Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

Couple of Videos on the Model Work on the BBC SF Comedy, Red Dwarf

February 24, 2021

These are another couple of videos I found on YouTube. In the first, model makers and special effects technicians Bill Pearson and Steve Howarth talk about their work on series 10 of the show. It’s a deleted scene from the film Sense of Scale, which appears to be a movie about the work of model makers like the two. It’s one of a number of videos about the creation of model effects for films and TV series like Red Dwarf, Space: 1999, Alien, Aliens, Outland, Flash Gordon, the 1990’s version of Total Recall, Coneheads, The Fifth Element and The Empire Strikes Back by piercefilm productions.

RED DWARF X miniature effects – YouTube

The second video comes from the channel of someone styling themselves Duane Dibley (the Duke of Dork). As fans of the series will know, this is the stylistically challenged alter ego of the Cat. In it, Bill Pearson talks about his work on series 4 of the show when production was moved to Shepperton. He talks about how some of the props and effects ended up in skips, including one that was damaged by Craig Charles. Money was tight, and so instead of building the scutters from scratch, as they had in the first series, they used parts from radio controlled cars and electric screwdrivers instead. They also recycled props and bits of set from other shows, including a Science Fiction film Ridley Scott had completed filming there. It was only after the series ended that Patterson realised he had never made one of the major vehicles in the show. But his chance finally came when he asked to make one to be given as a prize in a quiz show.

Super Models (Featurette With Red Dwarf Model Maker Bill Pearson) – YouTube

Red Dwarf is one of my favourite SF shows, and one which, in my view, deserves its longevity and cult status. It’s really fascinating to hear from one of the team of talented artists, model makers and technicians which gave this show its great SFX. These still stand up today when miniature work has largely been superseded by CGI. Pearson mentions this in the first video, saying that he’s proud of their work on Red Dwarf, but thinks that he’ll now spend the rest of his life working in low budget projects, because the major films and TV series have gone over to CGI instead. This is a pit, as I’ve a great deal of nostalgia and respect for the practical special effects used in the Science Fiction and Horror movies I grew up with. As spectacular as the CGI graphics can be, there’s still a popular demand for old style practical effects. Harbinger Down, a horror film that came out a couple of years ago, was made using these traditional special effects techniques to cater to audience keen to relive the pleasure of the type of effects they’d enjoyed in Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Pearson, Howarth and the others, who worked on shows like Red Dwarf are immensely talented artists, and I hope their skills will continue to be in demand by producers and directors, who appreciate the value of good, practical special effects.

Dido Harding Didn’t Realise Viruses Mutate – How Did She Get Her Job Again?

February 7, 2021

I realise that it’s an old story, but it’s worth repeating as it shows the level of corruption and plain incompetence surrounding Boris Johnson and his appointments to official post. Mike posted up a piece a little while ago commenting on a statement by Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, that no-one could have predicted that the virus would mutate. Really? Doctors and scientists have known for a very long time that viruses mutate. It’s why there are different varieties of the flu vaccine and they haven’t yet been able to find one that will absolutely eradicate it, as they have with smallpox. The disease mutates too rapidly, so that as soon as an effective vaccine against one strain is found, a new variety, immune to it, emerges. It’s also why the world’s scientists are worried about the declining effectiveness of penicillin, as new strains of bacteria are emerging that are immune to it. I also believe that malaria is also changing so that quinine is becoming less effective.

This isn’t some deep medical secret, hidden by the scientific establishment for some nefarious purpose of its own, along with alien bases on the Moon, the Greys, the Face on Mars and the location of Atlantis. It’s widely known, well-publicised fact. One of the peeps on Twitter, Kit Yates, showed that it was actually taught in his seven year old’s science textbook. Which looks a lot more fun and exciting than some of the textbooks we used when I was at school. And scientific concerns about viral immunity to penicillin and quinine has been discussed on several programmes on Radio 4. This is the public service broadcaster the Tories want to defund and abolish in favour of something far more right-wing and owned by Rupert Murdoch or another millionaire like him. The fact that Tory official Harding doesn’t know a fairly basic fact about disease clearly demonstrates that if the Tories have their way, the abolition of the Beeb will leave Britain dumber and much less informed. But that’s obviously the only way the Tories feel they can win in the long term.

Fortunately for Britain, as Dr Julia Grace Patterson pointed out, doctors had been tracking different strains of Covid since last Spring. She also pointed out that viruses mutate, which was why the flu vaccine changed annually, and concluded that Harding’s remark was ‘awful’. This shows that we can count on our scientists diligently researching and doing everything they can to combat the disease. We just can’t count on their bosses knowing much about it.

If Harding was an ordinary member of the public, her ignorance would be excusable. You don’t expect ordinary people to know everything. They don’t have the time, the energy nor often the education. But Harding’s different. She’s in charge of the government body set to monitor and combat the spread of the disease from person to person. Her ignorance says much not just about her suitability for her position, but also about the cavalier attitude Boris’ government seemingly has to putting the right people in charge of such vital work. It has always looked as though Harding got the job, not through any real skill, knowledge or ability on her part, but because she was a friend of Boris and his wretched coterie. She was put in purely because of personal loyalty, as well as an attitude on Johnson’s part that no particular expertise was needed in this area. Anyone could do it, so it was important that that anyone was a personal friend or supporter of his.

This attitude seems to go back to the 90s. Private Eye in its literary column lamented the emergence of an attitude to bookselling and libraries, which saw them as just another product to be marketed. Managing directors were being appointed to publishers, booksellers and libraries, who had no experience of that sector, from industries like catering. One of them was the head of a sandwich firm. The attitude seemed to be that in the new commercial environment, industries, no matter how different, were somehow at some basic level identical. A man, who knew nothing about books or literature but made great sandwiches was just as good a choice as someone who had been in the book trade all his or her life, and appreciated that books were a social good with a distinct ethos and societal and ethical function far beyond their value as a material ‘product’.

And the same cavalier ignorance pertains here. BoJo and his fellow morons clearly regard NHS Test and Trace as just another business. Anyone from any business can therefore run it. They don’t have to have any personal expertise themselves, as they’ve got scientists below them to do that. But virology is not any kind of business, and while you wouldn’t expect Harding to have the same level of expertise as the scientists underneath, you do want her to have a basic understand of the nature of disease and the way its fought. Even if that comes from seven year old’s science text books.

Harding’s ignorance is amusing at one level, as the jokes about her on Twitter have shown. But it’s also dangerous. The Tories have absolute contempt for experts. Boris, Cummings and the rest of the ratbags supported ‘herd immunity’ against the advice of the overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists, because it fitted their prejudices of letting the poor die to protect the rich. I think it was one of them, rather than an American Republican, who said that people are sick of experts. Even if it was a Conservative from across the Pond rather than our own, homegrown rightists, the Tories certainly share that determined, anti-intellectual attitude.

Tory medical ignorance and negligence has cost something like 50,000 lives. And it’s still going on. Harding’s lack of a basic fact about viruses is symptomatic of a wider cavalier attitude to science and protecting people’s health and lives. They’re a disgrace. It’s time Harding was sacked and Johnson and his fellow cronies also forced out of office in favour of people better qualified to run the country and preserve its people.

Anyone got any ideas who that might be, as it surely isn’t Tory Starmer!

For further information, see: ANYBODY could have predicted that Dido Harding would be wrong on Covid-19 mutation. Here are some of the funniest responses | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Trailer for HBO Series on Heaven’s Gate Suicide Cult

January 12, 2021

The ’90s were a decade marred by the mass deaths of cult members. There was the Order of the Solar Temple, the horrific immolation of the Branch Davidians in their conflict with the FBI and Heaven’s Gate. HBO Max started screening a documentary series about the latter on December 3rd last year. I found this trailer for it on YouTube. Although it’s just over 2 minutes long, it shows the cult’s main beliefs and the background to the tragedy.

The cult was led by a man and woman, here identified as ‘Do’ and ‘Ti’. They died wearing badges announcing that they were an ‘away team’, and believed that after they left their bodies, they would ascend to become aliens of a superior species and take their seats in a spacecraft in or following a visiting comment. Several of the men had been castrated. Their bodies were discovered covered in purple sheets.

The blurb for the series on its YouTube page gives a bit more information. It says

“Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” is a thorough examination of the infamous UFO cult through the eyes of its former members and loved ones. What started in 1975 with the disappearance of 20 people from a small town in Oregon ended in 1997 with the largest suicide on US soil and changed the face of modern new age religion forever. This four-part docuseries uses never-before-seen footage and first-person accounts to explore the infamous UFO cult that shocked the nation with their out-of-this-world beliefs.

“Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults” is a Max Original produced by CNN and Campfire. Directed and executive produced by Clay Tweel (“Gleason”), the docuseries is also executive produced by Campfire CEO Ross Dinerstein (“The Innocent Man”) and Shannon Riggs, with Chris Bannon, Eric Spiegelman, Peter Clowney and Erik Diehn executive producing for the digital media company Stitcher (“Heaven’s Gate” podcast, “Sold in America” podcast).

Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults | Official Trailer | HBO Max – YouTube

The Fortean Times did a piece about the cult. As the TV series’ blurb says, the two cult leaders had been knocking around the UFO world for years. I can’t remember their real names, except that they had a couple of nicknames. Apart from ‘Do’ and ‘Ti’, they were also called ‘Him’ and ‘Her’. I think their message had started off claiming that they end was nigh, but that the Space Brothers were coming to help us. It’s a message shared by several UFO religions and Contactees. In the 1950s a Chicago psychic had claimed she had received similar messages telepathically from alien telling her that the world was going to end, but she was to assemble as many followers as she could. These would then be saved by the aliens, who would take them aboard their spacecraft. The psychic and her followers duly assembled on the date of the predicted arrival of the aliens, but the world didn’t end and the aliens didn’t show up. The group had, however, been joined by a group of sociologists from Chicago University, who were studying them. They were particularly interested in how the cult’s members continued to believe in its central message even after it had failed to come true. One of the sociologist’s published a book about it, entitled, When Prophecy Fails, which I think is now a classic of academic studies on UFOs and their believers. The psychic’s group differed from Heaven’s Gate in that none of them, I believe, committed suicide.

The aliens in which Heaven’s Gate believed were bald and asexual, and look very much like one of the stereotypes of UFO aliens taken from SF ‘B’ movies. The bald heads and large craniums show that the aliens are super-intelligent. It ultimately comes from a 19th century evolutionary theory, which held that as humanity evolved, the brain would expand at the expense of the body, and the sensual aspects of humanity would similarly wither. As a result, humans would become smaller, with larger heads and brains. The ultimate endpoint of this evolution are H.G. Wells’ Martians from The War of the Worlds. Astronomers at the time believed that Mars was an older world than Earth, and so Wells’ Martians are similarly far more advanced in their evolution than terrestrial humanity. They consist of large heads with tentacles. As their brains have expanded, their digestive systems have atrophied so that they feed by injecting themselves with blood.

It’s because their supposed aliens were asexual that some of the men in the group had travelled to Mexico to be castrated. It’s also been suggested that it may also have been because the group’s male leader was gay. If he was, and the group’s rejection of gender and sexuality stemmed from his failure to come to terms with his sexuality, then it’s a powerful argument for the acceptance of homosexuality. It’s far better for a gay person to be comfortable with their sexuality than to feel such shame and confusion that they mutilate themselves. This aspect of the Heaven’s Gate ideology also seems to me to be similar to the reason for some families referring their children for treatment as transgender. Opponents of the contemporary transgender movement have claimed that the majority of children referred to clinics like the Tavistock Clinic come from extremely homophobic backgrounds. They’ve argued that they’re seen as transgender by their parents, who have convinced the children of this, because it’s the only way the parents can cope with the child’s sexuality. They can’t accept that their son or daughter is gay, and prefer to believe that they have instead been born in the wrong body. Gay critics of the trans movement and their allies thus see the transitioning of such vulnerable children as a form of gay conversion therapy. That’s certainly how Iran views it. Homosexuality is illegal there, carrying the death penalty. However, gender reassignment surgery is paid for by the state. I got the impression that Iranians gays were offered the choice between death and having a sex change.

The cult’s description of themselves as an ‘Away Team’ was taken from the Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 then on television. The ‘Away Team’ were what had been called in the Original Series the ‘landing party’ – the group that would beam down from the Enterprise to explore that episode’s planet. One of the cult’s members and victims was the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura in the Original Series and subsequent films.

Their belief that the world was about to be visited by an alien spaceship was the unfortunate consequence of a misidentification of a known star by a pair of German amateur astronomers. They had been out looking for a comet that was due to come close to Earth. They found it, but with it was an object they couldn’t find on their star maps. They therefore went on the web to inquire what it might be, and the myth developed that it was some kind of alien spacecraft many times bigger than Earth, which was following said comet. Of course, it was no such thing. It was a star that didn’t appear on the maps the pair were using because it was too dim to be visible to the naked eye. It was, however, bright enough for them to see it using binoculars. The Cult’s leaders took the appearance of this supposed alien spacecraft to be the spaceship they had long expected to take them all to a higher plane with tragic consequences. Although the world was shocked by this disaster and the cult’s apparently weird beliefs, folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand pointed out that their idea of being taken to heaven in a ship actually came from a strand of American Christianity. There have been a number of hymns written describing Christian believers going to heaven in just such a vessel.

The trailer for the series also says that the cult’s members were intelligent and came from good families. I don’t doubt this. I’ve heard that members of new religious movements are often of above average intelligence. Perhaps it’s because such people are more intellectually curious and less satisfied with conventional religion. However, it also seems, at least according to the Fortean Times article, that many of the cult’s members also had problems functioning independently. They apparently were always contacting somebody to help them solve ordinary, every day problems like how to peel an apple correctly. I wonder if they suffered from a psychological or neurological condition like autism, which left them unable to cope with ordinary life and so vulnerable to being dominated by a charismatic personality with a message that appeared to solve all their problems.

The series looks like a fascinating insight into one of the decade’s apocalyptic, extreme religions with its roots in the UFO milieu. However, the series will be over by now, and if it was on HBO Max, it’s doubtful that very many people will have seen it. But perhaps it’ll be repeated sometime on one of the more popular TV channels. And I hope that events and the landscape of religious and paranormal belief have changed in the meantime, so that there will never be another tragedy like it.

Book of Photographs of the Paranormal

October 31, 2020

Photographs of the Unknown, by Robert Rickard and Richard Kelly (London: New English Library 1980).

I thought this book would be a suitably spooky subject for Hallowe’en. Bob Rickard is one of the founders and editors of the Fortean Times, the magazine of the weird that’s been going since the 1970s. A little note on the last page underneath the picture credits gives instruction to readers how they can submit their photographs of the paranormal to the Fortean Times. The blurb on the back cover runs

SEA MONSTERS

ALIENS

LEVITATION

POLTERGEISTS

ECTOPLASM

PHANTOMS

UFOS …. all photographed!

The largest, most complete, most amazing collection of photographs of the Unknown and the Unexplained ever published.

Many have never been published before, others are presented for the first time in their original full colour. They have been researched and collected from all over the world.

If you believe and want to convince other people, if you don’t know for sure but have an open mind, if you’ve ever been inclined to believe but want to see the evidence, you will need this unique archive that covers the whole range of unexplained phenomena.

The book has the following chapters, each containing these individual sections

Introduction

Strange Life, Loch Ness, Water Monsters, Sea Monsters, The Yeti, Bigfoot.

Unusual Natural Phenomena, Living rocks, Falls, Atmospheric magic, Natural ‘UFOs’, ghost lights.

UFOs, Flying Cigars, UFOs and Planes, UFOS over Water, UFO Shapes, UFOs Above Us, UFOs in Motion, UFO Beings Among Us? Optical UFOs, Computer Analysis, UFOs from the Sea.

Psychic Phenomena, Possession, Stigmata, Bleeding Images, Ectoplasm, Mediumship, A Modern Medium, Thoughtography, Kirlian Photography.

Paranormal Persons, BVM and Angels, Portraits of Christ, Aliens, Phantoms, Materializations.

Mind over Matter, Yoga, Pain Immunity, Psychic Surgery, Fire Immunity, Firewalking, Spoonbenders, Table Turning, Levitation of Objects, Apports, Levitation, Poltergeists.

This is another book I ordered from Amazon in order to give myself something to read during the lockdown. I think I remember it from the time it first came out, and if so, then the book really scared me. I was at secondary school, and the books publication was featured on breakfast TV. I remember one of the presenters of the Beeb’s breakfast show introducing a piece on it by saying something about the unknown being photographed and asking ‘but what are they photographing?’ Which is a very good question. The book I remember had a different cover. This was a monotone/ black and white photo of a medium producing ectoplasm from their mouth, in which there were faces. This doesn’t seem to have this image, which may well have come from the hardback edition. Or it may be that I’m confusing it with a completely different book. There is, however, a photo of ectoplasm coming out of a medium’s left nostril, in which there’s the face of a young soldier killed in World War I. It was these ectoplasmic faces which scared me, and I can remember the fear I felt passing the book on a display table in George’s, the big local bookshop in Bristol on a trip there.

Some of the photos are very well known, like Patterson-Gimlin pic of Bigfoot, a still taken from film footage of the creature walking in the American woods made a few years before. To many people, the film and photo are proof that Sasquatch is a real, paws and pelt animal. The film’s been shown on any number of TV documentaries about Bigfoot and the Yeti. Some of the experts called on in these programmes to give their opinion have said that it’s unlikely to be a fake because the fur is of different lengths. You’d see this in a real animal, but not in a costume. On the negative side, other experts have said that it can’t be real, as the creature seems to have both male and female genitalia. But perhaps it’s just got manboobs.

The debate about this photo still goes on today, but others are hoaxes or almost certainly hoaxes. A few years ago it was revealed that the ‘surgeon’s photograph’ of the Loch Ness monster, which has appeared in countless documentaries, newspapers and magazine articles about the cryptid, was very definitely a fake. It was created by adding a plesiosaurus-style neck to a toy submarine, which was then sent sailing in the Loch.

The same goes for some, at least, of the UFO photographs. There’s a photo of a UFO bearing the Ummo symbol. The Ummo messages were a series of letters sent to various people in Franco’s claim, which claimed they came from aliens, who had travelled to Earth from the planet Ummo. They contained a wealth of detail about their spacecraft, language, home world and so on. Most, if not all UFO investigators now believe they were a hoax. As are the photos of the Venusian spaceships taken by George Adamski. One of the photographs Adamski claimed was of an alien spacecraft was actually of his chicken coop. A few weeks ago I went to an online lecture hosted by the paranormal investigation group, ASSAP, in which the speaker suggested that Adamski’s Venusian spacecraft was actually a photograph of a type of gas lantern then available. And yes, they do look exactly the same.

The ‘thoughtographs’ are the images Ted Serios, an alcoholic bellboy, claimed to produce on film using the power of his mind. This was after he’d drunk enough to start his gums and anus bleeding. I don’t know if Serios was ever caught in fraud, but I’ve watched documentaries where sceptics have shown how it could have been faked. The same goes for the piccie of Soviet psychic Nina Kulagina showing off her telekinesis skills. This was debunked back in the ’90s or so in the Channel 4 programme Secrets of the Psychics.

Sceptics have also argued that psychic surgery is also a fraud. The psychics who claim to be able to perform such miracles don’t actually cut into the body of their unfortunate dupes, and the disease organs they remove aren’t human but chicken guts. This particular paranormal field was the subject of an episode of Jonathan Creek, the BBC detective drama about a crime-busting stage magician. That particular episode involved the murder of someone, who was dying and desperate to have similar treatment, or who had actually undergone it. It was some years ago, and I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter, as the show came down very much on the side of the sceptics.

Sceptics have also presented a strong argument that firewalking isn’t supernatural either. From what I remember, flesh burns at quite a high temperature, higher than the coals and embers on which people walk, and so anyone can do it. Well, that’s what they claim. I wouldn’t like to test it, and don’t advise anyone else to do either unless they know exactly what they’re doing.

The Fortean Times also carried an article a few years ago, which also claimed that the photograph showing a group of men in broadbrimmed hats and raincoats surrounding a diminutive alien was also a hoax. It was published in a German newspaper as an April Fool’s or Hallowe’en prank, or the German equivalents thereof. As for spoon-bending, made notorious by Uri Geller, there’s a trick to fake that which goes all the way back to the 18th century and the book, Rational Recreations. It’s possible that Geller, if he is a fake, is using that trick or similar.

It’s also entirely possible that some of the spirit photos are also fakes. They’ve been taken since the 19th century and the American photographer Hans Mumler. I have a feeling that Mumler was sued by people, who believed he’d deceived them. They noticed that the dead relatives and other people, who appeared in Mumler’s photos, did so in the same poses, expressions and attitudes as they had in other photographs. There were several ways such photographs could be faked with the plates exposed twice, once for the image of the sitter, and again for the supposed spirit. However, I think Mumler, or perhaps one of his competitors, was found not guilty because the prosecution couldn’t prove which method, if any, he’d used.

There are also problems with the photos of mediums producing ectoplasm. I think some fakes used to swallow cheesecloth, which they’d then regurgitate during seances. It was also noted that the female spirit one of the 19th century mediums used to materialise looked remarkably like her, but the two did appear side by side. It’s probably fraud but this argues against it.

Several of the poltergeist photos seem to be of the Enfield polt that was investigated by the SPR and Guy Lyon Playfair in the 1970s. This is a notorious British case which Playfair seemed to believe was genuinely paranormal, and which he publicised. The sceptical UFO magazine Magonia has suggested instead that it was fraud within an unhealthy family situation.

Other paranormal phenomena are almost certainly camera artefacts, such as the mysterious balls of light in one set of photographs, as the book itself suggests. Others include the mysterious tendrils of light captured by a female photographer. I came across the same effect on photos taken by a visitor to Derby jail, which is now open to ghost hunters as a haunted location. A few quick experiments showed that this did seem to be a trick of the light as it was caught in the camera lens.

I’ve also come across an explanation, which I’m afraid I can’t remember, for the Kirlian photographs that were also all the rage at one time. This showed that, as dramatic as they appear, they definitely aren’t of any aura surrounding living things. But they do look really beautiful, however.

I doubt if any of these photographs would convince a sceptic like the late James Randi or mentalist like Derren Brown. On the other hand, it may be that some are genuine, and that there really are paranormal forces out there that some have been able to capture on film.

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

October 20, 2020

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

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

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

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

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

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

Plot

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

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

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

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

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

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

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

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

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

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

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

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

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

Lovecraft and Racism

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

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

RT America’s Lee Camp Raises Questions about Starmer’s Connection to British Deep State

October 18, 2020

Mike’s put up a number of pieces discussing and criticising Starmer’s demand that Labour MPs abstain on the wretched ‘Spycops’ bill. If passed, this would allow members of the police and security services to commit serious offences while undercover. Twenty Labour MPs initially defied him and voted against it, with several resigning in protest from the shadow cabinet. The Labour whips’ office has also broken party protocol to issue written reprimands to the rebels. If they defy party discipline, they will face a reprimand period of six months, which will be extended to twelve if they continue to break the whip. These letters have also been shared with the parliamentary committee, a group of backbench MPs elected by the parliamentary Labour party and currently dominated by the right. This committee will decide whether or not to inform the rebel MPs’ constituency parties and the NEC. The information could then be considered if an MP seeks reselection in preparation for a general election. As one MP has said, it’s intimidation, pure and simple. And a number of those MPs, who received the letters, are talking to union officials.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/17/starmers-tory-supporting-crackdown-on-his-own-party-makes-him-a-danger-to-people-with-disabilities/

Starmer’s conduct shouldn’t really be a surprise. He’s a Blairite, and Blair’s tenure of the Labour leadership was marked by control freakery as he centralised power around himself and his faction away from the party’s ordinary members and grassroots. But Starmer is also very much an establishment figure. He was, after all, the director of public prosecutions. In this video below, comedian and presenter Lee Camp raises important and very provocative questions about Starmer’s connections to the British establishment and the deep state. Camp’s the presenter of a number of shows on RT America, which are deeply critical of the corporate establishment, and American militarism and imperialism. The video’s from their programme, Moment of Clarity. The questions asked about Starmer are those posed by Mac Kennard in an article in The Gray Zone. RT is owned by the Russian state, as it points out on the blurbs for its videos on YouTube. Putin is an authoritarian thug and kleptocrat, who has opposition journalists, politicos, activists and businessmen beaten and killed. But that doesn’t mean that RT’s programmes exposing and criticising western capitalism and imperialism and the corrupt activities and policies of our governments aren’t accurate and justified.

Camp begins the video by explaining how there was a comparable battle in the Labour party over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as there was in the American Democrat party over Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the presidency. Just as Sanders was opposed by the Democrats’ corporate leadership and smeared as a Communist in a neo-McCarthyite witch hunt, so Jeremy Corbyn – a real progressive – was opposed by the corporatists in the Labour party. He was subjected to the same smears, as well as accusations of anti-Semitism because he supported Palestine. Camp states that there are leaked texts showing that leading figures in the Labour party were actively working to undermine him. Jeremy Corbyn has now gone and been replaced by Keir Starmer, about whom Kennard asks the following questions:

1. why did he meet the head of MI5 for drinks a year after his decision not to prosecute the intelligence agency for its role in torture?

Camp uses the term ‘deep state’ for the secret services, and realises that some of his viewers may be uncomfortable with the term because of its use by Trump. He tries to reassure them that the deep state, and the term itself, existed long before Trump. It’s just something the Orange Generalissimo has latched onto. Camp’s not wrong – the term was used for the network of covert intelligence and state law enforcement and security services long before Trump was elected. Lobster has been using the term for years in its articles exposing their grubby activities. More controversially, Camp believes that the deep state was responsible for the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK. JFK was supposedly assassinated because he was about to divulge publicly the deep state’s nefarious activities. This is obviously controversial because the JFK assassination is one of the classic conspiracy theories, and one that many critics of the British and American secret states don’t believe in. It may actually be that JFK really was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone gunman. But Camp’s belief in this conspiracy theory doesn’t on its own disqualify his other allegations and criticisms about the secret state.

2. When and why did Starmer join the Trilateral Commission?

The Trilateral Commission was set up in 1973 by elite banker David Rockefeller as a discussion group to foster greater cooperation between Japan, the US and western Europe. According to Camp, it was really founded to roll back the advances of the hippy era as the corporate elite were horrified that ordinary people were being heard by governments instead of big businessmen. They looked back to the days when President Truman could listen to a couple of businessmen and no-one else. The Commission published a paper, ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, which claimed that democracy was in crisis because too many people were being heard. Ordinary people were making demands and getting them acted upon. This, the Commission decided, was anti-business. They made a series of recommendations themselves, which have since been implemented. These included the demand that the media should be aligned with business interests. Camp states that this doesn’t mean that there is uniformity of opinion amongst the mainstream media. The various media outlets do disagree with each other over policies and politicians. But it does mean that if the media decides that a story doesn’t fit with business interests, it doesn’t get published. The Commission also wanted the universities purged of left-wing progressives. The Commission’s members including such shining examples of humanity and decency as Henry Kissinger and the former director general of US National Intelligence, John Negroponte.

3. What did Starmer discuss with US attorney general Eric Holder when he met him on November 9th, 2011 in Washington D.C.?

Starmer was the director of public prosecutions at the time, and met not just Holder, but also five others from the Department of Justice. This was at the same time the Swedes were trying to extradite Julian Assange of Wikileaks infamy. Except that further leaked documents have shown that the Swedes were prepared to drop the case. But Britain wanted him extradited and tried, and successfully put pressure on the Swedes to do just that.

4. Why did Starmer develop such a close relationship with the Times newspaper?

Starmer held social gatherings with the Times’ staff, which is remarkable, as Camp points out, because it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch like Fox News in America.

Camp goes on to conclude that, at the very least, this all shows that Starmer is very much a member of the corporate establishment, and that the deep state has been working to assure that same corporate elite that he’s safe, just as they worked to reassure Wall Street about Obama. At the time Obama had only been senator for a couple of years, but nevertheless he succeeded in getting a meeting with a former treasury secretary. But now the corporate establishment in the Democrats and the Labour party has won. Jeremy Corbyn has been ousted and replaced with Starmer, while Sanders can’t even get a platform with the Democrats. This is because the Democrats have surrendered the platform to the Republicans because Trump contradicts himself so much they just can’t follow him.

While these are just questions and speculation, they do strongly indicate that Starmer is very much part of the establishment and has their interests at heart, not those of the traditional Labour party. His closeness to the Times shows just why he was willing to write articles for the Tory press behind paywalls. His role in the British state’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange and meetings with Holder also show why Starmer’s so determined not to oppose the ‘spycops’ bill. He is very much part of the British state establishment, and sees it has his role and duty to protect it and its secrets, and not the British public from the secret state.

As for the Trilateral Commission, they’re at the heart of any number of dodgy conspiracy theories, including those claiming that the American government has made covert pacts with evil aliens from Zeta Reticuli. However, as Camp says, his membership of the Commission does indeed show that he is very much a member of the global corporate elite. An elite that wanted to reduce democracy in order to promote the interests of big business.

As a corporate, establishment figure, Starmer very definitely should not be the head of a party founded to represent and defend ordinary people against exploitation and deprivation by business and the state. Dissatisfaction with his leadership inside the Labour party is growing. Hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s ousted in his turn, and the leadership taken by someone who genuinely represents the party, its history and its real mission to work for Britain’s working people.

Paul Joseph Watson Refutes Black Lives Matter

October 14, 2020

Paul Joseph Watson is another right-wing Youtuber. He used to be bonkers conspiracy theory peddler Alex Jones’ British buddy on Infowars, before he split with him and returned to Blighty. Leaving Jones to peddle his overpriced quack health supplements and mad ideas about the globalists running the world on behalf of demonic aliens, Obama and Hillary Clinton being demonic alien cyborgs set on imprisoning Americans in FEMA camps alone. Like Carl Benjamin, he’s also responsible for breaking UKIP. He entered the party along with Mark ‘Nazi pub’ Meechan. And the rest of the party, who really didn’t want to look like a bunch of racists, left in response.

But despite his extreme right-wing views and his opposition to immigration, I really don’t think it’s fair to call Watson a racist. And he does have a point about Black Lives Matter. BLM is centred around the perception that Black people are more likely to be killed by the cops than Whites, and that the police are institutionally racist. But this isn’t born out by the statistics.

Five years ago in May 2015 Watson posted this video, ‘Racist Facts White People Daren’t Talk About’ on his YouTube channel. He cites official government, police, FBI and academic statistics to show that Blacks aren’t killed by the cops more than Whites. But they do have more encounters with the rozzers because they disproportionately commit more violent crime.

He begins the video by showing that half of the police officers responsible for killing Freddy Gray, which set up of the Baltimore riots, were Black. But this fact is ignored. Black Lives Matter is about exploiting White guilt while ignoring the real causes of confrontations between Blacks and police.

Blacks commit disproportionately more violent crime than Whites. Blacks constitute just 13 per cent of the American population but commit half of all homicides. Department of Justice statistics from 1980 to 2008 show that Blacks were responsible for 52 per cent of all homicides compared to 48 per cent by Whites. FBI statistics for 2013 show that Blacks committed 38 per cent of murders compared to 31 per cent of Whites. From 2011 to 2013 38.5 per cent of those arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault were Black. Young Black men between the ages of 15 to 34, who comprise just 3 per cent of the American population, are responsible for the proportion of these crimes from Black people listed above.

Whites, on the other hand, are twice as likely to be killed by the cops. Data from the Centre for Disease Control from 1999 to 2011 show that 2,151 Whites were shot by the police, compared to 1,130 Blacks. But as Blacks commit the same numbers of offences as Whites, then the numbers of Blacks shot should also be equal.

He also presents evidence to show that Blacks are far more like to commit crimes against Whites than the reverse. He claims that Blacks are eight times more likely to commit crimes against Whites than Whites are against Blacks. He cites FBI stats from 2007 that state that Black males were 40 per cent more likely to assault Whites as the reverse. And interracial rape is almost wholly Black on White.

He quotes the academics James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein , who stated in 1985 that the higher rates of crime amongst Black Americans cannot be denied, even allowing for discrimination in the justice system. Every official statistic shows Blacks overrepresented people arrested and imprisoned for street crimes.

And Blacks are more likely to be involved in violent confrontations with the police. Here Watson makes the point that this does not justify police brutality, but it does refute the BLM allegation that the cops are racist or solely brutal towards Blacks.

This raises the issue of whether Blacks are unfairly targeted and framed by the police. This allegation is debunked by looking at offenders described as Black by the victims. The number of Blacks arrested correlates with the numbers of perps described as Black by their victims.

Watson also goes on to consider the factors responsible for the greater incidence of criminality in the Black community. Poverty is one factor responsible for disproportionately predisposing Blacks towards violent crime, exacerbated by family breakdown. But there is also the problem that there is an element in Black subculture that actively celebrates criminality. This is encouraged by the White liberal media. After the Baltimore riots the media justified the violence directed against Black owned businesses. This is racist, and it leads to more police brutality.

He states that police brutality is a problem in the US. But the real problem is the violent criminality in the Black community. But until this becomes part of the national conversation the real, underlying issues will not be resolved. He concludes that by keeping silent about this, Black leaders and White liberals are responsible for maintaining a vicious cycle of violence.

Obviously this is very controversial stuff. There have been complaints and campaigns for decades about the reporting of crimes committed by Blacks to prevent the automatic association of Blacks with criminality and violence. This has now got to the point where many people assume that a perp must be Black, if his race is not mentioned in any news reports as there are obviously no such delicacies about the reporting of crimes by Whites. 20 years ago this resulted in a reversal of racial prejudices. A poll of the British public taken about then found that White youths were the most distrusted section of the British populace.It’s undoubtedly true that Blacks have been the victims of massive discrimination and prejudice by Whites down the centuries. Highly discriminatory legislation was put in place to keep them down and segregated after the abolition of slavery in America. And there was considerable, vicious racism against them over here. I’ve Black friends, who’ve had terrible experiences.

Black Lives Matter’s assertion that police are prejudiced against Blacks also has a basis in fact. The police were, but I don’t think it’s true so much now. As I’ve said in previous articles, I’ve had relatives and friends in the police who very definitely weren’t. And this ingrained prejudice against the police has caused terrible misperceptions of intent when the cops have gone to help Black people. Years ago back in the 1990s I was on a sociology course as part of a postgraduate degree I wanted to do on British Islam. The lecturer told us that we had to be aware how our views of events didn’t necessary match those of others. One of these examples was a case in America, where a Black woman collapsed in the street. Two White cops went to help her, but other Blacks automatically assumed that they were attacking her and an angry crowd gathered. This was an instance where Black prejudice against the police, which I don’t doubt came from previous experience, was actively harming them by preventing the rozzers from helping that poor woman.

Watson has the attitude that the liberals and the media are keeping silent about the real reasons for Black confrontation with the police, as they wish to keep them dependent on the state. This is the usual conservative nonsense about welfare dependency. I think one of the reasons Britain did not have the same level of violent crime until the last couple of decades or so was because we had a functioning welfare state, or at least some semblance of one, which meant that in the absence of properly paid work people weren’t faced with the choice of robbing or selling drugs to keep body and soul together.

I’m not great fan of Watson, and certainly don’t share his arch-Tory, Brexiteer opinions. But I think that the facts are behind him in this case. And this does need to be recognised, because without it nothing will change.

Even if it discredits Black Lives Matter’s essential assertion that more Blacks are killed by police.

Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

October 11, 2020

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.

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 Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.