Posts Tagged ‘Blacks’

Boris Johnson – A Racist Candidate for a Racist Party

June 21, 2019

A few days ago, Ian Blackford, an SNP MP caused an uproar in parliament by having the temerity to call Johnson what he is, and say what a very large number of the British public are thinking and saying: that Johnson is a racist. He cited a poem Johnson had published in the Spectator when he was its editor, about how a giant wall should be built around Scotland and the gates closed to turn it into a giant ghetto, who inhabitants should be exterminated. He mentioned again Johnson’s infamous comments about Black Africans, describing African children as ‘grinning pickanninies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’, as well as his infamous Torygraph article attacking the burka. He described those women, who chose to wear it as looking like letterboxes or bin bags. This caused a storm of outrage from the Tories, who accused Blackford of unparliamentary conduct and Blackford did get a caution from Bercow as a result. But as Mike showed today on an article in his blog, very many ordinary Brits on Twitter agree with Blackford. Johnson is a racist, and indeed, so is his party. This was also made very clear by a post about Johnson and his noxious racism on Zelo Street. Johnson had been asked about his derogatory comments about Muslims. He responded by saying that he was mistaken, and apologised, but he felt that people wanted someone who talked straight about these issues to be their Prime Minister. This drew massive applause from the Tories. The article pointed out that the article wasn’t mistaken, it was racist, and by applauding him and supporting his leadership bid, the Tories were showing that they supported and shared his racism.

Now there are stresses created by multiculturalism and the problems of adapting to an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse society. One the one hand, there are fears that alienated Muslims and other minorities may create parallel societies away from mainstream institutions and values. On the other, many Whites do feel marginalised by the growth of non-White communities, with the ‘White flight’ from the multiracial urban centres to the suburbs or rural communities. A few months ago there was a documentary about the last Whites in the East End of London, which discussed how the number of Whites in this part of the capital was declining as they moved away and the older generation died off. Several of the people interviewed on the programme were Black and Asian, who lamented how the White members of their shared community were dwindling. One Muslim gent lamented that his son or children would not see any more White people in this area.

But the Tories don’t try to solve these problems constructively. They don’t try to bring people of different colours, ethnicities and religions together. They just try to exploit White, and particularly White English racism and resentment for their electoral advantage. 

The animus towards Scotland is a case in point. The poem’s recommendation that the Scots people should all be imprisoned behind a gigantic wall actually seems to me to be highly unoriginal. Apart from the fact that the emperor Hadrian did it with his wall, it was done again more recently in the horror flick World War Z. In this Hollywood blockbuster, the world is suffering from a zombie apocalypse. The whole of Scotland, or as near as makes no difference, gets infected, and so they’re sealed off from the rest of Britain behind a wall and an enormous part of gates. I did wonder what the great Scots philosopher and political scientist, Rab C. Nesbit, would have said about it all. Probably ‘What in the name of God! Govan’s no that bad!’

I don’t think the poem was by any means isolated. From what I can remember, it was probably part of a campaign against Scotland, the SNP and New Labour, and with the latter, specifically Gordon Brown. I can remember the Heil publishing a series of articles in which he more than suggested that Scotland was now far more privileged than England. Devolution meant that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish now had their parliaments and assemblies, but the English didn’t. And while the English couldn’t vote on Scots issues, thanks to devolution, the Scots were voting on English matters. Moreover, New Labour’s leadership was dominated by Scots – Tony Blair, Derry Irvine and Gordon Brown. The attacks on the Scots were a very cynical ploy by the Tories to overturn Labour’s majority. Labour held the majority of British constituencies, but this depended on their seats in Scotland. If those were removed, then the Tories would hold the majority of seats in England. I’ve heard that during New Labour’s term in office, the Tories were on the verge of breaking up and that there were suggestions that the party should be dissolved and rebranded instead as the ‘English Nationalists’. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do remember reading articles in the Heil about the fate of the Tory party if Britain and Scotland went their separate ways. This seems to be the background to that nasty little piece of anti-Scots bigotry in the Speccie.

And the Spectator tried the same with Blacks.

They had to be more careful about this, as they couldn’t get away with it to the same extent as their sneers about the Scots. The Scots are largely White Europeans, rather than a race, nor a persecuted minority in the same way as Blacks and other people of colour have been, and so it’s permissible to make jokes about them or abuse them in ways that would be viewed as racist if done to other groups. But the Spectator tried the same tactics. Way back c. 2004 it ran an article, ‘Blackened Whites’, argued that Whites were unfairly accused for racism. This started out by saying that despite all the rhetoric of multiculturalism and pluralism, there was one group that wasn’t welcome in the streets of central London: White men. London certainly is a very ethnically diverse city, and the last time I looked at the stats over a third of its population were Black or Asian. But that doesn’t mean that Whites aren’t welcome in central London, or other areas where there’s a large Black or Asian population. It looks to me that the article was attempting to play up the resentment some White men feel about affirmative action programmes aimed at ethnic minorities and women. And in this the Tories were – and still are – copying the Republicans, who were deliberately targeting ‘angry White men’.

And this is apart from the Speccie’s contributor, Taki, the Greek playboy, who regularly made racist and anti-Semitic comments in his column. Most recently he caused offence once again when he published a piece praising the Greek Golden Dawn, a bunch of Nazis, who beat up immigrants and left-wingers. One of their leaders was charged with the murder of a left-wing activist.

There is also the deeply ingrained racism of the Tory papers the Scum, Depress and Heil. Or the scandal of institutional Islamophobia in the Tory ranks, as well as the long tradition of racism within the Tory party. Some of us can still remember the scandal caused by the Union of Conservative Students and their racist antics, including the demand that the Tory party should adopt racial nationalism – the ideology of the Nazi fringe, like the National Front and BNP – as their official policy in the 1980s. Zelo Street has also published a series of articles about the findings of one individual on Twitter or Facebook, who revealed the viciously racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic posts by supporters of Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogge on social media.

Despite David Cameron’s efforts to modernise the party and clean up its image, the Tories are still very much a racist party, and so its no surprise that a sizable number of them are supporting Boris Johnson’s bid to lead it.

As for how we should deal with them, I remember the episode of Rab C. Nesbit in which Burnie, the younger of his two sons, decides he’s a Nazi. This ends with Nesbit grabbing Burnie’s ear to administer a suitable walloping while singing ‘Gettest thou to buggery, thou horrid little shite’. I don’t support cruelty to children, and we can’t do it to Johnson. Unfortunately.

But we can all recognise his racism and that of his vile party, and take our votes and our hopes for a better Britain elsewhere.

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The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.

Tony Greenstein on Zionist Opposition to the Commemoration of other Holocausts

June 9, 2019

This past week has been dominated by the ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 in an invasion that was to roll back the German forces. With the Soviet advance across eastern Europe, the invasion eventually led to the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe. The news coverage of the various displays, ceremonies and discussions of the events of D-Day and their historical significance have also included the Holocaust, and calls for its survivors each to be given proper honours by the Queen.

I’ve absolutely no objection to this. These men and women, now obviously thinned by time and old age, survived a true living hell at the hands of a regime that has come to symbolise tyranny and mass murder at its darkest, most extreme and malign. I also believe that the Holocaust needs to be taught, remembered and properly understood and placed in its historical, sociological and political context. The forces of the extreme Right, though severely beaten, are always at the political margins, seeking to gain a foothold back into power. Thanks to neoliberalism and its impoverishment of the masses in order to benefit the elite super-rich, Fascism and extreme right-wing populism is now on the rise again across Europe and America, from Donald Trump in the US to UKIP and the Brexit party here in the UK, Marine Le Pen and her crew in France, and the AfD in Germany. These last contain some unreconstructed, real Nazis, who have denounced their country’s Holocaust monument as ‘a badge of shame’ and have said that when they get into power, they will open up an underground railway to the infamous death camp. And then there’s the various bitterly racist and anti-Semitic regimes in eastern Europe, like Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, the Baltic states and their determination to honour as patriotic heroes Nazi collaborators during War, and the truly Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukraine.

Now more than ever we need to show how genocidal Fascism arises, and leads nations to commit the most horrific atrocities.

However, nearly a month ago, on the 13th May 2019, Tony Greenstein, a Jewish activist against all forms of racism and Fascism, and particularly its Jewish form, Zionism, put up a piece on his blog arguing that the Holocaust should not be commemorated. It’s a highly controversial piece, and obviously shocking to very many. But Greenstein is not alone, and his piece is backed up by very strong arguments. For example, it was only after the 1967 War that Israel began commemorating the Shoah. Before then they played it down and actively discouraged its commemoration. It was felt that the sufferings of the Jewish people would reflect badly on their ability to found a new state for themselves. The survivors themselves were vilified. Greenstein states that in Israel they were subject to the disgusting epithet ‘sapon’ – soap – from the myth that the Nazis turned the bodies of those murdered in the gas  chambers into the substance.

Greenstein also shows that, despite Holocaust Day being a regularly part of the Israeli calendar and the emphasis on the Holocaust and its commemoration in the Israeli education system, with young Israelis taken on trips to Auschwitz, there is no proper understanding of it or the reasons behind it. Instead, Israelis are simply taught that it was due to anti-Semitism. The result is that the Holocaust is used to foster the sense of national persecution and intense patriotism, especially against the indigenous Arabs. Forty-four per cent of young Israelis don’t believe that Arabs should be elected to the Knesset. And no Israeli, after visiting Auschwitz, has gone to the walls and fences around Gaza, and vowed ‘Never again’ for its citizens as well.

As for the Shoah’s survivors in Israel, many of them live in abject poverty, denied the compensation that Israel has claimed on their behalf. Which shows how hypocritical the Israeli state’s attitude to the welfare of these people, who endured so much, actually is. 

But the Zionists are determined that the Holocaust should be considered a unique event, a phenomenon that occurred only to the Jews. In fact Gypsies were also singled out for extermination because of their race in Nazi Germany, and the techniques of mass murder – gassing with Zyklon B cyanide gas – was developed first to destroy the congenitally disabled, who were also considered racially undesirable. The Holocaust also had a precedent in the Armenian Massacres, the attempt by the Young Turks regime to exterminate the entire Armenian people, when they rose up against their imperial masters during the First World War. Hitler was encouraged to move to the mass extermination of the Jews by his observation that the great powers – Britain, France and America – had done nothing to stop this genocide. ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ he remarked.

And in order to preserve the idea that the Holocaust was a unique event, peculiar only to the Jews, some Zionists have also done their best to discourage comparable commemorations of the Nazi murder of the Romany and disabled, or the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians. Greenstein wrote

The elevation of the Jewish Holocaust above all other acts of genocide not only suggests that it is unique but that it has nothing to tell us beyond the fact that it occurred. If the purpose of remembering and commemorating acts of genocide is to prevent their reoccurrence and to act as a warning against their repetition, why single out one act of genocide? The genocide of the Gypsies and the Disabled are all but omitted from Holocaust museums such as Yad Vashem and the Washington US Holocaust Museum. The genocide of Africans in the slave trade or Armenians forms no part of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Indeed from the days of Herzl onwards there has been a determined refusal by Zionism to acknowledge the Armenian massacres and genocide. Lucy Dawidowicz, a prominent Zionist historian went so far as to say that unlike the Nazis, the Turks had a ‘rational’ reason for massacring Armenians. Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Hertzberg, all prominent Zionists, withdrew from an international  conference on genocide in Tel Aviv when the sponsors refused to remove sessions on the Armenians. (Novick pp. 192-193, Finkelstein pp. 69-70)  The Zionist lobby in the United States has repeatedly opposed any commemoration of the Armenian holocaust.

Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, in a debate with Dr Sybil Milton, the Senior Resident Historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Council argued that

‘the tragedy of the Gypsies’ whilst being ‘ no less poignant, and no less horrible’ was nonetheless not part of the Holocaust. Whilst ‘it happened at the same time as the Holocaust, and there are of course many similarities. Yet it appears to me that the Holocaust is very much a unique case. If someone prefers to call it Judeocide, that is his her privilege. It is exactly the same thing: it is the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.’

For Zionism the Holocaust is a Jewish only affair. Sybil Milton, who was herself Jewish, responded succinctly:

‘(The) Nazi genocide, popularly known as the Holocaust, can be defined as the mass murder of human beings because they belonged to a biologically defined group. Heredity determined the selection of the victims. The Nazi regime applied a consistent and inclusive policy of extermination- based on heredity- only against three groups of human beings: the handicapped, Jews, and Gypsies.’

This correspondence ‘Gypsies and the Holocaust’ can be found in The History Teacher, Vol. 25, No. 4. (Aug., 1992), pp. 513-521.

Wiesel’s, Dershowitz’s and Hertzberg’s decision to walk out of the international conference on genocide because its inclusion of the Armenian massacres, in my view, is no doubt a direct contradiction of the fellowship many Jews feel towards them because of both peoples’ shared experience of genocide. It can be seen, for example, in the play, Burning Issues, which Mike and I saw at the theatre in Quakers Friars here in Bristol way back in the ’90s. Set in the American publishing industry, it’s similar to King Lear in that the drama is about an elderly, failing patriarch being challenged by his children. In this case, the central character is an Jewish publisher, who is determined to bring out an exhaustive encyclopaedia of the Holocaust. His fixation with the Third Reich is damaging sales, however, and his children wish to rescue the firm from bankruptcy by ditching the project and publishing something far more popular instead. The old man is himself a survivor of the Shoah, and his closest relationship is with his Armenian cleaner through the shared bond of surviving the attempted extermination of their peoples. The behaviour of Dawidowicz, Wiesel, Hertzberg and Dershowitz in their refusal to allow the extermination of other groups into the memorialisation of the Holocaust, even when they are directly comparable and relevant, is disgusting and should rule them out utterly as any kind of moral authorities on this subject.

Greenstein goes on to consider how the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, has been used to whitewash many extreme right-wing political leaders from around the world. People like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has compared himself to Hitler, and the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, which was founded by two former members of the SS. These politicians sign agreements with Israel, duly visit Yad Vashem, at which they lay wreaths, and then are duly legitimised by Israel’s Zionist establishment as friends of the Jews.

He also describes how Yad Vashem doesn’t discuss the Nazis’ murder of other ethnic groups during the Holocaust, quoting one of the journalists for the Israeli paper Haaretz. He says

Blatman noted the absence of Yad Vashem from the 5thGlobal Conference on Genocide in Jerusalem in 2016. Why? It has nothing to say on anything bar the Jewish genocide. Blatman wrote of how  

None of the hundreds of scientific events organized by Yad Vashem has been dedicated to the Holocaust and genocide…. You have to look hard to find any reference to the destruction of other populations in the Holocaust, and its chief aim seems to be to silence criticism. Similar museums in Paris and Washington hold regular activities on these topics

Whilst Yad Vashem studies what happened to the Jews in Polish or Ukrainian cities ‘they rarely address Nazi atrocities against other ethnic groups’. They study the minute detail of what happened to the Jews without ever seeing the wider picture. Yad Vashem ‘helps keep the Holocaust in a narrow Jewish ghetto that serves the xenophobic manipulations Israel makes of it.’

That is why Yad Vashem has never given birth to a comprehensive book on the Holocaust such as Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution or Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews. Holocaust research in Israel has done nothing to combat racism.

In fact, Yehuda Elkana, an Israeli historian, believed instead that the commemoration of the Holocaust had been so appropriated and corrupted by the Zionists, including Yad Vashem, that it was actively fostering Israeli racism. The only lessons they had learned from it was that Jews were victims, and so they were morally empowered to do anything against those they considered enemies with force. Elkana therefore argued that the Holocaust needs to be forgotten. Greenstein also quotes another Jewish scholar, Gideon Levy, who made the same point.

Greenstein himself writes

The Holocaust cannot be forgotten. The question is how it is remembered, by whom and for what purpose. Zionism’s abuse of Holocaust memory has to be challenged. Under capitalism all memory serves a purpose.

And concludes

The Holocaust needs to be reclaimed by the Left and Anti-Fascism.  For too long the Zionist movement has got away with harnessing the Holocaust to the chariot of racism and ethnic cleansing.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2019-05-15T04:00:00%2B01:00&max-results=7&start=17&by-date=false

Absolutely. If Europe is to be saved from the new wave of racism and Fascism, it has to be by showing how similar the Holocaust is to the other prejudices and strains of racism now spreading across Europe. Like hatred of Blacks, Asians and Islamophobia. This needs to be done because vicious islamophobes like Tommy Robinson will declare their support for Israel and march with the extreme Right Jewish Defence League on the grounds that Israel is an outpost of western civilisation that needs to be defended from Islam.

It is absolutely disgusting that Zionism, or at least leading Zionists, are not allowing and indeed have actively blocked the commemoration of similar genocides against other ethnic groups in their memorialisation of the Holocaust. Just as it also shows that Jackie Walker had a point in her complaint that the plans by the Jewish Labour Movement to commemorate the Shoah also left out the genocidal persecution of other peoples and races, like the slave trade in Black Africans.

It is entirely right that survivors of the Holocaust should receive proper honours by her Maj at the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But we desperately need to remember also that they were and are not alone as the victims of attempted extermination. These horrors continue today, such as the Chinese state’s attempts to destroy the culture and ethnic identity of Uighurs of Sinkiang. The victims of these genocides are every bit as worthy as the generation, who passed through the Shoah, and their suffering every bit as deserving of commemoration and condemnation.

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Confusion over Anti-Semitism Definition and Labour Anti-Semitism Smears

May 31, 2019

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is one of the very few columnists I make of point of reading in the I. She writes about racial issues, and I respect her because she’s even-handed. She not only attacks not only White, but also Black and Asian racism and prejudice. But I do have reservations and criticisms of her work. One of these is that she, like the rest of the British establishment media, completely accepts the smears and lies about the existence of massive anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

On Tuesday, 28th May 2019 Tony Greenstein put up a piece on his great blog, praising her for condemning the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism. This is the definition of anti-Semitism that, as its author, the Zionist Kenneth Stern, has testified, has been used by the Israel lobby and militant Zionists to try to silence critics of Israel and its crimes and atrocities against the Palestinians. Alibhai-Brown had said that she does not support it in a piece she wrote in her column in the I the previous week. This was actually about how she rejected the latest attempts to formulate an official definition of islamophobia. This condemns hatred of Muslims or expressions of ‘Muslimness’. She objected to it because, as a modern, liberal Muslim, she was afraid that her community’s reactionary bigots would use this definition to try to silence critics of their intolerance. She pointed in particular to the current mass demonstrations against the teaching of homosexuality to primary school children in a school in Birmingham. It is not just Muslims who are protesting against this – they’ve been joined by Christians and members of other faiths, and the teacher who tried to introduce it was forced out when he did the same at a Christian school a little while ago. Alibhai-Brown said in her article that she objected to the proposed official definition of islamophobia, just as she objected to the I.H.R.A.’s definition of anti-Semitism. Both could be used unfairly to silence criticism.

This is where I think that, at best, her thinking is confused. As someone, who professes genuinely to take an interest in combating racism and is unimpressed with the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism because of its chilling role in silencing legitimate criticism, she must, you would think, realise that so much of the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour party are precisely that. Last year the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, not to mention the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, all made accusations screaming that the Labour party was institutionally anti-Semitic because it first did not accept the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, and then, when it did, didn’t accept the examples. They then carried on baying their smears until the party finally accepted it in full. As Tony Greenstein has pointed out again and again on his blog, along with Martin Odoni, David Rosenberg and so many other Jewish bloggers and activists, this has zero to do with actually trying to defend Jews from real anti-Semitism. As they, and other non-Jewish activists like Mike over at Vox Political have said, this is all about trying to silence critics of Israel, or those, like Mike, who’ve defended critics of Zionism like Ken Livingstone.

And if Alibhai-Brown really is serious about combating racism, she should know that, actually, there’s very little of it in the Labour party, as has been made very plain by Jewish organisations like Jewdas and Jewish Voice for Labour. Instead the accusations were motivated primarily to oust Jeremy Corbyn, not because he’s an anti-Semite – he never has nor will be – but because he’s genuinely anti-racism and pro-Palestinian. And he threatens to overturn the wretched neoliberal politics that have seen Brits from nearly all Britain’s diverse communities, including Jews, robbed of control over their lives and thrust into grinding poverty and misery. Because Corbyn is traditional Labour, the Thatcherites within and without the Labour party tried smearing him as a Trotskyite and a Communist. This didn’t stick, and so they took up the rants from the Jewish establishment that he was an anti-Semite because these did, with some help from a very biased media that was more than economical with the truth. Like the Sunday Times and its correspondent, Gabriel Pogrund, who libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier simply because he’s a Corbyn supporter, who pointed out that Livingstone was quite right when he said that the Hitler initially supported Zionism. Which he did, and is recorded fact, as noted on the website of the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel, in its piece on the Ha’avara agreement between the two.

But the British lamestream media as a whole, including Private Eye, supports and promotes the myth that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour Party. Indeed, anyone, who dares say that it isn’t is accused of being an anti-Semite in turn, just as the critics of the witch hunt at Salem are accused of being witches themselves in Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible. As I’ve said ad nauseam, it’s long past time that the witch hunt was ended and shown up for the travesty it is, and proper restitution given to the victims of the smears and libels. Victims like Tony, Martin, Mike, and also Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Cyril Chilson.

I am glad that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown does condemn the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, but deeply disappointed that she still promotes the myth of rabid anti-Semitism in the Labour party. But I’m not surprised. Given the way the Israel lobby freely used smear and libel, I guess it’s more than her reputation and career are worth. 

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

To Stop the Fash, Vote Labour against Farage

May 23, 2019

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m asking everyone to vote Labour today to stop the rise of Fascism generally and Nigel Farage’s grubby Brexit party in particular. Mike’s put up a piece this morning making this point, and citing some great tweets from people who know exactly what’s at stake.

As Zelo Street pointed out yesterday, Farage is not a man of the people. He’s one of the elite he rails against, hobnobbing with George Osborne and nipping round to Buck House for garden parties with the Queen. He’s a millionaire financier who wants to privatise the NHS and destroy the welfare state. He will do absolutely nothing about low wages and exploitative part time and zero hours contracts. And if he wins, he will receive immense support from Tory defectors and donors, flocking to him in reaction to the failures of their own party. Or else his victory will encourage them to become even more virulently right-wing.

He is anti-feminist and racist. One of his old teachers has said that he used to sing Nazi songs when he was a schoolboy and was something of a Fascist even then. The Brexit party, like UKIP, is not just against the EU but against immigration, and particularly and most vehemently against non-Whites and Muslims. Under Farage, UKIP used an photograph of a long line of Muslim immigrants waiting to get into the West that was exactly like a similar picture of Jewish migrants fleeing eastern Europe used by the Nazis.

Hope Not Hate are so worried about the Far Right winning that they are urging their supporters to tweet that they are voting today, and that they will take people to the polling booths to stop Farage winning by voting for any other party except those of the far right. This is the message I got from them today by email:

I’ve just done the most important thing I can do in this campaign – vote.

This election has been extraordinary. From Nigel Farage to Carl Benjamin to Tommy Robinson, we’ve seen a huge number of people standing for office on a platform of hatred and division.

The most effective antidote to the poison they seek to spread is a simple act that all of us can engage in today – voting.

That’s why I’m sending you this email. I need you to do two things:

    1. Click here to send a tweet saying that you’re voting today
    2. Head to your polling station today and #VoteHOPE

Those standing on a platform of hate all have one thing in common – they are relying on a low voter turnout to win their elections. That’s why it’s so important that as well as voting yourself, you also get everyone you know to do the same.

Whether it’s taking your colleagues to the polling station on your lunch break, or posting on social media to reach as many people as possible, it’s vital that we get everyone we know to a voting booth before 10pm.

Good luck, and have a great day.

Nick Lowles

CEO, HOPE not hate

One of those links is for donations to the organisation. I haven’t done so myself, but I do encourage everyone to take their advice about voting. Obviously, they’re not asking people specifically to vote Labour. But I believe that only the Labour party will stand a chance of defeating the Fuhrage and the rest of the Fascists through creating a strong anti-Fascist bloc in Europe and attacking the root causes of the rise of Fascism: neoliberalism.

People have fought and died to get working men and women the vote. Use it, and vote wisely.

But if you can’t vote Labour, then please vote for one of the mainstream, non-racist parties.

It’s imperative to vote Labour. But even more so is the need to stop the Fash (Fascists) winning.

No pasaran!

 

Surveillance Britain: Police Using Massively Inaccurate Facial Recognition Technology on Ordinary Brits

May 20, 2019

Here’s another piece of news that should further worry anyone concerned that Britain is slowly sliding down the tubes towards a surveillance state. The rozzers have launched a pilot scheme for a facial recognition system. They’re testing it out by photographing the fizzogs of ordinary British citizens walking down the streets. And it’s already resulted in one extremely dubious arrest. One man didn’t want to be photographed by the cops, and so he hid his face. The rozzers then pounced and fined him for ‘disorderly conduct’. This was filmed by the Beeb’s Politics Live. It’s completely disgraceful. The man had committed no crime, except to protect his own privacy against the state.

Mike in his article on this points out that there have been a couple of incidents where attempts to compile information on ordinary members of the public have resulted in disastrous mistakes, or deeply worrying infringements of personal freedom. For example, there were the innocent people, who suddenly found themselves with criminal records when their prospective employers started making background checks. Many of them were wrongly left without jobs because of this. And then there’s the DNA genetic database scandal, in which genetic material obtained from the public has been kept by the police, some of which was then illegally passed on for use in genetic research.

Mike also shows how this technology is also massively inaccurate. It had a failure rate of 96 per cent in eight trials in London between 2016 and 2018 according to the Independent. The software gave false positives, wrongly identifying innocent people as crims. It was also deployed twice in a shopping centre outside Stratford last year, where it had a failure rate of 100 per cent. This resulted in people being wrongly identified, including a 14 year old Black schoolboy, who was fingerprinted. The cops also stopped people for covering their faces and wearing hoods, and one man was fined for doing so in  Romford. The Independent found that shoppers were unaware their photos were being taken, despite the rozzers’ claim that the tests were overt, and campaigners have said that it’s being rolled out by stealth.

But despite its dangers and massive inaccuracy, the scheme is being defended by the Tories. Police Minister Nick Hurd has said that the technology offers ‘real opportunities’, said we are not a surveillance state, and that they have no intention of becoming one, and so the new technology must be used in a way that is sensitive to their impact on privacy, and proportionate.

To which Mike comments

Fail. It’s not sensitive to privacy and its use isn’t proportionate. But the Tories – and the police – won’t withdraw it, so we can only conclude that we do – indeed – live in a police surveillance state.

Police state Britain: Failed facial recognition pilot leads to fine for disorderly conduct. WTF?

This is precisely the type of information gathering that Privacy International and other campaigners were warning about in the ’90s. When DNA evidence first began to be collected, there were fears that it would be used to set up a national DNA database. In one incident, all the men in a small town where a rape had been committed were asked to supply samples of their DNA. There were concerns about what would happen to it afterwards, and that the material would be retained, even though the men were innocent. There were also fears that the collection of such samples would go from being simple requests to demands, and that anyone who refused, would automatically come under suspicion, even though they may be innocent.

It also reminds of the way the police also started compiling records in the 1980s of people they considered suspicious, as revealed in the Beeb documentary, Secret State. Perfectly innocent people suddenly had police files opened on them and their movements recorded for reasons that reflected the prejudices of the cops, rather than anything they’d done. Like being punks. One teenage girl was marked down as a potential suspect simply because she was pregnant and there was no father.

I am also not surprised by the massive failure rate of the technology at the moment. It seems par for the course that any and all information technology adopted by the state should be seriously flawed. Like all the computer systems supplied to local authorities in the 1990s by outsourcing companies like Crapita.

Black people are particularly at risk from these systems. The I newspaper a few weeks ago reported on the concerns about the massive under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the computer industry. Only four per cent of employees in one of the big American tech giants came from ethnic minorities. As a result, the pattern recognition system they developed misidentified Black people as gorillas. Which makes you wonder who programmed this wretched system. The Klan?

As for not becoming a surveillance society, privacy campaigners have warned repeatedly about the dangers of ‘function creep’. Once one innovation or strategy is adopted, other agencies will want to use it, and so it will expand. Also, other forms have surveillance have become normalised. There were serious concerns about the use of CCTV cameras when they first appeared. Alan Moore deliberately wrote them into his depiction of a Fascist Britain in the V for Vendetta comic. He thought at the time that this would really shock people. Niall Ferguson shared his fears. He was also alarmed at how ubiquitous CCTV cameras had become here after he returned from a visit to China. But he was also astonished at how his concerns were not shared by anyone else.

And with the campaign by the IT and automobile industries, I wonder how long it will be before we get the repressive police state and its robots described by the great SF writer Ray Bradbury in his short story, ‘The Pedestrian’. In this tale, a man is stopped by a robotic police car simply for taking a walk in the middle of the night.

It’s SF as the ‘literature of warning’. It’s not meant to be prophetic. But somehow that seems to be the future these technologies are leading to.

Mike Presents Two Good Reasons Not to Vote Tory in these Elections

May 20, 2019

With the European elections looming on Thursday, Mike today has presented two very good reasons why no decent, thinking person, should vote Conservative. Or rather, the Tories themselves have.

The first is Tory grandee Michael Heseltine. The former member of Thatcher’s and Major’s cabinets, who is an ardent pro-European, has said that he will not vote for the party of which he is such a prominent member because of its determination to take us out of the European Union, and because it is infected with extremism. I’ve no doubt this won’t surprise his detractors in the Tories, as Maggie herself once sneered at him as ‘a socialist’. He isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t exactly right in this instance. The Tories do want to take us out of Europe, and they are infected with extremism.

And the second reason exactly proves Heseltine’s point. It’s Boris Johnson, the man who would be Prime Minister. Or in his case, Chief Chump. BoJo has shown himself to be ruthlessly self-seeking, treacherous, conniving, mendacious, vain and massively incompetent. This is the man, who lied that leaving Europe would save the country £300 million + a year better off, and that this money would be spent on the NHS. Nothing of the sort has happened, and Boris was then forced to bluster about how it wasn’t a lie, and nothing was really promised when he plastered it all over the sides of buses. It was just an example, of what could be done with the money. Honest, guv’. And then when the issue of the EU came round again, he was trying to repeat the same lie. He also squandered millions of public money when he was mayor of London on three watercannon, which are illegal in mainland Britain, and so couldn’t be used. And then he wasted £65 million on the plans for a garden bridge that would never be built. This is the same man, who, when he was head of the Foreign Office, started to recited ‘The Road to Mandalay’ when being shown round Thailand’s holiest temple. And couldn’t work out why it might not be tactful when the British ambassador gently told him it wouldn’t be appropriate. The man, who went to Russia to cool tensions down with Putin’s government, and on his return made a speech stoking them back up again. And this is apart from the racism, the comments about ‘grinning pickanninies’ and the membership of the European Research Group. Who, jokingly, called themselves the ‘Grand Wizards’. But it wasn’t a reference to the rank in the Klan, no, honestly.

The fact that Boris sincerely wants to be Prime Minister shows exactly how far to the right it has lurched, and how utterly bereft of talent and integrity its leaders are. Don’t vote for them, in any election.

EU elections: Conservatives deliver two clear reasons NOT to vote for them