Posts Tagged ‘CND’

Pat Mills: Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History: Part Two

March 30, 2018

The brutal treatment inflicted by the two ‘Prefects of Discipline’ understandable left Mills with a hatred of the Catholic church. He isn’t alone there. The Irish comedian Dave Allen, and his countryman, the much-loved Radio 2 broadcaster and presenter Terry Wogan, also had no particular love of the church because of the similar sadistic discipline they’d also received as part of their Catholic education. And I’ve met many ordinary people since then, who have also fallen away from the church, and often against Christianity altogether, because of it. One of my uncles was brought up a Catholic, but never attended church. This was partly due to the brutality of the monks, who taught him at his school.

Mills also corrects the impression that Judge Dredd was immediately the favourite strip in the comic. The good lawman wasn’t, and it was months before he attained that position. And he also attacks Michael Moorcock for his comments criticising the early 2000AD in the pages of the Observer. Moorcock was horrified by Invasion, and its tale of resistance to the conquest of Britain by the Russians, hastily changed two weeks or so before publication to ‘the Volgans’. Moorcock had been the boy editor of Tarzan comic, and declared that in his day the creators had cared about comics, unlike now, when the creators of 2000AD didn’t. This annoyed Mills, and obviously still rankles, because he and the others were putting a lot of work in to it, and creating characters that children would like and want to read about. One of the recommendations he makes to prospective comics’ creators is that writers should spend four weeks crafting their character, writing and rewriting the initial scripts and outlines of the character in order to get them just right. And artists need two weeks creating and revising their portrayal of them. This was difficult then, as creators were not paid for what Mike McMahon called ‘staring out of the window time’, though Mills generally managed to find someway round that. It’s impossible now, with tight budget and time constraints.

I can see Moorcock’s point about the Invasion strip. It wasn’t Mills’ own idea, although he did it well. True to his beliefs, its hero was working class, a docker called Bill Savage. He didn’t initially want to work on it, and was only persuaded to by the then editor telling him he could have Maggie Thatcher shot on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. But it is a right-wing, Tory fantasy. It appeared at the tale end of the ’70s, when MI5, the CIA and Maggie Thatcher had all been convinced that the Labour leader, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent, and the trade unions and the Labour party riddled with Communists or fellow-travelers ready to do the bidding of Moscow. The strikes in the period led to various arch-Tories, like the editor of the Times, Peregrine Worsthorne, trying to organise a coup against the 1975 Labour administration. And ITV launched their own wretched SF series, in which a group of resistance fighters battle a future socialist dictatorship.

He also discusses the office hatred of the character Finn and the man it was based on. Finn was Cornish, driving a taxi round the streets of Plymouth by day. He was practising witch, and at night battled the forces of evil and against social injustice. The character was based on a man he knew, an ex-squaddie who was a witch. Mills has great affection for this man, who introduced him to modern witchcraft, and in whose company Mills joined in ceremonies at the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. But the management didn’t like him, and had him sacked. There was a persistent dislike of the character, which seemed to come from its basis in witchcraft, and Mills himself was the subject of lurid stories about what he was supposed to get up to at these ceremonies. This ended with the strip’s abrupt cancellation, without proper explanation. Mills states that he is very distantly related to one of the women executed for witchcraft at Salem, and so is very definitely down on people, who despise and malign witches.

I’m not surprised by either the rumours and the hostility to the strip. This was the 1990s, the heyday of the Satanism scare, when across America, Britain and Europe there were stories of gangs of Satanists abusing animals. Children were being conceived by abused women, used as ‘brood mares’, to be later used as sacrifices to Satan. It was all rubbish, but repeated by a wide range of people from Fundamentalist Christians to secular feminist social workers. And it destroyed many lives. You may remember the Orkney scandal, where forty children were taken into care following allegations of abuse. The minister at the local kirk was supposed to be a Satanist, who had an inverted crucifix hanging from his ceiling. It was no such thing. It was, in fact, a model aeroplane.

Much of this dangerous bilge came from a group of rightwing evangelicals at the Express. I’m not surprised. I can remember the Sunday Express repeating some of this drivel, including the ludicrous claim that CND was Satanic because of its symbol. This was declared to be an old medieval witchcraft symbol, based on a broken cross. I mentioned this once to a very left-wing, religious friend, who had been a member of the nuclear disarmament group. He looked straight at me and said levelly, ‘No. It’s semaphore’. The scare pretty much disappeared in Britain after a regular psychiatrist issued a report stating very firmly that such groups didn’t exist. There are several excellent books written against the scare. The two I read are Jeffrey S. Victor’s Satanic Panic and Peter Hough’s Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict. Victor is an American sociologist, and he takes apart both the claims and gives the sociological reasons behind them. Hough is one-time collaborator of ufologist Jenny Randles, and his book comes at it from a sympathetic viewpoint to modern witches and the occult milieu. He talks about the political beliefs of modern occultists. These naturally range all over the political spectrum, but the majority are Lib Dems or supporters of the Green Party and keen on protecting the environment. And far from sacrificing babies or animals, those I knew were more likely to be peaceful veggies than evil monsters straight from the pages of Dennis Wheatley or Hammer Horror.

The 1990s were also a period of crisis for the comic, which went into a spiral of decline as their best talent was stolen by DC for their Vertigo adult imprint. There was a succession of editors, who, flailing around for some way to halt the decline, blamed the remaining creators. They were increasingly critical, and seemed to be encouraging the abuse letters being sent to them from what seemed to be a small minority of fans. There were also plans to interest TV and Hollywood in developing 2000AD characters in film. Mills and Wagner were horrified to find they were giving away the rights dirt cheap – in one case as low as pound. The comic was close to collapse, but was eventually saved by Rebellion and its current editor.

Continued in Part Three.

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RT on the Media Silence over Corbyn Receiving Peace Prize in Geneva

December 12, 2017

RT put up this video yesterday, reporting that the Friday before, Jeremy Corbyn and Noam Chomsky had been awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize by an international committee, the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. The committee had been impressed by the Labour leader’s ‘sustained and powerful work for disarmament and peace’. But they also note that this has not been widely reported in the British press.

Mike also covered the story from the NHS Skwawkbox. They reported that the All Okinawa Council Against Henoko New Base also received the award along with Corbyn and Chomsky. The Bureau was impressed by Corbyn’s work as an ordinary member, then vice-chair and now vice-president of CND, as a past chair of the Stop the War Coalition, as well as his work over 34 years as an MP. They were impressed by his statement that he could not press the button for retaliation in a nuclear attack, and arguing that military spending should be cut and the money spent instead on health, education and welfare.

The award ceremony itself was held on November 24th in Geneva, but Corbyn had to wait until this weekend to collect it.

Mike also noted at the very start of his piece about Corbyn receiving the prise that the British media was silent about it. He wrote:

<strong>Where are the celebrations from the mainstream TV and newspaper media in the UK? The leader of the Labour Party has won a major international peace prize and I can’t find any headlines about it at all, apart from in Skwawkbox!*</strong>

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/12/09/jeremy-corbyn-collects-sean-macbride-peace-prize-2017/

There’s no need to look very hard to find reasons why the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and the British press weren’t keen to report this honour for the Labour leader: they cordially hate him as a threat to the Thatcherite corporatist agenda that is ruining the country and forcing millions of Brits into mass poverty. And his fellow recipients are also enough to give any right-winger a touch of the vapours. Noam Chomsky is a veteran critic of American imperialism. I think in his personal political beliefs he’s an Anarchist/ anarcho-syndicalist. Which means he believes the best form of society would be one where there was no state, and everything was run by the workers through trade unions. The All Okinawa Council against Henoko New Base sounds like one of the local organisations set up on the Japanese island of Okinawa to oppose the presence of the American military base. The Japanese are increasingly resentful of American bases on their territory, and see it very much as military occupation, especially after the Fall of Communism and the removal of the Soviet Union as a threat to Japan.

But America now is a warfare state. It has expanded the war on terror to include military strikes and campaigns in seven countries, and its economy is heavily tied in to government spending on the arms industries. And where you have arms manufacturers with a powerful voice in government, you also find wars. And Britain is being dragged into them through the ‘special relationship’. Not that in Blair’s and Cameron’s case the Americans needed to do much dragging. I got the impression that Blair was enthusiastic for the Iraq invasion, and Blissex, one of the very highly informed commenters on this blog, stated that, according to the Americans, it was Cameron and Sarkozy in France, who pushed for the airstrikes to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya.

Throughout his period as head of the Labour party, the British media has been bitterly biased against Corbyn. When the plotters in the Chicken Coup staged their mass resignations the other year, it began with the collusion of one of the plotters to do it on Andrew Neil’s show. Now that Corbyn has made a genuinely positive achievement, which they can’t very well sneer at, or spin so it reflects badly on him, the media have no choice but to remain silent.

Apart from the issue of defence and western militarism, there are other reasons why the corporate media hate Corbyn: he wants to strengthen the welfare state, and embark on a campaign of renationalisation – renationalising the NHS and also the utilities industries and railways. This frightens the multimillionaire businessmen, who control the papers.

And so in the I yesterday, in the column where it quotes the opinions of the other papers, you had a quote from Simon Heffer in the Torygraph ranting about how ‘Stalinist’ Momentum were trying to deselect the ‘thoroughly decent’ moderates in the Labour party. And another quote from Karren Brady of the Apprentice declaring that Corbyn was a ‘Communist’, who supported nationalisation for his own peculiar reasons. She also reminded us that the nationalised industries had been failures, citing British Gas particularly.

Well, Heffer has always been a Tory spokesman, and the Telegraph has been particularly vocal in its hatred of the Labour leader. Not only is Heffer a dyed in the wool Tory, he was also a contributor to a book celebrating Enoch Powell that came out a few years ago, entitled Enoch at 100. Not only was Powell responsible for inflaming racism in Britain with his ‘rivers of blood’ speech, he was also a Monetarist, which became Thatcher’s favourite economic doctrine. Monetarism was regarded at the time by the majority of economists as stupid and ridiculous, and was effectively abandoned by Thatcher herself later in her tenure of No. 10.

And the ‘moderates’ in the Labour party are no such thing, nor are they ‘decent people’. They are liars and intriguers to a man and woman. They did everything they could to unseat Corbyn, and silence or throw out his supporters. But now that the likes of ‘Bomber’ Benn – so-called because of his enthusiasm for airstrikes on Syria – have failed, the Torygraph has to lament how they’re being ‘persecuted’ by Corbyn’s supporters.

As for Brady’s comments about the nationalised industries, yes, I do remember how there were problems with them. British Gas was notorious, and became notoriously worse after privatisation. But private ownership has very definitely not brought more investment nor improved the performance of the utilities companies. Quite the reverse – the rail network is actually performing worse now than it was in the last years of British Rail. It now consumes a higher government subsidy and charges more for worse services, all to keep its board on their expensive salaries and bonuses and bloated dividends to its shareholders.

But Brady really doesn’t want you to know that. She’s a businesswoman, who clearly stands four-square for the companies seeking to make vast profits from the former state sector. So she very definitely isn’t going to admit that there’s a problem with them.

Brady herself also likes to project herself as some kind of feminist heroine, thrusting through the corporate glass ceiling and inspiring other women and girls to take up the fight to make it in business. As Private Eye mischievously pointed out, this would be more convincing if she hadn’t begun her business career working in the offices of one of the porn companies.

The business elite are frightened of Corbyn, because he’s set to renationalise industry and empower British working people. And so if they can’t vilify him, as they couldn’t with the award of the Sean McBride Peace Prize, they have to keep silent.

Three Soviet Anti-War Posters

October 21, 2017

I found these three posters in the art book, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987 and was struck by their continued relevance to events today. The book is a collection of Soviet political posters from the Bolshevik coup of 1917 to the time the book was published in the mid-1980s, taken from the Lenin library. In many ways it’s an art-historical chronicle of the great events that shaped the Soviet Union, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, collectivisation and industrialisation, the Nazi invasion, nuclear tensions of the Cold War, Gagarin’s epoch-making spaceflight and then on to the years of stagnation under Brezhnev.

Two of the posters below were part of a number produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which the Russians called the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Their message against war is simple and eternal, using the images of a woman and child in one, and a small child in the other, to get the message across.

The Russian behind the little girl reads simply ‘Don’t Need War’.

The slogan in this poster says ‘Not For Wars’.

This last poster is less anti-war, than anti-nuclear testing. Nevertheless, it was painted in 1958 during the Cold War, when the West and the Communist bloc faced each other amid an intense atmosphere of distrust and hostility, and it seemed that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. This is the background to the formation of groups in the West like CND. The Russian is a simple cry of ‘No!’

I realise that there’s an element of hypocrisy in these posters, as the Soviet Union was a military superpower, which used its armed forces to dominate its satellites in eastern Europe, and was intent on developing its own nuclear arsenal.

But I wanted to put these images up because of their powerful message now, when our political leaders seem to be intent on driving us towards another useless, dangerous Cold War with Russia, and Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the madman in charge of North Korea, have been threatening each other with their nuclear and conventional weapons over in the Pacific.

In the case of Kim Jong-In, he’s simply the latest scion of a family of brutal ‘Stalinist’ dictators, who hang on to power through terror and mass arrest. In the case of Trump and the western politicians, the new Cold War is another attempt to isolate and weaken Russia on the geopolitical stage, provide a reason for giving more massive government contracts to the arms manufacturers, and in the case of Killary and the corporatist Democrats, divert attention away from their own very corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia abroad, and Wall Street and big business at home.

America’s wars in the Middle East are killing hundreds of thousands, and have displaced many millions more. They have reduced secular Arab nations to ruins, and created legions of Islamist militants and sectarian death squads, who kill, maim, butcher and enslave in their turn. And now Trump seems intent on forcing some kind of confrontation with Iran.

And so we still need to hear these posters’ vital message, whatever we think of Russia’s Communist past.

During the Cold War of the 1980s, Sting sang ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ The answer from these posters is clearly ‘Yes’. Just as the Arabs and Iranians do.

No more imperialism.

No more war.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lobster Article on British Prime Ministers and the Secret State

October 13, 2016

The Winter 2016 issue of Lobster also has a very disquieting review by John Newsinger of a book on the relationship between British Ministers and the intelligence services, The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac. This discusses not only the way British prime ministers have co-operated with the secret services in the bugging and surveillance of the Left, and how they used the services in a series of foreign operations, including Iraq, but also how the same intelligence services also worked against them, including interventions by foreign espionage services in Britain. In doing so, several reputations are left tarnished and some convenient myths destroyed.

One of the keenest supporters of British intelligence against his domestic opponents was Harold Wilson. When he was in office in the 1960s, Wilson had had leftwing trade unionists put under surveillance, taps placed on their phones, and bugged. This included the participants in the 1966 strike by British merchant seamen. Others kept under very close watch included, naturally, the Communist party. He also encouraged other rightwing union leaders to cooperate with MI5. Those, who did so included Harry Crane, the head of the GMWU, who passed information onto Sarah Barker, the Labour Party’s national agent, who in turn passed it on to the spooks.

Wilson also continued the secret wars the Tories had begun in Yemen and Indonesia. The British, Saudis and Israeli secret services provided aid and assistance to rebels, who perpetrated the same kind of atrocities as ISIS. Unlike ISIS, they didn’t cause a scandal and international terror by posting them online. Newsinger notes that Aldrich and Cormac state that the extent of the British involvement in the 1965 massacre of the Left in Indonesia is a mystery. As this also involved the commission of atrocities, besides which those of ISIS seem pale by comparison, this is a very convenient mystery. It’s widely believed that Wilson kept Britain out of the Vietnam War, but this is not the case. Wilson actually wanted to send a token force, but was prevented from doing so because of the extent of British public opinion against the War and the opposition of the left wing within the Labour party itself. This did not prevent him from providing the Americans with intelligence support. This involved not only GCHQ, but also MI6, who provided reports on the effect of American bombing campaigns from the British embassy in Hanoi. The Americans were also allowed to operate their biggest CIA station in that part of Asia from Hong Kong. In addition to this, Wilson also wanted MI6 to assassinate Idi Amin, but they refused. Considering the carnage wrought by this monster, it’s a pity that they didn’t.

Wilson himself was the subject of various intelligence plots and smears against him, despite his collaboration with the intelligence services. This involved not only MI5, but also the South African intelligence service, BOSS. This got to the point where it was literally spies watching other spies, with BOSS spying on the anti-apartheid campaign, while themselves being spied on by MI5. BOSS were allowed to get away with their espionage, however, as it was claimed that they had a film of MPs taking part in an orgy and a dossier on a sex scandal that was far more shocking and compromising than Christine Keeler.

Ted Heath in the 1970s had Jack Jones, the leader of the TGWU put under surveillance. Joe Gormley, the head of the NUM, was also an informant for special branch throughout the decade. The usual practice at MI5 when a company requested assistance monitoring radical trade unionist was to pass the case on to the Economic League, a private outfit specialising in blacklisting trade unionists. But Ford also demanded that Special Branch vet their workforce, to which Heath agreed. This led to more firms demanding information on trade unionists, including Massey Ferguson. Not only was the British government under Heath actively compiling blacklists of trade unionists, Heath himself demanded that MI5 should have some of the militant activists ‘done’.

Under Thatcher the number of private intelligence agencies tackling her domestic enemies, like CND, increased. But Newsinger observes that the book does not cover at all the involvement of this agencies in the machinations against the NUM in the Miners’ Strike, and the establishment of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Newsinger comments

Perhaps the official material is not available, but not to have any discussion of the great miners’ strike at all is a serious shortcoming. The very absence of material, if this was indeed the case, is tremendously significant and deserved discussion. This was, after all, the decisive engagement that shifted the balance of class forces and made everything that has followed possible.

The book also covers Blair’s wars, which Newsinger does not cover in his review, finding the book’s revelations about Cameron’s own warmongering in Libya and Syria more interesting. MI6 and the Defence chiefs advised Cameron not to try to bring down Gaddafi. This didn’t stop him, and Cameron had the agency and SAS give the rebels training, arms and body armour. MI6 wanted the Libyan dictator sent into exile into Equatorial Guinea, where his own links to them would not be placed in any danger by him having to appear before an international human rights court. But this problem was, as Newsinger notes, solved by his death.

The book also reveals that a number of people within MI6 and the CIA did not believe that Assad’s regime in Syria was responsible for the Sarin attack in Ghoutta. They believed that the real perpetrators were the al-Nusra Front, backed by Turkey, which hoped to provoke the US into starting a bombing campaign. The US was ready with a fleet of aircraft, which Britain was also set to join, but the operation was cancelled due to the disagreements over responsibility for the atrocity within the US secret services.

The authors also report that Mossad has also been responsible for kidnappings and murders in London, but give no further information.

Newsinger concludes that ‘after reading this book we not only know more than we
did, but also how much more we need to know and unfortunately how much we are likely to never know….’

What is also clear from reading this is not only the extent of the involvement of British prime ministers in covert operations, against left-wingers and trade unionists in Britain and a series of foreign regimes abroad, but also the weakness of parliament in restraining them. British involvement in the bombing of Syria was stopped because of dissension within the American intelligence community, not because of opposition from parliament. As for Heath targeting British trade unionists for surveillance and possible assassination, Newsinger remarks on how this is ‘dynamite’, which should be investigated by the Commons Intelligence Select Committee. There is not the most remote chance of this happening, however, as the Commons Intelligence Select Committee is really
just a parliamentary spittoon into which the intelligence agencies occasionally feel obliged to gob.

Lobster’s entire raison d’etre is the belief that western, and particularly the British intelligence services are out of control and responsible for immense crimes that otherwise go undocumented and unpunished. Newsinger’s review of this book and its potentially explosive contents bear out this belief. It also hints by its omissions that there is more buried yet deeper, which may never be brought to light.

The article’s at: http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster72/lob72-black-door.pdf

Vox Political Launches New Book Against the Anti-Semitism Smears

September 28, 2016

Mike yesterday announced the publication of his latest book, The Livingstone Presumption. This is written to refute the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party, along with other MPs, councillors and activists such as Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone. It was the allegation against Ken Livingstone that the book’s title alludes to. It’s available now as an e-book, and will shortly appear in print.

I’ve no doubt it provides an excellent deconstruction of the real reasons for these slanders. Of course, I’m Mike’s brother, so naturally I support it’s publication. But more than that, I’m confident that Mike, as an excellent journalist, has got the facts absolutely right, and shows the real reason for these disgraceful smears. As I’ve pointed out, these have been made against decent people, many of whom have dedicated their lives and political careers to fighting anti-Semitism and racism, and which include Jews, and people of Jewish heritage.

Michael Segalov on the Left against Real Nazis

Mike announced the book was out in an article he wrote yesterday commenting on a piece by Michael Segalov in an article in the Independent. Segalov stated in the Independent that Corbyn’s supporters weren’t anti-Semitic. Far from it. In his experience, they were the people, who were most active combating the real, and openly Nazi, anti-Semitic far right. Mike quotes him writing

For years now I’ve travelled across the UK to report from far-right, fascist and neo-Nazi rallies, and the counter-demonstrations that take place alongside. I’ve seen the real threat that faces Jews in the country, those who profess hatred for Jews and our religion, who wear swastikas as badges of honour, who’ll salute like a Nazi in front of your face… It’s the left, and Corbyn’s supporters, who’ve put their bodies on the line time and time again to protect us from these racist organisations.

That’s why these cries of anti-Semitism make a mockery of a real and present danger. Corbyn’s commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice has been well documented for decades. His supporters are those who’ve stood alongside him. Accusing these people now of peddling prejudice is nothing but political point-scoring at its worst. It undermines real hatred, and waters down the impact of calling out anti-Semitism when it rears its ugly head.

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov still believes that Ms Shah and Red Ken are anti-Semites, but states that they are not supporters of Corbyn. Ken’s a very long-standing member of the party, while Shah supported Yvette Cooper against Corbyn in the Labour elections.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/27/new-book-highlights-the-real-reasons-for-anti-semitism-allegations-in-the-labour-party/

Naz Shah and Livingstone Not Anti-Semites

Segalov’s wrong about Shah and Red Ken. Mike’s pointed out that Naz Shah has good relations with her local synagogue, something I’m very sure she wouldn’t enjoy if she were any kind of anti-Semite. As for Red Ken, I’ve pointed out time and again the stance he has always taken against racism, whether against Blacks, Jews, the Irish or whoever, to the point where he and the GLC in the 1980s became ridiculed and reviled for it. The Leninist Newt-Fancier devoted several chapters in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour not just to arguing that the Labour party should pay far more attention to empowering the Black community and combatting racism against them, but also to denouncing the recruitment of real Nazis by the secret state after the Second World War. These had been given sanctuary in Britain, as the authorities believed they could be useful in the struggle against Communism. Those recruited included people, who had participated in the most disgusting crimes perpetrated against the Jews by the Third Reich, including pogroms and the Holocaust.

The Zionists Relationship with the Nazis vs. Jewish German Patriots

Red Ken is not an anti-Semite. But he is a critic of Israel, a committed the terrible offence of being absolutely factually correct when he stated that Hitler had supported Zionism. He and the Nazis had, briefly, at the beginning of the regime, as a tactic for removing Jews from the Reich. This is documented history. As is the Zionists’ own cynical, utilitarian attitude to the butchery of the Jewish people by the Nazis. They were in favour of it, as they believed this would encourage more Jews to emigrate to Israel. They bitterly resented Jewish German patriots, like the Jewish Servicemens’ League, which not only fought ardently against the persecution of the Jews in Germany, but was also an acutely uncomfortable reminder that Jews had loyally served their country in the carnage of the First World War, and were no more treacherous than any other German. It’s another documented historical fact that German Jews had responded with a wave of patriotism in the 19th century when the restrictions against them serving in the armed forces were lifted. They volunteered along with their gentile comrades for service in the Great War. It’s one of the supreme, tragic ironies that Hitler’s captain, the commanding officer, who recommended him for the Iron Cross, was Jewish.

The British Left against Fascism

But Mr Segalov is entirely correct when he states that it’s the left, and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, who will put their bodies on the line to fight to protect Jews and others from the real racists. It was my experience growing up in the 1980s that the people, who joined Rock Against Racism, marched against the BNP, and fought in gang battles in the street against them, were exactly the same types Tom Watson sneered at when he described Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘hippy Trotskyite rabble’. Or whatever it was. It was the same type of people, who joined CND and joined groups and wore the T-shirts demanding ‘Justice for Nicaragua’, when that country was being ravaged by the Contras. It was the same type of people that published leaflets and flyers pointing out Thatcher’s support for the Far Right, and real Fascists like Pinochet and lesser known butchers in Latin America.

The Far Right and Nazism

Unfortunately, Mr Segalov is not exaggerating when he says that the real Nazis will openly make the Nazi salute in front of you, and who do wear swastikas as badges of honour. Way back in the 1960s and ’70s the National Front indeed strutted about in Nazi uniform. Andrew Brons, one of the fixtures of the Far Right for all these decades, was arrested in the 1970s, according to Private Eye, for screaming Nazi slogans at frightened elderly ladies in Birmingham. He was then apprehended by a policeman, who had a very Asian surname. According to the Eye, Brons patronised him with a lecture about how he was allowed to do all this because of the fine British tradition of freedom of speech. Obviously, he ignored the hypocrisy of using that argument when, as a Nazi, he clearly didn’t believe in it. He then further insulted said copper by telling him that he wouldn’t understand such elevated concepts as he was racially inferior. This is clearly not the kind of thing to say to someone, who has the power to arrest you. I have the feeling that Brons spent the rest of the conversation trying to explain himself down at the police station.

For a moment in the 1990s and 2000s the BNP dropped the costumes and tried to present themselves as a mainstream party, oriented towards community politics. They were still racist and anti-Semitic, but they tried to disguise it. Now that the BNP has all but collapsed, parts of the Far Right in this country have gone back to open Nazism. The most blatant of these groups is National Action, formerly the youth wing of one of the Far Right parties. If memory serves me right, it was either the BNP or National Front. Michelle, one of the commenters on this blog, sent a link in her comment to an earlier piece I wrote, to a discussion of the Far Right in one of the left-wing political meet up groups. This was a talk, followed by a question-and-answer session, presented by Matthew Feldman, a university lecturer specialising in the study of Fascism. Dr Feldman illustrated his lecture with numerous videos, one of which was truly chilling. It showed National Action at one of their demos quite openly shouting anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi nonsense. They were spouting the old conspiracist canard about the Jews using Blacks to destroy White racial purity in order to further the Marxist agenda of overthrowing White civilisation. Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt school were also thrown in as example of ‘cultural Marxism’.

Marxism Not Anti-White Racism

It’s all nonsense. Marx never wrote anything about destroying White civilisation. He and his collaborator, Engels, were interested solely in examining the class nature of history and modern capitalism as part of their programme of liberating the working class. They also had some disgusting racist ideas themselves. Marx hated the Slavonic peoples, as he believed that their economic and social ‘backwardness’, as he saw it, would make them a dangerous counterrevolutionary force, and looked forward to the day when they, and other similar ‘backwards’ peoples, like the Celts and Basques, would die out. He also sneered at his German rival, Lassalles, as ‘the Jewish n*gger’.

No Anti-White Jewish Conspiracy

There has never been any kind of Jewish conspiracy to destroy White civilisation. This is just a vile product of the diseased imagination of the Nazis, and their successors in the American right-wing conspiracy culture. Jews were part of the campaign to gain civil rights for Blacks in America, as many Jews had strong connections with Black communities through their jobs, such as teachers in Black majority schools and neighbourhoods.

Gramsci and Cultural Hegemony

As for ‘cultural Marxism’ and the Frankfurt school, this is also a confusion of them and the ideas of cultural hegemony by Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci was an Italian Communist, who attempted to explain the persistence of capitalism and its support amongst the working class, by suggesting that this was due to the basis of modern culture in the ideology and values of upper and middle classes. This was so pervasive, that it was automatically seen as natural by the workers, despite the fact that it directly went against their interests. Marx himself had already argued much of this in his theory of ‘false consciousness’. Gramsci turned Marxist tactics on its head by arguing that what was needed to liberate the workers was to challenge capitalist culture, rather than the traditional Marxist tactic of changing capitalist culture by attacking its basis in the economic structure of society.

The Frankfurt School and the Origins of Fascism in Mass Culture

There’s a section on the Frankfurt School by Jean Seaton in her chapter ‘The Sociology of the Mass Media’ in the book on the British media which she co-authored with James Curran, Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain (London: Routledge 1988) pp. 221-7. She points out that the Frankfurt School were left-wing German emigres, who had been forced to leave Germany through the rise of the Nazis. They believed that Fascism had its origins in modern mass culture, and applied this analysis to modern American society. Rather than being left-wing ideologues dedicated to the destruction of traditional, White, Christian society, she points out that actually their views weren’t that far from those of British critics of modern mass society, whose views were based in a far more traditional, British, non-Marxist set of cultural values.

Cultural Marxism: What It’s Really About

As for the term ‘cultural Marxism’, this is also the boneheaded product of more confused thinking. It seems to be a garbled notion of the distinction many academic Marxists drew in the 1980s between what was ‘Marxist’ and ‘Marxian’ in order to keep their jobs. Thatcher passed a law making it illegal for Marxists to hold posts at the universities. They responded by denying that they were Marxists, but held ‘Marxian’ cultural views. It was a fine, and actually rather artificial distinction, but it nevertheless allowed them to keep their jobs. However, this has been taken over by the radical right, who have thrown it into their scrambled notion of Gramsci’s hegemony.

National Action also make their Nazism very clear in their costume and conduct. As well as shouting Nazi ideology in the streets, they also openly wear Nazi-style clothes and regalia. In the video Dr Feldman showed as part of his presentation, they did indeed openly make the Nazi salute, shouting ‘Sieg heil!’ as they did so. National Action aren’t the only openly Nazi group on the Far Right. There’s even a small, National Socialist party, whose members include the infamous racist responsible for killing and mutilating innocent people in a series of three nail bomb attacks on Black, Asian and Gay pubs and cafes in London. His victims included a bride and an unborn child. The members of this minuscule party do turn up and parade around in Nazi uniforms and insignia.

The Left Not Anti-Semitic, But Anti-Racist

While Mr Segalov is wrong about Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah being anti-Semites, he is certainly right about the openly Nazi character of part of the Far Right, and about the way the Left, including supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, have attempted to right them, including physical assault. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, about his own career in the BNP and NF, states at one point that the Communist Party used to provide its members with self-defence training so that they could attack any Nazis they encountered on building sites. Mr Segalov is right to point out how wrong and damaging it is in the struggle against real racism and anti-Semitism to malign Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters so. Mike book also puts the record straight on this, and about the smears against Naz Shah and Livingstone.

Vox Political: Simon Wren-Lewis on the Spectre of Fascism Behind Brexit

June 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a very important piece by the economist, Simon Wren-Lewis, on the terrible racism and lies behind the Brexit campaign. He notes that not only has the Brexit campaign lied massively, the fact that their lies have been repeatedly revealed as lies does not seem to have stopped them or their campaign. Despite being repeatedly told the truth, the supporters of Brexit continue to believe that migrants are all a strain on the economy and the NHS. He discusses the way the centre right here and in the US are being taken over by extremist, populist politicians – meaning the Republicans and Trump across the Pond, and BoJo, Gove, Patel and the Conservatives over here, as well as the murder of Jo Cox, a politician, who stood against it. He also makes the point that this racism could become even more vicious and extreme if Britain does leave the EU, and the trade deals that the Brexiters have promised don’t materialise. He makes the point that Britain doesn’t have any immunity from the rise of such pernicious racism, and it cannot be allowed to pass.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/23/euref-why-defeating-brexit-is-so-important/

Mike has illustrated this piece with a picture of Enoch Powell, whose infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’ is still referred to as a telling prediction of the truth by right-wingers like Nigel Farage. Mike’s absolute right here. The NF used to sell a Union Jack badges. Around the edge of them was written the slogan ‘Enoch was right’. In fairness to Powell, before he completely lost his sense politically, he had done much that was admirable. He was a member of CND, and in 1959 made a speech attacking the British abuse of Mau-Mau prisoners at the Hola Camp in Kenya. This is included in The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur, pp. 254-6. He wasn’t personally racist, and could speak Urdu. Nevertheless, his speech, and his absolute opposition to non-White immigration, gave an immense filip to the racist right and other Conservative opponents of immigration like the right-wing journalist, Simon Heffer.

The prof’s piece is also interesting for some of his remarks of his commenters. Most seem to be Brexiters absolutely outraged that anybody could decently oppose their plans for Britain. But one comment especially caught my eye because of what it said about Maggie’s favourite economist, von Hayek.

The commenter quoted the ideologue of neoliberalism from a piece he wrote to one of the papers supporting Maggie Thatcher’s anti-immigration stance in 1979. Hayek claimed that respectable society in Austria wasn’t anti-Semitic, and deplored attacks on Jews, before the First World War. It was only when ‘unassimilable’ Jewish immigrants flooded into Austria after the First World War that attitudes towards them changed. The commenter states that this was also Thatcher’s attitude, and has been the attitude of people like the Brexiters ever since.

The commenter’s right, but I found von Hayek’s claims that there was little anti-Semitism in Austria before World War I unconvincing. Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf that he only became an anti-Semite after he saw a Jew dressed in a kaftan while wandering through the backstreets of Vienna. This was when Hitler was a tramp, and his biographer, Joachim C. Fest, has made the point that the Jew he saw was probably a refugee displaced from the eastern provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which stretched as far as Ukraine, by the pogroms which broke out in the late 19th century. Many of the ethnic German schoolchildren and younger generation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century were Pan-Germans, wishing to unite with the Wilhelmine Empire further north, and with a racist hatred of Slavs and Jews. Discussing his experience of late 19th century Vienna, Hitler describes his admiration for Karl von Lugerer, the mayor of Vienna and leader of an anti-Semitic party. Apart from von Lugerer’s anti-Semitism, Hitler also admired his mastery of propaganda. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism increased in Austria considerably during the Council and Communist Revolutions that broke out there, as in Germany, just after the First World War. These were initially popular, but were increasingly resented after a series of church burnings. Many of the Communist battalions responsible were led by Jews, and although the Communists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere were militant atheists, who attacked and persecuted all religions, this was particularly blamed on the Jews. Gentile Austrians also felt themselves threatened by Jewish success in business, especially in banking.

Despite von Hayek’s comments, the rise of anti-Semitism in Austria was not simply a result of the sudden influx of ‘unassimilable immigrants’. It was partly due to the strained ethnic tensions caused by rising nationalism amongst the various peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a reaction to the anti-religious activities of committed Communists during the 1919 revolutions. Nevertheless, von Hayek’s comments supported Thatcher’s anti-immigration policy, just as fears of unassimilable immigrants now fuel the Brexit campaign.

Vox Political on Cameron’s Boasting about Selling Arms to Saudi Arabia

February 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has a report from the Guardian about Cameron boasting about his arms sales to Saudi Arabia on a visit to the BAE Systems factory in Warton, Lancashire. He did so on the same day that the European Parliament voted for an arms embargo because of the country’s indiscriminate killing of civilians in Yemen. Mike in his comments says that Cameron simply doesn’t appear to understand why selling arms to these people is wrong. It is, according to Mike, the most indictment of him.

David Cameron boasts of ‘brilliant’ UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia

Mike’s right: this is truly scandalous. The Saudi regime has been condemned by a number of international bodies for its bombardment in Yemen. This has included the indiscriminate killing of civilians in what has been cautiously described as possible war crimes. In addition to killing Houthi rebels, the Saudis have also targeted Shi’a mosques, destroyed four hospitals operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres. They’ve also destroyed factories and even taxi drivers. The weapons dropped include cluster bombs, which remain to kill and mutilate in former war zones long after the war has actually stopped. They’re still a real problem in the former Yugoslavia, where people are still being killed and maimed by them, or at least they were a few years ago, long after the war in Bosnia and Kosovo officially ceased. International observers have stated that Saudi Arabia’s campaign in the Yemen looks very much like an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Shi’a. By selling the country arms, Cameron is making Britain complicit in their crimes against humanity.

And Saudi Arabia has also funded terrorism, including al-Qaeda and ISIS, under its head of intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal. They’ve had something of a volte-face since then, after ISIS told the Saudis that they were next and issued an ultimatum urging its people to rise up. Nevertheless, we have no business arming a state which, while claiming to represent peace and stability in the region, actually gives aid and succour to our enemies.

The arms trade to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere is extremely lucrative. I’ve blogged elsewhere that Cameron has sold weapons to autocratic states, and countries like South Africa, which have neither need for them, nor the ability to maintain them properly. It’s simply Cameron lining the pockets of the ‘merchants of death’.

Most telling is the childish joy in which he described the arms and warplanes sold as ‘brilliant things’. It reminds me of a spoof of a NATO general way back when I was a lad in the early 1980s. It was on a sketch show called End of Part One. That particular skit was about a British general going to buy nuclear warheads, rather like a young boy trying to buy fireworks, and saying really childish comments like, ‘I want that one. It goes ‘whizzzzzz”, and throwing a tantrum when they don’t have those he wants in stock. The sketch was directed at Britain’s military establishment at the time when Thatcher’s and Reagan’s new Cold War was at its height, and there were real fears that a nuclear war was about to break out. CND was on the rise again, and so the sketch attacked Britain’s generals and its supposed nuclear deterrent as literally puerile warmongers, intent on seeing big bangs without any thought of the consequences, the mass death and mutilation these weapons cause. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the sketch, as it seemed a mite too simplistic. And besides, it simply wasn’t funny or very subtle. On the other hand, it does describe part of Cameron’s attitude and rhetoric here.

David Cameron boasts of ‘brilliant’ UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia

Cameron’s a disgrace, a wannabe dictator over here, and the enabler of autocrats and dictators around the world through the arms trade.

John Brunner on the 1979 SF Book Show, Time Out Of Mind

May 4, 2015

‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!’

I found this edition of the BBC series, Time Out of Mind, over on Youtube. Broadcast in 1979, the series looked at four SF authors, who were either British, in the case of Ann McCaffrey, an American based in Ireland. Apart from John Brunner and McCaffrey, the other authors featured were Arthur C. Clarke, and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison. The fifth and final programme in the series was on that year’s SF convention in Brighton.

I vaguely remembered the series from the trailers running earlier in the evening, though I never watched it myself as I was probably too young. I’ve got a feeling it was broadcast long after my bed time.

Stand On Zanzibar

Brunner’s particularly interesting, as he’s known for writing very dystopian, near-future SF, such as his books The Shockwave Rider, The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. All of these are rightly classics of the genre, and I think Stand On Zanzibar has been republished under the Gollancz colophon as an ‘SF Masterwork’. It is indeed, though I think it’s also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s very much a product of its time, which was the late 1960s-’70s concern about the ‘population bomb’ and the massive problems faced by an overpopulated world. It’s set in a near future, c. 2020, if I remember properly, in a massively overcrowded world, where living space is in short supply. The result is endemic domestic terrorist violence, and ‘muckers’ – frenzied spree killers. These are ordinary citizens, who’ve finally snapped under the strain of such oppressive conditions. They’ve taken their name from quite literally ‘running amok’.

In order to curb the population explosion, the government has passed eugenic legislation preventing those with genetic defects or inheritable diseases, like haemophilia, from having children. Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is legal, but still vulnerable to the interest of organised crime.

Far more sinisterly are the attempts by the various government to find ways to control the population using genetic engineering. This includes the research of an Indonesian scientist, who the Americans send a special agent to extract.

Brunner, CND and Environmentalism

Brunner was politically active for a time in his life. He was a member of CND and attended their meetings and marches. The programme shows how he even took part in an exhibition of the horrors created by the bomb, and how this influenced him. He states on the programme that when he turned to writing near future SF, he didn’t have to do much research. While it was harder to write than stories set in the far future, where the imagination could run freely, he found that much of the nightmarish conditions he describes in his works have already happened. This includes the dangers of chemical pollution on the environment and agriculture in The Sheep Look Up.

The ‘New Wave’ and Literary Modernism

Brunner’s like Moorcock and the other members of the British ‘New Wave’, in incorporating the techniques of literary modernism into his work. Moorcock in the programme dedicated to him said he wanted to use the techniques of such avant-garde literary authors as James Joyce. He was bitterly disappointed when his literary aspirations were rejected by the rest of the SF milieu, who considered these models to be pseudo-intellectuals.

Brunner acknowledges that in creating the background for the world on Stand On Zanzibar, he took John Dos Passos as his model, and included clippings from newspapers, even poetry. These clippings also show how rooted the book was in present-day reality. Several of the clippings explaining the ‘muckers’, for example, are taking from 1960s reports of real spree killers. As for the ‘partisans’ and their terrorist campaigns in America, this looks like it was based very much on the urban terrorists that emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s, like the various paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the various French Maoist rebels and the Weathermen, Black Panthers and Symbionese Liberation Front in America.

America as Dystopia

The show also makes the point that although Brunner’s British, he’s popular in America, partly because he speaks with a mid-Atlantic voice. Brunner is shown talking to friends and his publisher in the US. But Brunner was also very critical of the US. He says that he took America as his model for the dystopias he created, as much of what he describes in his books has already happened there. He follows this with the statement I’ve quoted at the top of this piece ‘I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work’.

Folk Music and Dancing

I also found the episode interesting, as Brunner was a folkie, who lived in the small town of South Petherton in Somerset. He and his wife were the organisers of the town’s folk festival. I found it rather incongruous that an author, who was concerned with the future and the problems that it would throw up, should also be a fan of, among other things, such very traditionally English pastimes as, um, Morris dancing. Brunner and his wife are shown opening the festival, and watching a group of Morris men dancing with the white flannels, handkerchiefs and bells.

Here’s the video:

Population Explosion or Population Crash?

While Stand On Zanzibar is a classic, it’s also somewhat dated. Europe and America don’t have the teeming, claustrophobically overcrowded cities of books like Stand On Zanzibar, or Harry Harrison’s depiction of similarly terribly overpopulated world, Make Room! Make Room!, filmed as Soylent Green. Indeed, birth rates around the world are falling, and in some parts of the West, China and Japan they’re actually below replacement level. Some demographers are talking of a ‘population crash’, and the problems this will cause. This in its turn has created its dystopian prophetic fiction in the film Children of Men, with Clive Owen and Thandie Newton. This imagines a world where humanity has become sterile. No children have been born for 18 years. The result is political instability, violence and ruthless control by a Fascist state. The only hope in this dystopia is presented by an immigrant woman, who has become pregnant.

Spree Killers and Religious Violence

We also don’t have intelligent, supercomputers cooled in liquid helium, like Shalmaneser. Other predictions are so accurate, as to be actually prosaic, such as influence of the media and the emergence of the pop video. Unfortunately, so are the ‘muckers’ – such as the maniacs, who walk into schools, restaurants or cinemas with guns and begin shooting. The book’s also accurate in that some of the crazed killers are religious fanatics. In the book the religious violence is carried out by Christians. This is true of part of the American extreme Right, as shown in the Militia movement and their fears of an atheist government, which will begin sending Christians to death camps run by FEMA as part of the establishment of a one-world global dictatorship.

The Pieds-Noirs and the Legacy of Algeria

Other predictions look dated, but contain a kernel of truth that has been subsequently hidden, but still remains a powerful influence in contemporary politics. Two of the characters, for example, are a brother and sister, Pieds-Noirs – former French-Algerian settlers, who have been forced out of the colony after independence. Despite the decades that have passed since France lost its war against its former colony, Pieds-Noirs still suffer from considerable stigmatisation because of the atrocities the former colonial overlord committed. Now, nearly five decades or so later, there is little special shame attached to the Algerian War. Nevertheless, it has influenced French politics in that many of the Arab, Muslim population of France are the descendants of Algerians, who chose to emigrate to the former colonial power. These have formed an immigrant underclass, who have suffered racism and discrimination. Much of the political disaffection French Muslims come from this background of emigration, dislocation and resentment by the host society.

The Corporate Take-Over of the Nation State

One of the most extreme of the novels predictions, and one which mercifully hasn’t occurred yet, it the literal corporate takeover of entire states. Another of the characters is the president of a small, west African nation. Unable to improve conditions for his people through normal politics and democracy, he literally signs it away to an American corporation. In return, that company promises to invest in his nation, develop it economically, and provide jobs and training for its people. It also, as Brunner makes clear, condemns them to corporate slavery.

This hasn’t quite happened like that yet, but there are some close parallels. The Socialist government of Alfredo Benz in Guatemala in the 1950s was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup, after Benz nationalised the banana plantations of the United Fruit company, an American corporation. Similarly, Mahmud Mossadeq, the Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown by the Americans in the 1950s after his government nationalised the oil industry, including British-Persian Oil, which then became BP.

And the TTIP, if launched, will allow multinationals to sue national governments if they dare to pass legislation, which threatens to harm their business. Veolia has used similar legislation to sue the Egyptian government, after it raised the minimum wage for Egyptian workers.

The Psychological Legacy of Slavery and the Experience of Black Politicians

Another part of Brunner’s novel, that still retains its contemporary relevance, is that one of his characters is a Black American politician. This isn’t quite so novel as it was when the book was written, coming when Blacks in America were still very much fighting for their civil rights. America now has its first Black president in Obama. Nevertheless, the issues of racism, Black alienation from what they see as White power structures, and the psychological legacy of slavery, still remain a powerful presence. Although physically fit and able-bodied, the Black politician suffers from a psychological weakness in one of his arms, due to being told about how one of his slave ancestors had his amputated as a punishment by his owners. The organiser of a recent campaign against an exhibition on the White exhibition of Africans as subhuman others, staged a year or so ago by one of the Museums, stated that amongst her reasons for opposing it was a concern for the psychological health of Black people. She pointed to studies of young western Blacks, who have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through material showing or discussing the sufferings of their slave ancestors.

Ambiguous Endings and Political Message

Brian Aldiss, discussing Brunner’s work in his study of the history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree, criticises him for failing to take an explicit stance. Despite being a very political novel, Brunner doesn’t take a party-political stance. There’s one incident, for example, in which an elderly lady is forcibly moved out of the home she has lived in for most of her life by the local authorities. This can be read in two ways. It can be seen as council busybodies, enforcing bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation, regardless of the harmful effect this has on the lives of ordinary people. Or it can be read in the opposite view, as local authorities blindly committed to corporate interests and commercial redevelopment.

Brunner also leaves the final results of his characters’ actions on the wider society ambiguous. One of the last sections of Stand On Zanzibar is entitled ‘And See Which Seed Will Grow’, taken from the line in MacBeth which about peering into the sands of time. He hints at their being two possibilities for the world and its millions: either pacification through specially engineered food introduced into its peoples’ diet. Or the possibility of genetically engineering humans themselves, as presented by the Indonesian biologist.

At the end of The Shockwave Rider, the authorities organise a plebiscite, which will hopefully liberate humanity from tyranny. This asks them to vote between two statements. These seem to offer strikingly different alternatives, but when read closely, don’t actually mean very much, and actually say pretty much the same thing. The book then concludes ‘Which way did you vote?’

Again, as in Stand On Zanzibar, the final result, the choice made by humanity, is never shown. There’s the possibility of hope, or a little more hope. But it doesn’t end with a total solution that will automatically improve everything, and the outcome is decidedly mixed.

Warning: 70’s Fashions on Display

I think Brunner died a little while ago. This documentary gives provides an insight into the life and views of one of Britain’s great writers of dystopian SF. As I said, his book’s don’t make an explicit party-political statement, but in his anti-nuclear activism, environmentalism and critiques of corporate power, Brunner does share many of the concerns of the Left.

You should be warned, however, that as the documentary was made in 1979, it shows it in some truly horrendous ’70s fashions.

Spitting Image on Peter Wright and Spycatcher

January 16, 2015

Last week I put up long blog post about Adam Curtis’ article, ‘Bugger’ at his site on the BBC discussing the long history of incompetence and paranoia in MI5. In it I mentioned the fiasco over the former spy, Peter Wright, and the publication of his book, Spycatcher. Wright was one of the spies, like the head of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton, who believed that the British Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent. Wright published his book, Spycatcher, in 1987. This was immediately banned in Britain because it was considered to have broken the Official Secrets Act with one of its disclosures. The ban became an unenforceable farce, however, as the book was freely available just about everywhere else in the world, and so people took to ordering it from America. Never slow to mock the sheer stupidity of the authorities, Spitting Image made several sketches satirising it and Wright himself.

Here’s Spitting Image satirising the ban on Spycatcher:

In this sketch, the Gorbachevs watch Blind Date and discuss Spycatcher, concluding that Maggie would have made a great Soviet leader:

And in this sketch, ‘The Spy Who Came in from Australia’, a Bond spoof, Wright is portrayed as writing his book simply because he was annoyed about not getting his pension. The sketch mentions MI5’s bugging of CND’s phones, and their destabilisation of the Labour Party.