Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Iain Duncan Smith Denounces Plan to Introduce Universal Basic Income

March 30, 2020

Universal Basic Income, the scheme by which governments give a specified guaranteed income to all their citizens regardless of personal wealth or employment, has been widely discussed in recent years. I think some countries may already have such schemes in place, and there might be a programme about it this week on Radio 4. It was also one of the ideas mooted to help people out of their financial difficulties caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. Ten days ago, on Friday, 20th of March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson was then considering the idea. And not only that, the idea had the support of some British industrialists, like Liam Kelly, the chair of the Baltic Triangle group of companies. Kelly said that the scheme wasn’t quite as radical as dropping money from a helicopter, but was a plausible solution to the problem of the present crisis. He said “It will help stave off the unprecedented economic challenges we face and protect us from another. This is a sensible fiscal stimulus and it’s time it went directly to the people, not just to the banks.” This might be a reference to one of the criticisms of the government’s financial bailout of the 2008 banking crash. The money went to the banks, who have carried on as before. Some critics have said that what Brown should have done instead is given the money to the public, so that their spending would solve the crisis the bankers had created. Who would have to face the consequences of the massive financial bubble they had created, rather than expect everyone else to bear the costs imposed through austerity while they continued to enrich themselves.

One voice, however, spoke against this scheme: Iain Duncan Smith. The pandemic has had a profound personal effect on some people. It’s brought out the best in them, as friends and relatives rally round to look after those, who are too vulnerable to do things for themselves like go shopping. IDS, however, has remained untouched by this. He still remains a shabby, deplorable excuse for a human being. In an article in the Torygraph stuck behind a paywall – because the Tories don’t let the proles getting anything for free – IDS issued his criticisms of the scheme. He blandly stated that the scheme would make no difference to the financial problems of low-income households and would not alleviate poverty. For which he provided no evidence whatsoever. He also said that it would disincentive work, and cost an astronomic amount of money. This is despite the scheme being budgeted at £260 billion, which is £70 billion less than the £330 billion Rishi Sunak has already imposed.

Mike says of … Smith’s appalling attitudes that they come from a man, who seems to believe that the solution to poverty is killing the poor themselves. Why else, Mike asks, would he have imposed policies that have pushed the vulnerable so deeply into poverty that many have died.

Mike also makes the point that he’s also trying to protect his own political vanity projects, like the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessments, which would all become redundant with the introduction of UBI. Mike concludes

And he wants to ensure that we do not get to see the beneficial effects of UBI, even if it is only brought in for a brief, experimental period.

It seems clear that, while the Tories are claiming to be doing what they can in the face of the crisis, the evil that motivates them remains as strong as it ever was.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trust-iain-duncan-smith-to-try-to-wreck-our-chances-of-survival/

This is absolutely correct, though it can be added that the Gentleman Ranker isn’t afraid of seeing his own political legacy discarded, but the whole Tory attitude to poverty and the question of wealth redistribution. The Republicans in America and the Tories over here hate redistributive welfare policies. The rich, they believe, should be left to enjoy their wealth, ’cause they created it and its all theirs, and the poor should have to work for their money. If they can’t work, or are poor, it’s because of some fault of their own – they’re idle, or simply don’t have the qualities to prosper in the meritocratic society created by unfettered market capitalism. And since Maggie Thatcher, Tory and Blairite welfare policy is based on the assumption that a large percentage of people claiming disability or unemployment benefit are workshy scroungers. Hence the fitness to work tests, in which it has been claimed that the assessors are instructed to find a certain percentage fit, because Tory ideology demands that they do. Even if in reality they are severely disabled, terminally ill, or in some cases actually dead. This also applies to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit, and the system of sanctions attached to them. It’s all the principle of less eligibility, by which the process of claiming benefit is meant to be as harsh, difficult and degrading as possible in order to deter people from doing it. It is designed to make them desperate for any job, no matter how low paid or degrading. Or if they cannot work, then they are expected to find some other way to support themselves or die. The death toll from benefit sanctions runs into hundreds, and the total death toll from Tory austerity is 120,000, or thereabouts. And many of these deaths are directly attributable to IDS’ wretched, murderous policies.

If Universal Basic Income were to be introduced and shown to be a success, it would effectively discredit Tory welfare policy. The idea that state welfare stops people from looking for work has been a Tory nostrum since before Thatcher. But with Thatcher came the belief that conditions for the poor should be made harder in order to make them try to do well for themselves. I can remember one Tory, or Tory supporter, actually saying that on the Beeb during Thatcher’s tenure of No. 10. But these ideas would be seriously damaged if UBI were successfully implemented. It would also help undermine the class system the Tories are so keen to preserve by closing the gap between rich and poor through state action, rather than market forces. Which, indeed, have never done anything of the sort and have only created glaring inequalities in wealth.

Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t bear to see this all discredited. And so to stop this, he blocked UBI, even though it offered a plausible solution to some of the financial difficulties people are suffering.

Which shows you exactly how despicable he is, and how devoted to the maintenance of a welfare system that has done nothing but push people into poverty, starvation and death.

 

 

Boris Getting the Coronavirus Shows How Seriously He Took It

March 27, 2020

The big news today is that the charlatan passing himself off as prime minister has personally come down with Covid-19. He showed mild symptoms of the virus, including a temperature, was tested for it, and the results were positive. He is therefore self-isolating in some corner of No. 10. Nevertheless, he was still keen to show that he was, in the words of one BBC news presenter this morning, ‘Tiggerish’. He was not incapacitated, and would carry on the business of government through teleconferencing and other methods. And if he does become too ill to govern, then the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, will take over. Lord preserve us!

Boris, as the Prime Minister, was in an especially exposed position because his duties mean that he has to meet many different people every day. Just like Prince Charles has, who has also contracted the disease. Fortunately, Boris has come down with it several weeks after he met her Maj, so she doesn’t have it. But it’s partly BoJob’s own fault that he’s got it. Mike today put up an article reporting and commenting on the fact that Boris was warned not to shake hands. But he carried on regardless, even boasting that he was. He would be all right, you see: all you needed to do was wash your hands, that was the important thing. Er, no. That’s why the health authorities have been telling everyone to stand 2 metres away from each other. Hand washing’s important, but on its own it won’t stop anyone getting the virus. As BoJob has just found out.

But this shows very clearly how seriously Boris and the Tories, or at least his circle, took the virus: not very. Mike quotes the New York Times, which comments on the woeful leadership our comedy prime minister has shown in this crisis. He’s been cheerful when he should have been grave, and presented a muddled message when clarity was needed. It’s a poor performance from someone who was selected because of their communication skills.

I think part of the problem comes from Boris’ own attitude to his briefs. George Galloway remarked during an interview that he’s know Boris for 20 years, and he doesn’t read the information given him. It’s why his performance as Foreign Secretary was such an embarrassing disaster. He went to Moscow to soothe relations with Putin, only to make matters worse with remarks about the Russian autocrat when he returned. And then there was that embarrassing episode when he visited Thailand, and the British ambassador had to ask him to be quiet when he was being shown round the country’s holiest temple. He started to recite Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’, and couldn’t understand why that may not have been appropriate.

But there’s more than an element of willful ignorance in his attitude. Medical experts have said that he should have imposed the lockdown seven weeks ago. Boris didn’t, because he accepted Cummings’ bonkers, malign idea that all that was needed was herd immunity. The disease should be allowed to spread through the general population. No lockdown should be imposed, as that would damage the economy. This took priority over people’s health, and if some old people died it was just too bad. This policy is nonsense, the kind of Bad Science Ben Goldacre attacked in his book of that title. But even after Boris took the decision to close some businesses, pubs, clubs and other social gatherings were allowed to continue. Many Tories said that they were still going out for their pint, despite the government advising them – but not actually forbidding them – not to. Those still heading down the boozer included Boris’ own father, Stanley. The pubs and other establishments were only shut down, apparently, because Macron told Boris that if he didn’t, he’d close the French border. And that would seriously harm the economy.

And this lunatic attitude is still fervently embraced by some parts of the Tory establishment. This afternoon the Sage of Crewe put up a piece about another bonkers article in the increasingly desperate and bizarre Torygraph by a hack called Sherelle Jacobs. Jacobs has decided that Cummings was entirely correct, and BoJob has been panicked into adopting the present strategy by Imperial College research. She claims that there is ‘no consensus’ on how to handle the virus, but, as Zelo Street points out, she cites no sources for that view. And she also rants about how the strategy is also due to ‘liberal managerialism’ and ‘global elites’. She’s spouting dangerous nonsense, but she was supported in her delusion by Toby Young. Young declared that Boris was spooked by ICL’s modelling, but we don’t know how reliable that is, and that it’s beginning to look as if ICL exaggerated the risks of not adopting hard suppression measures. Which is more nonsense for which Tobes provides absolutely no data to back it up.

I’ve said in several previous blogs, as have many others, like Buddyhell and Vox Political, that Boris’ attitude is rooted in the Tories’ own eugenicist views. They regard the poor and disabled as ‘useless eaters’, who should be allowed to die so that the fit and the able, and most of all, the rich, should be allowed to prosper. Boris was content to tell the nation that many of their loved ones would die before the time, but wasn’t going to do anything about it, because their lives simply weren’t important. He and the others in his circle were fit and, as the rich and privileged, biologically superior according to their Social Darwinist views. Only the biologically inferior would catch it, whose lives don’t count and are an encumbrance to the right of the rich to do what they want and pay as little tax as possible. Now Boris has shown how irresponsible and stupid that attitude is by coming down with it himself. Positive thinking and a clean pair of mitts are important, but they won’t save you on your alone.

But the Torygraph’s refusal to accept that a lockdown is necessary is part of the Tories’ wider refusal to believe experts. The Heil and other right wing papers have published claptrap telling the world that global warming is a myth. Michael Gove famously declared a few years ago that people were tired of listening to experts. And I believe I recall that when one of the Tories – I think it was Iain Duncan Smith – was actually confronted with evidence showing his policies wouldn’t work, he had nothing to say except that he believed it.

Well, the Tories prefer belief and pernicious pseudoscience over reality. As a result, Boris has now got the disease and thousands more people are in danger of dying from it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/toby-young-jumps-virus-shark.html

Has hand-shaking Johnson taken his whole cabinet down with coronavirus?

Worrals of the WAAF – Captain W.E. John’s Flying Heroine for Girls

March 23, 2020

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals of the WAAF (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Carries on (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Flies Again (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns was the creator of that great British hero, ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, an RAF fighter ace, who with his friends Algy and Ginger foiled the evil designs of the German menace in a series of tales set in the First and Second World Wars. They’re classics of British children’s literature. They appeal mostly, but by no means exclusively to boys – they’re have been plenty of female readers. Even though they’re now somewhat passe, they’re influence on British popular culture is still noticeable. In the 1980s there was an attempt to translate the character into film with an SF twist. Johns’ hero was still a World War II airman, but was sent into the present day by time warp. The character was so much a staple of British literature, that he was lampooned, I believe, by Punch’s Alan Coren in his short story, ‘Biggles Strikes Camp’. More recently, the square-jawed space pilot, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, the heroic alter ego of the cowardly, egotistical and sneering Rimmer in TV’s Red Dwarf, seems to be something of a mixture of Biggles and that other great British hero, Dan Dare, the pilot of the future.

But during the Second World War, Johns was also determined to thrill and inspire girls with a similar figure for them. And so he wrote a series of three books about Joan Worralson, ‘Worrals’, and her friend Frecks. They were pilots in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was set up to deliver aircraft to the RAF. Although not combat pilots, Worrals and Flecks soon found themselves actively fighting the Nazi menace in Britain, and then France. The books were republished in 2013 by Indie Books. There’s also some connection there with the RAF Museum, as that institution has its logo proudly printed on the back cover.

I found them in a recent catalogue for Postscript, a mail order firm specialising in bargain books. They were there, alongside serious histories of women in aviation and the WAAF. I liked the ‘Biggles’ books when I was a schoolboy, and decided to order them to see what his female counterpart was like. A decision helped by the fact that they were £2.95 each. They came shortly before the shutdown last week. I haven’t read them yet, but will probably give them a full review when I do. In the meantime, here’s the blurbs for them:

1: Worrals of the WAAF

Britain: 1940

Joan Worralson – Worrals to her many friends – is ferrying a replacement aircraft to a RAF fighter station when she is plunged into combat with a mysterious plane.

Later, she and her friend Frecks investigate what that plane was up to – and fall into a nest of spies.

With their own airfield the target for destruction, the two girls will need every ounce opf skill and daring to save the day.

2: Worrals Carries On

Britain: 1941

While Britain reels from nightly air attacks, Worrals and Frecks are stuck in the routine of delivering new planes to the RAF – until a chance discovery put them on the trail of a Nazi spy.

The hunt leads them to London at the height of the Blitz and even into occupied France. Cut could it be that the traitor is right in their midst? And ready to hand them over to the Gestapo?

3: Worrals Flies Again

1941: Occupied France

British agents are risking their lives behind enemy lines. But how to get that vital information back home?

MI6 need a pilot who speaks French like a native and with the courage to take on an operation so crazy that it might just work. A job for Worrals.

But when she and Frecks fly to the isolated French castle that is to be their base, they discover that nothing is what it seems – and the Gestapo have got there first.

Like other professions and employers, the RAF is trying to diversify its ranks and recruit more women and people of BAME backgrounds. This was shown very clearly a few months ago on the One Show, in a section where pilot and former Countdown numbers person, Carol Vorderman, herself a pilot, talked about the winners of a competition by the Air Cadets  and the RAF to find their best and most promising members. There were three, two of whom were girls, while the third was a Black lad. As a reward, they were given a tour of the vast American factory where they were building the new high performance jets that were due to come into service over this side of the Pond, and talk to some of the American Air Forces pilots. These included a young woman, who was so thrilled with flying these machines that she told them she couldn’t believe she got paid for doing it. There was also a little subtext informing the viewer that young women could still fly these deadly war machines without sacrificing their femininity. One of the girl cadets was a blogger, who specialised in makeup and beauty. And there’s also a more general drive within aviation to recruit more women as pilots, for example in civil, passenger flight.

There have clearly been for a long time women interested in flight and careers in the armed forces. I don’t know how many girls were encouraged to join the WAAF or take to the air by reading Worrals – I suspect they more likely to be influenced by the ‘Biggles’ stories. There was also an attempt to launch a comic strip which featured a group of female pilots fighting for Britain in the WAAF or RAF in the girls’ comics. This was mentioned in the excellent short BBC documentary series, Comics Britannia. However, the strip didn’t prove popular with female readers and was closed down. The comic asked them what they’d rather read instead, and they said, ‘a good cry’. This resulted in a series of strips of unrelenting misery in their comics, including ‘Child Slaves of War Orphan Farm’. I think stories about heroic female pilots sticking it to the Nazis would have been far healthier, but the girls of the time obviously didn’t want it. I don’t know if the books would have any greater success now, when writers are trying to create strong role models for girls in fiction.

I haven’t read them yet – they’re on my ‘to read’ list, along with many others. But I intend to read them eventually. I’m interested in finding out what they’re like, and how they stand up to today’s changed ideas about gender roles. And more importantly, whether they’re any fun. I look forward to finding out.

And my mother wants to read them afterwards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ad Astra: A Tale of Quest, Obsession and Disappointment

March 23, 2020

Directed by James Gray, starring Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and Liv Tyler.

I wanted to catch this one at the cinema when it came out last year, based on the trailer I’d seen online. This showed Brad Pitt as clean-cut, square-jawed space captain racing across the lunar landscape in a rover, guns blazing away at the bad guys in theirs. It looked a very convincing depiction of a possible near future. A future when humanity is at last moving out to colonise and exploit the resources of the solar system, but still plagued by geopolitical intrigues and violence. From the trailer, I thought it might be about terrorism on the high frontier, just as the motive for sending the Robinson family into space in the ill-fated 90s version of Lost in Space was a global threat from an insurgency. But it isn’t. It’s instead about humanity’s quest to discover alien intelligence, and the dangerous consequences of one man’s refusal to face the fact that we haven’t found it.

Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and want to see it fresh, please don’t read on. I’ll put up something else in due course, which you can read without worrying that it’ll spoil your fun.

Brad Pitt plays Commander McBride, a hard-working, intensely focused career astronaut, whose devotion to his duty has led to his wife walking out on him. But because of his intense, single-minded concentration on his duty, he isn’t particularly affected by this. The film begins with a statement that humanity will expand into space, and will continue looking for extraterrestrial intelligence. Then the action begins with McBride in space, working with other astronauts on the outside of a giant space structure. This is hit by massive power surges, causing vital components to overload and explode, hurling pieces of the station and the astronauts desperately trying to fix them off into space. McBride is one of these, knocked off the station by falling debris. But he, and the other astronauts, fall downward to Earth, rather than off into space. Tumbling, Pitt eventually rights himself and parachutes back to the ground. The station is revealed to be no such thing. It’s a giant radio antenna, set up to receive possible signals from the ETs.

The power surge that hit the antenna was one of a series, each increasing in strength, that is causing blackouts and devastation across the world’s cities. Their source has been located near Neptune. It’s believed that their caused by an antimatter reaction, and a lost system commanded by McBride’s father, is believed to be the cause as it was powered by antimatter. The ship was sent out there on a 29 year mission to search for alien signals, far away from the interference of human telecommunications in the inner solar system. However, 16 years into the mission it disappeared. McBride’s father became a hero, and many astronauts tell McBride that it is thanks to him that they took up a career in space. This raises the question of whether McBride senior has indeed found aliens, who are hostile and using the station to disable Earth ready for conquest. This would be the plot in other movies, but not in this one.

Journey to the Moon

McBride is instructed to go to the Moon, from which he will be launched to Mars, to send a message to his father on Neptune, who is suspected of being alive. On his trip to the Moon, he’s joined by a Colonel Pruit (Donald Sutherland), who knew McBride’s father. The lunar base at which they land is a bustling town with a mall stuffed full of tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. McBride says to himself that it’s the kind of thing his father hated, and he would have tried to get as far away from it as possible. Pruitt is due to go with him, but is prevented from doing so at the last minute due to a heart problem. Finding a secluded spot away from the crowd, Pruitt gives him a memory stick, telling him that not everybody believes McBride senior to have been a hero. The stick contains suppressed information that they will do anything to prevent getting out. McBride then goes on to join the team that will take him to the launch site of the ship, that will take him to Mars. The Moon is being exploited by a number of different mining companies, but no territorial rights exist, so, as someone explains, ‘it’s like the Wild West out there.’ Hence the armed guards with McBride when he leaves the base. It’s this part of the programme that appears on the trailer for the movie, with McBride and team racing across the grey lunar landscape while under attack from what can only be described as space bandits. Various members of McBride’s team are killed, but he survives and succeeds in getting to the opposite base. He then joins the crew of the Cepheus, who will take him to Mars.

Space Rescue

On the way there, the crew receive a distress call, which they are obliged to answer. McBride tries to deter them because of the vital importance of the mission, but is unsuccessful as he is travelling incognito and so can’t reveal just how his mission overrides international space law. The SOS comes from a Norwegian scientific research station. McBride and the ship’s captain, Tailor, cross over to investigate. They don’ find any survivors, who have been killed by escaped baboons or some other ape used for research. These kill Taylor, and try to kill McBride, but he shuts them behind a door and decompresses that section, killing them. Crossing back to the Cepheus, the give Tailor a space burial.

McBride finally gets a chance to watch the video on the stick. It shows his father, (Tommy Lee Jones) announcing that the crew have mutinied. The mission has been unsuccessful, and so they wish to return to Earth. McBride as therefore suppressed it by putting them all in one section of the station and decompressing it, killing them all, innocent and guilty alike. This obviously leaves McBride shaken.

Mars and the Radio Call

On Mars, he’s taken from the launch complex to the base, where he is taken under great secrecy to a soundproof room, from which he reads out a scripted message to his father. This occurs several times, and are unsuccessful. On the next attempt, he goes off script and makes a personal appeal. He suspects that he has been successful, but the commanders won’t tell him. Throughout his journey, McBride is subjected to psychological testing before he is allowed to continue. He fails this for the first time, and is taken back to a comfort room – a room in which reassuring pictures of flowers are projected on the walls. He is told that he will not be continuing his journey. The crew of the Cepheus will instead go on alone to meet his father. They are equipping the ship with nuclear weapons to destroy the station before it can generate further power surges that will destroy civilisation. McBride is freed from his captivity by the station’s director of operations, a Black woman, whose parents were on board the station and murdered by McBride’s father. McBride has to rush through an underground tunnel to the launch complex, including swimming through a subterranean lake. He finally emerges in the system of tunnels, that will take the ship’s exhaust away from the ship itself when it launches. The countdown has begun, and it’s now a race against time for McBride to get aboard before he’s incinerated when the rocket fires its engines.

Encounter at Neptune

He succeeds in getting aboard and the ship launches. However, the crew are instructed to restrain him using any means necessary. In the ensuing struggle, he accidentally kills them. He then takes over the mission. He inserts the various tubes which will feed him intravenously during the 179-day mission, informs base what he intends to do and has done, and that he will now go dark.

He eventually arrives at the station, and comes aboard, moving through the decomposed section in which the bodies of the murdered crew are still floating. He brings one of the nuclear bombs on board with him. He meets his father, who blithely tells him what he did, and that he cared nothing for either his son or his mother. It is plain that he doesn’t want to come home, as although he hasn’t found alien life, he is convinced it’s out there. He just hasn’t found it yet. McBride sets the bomb, and tries to take his father back to Earth. But on the journey to the Cepheus, McBride senior pulls away from him, dragging him with him as the two are tethered together. The father tells McBride to let him go, McBride releases the tether, and his father floats off into space. McBride then jets back to the station, to rip off one of the panels so that he can use it as a shield against the icy particles and dust making up Neptune’s rings as he jets through that on his way back to the Cepheus. He then returns home, making a successful descent back to Earth, where friendly hands help him out of his capsule. Earth is safe, and his brought back all his father’s information on the countless alien worlds he discovered.

The film ends with McBride back in a military canteen, performing a kind of psychological evaluation on himself. He muses that his father was driven by his obsession to find alien life, and his disappointment at not finding it blinded him to the wonders of the worlds he had found. He is well-balanced, and focused on the tasks at hand, but not to the exclusion of the ability to love and be loved in return. There is a hint that this new attitude is bring his wife back to him.

Ad Astra as the Reply to 2001, Solaris, and Contact.

It’s a very good movie. The designs of the ships and rovers are very plausible and seem very much based on the old lunar rovers NASA used during the Moon landings on the one hand, and those on the drawing board for Mars on the other. It’s also a very quiet movie. It follows Gravity, and the masterpiece of SF cinema, 2001, in showing no sound in space except what can be heard through the characters’ space suits when they’re hit by the force of an explosion or some other event. It’s also at just under 2 hours a longer movie than most. This is gives it some of the quiet, epic quality of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The interrupted space journey of its hero, from Earth to the Moon and the Moon to Mars and thence Neptune, also recalls that of Floyd, Bowman and the other astronauts of 2001.

But there’s an important difference between Ad Astra and these flicks. 2001 and Solaris are about humanity’s encounter with powerful, but unknowable aliens. These encounters are transformative for the species and at an individual, personal level. In 2001, the aliens’ black monoliths raise humanity up from apes, and then transform Bowman into the Star Child at the film’s climax. In Solaris, the hero rekindles a relationship with his lost love through a simulacrum of her generated by the planet below. This allows him to medicate and discourse on the nature of humanity, honour and the need for humans to value each other. He is then able to descend to the planets surface, where he meets another simulacrum, this time of a dying friend he left on Earth, in a house where it’s actually raining inside. In both films, the aliens are genuinely alien, incomprehensible, but nevertheless interested in humanity and able to be reached out and contacted.

This is a reply to those movies, which is clearly informed by the fact that after decades of searching for alien intelligent alien, we still haven’t found it. Nor have we discovered any life elsewhere in the solar system. It’s possible that it exists on Mars, but if it is, it’s at the level of microbes. This makes the film a kind of anti-2001. It could have been called ‘The Stars My Disappointment’, as a pun on the title of Alfred Bester’s SF masterpiece, The Stars My Destination. McBride’s conclusion – that the scientific information about the myriad alien worlds his father discovered – is still immensely valuable, even if they are uninhabited and lifeless, but the obsession with finding alien life blinded his father to its value – is a good one. But I remember the SF writer and encyclopaedist John Clute saying something similar to Clive Anderson back in 1995. This was during the Beeb’s Weekend on Mars, a themed series of programmes on the Red Planet on the weekend that the NASA pathfinder probe landed. Of course, people are still fascinated by the question of whether Mars is, or has been, an abode of life. Anderson asked Clute if he would be disappointed if they discovered there was no life there. Clute responded by saying that if someone said they were disappointed at that, he would be disappointed in them, as we would still find out so much about the world, which should be sufficiently fascinating itself. Well, yes, but that’s very much the consolation prize. What people have always dreamed about is finding life in space, and particularly Mars. You can’t really blame them for being disappointed if we don’t. As for the message that it’s good to focus on your work, but not so much that it damages your personal relationships, it’s a good one, but hardly an earth-shattering revelation. And in the context of space travel, Tarkovsky says something similar in Solaris. There the hero says at one point that humanity doesn’t need space travel and alien worlds. There is 5 billion of us – a mere handful. What man needs is man. This shows the humanistic focus of Tarkovsky’s movie against its theme of space travel and alien encounters.

Conclusion

Ad Astra is an excellent movie, but ultimately somewhat of a disappointment. It’s to be applauded as an attempt to make an intelligent SF film with a grounding in established science. But ultimately its message that the search for alien life shouldn’t blind us to the possibility that it doesn’t exist, or that it may be extremely difficult to find requiring a search that lasts generations, perhaps centuries, before we find it, isn’t as emotionally satisfying as films in which the aliens are very definitely there. You could compare it to the Jodie Foster film, Contact, in which she played a female scientist convinced aliens exist, and finally succeeds in going out there and finding them. In the vast majority of such movies, the hero is nearly always a believer in the existence of the ETs, who is finally vindicated when they turn up. This is one of the few films to show the contrary. It’s a valuable, perhaps necessary message, but one less attractive to most audiences, who want there to be aliens, if only fictional and contained in the narrative of cinema.

Oh yes, and I have to differ with the comments about the presence of tourist malls in space. Yes, such places are full of tat and kitsch, but there are also the sign of a genuinely vital human culture. People aren’t all high-minded, serious creatures, and for genuine, living human communities to be established in space, they can’t all be left to scientists and engineers solemnly probing the secrets of the cosmos or working on the best way to extract and exploit their resources. They’ve also got to be where ordinary people visit, and enjoy the experience of being on an alien planet. And that means buying tat and kitschy souvenirs as well as indulging in deep philosophical meditations. As Babylon 5 also showed with its market, the Zocalo, and its tat. Though in that episode, the stores selling the tourist kitsch were all closed down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melanie Philips Pushing the Anti-Semitism Smears Again

March 7, 2020

Okay, it’s the beginning of March, Boris Johnson’s government has settled into its new round of incompetence and personal vindictiveness, and the Tories have been caught in another islamophobia scandal. According to the Mirror, 20 Tory members were expelled for their horrendous views on Islam. BBC Politics Live in its wisdom decided to discuss the issue of race. Unfortunately, one of the guests they chose to talk about it was Daily Heil hack Melanie Phillips. The author of Londonistan, which claims that London is now seething with Islamist terrorists and that Muslims are intent on destroying western society, her views on race are closer to Tommy Robinson than Dr. Martin Luther King. And like the rest of the Israel lobby, she confuses anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. According to Zelo Street, she began by expressing her views on the leading contender for the Labour leadership. Keir Starmer, she opined, was a ‘very decent guy’, and she was sure he was going to put in eye-catchingly good measures to get rid of people, who have not been got rid of.  As for Rebecca Long-Bailey’s response to questioning the day before, she declared that Long-Bailey was trying to avoid the fact that she had gone along with something she should never have gone along with, along with many other members of the Labour Party. Which was, she then explained, that Starmer wasn’t going to get on top of this problem. And that problem went beyond the Labour Party and permeated progressive politics. And it was all about hostility to Israel. She said

It’s wrapped up in attitudes to Israel. It’s wrapped up with beliefs that what’s being talked about isn’t really anti-Semitism, it’s not really prejudice, it’s simply an attempt to stop criticism of Israel. In other words, even among people of goodwill, there is a very widespread failure to understand quite what this thing is that has come out of the woodwork, and until and unless people are prepared to acknowledge precisely what it is, and acknowledge the enormity of it, and the depth of it, no-one’s going to get on top of it”.

As Zelo Street points out, not only is Phillips highly presumptuous in arrogating to herself the authority to define what anti-Semitism is, she expands it so that it includes legitimate criticism of Israel. Even the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which includes amongst its examples criticisms of Israel, also allows legitimate criticism.

And Zelo Street also pointed out that Philip’s opinions were at variance with the facts. After all the evidence of anti-Semitism was passed to the cops, the rozzers only charged one person. Five were arrested, but four of them – three men and a woman – were released and told they would face no further action. That’s out of a party with nearly half a million members.

The Street concludes

‘If what Melanie Phillips was talking about “goes very deep”, how come only one person was charged with an offence? After all that evidence was handed over to the Police? After all the hype, if there was such a serious problem, wouldn’t one expect the numbers to be rather more significant than that? It’s almost as if someone was exaggerating.

Not that one could ever accuse Melanie Phillips of such behaviour. Perish the thought!’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/melanie-phillips-racism-hypocrisy.html

In fact nearly all the allegations of galloping anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are fact-free. The people accused and expelled, like Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Martin Odoni, Mike Sivier, Cyril Chilson and many others, were smeared because they were supporters of Corbyn and/or critics of Israel. They are all genuine anti-racists, but the whole point of the anti-Semitism witch hunt is to close down criticism of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, regardless as to truth or legitimacy. Eleven years ago Peter Oborne, a former Telegraph journalist of immense integrity, who just before the election announced his support for Corbyn, present a Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 on the Israel lobby. He talked to former Groaniad editor Alan Rusbridger, who told him that whenever the newspaper published a piece on Israeli atrocities, the head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews would turn up with his pet lawyer, moaning that coverage of such events would result in a rise in anti-Semitism. He also discussed how the Board had accused the Beeb of anti-Semitism because it dared to cover the massacre of Palestinians by the Lebanese Christian Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during that country’s civil war. The Phalange were allied to Israel, and therefore the coverage was anti-Semitic. And so were the very respected Beeb foreign correspondents, Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin, who reported it. When the Beeb tried to defend them, the defenders, in true witch hunt fashion, were also accused of anti-Semitism. And that included David Attenborough, the very well respected wildlife presenter and former head of BBC 2 many decades ago. The documentary interviewed the Oxford academic Avi Shlaim, an expert on Middle East affairs, who revealed that the Board’s complaints had been examine by the broadcasting regulators, and rejected except on a minor point. The Beeb’s reportage had been correct.

But this is immaterial to the Board and the rest of the Israel lobby. What matters is defending Israel, whatever it does. Even when that includes shooting nurses and unarmed protesters dead and torturing children. And the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is an important weapon in its defence. Because it states that some criticism of Israel may be anti-Semitic. This is expanded to mean all, or as many as the Israel lobby can get away with. It’s why Kenneth Stern, the Zionist American academic, who was one of those who formulated the definition, has criticised it for having a chilling effect on free speech about Israel.

The Tories and the Israel lobby are terrified of legitimate criticism of Israel. So terrified in fact, that they ignore the fact that anti-Semitism is far more prevalent in right-wing parties, and that almost all of it in this country comes from the far right. And so Melanie Phillips and her ideological ilk have precious little to say about members of the Met police having connections to real Nazi organisations, or Tommy Robinson greeting his supporters with ‘Shalom’ and appealing for more money to overthrow the White race – a clear reference to the real anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

No, they’re far more worried about a united, resurgent Labour Party. A party that would allow legitimate criticism of Israel. And that says much about their racism and hypocrisy.

 

 

Turning Point UK Preparing Anti-Academic Witch Hunt

March 1, 2020

There’s some areas of the American right still pining for the days of the McCarthy witch hunts. And unfortunately, it looks like they want to export them to these shores as well. Turning Point UK is one of them. If you don’t remember, Turning Point UK is the British spawn of the American Conservative outfit, Turning Point USA. Founded by the repulsive Charlie Kirk, who ‘LIVES AS A CAPITALIST EVERY DAY’, as he shouted at the Young Turks’ Cenk Uighur, this is supposed to be dedicated to inspiring young people with right-wing ideals, turning back the evil tides of liberalism, socialism and so forth. Its British branch got off to a notoriously bad start when Candace Owens, another prominent American rightist, told the assembled faithful at its inauguration that Adolf Hitler wasn’t really a nationalist. She declared that what he did would have been all right if he’d stuck to his own country, but he wanted to make everyone German. This was the opposite of nationalism. This was the opposite of history and morality, as was soon pointed out to her. TPUK have kept a quiet profile since. So much so that it has been suggested that the outfit is no more than a trick to part elderly American Conservatives from their money through encouraging them to donate to it, so little has it actually done. Unfortunately, it still seems to be around and making a nuisance of itself. Zelo Street has posted a couple of articles about the organisation posting attack ads libeling former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey as anti-Semites, terrorist supporters and claiming they aid paedophiles.

And now Zelo Street has also reported that one of its scummy number has announced on Twitter that they want to import their parent organisation’s campaign of blacklisting left-wing academics. TPUSA has a ‘Professor Watchlist’ of academics they claim have a ‘left-wing agenda’. One critic, the Skeptical Seventh, has said of this that “They must know that what they are doing will lead to people being harassed, being shut down … It is undermining academic freedom, which is ironic for an organisation that claims to be in favour of free speech”. Yes, but for them it’s a case of free speech for me, but not for thee. However, the Beeb reported that it had been told by Dominique Samuels, one of the TPUK’s influencers, that they wouldn’t be introducing that policy over here.

This has been flat-out contradicted by the odious Darren Grimes. Grimes was upset when Priyamvada Gopal, a lecturer at Cambridge, tweeted a particularly apt quote from Lord Macauley to describe Priti Patel. She said:  “We should acknowledge, as we look at Priti Patel, that there was one very successful cultural eugenics project: ‘We must at present do our best to form…a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect’”. This was too much for Grimes, who didn’t recognise the quote, and ranted  “This person is a lecturer at Cambridge. Is it any wonder our students are churned out of these university factories like hard-left, braindead sheep when this is what is teaching them?! What a truly bloody horrendous thing to think, never mind tweet”. Gopal herself was highly amused by Grimes’ reaction. She said “Before I withdraw again for a bit, I thought I should share my enjoyment of Mr Grimes’ condemnation of Lord Macaulay’s  ‘truly bloody horrendous thing to think’ … The great thing about British far-right is their complete ignorance of their own history &  literature”. Macauley’s comment demanding the anglicisation of Indians is notorious. It frequently appears in textbooks as an illustration of the hostile attitude of the British colonisers to their subject peoples’ indigenous cultures.

The TPUK twitter feed then joined in with the ominous statement “Our uni campuses are overrun by leftist lecturers who teach their overt political bias as objective truth. This is not ok. The fight back begins now. Introducing ‘Education Watch’: Documenting University Lecturers’ Political Bias”.

This is, as Zelo Street has commented, the right using the false assumption that not only do they have the right to their own opinions, but also their facts, to start a witch hunt. And as Grimes was at the launch of Toby Young’s wretched Free Speech Union, it also shows that’s a sham as well.

Paul Bernal, an associate professor of Law at UEA, commented: “Can I just ask, what do the thought-police *want* us lefty academics to teach our students? Obviously facts are out. Analysis is against the law. Nothing foreign. Nothing expert”.

Tim concluded his article on this latest right-wing assault on free speech with the observation that TPUK were obviously trying to whip up hate and harassment because they were so desperate for the publicity. And so he was sure that they would be condemned by all good Conservatives.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/turning-point-uk-turning-nasty.html

Let’s be clear what Turning Point are demanding – the harassment and purging from academic of lecturers, whose politics they disapprove of. This is a feature of just about every totalitarian regime and movement. The Italian Fascists did it. The Nazis did it in the ‘coordination’ of the universities, which saw Jews and Marxists purged. The Communists did it. And it got really unpleasant in China under Mao during the Cultural Revolution, when children were called upon to denounce their parents and teachers. The BNP or National Front also tried something like it in Britain in the 1980s. They urged nationalist schoolchildren to write to them informing on ‘Communist’ teachers. They would then send a couple of their thugs round to assault them. TPUK haven’t called for having them attacked, but this is what such a list would lead to.

As for this wave of left-wing lecturers churning out a generation of impressionable kids indoctrinated with cultural Marxism or whatever, this is, in my opinion, somewhat of an hysterical overreaction. Yes, there are outspoken left-wing academics, and always have been. But there are also Conservatives and all shades of political opinion in between. And, with a few obvious exceptions, such as those calling for sectarian or racist violence and hatred, for example, they should all have the right to teach what they believe to be objective fact. Because this is what democracy and freedom of speech means.

Freedom of speech and conscience means putting up with speech, ideas and opinions of which you don’t necessarily approve. It certainly does not mean tolerating only those opinions that you share. That, whether done by the left or the right, leads to intolerance and persecution.

And in the intellectual context, it also means the massive impoverishment of national culture. As a result of the Nazi purges of the universities and the arts, German culture suffered immensely. That of other countries, particularly America, benefited immensely, as talented scientists, mathematicians, writers, film-makers and artists took sanctuary on the other side of the Pond. It’s been said that if the Nazis hadn’t taken power, and pushed their greatest minds abroad, the 20th would have been hailed as the German century rather than the American.

This is what Turning Point would like to do to America, and which their equally idiotic counterparts on this side of the Pond would like to do over here – a stifling, stagnant, impoverished culture in order to enforce their own intellectual agenda.

 

American Conservative Demands Beeb’s Privatisation Because Feminism, Muslims and Non-Binary Haircuts

February 28, 2020

Boris Johnson and his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings, have made it very clear that they want the Beeb privatised. They’re talking about removing the licence fee and turning it into a subscription service. This is because they claim that the Beeb is full of evil lefties, who are biased against them. The evidence from the BBC newsroom, at least, completely contradicts this. The Beeb followed the rest of the right-wing press in viciously attacking and smearing the Labour Party and its leader at every opportunity. And that included pushing the anti-Semitism smears. But this is the propaganda line Boris takes in order to justify his running away from everything but the softest interviews, and for the eventual privatisation of the Corporation itself.

The Tories hate the BBC partly for ideological reasons, partly out of simple political strategy and partly out of venal self-interest. They despise the Beeb as a nationalised industry and because, the present state of the Corporation notwithstanding, it has in the past criticised, contradicted and refuted Tory claims. Hence the Tories have claimed the Corporation was against them under Thatcher and John Major, and made the same threats of removing the licence fee. They also want to privatise it because many of the parties’ chief donors and supporters are the owners and proprietors of rival broadcasters, like Rupert Murdoch. They’re jealous of the Beeb’s dominant position in British broadcasting, and want to see it go so that their networks will fill its place. These rival networks also include American broadcasters, who have been buying into British TV companies since at least the 1990s.

And earlier this week, the American Conservative broadcaster Lauren Chen joined all the British Tories demanding the Beeb’s privatisation.

Who? Good question! Chen’s young American woman with her own internet show, discussing issues from a right-wing perspective. You can find her videos up on YouTube. I found one of them earlier this week, in which she ranted about how the Beeb needed to be privatised because of a programme produced by BBC Scotland, The Social. No, I hadn’t heard of it, either. I doubt many people in Britain have. But Chen had, and was furious. Because the Beeb was using it to push far left Social Justice Warrior propaganda on ordinary, Conservative-voting Brits!

This was because the programme had featured short pieces in which a variety of people talked about the issues that were important to them. Those Chen seized on and used as the subject for her video were a piece by a young woman complaining that men were all sexist and didn’t go to female-led movies. This would mean that the Oscar’s committee, over two-thirds of whom were male, wouldn’t give an award to Little Women. Another woman, who identified as non-binary, complained that she couldn’t get a suitably androgynous haircut.  A dominatrix appeared to talk about her profession and complain that people didn’t respect BDSM as they’d been conditioned to think of it as deviant. Another woman argued that Islam believed in the equality of all, whether male or female, while firmly wrapped up in a burqa so that only her eyes were visible. Then there was a young man arguing for Christianity. These all showed the Beeb’s liberal, progressive bias. It using taxpayer’s money to push feminist, LGBTQ+, Muslim propaganda. And it only broadcast the Christian because he was weak, woolly and unconvincing, and so showed how they wanted to present the religion.

Now I can’t say that those pieces would have been of interest to me, and I doubt they would to many other Brits. Some of the arguments were quite flimsy. For example, a number of vloggers on cinema dispatched the claims about sexism and Little Women a few weeks ago before the Oscars. They pointed out that there have been scores of female-led films, that have attracted a male audience. I don’t know if they mentioned it, but I’m fairly sure one was Annihilation. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, this was an SF tale of a group of female squaddies investigating a mysterious zone in which the laws of nature had been subtly altered and plants, animals and humans mutated by a meteorite. This was a zone of eerie beauty and equally weird menace, and the film was highly praised. A male psychologist argued that it wasn’t because they were female-led that meant men had no interest in certain types of movie. Rather men were generally interested in tales which either contained violence or danger, or which had a strong element of good versus evil. And a number of female vloggers also said that they weren’t interested in seeing Little Women either, because there had been so many other adaptations of it. As for the non-binary woman and her haircut, as Chen pointed out, that was an inconvenience. Plenty of other people also have problems finding the right hairdresser or barber.

Behind all this, however, was her argument that the Beeb should privatised because then market economics would prevent it from foisting these opinions on the British public. The Beeb shouldn’t be using taxpayer’s money to produce material like this. Instead she told Brits that the money would be better spent on our failing health service. Well, our health service does need more money, but it’s only failing because the Tories also want to privatise it and sell it to American private healthcare companies. And it is true that if the Beeb was privatised, it probably wouldn’t be able to produce shows like The Social, because they wouldn’t be commercial. No-one would watch them, and they wouldn’t attract advertising revenue.

And this argument shows that Chen either knows nothing, or simply doesn’t care, about the ethos of public service broadcasting. The Beeb produces videos like those Chen attacked, not because it’s full of evil Commies determined to destroy mainstream British culture and turn everyone into BDSM, non-gender specific feminist Muslims, but because it has a duty to serve the public. That means that its content has to reflect a range of opinions, include those, who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. Like women worried about how well a classic girls’ movie would do at the Oscars, fetishists, Muslims, the queer and transgender, and even the odd Christian. They pay their taxes and in a democratic state, have the right to make their views heard. They’re given a platform because free speech is a public good above the requirements of pure commerce, according to the ethos of public broadcasting. And everyone should be entitled to their opinion, regardless of whether it is held by the majority or not.

Chen isn’t defending free speech. She’s arguing for its denial.

As for The Social itself, I went to its homepage at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p039wndg

This simply states that

BBC The Social is an award-winning digital platform based in Glasgow that develops creative new talent.

We help develop ideas and commission content to publish across the BBC and our content reaches millions of people every week.

And most of their videos aren’t particularly political or contentious. Yes, their site has a section on LGBTQ+ videos, and as well as one about a young man coming out as gay at church. But they also have videos on disability in Scotland, the problem of living with a kind of alopecia, deafness, overcoming the stigma of being a single mother, and many other topics and issues. It seems to be ordinary community broadcasting, in the sense that it gives people in the wider community an opportunity to talk about issues that are important to them. It’s similar to a number of shows that have appeared on British TV, such as Brass Tacks back in the 1970s, and the 4 Thought short films on Channel 4.

You don’t have to agree with what these films are about to recognise that they are part of the reason public service broadcasting must continue in this country. The Beeb’s Tory bias is doing it no services by alienating its traditional left-wing supporters. But it’s important that the Beeb should continue, even if most of the newsroom and its senior management should be sacked.

Because ordinary people, including the transgender, Muslims, Christians, the disabled, and whoever else – should have a voice, and not just Tories and the owners of big multimedia firms.

 

Beeb Producers Decide News Programmes’ Slant Before Shootingll

February 17, 2020

A few days ago I put up a review of Robin Aitken’s Can We Trust the BBC? (London: Continuum 2007). This argues that the Corporation isn’t full of Conservatives and has a right-wing bias, but the opposite: that it is crammed full of left-wingers and has a marked, institutional bias against Conservatives and the monarchy, former British empire and Christianity. While Aitken musters a considerable amount of evidence for this, he also ignores the far greater amount of evidence against his view. The Beeb has nearly always been biased against the Labour party and the trade unions, although I’m prepared to admit that there may have been pockets in the Beeb, like Scotland, where Aitken started his career, that may have been more left-wing. If this changed, it was while the Beeb was under the control of John Birt and Greg Dyke. But while Dyke may have been a member of the Labour Party, he was a New Labour convert to the free market. Which means he definitely wasn’t Old Labour. Since the departure of Dyke, the Beeb has become very blatantly biased against Labour and especially against Jeremy Corbyn. It did as much as the rest of the media to push the anti-Semitism smears.

But there is one part of Aitken’s argument that I believe, and still think remains true today, even after Brit’s departure and the Beeb’s alleged return to the Right. Aitken states that Birt wasn’t satisfied with merely presenting the news. He wanted the Beeb to contextualise and explain it. And this meant that news and documentary producers decided on their programmes’ content and direction before they shot any footage or interviewed anyone. Aitken writes

I saw Birtism close up when I moved to the Money Programme. This long-established show had a loyal audience for its Sunday evening slot, but the old populist format was viewed with disdain by Birt. What he wanted was analysis, and lots of it. The new programme style was uncompromising. A subject would be chosen – say electricity privatisation – and a storyline worked out. A detailed script including putative interviews was worked up before a single word had been uttered by an interviewee, or a frame of film shot. We worked from written sources (previous articles/ analyses by academics) and briefings by individual experts.The fine detail of these scripts was obsessively wrangled over until, finally, filming actually began. The task then was to make sure reality conformed to our preconceptions.

All this accorded with Birt’s philosophy. In his autobiography, The Harder Path, he writes: ‘Directors and reporters were sent off with a clear specification of the story their film should tell … [they] … had lost the freedom of the road; they had forfeited much of their discretion’. Birt had encountered stiff resistance to this methodology at Weekend World, similarly at The Money Programme the producers and reporters resented the new straitjacket but had to embrace the new orthodoxy. (pp. 23-4).

My guess is that this system is still very much in place. It’s why the Beeb has followed the rest of the media in demonising the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic. And it’s particularly responsible for the horrendous bias of the Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This was so extreme that it sparked a storm of complaints and resulted in the production of a documentary film refuting it. A film that inevitably was attacked by the same fanatical Zionist witch hunters responsible for the smears against Labour.

The Corporation’s bias may have changed from Labour to Conservative – if it was ever ‘Labour’ in the first place – but the mindset and methodology behind the biased reporting is exactly the same.

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

February 15, 2020

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comedian David Baddiel Presents Show Attacking Holocaust Denial

February 13, 2020

Next Monday at 9.00 pm on BBC 2, the Beeb is showing the documentary, Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Despite being one of the most documented events in history, one in six people worldwide believes the Holocaust has been exaggerated or denies that it ever took place. Here, David Baddiel anatomises that denial, from the Nazis’ bid to hide what they were doing to the roles of the British establishment in downplaying the extent to which Jews were the victims and of social media in affording anti-Semitism a platform. David also visits Chelmno, where tens of thousands died, and meets Rachel levy, one of the Holocaust’s few remaining survivors.

I absolutely don’t have a problem with confronting and refuting Holocaust denial whatsoever. It was one of the most monstrous crimes of the 20th century, and the people who deny or minimise it do so in order to sanitise Nazism in the hope of some day getting it back into power. They’re despicable. But I do have issues with this programme, because I’m afraid of a hidden pro-Zionist agenda that will boost the anti-Semitism smear merchants.

Part of this is their choice of presenter. David Baddiel is a brilliantly funny comedian. I went to see him once at the Cheltenham Literary Festival talking about his new book, and he had the room in stitches. He’s also ferociously intelligent with a double first and doctorate from Oxford. But he’s also one of Groaniad’s commentariat, who pushed the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. He appeared on various TV shows making these claims. He also wrote a piece in the Guardian claiming that Corbyn was a terrible anti-Semite because he pronounced Jeffrey Epstein’s name ‘Epshtein’. This was supposed to be an attempt to make the deceased magnate and paedophile less English or, rather, American, by stressing his non-English-speaking origins.

It’s a rubbish argument. Unless you’re aware that Epstein, or others with the same name, are Jewish and pronounce it differently, the name looks German. And Corbyn gave it the German pronunciation. There’s nothing inherently racist in that. Consider the number of gentile Brits with foreign names, like the Eurosceptic politico Mark Francois. Presumably his surname is given the French pronunciation, but this is not taken to mean that Francois is less British. Although it is ironic that someone with a continental name should have such a hatred of the European Union. Similarly, Mike and myself have also had people pronounce our surname incorrectly as if it were French. It isn’t, and that’s not how we say it. But I don’t believe that the people mispronouncing our surname did so deliberately or were consciously trying to denigrate us as somehow not really British or English.

Also, Baddiel himself is hardly innocent of racism. Older readers of this blog may remember the show he and Frank Skinner had on the Beeb in the ’90s, Fantasy Football League. This was a bit of sport comedy. But one of the recurring ‘jokes’, in retrospect, seems at best tasteless, and at worse markedly racist. Baddiel used to appear in blackface wearing a pineapple and dreadlocks in order to mock the appearance of the Black footballer, Jason Lee, who was then playing for Nottingham Forest. He was taking the mick out of Lee’s hairstyle, which was a mixture of the corn rows and dreads. But this led to ‘pineapple head’ being used as a racist insult against Blacks with a similar hairstyle. Tony Greenstein included a piece about this from The Weekly Worker when he attacked Baddiel for pushing the anti-Semitism smears last year.

Baddiel invented the slur ‘Pineapple Heads’ for Black people with ‘Dredds & Cornrows’. Professor Ben Carrington details the strategic exploitative depths into which this campaign of the TV series Fantasy Football plunged and further extended its impact on other Black citizens. “David Baddiel ‘Blacked up’ (evoking the barely coded racist imagery of the minstrel shows) with a pineapple on his head out of which Jason Lee’s dreadlocks were growing – the ‘joke’ being that Jason Lee’s ‘dreads’ resemble a fruit on top of his head. This joke was then carried out with increasing frequency for the rest of the series, with young children sending in drawings of Jason Lee adorned with various fruit on his head. The pineapple joke was then taken up by football fans in the terraces who chanted songs about Jason Lee’s hair and significantly transcended the normally insular world of football fandom and entered into the public domain as both a descriptive term and a form of ridicule (‘Pineapple Head’) for any black person with dreads tied back”. 

Inevitably, many of those subjected to the abusive copy-cat street ‘ridicule’, Carrington identifies were children.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/david-baddiels-allegation-of-anti.html

Now I realise that this was a long time ago, and things were slightly different in the ’90s, but it was still pretty tasteless even then. I don’t know if Baddiel regrets the joke, but I doubt that he ever gave it much thought, to be honest. But with this on his record, he may not be the best presenter of a programme dedicated to exposing a particularly nasty form of racism.

And I really don’t want the programme to confer on him a spurious moral authority then next time he starts screaming about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Because people will believe his lies and smears simply because he presented a programme about Holocaust denial, and because he was correct about that, so he must somehow be correct about anti-Semitism in Labour.

One of the issues the programme tackles is the way the British authorities tried to play down the Jews as the victims of Nazi atrocities, because they feared that if they included them gentiles would not believe it. There’s a long article about the documentary in the Radio Times, which includes this

More unsettling is the document Baddiel examines at the National Archives in Kew, a memo from a British official warning that stories of Nazi atrocities will only be effective in the eyes of the British public if the victims can be shown to be “indisputably innocent”. That, writes the official, means the victims must include no violent criminals, and no Jews. To Baddiel, “that was a very serious form of denial. It was laying the ground for a general sense of disbelief towards the Holocaust.”

But there’s also a Zionist double standard here. The Zionist organisations initially also didn’t want Jews singled out as the particular victims of the Nazis. They were afraid that if they did so, it would mean that the world would regard the Jews as being too weak to have their own state. By that same logic, Zionism is also guilty of laying the ground for Holocaust denial. But Baddiel and the Radio Times say nothing.

He also tackles the problem of Holocaust denial among the Palestinians in Gaza. The Radio Times says of this

He hears a Palestinian scholar explain that high rates of Holocaust denial in Gaza owe more to a desire to hurt Jews in their most sensitive spot than a genuine refusal to believe the facts. Baddiel understands that logic – then admits to the camera that his own understanding has made him “uneasy” because, as he tells me later, “Where does understanding shade into legitimacy, into saying “This isn’t quite so bad”? The next thing you know, you’re accepting Holocaust denial.In the film, that the point at which I’m most uncertain.”

But this also raises the issues of Zionist double standards and the way they have manipulated the Holocaust for their own political ends. The Palestinians have their own counterpart of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust. This is the Nakba, an Arabic word for disaster or catastrophe, which the Palestinians use to describe the foundation of Israel and its consequent massacre and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population. The Israeli state, in contrast to its historians, admits that some villages were massacred, but the reality is that there were many, many more. The victims included unarmed men, women and children, including those walking towards the Zionist soldiers with gifts of food, and seeking shelter in mosques. The Israeli state also maintains that the Palestinians were told by their own leaders to flee, but subsequent research has shown that this again is fake history, and these instructions or the rumours of them were manufactured by the nascent Israeli spy agencies. But this is also consistently denied by the Israelis.

And the Israeli state does exploit the Holocaust as a political symbol. In one Holocaust Day ceremony, Israeli troopers marched into the arena in which the commemorations were being held. But as soon as Orla Guerin, the Beeb’s Israel correspondent, mentioned this, she was attacked as an anti-Semite by the Zionist shills, including the Beeb’s former head of programming. Baddiel is right to call out Palestinian Holocaust denial, but it does need to be put in context as a reaction to their history of ethnic cleansing by the Jewish state. It is not simply an act of malicious spite just for the sake of it.

Baddiel and the Beeb are doing a good job by tackling Holocaust denial. But I am afraid that the selection of Baddiel as presenter, and the programme’s omission of Zionist complicity in it, and in ethnic cleansing in Palestine, will act to give it a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist slant. And Baddiel’s own racist jokes about Black hairstyles could be seen as showing the Beeb has double standards of its own. Racism against Blacks is acceptable, while anti-Semitism is not.

But racism is racism, whatever the colour or ethnicity of the person perpetrating it.