Posts Tagged ‘BBC 2’

BBC 2 Programme Next Week on British Forces in Ukraine and Estonia

October 20, 2017

On Wednesday, BBC 2 launched a new documentary series looking at the British army as it’s stationed around the world, Army: Behind the New Frontlines. In next weeks edition, subtitled ‘The New Cold War’, to be shown at 9.00 O’clock pm on 25th October 2017, the programme will look at British forces stationed in Estonia and Ukraine. The blurb for the programme on page 94 of the Radio Times runs

Tensions between the West and Russia have been heightened since 2014, when Russia seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea and also began secretly arming pro-Russian separatists fighting in Eastern Ukraine. But as Ukraine is not part of Nato, no western troops have been deployed to fight. Instead, British soldiers from the Mercia regiment are sent to train Ukrainian soldiers to defend their country, helping Nato and Britain avoid direct involvement while offering a cost-effective way to learn how the Russians fight. Meanwhile, the Baltic states, which are members of Nato, fear that an attack from Russia is a very real threat, so soldiers from 5 Rifles battalion travel to Estonia as part of a major operation to deter invasion.

There’s a further couple of paragraphs about the programme on page 93 by Jack Seale. These state

Just as the British Army is undergoing an existential crisis due to a slowdown in active operations, so this documentary about soldiers not firing their guns struggles to find an impetus. Not that you’d wish for war as a remedy, of course.

The liveliest threat is in eastern Europe, where Russia has encroached in Ukraine and massed troops on Estonia’s border. This week we follow Brits quietly training Ukrainians and openly allying with Estonians, since the latter is in Nato. The memorable stories are of the awfully young local fighters who hope the wolf next door won’t come in, but say they’re ready to die if it does.

I don’t know, but reading those pieces about the programme makes me strongly suspect that it won’t tell you the whole truth about what’s really going on in those countries, and why we’re really there. And we’ve certainly been fed a pack of lies about the Ukraine already.

If you believe the lamestream media, the present government in Ukraine is an entirely democratic regime, which gained power through a power revolution in Kyiv’s Maidan Square. Tired of the misrule of their government present and his pro-Russian policies, the people of Ukraine spontaneously rose up and toppled him. The ousted president then ran off to Putin for aid to get back into power. Putin then responded by sending Russian troops into the east of the country, where there is a sizable ethnic Russian, and Russian-speaking Ukrainian population.

Comparisons have been made with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia shortly before World War II. These are completely wrong.

Firstly, Putin is corrupt, is a dictatorial thug, and his regime is acute nationalistic, xenophobic and militaristic. This week his government proposed legislation that would penalise parents and educators taking part in political protests if they took their children with them. And as Simon Reeve showed in his programme about European Russia last week, when he covered the case of a woman campaigning to keep her Khrushchev era flat in Moscow against a Putin-backed development scheme, Russian law means that protests of more than one person have to be registered first with the police. And if there’s only you there, you will be still be carted off to chokey by the stern minions of Putin’s police force. Putin’s party has a youth wing, Nashi, a Russian word which means ‘Ours’, which is ultra-patriotic, picketing and threatening those it regards as insufficiently patriotic. It also serves to encourage young men to do their National Service. This is despite the fact that the Russian army is even more brutal, and bullying more rife and horrific under the ‘rule of the grandfathers’ than in the British army. New squaddies, and especially Pentecostal Christians, are beaten up, sometimes to the point where they need hospital treatment. Comparisons have been made with the Nazis’ Hitler Youth.

As for Putin himself, recent documentaries have shown how he’s supposedly funnel hundreds of thousands of roubles to his own personal account. And his former chums in the judo clubs in which he trained have similarly done very well indeed. They’ve all risen to become heads of companies. A friend of mine told me once that the pop band, Clean Bandit, took their name from a Russian idiom which means a criminal, who doesn’t pretend to be anything other than he is. And it’s very commonly applied to Putin. So you could fairly describe him as an ‘arkhiplut’, a Russian word meaning arch-criminal or scoundrel.

But the impression I have is that Putin is justified in his intervention in Ukraine. The Crimea historically belonged to Russia. It was only given to Ukraine in the 1950s by Khrushchev, who was Ukrainian. As for the Maidan Revolution, it was categorically not a popular revolution. It was a very cleverly crafted piece of American-sponsored regime change by the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as George Soros’ pro-democracy foundation. It was organised by Ukrainian oligarchs with the aid of the US state department, Victoria Nuland and Hillary Clinton.

The composition of the new, entirely democratic government, honest guv’, is deeply suspect. I’ve blogged before about how it contains thugs from the Fascist Pravy Sektor. These are real, unreconstructed Nazis. They dress in the uniform and regalia of the auxiliary SS regiments that invaded the country during Operation Barbarossa in World War II. They are anti-democratic, anti-Semitic and extremely violent. During the Maidan Revolution, they chased a group of trade unionists into one of the buildings, caught and savagely beat them. And just as Putin’s regime has cracked down on journalists, who have published material against the Russian president, so the Ukrainian regime is persecuting and intimidating opposition journalists. I’ve got a feeling several have been murdered, just like they have in Putin’s Russia. The various characters in Trump’s government backing and urging support for the Ukrainian regime all have connections to Ukrainian Fascists, who were recruited after the War to provide anti-Communist propaganda to their homeland. And no surprise there, as Reagan gave expatriate Ukrainian nationalists considerable support under their leader, Vladimir Stetso, during the new Cold War of the 1980s.

I’ve seen Russian programmes on YouTube, which claimed very strongly that Russia intervened and invaded because the Russian and Russian-speaking minority in the east of the country was being persecuted and was being prevented from voting. I know this is all dubious considering that Putin does make sure that the media broadcasts his propaganda, but I think that this is very likely to be true. A government that has seized power through secret deals with the Americans and which contains outright Nazis, is not going to have any qualms about persecuting an ethnic group some of them probably see as their invaders and oppressors.

I know much less about Estonia, but it seems to me that we’re probably not being told the whole truth about what’s going on there. The Baltic states were, at various times, part of the Swedish empires and Germany, before they were conquered by Russia. They had a brief, 20 year period of autonomy from the end of the First World War to the 1930s, when Stalin invaded to reclaim them under the deal made with Nazi Germany in Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact. One third of the population are ethnic Russians. During the Communist era, the Baltic States were determined to gain their independence. This may have been partly because they were the some of the most industrially developed parts of the Soviet Union, and were afraid that Russian immigration would swamp them, so that they would become minorities in their own countries.

Since they gained their independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians have claimed that the Russian minority in those states have been persecuted. I don’t know how much truth there is to this, but even under Communism Russians performed the lowest-paid, dirtiest and most menial jobs. And there are real Nazis goose-stepping about there as well. Colin Thubron in his 1980s travel book, Among the Russians, describes a nationalist demonstration in Lithuania, whose participants screamed ‘Lithuania for the Lithuanians! Russians to Russia! Poles to Poland! And Jews to the cemetery!’ Veterans from the SS auxiliary regiments that fought – and butchered the Jewish population – in the Baltic States have been allowed to take part in the independence day parades in Lithuania or Latvia. Or perhaps both. Possibly the governments of these countries also include their own, very real Nazis, like that of Ukraine. I don’t know.

As for the British army facing an existential threat because of a lack of operations abroad, I thought it faced an existential threat because of serious underfunding by the previous governments, and a crisis in recruitment with young men and women deciding that they want to do something better with their lives than be killed or mutilated just to let the big oil companies plunder nations like Iraq in the Middle East.

When Communism fell, we signed a deal with Russia promising that Nato would not expand up to their borders. The Russians have been paranoid about Western encirclement since before the Communist seizure of power. This was broken when the Baltic States joined NATO. I supported that move, as I thought that there was a real possibility that the Russians would invade, based on Stalin’s invasion shortly before the Nazis invaded Russia.

Now I think that perhaps the better option would have been to let the Baltic states remain neutral. Both NATO and Russia could have been signatories guaranteeing the countries’ neutrality. They could have been given the ‘Finnish option’. Meaning that, like Finland, they were neutral and enjoyed certain privileges, like relatively unrestricted access to Russia. It could have preserved peace and their independence, while not provoking the Russians.

Now we have had an increase in tensions on these countries’ borders. Tensions which Killary seems determined to stoke, not least by claiming that Trump is somehow being blackmailed by Putin. She, the Democrats and the Republicans in America are creating a new Cold War, part of the purpose of which is, in Killary’s case, to distract everyone from her own corruption and very dubious dealings with Russian capital.

We are not being told the truth about the nature of the regimes in Ukraine or the Baltic. And it seems to me very much that our brave women and men are not there to defend their freedom, but simply as part of America’s campaign of global imperialism for its multinational corporations.

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‘Horizon’ with Mark Gatiss on a Crewed Mission to Mars

September 6, 2017

After the programme with Drs. Stephen Hawking, Danielle George and Christophe Galfand on BBC 2 next Monday, 11th September, discussing the colonization of Proxima B, the Beeb are also dedicating an edition of the long-running science documentary programme, Horizon, to the issue of sending humans to a nearer planet, Mars. The programme’s called ‘Mars – A Traveller’s Guide, and will be screened at 9 pm on Tuesday, 12th September 2017.. The blurb for this on page 82 of the Radio Times runs as follows

The reality of sending humans to Mars is getting so close that certain scientists think that somebody who is alive today will be the first person to set foot on the Red Planet. But where should the first explorers visit when they get there? Experts on the planet take their pick from extraordinary Martian landscapes ranging from vast plains and towering volcanos to deep valleys and underground caverns. They also consider what people will need to survive, the best place to land, how to live and even where to hunt for traces of extraterrestrial life.

There’s also another section giving more information about the programme on page by David Buthcer. This says

The first person to walk on Mars is probably alive today. And they might watch Horizon. So here’s a rough guide to Mars, the even lonelier planet, with a rundown of its finest sights, drily narrated by Mark Gatiss.

Visitors should certainly look out for the Valles Marineris, he tells us, the grandest canyon in the solar system at 10 km deep and long enough to stretch from New York to Los Angeles. Or there’s Olympus Mons, a volcano 100 times higher than any on Earth.

But getting to see them won’t be easy. One scene where an engineer describes what’s involved in landing on the planet puts the challenges in perspective. And the weather’s not great either.’

Mark Gatiss is, of course, one of the League of Gentlemen. Having escaped from Royston Vesey, a year or so ago he presented a programme on the great master of the British ghost story, M.R. James, and was one of the presenters of a series of programmes marking the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain a month or so ago. He is also no stranger to outer space, if only in fiction, as he’s also one of the writers of the relaunched Dr. Who.

BBC 2 Programme on ’21st Century Race for Space’ Next Tuesday

August 30, 2017

Here’s news of yet another BBC programme on space exploration and science. Next Tuesday, 5th September 2017, physicist, broadcaster and massive Carl Sagan fan Dr. Brian Cox will present a programme, The 21st Century Race for Space, on BBC 2 at 9.00 in the evening, on the private companies planning to take humanity into the High Frontier. Among the scientists and engineers he interviews in the programme are Richard Branson and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

As a new age of interplanetary exploration dawns, it is private companies and their maverick owners who are planning to finance space tourism, asteroid mining and even colonies on Mars. Professor Brian Cox investigates the technical challenges that could stop these billionaires achieving their dreams and also finds out how they hope to overcome the daunting obstacles to human space travel. Sir Richard Branson is among the stargazers explaining how they plan to fly through the heavens. (p. 76).

Another piece about the programme on the previous page, page 75, by David Butcher, also adds the following

When the likes of Richard Branson or Amazon founder Jeff Bezos enthuse about space travel it’s easy to be skeptical. But when Brian Cox meets both billionaires for this engaging look at “the prospect of us becoming a space-faring civilization” he comes away convinced by their vision, their desire to push boundaries and to make sci-fi stuff happen.

And for us, it’s hard to see the various hangars and labs and prototypes and launches and not get the feeling that space tourism, mining on asteroids and trips to Mars really aren’t that far off.

Cox is a good guide, leaning towards the deeper questions implicit in the subject. Ultimate, one designer argues, space travel is about “building life insurance for the species.” Though you hope we won’t need it.

That snippet also has a photo of Cox and with the space scientist, Brian Lillo, in space suits outside a Mars Society Research Station in Utah, ‘exploring the Red Planet’.

I went to a symposium 17 years ago on space tourism at the British Interplanetary Society’s headquarters in London. There are no end of really great ideas, and very motivate, intelligent people out there planning and discussing ways to take people up into the Deep Black for their holidays. One of the scientists, reviewing previous spacecraft designs going back to the early days of spaceflight, showed how sophisticated some of these were. He made the case that we’re actually decades behind schedule in our ability to explore and commercially exploit space and its resources.

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.

History Book on Working Class Gardens

July 2, 2017

Gardening is one of Britain’s favourite pastimes, with programmes like Gardener’s World one of the long-running staples of BBC 2. The Beeb also devotes week-long coverage to the annual Chelsea Flower Show. A few years ago, one of the gardening programmes told a bit of the history behind popular gardening in Britain. It was deliberately started by the Victorians, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves as the patrons, as a way of encouraging the labouring poor to be respectable. Among the other virtues gardening would foster in them was neatness, from what I remember of the programme.

Looking through a copy of the Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2015, I found a blurb for a book, The Gardens of the Working Class, by Margaret Willes, published by Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300212358. The price of it in paperback was £12.99. The blurb ran

This magnificently illustrated people’s history celebrates the extraordinary feats of cultivation by the working class in Britain, even if the land they toiled, planted and loved was not their own. Spanning more than four centuries, from the earliest records of the labouring classes in the country to today, Margaret Willes’ research unearths lush gardens nurtured outside rough workers’ cottages and horticultural miracles performed in blackened yards, and reveals the ingenious sometimes devious, methods employed by determined, obsessive, and eccentric workers to make their drab surroundings bloom. She also explores the stories of the great philanthropic industrialists who provided gardens for their workforces, the fashionable rich stealing the gardening ideas of the poor, alehouse syndicates and fierce rivalries between vegetable growers, flower-fanciers cultivating exotic blooms on their city windowsills, and the rich lore handed down from gardener to gardener through generations.

Garden history is taught in some universities in their archaeology departments, and the archaeology of gardens is also part of the wider field of landscape archaeology. Much of what is known about gardens in history comes from those of the rich, the great parks and gardens of royalty and the aristocracy, and the work of the great landscape gardeners like Inigo Jones and Capability Brown. They were also an important part of the lodges constructed by the medieval and early modern mercantile elite just outside town limits, to which they went at weekends to escape the cares of weekday, working life.

This book looks like it attempts to complete this picture, by showing that the working class were also keen gardeners. And its particularly interesting that the rich were nicking ideas from them.

TYT Interviews Young Nazi at Trump Rally

November 3, 2016

In my last piece, I discussed a documentary on the daft conspiracy theories Trump believes in, or at least has promoted, on BBC 2 tonight, 9.00 pm, 3rd November 2016. In this clip from The Young Turks, their reporter Eric Byler interviews a young man leaving one of Trump’s rallies, who believes in one of the oldest and nastiest conspiracy theories of all: that the world is secretly run by the Jews. The young man says he’s very impressed with Trump, as he will end immigration and ‘Zionism’. He wants immigration from the Middle East stopped, as its bringing radical Islam and crime into America. He goes on to claim that Zionism is the ‘biggest problem in this country, and around the globe’. When asked to explain what Zionism is, he states its all about ‘a certain group of people’ amassing the world’s wealth for themselves, and controlling everyone through the education system. When Byler asks him whether Zionism is just religious, he replies that it’s not just religious, but also a political ideology. ‘It’s when a few people at the top, from a certain religious group, control the masses.’ He then says that he is not talking about Judaism, but Zionism. He states that he is also against a Christian or Muslim trying to take over the world, but returns to his comments about ‘them’ controlling all the money, all the businesses and the politicians, who do not look out for the people’s interests. But Trump will save them from all this, as he represents the people and the Constitution, and so will bring about America’s freedom.

When asked if he has any final comments, he states that the truth lies with Alex Jones’ Infowars programme, and David Duke, and urges people to follow them.

Remember the fuss the other year when some emancipated women and male supporters went around wearing T-shirts saying ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’? Watching this I felt that the lad ought to have a sign round him saying, ‘This Is What A Real Anti-Semite Looks Like’. Yes, I realise that he makes a distinction between Jews and ‘Zionists’, but it’s a hollow one the real Nazis have been making for at least a couple of decades in order to try to hide their anti-Semitism. I even heard Ernst Zundl, a Canadian Nazi, being interviewed on Channel 4, claiming not to be an anti-Semite, and to have Jewish friends. This doesn’t stop Zundl himself being a Nazi, purveyor of Third Reich paraphernalia, and Holocaust Denier. Alex Jones is the very well-known conspiracy theorist, who believes that the globalist elites are in control of everything and doing what they can to enslave the world and America. And David Duke is a notorious high ranking member of the KKK. Who will also claim he’s not anti-Semitic, and then in his next breath denounce the Jews for all manner of stupid conspiracies which really exist only in his mind and those of his fellow Klansmen and White supremacists.

But I also felt this needed to be put up to show the difference between a genuine anti-Semite, even if he claims not to be such, and the people, who have been smeared as such in the Labour party. This young fellow uses the term ‘Zionism’ to cover the old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have been at the heart of Nazism the world over ever since the Tsar’s Okhrana concocted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In Britain this was taken up and printed by Arnold Leese’s The Britons extreme nationalist group.

The people, who’ve been smeared as anti-Semites in the Labour party, by contrast, did not use the term as a code word or euphemism for these poisonous conspiracy theories. When they discussed Zionism, they meant precisely that – Israeli nationalism and the crimes that Israel has perpetrated against the Palestinians, including a decades-long campaign of massacre, oppression and dispossession. These are very real offences, not the diseased imaginings of hate-filled minds. The people campaigning against this in the Labour party are not racists, anti-Semites or self-hating Jews, despite the slanders hurled at them from the Israel lobby. They include Jews and non-Jews, who have personal histories of standing up against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, as a couple of recent articles in some of the papers have shown. Those campaigning against the brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians also include very many immensely courageous Israelis, including rabbis, who risk vilification and death threats for doing so. These have included members of the armed forces, who have refused to continue serving because they feel the missions they are required to fight are unjust and too brutal. I don’t know, but I feel sure that these men and women probably don’t think they’re anti-patriotic. I think they probably feel that they’re patriotic Israelis trying to put into practice the concerns for the poor and social justice that lies in much of the Bible, and which has motivated many religious Jews elsewhere around the world to join similar campaign in solidarity with the Palestinians.

So if there’s anyone who’s confused about how you can tell a real anti-Semite, who tries to cloak their Jew-hatred in rhetoric about Zionism, and genuine anti-racists, who attack Zionism or simply the Israeli state, listen to what this young fellow is saying and note the difference.

As for the young man speaking here, he is young and so I hope there’s still time for him to learn better, and see through the poisonous lies peddled by Duke and Jones. Yes, the world’s elites are nasty and corrupt, but that’s because of the corrupt nature of society and the global economy, and the personal character of the members of the elite themselves. It’s not because they’re Jews, or members of any other religious or ethnic group.

BBC 2 Show Tonight Attacking Trump’s Conspiracy Theories

November 3, 2016

BBC 2 at 9.00 pm this evening, 3rd November 2016, are screening a documentary criticising and refuting the daft conspiracy theories the orange Nazi believes in. It’s entitled Conspiracy Files: The Trump Dossier, and the entry for it in the Radio Times runs

With the US presidential election just a few days away, this documentary explores how Donald Trump has made use of conspiracy theories to further his campaign. Should he lose the election, many believe he will cite a collusion between the media and the establishment, but he has also given credence to the “birther” conspiracy theory about Barack Obama – a claim he has since disowned – and made insinuations about the Clintons’ political careers and Ted Cruz’s father. (p.112).

There’s another brief description of the show on the previous page, 111. This states

The occasional series that does admirable work dismantling rusty conspiracy theories finds a basement full of them in Trump Towers.

Donald Trump has stoked paranoia among his more extreme followers, publicly repeating claims that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because he had faked his birth certificate – the notorious “birther” conspiracy was at one stage believed by 60 per cent of Trump voters.

Most shamefully, he claims the current elections are being rigged, which is why he might lose. These and other theories are given longer shrift than they deserve – in order to be blown apart.

Vox Political on the Part-Privatisation of Channel 4

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece today about the government’s proposed partial privatisation of Channel 4 under John Whittingdale. The Torygraph has reported that the government has climbed down from privatising it fully, and instead are just looking for a ‘strategic partner’, like BT. They would also like the network to sell its offices in Westminster and move to somewhere like Birmingham. Its account should also be checked by the NAO, responsible for examining government expenditure, and they would like to change its non-profit status and see it pay a dividend to the Treasury. Mike points out that the network chiefs have taken this as stepping stone towards Channel 4’s full privatisation, and are deciding to reject it. Meanwhile, the Tories don’t want to privatise it fully, because they’ll get the same backlash from their proposals to sell off the Beeb. See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/only-part-privatisation-for-channel-4-as-tories-fear-another-bbc-style-backlash/

This is another barbarous government attack on public broadcasting in the UK. Channel 4 was set up in the 1980s to be a kind of alternative to the alternative BBC 2, and to cater for tastes and audiences that weren’t being met by the established channels. According to Quentin Letts in one of his books, Denis Thatcher thought this mean putting yachting on the sports’ coverage instead of footie, which shows the limited idea of ‘alternative’ held by Thatcher and her consort. Jeremy Isaacs, its controller, was proud of his outsider status as a Jew in the network, a status he shared with Melvin Bragg, a Northerner. He said that he wanted to put on the new, fledgling channel programmes on miner’s oral history, and performances of the great classics of Britain’s minority cultures, like the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He also believed that people had ‘latent needs’ – there were things they wanted to see, which they didn’t yet know they did. He was widely ridiculed for his views. Private Eye gave a sneering review of the book, in which he laid out his plans and opinions, stating that all this guff about people’s ‘latent needs’ showed that he thought he knew more than they did about what people actually wanted. As for being an outsider, the Eye observed rather tartly that they were all outsiders like that now in broadcasting, swimming around endlessly repeating the same views to each other.

In fact, Isaacs was largely right. Quite often people discover that they actually enjoy different subjects and pursuits that they’re not used to, simply because they’ve never encountered them. The Daily Heil columnist, Quentin Letts, comments about the way the network has been dumbed down in one of his books, pointing out how good the networks cultural broadcasting was when it was first set up. The network was particularly good at covering the opera. I can remember they broadcast one such classical music event, which was broadcast throughout Europe, rather like the Eurovision song contest but with dinner suits, ball gowns, lutes and violins rather than pop spangle, Gothic chic, drums and electric guitars. The audiences for its opera broadcasts were below a million, but actually very good, and compared well with the other broadcasters.

As for its programmes aimed at the different ethnic minorities, I knew White lads, who used to watch the films on ‘All-India Goldies’ and the above TV adaptation of the Mahabharata. This last was also given approval by Clive James, one of the great TV critics. James noted it was slow-moving, but still considered it quality television.

The network has, like much of the rest of British broadcasting, been dumbed-down considerably since then. American imports have increased, and much of the content now looks very similar to what’s on the other terrestrial channels. The networks’ ratings have risen, but at the expense of its distinctive character and the obligation to broadcast material of cultural value, which may not be popular. Like opera, foreign language films and epics, art cinema and theatre.

Even with these changes, there’s still very much good television being produced by the network. From the beginning, Channel 4 aimed to have very good news coverage, and this has largely been fulfilled. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that it’s actually been better than the Beeb’s. In the 1990s the Channel was the first, I believe, to screen a gay soap, Queer as Folk, created by Russell T. Davis, who went on to revive Dr Who. This has carried on with the series Banana, Cucumber, and Tofu. It also helped to bring archaeology to something like a mass audience with Time Team, now defunct. And if you look at what remains of the British film industry, you’ll find that quite often what little of it there is, is the product of either the Beeb or Channel 4 films.

And from the beginning the Right hated it with a passion. Well, it was bound to, if Denis Thatcher’s idea of alternative TV was golf and yachting, and Thatcher really wouldn’t have wanted to watch anything that validated the miners. And it was notorious for putting on explicitly sexual material late at night, as well as shows for sexual minorities, such as discussing lesbianism, when these weren’t anywhere near as acceptable as they are today. As a result, the Heil regularly used to fulminate against all this filth, and branded its controller, Michael Grade, Britain’s ‘pornographer in chief’.

And over the years, the various governments have been trying to privatise it. I think Maggie first tried it sometime in the 1980s. Then they did it again, a few years later, possibly under John Major. This surprised me, as after they privatised it the first time, I thought that was the end of it. Channel 4 had been sold off completely. It seems I was wrong. It seems these were just part privatisations. Now they want to do it again.

It struck me with the second privatisation of Channel 4 that this was an election tactic by the Tory party. Maggie had tried to create a popular, share-owning, capitalist democracy through encouraging the working class to buy shares in the privatised utilities. And for all her faults and the immense hatred she rightly engendered, Maggie was popular with certain sections of the working class. By the time the Tories wanted to privatise the Channel the second time, it struck me that they were floundering around, trying to find a popular policy. The magic had worn of the Thatcherite Revolution, Major was in trouble, and so they were trying to bring back some of the old triumphs of Thatcher’s reign, as they saw it. They needed something big and glamorous they could sell back to the voters. And so they decided to privatise Channel 4. Again.

They want to do the same now. But the fact that they’re looking for ‘a strategic partner’ tells you a lot about how things have changed in the intervening years. This is most definitely not about popular capitalism. Most of the shares held by working people were bought up long ago by the fat cats. In this area, the Thatcherite Revolution has failed, utterly, just as it has in so many others. This is all about selling more of Britain’s broadcasting industry to the Tory’s corporate backers. Much of ITV is owned by the Americans, if not all of it, and Channel 5 certainly is. What’s the odds that Channel 4 will stay British, if it too is privatised?

And so we can look forward to a further decline in public broadcasting in this country, as it more of it is bought by private, and probably foreign, media giants. Quality broadcasting, and the duty of public broadcasters to try and expand their audiences’ horizons by producing the new, the ground-breaking, alternative and unpopular, will suffer. All for the profit of the Tory party and their big business paymasters.

Vox Political on Jeremy Hardy’s Attack on BBC Bias

February 14, 2016

Mike over on Vox Political has written an interesting piece about Jeremy Hardy’s quip on the News Quiz, attacking right-wing bias in the BBC. The piece begins

Comic Jeremy Hardy let the cat out of the bag on last Friday’s episode of BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz.

Answering a question about senior citizens’ charity Age UK working with electricity supply e-On to offer older people an energy tariff that costs £249 more than the cheapest rate, he said:

“Old people are being ripped off, paying too much for stuff. It would help if we had a nationalised power industry who just set a lower tariff for older people, obviously. Shoehorn that one in; that will get cut.”

He was suggesting the programmes BBC editors would remove his comment because of its obvious political content. Then he continued in whinging tones, in mockery of the attitude he was claiming the BBC had:

“‘We can’t be seen to have opinions on the radio because the Charter’s up for renewal. Ooh, the Telegraph might ring us up. Ooh, what will we do then?’

“In the interests of balance I should say that private enterprise is bracing and the old are a burden on society and should die!”

Mike then goes to show how similar a piece put together by Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s head of news, on Corbyn’s attempt to end in-fighting in the Labour party was with comments about the same issue from David Cameron. They’re so similar that it basically just looks like she just slightly rewrote it. It’s another piece of proof of how biased against Labour the BBC now is.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/14/nice-one-jeremy-hardy-lays-into-bbc-impartiality/.

Like Mark Steel, Hardy’s a comedian with very strong left-wing views and a biting, trenchant vein of pure sarcasm when it comes to the Tories. He’s been one of the staples of the News Quiz for over a decade, pouring his scorn on the political spawn of Margaret Thatcher. Much of his humour consists of rants against the Conservatives, or New Labour, and their awful policies, as well as the right-wing press like Paul Dacre’s mighty organ. And some of these can be very, very accurate.

I particularly remember one diatribe in which he described the grotesque nature and sheer stupidity of the audience at the Tory party conference. He said, with some exaggeration, that they were still laughing at some vile joke of one of the speakers at the expense of the unemployed/immigrants/unmarried mothers several minutes after the cabinet minister had said it ‘because they’d only just got it’. Well, he’s right about the audience at the Conservative party conferences: they are grotesque. Hideous in feature as well as temperament and mentality. I can remember one day, back in the 1990s, when I was so bored that, for want of something better on TV, I actually turned on to the Tory party conference. Possibly I thought I was trying to educate myself about current affairs. I don’t know. I do know I turned off soon after.

Why?

Simple, really. It was boring, and as nasty as Hardy said it was. One of the speakers got up on the stage to make some gibe about Labour, state spending or the working class, and the audience roared with approval. Then the camera cut to show the audience. And they really were a bunch of elderly mutants! They looked like a cross between Mrs Slocombe from Are You Being Served? with the evil alien Krool from the 2000 AD comic strip, ‘Bad Company’.

Krool Pic

Now imagine this in a blue rinse and massive fake eyelashes laughing at the unemployed.

Hardy and some of the other regular guests on the News Quiz did have strong left-wing sympathies. These also included Mark Steele and Francis Wheen, the biographer of Friedrich Engels. I suspect, however, that despite Tory whinging about left-wing bias at the Beeb, Hardy and the others were a minority, a last bastion of left-wing politics in what was basically a right-wing, very establishment organisation. Certainly Mike’s cited study after study to show how biased the Beeb’s news reporting is, as have several of the commenters on this blog. And if you look, they’re shoved on the Radio 4, which has always traditionally had lower audience figures than television, and which seems to be geared to catering for minority interests. The audio version of BBC 2 and Channel 4, before those were remodelled and made more like BBC 1 and ITV. The Beeb will continue claim that they’re not biased. Even when they are. But kudos to Hardy for pointing it out and challenging it.

BBC 2 On Why Britain Voted Against Churchill after WW II

May 25, 2015

BBC 2 at 9.00 O’clock tonight is showing a documentary on how Britain rejected Churchill for the Labour party in the 1945 general election.

The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Surprise election results are nothing new. As this documentary explores, a few weeks after celebrating VE Day in 1945, Britons went to the polls for the first general election in a decade. The Conservatives were widely expected to win, a grateful nation rewarding Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership. Instead, Labour won by a landslide and set about creating the Socialist welfare system Churchill had warned against.

As historians relate, there were good reasons the electorate delivered a humiliating snub to their wartime hero. And we’ve forgotten how unpopular he was with sections of the public: striking footage shows crowds jeering a perplexed Churchill at Walthamstow stadium. “Most people saw him as a Boris Johnson-type figure,” claims one contributor. “A buffoon.”

And

Just weeks after VE Day, Winston Churchill went to the polls confident that the nation would reward him for his leadership through the dark days of the Second World War and re-elect him prime minister. In the event, he suffered a humiliating defeat by Labour under Clement Atlee. Historians including Max Hastings, Juliet Gardiner and Antony Beevor explore what prompted the nation to reject its great war leader in such vehement fashion.

This will no doubt annoy the Churchill family, who have been effectively living off the great man’s legacy since the War. They got very stroppy a few months ago with Paxo, for daring to state that Churchill was not some kind omniscient, super competent superman.

In fact, Churchill was and still is bitterly despised by certain sections of the working class, despite his status as the great hero of World War II. His own career in the armed forces effectively ended with the debacles of the battle of Jutland and he was widely blamed for Gallipolli. He fervently hated the trade unions and anything that smacked of socialism and the welfare state. Originally a Liberal, he crossed the floor to join the Tories when Balfour’s government introduced pensions and state medical insurance based on the model of contemporary Germany. ‘It was Socialism by the backdoor’, he spluttered.

This continued after the War, when he fiercely attacked Labour’s plan to set up the NHS and unemployment benefit. Because the latter meant that the state become involved in the payment of NI contributions by the employer, he denounced it as a ‘Gestapo for England.’

He is widely credited with sending in the army to shoot down striking miners in Newport. According to the historians I’ve read, he didn’t. Nevertheless, this is still widely believed. It’s credible, because Churchill did have an extremely aggressive and intolerant attitude towards strikes. During the 1924 General Strike he embarrassed the Tory administration by stating that the armed forces would stand ready to assist the civil authorities, if they were called to do so. This effectively meant that he was ready to send the troops in. When it was suggested that he could be found a position in the Post Office, the then Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, readily agreed on the grounds that it would keep him out of the way. The hope was that without Churchill’s militant intransigence, the Strike could be settled peacefully.

And despite the mythology of the country uniting under a common foe during the War years, there was still considerable working class disaffection. Indeed, according to one programme, there were more strikes during the War than hitherto. I don’t find this remotely surprising, given that the sheer requirements of running a war economy meant rationing, shortages and, I’ve no doubt, the introduction of strict labour discipline.

Nor was Churchill a particularly staunch supporter of democracy and opponent of Fascism. Orwell wrote in one of his newspaper pieces that the spectre of war was doing strange things, like making Churchill run around pretending to be a democrat. According to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, Churchill was an authoritarian, who actually quite liked Franco and his brutal suppression of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. His opposition to the Nazis came not from a desire to defend democracy from tyranny – in that respect, Eden was a far better and more convinced anti-Fascist – but from the fear that a re-armed and militarised Germany would be a danger to British power and commercial shipping in the North Sea and the Baltic. He did, however, have the decency to consider privately that Mussolini was ‘a swine’, and was not impressed when the Duce declared that his Black Shirts were ‘like your Black and Tans’ when he visited Fascist Italy.

The British working class therefore had every reason to reject Churchill and his reactionary views after the War. And scepticism towards Churchill and his legacy was not confined merely to the working class. Nearly two decades later in the 1960s Private Eye satirised him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’, and attacked him for betraying every cause he joined. Churchill was all for a united Europe, for example, a fact that might surprise some supporters of UKIP. He just didn’t want Britain to join it.

Even now there are those on the Right, who still resent him. Peter Hitchens, the arch-Tory columnist for the Daily Mail, has frequently attacked Churchill for bringing Britain into the War. His reason for this seems to be his belief that if we hadn’t gone to War against the Axis, we’d still have an Empire by now. This is moot, at best. Writing in the 1930s about a review of Black soldiers in Algiers or Morocco, Orwell stated that what was on the mind of every one of the White officers observing them was the thought ‘How long can we go on fooling these people?’ Orwell came to Socialism through his anti-imperialism, and so represents a particularly radical point of view. Nevertheless, he wasn’t the only one. When the British authorities set up the various commercial and industrial structures to exploit Uganda and the mineral wealth of east Africa, Lord Lugard cynically stated that they now had all the infrastructure in place to pillage the country for a few decades before independence. Despite Hitchens’ nostalgia and wishful thinking for the glories of a vanished empire, my guess is that many, perhaps most of the imperial administrators and bureaucrats out there knew it was only a matter of time before the British Empire went the way of Rome and Tyre.

In his book attacking atheism, The Rage Against God, Hitchens also attacks the veneration of Churchill as a kind of ersatz, state-sponsored secular religious cult. It’s an extreme view, but he’s got a point. Sociologists of religion, like Clifford Geertz, have a identified the existence of a ‘civil religion’, alongside more normal, obvious forms of religion, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. This civil religion is the complex of beliefs and values that shapes civil society as a whole. In America, this is a belief in democracy, centred around a veneration of the Constitution. In Britain, you can see this complex of beliefs centring around parliament, the Crown, and also the complex of ceremonies commemorating the First and Second World Wars. Including Churchill.

The programme looks like it could be an interesting counterargument to the myth of Churchill as the consummate politician, the great champion of British freedom and democracy. He deserves every respect for his staunch opposition to the Nazis, regardless of the precise reason for doing so, and his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is one of the main texts that have created the belief that the British are uniquely freedom-loving. Nevertheless, he was also deeply flawed with some deeply despicable authoritarian attitudes. AS the blurbs for the programme point out, the British were quite right to vote him out at the post-War elections.