Posts Tagged ‘Baghdad’

Democracy Now on the Crimes and Mass Murders of President George H.W. Bush

December 10, 2018

The Friday before last, former president George H.W. Bush, the father of former president George ‘Dubya’ Bush, finally fell off his perch at the age of 94. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. He was an ex-president, and well and truly. He was buried with due state honours last Wednesday.

And the press and media fell over themselves to praise him to the rafters. If you believed them, you would have thought that America had lost a statesman of the stature of the ancient Athenian politico, Pericles. Or that he combined in himself the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, Maddison and the rest of the Founding Fathers.

He wasn’t. He was the successor to Ronald Reagan and a former head of the CIA, and had been involved with shady dealings, dirty, proxy wars and invasions in Latin America and Iraq, that had cost thousands their lives, while thousands others were tortured by the dictators he supported. And domestically he was responsible for racist electioneering and a highly discriminatory drugs policy that has resulted in the massive disproportionate incarceration of Black American men.

Mehdi Hasan on George Bush Senior

He was a disgusting creature, and Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece in the Intercept describing just how disgusting and reprehensible he was. In the piece below, he also appeared on Democracy Now! to talk to host Amy Goodman about Bush senior and his legacy of corruption, murder and terror.

Bush was elected president in 1990. He was a former director of the CIA, and served from 1981-89 as Reagan’s vice-president. Despite calling for a kinder, gentler politics when he was vice-president, Bush refused to tackle climate change, saying that the American way of life was not up for negotiation, defended future supreme court justice Clarence Thomas even after he was accused of sexual harassment. He was responsible for launching the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. During the War, the US air force deliberately bombed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing 408 civilians. The relatives of some of those killed tried to sue Bush and his deputy, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. The attack on Iraq continued after the end of the war with a devastating sanctions regime imposed by Bush, and then his son’s invasion in 2003.

The Invasion of Panama

In 1990 Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest the country’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. Noriega had previously been a close ally, and had been on the CIA’s payroll. 24,000 troops were sent into the country to topple Noriega against Panama’s own military, which was smaller than the New York police department. 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. In November 2018, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations for what they considered to be an illegal invasion.

Pardoning the Iran-Contra Conspirators

As one of his last acts in office, Bush also gave pardons to six officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a secret operation in which Reagan sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, despite Congress banning the administration from funding them. Bush was never called to account for his part in it, claiming he was ‘out of the loop’, despite the testimony of others and a mass of documents suggesting otherwise.

The Collapse of Communism and Neoliberalism

Bush’s period in office coincided with the collapse of Communism. In the period afterwards, which Bush termed the New World Order, he was instrumental in spreading neoliberalism and the establishment of the NAFTO WTO treaties for international trade.

Hasan not only wrote for the Intercept, he also hosted their Deconstructed podcast, as well as a show, Up Front, on Al-Jazeera English.

The Media’s Praise of Bush

Goodman and Hasan state that there is a natural reluctance against speaking ill of the dead. But they aren’t going to speak ill of Bush, just critically examine his career and legacy. Hasan states that as a Brit living in Washington he’s amazed at the media hagiography of Bush. He recognizes that Bush had many creditable achievements, like standing up to the NRA and AIPAC, but condemns the way the media ignored the rest of Bush’s legacy, especially when it involves the deaths of thousands of people as absurd, a dereliction of duty. He states that Bush is being described as the ‘anti-Trump’, but he did many things that were similar to the Orange Buffoon. Such as the pardoning of Caspar Weinberger on the eve of his trial, which the independent special counsel at the time said was misconduct and that it covered up the crime. And everyone’s upset when Trump says he might pardon Paul Manafort. Bush should be held to the same account. It doesn’t matter that he was nicer than Trump, and less aggressive than his son, he still has a lot to answer for.

The Iran-Contra Scandal

Goodman gets Hasan to explain about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan sold arms to Iran, then an enemy state, to fund a proxy war against a ‘Communist’ state in South America despite a congressional ban. He states that it was a huge scandal. Reagan left office without being punished for it, there was a Special Council charged with looking into it, led by Lawrence Walsh, a deputy attorney general under Eisenhower. When he looked into it, he was met with resistance by Reagan’s successor, Bush. And now we’re being told how honest he was. But at the time Bush refused to hand over his diary, cooperate with the Special Counsel, give interviews, and pardoned the six top neocons responsible. The Special Counsel’s report is online, it can be read, and it says that Bush did not cooperate, and that this was the first time the president pardoned someone in a trial in which he himself would have to testify. He states that Bush and Trump were more similar in their obstruction of justice than some of the media would have us believe.

Iraq Invasion

They then move on to the Iraq invasion, and play the speech in which Bush states that he has begun bombing to remove Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. It was done now, because ‘the world could wait no longer’. Because of Bush’s attack on Iraq, his death was marked by flags at half-mast in Kuwait as well as Washington. Hasan states that Hussein invaded Kuwait illegally, and it was a brutal occupation. But Hasan also says that Bush told the country that it came without any warning or provocation. But this came after the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Hussein that American had no opinion on any border dispute with Kuwait. This was interpreted, and many historians believe, that this was a green light to Hussein to invade.

Bush also told the world that America needed to go into Iraq to protect Saudi Arabia, as there were Iraqi troops massing on the border of that nation. This was another lie. One reporter bought satellite photographs of the border and found there were no troops there. It was lie, just as his son lied when he invaded twelve years later. As for the bombing of the Amariyya air raid shelter, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, this was a crime because the Americans had been told it contained civilians. Bush also bombed the civilian infrastructure, like power stations, food processing plants, flour mills. This was done deliberately. Bush’s administration told the Washington Post that it was done so that after the war they would have leverage over the Iraqi government, which would have to go begging for international assistance. And this was succeeded by punitive sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. It all began on Bush’s watch.

Racism, Willie Horton and Bush’s Election Campaign

They then discuss his 1988 election campaign, and his advert attacking his opponent, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was attacked for having given a weekend pass from prison to Willie Horton, a Black con serving time for murder, who then went and kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping the woman. This was contrasted with Bush, who wanted the death penalty for first degree murder. The advert was created by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, who later apologized for it on his deathbed. This advert is still studied in journalism classes, and until Trump’s ad featuring the migrant caravan appeared it was considered the most racist advert in modern American political history. Atwater said that they were going to talk about Horton so much, people would think he was Dukakis’ running mate. Bush approved of this, and talked about Horton at press conferences. And unlike Atwater, he never apologized. Roger Stone, whom Hasan describes as one of the most vile political operatives of our time, an advisor to Donald Trump and Nixon, actually walked up to Atwater and told him he would regret it, as it was clearly a racist ad. When even Roger Stone says that it’s a bad idea, you know you’ve gone too far. But the press has been saying how decent Bush was. Hasan states he has only two words for that: Willie Horton.

In fact, weekend passes for prison inmates was a policy in many states, including California, where Ronald Reagan had signed one. Hasan calls the policy what it was: an attempt to stoke up racial fears and division by telling the public that Dukakis was about to unleash a horde of Black murderers, who would kill and rape them. And ironically the people who were praising Bush after his death were the same people attacking Trump a week earlier for the migrant caravan fearmongering. It reminded everyone of the Willie Horton campaign, but for some reason people didn’t make the connection between the two.

Racism and the War on Drugs

Hasan also makes the point that just as Bush senior had no problem creating a racist advert so he had no problem creating a racist drug war. They then move on to discussing Bush’s election advert, in which he waved a bag of crack cocaine he claimed had been bought in a park just a few metres from the White House. But the Washington Post later found out that it had all been staged. A drug dealer had been caught selling crack in Lafayette Square, but he had been lured there by undercover Federal agents, who told him to sell it there. The drug dealer even had to be told the address of the White House, so he could find it. It was a nasty, cynical stunt, which let to an increase in spending of $1 1/2 billion on more jails, and prosecutors to combat the drugs problem. And this led to the mass incarceration of young Black men, and thousands of innocent lives lost at home and abroad in the drug wars. And today Republican senators like Chris Christie will state that this is a failed and racist drug war.

This was the first in a series of programmes honouring the dead – which meant those killed by Bush, not Bush himself. The next programme in the series was on what Bush did in Panama.

Dark Rock and Bush: The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Vision Thing’

I’ve a suspicion that the track ‘Vision Thing’ by the Sisters of Mercy is at least partly about George Bush senior. The Sisters are a dark rock band. Many of front man Andrew Eldritch’s lyrics are highly political, bitterly attacking American imperialism. Dominion/Mother Russia was about acid rain, the fall of Communism, and American imperialism and its idiocy. Eldritch also wanted one of their pop videos to feature two American servicemen in a cage being taunted by Arabs, but this was naturally rejected about the bombing of American servicemen in Lebanon. Another song in the same album, ‘Dr Jeep’, is about the Vietnam War.

‘Vision Thing’ seems to take its title from one of Bush’s lines, where he said, if I remember correctly, ‘I don’t have the vision thing.’ The song talks about ‘another black hole in the killing zone’, and ‘one million points of light’. It also has lines about ‘the prettiest s**t in Panama’ and ‘Take back what I paid/ to another M*****f****r in a motorcade’. These are vicious, bitter, angry lyrics. And if they are about Bush senior, then it’s no wonder.

What Horrors Have Our Imperial Governors Committed in Iraq?

December 1, 2017

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read an op-ed piece in the I by Yasmin Alibhai-Browne. Alibhai-Browne’s an Muslim lady, whose family were Ugandan Asians, married to a White Brit. She writes about racism, multiculturalism and related issues. She’s a modern, tolerant Muslim, who attacks anti-White, as well as anti-Black racism. I’m not saying I always agree with what she says, but she offers a different perspective.

And a few weeks ago she published a piece attacking the former British diplomat, who said we should try to kill the various Brits, who’ve gone to Iraq to fight for the Islamists before they come home. Alibhai-Browne was shocked by this, as were a number of others, including Mike over at Vox Political. It is, after all, the attitude of the death squads. It’s extra-judicial execution, or political murder. But it’s in line with Obama’s and Trump’s policies. This is, after all, what drone strikes are. They’re sent into foreign countries, like Yemen, to kill terrorists, including American citizens. And their families, including their kids. The last are simply called ‘fun-sized terrorists’.

Those opposing the drone strikes have asked people to imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed. If an Islamic, or Black African, or Asian country sent drones into America to kill White, American terrorist groups like the Klan. Or perhaps a more appropriate target would be Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was responsible for various Fascist coups in Latin America, and supporting tyrants and mass-murders across Asia, from Pakistan to Indonesia, as well as the carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. If anyone should be killed by agents of a foreign power, it should be Kissinger, simply because of the millions of people he’s had killed. I’m not recommending that anyone should do it. Just saying that if America has the right to send drones to kill terrorists, then the people of Latin America and Asia have the absolute right to blow him away.

One of the deeply disturbing facts Abby Martin revealed in the Empire Files, as well as other left-wing news networks, is how far out of control the American military and its private contractors – the mercenaries it hired – were in Iraq. They were running prostitutes and brutalised and murdered ordinary Iraqis. There are reports of these b*stards driving around, shooting ordinary men and women waiting to cross the street. Simply for sport. The butcher, whose career in Iraq was turned into a glowing cinematic celebration by Clint Eastwood in American Sniper was a Nazi, who boasted of killing women and children. Yeah, that’s who Eastwood decided to promote. His film so incensed the reviewer over at 366 Weird Movies that he broke with describing and cataloguing strange cinema, like the works of Ed Wood and co, to attack Eastwood and his oeuvre in an article. The reviewer described himself as an old-fashioned Conservative, and hated Eastwood because he wasn’t.

So you don’t have to be a lefty-liberal to be sickened by this. Just an ordinary person with a conscience.

And the American Empire was complicit in these murders. Martin also revealed how one of the military governors put in by Bush or Obama actually assisted the Shi’a assassination squads, which roamed Baghdad and the rest of the country kidnapping and murdering Sunni Muslims. Because the Sunnis were the dominant, privileged sect under Saddam Hussein, and now form the backbone of the insurgency.

Alibhai-Browne in her article on the British diplomat, who was all in favour of killing British Islamists before they could return to Blighty, noted that he came from a privileged class, which knew all about Islam but had no sympathy with Muslims or the ordinary people they governed. He was another public schoolboy, and Oxbridge graduate. He had a background in Arabic, and had a full diplomatic career in the Middle East. And he’d also served as governor in that part of Iraq run by Britain.

Which makes me wonder what atrocities he’s committed, or turned a blind eye to. A year or so ago I read a book by an Arab author and political scientist, A Brutal Friendship, which argued that the rulers installed by Britain, America and the West, were brutal dictators, who oppressed their people and ruled by terror. One example was the Prime Minister of Iraq in the 1950s. He was installed by us, and was hailed and promoted by the establishment as a great leader, wisely ruling his country. In fact, the man was so hated by ordinary Iraqis that they rose up against him. Not content with simply hacking him to pieces, they then ran over the pieces with cars.

Now I might be slandering the man. He might, for all I know, be perfectly blameless, and to have ruled well. Or as well as anybody could, given the circumstances, which were corrupt from the very beginning.

But I don’t know. I don’t think any of us will know, until we have a genuinely free press and free television in this country.

America has a genuine tradition of free speech, which was strengthened by Clinton’s passing of the Freedom of Information Act. The corporatist elite have been trying to weaken and undermine it ever since. Just as the political and corporate elites have been trying to do the same to its British counterpart. And that was already deliberately weaker than Clinton’s when Tony Blair introduced it. America has a tradition of genuine, radical, investigative journalism. The arch-neocon, Daniel Pipes, in his book on Conspiracy Theories, points out that much of the anti-American tropes going round the world, like ‘the almighty dollar’ have their roots in Americans’ own criticism of their country and its economic and political system. As an arch-Conservative, Pipes is definitely no fan of this. And the American elite are trying their best to stamp it out. Witness the attacks on RT, Al-Jazeera, the Real News, Democracy Now! and other, alternative news networks like the David Pakman Show, Sam Seders’ Majority Report, the Jimmy Dore show, The Young Turks and so on.

But we don’t have that tradition in England. Not since the decline of the genuinely left-wing press in the 1950s. We don’t have a written constitution, and there is no guarantee of freedom of speech in this country. Not necessarily a bad thing – it means we can ban hate speech, like calls from the Nazi fringe to murder Jews, Blacks, Muslims, ‘Reds’, the disabled and anyone who ever looked at them funny at the bus stop.

And our press is very deferential. A while ago Channel 4 broadcast a documentary showing just how much power the Queen has to censor information about the royal family. Far more power than the other ‘bicycling monarchies’ on the continent, like Denmark.

And the state has covered up horrendous atrocities committed by the British Empire. It was only the other year that Kenyans imprisoned and tortured during the Mao Mao insurgency actually won the court case, and the British state declassified the documents showing how Britain was running interment camps. This has formed the subject of a book, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But we also have the thirty year rule, to prevent the release of sensitive information, and the state can withhold it for even longer, if it thinks it’s necessary.

So we have no way of knowing what our troops – and our imperial staff – were really doing in Iraq. All we have are assurances from our leaders and our own self-image that, as Brits, we are all that is good, noble and right in the world. And that we would never butcher civilians.

But we have. And we may still be doing so. We won’t know, until we get rid of the crushing censorship and our investigative reporters are free and willing to expose what’s really going on.

Which, I hope, will be that we aren’t. But until that day comes, we will never know for sure. And there is absolutely no cause for complacency.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

Vox Political: Jeremy Corbyn Considering Prosecuting Blair for War Crimes

May 23, 2016

Mike today has put up a piece reporting that Jeremy Corbyn has not pulled back from his previous demands that Tony Blair should be prosecuted for war crimes. The Torygraph considers that Bliar will be heavily damaged by the Chilcot Inquiry’s report. The Labour leader has said that he believes the Iraq War was illegal, following UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s statement that it was. If so, Mr Cobyn believes Blair should indeed be prosecuted.

Mike in his comment says that if Blair is guilty of war crimes, then Corbyn is absolutely right to demand his prosecution. And this marks Labour out from the Conservatives. When Labour politicos commit wrongdoing, they’re prosecuted. Unlike the Tories, who have let Zac Goldsmith get away with his vile Islamophobic smears against Sadiq Khan.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/23/is-jeremy-corbyn-ready-to-call-for-tony-blair-to-be-investigated-for-war-crimes/

In my view, there is no question whatsoever that Bliar was the instigator of an illegal war. Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. Greg Palast, an American journalist formerly with the Groaniad shows this at length his fascinating book, Armed Madhouse. The Iraq invasion was primarily launched to allow the Saudis and the Americans to grab the Iraqi oil industry and its vast oil reserves, which are the second largest after Saudi Arabia. The Neocons in the Bush administration backed it, because they saw it is as their chance to get their mitts on the state’s nationalised industries, which could be privatised and sold off to the profit of American multinationals. They also fancied using it as a lab rat in a massive experiment at creating the kind of low tax, free market utopia demanded by Reaganomics and Libertarian frauds and nutters like Milton Friedman and von Hayek.

And back in 1995, the Likud party of Israel and the Republicans in America jointly produced a plan to invade Iraq, ’cause Saddam Hussein was sending arms to the Palestinians.

The result of the invasion for the Iraqis has been nothing but chaos and death. The privatisation of Iraq’s state enterprises and the lowering of it trade tariffs has meant that every country in the world dumped their goods on Iraq. The result has been that unemployment rocketed to 60 per cent.

Hussein was a brutal dictator, who cracked down ruthlessly on some of the country’s ethnic and religious groups. His gassing of the Kurds and massacre of Shi’as in the aftermath of Gulf War I (also illegal, in my view) is notorious. But the divisions in Iraqi society have only got worse, much worse, since the invasion. The country was relatively integrated before the invasion, and in the major cities like Baghdad the different quarters occupied by the different tribes and sects weren’t barricaded. That has now changed. The Shi’a and Sunni Muslim areas are now walled off from each other, in which reminds me of the ‘peace barriers’ put up between Nationalist and Loyalist areas in Belfast and other cities in Northern Ireland.

And it is not just a question of the justification for the invasion that may be considered a war crime. Other crimes have been committed, real crimes against humanity. Apart from the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the mercenaries sent in as part of the invasion force have run amok. There are reports of them abusing and raping civilians. One report described how cars of them would casually shoot Iraqi civilians driving along the country’s streets and roads. I’ve put up here a piece from either The Young Turks or Secular Talk about an American diplomat, who was sent to Iraq, who returned to America shocked by the casual brutality of the American troops towards the people they were supposed to have freed. He stated that the attitude was that ‘they were there to kill the N*ggers’. And leading American generals are involved in the state terror against minorities carried out by the post-war Iraqi government. One of them helped direct the death Shi’a death squads that massacred Iraqi civilians.

If the Chilcot does conclude that Bliar is a war criminal, as I believe it should, then I’ve no doubt Blair and the rest of his cabinet will fight like rats in a trap to avoid prosecution any way they can. If Blair goes down, it leaves the rest of the cabinet similarly open to corruption, or at least the other leading members of New Labour. And it may also serve as a precedent for prosecutions against Bush and elements in the Obama administration, including Shrillary, for their part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Not to mention the complicity of Likud and large sectors of the American military-industrial complex.

Expect more accusations of anti-Semitism. When the Likud-Republican plans for the Iraq invasion were revealed almost a decade ago, it was very loudly denounced by the Zionist Right as another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. This is, of course, rubbish. No-one was accusing the Jewish people of responsibility, or even necessarily the Israeli people. They had simply unearthed an historic fact: that Likud, an Israeli party, was partly responsible for the illegal invasion. Espionage agencies, industrial cartels and political groups engage in clandestine conspiracies, as Robin Ramsay in Lobster has been showing since the 1980s. The grand conspiracies involving global secret plots by the Freemasons, the Jews and Reptoid aliens are all rubbish, but smaller plots, concocted by the intelligence agencies, and leading figures in business and politics certainly did and do. The Iraq invasion is the product of several of them.

Corbyn will be absolutely right to demand Blair’s prosecution, but I’ve no doubt that there will be a lot of pressure for the Chilcot inquiry to find Blair either not guilty, or to discredit its findings and Corbyn himself. Too much of the British, American and Israeli establishment is implicated to allow Blair to be prosecuted.

Vox Political Against Islamophobia and the ISIS Terror Attacks You Don’t Hear About

March 25, 2016

Daesh’s Muslim Victims

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a couple of posts keeping the Brussels attacks in perspective. The attacks, as well as those in Paris, were a horrible atrocity committed by fanatics with no conscience or respect for the lives of innocents. But Mike also reminds us that there have also been Muslim victims of Daesh’s terror campaign, that have not received anywhere near the same amount of coverage and outrage. These people too deserve our sympathy, and we should also be outraged and disgusted at their suffering.

Mike has put up a list showing the numbers of people killed by ISIS’ thugs and butchers, not just in Brussels, Paris and San Diego, but also in Yemen, Tunisia, Ankara in Turkey, Afghanistan, Beirut, Libya and Baghdad. The atrocities committed in these places have also killed tens and hundreds of people. And Mike’s article reminds us that globally, ISIS have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims. But it’s sad and unjust that their deaths haven’t received the same amount of coverage. For many papers, these atrocities aren’t frontline news.
This is needs to change if we are all to stand together to defeat these monsters.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/24/why-concentrate-on-brussels-daesh-killings-of-muslims-far-outnumber-attacks-on-the-west/

Chris Herbert, Anti-Islamophobic Army Vet

Mike has also put up another piece on the disabled ex-squaddie, Chris Herbert. Herbert lost a leg fighting in Iraq. Despite that, he has come very firmly out against hatred of Muslims, citing his experience of the kindness of the Muslim medical professionals and others who treated him for his injury. He states that people have been trying to get him to add his voice attacking Muslims, but he has refused. Go read the article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/25/after-the-brussels-attacks-heres-an-antidote-to-the-anti-muslim-hatred-were-seeing/

Women and Life in Occupied Raqqah

There are also a number of fascinating, but grim documentaries on Youtube on what life is actually like in Raqqah in Syria for those, who are unfortunate enough to be under ISIS’ perverted rule. This includes meting out flogging to women, who are out unaccompanied by a close male relative or another woman, including 13 year old girls; the judicial murders called ‘executions’ held in one of the town’s roundabouts; and throwing gay men off tower blocks. In addition to this, they closed down the local Christian church and turned it into their wretched headquarters, and blew up a beautiful ancient mosque. I’ve no idea why. Possibly the imam was too much of a peacenik, and the puritan hardliners decided that the stunning azure blue tiles covering the onion dome were a distraction, rather than a work of beauty pointing to that of the Divine (Latif – The Beautiful, is, I understand, one of the 99 Names of Allah in Islam).
Whatever, ISIS are an affront to human civilisation, and the dignity of God’s human world.

Berman on the Nazi Origins of Modern Militant Islamism

January 11, 2016

Berman Flight Intellectuals

Yesterday I posted up a very informative piece by Michelle Thomasson, on the origins of modern militant Islam, based on McHugh’s book, A Short History of the Arabs. This sees the origins of modern Islamic militancy in the work of the Muslim reformer, Rashid Rida, and the alliance of Muslim religious and political leaders with the Nazis following the foundation of the state of Israel during the British Mandate in Palestine.

The left-wing American journalist and writer, Paul Berman, says much the same in his book, The Flight of the Intellectuals (New York: Melville House 2010). This is partly an investigation into the career and ideas of the contemporary French Muslim writer and philosopher, Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan’s a highly controversial figure, as while many have found him an admirable spokesman for interfaith dialogue and on social questions like poverty, others consider that far from being a liberal modernist, Ramadan instead preaches a very hard-line, intolerant Islam concealed under a veneer of liberal verbiage. He has, for example, been championed by Ian Buruma of the New York Times, who sees his philosophy, based on traditional, universal Muslim values, as offering an escape from violence. Many of Ramadan’s opponents are liberal Muslims and women, shocked at what they see as his anti-feminism. Another of his opponents is the Lebanese historian, Antoine Sfeir. In addition to stirring up intellectual controversy, Ramadan has also been investigated by the Spanish authorities for possible terrorist connections.

Ramadan’s grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the leading organisations in the modern Islamic revival, and a nationalist campaigner against the French and British occupying powers. The Muslim Brotherhood taught discipline, obedience and adulation of al-Banna as their Supreme Leader. It also aimed at throwing out the British and other European colonialists, and reviving the former Islamic empire and caliphate. this would include all the nations and countries ever conquered and ruled by Islam, including modern peoples, who had also converted. Al-Banna’s ideas spread from his native Egypt to Palestine, Syria, Sudan and North Africa. They were introduced into Iran in Shi’ite form by the Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati. They were then exported from Iran to the Shi’a in Lebanon, and then into India and Pakistan by Abul Ala Mawdudi. In Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood became Hamas, a political party which has used suicide bombers against the Israelis, although al-Banna’s supporters have always defended him from accusations of terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood has also produced a number of splinter groups, one of which is al-Qaeda. Ramadan has written books presenting his grandfather as a democrat wanting to create a genuine national assembly free of British influence. However, some of his writings suggest he really wanted to create a theocracy, in which Egypt would be governed by Islamic scholars, though after consulting the general public. Other Muslim scholars also believe that al-Banna wanted the establishment of an authoritarian, anti-democratic state. These include Bassam Tibi, a German-Egyptian liberal Muslim, and the Iranian scholars Ladan and Roya Boroumand. Tibi sees al-Banna as the creator of a modern totalitarianism at variance with the traditional teachings of Islam.

Critical in the creation of modern Islamic anti-Semitism was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. al-Husseini was at various times the head of the Supreme Muslim Council in Palestine, and chairman of the Arab Higher Committee. He was one of the leading figures in the resistance against the foundation of the nascent Jewish state. In the 1920s, he organised several attacks against both Zionist settlers from the West, and traditional, indigenous Jewish Palestinians, culminating in a pogrom in 1929. He was also partly responsible for Rashid Ali al-Gaylani’s pro-Axis coup in Iraq in 1941, and the launch of a Farhoud, or pogrom, against the Jews in Baghdad. He met with Mussolini and proposed the creation of an Arab Fascist state comprising Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Trans-Jordan.

And in 1941 he met the Nazis, including Ribbentrop, Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Goebbels. He set up the Handzar, or ‘Sabre’ division of the SS, to fight against the Serbs and the anti-Fascist partisans in the former Yugoslavia, as well as exterminate Bosnian Jews. The Nazis employed al-Husseini and Rashid Ali in their Revolutionierungspolitik, or policy of stirring up internal revolutions in order to bring down their enemies from within. The most famous example was during the First World War when Germany sent Lenin into Russia on the sealed train with large sums of money to spark the Bolshevik revolution. The Mufti was charged with translating the Nazis’ anti-Semitism from Europe to Islam. He therefore combed the Islamic scriptures to present a Muslim version of the stupid and murderous conspiracy theories about the Jews circulating in Europe. He therefore created a vast conspiratorial view of Muslim history, in which the Jews had been trying to destroy Islam and the Arabs from the very beginning of Islam to the 20th century.

The Jewish state was initially extremely small, and Berman argues that there was little support for it in the Jewish populations of the Islamic world, except here and there in small pockets. Nevertheless, in al-Husseini claimed that the Zionists were aiming to create a gigantic Jewish homeland that would stretch from British Palestine to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. He also claimed that this new Jewish state would also include the north African Arab nations of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Or they were going to create two homelands, one of which would be the former north African Arab states. These would be colonised by the Jews. The second Jewish homeland, in north Africa, was to be established through the efforts of America, which was already dominated by the Jews. This homeland was to be colonised by Jews and Blacks from America. Britain was also under Jewish control, and, as with Nazism, the Jews were blamed for the creation of Communism. In their propaganda broadcasts on the radio, the Mufti and his followers urged the Arabs to rise up and kill the Jews and their children. Al-Husseini was personally responsible for sending 20,000 Jews to the gas chambers when Himmler wanted to release them as a publicity stunt. The Nazis were also planning the extermination of Egypt’s Jews if Rommel had won. Mercifully, he didn’t, and Montgomery stopped him.

Berman also states that traditionally, Western Jews regarded Islam as being far more welcoming and much less oppressive than Christianity, and cites Graetz’s history of the Jews of c.1900 of such scholarship. He notes that this view has been challenged more recently by others, who have seen the Islamic world as just as hostile to Jews as the Christian West. Other scholars consider that, while there has been anti-Semitism in traditional Islamic society, it was not as severe as in Christianity. In this case, contemporary Islamism and its poisonous anti-Semitism is essentially the creation of al-Banna, al-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s simply a Muslim version of Nazism, with the irony that the Nazis also regarded the peoples of the Islamic world, the Arabs, Turks and Persians, as racially inferior. Hitler even referred to them in one of his speeches as ‘painted apes who long for the whip.’

If there is ever to be peace, then this poisonous, last reflection of Nazism must also be tackled and destroyed.

The Churches and Monateries of Medieval Nubia: Part Two – The Cruciform Church, Old Dongola,

June 23, 2013

Old Dongola was first the capital of Makuria and subsequently that of Makuria-Nobatia after the union of the two kingdoms. One of its largest and most important churches was the Cruciform church. This is 45 m long by 40 m in width (148 feet by 131 feet). Although its walls have only partially survived, they have a maximum height of four metres, giving an impression of the fast size of the church in its prime. The central bay was probably 14 m (36 feet) in height. It appears from this that the church was the centre of Makurian religion. It may have been built as a thanksgiving for the safe return of King George from his meeting with the Muslim caliph in Baghdad. It has been excavated by Polish archaeologists, who have been working in that part of Nubia since the UNESCO ‘Save Nubia campaign’ of the 1960s. As its name suggests, the church is shaped like a gigantic cross. This style of church building did not previously exist in Nubia, and provides more evidence for the shift in Nubian Christianity from the Egyptian Coptic Church to that of Byzantine Orthodoxy. It was constructed sometime in the ninth century, and was extensively rebuilt during the 500 years it was in use before its final rebuilding and abandonment in the fourteenth century.

Supporting the roof of the central bay was a series of granite columns with carved capitals. The eastern arm of the church was marked off by some kind of wall, and underneath it were two crypts. The church was constructed on the site of the earlier, seventh century Old Church. This was basilica with a sandstone floor and five sides. The floor of the heikal – the sanctuary – was lined with pebbles. It possessed a baptistery tank decorated with waves, which gave the effect of marbling. This tank was later rebuilt as an oval and decorated with a maltese cross at its centre. The two crypts probably belonged to this earlier church, and were incorporated into the new, cruciform church after the Old Church’s demolition. The layout of the Cruciform Church is shown below. The filled red section indicates the parts of its walls that have survived.

Cruciform Church 3