Posts Tagged ‘Cheltenham’

Julia Hartley-Brewer Sneers as Greta Thunberg Visits Bristol

February 29, 2020

Yesterday, Norwegian schoolgirl eco-warrior and global phenomenon Greta Thunberg visited my hometown, the fair city of Bristol. She was due to speak at College Green by City Hall in Bristol, before leading a march through town to the Tobacco Factory. This was exactly what it’s called, but the tobacco industry has just about vanished from Bristol, and it is now a theatre. Many of the city’s schools gave their pupils the day off so that they could join her. Her visit was naturally the main focus of the local news yesterday. Thousands went to see her, and it was a real family event. Parents and grandparents also went, and took their children and grandchildren. The teenage organisers, who had invited her, were interviewed. They were intelligent and articulate. One of them, a young man, was given the opportunity by the local TV crew to appear again promoting another, different, but equally important issue. The lad had said that he wished there was the same kind of crowds and interest for combating knife crime. He’s absolutely right, as this is a plague claiming and wrecking young people’s lives up and down the country. So the crew told him to wait a moment while they found someone he could talk to about this. With luck this should lead to positive developments so that in a few months’ time or however long, he should be back with us organising a mass campaign against that issue.

Thunberg’s visit was an historic occasion for the city. The people going enjoyed it, and it will doubtless have delighted Mayor Marvin and the other members of the council, who are trying to turn Bristol into one of the world’s leading Green cities. I didn’t go, as I still have this stinking cold, though I didn’t really feel like attending anyway. But I’m glad for the people, who did.

One person, who definitely didn’t approve of Thunberg’s visit was TalkRadio right-wing mouthpiece and howling snob, Julia Hartley-Brewer. According to Zelo Street, Hartley-Dooda got very sneering about the whole affair on Twitter. First she retweeted Mike Graham, another right-wing TalkRadio entity calling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a ‘plank’, because he was in Bristol with his sister and family to support the demo. Dooda herself then issue the following Tweet explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter go on the march:

If my child wanted to join a school #ClimateStrike I’d expect her to: 1. Know enough to pass a test on climate change facts 2. Agree to give up fashion, all lifts home & all holiday flights 3. Even if she did both 1 & 2, I still wouldn’t let her bunk off school”.

She had to sneer at the Beeb’s coverage of pro-Brexit demonstrations, stating

‘At least 30,000 people.’ Or, if it was the same size crowd at a pro-Brexit rally in a BBC report, ‘hundreds of people’”.

She then sneered at the people, who did attend, with this tweet

There’s something about the people attending this #climatestrike by #BristolYS4C with #Greta that I can’t quite put my finger on… Gosh, now what *is* it? I wonder if [Jon Snow] or a BBC reporter could help out?” This was followed by “Nope, I still can’t work out what it is. It’s on the tip of my tongue but…”

This was accompanied by photos of the crowd. If she’s trying to imply that they were somewhat lacking in charisma or shoddily dressed or whatever, she’s seriously missed the mark. They don’t look like anything to me except severely normal people with their hoods and anoraks on getting soaked.

She then retweeted a piece by someone called Ben Pile, who completely denies the existence of global warming and who had attacked George Monbiot:  “George invents victims of climate change in Bangladesh and Ethiopia … Both countries have in fact boomed over the last two decades”.

She then followed this by retweeting Darren Grimes, who was in turn responding to Guido Fawkes and their endorsement of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, you will not be surprised, also denies the existence of global warming. Grimes was moaning that, thanks to environmental concerns, Britain couldn’t build an additional airport even though with contribute less than 1% to global emissions.

The Sage of Crewe concludes of her rather mean-spirited behaviour

‘But seriously, this is a sad show of inconsiderate selfishness by someone who is regularly given a platform by major broadcasters. Just because Ms Hartley Dooda wants to carry on with her long-haul jollies doesn’t invalidate the scale of the climate crisis. And the only reason she seems concerned about the Coronavirus is because that, too, could prevent her jetting off to embark on another exhibition of conspicuous consumption.

Julia Hartley Dooda cares. But only about Herself Personally Now.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/julia-hartley-dooda-spooked-by-teenager.html

In fact, the event seems to have been positively received by very many teachers and educationalists. Many of the group that organised it, a group of youth climate strike activists, came from Chew Valley school. Chew Valley is the name of one of the neighbouring villages outside the city. The school said that they had been given time off for the pupils to go. One of the girls involved, a 17-year old, was given an honorary doctorate by Bristol University for her work researching birds and working for their preservation. Another teacher, who was going with his pupils, said that they were incorporating the visit into the curriculum. This apparently covers the environment and ecology. Thunberg’s visit was also important to the citizenship part of the curriculum as well, because it is an example of the right to protest.

But as a right-wing Murdoch hack, Dooda doesn’t believe in global warming or cares about the environment, because doing so gets in the way of those all-important corporate profits. It’s an attitude obviously shared by Grimes and the Paul Staines’ collective. Pile pointing to Bangladesh and Ethiopia experiencing significant economic growth is, as Zelo Streets points out, a piece of misdirection. Climate change doesn’t necessarily prevent it. But it does mean a deterioration in the environment and living conditions for those countries hit by it. Bangladesh may well be experiencing a boom at the same time it’s threatened by rising sea levels.

As for organisations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation, they are very definitely in the minority. The vast majority of scientists believe that global warming is an established fact. Groups like the Foundation, on the other hand, tend to be the pet scientists set up and funded by big business in order to protect themselves and their profits. The Koch brothers set up a number of fake ‘astroturf’ right-wing grassroots organisations and research groups denying climate change, in order to protect their companies in the fossil fuel industry.  I dare say the GWPF is a similar organisation, whose findings should be taken with the same scepticism given to the pronouncements of the various medical research groups funded by the tobacco industry, which told everyone that there was no link between ciggies and cancer.

And just looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham a few weeks ago, I came across an academic book about environmental decline and the effects of global warming. The information supporting its existence is out there, if Hartley-Brewer cares to look.

But she won’t. Because that might show her that unrestrained capitalism isn’t completely good and benign, and that she herself might have to change her behaviour to save the planet. Like stop jetting around to exclusive, exotic resorts to show how much wealthier she is than the rest of us.

Everybody in Bristol seems to have had a great time yesterday, despite Dooda’s determination to sneer at it all. I hope the world pays attention to them, than hacks like her. Which will not only annoy Dooda herself, but her master, Murdoch. And that, like fighting climate change, is itself a noble goal.

Russian Rocket Engine Street Art in Cheltenham

January 18, 2020

One of the shops in Cheltenham has a very unusual piece of street art decorating its door. It’s of the rocket motor designed to power the Russian N1 spaceship to the Moon. The N1 was the Russian counterpart of the massive American Saturn V, and was similarly intended for a manned mission. Unlike the Americans, the Russian rocket would have a small crew of two, only one of whom would make the descent to the lunar surface in a module very much like the American. Unfortunately the project was a complete failure. Korolyov, the Soviet rocket designer, had died by the time it was being designed, and the head of the design bureau was his second-in-command, Mishin. Mishin was an excellent lieutenant, but this project was far beyond him. The N1 space vehicles kept exploding on the launch pad. These were powerful spacecraft, and the explosions destroyed everything within a radius of five miles. After three such explosions, one of which, I think, killed Mishin himself, the project was cancelled. The Russians never did send a man to the Moon, and instead had to satisfy themselves with the Lunakhod lunar rover.

I’d been meaning to take a photograph of the painting for sometime and finally got around to it yesterday. The full painting isn’t visible during the day, as much of it is on the cover that gets put over the door at night. This is the part of the painting shown in the top photograph. During the day only the bottom part of the engine, painted on the door itself, is visible.

The shop-owner himself was really helpful. He saw me crouching trying to photograph the bottom part of the engine, and asked if I knew what it was. When I told him it was a rocket motor, he proudly replied that it was TsK-33 for the N-1, and asked if I wanted to photograph the whole thing. I did, so he got down the door cover. Talking to him about the painting both then, and later on with a friend, who also has an interest in space, he told us a bit more about the rocket engine and his painting of it. Although the N-1 was scrapped, the Russians still retained the rocket engines. Someone from the American Pratt and Whitney rocket engine manufacturers met one of the engineers, designers or managers on the N-1 motors, who showed him 33 of the engines, which had been mothballed after the project’s cancellation. The Pratt and Whitney guy was impressed, as it turns out that these Russian motors are still the most efficient rocket engines yet created. He made a deal with the Russians to take them back to America, where they are now used on the Atlas rockets launching American military satellites. Or that’s the story.

My friend asked if the shopkeeper had painted it himself. He hadn’t. It had been done by a street artist. The shopkeeper had seen him coming along painting, and asked him if he would do an unusual request. And so the artist came to paint the Russian rocket engine.

There’s much great street art in Cheltenham, though as it’s an ephemeral genre you have to catch it while it’s there. Just before Christmas there was a great mural of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour logo in one of the town’s underpasses. I wanted to photograph that too. But when I tried yesterday, it had gone, replaced with another mural simply wishing everyone a happy Christmas.

But I hope the rocket engine, as it was done specifically for the shop, will be up for some time to come.

It also seems to me to bear out the impression I’ve had for a long time, that the real innovative art is being done outside of the official artistic establishment. The painting would have delighted the Futurists, who were into the aesthetics of the new machine age. And also the French avant-garde artist, Marcel Duchamps. Duchamps anticipated the Futurists concern with the depiction of movement in his painting, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’. He also painted a picture of ‘The Star Dancer’, which isn’t of a human figure, but a ship’s engine, which also anticipates the Futurists’ machine aesthetic. Unfortunately, what he is best known for is nailing that urinal to a canvas and calling it ‘The Advance of the Broken Arm’ as a protest against the artistic establishment. This went on to inspire Dada, and other anti-art movements. It’s now in Tate Modern, although it no longer has the same urinal. As a work of art, I really don’t rate it at all. Neither do most people. But for some reason, the artistic establishment love it and still seem to think it’s a great joke.

The real artistic innovations and explorations are being done outside the academy, by artists exploring the new world opened up by science and the literature of Science Fiction. And it’s to that world that this mural belongs. 

 

 

 

 

Book on Austerity as State Violence

December 21, 2019

The Violence of Austerity, Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, eds. (London: Pluto Press 2017).

Okay, I realise that this isn’t the kind of book most of us would choose to read at Christmas. We’d rather have something a bit more full of seasonal good cheer. I also realise that as it published nearly three years ago in 2017, it’s somewhat dated. But it, and books like it, are needed and still extremely topical now than 14 million people have been duped into electing Old Etonian Tory Boris Johnson.

I found the book in one of the many excellent secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. I was particularly drawn to it because of its title, and the titles of the chapters it contains. It’s a collection of papers describing the Tories’ attack on the poor, the disabled, the marginalised, the unemployed, homeless and BAME communities, and particularly women of colour, as forms of violence. This isn’t mere hyperbole. The book discusses real instances of violence by the state and its officials, as well as landlords and private corporations and individuals. Mike in his articles on the Tories’ wretched benefits sanctions has argued time and again that this is a form of state violence against the disabled, and that it constitutes genocide through the sheer scale of the deaths it has caused: 130,000 at a conservative estimate. It’s therefore extremely interesting that others attacking and campaigning against austerity share the same view. The blurb for the book runs

Austerity, the government’s response to the aftermath of the financial crisis, continues to devastate contemporary Britain. Thius books brings together campaigners and writers including Danny Dorling, Mary O’Hara and Rizwaan Sabir to show that austerity is a form of systematic violence.

Covering notorious cases of institutional violence, including workfare, fracking and mental health scandals, the book argues that police attacks on the homeless, violent evictions in the rented sector, community violence and cuts to the regulation of the social protection are all being driven by reductions in public sector funding. The result is a shocking exposes of the ways in which austerity policies harm people in Britain.

One of the editors, Vickie Cooper, is a lecturer in Social Policy and Criminology at the Open University, while the other, David Whyte, is professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Liverpool. He is also the editor of How Corrupt Is Britain, another scathing look at the UK under the Tories.

The book’s introduction by the editors is on the violence of austerity. After that it is divided into four sections, each on different aspects of austerity and its maltreatment of the poor.

Part 1, ‘Deadly Welfare’, contains the following chapters

  1. Mental Health and Suicide, by Mary O’Hara
  2. Austerity and Mortality, by Danny Dorling
  3. Welfare Reforms and the Attack on Disabled People, by John Pring
  4. The Violence of Workfare by Jon Burnett and David Whyte
  5. The Multiple Forms of Violence in the Asylum System by Victoria Canning
  6. The Degradation and Humiliation of Young People, by Emma Bond and Simon Hallsworth.

Part II, ‘Poverty Amplification’, has these

7. Child Maltreatment and Child Mortality, by Joanna Mack
8. Hunger and Food Poverty, by Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton
9. The Deadly Impact of Fuel Poverty, by Ruth London
10. The Violence of the Debtfare State, by David Ellis
11. Women of Colour’s Anti-Austerity Activism, by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel
12. Dismantling the Irish Peace Process, by Daniel Holder

Part III, ‘State Regulation’, includes

13. Undoing State Protection, by Steve Tombs
14. Health and Safety at the Frontline of Austerity, by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte
15. Environmental Degradation, by Charlotte Burns and Paul Tobin
16. Fracking and State Violence, by Will Jackson, Helen Monk and Joanna Gilmore
17. Domicide, Eviction and Repossession, by Kirsteen Paton and Vickie Cooper
18. Austerity’s Impact on Rough Sleeping and Violence, by Daniel McCulloch.

Part IV, ‘State Control’, has these chapters

19. Legalising the Violence of Austerity, by Robert Knox
20. The Failure to Protect Women in the Criminal Justice System, by Maureen Mansfield and Vickie Cooper
21. Austerity, Violence and Prisons, by Joe Sim
22. Evicting Manchester’s Street Homeless, by Steven Speed
23. Policing Anti-Austerity through the ‘War on Terror’ by Rizwaan Sabir
24. Austerity and the Production of Hate, by Jon Burnett.

These are all subjects that left-wing blogs like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge have all covered and discussed. The last chapter, ‘Austerity and the Production of Hate’, is on a subject that Mike’s discussed several times in Vox Political: the way the Tory press and media justifies the savage attacks on the poor and disabled through stirring up hatred against them. Mike has published several articles on the way Tory propaganda has resulted in vicious attacks on the poor, particularly the homeless.

This violence and campaign of hatred isn’t going to stop after Boris’ victory, and his appeal for healing after the election is just rhetoric. He doesn’t want healing, he wants compliance and complacency. He doesn’t deserve them, and should not be given any, because from now on he and his party will only step up the attacks.

Don’t be taken in by establishment lies. Keep working to get him out!

Private Eye on the Real Reason the Americans Don’t Want Anne Sacoolas Investigated: RAF Croughton is a Spy Base

November 13, 2019

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye, for 15th – 28th November 2019, has a very interesting article in its ‘In the Back’ pages. Titled ‘RAF Croughton – Base Motives’, this alleges that the real reason Trump and the Americans have been so reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas, the women, who allegedly killed Harry Dunn in a road accident, is married to an American intelligence officer and the base on which they lived was a communications intelligence base run by the CIA and the NSA, with links to Britain GCHQ. The article is worth quoting in full

It is hardly surprising the US is reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas put on trial in a UK court over the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a crash outside “RAF” Croughton given what goes on inside the Northamptonshire base.

Sacoolas left the UK shortly after the August crash, initially claiming “diplomatic immunity” because her husband works at Croughton, described as housing an “annexe of the US embassy”. But that is not the full picture. The base is a major CIA/Pentagon communications centre. It is not staffed by diplomats; Sacoolas’ husband is an intelligence officer. It has satellite and fibre-optic links to US bases around the world and to the UK’s own signals intelligence-gathering and eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, in Cheltenham.

From Croughton, with British contrivance, more than 200 US personnel control and monitor US air strikes by drones based in Djibouti on the Red Sea, including attacks on targets in Yemen and Somalia. The base is also the hub of a CIA/ American National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance network, intercepting communications throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It was from there, for example, that the Americans were found to have tapped into the mobile phones of prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US also describes “RAF” Croughton (under the purely nominal command of a British officer) as the home of its 422nd Air Base Group. But that too, is just another cover, designed to hide its CIA/NSA activities. However, under the 1952 Visiting Forces Act, which covers US bases in Britain, military personnel come under the jurisdiction of the British police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for any action outside their bases.

After Donald Trump’s botched attempt last month to broker a resolution, when Harry Dunn’s family visited Washington seeking justice for their son, it seems the US has now dropped all pretence at “immunity”. The fact that the UK police have been to the US to interview Sacoolas and submitted a file to the CPS would suggest that they may also drop any argument that the 1952 act does not apply to civilian operatives.

Reports in both the UK and US suggest those representing Sacoolas might now be looking to negotiate some kind of plea deal – which might prevent scrutiny in court of what staff do at Croughton. It’s clear that neither the US nor British intelligence agencies would welcome such attention. Not least because the US hopes to expand Croughton and set up a “joint intelligence analysis centre”, a headquarters for all American intelligence communications in Europe and Africa.

‘I’ Review of Movie About British Iraq War Whistleblower

October 25, 2019

One of the flicks coming to our cinemas, if it isn’t there already, is Official Secrets, the film about whistleblower Katharine Gun’s attempt to prevent Blair’s illegal and criminal invasion of Iraq by leaking government emails about it. The I printed a review of it by Demetrios Matheou in last Friday’s edition for the 18th October 2019. Entitled ‘Spies, lies and a drama that resonates’, this ran

Early in the political drama Official Secrets, Keira Knightley’s real-life whistle-blower Katharine Gun watches Tony Blair on television, giving his now-infamous justifcation for the impending Iraq War, namely the existence of weapons of mass destruction. “He keeps repeating the lie,” she cries. “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”

There’s simply no escaping the resonance. The current occupant of No 10 isn’t the first to economical with the truth; the real shock is that we keep on putting up with it. And the power of the film resides in the fact that the idealistic, courageous Katharine Gun would not.

The film opens with Gun about to face trial for breaching the Official Secrets Act – Knightley’s face expressing the sheer terror of someone in that position – before winding back a year to explain how she got there.

Katharine is working as a Mandarin translator at the intelligence agency GCHQ in Cheltenham. One day, she and her colleagues receive a classified email from America’s National Security Agency, requesting that the Brits spy on delegates from the United Nations Security Council, with a view to blackmailing them to vote for the resolution in favour of war.

In the UK, the very idea of the war is historically unpopular with the public. And here is evidence of its illegality. Katharine secretly copies the memo and smuggles it out to a friend who is an anti-war activist, through whom it reaches Observer journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith). 

Until now, the film has been operating on something of a whisper. Once Smith appears on screen – quickly followed by the equally energetic (nay, combustible) Rhys Ifans as fellow journalist Ed Vulliamy – there is a sonic boom. From her, the action switches urgently between the paper’s investigation of the memo’s authenticity and Katharine’s personal hell as the leak is revealed, which includes the threat of deportation from her Muslim husband, Yasar.

Gavin Hood is an intriguing director, alternating between mainstream fare (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and issues-based dramas charting government malfeasance, such as rendition (Rendition) and the use of drone strikes (Eye in the Sky). He is on strong form here, with a film that’s gripping, righteous, relevant, moving – in short, a very good yarn that just happens to be true.

At the heart of it is Knightley, impressively commanding as a woman who is principled and defiant, but also deeply vulnerable as the government cranks up its intimidation. Around his star, Hood has assembled a comprehensively find cast, with a particularly lovely turn by Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer determined to defend Gun against the odds. 

This looks like a brilliant movie, and I’d like to see it if and when it comes to my neck of the woods. Over one million people marched against the invasion, not just Muslims, but also people of all races and religions and none. One of the marchers was a priest from my local church. I’ve reviewed a book on this site presenting a very strong case that Blair’s invasion constitutes a war crime, for which the slimy creature should be prosecuted along with Bush. According to the late William Blum, there were attempts to do just that, but they were stymied by the British and American governments. The demonstrators’ chant is exactly right: ‘Blair lied, people died’. But despite this and subsequent books exposing his venality and legal tax-dodging through a complex mass of holding companies and off-shore tax havens, he still seems to think that he’s somehow the great champion of British politics. He’s been one of the figures behind the attempts to create a new ‘centrist’ party, and every now and again he pushes his head up from wherever pit in which he’s been hiding to make some comment about contemporary politics. Usually about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. 

Hopefully this picture will remind people that ‘Teflon Tony’ wasn’t some kind of visionary statesman. He was a butcher, who backed the illegal invasion of a country for no better reason than the multinationals’ desire to loot their oil wealth and state industries. Oh yes, and cut off Hussein’s occasional support for the Palestinians. Thanks to him and his master, Bush, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and the Middle East have died or been displaced, a country has been wrecked and its secular, welfare state dismantled and reduced to chaos and sectarian violence. This bloody, illegal war has also claimed the lives of good men and women in the forces and in the civilian organisations trying to rebuild the country.

As for the reason why people like Blair keep getting elected – if government in this country had been genuinely accountable, they wouldn’t. It shows a flaw in our political system, a system in which the media must take its share of the blame. Warmongers like Blair get elected because they have the full support, with some exceptions, of the Thatcherite press and Murdoch papers. The same papers that are trying to bring down Jeremy Corbyn. 

 

 

Richard Dawkins Promoting Atheism at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

October 7, 2019

This week is the Cheltenham festival of literature. It’s an annual event when novelists, poets, illustrators and increasingly TV and radio personalities descend on the town to talk about and try to sell the books they’ve had published. There can be, and often are, some great speakers discussing their work. I used to go to it regularly in the past, but went off it after a few years. Some of the people turn up, year in, year out, and there are only so many times you can see them without getting tired of it.

Dawkins, Atheism and Philosophical Positivism

One of the regular speakers at the Festival is the zoologist, science writer and atheist polemicist, Richard Dawkins. The author of Climbing Mount Improbable, The River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker and so on is appearing in Cheltenham to promote his latest book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It sounds like a kind of successor to his earlier anti-religious work, The God Delusion. According to the accompanying pamphlet for the festival, he’s going to be talking to an interviewer about why we should all stop believing in God. There’s no doubt Dawkins deserves his platform at the Festival as much as any other writer. He’s a popular media personality, and writes well. However, his knowledge of philosophy, theology and the history of science, which forms the basis for his attacks on Christianity, is extremely low, and defenders of religion, and even other scientists and historians, who are just interested in defending their particular disciplines from factual mistakes and misinterpretations, have shot great holes in them.

Dawkins is, simply put, a kind of naive Positivist. Positivism was the 19th century philosophy, founded by Auguste Comte, that society moved through a series of three stages in its development. The first stage was the theological, when the dominant ideology was religion. Then came the philosophical stage, before the process ended with science. Religion was a thing of the past, and science would take over its role of explaining the universe and guiding human thought and society. Comte dreamed of the emergence of a ‘religion of humanity’, with its own priesthood and rituals, which would use sociology to lead humanity. Dawkins doesn’t quite go that far, but he does believe that religion and science – and specifically Darwinism – are in conflict, and that the former should give way to the latter. And he’s not alone. I heard that a few years ago, Alice Robert, the forensic archaeologist and science presenter, gave a speech on the same subject at the Cheltenham Festival of Science when she was its guest director, or curator, or whatever they term it. A friend of mine was less than impressed with her talk and the lack of understanding she had of religion. He tweeted ‘This is a girl who thinks she is intelligent.’

War of Science and Religion a Myth

No, or very few historians of science, actually believe that there’s a war between the two. There have been periods of tension, but the idea of a war comes from three 19th century writers. And it’s based on and cites a number of myths. One of these is the idea that the Church was uniformly hostile to science, and prevented any kind of scientific research and development until the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek texts. It’s a myth I learnt at school, and it’s still told as fact in many popular textbooks. But other historians have pointed out that the Middle Ages was also a period of scientific investigation and development, particularly following the influence of medieval Islamic science and the ancient Greek and Roman texts they had preserved, translated, commented on and improved. Whole books have been written about medieval science, such as Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, and James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers. Hannam is a physicist, who did a doctorate in examining the development of medieval science, showing that, far from retarding or suppressing it, medieval churchmen were intensely interested in it and were active in its research. Medieval science was based very much on Aristotle, but they were well aware of some of the flaws in his natural philosophy, and attempted to modify it in order to make it conform to observed reality. The Humanists of the Renaissance, rather than bringing in freedom of thought and scientific innovation, were actually a threat. They wanted to strip philosophy and literature of its medieval modifications to make it correspond exactly with the ancients’ original views. Which would have meant actually destroying the considerable advances which had been made. Rather than believe that renaissance science was a complete replacement of medieval science, scholars like Hannam show that it was solidly based on the work of their medieval predecessors.

Christian Theology and the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution of the 17th century in England also has roots in Christian philosophy and theology. Historians now argue that the Royal Society was the work of Anglican Broadchurchmen, who believed that God had created a rational universe amenable to human reason, and who sought to end the conflict between the different Christian sects through uniting them in the common investigation of God’s creation. See, for example, R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1972).

Christian Monotheism and the Unity of Physical Law

It is also Christian monotheist theology that provides one of the fundamental assumptions behind science. Modern science is founded on the belief that the laws of nature amount to a single, non-contradictory whole. That’s the idea behind the ‘theory of everything’, or Grand Unified Theory everyone was talking about back in the 1990s. But this idea goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas said that we must believe that the laws of nature are one, because God is one.  It’s the assumption, founded on Christian theology, the makes science possible.

Atheist Reductionism also a Danger

When The God Delusion Came Out, it was met by a series of books attacking its errors, some of them with titles like The Dawkins Delusion. The philosopher Mary Midgley has also attacked the idea that science can act as a replacement for religion in her books Evolution as a Religion and The Myths We Live By. On page 58 of the latter she attacks the immense damage to humanity atheist reductionism also poses. She writes

Both reductive materialism and reductive idealism have converged to suggest that reductivism is primarily a moral campaign against Christianity. This is a dangerous mistake. Obsession with the churches has distracted attention from reduction employed against notions of human individuality, which is now a much more serious threat. It has also made moral problems look far simplar than they actually are. Indeed, some hopeful humanist reducers still tend to imply that, once Christian structures are cleared away, life in general will be quite all right and philosophy will present no further problems.

In their own times, these anti-clerical reductive campaigns have often been useful. But circumstances change. New menaces, worse than the one that obsesses us, are always appearing, so that what looked like a universal cure for vice and folly becomes simply irrelevant. In politics, twentieth-century atheistical states are not an encouraging omen for the simple secularistic approach to reform. it turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution. Nor is it even clear that religion itself is something that the human race either can or should be cured of.

Darwin Uninterested in Atheist Campaigning

Later in the book she describes how the Marxist Edward Aveling was disappointed when he tried to get Darwin to join him in a campaign to get the atheist, Bradlaugh, to take his seat as a duly elected MP. At the time, atheists were barred from public office by law. Aveling was impressed by Darwin’s work on evolution, which he believed supported atheism. Darwin was an agnostic, and later in life lost belief in God completely due to the trauma of losing a daughter and the problem of suffering in nature. But Darwin simply wasn’t interested in joining Aveling’s campaign. When Aveling asked him what he was now studying, hoping to hear about another earth-shaking discovery that would disprove religion, Darwin simply replied ‘Earthworms’. The great biologist was fascinated by them. It surprised and shocked Aveling, who hadn’t grasped that Darwin was simply interested in studying creatures for their own sake.

Evolutionists on Evolution Not Necessarily Supporting Atheism

Other evolutionary biologists also concluded that evolution has nothing to say about God, one way or another. Stephen Jay Gould stated that he believed that Darwinism only hinted at atheism, not that it proved it. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia in 1801, believed on the other hand that the development of creatures from more primitive forebears made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’.

Frank H.T. Rhodes of the University of Michigan wrote in his book Evolution (New York: Golden Press 1974) on its implications the following, denying that it had any for religion, politics or economics.

Evolution, like any other natural process or scientific theory, is theologically neutral. it describes mechanisms, but not meaning. it is based upon the recognition of order but incorporates no conclusion concerning the origin of that order as either purposeful or purposeless.

Although evolution involves the interpretation of natural events by natural processes, it neither assumes nor provides particular conclusions concerning the ultimate sources or the significance of materials, events or processes.

Evolution provides no obvious conclusions concerning political or economic systems. Evolution no more supports evolutionary politics (whatever they might be) than does the Second Law of Thermodynamics support political disorder or economic chaos. 

(Page 152).

Conclusion

I realise that the book’s nearly 50 years old, and that since that time some scientists have worked extremely hard to show the opposite – that evolution support atheism. But I’ve no doubt other scientists, people most of us have never heard of, believe the opposite. Way back in 1909 or so there was a poll of scientists to show their religious beliefs. The numbers of atheists and people of faith was roughly equal, and 11 per cent of the scientists polled said that they were extremely religious. When the poll was repeated in the 1990s, the pollsters were surprised to find that the proportion of scientists who were still extremely religious had not changed.

Despite what Dawkins tells you, atheism is not necessarily supported by science, and does not disprove it. Other views of the universe, its origin and meaning are available and still valid.

Establishment Media Bias and the Cheltenham Literary Festival

September 23, 2019

Someone really ought to do a study of the way the big literary festivals – Haye-on-Wye, Cheltenham and the others – select the books and media celebs they want to push and the way they try to manipulate public opinion towards the establishment consensus. Because, believe me, it is there.

In a couple of weeks’ time, right at the beginning of October, it’ll be the Cheltenham Literary Festival. As it’s booklet of coming events tells you, it’s been proudly going for 70 years. I think it was set up, or given a great deal of assistance when it was set up, by Alan Hancock, who owned a secondhand bookshop on Cheltenham’s Promenade. It was a fascinating place, where you could acquire some really fascinating, valuable academic books cheaply. But it had the same internal layout as the fictional setting of the 1990’s Channel 4 comedy, Black Books, but without Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey or Tamsin Grieg.

The festival’s overall literary stance is, very roughly, broadsheet papers + BBC, especially Radio 4. It pretty much shows what’s captured the attention of the newspaper literary pages and the BBC news team, several of whom naturally have books coming out, and who are appearing. In past years I’ve seen John Simpson, Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts, Giles Brandreth and John Humphreys talk or appear on panels. This year they’ve got, amongst others, Emily Maitlis and Humphrey’s again.

Much of the Festival’s content is innocuous enough, even praiseworthy from a left-wing perspective. For example, there are a number of authors talking about their books about empowering women and ethnic minorities. These include Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene talking about their book, Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which is what it says: a guide for Black girls. Other topics and books discussed are on how empowered Black men are, and various feminist works about how gynaecological problems should be discussed openly, and the changing nature of the female muse. Rather than being passive creatures, modern muses are active, liberated women conquering business, sports, the arts and science. There’s also a piece on the future of masculinity, titled ‘Will Boys Still Be Boys’, which asks what will happen to boys now that the idea that there is a natural realm of masculinity, such as superiority and aggression, has been disproved. The concern with ethnic minority authors has always been there, or at least since the 1990s. Then, and in the early part of this century, a frequent theme of the Festival was ‘crossing continents’, which gave a platform to prominent literary authors from outside Europe and the West. It also gave space to Black and Asian literature from the UK. I can remember too, how one of the events staged at the Festival was a celebration of Black British poetry, much of it in Caribbean Patois.

The Festival also caters for more popular tastes. In the past it had speaking the Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, along with the approved, heavyweight literary types. It has events for children’s books, and this year features such media celebrities as Francis Rossi from Status Quo and Paul Merton. So, something for everyone, or so it seems.

But nevertheless, the Establishment bias is there, especially as so many of the speakers, like Maitlis and Humphreys, are drawn from the mainstream media. Back in the 1990s the Festival was sponsored by the Independent. Now it’s sponsored by the Times, the Murdoch rag whose sister paper, the Sunset Times, has spent so much time smearing Corbyn and his supporters as Communist infiltrators or vicious anti-Semites. Maitlis and Humphreys are BBC news team, and so, almost by definition, they’re Conservative propagandists. Especially as Humphreys is retiring, and has given interviews and written pieces for the Heil. Any chance of hearing something from the Cheltenham Festival about the current political situation that doesn’t conform to what the Establishment wants you to hear, or is prepared to tolerate? Answers on a postcard, please. Here’s a couple of examples. One of the topics under discussion is ‘Populism’. I don’t know what they’re planning to include in it, but from previous discussions of this in the media, I’m prepared to bet that they’ll talk about Trump, possibly Boris Johnson, the rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Marine Le Pen former Front National in France, the AfD in Germany, Orban and so on in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Five Star Movement in Italy. All of whom are definitely populists. But they’ll also probably include Corbyn and Momentum, because Corbyn is genuinely left-wing, challenges the Thatcherite neoliberal consensus and will empower the masses. All of which threatens the Establishment. There are also individual politicians speaking this year, but the only one I found from the Left was Jess Philips. Who isn’t remotely left-wing in the traditional sense, though she is an outspoken feminist.

The other topic is about what should be done with Putin. Now let’s not delude ourselves, Putin is a corrupt thug, and under him Russia has become once again a very autocratic state. Political and religious dissidents, including journalists, are being attacked, jailed and in some cases murdered. Among the religious groups he’s decided are a threat to Mother Russia are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not a member of the denomination, and find their doorstep campaigning as irritating as everyone else. But they are certainly not a dangerous cult or terrorist organisation. And they have stood up to tyrants. They were persecuted by the Nazis during the Third Reich, with their members imprisoned in the concentration camps, including a 17 year old boy, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular messiah. For which I respect for them. The Arkhiplut has enriched himself, and rewarded his cronies with company directorships, while assassinating the oligarchs, who haven’t toed his line. And I still remember the genocidal butchery he unleashed in Chechnya nearly two decades ago, because they had the temerity to break away.

But geopolitically, I don’t regard Putin as a military threat. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Putin is interested solely in preserving the safety of his country from western encirclement. Hence the invasion of the Ukraine to protect the Russian minority there. If he really wanted to conquer the country, rather than the Donbass, his tanks would be in Kiev by now. I’ve blogged before about how Gorbachev was promised by the West that in return for allowing the former eastern European satellites to break away from the USSR, they would remain neutral and not become members of NATO. That’s been violated. They’ve all become members, and there are NATO military bases now on Russia’s doorstep. The Maidan Revolution of 2012 which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian president of Ukraine was stage managed by the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. There’s evidence that the antagonism against Putin’s regime comes from western multinationals, who feel aggrieved at not being able to seize Russian companies as promised by Putin’s predecessor, the corrupt, drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin. Putin also seems to be quite genuine in his belief in a multipolar world, in which his country, as well as others like China, are also superpowers. But the Americans are interested only in maintaining their position as the world’s only superpower through ‘full spectrum dominance’: that is, absolute military superiority. The US’ military budget supersedes both the Russian and that of the four other major global countries combined. Arguably, Russia ain’t the global threat. America and NATO are.

Festivals like that of Cheltenham are important. They’re business arrangements, of course. They exist to sell books. But they also encourage literacy, and allow the public to come face to face with the people, who inform and entertain them through the written word. Although here the books’ pages of Private Eye complained years ago that the Festival and others like it gave more space to celebrities from television, sport, music and other areas, rather than people, whose primary living was from writing. But the information we are given is shaped by the media – by the papers and broadcasters, who give the public the news, and the publishers, who decide which books on which subjects to publish. And then there’s the bias of the individual festivals themselves. And in the case of Cheltenham, it is very establishment. It’s liberal in terms of feminism and multiculturalism, but other conservative, and increasing Conservative, in others. It’s through events like Cheltenham that the media tries to create and support the establishment consensus.

But that consensus is rightly breaking down, as increasingly more people become aware that it is only creating mass poverty. The Establishment’s refusal to tolerate other, competing opinions – their demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Nazis, for example – is leading to further alienation and disaffection. Working people don’t find their voices and concerns reflected in the media. Which is why they’re turning to the online alternatives. But Festivals like Cheltenham carry on promoting the same establishment agenda, with the odd voice from the opposition, just like the Beeb’s Question Time. And this is going to change any time soon, not with lyingt rags like the Times sponsoring it.

Dictator Johnson Unites Country Against Him

September 2, 2019

On Wednesday there were demonstrations against BoJob’s proroguing of parliament the same day as he, or rather, the West Country’s answer to the Slender Man, Jacob Rees-Mogg, persuaded the Queen to sign his wretched order. Even more followed on Saturday, with people marching up and down the country holding banners and placards, making it very clear what Johnson is: a dictator.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke to protesters in Glasgow denouncing BoJob’s decision. The Labour leader also issued a tweet thanking everyone who had taken to the streets both their and across the country, and pledging the Labour party to oppose BoJob’s attack on British democracy and stop a no-deal Brexit.

In London, demonstrators marched on Buckingham palace to make their feelings very known about the Queen’s decision to give in to his demand to assume authoritarian rule. The were also demonstrations in Hereford, Staffordshire, Nottingham, Oxford, King’s Lynn, where the local radio station for West Norfolk, KLFM 967 came down to cover the demo; and in Trafalgar Square in London.

Please see Mike’s blog for the images peeps posted on Twitter of these demonstrations: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/31/britons-take-to-the-streets-across-the-country-to-stopthecoup/

One of the most sharply observed was the banner at the beginning of Mike’s article, showing BoJob wearing a swastika armband and Nazi officer’s cap, flanked either side by the evil clown from Stephen King’s It, with balloons above them showing his and Rees-Mogg’s heads. This bore the slogan ‘Before 1933 People Thought Hitler Was A Clown Too…’. Yes, they did. One of the characters in Bernardo Bertolucci’s cinematic classic, The Conformist, makes that exact same point. The film’s about a man, who becomes a Fascist assassin after believing he has shot and killed the paedophile, who had attempted to assault him. In one scene, one of the characters reminisces how, when he was in Germany in the 1920s, there was a man, who used to go round the beer halls making speeches and ranting. ‘We all used to laugh at him’, the character recalls, and adds that they used to throw beer glasses at him. He then sombrely concludes ‘That man was Adolf Hitler’. And before he came to power, some Germans used to go to his rallies just for the fun of seeing who he would abuse next. Presumably this was in the same manner that people used to tune in to the genuine comedy character, Alf Garnett, although Garnett was very definitely a satirical attack on racism and the bigotry of working class Conservatism. Another banner made the same comparison with the Nazi machtergreifung: ‘Wake Up, UK! Or Welcome to Germany 1933′. Again, this is another, acute pertinent comparison. Everything Hitler did was constitutional, as was Mussolini’s earlier coup in Italy. Democracy collapsed in those countries because of its weakness, not because of the Fascists’ strength. And they were helped into power by right-wing elites in the political establishment, who believed that including them in a coalition would help them break a parliamentary deadlock and smash the left.

Zelo Street also covered the demonstrations against Johnson’s attempt to become generalissimo. The Sage of Crewe noted that not only were people marching in London, and large provincial cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Brighton, but they were also occurring in middle ranking towns like Shrewsbury, Bournemouth, Cirencester, Lichfield, Stroud, Colwyn Bay, Clitheroe, Oxford, Swindon, Middlesborough, Exeter, Southampton, Derby, Weston-super-Mare, Falmouth, Bangor, York, Poole, Leamington Spa. Cheltenham Spa, Chester and others. ‘Places that do not usually do protests’. And the protesters are not, whatever BoJob’s focus groups say, going to vote for him.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/stop-coup-people-speak.html

I doubt that the demonstrations will personally have much effect on Johnson himself. He’s a typical Tory, and so has absolutely nothing but contempt for popular protest. However, the march on Buckingham Palace may have made an impression on the genuine guardians of the British constitution. The monarchy is supposed to be one of Britain’s central institutions, like parliament. Prime ministers come and go, but the monarchy is a central pillar of the British constitution. And its guardians in the British establishment may not take kindly to Johnson dragging the Queen down with him. There may also be some hope in that it was popular demonstrations and dissatisfaction with an unjust policy – the poll tax – that culminated in the removal of Thatcher. I hope it isn’t long before BoJob goes the same way.

 

 

 

Giles Coren Racially Abuses Megan Markle

August 6, 2019

Just as the CST this weekend decided to smear 36 people as anti-Semites, largely because they supported Jeremy Corbyn, and hated the Tories, Rachel Riley, and Tom Watson, Times‘ columnist Giles Coren made his own racist comment about Prince Harry’s consort, Megan Markle. Harry had said that he intends to have only two children because of the the current environmental crisis. So Coren jumped in and declared that he really said it because Markle had ‘raised the drawbridge’ and it was really due to domestic squabbles between the royal couple. He then went on and declared that they had booked a meeting with a marriage guidance counselor, but had got Jane Goodall instead.

That’s Jane Goodall, the primatologist, who studied gorillas.

The good peeps on Twitter were not amused, and pointed out just how racist the tweet was. It’s the old sneer about Black people being subhuman monkeys. They also predicted that if Coren was taken to task for it, he’d immediately start trying to excuse it by saying he wasn’t being racist, honest, and then give out some remarks supporting him by his White friends, while issuing some kind of non-apology.

Zelo Street concluded his article on this nasty little piece of privileged racism

From Coren there has so far been silence. But he will have to say something, even if he attempts to cover his tracks by pretending he didn’t mean what he clearly did mean.
Attempts to normalise racism are worrying. Attempts to normalise racism coming from a supposedly quality paper are not just worrying – they are totally inexcusable.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/giles-coren-right-royal-racist.html

Coren is the Times’ restaurant critic, and like several other ‘slebs, he has quaffed deep of the well of mediocrity. It’s unlikely he would have got his job, and appeared on TV – he was one of the ‘Supersizers’ who every week looked back at the cuisine in different periods of the past with Sue Perkins – if he didn’t come from a privileged background.

He is also sadly not alone in his sneers and abuse at Markle. The I’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown commented on it in her column in this morning’s edition of the paper. She noted the ugly racism hiding behind these sneers. They’re based on outrage at an American woman of colour with genuinely feminist views marrying into the royal family. How dare she! Especially after she edited Vogue to list the leading, most influential and inspirational women.

I’ve no doubt that part of the sneer also comes from part of the Tory right’s bitter hatred of environmentalism. The Daily Heil published a whole slew of articles a few years ago declaring global warming to be fake, because the Russians apparently said so. And Trump’s government is doing its level, horrendous best to close down and silence the Environmental Protection Agency for the Republicans’ supporters and donors in the petrochemical industry, like the notorious Koch brothers. I’ve got a feeling the Times is one of the other newspapers, whose columnists have tried to discredit climate change. I seem to remember one of the producers of the BBC science documentary series, Horizon, remarking at a talk at the Cheltenham Festival of Science a few years ago how he had been forced to put right gently another very well established journo, who didn’t believe in it.

I believe a number of members of the royal family are also patrons of the World Wide Fund for Nature, what used to be the World Wildlife Fund, and so do have an interest in conservation. Which would suggest that Harry’s statement on why he was having no more than two sprogs is entirely genuinely. One of the problems is overpopulation, although in the West birthrates are actually falling to or below replacement level, so that there may well be a demographic crisis due to this. Quite apart from all the nutters, who believe that it’s all part of the ‘Great Replacement’ in which the Jews are secretly destroying the White race to replace them with non-White immigrants.

This isn’t the first Coren has expressed noxious, right-wing views either. A little while ago he took it upon himself to sneer at people from council estates. I have no idea why, except perhaps just sheer snobbery. Now he’s found a new target in Megan Markle. And it’s an example of the racism, snobbery and reactionary anti-environmentalism that now permeates and shames the Tory press. And it shows just how nasty the Times has become under Murdoch.

 

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.