible for the 2008 financial crash and the austerity that was consequently imposed on the Irish people. Just as over this side of the Irish Sea, our government bailed out the banks and rewarded the people responsible for the crash, while at the same time using it as an excuse to impose cuts on the welfare state, state expenditure on education and the NHS and low wages for everyone not a multimillionaire. And part of their hatred of the EU seems to come from the European Union’s role in imposing this austerity as well as other, socially liberal policies which go against traditional, conservative Irish morality.

In one of their videos, they compare the offshore financial houses and the EU to the absentee landlords that oppressed the Irish peasantry during the 19th century, and whose predations and exploitation was a major cause of the grievances that finally produced the Irish Revolution. But underneath the liberal, reasonable critique of multinational finance capitalism, there’s something far more intolerant. In one of the videos I watched, the speaker talked about how there needed to be research into the role of international finance capitalism in the Cromwellian invasion. This sounds to me to be the old anti-Semitic nonsense about the Jewish banking conspiracy. The nonsense spouted by the Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and which inspired Adolf Hitler and the other architects of the Holocaust.

They also hate the Irish government and the country’s mainstream parties, as well as the EU, for mass immigration, which they claim is taking Irish jobs from Irish workers and making Irish people homeless as accommodation which should go to them is given instead to immigrants. It’s standard far right stuff in many ways.

But one of their speakers at a local rally said something very interesting about what the multinational agricultural firms and the EU are doing in Africa. He claimed that they were destabilising the continent through purchasing vast areas of land and then clearing them of the indigenous, local people in order to turn them into vast farms. One of these estates being set up in Niger is, according to him, 5,000 square miles in extent. These firms are building huge walls around these estates, which have created tension and conflict. It’s the reason why so many military age men from the continent are seeking asylum on this side of the Mediterranean. They’re fleeing the wars and conflicts this is fuelling.

Now I don’t know how true this is. But it sounds horrifically plausible. Way back in the ’90s some of the creators of 2000AD put out a very political comic strip, World War Three, about a future war in Latin America driven by the big agricultural firms. I got the impression that this was based on fact and reasonable predictions. It was SF as the ‘literature of warning’. Now it sounds like something very similar is really happening, but this time in Africa.

I’m sure this is being discussed elsewhere, but I’m unaware that it has been covered in the mainstream media or by the mainstream parties. I wonder if this is a consequence of the embrace of neoliberalism by the European left. I very much doubt that Tony Blair and his successors in the Labour party want anyone noticing that free market, international capitalism in its genuine sense rather than as a code for ‘Jews’ brings nothing but wage slavery, poverty, misery and death. The Fascists and the far right, however, are left free to mention it. They are, after all, at the moment numerically small in Ireland and Britain and so few people will take any notice. And decent people will ignore it, because it comes from such a contaminated source.

Odiously, we have now got into a situation where reasonable criticisms of multinational capitalism are being shut down by the rightists under the pretext of combatting anti-Semitism in the Labour party. And instead they’re being embraced by people, whose solution is the ‘socialism of fools’ described by August Bebel.

We need real socialism, and a politics of tolerance and internationalism to protect working people across the world, whether Africa, Ireland or Britain.

I’m not going to show the video or link to it, but if you want to see it on YouTube, it’s title is: Ciarán McCormack – “The UN, the EU and the World Bank are destabilising Africa.”

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

November 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

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

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

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

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 11, 2020

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

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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