Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

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Did the Tories Start an Advertising Campaign to Discredit Sociology in the 1970s-80s?

October 9, 2017

I heard this from a friend of mine, who has an MA in Cultural Studies. He told me that in the 1970s, the Tories paid Maggie’s favourite advertisers, Saatchi & Saatchi, to start an advertising campaign designed to discredit sociology. The Tories wanted to turn the British public against the subject by presenting it as an intellectually fraudulent pseudo-subject, dominated by Marxists. To do this, Saatchi & Saatchi placed comments sneering at, or otherwise disparaging the subject in other adverts. One of these, my friend claimed, was the advert for BT with Maureen Lipman, in which the actress is delighted that her son has got an ‘ology’, in this case a qualification in sociology.

Cultural Studies arose as a reaction to it, combining some social history with feminist and left-wing cultural criticism, including the French postmodern philosophers Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan. While there was a reaction against postmodernism in the 1990s, such as in Michael Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures, Cultural Studies was left largely alone. This was because it’s research and conclusions were qualitative, rather than quantitative. It presented a series opinions on the nature of society, but, unlike sociology, it was not dominated by statistics, which had the potential to show unpalatable truths that the Tories would like to hide.

I’d be interested in finding out more about this. For as long as I can remember, sociology has had that image of a non-subject, taught in modish redbrick universities by Communists. And it’s true that Marx has been called the founder of sociology because of his research trying to show how the economic structure of society determined its overall form. However, others have suggested that the origins of sociology go further back to Auguste Comte, an atheist, who wished to establish a ‘religious of humanity’ with its own rituals and priesthood, and who also advocated the use of statistics for investigating social conditions.

One of the other major influences on sociology was Emile Durckheim, the founder of fuctionalism. This is the view that society functions somewhat like a machine or organism, with different parts of it performing different functions according to the needs of society as a whole. From what I understand, Durckheim was a socialist, but not a Marxist.

There’s also a very strong relationship with anthropology, which began long before Marx, and whose major 20th century influence was Boleslaw Malinowski. Malinowski was the creator of ‘participant observation’, the view that anthropologists should ‘get off the missionaries’ veranda’ and live amongst the people they are researching, in order to experience their way of life and see the world and their culture from their point of view. Or as close to it as possible. Ethnographers don’t just research the lives and customs of primal societies in the Developing World. They are also active researching different social groups and subcultures in developed countries like Britain, America and Europe. One aspect of this project was the establishment of Mass Observation in the ’30s. This was founded by a group of anthropologists, who complained that less was known about the lives of ordinary people in this country, than about tribes in remote Africa or Asia, for example. They therefore set about trying to correct this by carrying out research into what ordinary working class Brits were doing.

Some of this research was very bizarre. A book came out on Mass Observation in 1985, and I can remember reading a review of it in the Observer. One bit of research consisted of one of the anthropologists going into the toilets in a pub and timing how long it took the men there to use the urinal. I wonder how the man avoided being beaten up, or arrested. Nevertheless, they did much valuable research, some of which formed the basis for the first television documentaries on the British working class made in the 1950s.

And even in the 1980s, not every Tory stalwart was convinced that sociology was dominated by Commies. I can remember reading a piece in the Torygraph in 1986/7, in which one female Tory stated that while sociology had a reputation for left-wing jargon and viewpoints, ‘there was nothing more Conservative’.

The story that the Tories made a deliberate effort to discredit sociology isn’t one that I’ve heard before, but it does ring true. As does my friend’s opinion that they left Cultural Studies alone because it didn’t back up its critique with statistical facts, or at least, not to the same extent as sociology. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, has said there that it seemed to him that postmodernism was a retreat from actively critiquing and combating modern capitalism and Conservatism. Instead of presenting a clear expose of the way elite groups and corporations ran governments in order to reinforce the class structure and keep the working class, the poor and other marginalized groups in their place, exploited at the bottom of the social hierarchy, postmodernism instead produced mountains of largely unreadable and intellectually pretentious text, much of which was deliberately obscure. The leading postmodernists were left-wing, but the obscurity of their prose meant that to some they had little to say of any real political value. That was the attitude of Michael Sokal, a scientist of very left-wing opinions, who had resigned from his career in American academia to teach mathematics in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In recent years Cultural Studies has been attacked by the right in its turn. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have declared that it, and related subjects, are full of Gramscian Marxists attacking traditional western society in order to introduce Communism. This has in turn resulted in anyone, who offers any kind of left-wing critique of Conservativism or traditional western society being denounced as a ‘cultural Marxist’.

My friend was convinced that the Saatchi campaign against sociology was part of a wider Thatcherite assault on intellectual freedom in the universities. Thatcher was rabidly anti-Communist, and passed legislation that tried to make it illegal for Marxists, or members of Marxist organisations, to hold tenure at universities. Hence the rise of people calling themselves ‘Marxian’. It was a legalistic device by which academics, who held Marxist views, described themselves as ‘cultural Marxists’, that is, people who had a Marxist culture, which allowed them to hold on to their jobs.

If it is true that Maggie and the Saatchis tried to discredit sociology, then it shows just how afraid the Tories were of their favourite economic theories being discredited by inconvenient fact. As indeed they have been for a very long time. I can remember how they began redefining unemployment to create the false impression that it had decreased when I was at school back in the 1980s. It also shows how deeply, profoundly anti-intellectual Conservatism is. There’s no particularly surprise there. The philosopher Roger Scruton in his book on the new Conservatism in the 1980s stated quite clearly that it wasn’t intellectual, but based on respect for tradition. And more recently we’ve seen a succession of Republican administrations in America attacking the teaching of evolution in schools and trying to suppress the evidence for climate change.

The Tories don’t just rely on propaganda and distorted news to support their rule. They have also been actively engaged in censoring and using propaganda in order to spread ignorance and misinformation against established academic disciplines. Their goal is to keep ordinary working people poor and uninformed. They are a party of anti-intellectuals, who aim to rule partly by spreading stupidity and ignorance.

Telesur English: Caribbean Paying the Price for Developed World’s Global Warming

September 29, 2017

This is another extremely short video from Telesur English, covering the speech by the president of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit. The video and President Skerrit make the point that the developed world is responsible for the pollution that is altering this planet’s climate. The rise in sea and air temperatures mean that storms, such as the hurricane that recently devastated so much of the Caribbean, have greater force. The Caribbean itself contributes about 0.001% to the carbon emissions driving climate change. Telesur makes the case that it is capitalism that is the root cause of these storms, and that the peoples of the Caribbean are the innocent victims of a war produced by the developed world.

Yesterday’s Science Fiction as Today’s Reality: Bruce Sterling’s ‘Heavy Weather’

September 13, 2017

Bruce Sterling was, with William Gibson, one of the leading members of the ‘Mirrorshades’ group of SF writers, who launched cyberpunk in the 1980s. This is the SF genre set in dystopian, corporate futures, whose streetwise picaresque heroes entire a VR cyberspace through jacking into the Web. If you want an idea what the genre’s like, see the film Blade Runner, although the film actually came out while Gibson was writing his groundbreaking novel, Neuromancer.

This week the news has been dominated by hurricane Harvey and the other storms that are wreaking such havoc in Florida, Bermuda and other parts of the Caribbean. In a previous article I put up this evening about Trump’s appointment of Jim Bridenstine, a scientific illiterate, who doesn’t believe in climate change as head of NASA, I discussed how Jimmy Dore and his co-host Steffi Zamorano and Ron Placone had said that these storms bear out the continuing decline of the Earth’s climate. Way back in the early part of this century, after several heatwaves, climate scientists warned that climate change meant that the weather would become more extreme.

And Bruce Sterling wrote an entire book about the superstorms that would arise due to climate change in his 1994 SF novel, Heavy Weather (London: Millennium).

This was set in the devastated Texas of the early 21st century, where the aquifers have dried up. It’s a state wracked by violent storms, where thousands have been left homeless and forced into refugee camps by the unstable climate. The blurb for the book reads

2031 – the atmosphere’s wrecked. The Storm Troupers – media unit, scientists, techno-freaks – get their kicks from weather. Hooked up to drones through virtual-reality rigs, they can plunge like maddened darts into the eye of a storm and surf a ride from hell.

Their Holy Grail: the F6, a tornado so intense it’s off the scale. Dangerous in the extreme. Also dangerous: certain people’s sick dreams, full of tornado trails, shining insane paths of endless howling destruction.

The high-tech wonders of a decaying world … and a bunch of wild nomads longing to be blown away.

I think the book was a response by literary SF to the film Twister, about a group of meteorologists chasing tornadoes across the southern US, starring Piers Brosnan. I don’t think we’ve quite reached the level where masses of Americans are being left homeless in refugee camps, nor are their groups quite like the Storm Troupers. But these violent storms are becoming a reality, and will become ever worse as the climate deteriorates.

As Max Headroom used to say in his trailers for Channel 4: ‘The future…is now’.

And it’s disgusting that Trump’s trying to close down climate research, and put in charge of NASA someone who knows precious little about science, and doesn’t believe in climate change.

Stephen Hawking on Why We Need to Colonise Space

September 6, 2017

Next Monday evening, 11th September 2017, on BBC 2 at 9 pm, Professor Stephen Hawking will present a programme arguing that humanity needs to colonise another world. Entitled The Search for a New Earth, the blurb for the programme on page 72 of the Radio Times runs

Physicist Stephen Hawking thinks the human species will have to populate a new planet within 100 years if it is to survive, with climate change, pollution, deforestation, pandemics and population growth making life on Earth increasingly precarious. In this programme he examines whether humans could relocate to other planets, travelling the globe to meet scientists, technologists and engineers working on the means and method.

There’s more information about the programme on page 71. This passage states that

Stephen Hawking is convinced that, if we are not to risk annihilation, humans need to leave Earth within the next 100 years and make a new home on another planet.

It sounds like sci-fi, but a planet has already been discovered “in our neighbourhood” that’s a contender: Proxima B is in the Goldilocks Zone (the narrow orbit where conditions are perfect to sustain human life), but we’d need a massive technological feat just to get us there.

Astrophysicist Danielle George and Hawking protégé Christophe Galfard explore the practicality of where and how e could create a human colony in space.

There’s also a single page feature about the programme in the Radio Times on page 31, which includes Danielle George’s replies to the following questions

Do we really need to leave Earth?

What does a new planet need to be human-friendly?

How many people will it take to set up a colony?

Stephen Hawking believes Proxima B may be the most suitable planet. Why?

How far away is Proxima B?

How long would it take to travel 4.2 light years?

Could we fit 20 years’ worth of astronaut food into a spaceship?

Dow we have the right to take over another planet?

Do you think there is the will to make this happen?

Regarding the amount of time required to journey to Proxima B, George states that using current chemical rockets it would take 250,000 years. But there is a project at Caliphornia where they are experimenting with propelling a nano probe the size of a mobile phone sim card using a laser beam. This may make it possible for such a probe to reach Proxima in 20 years.

That last sounds like a version of the old proposal to use space-based lasers to send a light sail to another star. One of the proposed missions was Starwisp, which would use solar sails to carry a 50 kilo instrument package to Alpha Centauri. The probe would reach a speed of 1/3 of the speed of light, and make the journey in something like 20 years.

The veteran hard SF writer, Larry Niven, also used the idea of laser-driven solar sails in his classic The Mote in God’s Eye. This is about the encounter between an expanding human galactic empire, and an alien race, the Moties. These are so called because their homeworld is a planet in a nebula dubbed Murchison’s Eye by humanity. The Moties are highly intelligent, but lack the Anderson Drive that has made it possible for humans to move out into the Galaxy. Instead, they have sent a vessel out on the centuries long voyage across interstellar in a ship using such a solar sail, powered by laser beam from their own system. It is the light from the laser beam which has given the Moties’ nebula its characteristic red colour.

As well as being super-intelligent, the Moties also possess between three and four arms, depending on their caste and function, and change sex throughout their life. Which makes me wonder whether the writers of the X-Files’ episode, ‘Gender Bender’, about a group of sex-changing aliens, who live an existence like the Amish had also drawn on the book for their inspiration. As well as the writers of Doctor Who when they decided that the Time Lords are also not restricted to remaining the same sex when they regenerate.

Jimmy Dore: Obama Voted against UN Resolution Condemning Nazism

August 26, 2017

This is very interesting. In this clip, the left-wing American comedian and his co-hosts discuss Barak Obama’s voted against a UN resolution last year condemning Nazism. The resolution was for ‘combating glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism, and other practices contributing to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’. America was one of only three countries which voted against it. One of the others was Palau Palau, which I think is a Polynesian island nation.

The reason Obama gave for voting against it was that while his administration condemned all forms of racism and ethnic and religious hatred, they objected to it because it contravened free speech. As Dore points out, the right to free speech does not cover crimes such as libel and incitement to criminal activity. And these crimes surely cover being a Nazi, who wishes to exterminate others simply because of their race.

Reporting the vote, the newspaper USA News stated it was because America was afraid Russia would use the resolution to launch attacks on its neighbours. Dore states he doesn’t know how that would work, but suspects it has something to do with the Nazis in the Ukraine. He also concludes the piece stating that this is an issue to watch, as there is something else going on there behind the scenes.

He also makes the point right at the beginning of the clip that this incident is very interesting, considering that everyone is now criticizing Donald ‘Donnie Tiny Hands’ Trump for his highly equivocal comments about the White supremacists, racists and Nazis in Charlottesville. Trump says that there are ‘fine people on both sides’. There obviously aren’t, as being a hate-twisted Nazi clearly definitely makes you not a ‘fine person’.

Dore has already made the point many times in his videos that for all his fine talk about egalitarianism, racial and religious tolerance, fairness and so on, Obama was as ruthlessly corporatist as his predecessors, giving generous handouts to the banks and other corporations, and privatizing vital public services like America’s school system. This was often against the wishes of parents, the local community, the teaching staff and local clergy. Afro-Americans were particularly concerned about the changes and the damage this would do to their children’s education.

Dore has also made the point that Obama took the two wars Bush had started, and expanded them into seven.

One reason Obama got away with this was probably because of his colour. The election of an Afro-American to the White House was hailed as showing that racism was dead in America, and that the country was now ‘post-racial’. The Nobel Committee awarded him the Peace Prize even before he had actually done anything.

And yet under Obama, America became even more bitterly racist, and racially divided. Some of this was due to an extreme right-wing reaction, which saw Republicans and talk radio hosts claiming that the new president was filled with a burning hatred for Whites, and was a crypto-Communist-Nazi-Maoist-Muslim infiltrator, who was going to outlaw guns, put everyone in concentration camps, and kill more people than Mao or Stalin.

It’s possible that one reason why Obama did not vote for the UN’s condemnation of Nazism and its glorification is because Nazis and White supremacists in America have used the Second Amendment guaranteeing free speech to avoid prosecution for their own vile sputterings. Dore and The Young Turks have made the point that Obama delayed giving any money to the anti-racist, anti-Nazi group, Life After Hate, until the very end of his presidency because he was afraid of Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh’s a long-time feature of America Conservative radio, who’s been fouling the airwaves with his vitriolic hatred of the organized working class, Socialism, ethnic minorities, feminism, climate change and liberals since the days of Ronald Reagan. It’s possible that Obama was afraid of him and those like him on this issue too. Some members of the Right, which automatically hate and despise the UN as anti-American anyway, would automatically seize on any support Obama gave to the resolution as showing his determination to exterminate the White race. Even though Israel, which America wholeheartedly supports, had also voted for it.

But the real reason is undoubtedly what USA News said it was: the Americans were afraid Russia would use the resolution to launch attacks on its neighbours. Which also include Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution, which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian Ukrainian president and installed the present nationalist, pro-Western regime, was a carefully staged coup, partly orchestrated by Victoria Nuland, the American ambassador, and the American embassy, as well as pro-democracy organisations like those of George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED is a quasi-governmental organization, which William Blum has shown in his books has taken over the CIA’s role of overthrowing awkward foreign government the Americans don’t like.

And the coalition now governing Ukraine includes real, unreconstructed Nazis, who are every bit as violent and vicious as those in the West. They proudly wear the uniforms of the auxiliary SS regiments in which many Ukrainian nationalists served during the Second World War. And the beat and persecute trade unionists, ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and real democrats.

Russian forces are in the Ukraine, but they are there very much to protect ethnic Russians from attack and persecution from the Ukrainian nationalists. It’s why they’ve stayed in the east of the country. If Putin was really set on reconquering Ukraine for a new, Soviet empire, he’d be in Kiev by now, rather than the Donbass.

I’m therefore very sure that this resolution was voted down by Obama, because of the threat it posed to American attempts to interfere with Ukraine, and contain or break Russia as a geopolitical power. And in so doing, Obama also gave a little more help to the Fascists that ran amok in Charlottesville the Friday before last.

The Young Turks on the Republicans’ Hatred of College Education

August 20, 2017

‘Do I detect an air of anti-intellectualism in this country? Came in about four years ago.’

-Bill Hicks, American comic, speaking four years after the election of Ronald Reagan.

Earlier today I posted a piece commenting on clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, about Rush Limbaugh’s mindlessly stupid ridiculing of NASA’s announcement that they may have discovered flowing water on Mars. Limbaugh’s a right-wing radio host, who’s been fouling the airwaves with his views about liberals, socialists, communists, gays, feminists, anti-racism activists and so on since the 1980s. He sneered at NASA’s announcement because – wait for it – the agency was part of a ‘leftist’ plot to promote global warming!

Not only does he not understand the science, nor the reality of global warming, I don’t think he knows anything about NASA. I know quite a few people, who are fans of space exploration and research from across the political spectrum, including Conservatives. None of them have ever considered that the space agency was ‘left-wing’, although some of its leading scientists and advocates, like Carl Sagan, were. And the accusation that the agency’s data on global warming is faked for political purposes is risible.

But this shows the contempt Limbaugh has for science, and for education generally.

Florence, one of the many great commenters on this blog, has a background in microbiology and has been very interested in the question of life in space. She has posted a long comment to my piece. I recommend that you read all of it. But the end is particularly important, as she wonders how we got to this point where science is so despised.

And of course, back to NASA. I was fairly sure the alt-idiocy had already “proven” it was part of the deep state and the heart of black ops and skunk works and a branch of the CIA. These latest revelations only serve, as you say, to illustrate the total lack of education to an acceptable level in this day and age, more worryingly the lack of scientists in government in the USA and across the world. The charge against the scientific community lead by Trump and his “business men” ilk, with the violent and thuggish self styled fascist enforcers and militias coming out the woodwork in the last year, make the premise of the Handmaids Tale seem worryingly prophetic. How did this happen?

I think it’s part of a general distrust of intellectuals in American culture, which has increased massively amongst Republicans in recent years. In the piece below, The Young Turks discuss the finding that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning people distrust college education. They also note that they don’t just look down on higher education. They also hate and distrust the media and science. 58 per cent of Republicans and Republican supporters state that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, compared to 45 per cent a year ago, in 2016.

Cenk Uygur suggests that part of this is the use of propaganda by the party’s leaders. Part of the problem is that Conservatives tend to be more authoritarian than left-wingers. Thus, they’re more likely to follow the opinions of their leaders, and in the case of the Republican party, these leaders despise higher education.

Ana Kasparian, his co-host, who I believe teaches political science herself, argues that it’s because the Republicans want to keep you stupid. They’re trying to privatize education, and get children instead to attend private schools through voucher schemes, where the normal educational standards do not apply. There’s more than an element of hypocrisy in this. Those public figures trying to destroy the American educational system and minimize the benefits of higher education are themselves highly educated. Many of them have gone to Ivy League universities. Anne Coulter is one example. In her book, which Kasparian laments she has had to read, ’cause she’s got to debate her, Coulter states that the only purpose of college education is to produce ‘social justice warriors’. Yet this woman went to Cornel. Yet education is one of the great indicators of how well an individual will do in the future. And as she points out, it also protects you from scams.

Yet the Republicans themselves are also slightly divided on the issue of the benefits of higher education. 46 per cent of Republicans earning less than $30,000 a year say that college has a beneficial effect on how well you do. This declines for those earning over $30,000 all the way down to 32 per cent.

Uygur and Kasparian admit that there are caveats and qualifications to this issue. Higher education has a down side, in that students are saddled with an immense amount of debt. This needs to be reformed. But Republicans don’t see college as a negative because they feel sorry for the students burdened with this debt. No, they want to keep people stupid and misinformed, so they don’t climb the economic ladder and they can’t fill them with some of the nonsense they believe.

Uygur concludes ‘So don’t go to university, because if you go to a real university, you might not go to a Trump university, and that would be bad for Trump.’

Once again, this is an American issue that applies almost in toto to Britain. Continental visitors and emigrants to Britain have commented on how anti-intellectual British society is. And this anti-intellectualism is again part of British Conservatism as well. Way back in the 1980s Private Eye reviewed a book on Conservative by the right-wing British philosopher, Roger Scruton. Scruton declared that Conservativism wasn’t an intellectual force, but was largely unspoken, and based on the power of tradition. For which the reviewer thanked Scruton for being honest about how anti-intellectual it was. Intellectuals and science are distrusted, because many of their findings contradict or cast doubt on traditional attitudes. For example, feminism attacks traditional notions of gender roles. Black and Asian intellectuals and activist have also undermined commonly held racial assumptions about White superiority and the subordinate role of their ethnic groups. Left-wing historians and political scientists have also challenged the class basis of western, including American and British society, as well as the supposed beneficial nature of western imperialism.

Some of the Republican distrust of science comes from Biblical literalism. The findings of geology and cosmology contradict a literal reading of the creation of the world in Genesis. That said, one study found that the people, who had the greatest faith in science were actually Creationists.

The Republicans and some of their British counterparts, like Nigel Lawson, also deny the reality of global warming. Hence Trump’s decision to close down that part of the federal government that researches and publishes studies of climate change and the pollution and decline of America’s epic natural beauty. It’s why Theresa May and Dave Cameron get annoyed whenever anyone shows how terrible fracking is for local people and the environment.

Science can be particularly difficult for the layperson to understand. It can involve very careful statistical analysis of complex data. And some of the raw phenomena are extremely weird. Quantum physics is a case in point. The world of subatomic particles is contradictory and very different from the macroscopic, everyday world. Subatomic particles dart into and out of existence in the quantum foam at the very lowest layer of matter. Light can be simultaneously a wave and a particle. Particles may be in two places at once, under their position is recorded by an observer. They can also move between one place in the atom to another without physically crossing the space in between. And two entangled atoms can behave as one, even though they may be separated by light years. It’s so bizarre that the scientists studying it have said that ‘you don’t understand it. You just get used to it.’

Also, some of the pronouncements made by intellectuals themselves have given critics ample ammunition. Like the statement by one professor a few years ago that snowmen were racist and sexist. Or the £20,000 in grant one scientist received for researching the terribly important issue of why cornflakes get soggy when you pour milk on them.

There’s also the problem that scientific opinion also keeps changing on medical matters. Every so often researchers discover that certain foods are harmful for you. On the other hand, certain others are beneficial. Only for these opinions to be revised a few years later.

But the nature of science is that it is a process, not a set body of knowledge, and that it’s conclusions and statements may be revised as and when later discoveries are made. It’s why no-one now believes that an immaterial fluid – the ether – permeates the universe, with atoms only whirlpools in it, as they did over a century or so ago.

And so the right-wing press, like the Scum all the way up to the Torygraph, and particularly the Daily Heil, will publish endless numbers of articles attacking ‘left-wing’ intellectuals. Paul Johnson, the Conservative pundit, who used to write for the Daily Mail and Spectator, amongst other rags, wrote a book on them. Entitled Intellectuals, Johnson used it to explore what right intellectuals had to tell us what was right and how to order our lives. Private Eye also reviewed this as well. You will not be surprised to read that most of the intellectuals Johnson wrote about were left-wing, and many of them had shabby personal lives. Karl Marx is one example. Others were gay, or otherwise had colourful sexual tastes, like Kenneth Tynan, who apparently was into S&M.

But none of this actually refutes the value of their work, which has to be judged on other terms. Marx’s own bad behavior as a man doesn’t contradict his philosophical and economic theories any more than Alan Turing’s homosexuality refutes his work on mathematics and computers. But this doesn’t stop Johnson trying to tell you that their own bad behavior disqualifies intellectuals from having the right to explore how society may be improved. An attitude that, incidentally, is apparently shared by that other Johnson, Boris. This should rule Boris out as well as a serious politician, if true.

In the meantime, don’t let the Tories and Republicans run down public education. And stick up for proper intellectuals and intellectual discourse. As someone once said, ‘Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains.’

Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

Libertarian Sexism – Just Fascist Misogyny Mixed Up with Rothbard and Rand

July 20, 2017

About a week ago I put up a post commenting on a video from Reichwing Watch, a YouTuber who creates videos and documentaries about the rise of the extreme Right. That particularly video remarked on the way contemporary Libertarian was becoming a front for Fascism. The two ideologies share the same hatred of democracy, Socialism, minority rights, and organized labour, and exalt instead authoritarianism, private property and industry. The video included clips of comments from Rand and Ron Paul, Hoppe, Ayn Rand and other Libertarian ideologues laying out their highly elitist views, along with similar comments from Adolf Hitler. Libertarians have often described themselves as Anarcho-Individualists or Anarcho-Capitalists. Now, however, a number of them, of whom the most prominent appears to be the internet blogger, That Guy T, have begun to describe themselves and their ideology as Anarcho-Fascism.

And one of the attitudes they share with traditional Fascism is sexism and a deep distrust of women. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists believed that women were inferior to men, and that, rather than seeking equality and careers, they should properly confine their activity to the home. In Nazi Germany girls were explicitly educated to be home-makers under the official Nazi slogan ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – ‘Children, Kitchen, Church’. This education culminated in a useless qualification derided as the ‘pudding matric’. The Italian Fascists held the same opinions, and also equated masculinity with aggressive militarism. One of Mussolini’s slogans was ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman.’ Incidentally, it’s quite ironic that a female screenwriter, interviewed in the Radio Times this week about her forthcoming detective series about the organized abuse of women in international prostitution, is quoted as saying, ‘motherhood is the equivalent of when men go to war.’ I’ve no doubt many mothers, and fathers, for that matter, see it differently. Though it might appear to be so after they’ve been up all night with a crying baby.

Some of the clearest statements of Fascist misogyny came from the Futurists, the modern art movement launched in 1909 by the Italian poet, Marinetti. This glorified youth, speed, the new machine age, violence, dynamism and virility. Mussolini in his manifesto baldly stated ‘We advocate scorn for woman.’ In his manifesto Contro L’Amore ed il Parlamentarismo – ‘Against Love and the Parliamentary Process’, Marinetti declared ‘the war between the sexes has been unquestioningly prepared by the great agglomerations of the capital cities, by nocturnal habits, and by the regular salaries given to female workers.’ The Futurists were impressed by the militant dynamism of the suffragettes and early feminist movements, but later became violently opposed to any kind of demands for equality or female liberation. Marinetti declared that “Women hasten to give, with lightning speed, a great proof of the total animalization of politics… the victory of feminism, and especially the influence of women on politics will in the end succeed in destroying the principle of the family”.
(‘Love and Sexuality’ in Pontus Hulton, ed. Futurismo: Futurism and Futurisms (Thames and Hudson 1986) 503.

The same attitudes have returned with the rise of the anti-feminist Conservatives following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Much of this is a reaction to the gradual decline of the nuclear family and massive increase in divorce following the emergence of more liberal attitudes to sexuality in the ‘permissive society’. Thus, Conservatives like the American Anne Coulter, Libertarians like Vox Day, and their British counterparts, many of whom seem to be in UKIP, stated very openly that they were in favour of removing women’s right to vote. This was partly because they feel that women favour the Left, and so reject economic individualism and property rights for collectivism and a welfare state. The denizens of the Men’s Rights Movements, who are regularly critiqued and pilloried by the male internet feminist, Kevin Logan, are also vehemently opposed to female sexual liberation. Far and Alt Right vloggers like Avis Aurini sneer at modern women as promiscuous, whose selfish hedonism is a threat to marriage and the family. One of the individuals even hysterically declared that women were responsible for the fall of all civilisations. This would no doubt surprise historians, who have actually studied the reasons for their fall. The forces responsible can include climate change and desertification, foreign invasion, social and political stagnation and economic decline. Rome fell, for example, because from the third century AD onwards it was suffering massive inflation, a growing tax burden that the aristocratic rich evaded, and put instead on the shoulders of the poor, a growing gulf between rich and poor that saw the free Roman plebs decline in legal rights and status to the same level as the slaves, along with the massive expansion of aristocratic estates worked by slaves, urban decline as the population fled to the countryside, a decline in genuine democratic institutions and the rise of feudalism, and, of course, the barbarian invasions. Women don’t feature as a cause, except in the writings of some of the Roman historians commenting on sexual depravity of various emperors, and the general moral decline of Roman society. O tempora! O mores!

Whatever intellectual guise the contemporary Conservative and Libertarian right might want to give such ideas, such misogyny really is just Fascism, or an element of Fascism. It’s just been given another name, and mixed up with the economic individualism of Ayn Rand, von Hayek and von Mises, rather than Hitler, Mussolini and Marinetti. It is, however, rapidly approaching and assimilating them as well. If female freedom and, more widely, a genuinely democratic society are to be preserved, the Fascist nature of such misogyny needs to be recognized, and very firmly rejected.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.