Posts Tagged ‘CND’

Ian Hislop Tackles Fake News with Reassurances about Lamestream Media

October 8, 2019

I watched Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story last night. I blogged about it a few days ago after reading the blurbs for it in the Radio Times. It seemed to me that part of the reason for the programme’s production was the Beeb, and by extension, the mainstream media as a whole, trying to reassure the public that they were truthful and reliable by tackling what is a genuine problem. I don’t think I was wrong. Hislop is a good presenter, and the programme was well-done, with eye-catching graphics. As you might expect from Hislop’s previous programmes on British heroes and the the British education system, it was strong on history. He pointed out that while Donald Trump used it to described factual news that he didn’t like, because it criticised him, the term actually predated Trump all the way back into the 19th century. He illustrated this with quotes and contemporary cartoons. But it was also a very much an establishment view. The last piece of fake news created by the British state it mentioned was a story concocted during the First World War that the Germans were boiling down human bodies for their fat and other chemicals. It presented the main threat to truthful reporting as coming from the internet, specifically software that allows the mapping of a public figure’s face onto the body of another to create fake footage of them, Alex Jones and Infowars, and, of course, the Russians and their adverts and propaganda for the American election. We were assured that the British state no longer interfered in the politics of other countries. A former BBC official, now running the New York Times, appeared to talk to Hislop about how papers like his now spend their time diligently fact checking stories. He also talked to the MP, who called for an inquiry into fake news in parliament. All very reassuring, and very misleading.

The New York Sun Moon Hoax and the Spanish-American War

The programme began with the 1836 Moon hoax story run by the New York Sun. The Sun was one of the first tabloid newspapers, aimed at a working class audience with the low price of only a cent, a price a sixth that of its competitors. It published a series of articles claiming that an obscure British astronomer had discovered man-bats, unicorns and bison on the Moon. The story ran for six days until it was exposed as a hoax by a rival newspaper. The next item in this list of journalistic infamy was about the attempts by Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to start a war with Spain in support of Cuban rebels at the end of the 19th century. There wasn’t much fighting going on, and there weren’t any available reports of Spanish atrocities to inflame the patriotic, moral sentiments of the American public. So they made them up. The papers first claimed that a young American woman had been brutally strip-searched by suspicious Spanish male officials. Well, not quite. She had been searched, but privately by a respectable older Spanish woman. When that didn’t work, they seized on an explosion that destroyed an American ship in harbour. In all likelihood, the ship was destroyed by an accident. The papers claimed, however, that it had been destroyed by the Spanish, while issuing a small caveat stating that the cause had yet to be determined. And so the papers got the war they wanted.

The programme then moved on to the American Civil War, and the exploits of one of the world’s first photojournalists. This gentleman used photography to bring home with hitherto unknown realism the horrors of that conflict. But he was not above faking some of the photographs. One of these was of a young Confederate soldier lying dead in a trench. In fact, the photographer had dragged the corpse into the trench from elsewhere, move the head so that it faced the camera to make it even more poignant, and added a rifle that the photographer himself always carried. This little episode was then followed by the story of William Mumler and his faked spirit photographs. Mumler ended up being prosecuted for fraud by one of the papers. However, while the judge sympathised with the papers, the prosecution hadn’t proved how he had faked it. They merely showed he could have done it in nine different ways. And so the case was dismissed, Mumler went back to faking his photos for a satisfied, grieving clientele, one of whom was the widow of Abraham Lincoln.

Deepfake and the Falsification on Online Images

This brought Hislop on to the Deepfake software, used by pornographers for adding the features of respectable actors and actresses onto porn stars. This was used to map Hislop’s own features onto the mug of a dancer, so that he could be shown doing the high kicks and athletic moves. He also interviewed a man, who had used it to parody Barack Obama. Obama’s face was mapped onto a Black actor, who mimicked the former president’s voice. This produced fake footage in which Obama said, with statesman like grace and precision, that Donald Trump was a complete dipsh*t. He also interviewed another young man, who was producing fake stories on the internet, which were nevertheless clearly labeled satire, intended to rile the Alt-Right by feeding their hate and paranoia. Hislop asked him if he wasn’t actually encouraging them. The man stated that he wasn’t converting anyone to the Alt-Right. They were already angry, and stupid if they didn’t read the statements that what they were reacting to was fake. He was just showing up their stupidity.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The programme then moved on to the noxious Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the main sources for the bogus conspiracy theories about the Jews running everything. He pointed out that it was first run in Russian newspaper, which blamed them for introducing capitalism and democracy into Russia. Then in 1917, they were updated to claim that the Jews once again were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. Hislop said very clearly, waving a copy of the infamous book he’d managed to get hold of, that it was long and contradictory. It had also been disproved as long ago as the 1920s, when the Times in a series of articles showed that it was based on an 18th century novel that had nothing to do with Jews. This showed how the press could correct fake news. He himself said that, whereas when he started out as journalist, he spent move of his time trying to get new stories, now he spent most of his time checking them. Despite its falsehood, the Protocols were seized on by Goebbels, who insisted that it was spiritually true, if not literally, and had it taught in German schools. This was a different approach to Hitler, who had argued in Mein Kampf that it’s very suppression by the authorities showed that it was true. Nevertheless, the wretched book was still available all over the world, illustrating this with Arabic versions on sale in Cairo bookshop.

Infowars and Pizzagate

The programme also showed a contemporary conspiracy theory. This was the tale spun by Alex Jones on Infowars that the Comet pizza parlour was supplying children to be abused and sacrificed by the evil Democrats. Talking to the parlour’s owner, Hislop heard from the man himself how he and his business still suffer horrendous abuse because of this fake story. But it got worse. One day a few years ago a young man, incensed by what he had heard online, came into the story with a high-powered rifle, wishing to free the children. The conspiracy theory about the place claimed that there was a basement and tunnels running to the White House. The proprietor tried explaining to the man that there was no basement and no tunnels. The gunman went through the building until he found a locked door. He fired a few rounds into it, destroying the store’s computer. Hislop found this ironic, considering computers were the medium that spread it in the first place. The man then lay his gun down, put his arms up and let himself be arrested. It was a peaceful end to a situation which could have resulted in many people dead. But even this horrible incident hadn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists. They still believed that the stories were true, and that the incident had been faked with an actor as a false flag.

Russian Interference

The programme then went on to talk about Russian interference in American politics, and how they had set up a bot army to spread adverts aimed at influencing the result of the American election. RT was deeply involved in this, as the Russian state-owned news service was defending the country and its leader, Putin, from allegations that this had been done. It had also spread lies denying that Russia was responsible for the Skripal poisoning.

British Propaganda and the First World War

Had the British state done anything similar? Yes, in 1917. This was when the War Office, tired of the First World War dragging on, had seized on the news that the Germans were boiling down animal carcasses for their fat, and elaborated it, changing the corpses into human. Some might say, Hislop opined, that this was justified, especially as the German had committed real atrocities. But if we told lies like that, that meant we were no better than they. Stafford Cripps, who served in Churchill’s cabinet during the War, said that if winning it meant using such tactics, he’d rather lose. The fake story about human carcasses also had an unforeseen, and deeply unpleasant aftereffect. Following the realisation that it was fake, the first news of what the Nazis were doing in the concentration camps was also initially disbelieved. We don’t do things like that now, he said. And in a side-swipe at the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and Saddam Hussein, he said, that no-one would believe stories about a mad dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The Message: Trust the Mainstream Media

Hislop and his interlocutors, like the MP, who’d called for an inquiry into fake news, agreed that it was a real problem, especially as over half of people now got their news from online media. But the problem wasn’t to regard it all with cynicism. That is what the retailers of fake news, like Putin and RT want you to do. They want people to think that it is all lies. No, concluded Hislop, you should treat online information with the same scepticism that should apply to the mainstream media. Because there was such a thing as objective truth.

The Mainstream Media and Its Lies: What the Programme Didn’t Say

Which is absolutely right. There is an awful lot of fake news online. There’s also an awful lot of fake news being retailed, without any objection or scepticism by the lamestream media. And the only people tackling this fake news are the online blogs, vlogs and news sites. I’ve mentioned often before the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Mike, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson, and too many others. It’s all fake news, but there is not a word against it in the lamestream press, including the Eye. I’ve also mentioned how the British state during the Cold War had its own disinformation department pushing fake news, the IRD. This also turned to smearing the domestic, democratic Left in the shape of the Labour party and CND by claiming that they had connections to the Communist bloc. And in the case of Labour, that they supported the IRA. This is documented fact. Is it mentioned by the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream media? Don’t be daft! Is it still going on today? Yes, definitely – in the shape of the Democracy Institute and the Institute for Statecraft, which have connections to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. And they are smearing Corbyn as too close to Putin, along with other European dignitaries, officials and high ranking soldiers. And we might not seek to overthrow government, but the Americans certainly do. The CIA has a long history of this, now given over to the National Endowment for Democracy, which kindly arranged the 2012 Maidan Revolution in Kiev, which threw out the pro-Russian president and installed a pro-Russian one. As for the New York Times, the editors of Counterpunch showed in their book on official propaganda in the American media, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, how the Grey Lady ran a series of articles of fake news to support George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq. The Beeb has also done its fair share of broadcasting fake news. It’s supported the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters. It altered the footage of the fighting between police and miners at the Orgreave colliery during the miners’ strike to show falsely the miners attacking the police. In reality, it was the other way round. And then there was the way they edited Alex Salmond in a press conference during the Scottish Referendum. The Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson, had asked Salmond a question about whether the Edinburgh banking and big financial houses would move south if Scotland gained its independence. Salmond replied with a full answer, explaining that they wouldn’t. This was too much for the Beeb, which edited the footage, subsequently claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered fully, and then denying that he had answered the question at all. It was fake news, courtesy of the Beeb.

Mike and the Sunday Times’ Smears

None of this was mentioned, unsurprisingly. The result is a cosy, reassuring view of the mainstream media. Yes, fake news is out there, but it’s being done by internet loons and nasty foreigners like the Russians. But never fear, all is well. The mainstream media can be trusted to check the facts, and give you the truth. Except that they don’t check the facts, or when they do, immediately ignore them. As Gabriel Pogrund and the editor of the Sunday Times did when they wrote their nasty hit piece on Mike. Pogrund rang Mike up, Mike explained very clearly that he certainly was no kind of Jew-hater and certainly did not deny the Holocaust. Pogrund and his editor ignored that, and published their piece anyway. Complaints to IPSO then followed. Mike won, but some people still continue to believe the lies.

You can’t trust the lamestream media. Instead, I thoroughly recommend you go for corrections and alternative views to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and news sites like Mike’s, Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, the Skwawkbox, Gordon Dimmack and the American sites, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, The Michael Brooks’ Show, the David Pakman Show, Democracy Now! and the work of Abbie Martin attacking the American Empire and Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Those sites provide an important corrective to the lies and falsehood being daily fed to us by the lamestream media. Including the Beeb.

 

 

My Review of Russian UFO Conspiracy Book Now Up At Magonia Blog

September 12, 2019

My review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin (Lisa Hagen Books 2019) is now up at Magonia Review of Books. Magonia was a small press UFO magazine, which ran from the 1980s to the early part of this century. It took the psycho-social view of the UFO phenomenon. This is a sceptical view which sees the UFO phenomenon as an internal experience generated by poorly understood psychological mechanism, whose imagery was drawn from folklore and Science Fiction. It took the name ‘Magonia’ from Jacques Vallee’s groundbreaking UFO book, Passport to Magonia. Vallee, a French-American astronomer and computer scientist, along with the American journalist and writer on the weird and Fortean, John Keel, took the view that UFOs weren’t real, mechanical spacecraft piloted by beings from other worlds, but were created by the same paranormal phenomenon behind encounters with fairies and other paranormal entities. The name ‘Magonia’ itself comes from a statement by a sceptical 7th-8th century Frankish bishop, that the peasants believed that storms were caused by men in flying ships, who came from a country called Magonia.

The magazine didn’t just discuss UFOs. It also covered other paranormal phenomena and subjects, such as witchcraft. It provided a very necessary sceptical corrective to the Satanism scare of the ’80s and ’90s. This was a moral panic generated by conspiracy theories, largely from the Christian right but also from some feminists, that Satanic groups were sexually abusing and ritually sacrificing children. The Fontaine Report, published by the British government over 20 years ago now, concluded that there was no organised Satanic conspiracy. This effectively ended a real witch-hunt, which had seen innocent men and women accused of terrible crimes through warped, uncorroborated testimony. It needs to be said, however, that sociologists, social workers and law enforcement authorities do recognise that there are evil or disturbed individuals responsible for horrific crimes, including the molestation of children, who are or consider themselves Satanists. But the idea of a multigenerational Satanic conspiracy is absolutely false. See Jeffrey S. Victor’s excellent Satanic Panic.

Nick Redfern is a British paranormal investigator now resident in Texas. In this book, subtitled ‘UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets’, he proposes that while the UFO phenomenon is real, the terrible Russkies have been manipulating it to destabilise America and her allies. This comes from the Russians attempting to interfere in the American presidential elections a few years ago. In fact, the book doesn’t actually show that the Russians have. Rather it shows that the FBI, Airforce Intelligence and CIA believed they were. Prominent figures in the UFO milieu were suspected of Russian sympathies, and investigated and question. George Adamski, the old fraud who claimed he’d met space people from Venus and Mars, was investigated because he was recorded making pro-Soviet statements. Apparently he believed that the space people were so much more advanced than us that they were Communists, and that in a coming conflict Russia would defeat the West. Over here, the founder and leader of the Aetherius Society, George King, who also channeled messages from benevolent space people on Venus and Mars, was also investigation by special branch. This is because one of the messages from Aetherius called on Britain to respond to peace overtures from the Russians. This was seized on by the Empire News, which, as its name suggests, was a right-wing British rag, that denounced King for having subversive, pro-Commie ideas and reported him to the rozzers. King willingly cooperated with the cops, and pointed out that his was a religious and occult, not political organisation. But he and his followers were still kept under surveillance because they, like many concerned people, joined the CND marches.

It’s at this point that Redfern repeats the Sunset Times slur about the late Labour leader, Michael Foot. Foot also joined these marches, and the former Soviet spy chief, Oleg Gordievsky, had declared that Foot was a KGB spy with the codename ‘Comrade Boot’. It’s malign rubbish. Redfern notes that Foot sued the Sunset Times for libel and won. But he prefers to believe Gordievsky, because Gordievsky was right about everything else. So say. Actually, Gordievsky himself was a self-confessed liar, and there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence at all. And rather than being pro-Soviet, Foot was so critical of the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR that he alarmed many of his Labour colleagues, who were afraid he would harm diplomatic relations. The accusation just looks like more Tory/ IRD black propaganda against Labour.

Other people in the UFO milieu also had their collar felt. One investigator, who told the authorities that he had met a group of four men, who were very determined that he should give his talks a pro-Russian, pro-Communist slant, was interrogated by a strange in a bar on his own patriotism. The man claimed to be a fellow investigator with important information, and persuaded him to take a pill that left his drugged and disorientated. Redfern connects this the MK Ultra mind control projects under CIA direction at the time, which also used LSD and other drugs.

But if Redfern doesn’t quite show that the Russians are manipulating the phenomena through fake testimony and hoax encounters, he presents a very strong case that the Americans were doing so. During the Second World War, Neville Maskelyn, a British stage magician, worked with the armed forces on creating illusions to deceive the Axis forces. One of these was a tall, walking automaton to impersonate the Devil, which was used to terrify the Fascists in Sicily. Redfern notes the similarity between this robot, and the Flatwoods monster that later appeared in America. The Project Serpo documents, which supposedly show how a group of American squaddies had gone back to the Alien homeworld, were cooked up by one of the classic SF writers, who was also a CIA agent. And the scientist Paul Bennewitz was deliberately given fake testimony and disinformation about captured aliens and crashed saucers by members of the agency, which eventually sent the poor bloke mad. He was targeted because he was convinced the saucers and the aliens were kept on a nearby airforce base. The American military was worried that, although he wouldn’t find any evidence of aliens, he might dig up military secrets which would be useful to the Russians. And so they set about destroying him by telling him fake stories, which he wanted to hear. And obviously, there’s more.

It’s extremely interesting reading, but Redfern does follow the conventional attitude to Russian. The country was a threat under Communism, and is now, despite the fact that Communism has fallen. He is silent about the plentiful evidence for American destabilisation of foreign regimes right around the world during the Cold War. This included interference in elections and outright coups. The most notorious of these in South America were the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile by General Pinochet, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. He also doesn’t mention recent allegations, backed up with very strong evidence, that the US under Hillary Clinton manufactured the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012 to overthrow the ruling pro-Russian president and install another, who favoured America and the West.

If you want to read my review, it’s at

http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/09/ufology-meets-kremlinology.html

 

 

Rees-Mogg Would Like to Be the Pope, But Would Left-Wing Catholics Want Him?

February 21, 2019

One of the most ridiculous things Jacob Rees-Mogg said this week was during an interview on Points West with host David Garmston. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area. Mogg is the local MP for Bath in Somerset, and now one of the leading personalities in the Tory party. Garmston went to visit him at his palatial home in the Georgian city.

The Beeb interviewer asked him if he’d like to be Prime Minister. It’s a good question, as it’s clear that Mogg is very ambitious, and there are those in the party that would desperately like him to be in charge and in No. 10. But Mogg denied that he had any plans in that direction. Instead, he declared, he’d rather be Pope. Garmston then asked him the natural question: how could he be, when he’s married with six children? Oh no, Mogg declared, any Roman Catholic man could be.

Now this is news to me, and to just about everyone else, I should imagine. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and so should already be a member of the clergy of a sufficiently high rank. Like a cardinal. Or so it seems to me, as an Anglican, looking at the history of the Roman Catholic church. If laymen have been made pope, I can only assume that this occurred sometime during the Middle Ages as part of the political maneuvering surrounding the papacy. For example, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the only form of government left in many towns in Gaul and elsewhere were the bishops. Hence there were instances where, after the death of the previous incumbent, local townspeople chose laymen, including pagans, to become their bishop. Those laymen, who accepted the demand, then had themselves baptized and converted to Christianity. There are accounts of such conversions and the election of lay people in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. Or so I believe. I did medieval history at school, and these are the only instances I can remember, in which a layman entered the episcopacy directly, let alone the papacy.

Of course, Rees-Mogg is saying all this just to present himself as a good Roman Catholic. But I wonder how many Roman Catholics would actually want someone as right-wing as him as a member of the clergy, let alone sovereign pontiff. There’s a range of political views amongst Roman Catholics, just as there is in any religion or metaphysical ideology. And there’s also a strong tradition of genuinely social, left-wing activism. For all that elements within the Roman Catholic church during the War and after have supported Fascist regimes, I got the distinct impression that most Roman Catholics in Britain and the British colonies were actually left-wing. Certainly in Australia Irish Catholics formed the backbone of the Ozzie Labor party, and the Roman Catholic members of my own family were very staunch Labour. Radical organisations for Roman Catholics have included Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement, and I have the impression that, as well as Quakers, there were many Roman Catholics involved in CND and other peace movements. One of my Catholic aunts was a member, and I can remember her telling us that when she was on a march, she found herself next to a group of Franciscan friars.

A little while ago I bought a book on Roman Catholic social thought, which is broadly left-wing, although outside formal party politics. This includes activism and work on behalf of the poor, for peace and on behalf of women. This latter obviously doesn’t include supporting contraception or abortion, which feminists obviously see as central women’s rights. And there have been Roman Catholic prelates, who have been martyred because of their advocacy of the poor. Like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a Fascist death squad in one of the central American countries, who brutal dictator Reagan was supporting. He was assassinated outside his church. After his murder, the assassins scrawled on the wall, ‘Be a patriot – Kill a priest’.

The present Pope, Francis, seems to have moved the papacy closer to supporting the poor, defending the environment and even stating that it is not his place to judge gays. Some of that may reflect the wider changes in social attitudes, at least in the developed West. For example, right-wing Roman Catholic traditionalists, like Peter Hitchens, who are against same-sex marriage, have said that they feel the battle against it, is lost. It may also reflect a genuine horror on Francis’ part against the vicious homophobia that exists in some parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. But also the centre of Christianity, and Roman Catholicism, is moving towards the global south as the developed West becomes more secular. Thus the Church has to speak out on issues that directly effect the peoples of the developing world. Like poverty, hunger, exploitation, the rape of the environment. Issues that also concern other Christians around the globe.

I can’t see Rees-Mogg being interested in any of that. Indeed, his voting record shows he’s strongly against it, although I’ve no doubt that, like Margaret Thatcher, he is probably personally very generous. It seems to me that Mogg’s comments may partly have been to appeal to the religious right within the Tories. Like Ian Duncan Smith also stressed what a good Catholic he was, and how he was very concerned at poverty in Britain. Their appeal goes beyond Roman Catholics, of course. Under aIDS the DWP seemed to be stuffed with right-wing Christians of various denominations. Mogg may have made his comments partly with an eye to inheriting the Gentleman Ranker’s grubby mantle.

But no matter how pious he appears, I can’t imagine any left-wing Roman Catholic wanting to see him anywhere near an official position in the Church, just as an increasing number of Christians of all denominations are turning away from the religious right and their vile policies.

The Schoolboy Sexism and Snobbery of Toby Young

January 5, 2019

Leafing through an old copy of Private Eye, for 1st – 14th April 2011, I found an article in their ‘Street of Shame’ column about Spectator columnist Toby Young and his friend and ally, Harry Phibbs. Young was then trying to set up his free school in Hammersmith and Fulham, where Phibbs was a councilor. To show the strong relationship between them and just how extreme and noxious their right-wing views were, the magazine published and commented on a letter written by Young to Phibbs when he was a sixth form student nearly 30 years previously. The article, ‘Tory Boys’, ran

Spectator columnist Toby Young has no doughtier ally in his campaign to set up a west London Free School than the booming-voiced freelance hack Harry Phibbs, Hammersmith and Fulham’s council’s “cabinet member for community engagement”.

Phibbs represents the ward in which the school will be sited, and threw his considerable weight behind the council’s decision to sell off a building occupied by voluntary groups so Toby could have it. Phibbs’s current partner, Caroline Ffiske, sits on the school’s steering committee.

But the relationship between these two likely lads goes back much further. The Eye has somehow obtained a fan-letter sent to Harry Phibbs 29 years ago, when as a noisy Tory schoolboy he was attracting media attention. The author, a sixth-former at William Ellis School in north London, professed himself “very amused” by an Eye report of Phibbs’s antics.

“Here is a brief history of my political career [sic],” wrote Toby Young (for it was he). “having been a victim of a bohemian upbringing, and living in a small, socialist community in Devon surrounded by feminists and hippies of every (unspeakable) description. I decided to set up a provocative organization which I suitably named ‘Combat Communism’.”

After several paragraphs recounting how he’d tried to disrupt a protest by CND (“this band of idiots”), Toby made his pitch. “Recently I started up a political group called ‘the Young Apostles’, and we hold regular meetings where topics such as disarmament, feminism, culture, education, the media, the constitution and international finance are discussed. I originally banned females from taking part, partly because I don’t believe them equipped with the ability to discuss things and partly because I don’t know any bright females. Much to my horror some local saggy-titted feminists (Greenham Gremlins) found out about this discussion group and its high membership standards, and picketed the first meeting. Naturally they weren’t prepared to listen to my arguments about the genetic character traits of women and just ranted and raved… so I was forced to enlist the services of the local constabulary in order to dispose of them.

“Anyway, to get to the point, I was wondering whether you (and perhaps one or two of your brighter friends) would be interested in attending any of these meetings. I can promise that no members of the (un)fair sex will halt you on your way in Currently we have the sons of several ’eminent’ men among our ranks… Our next meeting is on Sunday 6 March at 2pm (whisky and cigars provided).” Using the courtesy title deriving from his dad’s peerage, he signed himself: “Yours sincerely, Honourable Toby D.M. Young.” Who’d have guessed that three decades later this comical duo would be collaborating to set up a co-ed school? (p. 5).

Okay, a lot of children and young people have obnoxious views, which they later grow out of. And Young wrote the letter back in the early 1980s, when attitudes towards gender and feminism were rather different. The women protesting against American nuclear weapons at Greenham Common were vilified in the right-wing press, and by Auberon Waugh, one of the columnists in Private Eye. I can remember Waugh appearing on the late Terry Wogan’s chat show one evening to sneer at them. It was at that time there was a comedy on BBC 2, Comrade Dad, starring George Cole, set in a future Communist Britain. This not only satirized the Soviet Union, but also the supposed far-left politics of Labour politicians like Ken Livingstone and the GLC in London. Just as women performed traditionally masculine jobs, like engineers and construction workers in the USSR, so they were shown doing such jobs in the Britain of the time. The lead character, played by Cole, was a firm believer in this system, and in line with avoiding sexist speech used to refer to everyone as ‘persons’. Women were ‘female persons’. Even so, Young’s view were horrendously reactionary at the time. As for Waugh, his humour largely consisted of writing outrageously opinionated right-wing pieces against groups like the Greenham women, teachers, and everyone else who offended his Thatcherite sensibilities in order to upset the left. Looking back at him, he could probably be described as a kind of privileged literary troll.

Regarding Young’s claim that he didn’t know any intelligent females, that can probably be explained by him being too opinionated and stupid to recognize the intelligence of the young women around him. On the other hand, he probably attended a boys’ school, in which case he may not have known many girls. It’s also possible that the girls and women with brains recognized immediately how stupid Young was, and took care to avoid him.

Young has, however, continued to have extreme right-wing views, and indeed has made a career out of it. I think he was the author of the book, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People was based. He last notable appearance in the news was a few years ago, when the Tories made him the official responsible for looking after the interests of students at university. Private Eye, amongst others, revealed that Young had been one of those attending a eugenics conference at University College London along with others on the far right. These included people, who believed that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites, and out and out Nazis. In this company, his remark in the letter that his youthful study group also discussed international finance could sound sinister, like a coded reference to the stupid and murderous conspiracy theory about the world being run by Jewish bankers. I doubt that is how he meant it at the time, but undoubtedly that is how it would be presented if Young was a member of the Labour left rather than extreme right-wing Tory.

I don’t know how Young got on with his plans to found the free school, and he probably has changed his views on women. But otherwise he seems to have remained extremely right-wing and bigoted. He definitely doesn’t support or defend the interests of people from lower income backgrounds, regardless of their gender. And indeed he, like the other hacks on the Spectator and in the right-wing press genuinely, are fiercely opposed to them.

Two Books By Tony Benn

January 4, 2019

I hope everyone’s had a great Christmas and their New Year is off to a good start. May the shadow of Theresa May and her wretched Brexit be very far from you!

Yesterday I got through the post two secondhand books I’d ordered from Amazon by that redoubtable warrior for socialism and working people, Tony Benn. These were Arguments for Socialism, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1979) and Fighting Back: Speaking Out For Socialism in the Eighties (London: Hutchinson 1988).

The two books differ slightly in that one is written from Benn’s perspective at the end of the ’70s, while the other was written nine years later at the end of the 1980s. In both Benn tackles the problems of the day, and lays out his radical, democratic socialist plans to revitalise the British economy and industry, strengthen and broaden democracy, and empower working people.

The blurb of Arguments for Socialism simply runs

Tony Benn, the most controversial figure in British politics, outlines a strong democratic-socialist approach to the most crucial issues in our political life over the next decade.

It has an introduction, and the following chapters, subdivided into smaller sections on particularly topics. These are

Section 1., ‘The Inheritance’, is composed of the following
The Inheritance of the Labour Movement
Christianity and Socialism
The Bridge between Christianity and Socialism
The Levellers and the English Democratic Tradition
Marxism and the Labour Party
Clause IV
The Labour Movement.

Section 2. ‘Issues of the 1970s’
Labour’s Industrial Programme
The Case for Change
Opening the Books
Planning Agreements and the NEB
Public Ownership
Industrial Democracy
The Upper Clyde Work-In
The Worker’s Co-ops
The Lessons of the Workers’ Co-ops
Democracy in the Public Sector

3. ‘Energy’
North Sea Oil
The Debate over Nuclear Energy
Windscale
The Fast Breeder
A Future for Coal
Alternative Sources of Energy
Conclusion

4 ‘The EEC’
Loss of Political Self-Determination
Loss of Control over the United Kingdom’s Industry and Trade
Unemployment and the EEC
After the Referendum

5. ‘Democracy’
Technology and Democracy
The Case for Open Government
How Secrecy Is Maintained at Present
Leaks and How They Occur
Conclusion

6. ‘Issues for the 1980s’
The Arguments
The Argument in Outline
The Present Crisis of Unemployment
Adam Smith and the Birth Capitalism
Lessons from the Pre-War Slump
Three Remedies on Offer
1. Monetarism
2. Corporatism
3. Democratic Socialism

7. ‘Jobs’
The Pension Funds
New Technology
Growth
The Trade Union Role in Planning
Workers’ Co-ops
A New Relationship between Labour and Capital

8. ‘The Common Market’
Three Criticisms of the EEC

9. Democracy
Open Government
The Unions
The Armed Forces
The Media
A New Role for Political Leaders.

Fighting Back’s blurb runs

With crisis after crisis rocking the country throughout the Eighties, the formation of new parties, divisions with in the old, mergers, reconciliations – British political life is at a watershed.

Tony Benn, in speeches on picket lines, at Conferences at home and abroad, in broadcasts, in the House of Commons, has been a consistently radical campaigning voice: for equal rights, for democracy and for peace against the increasingly brutal politics of monetarism, militarism and self-interest.

Fighting Back brings together for the first time in one volume the best of Tony Benn’s speeches from 1980 to 1988. Few poeple will have heard more than brief snippets of proceedings in the House of Commons given by television, radio and the press, so the most important debates are included here – the Falklands War, Westland helicopters, Fortress Wapping, Zircon and Spycatcher – as well as some lesser known concerns, from the ordination of women, to the politics of singer Paul Robeson.

Throughout the difficult years in Opposition, Tony Benn has played a leading role in defending and regenerating the socialist tradition. But Fighting Back is more than simply a personal testament: it is also an exciting and accessible handbook to the turbulent Eighties, whatever one’s political convictions.

After the introduction, it has the following chapters and subsections:

1. The Stalemate in British Politics
-Fifty Years of Consensus Rule
-The Party and the Government
-From Defeat to Victory
-Parliamentary Democracy and the Labour Movement

2. Prophetic Voices
-Positive Dissent
-Thomas Paine
-Karl Marx
-Paul Robeson
-R.H. Tawney
In Defence of British Dissidents

3. Fighting Back
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (April 1982)
-The Falklands War (May 1982)
-The Falklands War (December 1982)
-The Miners’ Strike (June 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (September 1984)
-The Miners’ Strike (February 1985)
-Gay Rights
-Fortress Wapping (May 1986)
-Fortress Wapping (January 1987)
-The Irish Struggle for Freedom
-After Eniskillen
-Privatisation of Gas
-Legal Reform

4. British Foreign and Defence Policy
-The Case for Non-Alignment
-Who is Our Enemy?
-A New Agenda for the International Labour and Socialist Movements
-Some Facts about Defence
-Towards a Permanent New Forum
-Paying for Apartheid

5. Work and Health in a Green and Pleasant Land
-The Unemployment Tragedy
-Trade Unionism in the Eighties
-Full Employment: the Priority
-The Common Ownership of Land
-The Case Against Nuclear Power
-Nuclear Accidents
-The Nuclear Lobby
-Evidence Against Sizewell B

6. The Arrogance of Power
-The Case of Sir Anthony Blunt
-The Belgrano-Ponting Debate
-Westland Helicopters
-Surcharge and Disqualification of Councillors
-The Ordination of Women
-The Zircon Affair
-Spycatcher
-Protection of Official Information

7. Disestablishing the Establishment
-Power, Parliament and the People
-The Civil Service
-The Crown, the Church and Democratic Politics
-A Moral Crisis
-The Disestablishment of the Church of England
-Television in a Democracy
-Televising the House

8. Light at the End of the Tunnel
-The Radical Tradition: Past, Present and Future
-Staying True to the Workers
-Aims and Objectives of the Labour Party.

The Books and their Times

Arguments for Socialism comes from a time when this country had nationalised industries, strong trade unions and an efficient and effective planning apparatus. It was also when unemployment and discontent were rising, and the country was facing the threat of Thatcher and her monetarist agenda. The speeches and articles in Fighting Back come from when Thatcher had seized power, was busy privatising everything not nailed down, smashing the unions and trying to silence any dissent. This included attempts to prosecute civil servant Clive Ponting for leaking documents showing that the Argentinian warship, the General Belgrano, was actually leaving the Falklands warzone when it was attacked and sunk. Thatcher also banned the publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher over here, because of the embarrassing things it had to say about MI5. This turned into a massive farce as the book was widely published elsewhere, like New Zealand, meaning that foreign readers had a better understanding of the British secret state than we Brits did. It was such a ridiculous situation that Private Eye’s Willie Rushton sent it up in a book, Spythatcher.

Benn’s Beliefs on Socialism and Democracy

Benn was genuinely radical. He believed that British socialism was in danger not because it had been too radical, but because it had not been radical enough. He wished to extend nationalisation beyond the utilities that had been taken into public ownership by Attlee, and give working people a real voice in their management through the trade unions. He also fully supported the workers of three firms, who had taken over the running of their companies when management wanted to close them down, and run them as co-ops. On matters of the constitution, he wished to expand democracy by bringing in a Freedom of Information Act, strip the Crown of its remaining constitutional powers and have them invested in parliament instead, and disestablish the Church of England. He also wanted to strip the office of Prime Minister of its powers of patronage and give more to MPs. He was also firmly against the EEC and for CND. Socially, he was on the side of grassroots movements outside parliament, fully embraced gay rights and the ordination of women within the Anglican Church.

Not the Maniac He was Portrayed by the Press

He was and still is vilified for these radical views. The press, including Ian Hislop’s mighty organ, Private Eye, presented him as a ‘swivel-eyed loon’, at best a mad visionary of hopelessly unrealistic ideals. At worst he was a Communist agent of Moscow ready to destroy this country’s ability to defend itself and hand it over to rule by the Soviets.

He was, it won’t surprise you to learn, anything like that.

He was very well respected by his constituents in my part of Bristol as a very good MP and brilliant orator, and was respected even by his opponents in the city. One of the leaders of Bristol’s chamber of commerce said that he was always rational and his opinions clearly thought out. I’m a monarchist and a member of the Anglican church, and so don’t share his views on the disestablishment of the Church of England. But his arguments there are interesting.

Disestablishment of the Anglican Church

Recent calls for disestablishment have come from atheists and secularists, and Benn does use the secularist argument that privileged position of various Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords is unfair to those of other faiths, Roman Catholics, Protestant Nonconformists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. But this argument actually comes at the end of the main body of his pieces. His main points are that the bishops shouldn’t be there, because they’re unelected, and that parliament and the prime minister, who may not be Anglicans or even Christians, have no business appointing the denomination’s clergy or deciding doctrine. It’s an argument primarily from within the Anglican church, not from someone outside, jealous of its position.

The Prime Minister against the Church and Its Members

One example of how the Prime Minister abused their position to override or impose their views against the wishes of the Church itself was when Thatcher got stroppy with the-then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie. After the Falklands War, Runcie had preached a sermon saying that we should now meet the Argentinians in a spirit of reconciliation. This is what a Christian leader should say. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, and all that. We’ve heard it several times since by great leaders like Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But Thatcher didn’t like it because she wanted something a bit more triumphalist. This section is also interesting because it has an interesting snippet you and I south of the Border have never heard of, except if you’re a member of the Church of Scotland. That august body at its synod overwhelmingly voted in favour of nuclear disarmament. I hadn’t heard anything about that before, and I doubt many other people outside Scotland had. And it obviously wasn’t an accident. The Tory media really didn’t want anyone else in Britain to know about it, in case they thought it might be a good idea.

It wasn’t just the Church of Scotland that were against nuclear weapons. So was a leading Roman Catholic prelate, Monsigner Bruce Kent, now, I believe, no longer a member of the priesthood. One of my aunts was a very Roman Catholic lady, who was also a member of CND. She found herself on one march next to a group of Franciscan friars. So kudos and respect to all the churches for their Christian witness on this issue.

CND, the Unions and Media Bias

On the subject of CND, Benn talks about the blatant bias of the press. All kinds of people were members of the Campaign, but when it was covered on television, what you got were a few shots of clergy like Monsignor Kent, before the camera zoomed in on the banner of the Revolutionary Communist party. CND were part of Russkie commie subversion! Except as I remember, they weren’t. The Russians didn’t like them either after they criticised their maneoevres in eastern Europe.

Benn states that the media’s bias is peculiar – its somewhere to the right of the Guardian, but slightly to the left of Thatcher. This was the attitude of the establishment generally. And it was extremely biased against the trade unions. He cites the work of Glasgow Media Studies unit, who looked at the language they used to describe industrial disputes. The language used of the trade unions always presented them as the aggressor. They ‘demanded’ and ‘threatened’, while management ‘offered’ and ‘pleaded’. He then asked hsi readers to turn the rhetoric around, so that a union asking for a pay rise of 8 per cent when inflation in 10 per cent is ‘pleading’.

The Ordination of Women

His stance on the ordination of women is equally interesting. He was obviously for it, but his arguments as you might expect were very well informed. He pointed out that women had been campaigning to be ordained in the Church since the 1920s, and that other Christian denominations, like the Congregationalists, already had women ministers. As did other Anglican churches abroad, like the Episcopalians in America. It was blocked here by the Anglo-Catholics, who fear it would stop re-union with Rome. But even here, he noted, this may not be an obstacle, citing movements for the ordination of women within Catholicism. Again, it’s an argument from within the Church, or from someone genuinely sympathetic to it, than from an outsider frustrated with the Church’s stubborn refusal to abide by secular social values, although that is also in there.

Government Secrecy

And back on the subject of government secrecy, the Zircon Affair was when Thatcher banned the transmission of an edition of the documentary programme, Secret State. I’ve put up that documentary series a few years ago on this blog, because it showed the extent to which Thatcher and others had been using the Official Secrets Act to suppress information that was embarrassing or uncomfortable. Like the fact that in a nuclear war, this country would suffer massive casualties and the obliteration of its major population centres.

The book actually contains any number of interesting snippets that definitely weren’t reported, or else were only given very tiny coverage, in the mainstream press. Like details of various incidents at nuclear plants that could have led to serious accidents. He also talks about the ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme. In this international project, we sent our nuclear material over to America, where, we were told, it would be used for peaceful purposes generating power in American reactors. Well, it was used in American reactors. They refined it into the plutonium, that was then put in American nuclear warheads and sent back over here to the US nuclear bases on British soil. He also pointed out that the agreements covering the use of Britain as a base by US forces in the event of a nuclear war also contravened our sovereignty.

Ted Heath and the EU

Loss of sovereignty was also a major part of his opposition to the EU. But he also makes the point that our entry into the Common Market was also undemocratic. Ted Heath simply decided the country was going in. Parliament was not consulted and did not vote on the issue. I do remember that there was a referendum afterwards, however.

Intelligence Agencies Smearing Labour MPs

The intelligence agencies are another threat to British democracy. He cites Peter Wright’s Spycatcher memoir on how MI5 was spreading rumours smearing the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as a KGB spy. This, like much of the rest of the material in the books, has not dated. The problem of the security services smearing left-wing politicians is still very much with us, as we’ve seen from the Integrity Initiative. They’ve smeared Jeremy Corbyn as a Russian spy.

Books Still Relevant in 21st Century

I’ve only really skimmed the books so far, just reading the odd chapter, but so much of it is directly relevant now. I think if he were alive today, Benn probably would have voted ‘Leave’, but his arrangements for leaving the EU would have been far more sensible and beneficial to this country’s ordinary folk than that of Tweezer and her band of profiteers. And he is absolutely right when he writes about expanding democracy in industry. He states that the workers’ co-ops on the Clydeside and elsewhere were attacked in the press, because suddenly the British capitalist establishment were terrified because it showed that there was a genuine alternative to capitalism, and that workers could run companies.

The individual sections in these books chapters are short, and the arguments clear. He also gives point by point party programmes on particular issues, such as making this country more democratic.

Benn Democrat, Not Authoritarian Communist

And it’s this concern for democracy that most definitely marks Benn out as being a democratic socialist, not a Trotskyite or Communist. Those parties and their various sects were run according to Lenin’s principle of ‘democratic centralism’. Put simply, this meant that the party would hold some kind of open debate on issues until a decision was made. After that, the issue was closed. Anybody still holding or promoting their own opinions faced official censure or expulsion. And the Communist parties of eastern Europe would have been as frightened of Benn’s championing of democracy as the British establishment.

Conclusion

As I said, I take issue with Benn on certain issues. But his reasoning is always clear and rational, his points well argued and based in fact. Furthermore, he is impressed with the British radical tradition and how much British socialism is squarely based within it. We lost one of our greatest parliamentarians with his death.

His ideas, however, are still very relevant, and have been vindicated with time. He was right about monetarism and corporatism, about unemployment, about the need for unions, about media bias. His support of women priests and gay rights were ahead of their time, and have now become almost a commonplace, accepted by all except a few die-hard reactionaries. And he’s right about nationalisation and worker empowerment.

These are books I intend to use for my blog and its attack on Tweezer and the Tories. And I won’t be short of useful material.

Quakers and Airbnb Boycott Israeli Occupation of Palestine

November 22, 2018

I found this video from RT which was posted yesterday, Wednesday 21st November 2018 on YouTube. It reports that the Quakers have banned investing in companies which profit through Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The Quakers stated that

Our long history of working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel has opened our eyes to the many injustices and violations of international law arising from the military occupation of Palestine by the Israeli government.

With the occupation now in its 51st year, and with no end in sight, we believe we have a moral duty to state publicly that we will not invest in any company profiting from the occupation.

This is, apparently, the first time a British church had made such a move, and the Quakers have been criticized by Jewish groups, which claim that it is a reference to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. the Board of Deputies of British Jews called the Quakers decision ‘appalling’ and said that it must be reversed. Quaker leaders, however, state that the decision recalls protests against apartheid South Africa and the slave trade.

The video then moves into a discussion about the decision with Les Levido from Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods and Rafi Bloom, co-chair of Northwest Friends of Israel.

The Quakers are, of course, absolutely right. Israel is an apartheid state, and the West Bank is under military occupation. The Quakers are rightly famous for their pacifism. One of our aunts was a member of CND in the 1980s, and I got the impression that among the religious groups supporting the movement were the Quakers and Roman Catholic Franciscan friars. As for the Slave Trade, they were one of the main groups behind the Abolitionist movement when it first appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the great Quaker campaigners against it in the British Caribbean was Woolmer, a hunchbacked dwarf, who used to carry around with him a hollowed-out Bible filled with blood. When he saw a planter approaching, he used to stab the knife into the Bible, sending the blood spattering as a visual protest of the blood spilt through the infamous trade. Philadelphia, the city founded by another Quaker, William Penn, was also the home of many of the American Quaker campaigners against the slave trade. Later on they were joined by the Methodists and the evangelical wing of the Anglican church in Britain. I’ve also got a feeling that many Quakers may also have been involved in the legalization of homosexuality in Britain. Gerard Hoffnung, the musician and cartoonist, was a Quaker and a supporter of this movement to end the persecution of gays.

It’s to be expected that Jewish groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews were going to be outraged at the church’s decision, but I note that the reporter does not say that they denounced them as anti-Semites. As the Quaker’s have always promoted peace and tolerance, such an accusation simply wouldn’t be credible.

I haven’t watched the debate, however, because I’ve no respect for the North West Friends of Israel. From reading Bookburnersrus, Martin Odoni’s and Tony Greenstein’s blogs, it’s very clear that they’re another bunch of thuggish bully-boys. Martin describes a meeting at a Quaker meeting house in Manchester, when the Jewish American reporter and activist Max Blumenthal was speaking about his latest book on Israel and its crimes. The Zionist activists there first tried to stop him entering, and then loudly heckled, sneered and guffawed throughout his talk until they were finally turfed out by the rozzers. And of course, they made the ridiculous claim that they were being silenced because they were Jews, when in fact they were thrown out because they were just there to disrupt and prevent other Jews talking and hearing about what was really going on.

Tony Greenstein described some of their members in one of his blogs. At least two were failed businessmen, one of whom was a lawyer, who’d been struck off. Quite apart from the usual contingent of Islamophobes and supporters of the EDL. They’re in no position to lecture the Quakers or the Jewish Israel-critical peeps, who have to suffer their anti-Semitic abuse, about morality.

The day before that report, the 21st, RT posted another piece discussing Airbnb’s decision not to list homes in the occupied West Bank, which also enraged the Israeli state. The company’s press room stated

We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

About 200 homes were to be removed from the list. The Palestinian authority welcomed the move, as they had previously requested the company to remove such listings. The Israelis, however, condemned it, and used the time-worn tactic of screaming racism.

Yariv Levin, the Israeli tourism minister, declared

This decision is completely unacceptable. This is pure discrimination, something that is taken only against Jews that are living in Judaea and Samaria. This is actually a racist decision – and more than that, I do believe that it is a double standard that is taken only against Israel, against Jews that are living here in Israel.

The anchorwoman then goes on to talk to Mustafa Barghouti, the General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, about the issue, as well as a former commander in the Israeli air force. Barghouti states that the UN resolutions say that the settlements in the West Bank are completely illegal, they are discriminatory, as they are built on land stolen from the Palestinians, and any relationship with these illegal settlements are a violation of international law. He says that Airbnb has taken the right decision, as they stood to lose a lot due to the boycott against them. And what is really racist and discriminatory is the apartheid system the Israelis have created, which favours Israelis over Palestinians.

The Israeli spokesman, Reuven Berko, cited simply as ‘Middle East expert’, rants about Airbnb being ‘cowards to Islamic terrorists, I don’t know what’, accuses them of anti-Semitism and ignoring the right of the Jews to their homeland in Judea and Samaria and asks how many Christians are angry about this. He states that this is an awful step against history, against fate.

It’s the usual specious rubbish. The Biblical state of Israel certainly existed, and was the homeland of the Jewish people in antiquity. But it has not existed for centuries. For many Jews, their real homeland was the country in which they and their forebears had lived in the Diaspora. And the Bund, the Jewish Socialist movement, made that very clear in their slogan ‘Wherever we live, that’s our homeland’. And many Orthodox Jews feel that Israel cannot be restored except by the hand of the Almighty and the Messiah. Until that happens, modern Israel is to them nothing but a blasphemy.

As for appealing to Christian anger about this, the lead Christian Zionist movements, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, are millennialists, who believe that the restoration of Israel will usher in the End Times and Christ’s Second Coming, along with the destruction of those Jews, who won’t convert to Christianity. In fact, the indigenous Christians of Palestine have almost been completely cleansed from Israel. The Christian population before 1948 was 25 per cent. Now it’s only one per cent. American Zionist Christians put this down wholly to persecution from Muslims. Now Muslim Palestinians have persecuted their Christian fellow countrymen, whom they see as collaborators. But Palestinian Christians have also and are being persecuted by the Israeli state and the settlers. The Israelis have closed churches as well as mosques, and both churches and mosques have been attacked and desecrated by mobs of Israeli settlers.

In my somewhat limited experience, Muslim Brits are better informed about this than British Christians. I studied Islam when I was at College as part of my Religious Studies minor degree. I can remember reading the equivalent of the parish magazine from one of the British mosques. It contained an article attacking the closure of one of the mosques in Palestine and its conversion into a disco. The article also noted that a nearby Christian church had also been closed by the Israelis.

A few years ago Channel 4 also screened a programme about the relationship between Christianity and other faiths, in which the presenter travelled to Israel. There he encountered an Israeli ‘shock jock’ radio host, who ranted about Christians. The programme also covered a march of militant Israelis on a church used by Messianic Jews. These are Jews, who have accepted Christ as the messiah, but still observe the Mosaic Law. This is my opinion, but I think they’re very similar to the Christian community of which the Gospel writer St. Matthew was a part, as this is traditionally regarded as the Jewish Gospel, and St. Matthew is concerned to assimilate Christ’s teaching to that of the Jewish sages. The settlers were stopped at the church entrance by the Muslim doorman. And apparently, it was actually quite common to have Muslims at the door of Christian churches protecting the worshippers from religious violence from outside.

And if we are going to talk about racism and discrimination, a friend of mine, who studied Judaism at College also told me that in the 1960s the Israelis threw out tens of thousands of indigenous Jewish Palestinians, because they were culturally Arab. There have been articles in Counterpunch by the magazine’s Jewish contributors, which have pointed out that Israel is a European/American Jewish colony, whose founders had a despicable racist contempt for the Mizrahim, Jewish Arabs, or Arabicized Jews.

The Quakers and Airbnb are right to boycott Israel’s occupation of Palestine. And the real racism and apartheid is by Israel against the indigenous Arabs, who have been Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and have suffered discrimination, persecution and ethnic cleansing by the Israeli state.

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.

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.