Posts Tagged ‘Bristol University’

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.

 

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Rapper Fab 5 Freddy to Host Beeb Film on Renaissance Art

January 25, 2019

More arts news. Also according to yesterday’s I for Thursday, 24th January 2019, the New York rapper Fab 5 Freddy is due to hos a Beeb documentary about the Renaissance. The article, written by Adam Sherwin, ran

Move over Simon Schama, Fab 5 Freddy wants your spot. The New York hip-hop pioneer and former graffiti artist is the unlikely choice to present a BBC 2 documentary on Italian Renaissance Art.

Fab – real name Fred Brathwaite – was approached to do the film, ‘A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy’, after the BBC learnt that he was an art lover who worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 80s, curating the cult artist’s Manhattan shows.

“Amidst superstar artists such as Michelangelo and powerful patrons such as the Medicis, Fab discovers groundbreaking images of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that have slipped through the cracks of art history,” the BBC said. (‘A ‘Fresh’ take on the Renaissance’, p. 21).

It might be a surprising choice, but it seems to be a good one in line with current arts policy of getting different voices to open up the arts. A number of BAME artists have appeared in the news complaining that there aren’t enough Black artists shown in museums and art galleries, and that when they were small they weren’t interested in visiting them because there was nothing for them there. It therefore looks like the Beeb is trying to appeal to a younger, Black audience with Fab 5 Freddie in order to stop it being viewed as just something made by old White guys for White guys.

I am also not surprised that they chose a former graffiti artist for other reasons. Archaeologists have been working with graffiti artists for several years now in order to explore rock art and its links with modern graffiti art. I can remember attending an archaeological seminar at Bristol university at least six years ago in which one of the speakers presented a piece about their research about the graffiti in a particular area of one of the Spanish towns. And Radio 4 a few years ago also presented a programme about rock art which included comments from some of Britain’s leading street artists.

As for the Renaissance, Florence was a major centre of trade and industry, but historians have pointed out in books like The Renaissance Bazaar that many of the commercial innovations that made the Renaissance possible had their origins further east in the Islamic world. This was also a period when Europeans were turning from the Slavic east to Africa for a supply of slaves, so that you do find Blacks portrayed in art in this period. Not that they weren’t here before, of course. A 12th century manuscript from London in the National Archives shows a Black person, while one of the books that used to be stocked in shop in Bristol’s M Shed was on Blacks in fifteenth century England.

I’ve no doubt critics of the programme will decry it as ‘dumbing down’ and complain about ‘diversity’, but this could be a programme worth watching because of the original insights Fab 5 Freddie could bring.

Bakunin on the Sociological Origins of Crime

December 28, 2018

Here’s another passage from the anarchist Bakunin that’s still very relevant today, in Tory-run Britain. Bakunin was strongly impressed by sociology, and believed, like the French philosophes of the Enlightenment, that humanity and society were governed by laws. So strong was this belief, that he rejected free will completely. I very much reject this philosophical stance, along with his atheism and denial of divine providence, which he claimed made science impossible.

Humans do have free will and not just meat machines, running according to a set of biological or sociological imperatives, and while sociology is a powerful tool for investigating the basis of society and suggesting solutions to social problems, it’s very different from the natural sciences based on experiment and prediction. People are still responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, sociological influences are a powerful cause of crime. Bakunin discusses this in his piece ‘All Round Education’, quoting the stastician Lambert Queteler on the sociological origins of crime, which he believed were completely responsible for its incidence. Bakunin writes

A science of statistics is possible only because of this natural and social inevitability. This science is not satisfied with ascertaining and enumerating social facts but looks for their links to and correlation with the organization of society. Criminal statistics show, for example, that in a given country, in a given town, over a period of ten, twenty, thirty or more years, the same crime or misdemeanor occurs every year in the same proportion [to the total], if the fabric of society has not been altered by political and social crises. Even more remarkably, a given modus operandi recurs from year to year in the same proportion, for example, the number of poisonings, knifings, and shootings, as well as the number of suicides committed one way or another, are almost always the same. This led the famous Belgian statistician Quetelet to utter the following memorable words: ‘Society prepares the crimes while individuals merely carry them out.’

In Robert E. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 122.

Now I can remember one of the postgraduate archaeological students at Bristol University making much the same point as Bakunin in a talk she gave explaining her research into the physical structure of one of Bristol’s historic hospitals. She said that the total number of prison and mental hospitals tends to remain the same, although the proportions of people going to one or the other changes. She went on to discuss the beneficial effects of natural light and contact with the natural world in healing hospital patients and reforming criminals. Despite pressures from government across the political spectrum to cut costs in the prison service and abolish them, prison farms have remained because of their demonstrably strong influence in reforming convicts.

At present, Britain is suffering a very high incidence of crime and suicide. The media has reported the shocking number of knife crimes in the capital. There has been a rise in hate crime, not just against ethnic minorities, including Muslims, but also against the disabled. Suicides have also increased, and as Mike, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and so many other left-wing and disability rights bloggers have pointed out, these have included disabled people, who were left in misery and starvation due to being thrown off their benefits. Several left notes explicitly stating that they were ending their lives due to sanctions by DWP, or being judged ‘fit for work’ under the Work Capability Tests.

Predictably, the Tories have held up their hands and claimed that there is no absolutely no link between their shabby, degrading and vicious welfare policies and the tragic deaths of these people.

This is a lie. The anti-immigration rhetoric and stance of many of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and anti-EU parties and organisations like UKIP has led to an increase in racist hate crime. And the Tories are also responsible for stoking this hostility through their campaigns to get illegal immigrants to turn themselves, their attempt to deport the Windrush generation, despite the fact that they had a perfect right to stay in Britain, and the racist and islamophobic comments of many of their members. Like Boris Johnson and his wretch article describing women wearing the niqub as looking like dustbins and letterboxes. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear it, and many pro-Muslim political figures, like George Galloway are opposed to it. But Galloway also believed that women had a right to wear it, and condemned Johnson’s comments as racist. He was also bitterly critical of Johnson’s remarks along with many other people, including Mike on his blog, because after Johnson made them attacks on women wearing the burka increased. At least woman was killed. Despite this, the Tories concluded that BoJo’s article wasn’t racist, but ‘tolerant’ and ‘respectful’.

There have also been vicious attacks on the homeless and the disabled, again due to Tory policies and the rabid right-wing press, which demonizes the poor and the unemployed as scroungers and the disabled as malingerers. Thanks to rags like the Scum and the Heil, people believe that a quarter of all benefit claims are fraudulent, while the reality is that fake claims account for less than 1 one per cent of them.

The crime figures, and particularly the increase in hate crimes, clearly shows that the Tories have had a disastrous effect on British society, making it more suspicious, hateful and violent. Individuals are still responsible for the crimes they commit, but Quetelet’s and Bakunin’s views are correct. Society is a powerful influence in the amount of crime and suicide.

And the conclusion is undeniable: the Tories have prepared these crimes by deliberately creating a society where they are carried out, however much they scream and try to deny it. They have to be got out, before they cause any more attacks and deaths of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Thinking Aloud Next Week on the Failure of the Business Schools

May 23, 2018

There’s also a very interesting and provocative edition of the Radio 4 programme, Thinking Aloud, next Wednesday at 4.00 pm. Entitled ‘Shut Down the Business School!’ the blurb for it on p. 127 of the Radio Times says

Laurie Taylor talks to Martin Parker, professor at the Department of Management, Bristol University, who argues that business schools have produced a generation of unreflective managers, primarily interested in their own personal rewards. He makes the case for a radical alternative.

This could be very interesting indeed, as the massive pay rises and additional bonus packages awarded by managers for performance, which is either mediocre or utterly disastrous, shows he has a point. Way back in the 1990s Private Eye had a series in which they charted the performance of various companies after they were taken over by various chairmen, who were rewarded with massive salaries. The companies were all top-performing, or at least, they were at the time these much-vaunted managers were given their jobs. The charts were of these companies’ share values, and they showed the companies’ value dropping catastrophically until these managers then left. Usually with a massive, and massively unmerited goodbye package.

And everywhere there seems to be the same pattern. The ordinary workforce is cut, while the ranks of management expand massively. Wages for the lowest ranks of employees are also frozen, or else are given raises below the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the managers give themselves massive pay rises, uses under the pretext of ‘performance related pay’. Even though the stats often show that the companies are actually performing worse than they were before these managers took over. The BBC is itself a prime example of this bloated, top-heavy management structure, but you find it all over industry. It’s part and parcel of the Zombie economics of Thatcherism, and has been criticised by the economist Ha-Joon Chang, amongst others.

Of course, one solution might be to put workers in the boardroom, and tie management pay to the performance of the company and improvements in pay and conditions for the workers, in line with the company’s growth and profitability. If the company prospers, and their workers benefit from the company’s performance, then the managers receive a pay rise. If they don’t, and the workers have to receive a cut in wages, then the management should also see their wages cut. There’s no way that can be brought in without screams from the rich that this would be a terrible imposition on them, and would prevent the best talent coming to British industry. But as I see no evidence at the moment of there being much talent in the massed ranks of British management except for grotesquely enriching themselves at the expense of their workers, there’s absolutely no reason to take this criticism seriously.

James Dyson: Not a Hero of Science, Just a Greedy Exploiter

November 29, 2017

James Dyson, the inventor of that vacuum cleaner, was ono the news again the other day. At least, he was in the Bristol region. Because of his invention’s success, he’s celebrated in the local news here in this part of the West Country as some kind of great scientific hero, leading Britain forward in technological innovation and business acumen. The local news was all over him when he opened a plant to make his vacuums near Bath. They were all over him again when a special site or facility opened down in the old part of the railway station at Temple Meads in Bristol, which was supposed to help bring businessmen together so that they could make deals. He was one of the businessmen, who was called upon to say how wonderful and good for the city it all was.

And then last night, or the night before, he was on the news again. He has decided to open his own, private university specialising in engineering. Boris Johnson’s brother, who’s as blond as Boris is, but slimmer and possibly not as thick, appeared to tell the world how wonderful this was going to be also.

I’m not impressed. Not by Dyson, and certainly not by his grotty political beliefs and sordid profiteering.

Dyson is not someone I feel anyone should look up to. His support for his home country, and the Bristol-Bath region, merely seems to be one of convenience. After he had set up the factory near Bath, he closed it down and moved it to Indonesia. He then declared that he did so because there wasn’t enough space at the existing site to expand, and the council was deliberately blocking him from doing so.

I find that unconvincing. It might be that the council were stopping him from expanding on that site, but that should not stop him going elsewhere in the region or the country. There are other suitable sites, if not around Bath, then certainly in the rest of England and Britain. There are places in the north of England, for example, which are crying out for entrepreneurs to come there and set up plants.

But Dyson didn’t want that. The simple truth is, he moved his plant to Indonesia because he could pay the workers there much less than those in Britain.

And he doesn’t even bother hiding his contempt for Britain’s workers. Mike put up a piece a little while ago commenting on a speech Dyson made, in which he looked forward to British workers having more of their rights in the workplace stripped away after Brexit. This would be good for British firms, and make us more competitive.

On it’s own, it most certainly won’t. Despite destroying workers’ rights and reducing the mass of employees in Britain to poverty, productivity has very definitely not risen under the Tories, and we’ve just been knocked out of the five richest countries in the world. But Dyson, and the rest of the extremely rich, are going to love those policies anyway, because it gives them more power to intimidate, bully and exploit their workforce.

As for him setting up his wretched engineering university, I fail to see the need. Both Bristol Uni and the University of the West of England have excellent engineering departments. In fact, UWE is a world leader in robotics. One of their great inventions, which was on the news a little while ago, was a new type of artificial hand for use by children. It was superb engineering, which, unlike the driverless car, will actually improve people’s lives.

As for business acumen and entrepreneurial ability, I got the distinct impression that Bath was trying very hard to cover that. Walking through Temple Meads station you go past a number of adverts for the MBA at one of Bath’s unis.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these institutions. It’s just that, like the various businessmen, who decide they’d quite like to run an academy school, Dyson has decided that they’re not running things quite how he thinks they should be run. Hence he’s decided to set up this wretched engineering university.

Not only is it a vanity project on his behalf, it’s also another attack on state education. Ever since Maggie Thatcher, the Tories and then Blair’s New Labour have been privatising education, including the universities. This isn’t the first private centre of higher education. That came a few years ago with a new College of the Humanities, or some such, set up with the aid of the philosopher A.C. Grayling.

I’m also profoundly unimpressed by the underlying attitude to the state held by businessmen like Dyson. They usually appear launching some grand new commercial venture, loudly declaring how very much better private enterprise is over the state. Then, when everything goes wrong, they come crying and whining back to the taxpayer demanding a bail-out. And when they get that, they still don’t shut up, but continue moaning that their great, new business vision failed because the government was insufficiently pro-business. They also hate the welfare state, because it actually helps the poor. Not only do businessmen like Dyson moan that current labour laws and wages make business in Britain uneconomical, they also tend to believe that things should be made harder for the poor, in order to encourage them to find a job and ‘do well’. You used to hear a lot about this from the Tories under Thatcher. It’s still the policy in the DWP. It’s why benefit claimants, who are actually in work, are harassed by the ‘job coaches’ in the Job Centres. This is to motivate them to get another, better paying job. Even though there aren’t any around, and aren’t likely to be, given the government’s policies of freezing pay.

In short, James Dyson is certainly not my idea of a hero, either of science or industry. He’s a bog-standard, exploitative businessman, of the same stripe that gets in the news for paying his workers less than the minimum wage while he makes a colossal profit. And I’m heartily sick and tired of the news in my part of the West Country fawning over him.

I’ve never bought one of his vacuum cleaners, and really don’t intend to. Because I don’t think Britain, including my little bit of it, can afford the cost.

RT Asks People Outside Hillary Book Signing ‘What Went Wrong?’

October 17, 2017

I’ve put up a couple of pieces a few days commenting on Hillary Clinton’s appearance at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and how in her book, What Happened?, which she’s been touting at this and other events across the world, she blames everyone except herself for her failure to gain the presidency.

In this short piece, RT asks people coming out of another book signing, this time at the South Bank Centre, ‘what went wrong?’ A few people recognise that she stood on the wrong platforms and campaigned on the wrong issues. One individual remarks that you can’t win elections simply by promising more of what your predecessor did. One man also comments that it was ‘the Rust Belt, populism, you know, Donald Trump’.

Most of the women, and one or two men, reply that Hillary’s gender was against her. They state that America wasn’t ready yet for a female president, and possibly not ready for one after a Black man. A lady in a hijab states that American politics is dominated by White men, and so Hillary suffered what has always happened to women everywhere, and was ‘Trumped’ by a poorly qualified man. And a couple blamed it on the Russians.

One of the women questioned is the head of Democrats Abroad, or at least the British chapter of it. She blames Killary’s defeat partly on the voter suppression and gerrymandering that went on. And a couple of people simply blame Russians. Nevertheless, she still has her supporters, with one Black young lady still saying that ‘we have faith’ in her.

Now it is true that Hillary’s gender was against her. America is a very masculine society, and politics over there, as they are in most White majority countries, is dominated by White men. And Killary was the victim of some very bitter, anti-feminist rhetoric when she and her husband became the first family back in the 1990s. One Republican Pastor angrily declared that she was the ‘type of woman, who turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft, leaves her husband, and kills her children.’ And to a certain extent, some of those slurs have continued. There have been rumours throughout her political career that Shrillary’s a lesbian, and during Obama’s presidency these rumours became very specific. She was supposed to be having a lesbian affair with one of her advisors, Huma Abeddin. A male official, who had been sacked, also claimed that she and Nancy Pelosi were both man-hating lesbians, who delighted in humiliating men.

As for witchcraft, Alex Jones on his Infowars channel was coming out with all manner of complete and utter nonsense. He claimed that she, and Obama, were both demonically possessed. Or it could be that she was an evil alien, or under alien control. An invitation by a New York performance artist provided Jones with further ammunition to claim that she was involved in black magic. The performance artist specialised in ‘spirit cooking’ as part of her performances, which involved human blood. Jones pointed out that it was also what the black magician Aleister Crowley called his own vile magical cuisine, which used menstrual blood and semen. Hillary was therefore accused of performing various black magic rituals with this woman. In fact, she and Bill had been friends with her since the ’60s or ’70s, and as far as I could see, the ‘spirit cooking’ she talked about really was just weird performance art. It might have been inspired by Crowley, but as far as I could see it had very little to do with genuine occultism.

However, there are people in America more than willing to vote for a female candidate. I was told by one of the American postgraduate students on an archaeology course I did several years ago at Bristol Uni, that she was so sick and tired of every candidate being another White male that she would vote for anybody, who wasn’t. And the political landscape had shifted so much that she wasn’t the only female candidate for the presidency. The Greens put forward Jill Stein. As the candidate of a third party, Stein very much was an outsider, but she’s still blamed by Killary as part of the reasons for her defeat. In fact, as a feminist candidate, Stein was the stronger party. She was a doctor, who supported single-payer healthcare as well as protecting the environment, because her experience taught her that women particularly needed it.

Killary, by contrast, was very much a political insider. She was a professional businesswoman, who sat on the boards of multiple corporations. She was also very, very much in Wall Street’s pockets, having been paid hundreds of thousands for speeches she delivered at their various dinners. One of the companies she headed was Walmart, which does not recognise trade unions, and treats its staff extremely badly. Despite making a speech to trade unionists that she would defend their rights and those of their members, she had actually made no attempt to reverse Walmart’s union-bashing policy. And at a time more and more Americans were coming round to support single-payer healthcare, like the Germans have had for nearly a hundred and forty years, she blocked this and called it ‘utopian’.

People also remembered how racist Killary was. In her youth back in the ’60s she’d been a Goldwater Girl, supporting the pro-segregationist Republican Barry Goldwater. She and Bill were responsible for the 1990s legislation that led to a far greater proportion of young Black men being convicted of and serving longer prison sentences for drug offences that Whites. There was also a racist edge to her previous electoral campaign against Barack Obama. She promoted the whole Republican ‘birther’ nonsense, in which it was claimed that Obama, because of his Kenyan ancestry, was not born in the USA and was therefore not eligible to become president.

She also treated the traditional blue-collar Democrat supporters with a very obvious contempt. She stated that she wanted to appeal more to Republican voters, and was true to her word. She ignored, or only did the most cursory campaigning in traditionally Democrat strongholds, expecting the folks there to vote for her. Just as Blair and ‘Progress’ treated the British working class over here.

As for foreign policy, she boasted that she was proud to have Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s old adviser, as her friend and that she regularly spent her hols with him. This is the man, whose policy of backing Fascist dictators across the world, and support for carpet-bombing in Vietnam, has caused him to be denounced as the world’s biggest unindicted war criminal. He is really has shed enough blood, as Shakespeare put in MacBeth, to make ‘all the seas incarnadine, turning the green red’.

This was at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly war weary. People were becoming sick of waving their sons and daughters off proudly, only to see them coming back in coffins, or with shattered bodies and minds from a series of wars that seem to only profit multinationals.

In short, Killary was the consummate corporate and political insider. But she still claimed that she was an outsider, because of her gender. Well, her biological gender was immaterial. She was as hawkish as any of the men in Bush’s and Obama’s cabinets, and was responsible for much legislation that actively harmed women. Her claims of feminism rang very hollow to ordinary American women concerned about bread and butter issues. Like, you know, actually finding paying jobs, being able to afford to eat and have somewhere to live, pay the utility bills and being able to afford to see the doctor. Oh yes, and being able to see their daughters and sons go through college without being burdened by staggering amounts of debt.

As for the Russians being to blame, this is quite frankly a massive lie. Yes, Putin wants to influence what’s going on in the West. No, he wasn’t responsible for Killary’s defeat. Killary was damaged by the WikiLeaks revelations, which showed how she and the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fiddled the internal election process to steal the nomination from Bernie, as well as the incriminating documents which showed just how far she was in Wall Street’s and corporate America’s pockets. This had nothing to do with Russian hacking. They were handed over by disgruntled insiders within the Democrat Party. But Killary couldn’t admit this, and so has started a bogus campaign to blame Russian.

And there’s more than a little bit of hypocrisy about this too. Killary’s got no problem with fiddling Russian politics. America poured millions into Boris Yeltsyn’s campaign to become president of the USSR during the 1990s, and so complete the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the privatisation of its state concerns. All of which were sold at knock-down prices. The results were massive profits for the oligarchs, who bought them, the complete melt-down of the Russian economy, a massive surge in mafia violence as organised crime tried to take over industry. Millions of Russians were thrown out of work in a nation that had never developed unemployment benefit, ’cause the state’s policy was to have everyone in work. Left without benefits and with medicine increasingly privatised, there was a massive increase in sickness and suicide.

And she’s continued meddling in Russian/east European affairs. The Orange Revolution in Kiev against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president was carefully stage managed by Shrillary and the state department, down to the orange clothing being given out to protesters. It was an astro-turf coup, which carefully resembled a popular uprising but which was scripted by the American state and western capital. As for the composition of the new Ukrainian government installed with Killary’s help, these include Nazi thugs from the Pravy Sektor, real Fascists, who wear SS uniforms and scream Nazi slogans, and who have a bitter hatred of Jews, trade unionists and real democrats.

She was also caught on tape moaning about how she regretted not fiddling the elections for the Palestinian authority to get the right party in power.

Hillary’s a very intelligent woman. I think some of the misogynist abuse directed against her is because she’s probably the brighter than her husband, Bill. But intelligence does not equate with morality. Trump’s a grotesque monster, but he made some of the right noises. At one point he said he was in charge of single-payer healthcare, and that he didn’t want to start more wars. He’s since gone back on these promises. But despite the fact that Trump’s stupid with a disgusting attitude to women, these are issues that did appeal to many ordinary people. 45,000 people a year die in America because they can’t afford medical treatment. Bush’s wars abroad have pushed taxes up for the state to be able to pay for it, and the burden has fallen again on the ordinary man and woman in the street, just as it has over here. And if you’re a parent wondering if your child will come back for his or her tour of duty in one piece and compus mentus, Trump’s promise not to put boots on the ground in Syria is welcome indeed.

For some people, these are life and death issues, and the grotesque personality of the person proposing them won’t matter. And especially not after Clinton’s own dubious affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the rumours of indiscretions, if not something far worse, with other female staffers.

And let’s put some of the blame for Killary’s defeat on a factor, that I haven’t heard she herself has cited: the American Constitution. As one of the speakers in the above video shows, Killary actually got more votes than Trump. But she lost because of the electoral college, an antiquated and byzantine electoral organ that was set up to give the slave-holding states a disproportionate amount of power in the 19th century. Slaves couldn’t vote, but were defined as being partial humans for the purposes of voting, and the electoral college set up so that the southern states could still successfully field presidential candidates against those from the northern states, which had a far greater proportion of free and White men, and so a greater voting population.

This isn’t the only problem with the American Constitution. It was drafted at the end of the 18th century by patrician White men, who were terrified that the Revolution would see power slip from the hands of the monied, landed elite to ordinary working Americans – the ‘leather apron men’, as they referred to the industrial craftsmen, who flocked to town hall meetings and provided the basis for American popular democracy. And so checks have been placed within the Constitution that make the kind of radical change now desperately needed impossible. The result is that millions of ordinary Americans feel disenfranchised, and so stayed away from the election.

Hillary has no-one to blame but herself. She was a horrible Conservative, serving a stifling Conservative political and social order, who was beaten by another horrible Conservative, but one who actually understood how to appeal to the public.

But it ain’t just in Britain that Killary’s touring, telling little lies. She also appeared on Australia’s ABC television station to tell porkies Down Under. Michelle, one of the great commenters to this blog, sent me this link to an article in Medium by Caitlin Johnstone exposing five of the lies she told in her interview with Sarah Ferguson.

View at Medium.com

And if she’s done it in America, Britain and Oz, you can bet she’s doing it elsewhere, like an insane world tour of pathological lying.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

June 28, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

Who Really Wants Driverless Cars and Further Automation

March 30, 2017

This follows on from my last article, where I commented on a piece by Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski about a report produced by the accountancy firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. This predicted that by 2030, a third of all jobs in Britain, Germany, and America would be lost to automation. Japan would also be affected, losing roughly a fifth of all jobs. Kulinski in his piece quoted a report by the BBC. This came out about a year ago, and the issue was the subject of a documentary, possibly on Panorama. I think it’s very likely to come true. One of my friends watched it, and was really frightened.

This is an issue I feel passionately about, but don’t think it’s really being taken at all seriously. And I’m very much unimpressed by some of the reports, which uncritically hail every new development in automation as a benefit, without taking cognisance of the possible drawbacks.

One example of this is the issue of driverless cars. The car industry has been trying to create one of these since the late seventies. They’re mentioned in the Usborne Book of the Future, a children’s book about the possible developments in technology and space I can remember reading as far back as 1979. More recently, the companies developing them have been testing them on the road. These have had disastrous results. Several of the driverless vehicles have crashed, and there has been at least one fatality.

I don’t know a single person, who actually wants one of these. And certainly there are no end of people, who feel that these machines would actually be less safe than those driven by a real, flesh and blood human being. But nevertheless, whenever they’re mentioned, it’s always in terms of how wonderful they’re going to be. A few months ago Points West, the local BBC news programme here in Bristol, did a little piece on research into these cars at UWE, complete with a brief interview with Tassi, one of the scientists working on the project. This annoyed me, because there was absolutely no suggestion at any point of the possible down side to the project.

There are about 40,000 truckers in Britain. These are the people, who are most likely to lose their jobs to driverless vehicles, as haulage companies introduce them to cut labour costs. Other professional drivers likely to be affected will include taxi and bus drivers, possibly ambulance men and women. Thus we’re looking at 40,000 plus losing their jobs, for the profit of their companies. And if other areas of the economy are also losing jobs to automation, it’s unlikely that they’ll find other employment. But no hint of that from the Beeb.

Also a month or so back, Points West also did a piece about James Dyson’s decision to set up a centre for technical innovation in an old army base in Wiltshire. This was hailed as good news. The programme and the presenter on this segment, Will Glennon, also reported the establishment of a place where inventors and businessmen could meet to make deals in one of the old engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station, and similarly celebrated the technological advances being made at the city’s university. They also talked to the head of the Institute of Directors, or a similar organisation. In actual fact, this captain of industry really didn’t say anything controversial. What I found infuriating was the complete absence of any kind of awareness that this could have a massive detrimental effect on the employment of ordinary people in the city and beyond. Glennon simply took the line that this was all wonderful, and something we should look forward to and be proud of.

But clearly, if it leads to nothing but one third of the working population being thrown out of their jobs, with no means of support except Jobseekers Allowance – and what a farce that is, if there are no jobs – this isn’t. And I found it actually insulting that the team at Points West should think it was.

Now I’m not a luddite. I can see how the scientists working on these projects are interested in them as scientific problems. But they have social consequences. Kevin Warwick, the cyberneticist and quondam cyborg at Reading University, actually states in his book The March of the Machines that one of the five reasons he lists for automation is to save on labour costs. Which means employing fewer people. In the current social arrangement, this means more poor unemployed people, with the benefits going to the rich and the technicians and engineers responsible for producing these machines.

And if that’s the case, ordinary working people have absolutely no reason to welcome or celebrate these advances. They may lead to cheaper products, but if you don’t have a job that will pay you enough to purchase them, then there’s no point.

But this seems lost on the producers of the programme in question, and a media and corporate environment which sees these very much as benefiting the rich middle class to the exclusion of everyone else.

As I said in my last post, welcome to the nightmare world of Megacity 1.

The ‘I’ Newspaper on the Invention of Star Trek-Style ‘Tractor Beam’

January 4, 2017

The I newspaper today reported that Asier Marzo, an American doctoral student, now a research assistant at Bristol uni, has invented a tractor beam using sound which can be built by anyone with a 3D printer.

The article by Tom Bawden runs

Fans of Star Wars and Star Trek were given a huge boost last year when a doctoral student in America developed the first sonic tractor beam capable of pulling an object towards it by using sound waves. But alas its use was confined to fancy labs with expensive equipment.

Now, thanks to that same individual – who has since become a research assistant at the University of Bristol – it has become far more accessible, at least to anyone with 3D printing technology.

The tractor beam has long been a staple of science fiction, used in a series of Star Trek episodes to capture and tow other space ships, while the Death Star’s tractor beam memorably catches the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.

A do-it-yourself handheld acoustic tractor beam will now become widely available, according to a new paper published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

“Previously we developed a tractor beam, but it was very complicated and pricey because it required a phase array, which is a complex electronic system,” said Asier Marzo, the researcher behind the developments.

“Now, we have made a simple, static tractor beam that only requires a static piece of matter,” he said.

“We can modulate a simple wave using what’s called a metamaterial, which is basically a piece of matter with lots of tubes of different lengths. The sound passes through these tubes and when it exits the metamaterial it has the correct phases to create a tractor beam.”

With an effect that is determined by the shape of the tubes, the research team focused on optimising the design to allow fabrication with common 3D printers, ensuring it could be constructed by home hobbyists. (The I, 4th January 2017, p. 23).

I think the pseudoscientific explanation for the tractor beams in Star Trek is that they use gravitons – the subatomic particles that carry the force of gravity – to pull other ships and objects towards them. In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Wesley Crusher is shown having invented a handheld tractor beam. I think it’s in the episode ‘The Naked Now’.

There are some very clever things now being done with sound. There was a piece on The One Show or perhaps the Beeb’s pop science programme, Bang Goes The Theory, where they showed how sound waves could be used to levitate a series of small objects. I have a feeling it was the discovery of acoustic levitation back in the 1990s or early 2000s that inspired one episode of Far Scape, ‘Taking the Stone’ where Chiana joins a group of alien thrill seekers. These young people get their kicks from leaping off a cliff above an alien echo chamber while humming. If they get the tone right, the sound waves resonate and break their fall. If they don’t, they plunge to their deaths. I can’t imagine that ever catching on as sport in real life, but you never know.