Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

Lobster: Integrity Initiative Working to Privatise NHS

June 30, 2020

Remember the Integrity Initiative? That was the subsidiary of the Institute for Statecraft that was found to be a private enterprise propaganda outfit working with the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up after former New Labour PM Gordon Brown read a piece about the IRD’s activities during the Cold War and thought it was a good idea. IRD was the branch of the British secret services that was supposed to counter Soviet propaganda. It did this, but also branched out into smearing Labour MPs like the late Tony Benn as Communist agents and IRA sympathizers. The Integrity Initiative was caught doing the same, spreading lies about Jeremy Corbyn and a host of European politicos, officials and senior military staff because it and its network of hacks decided they were too close to Putin.

Robin Ramsay has more to say about the II in his ‘View from the Bridge’ column in the recent edition of Lobster, issue 80. He makes the point that superficially the II would be acceptable if all it did was counter Russian propaganda. He argues that few on the left seem to accept that the country really is a kleptocracy that murders its opponents at home and abroad, and reminds his readers that one of the watchwords of the old left was ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’. This is right, but history and the career of the II itself has shown to date that British counterpropaganda goes well beyond this into operations that seriously compromise democratic politics at home, and frequently overthrow it abroad. Like the coup where British intelligence worked with the CIA to overthrow Iran’s last democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq.

But II isn’t just working to smear decent, respectable left-wing politicos like Corbyn. It’s now attacking one of the fundamental modern British institutions: the NHS. Among the hacks recruited by the II is the American journo, Anne Applebaum, who has written for the Economist and the Spectator, amongst other rags. But the II also includes a subgroup on NHS reform, which has nothing to do with Russian propaganda. Ramsay instead argues that its purpose is instead to counter opponents of NHS reform. In other words, it’s been set up to promote NHS privatisation. Which means it has a neoliberal agenda.

See his section ‘Ah yes, the USA as moral leader’ at

Click to access lob80-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

Given the extreme right-wing politics of British counterpropaganda operations, this is almost certainly right.

Which means that at least part of the British secret state is lying to us to support the Tories’ and New Labour privatisation of the NHS.

 

Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

June 28, 2020

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.

 

‘We’ll Meet Again’ at the End of ‘Dr. Strangelove’

May 7, 2020

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the government wants us to celebrate it by going outside at 3 pm or whenever, having a cup of tea and singing Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The Beeb has screened a half-hour documentary about her in preparation for the occasion.

I fully realise just how important VE Day was and is. It meant the final end of six years of carnage in Europe and the extinction of the Nazi regime. And with the exception of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the era of peace it has ushered in is the longest ever in Europe’s history. But to me the song brings to mind not the end of the Second World War, but that of Stanley Kubrick’s cold war black comedy, Dr. Strangelove. As the  Russian’s Domesday weapon is finally triggered, the film ends with Strangelove rising from his wheelchair to shout, ‘Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!’ and footage of nuclear explosions accompanied by Vera Lynn singing.

Here it is, in another video I found on YouTube. Enjoy, and I hope you have a great time.

Manifesto for a Truly Democratic, Socialist America

January 23, 2020

Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (London: Verso 2019).

Introduction

This is a superb book, though conditions have changed since the book was published last year through Labour’s election defeat and the fall of Corbyn, that the new age of socialist activism and success Sunkara looks forward to is now far more doubtful. Sunkara is an American radical journalist, and the founder and editor of the left-wing magazine, Jacobin. Originally from Trinidade, he immigrated to the USA with his family when he was young. Growing up in New York, he read extensively in the Big Apple’s public library, where he came to realise the country’s dependence on services provided by the state. He immersed himself in the history and literature of socialism, finally joining the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a registered Democrat.

The book comes praised by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Owen Jones. The book was partly inspired by the success of Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in America in bringing socialism back into the political arena after decades of neoliberalism. This is made clear by the blurb on the dust jacket’s inside flap. This states

Socialism was pronounced dead when the Soviet Union collapsed. But with the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour party and increasing economic inequality, the politics of class struggle and wealth redistribution is back on the agenda. In The Socialist Manifesto Bhaskar Sunkara offers a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century, outlining where it came from, what it is, and what a socialist political system might look like.

Tracing the history of some of socialism’s highs and lows – from the creation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party through bloody communist revolutions to the predicaments of midcentury social democracy – Sunkara contends that, in our global age, socialism is still the only way forward. Drawing on history and his own experience in left-wing activism, Sunkara explains how socialists can win better wages and housing and create democratic institutions in workplaces and communities.

In showing how and why socialism can work today, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking a real solution to the vast inequalities of our age.

The Way to Socialism in America

The book begins with a ‘Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen’, which maps out one possible path for the transformation of America into a socialist state. Sunkara asks the reader to imagine himself as a worker at Jon Bongiovi’s pasta sauce business in Texas to show that, even under a benign and paternalistic employer, the capitalist system still leaves the workers poor and powerless. In order to compete, the firm must not only make a profit, but invest in machinery while at the same time either cutting wages or laying people off. However, the workers are empowered by a new wave of strikes and left-wing activism that sees the election of President Springsteen. Springsteen establishes a welfare state, which allows the workers to devote more of their time and energy to pressing for their demands without having to fear for their livelihood. The worker’s movement continues making gains until the economy has become nationalised. Individual firms still exist, and are run by the workers themselves rather than the state. Some of them fail. But there are also government banking schemes to help workers set up their own businesses, though still state-owned and collectively managed, when they have a good idea and are fed up with their present job. Like bottling pasta sauce. America is still a vibrant democracy, and there are a number of other parties, including a capitalist party, though that is waning in popularity. It’s not utopia, but it is a system where workers are genuinely valued.

The Rise and Transformation of Socialism from Marxism to Reformism

The socialism, whose history the book tells and advocates, is that the Marxist and Marxist derived parties, Communism and social democracy, rather than the Utopian socialism of the generation before Marx and the more extreme versions of anarchist communism and syndicalism. The book naturally describes the career of Marx and Engels, and the formation of the German SDP. This moved away from revolutionary Marxism to reformism under the influences of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalism’s survival and the growing prosperity of industrial workers had disproven crucial aspects of Marxist doctrine. Initially pacifist, like the other European socialist parties, the SDP voted for war credits at the outbreak of the First World War. This caused a split, with a minority forming the Independent Socialists (USPD) and the Communist Party. When the 1919 revolution broke out, the majority SDP under President Ebert moved to crush it using right-wing Freikorps brigades. Although the SDP was one prop of the Weimar coalition, it was never able to establish socialism in Germany, and so fell with the other parties in the collapse of the Republic to the Nazis.

Russian Communism

Sunkara’s account of the rise of Russian communism is interesting for his argument that the Bolsheviks originally weren’t any more dictatorial than their rivals, the Mensheviks. Even Kautsky recognised the need for a strong, centralised party. But Lenin originally was no dictator. Pravda rejected 44 of his articles, and the were other voices as strong or stronger within the party. What pushed it towards first authoritarianism and then totalitarianism was the stubborn opposition of the rival socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to join a government coalition with the Bolsheviks, but walked out and began active opposition. The Revolution was then threatened by the revolt of the Whites, leading to the Civil War, in which Britain and other western countries sent troops in order to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. This, and the chaotic conditions created by the Revolution itself led to the Bolshevik party assuming a monopoly of state power, partly as the only means available of restoring order. This began the party’s journey towards the murderously repressive state it became, though interparty democracy was still alive in the 1920s before the rise of Stalin.

Mao and China

The emergence of communism in China, its seizure of power and the reign of Chairman Mao is also covered as an example of socialism in the Third World. The nations of the Developing World, like China, took over revolutionary socialism – communism – rather than reformism, because conditions in Russia more closely resembled those in their nations. Russian had been a largely agricultural country, in which the majority of its citizens were peasants. Industrial workers’ similarly represented only a minuscule fraction of the Chinese population, and so Mao turned to the peasants instead as a revolutionary force. This chapter concludes that Chinese communism was less about empowering and liberating the workers than as a movement for national modernisation.

Sweden and the Rise and Fall of Social Democracy

The book also examines the rise and progress of Swedish social democracy. The Swedish socialist party took power early through alliances with the Agrarians and the Liberals. This allowed them to introduce generous welfare legislation and transform the country from one of the most socially backward, feudal and patriarchal states in Europe to the progressive nation it is today. But there were also losses as well as gains. The Swedes compromised their commitment to all-out socialism by preserving private industry – only 5 per cent of the Swedish economy was nationalised – and acting to regulate the economy in alliance with the trade unions and industrialists. This corporative system collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s. This caused inflation. The government tried to resist wage rises, which the unions resisted. The industrialists resented the growth of working class activism and began measures to counteract them. Olof Palme, the country’s prime minister, then moved in a left-ward direction through establishing funds that would allow the trade unions gradually to buy up companies. The industrialists recognised an existential threat, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The Swedish model, meanwhile, had been highly influential through Labour party MP Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, which in turn led to Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ as the Labour government in Britain moved from social democracy to a more left-wing alternative to neoliberalism. Other European socialist parties followed, such as the German SDP. France’s President Mitterand in the 1980s tried to break this pattern in the 1980s, but his government was also overthrown through capital flight, the industrialists taking their money out of the French economy. Mitterand tried to hang on by promising to safeguard industry and govern responsibly, but it was no use.

Socialism and America

The chapter on socialism in America is particularly interesting, as it shows, contrary to the impression given by America’s two-party system, that the country has a very strong history and tradition of working class parties and socialism, from combative unions like the IWW to organised parties like the Knights of Labor, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Socialist Labor, Populist, Progressive and Communist Parties. However, socialism has never gained power there, as it has in Britain and Europe, because of a variety of factors. These include the extreme violence of the state and private industry, the latter hiring gunmen, to put down strikes; factional infighting between socialist groups, partly caused by the extreme range of socialist opinions and the restriction of some socialist groups to particular ethnicities, and the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

A strategy for Success

Thechapter ‘How We Win’ contains Sunakara’s own observations and recommendations for socialist campaigning and the construction of genuine socialism in America. These are

1. Class-struggle social democracy does not close down avenues for radicals; it opens them.

2. Class-struggle social democracy has the potential to win a major national election today.

3. Winning an election isn’t the same as winning power.

4. They’ll do everything to stop us.

5. Our immediate demands are very much achievable.

6. We must move quickly from social democracy to democratic socialism.

7. We need socialists.

8. The working class had changed over the past hundred and fifty years, but not as much we think.

9. Socialists must embed themselves in working class struggles.

10. It is not enough to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.

11. A loose network of leftists and rank-and-file activists isn’t enough. We need a political party.

12. We need to take into account American particularities.

13. We need to democratise our political institutions.

14. Our politics must be universalist.

15. History matters.

Conclusion

This is the clarion call for genuinely radical activism. It will almost certainly start right-wing alarm bells ringing, as Sunkara calls for left-wing activists to join main parties like the Democrats in the US and Labour in Britain. They are not to be infiltrators, but as people genuinely committed to these parties and working peoples’ causes and issues. The claims that the working class has somehow died out or no longer has radical potential is overstated. It has changed, but 60 per cent of the population are still employees drawing wages or a salary, and who have no money of their own. And the book shows very clearly that the transformation to a genuinely socialist economy is needed. Social democracy has won considerable gains for working people, gains that still persist despite constant right-wing attack. But these aren’t enough, and if left unchallenged, capital will always try to destroy them.

The book’s angled towards the US, but its lessons and many of its recommendations still apply of this side of the pond. The resurgence of genuine socialist activism in Britain is now far less certain in Britain. But hopefully this book will help show to more people why it’s still possible and needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Head of Asgardia Space Nation Attacks Trump’s Attempt to Set Up Space Force as Threat to Peace

October 25, 2019

One of the other stories that caught my eye last week was an article by Michael Day in the I reporting that the head of the international space nation, Asgardia, Igor Ashurbeyli, had attacked Trump’s decision to set up a military space force. Asgardia is an international organisation devoted to space colonisation. It’s intent on establishing itself as a new, internationally recognised nation out there on the High Frontier. The article in the edition for Wednesday, 16th October 2019, entitled ‘New US Space Command ‘puts the planet at risk”, runs

The billionaire head of the Asgardia “space nation” said that US President Donald Trump has effectively declared war on the 1967 Out Space Treaty, and risks creating a “Wild West” beyond Earth’s orbit.

The international agreement, banning weapons in space, was supposed to form the basis of law to guarantee peace beyond Earth’s orbit. But Igor Raufovich Ashurbeyli, told I that, in announcing a new Pentagon Space Command unit, Mr Trump has effectively torn it up – and put the planet at risk. 

“After the recent US statement that it will not respect international agreements in space, the situation is very worrying,” said Mr Ashurbeyli, the former head of a Russian state-owned defence contractor.

“In fact, the situation is worse than this, given that only 20 states on Earth have any sort of access to our space.”

Ram Jakhu, professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law, at McGill University in Canada, said the “increasing militarisation and weaponisation” in space appeared to be a prelude to serious conflict between superpowers.

“Currently, an intense race to the Moon and asteroids is going on, mainly for exploration and natural resources,” he added.

“There’s potential for geopolitical conflicts.”

Now Ashurbeyli, as the former head of a Russian arms firm, does have an interest, if only psychological, in preventing America establishing a military presence in space. But he’s right. The current treaty outlawing the militarisation of space was put in place partly to prevent the superpowers conducting nuclear tests in the Earth’s atmosphere or outer space. Tests which obviously have the potential for triggering a nuclear holocaust. The legislation has had the effect of preventing certain aspects of space research and new propulsion methods. The journey to Mars and other planets in the solar system could be cut down to a couple of months using nuclear powered rockets, but they’re illegal under the treaty. And while that’s a problem in the colonisation and commercial exploitation of space, I’m happy for it if it keeps the peace. If you want a Science Fictional illustration of the potential of the militarisation of space to create a nuclear war, see Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001. In the book and the film, the superpowers have established nuclear missile platforms in space, and the international situation between the two blocs is on the point of all-out war. The spacecraft you see gliding past before the camera fixes on the spaceplane Orion are these weapon platforms. However, it’s not obvious what they are because Kubrick didn’t want people seeing them and thinking that the movie was going to be another Cold War nuclear farce like Dr. Strangelove. In the book, but not the film, after Bowman’s journey through the stargate and his transformation into the Star Child, the crisis point has been reached and the superpowers launch their weapons. These are destroyed by the  Star Child when he re-enters Earth’s space. There is still the problem of the armed conflict, but the book concludes ‘He would think of something.’ Trump’s space command raises the spectre of such a conflict, but there would be no Star Child to save us from the resulting war.

It’s certainly possible that armed conflict could result through the competition by the space nations for the resources out there. The late NASA space scientist and advocate of space colonisation, Dr. Gerard O’Neill, believed that there could be real space pirates. These would be rogue ships seeking to steal the ores being brought back to Earth from mining the asteroids. I think we’re a few decades away from that, if not centuries, but the possibility is there nonetheless.

There have been a number of SF stories written about a possible war in space fought between the superpowers, including one by John Wyndham, the creator of the triffids. It’s certainly possible that war could break out through different nations establishing colonies on and claiming the same piece of extra-terrestrial real estate. There’s a parallel here to the wars the European nations fought against each other to claim territory in the New World. They attempted to prevent these wars coming home to Europe through an agreement that limited such conflicts to beyond the Line, the imaginary boundary marking off the Americas from the Old World. Conceivably, something like this could be put in place to stop wars on the Moon, Mars or elsewhere, from spreading to Earth itself. But I wouldn’t like to bet on any such treaty being agreed, or even being effective if it was.

I also remember the controversy and panic there was when I was at school during the New Cold War of the 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan seemed to be spoiling for a fight with the USSR. One wretched element of this was Reagan’s Space Defence Initiative, dubbed ‘Star Wars’. Reagan wanted to place military satellites in orbit as part of its defence programme against the Soviet military threat. Such satellites would have weapons like ‘pop-up’ lasers. The satellites would carry nuclear bombs, which would explode, destroying the satellite. However, the energy from the explosion would be channelled into the lasers they also carried to destroy an incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. But the Russians were also afraid that these satellites would also strike at Earth itself. They had their own, official disarmament magazine, Gonka Vooruzhenie, which I think translates as ‘Disarmament People’. This carried illustrations of the threats to the Russian forces and people from Reagan’s space weapons. Trump’s Space Command threatens a repeat of this same episode from the Cold War. That ended with the USSR collapsing, partly because they couldn’t afford to keep up with American arms expenditure. We cannot depend on a similar outcome this time. 

Ashurbeyli is right. Trump’s decision to militarise the High Frontier threatens us all with nuclear Armageddon once again. 

The Nazis and Post-War German Conservatism, The CDU

October 9, 2019

That determined opponent of all forms of racism and Fascism, and their Jewish version, Zionism, Tony Greenstein, has written a passionate open letter to the mayor of the German city of Aachen, Marcel Philipp. His letter is a protest against Philipp’s decision to withdraw an artistic prize from Raad, a Lebanese-American artist, because Raad supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israeli goods and businesses operating in the Occupied Territories. In his letter, Greenstein shows how the BDS campaign is actually an anti-racist movement, despite the official condemnation of it as anti-Semitic by the Bundestag, the German parliament. Boycotts are the weapon of the oppressed. He notes that it was used against slave-produced sugar from the West Indies, and takes his name from Colonel Boycott, an Irish landlord shunned by his tenants in County Mayo in 19th Ireland. He also points out that the anti-BDS legislation is supported by outright racists and genuine anti-Semites like the Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany and Trump in the US. They do so not because they are friends of Jews, but because they believe that Israel is their real home, and would like the Jewish people in their countries to move there.

Philipp is a member of the CDU, the Christian Democratic Union. This is the German equivalent of our Conservative party, and was formed after the war from the merger of the Catholic Centre Party and a few other parties. Greenstein accuses Philipp himself of racism, due to the presence of former Nazis in the party after the War. He points out that the closest adviser of Conrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-War Chancellor, was Hans Josef Globke, the legal expert, who drew up the infamous Nuremberg Laws for the Nazis. This was the legislation that put the Nazi social policy of racism, anti-Semitism and vicious discrimination and persecution into official state action. After the War, 77 per cent of legal staff in the German department of justice were former Nazis. At the Eichmann trial, Adenauer was determined to stop any mention of Globke and his role in the Holocaust. And so he sent Israel military aid, including submarines, and assistance with David Ben Gurion’s nuclear programme. 

Greenstein ends his letter

It is perfectly understandable that racists and white supremacists the world over should oppose the Boycott of Israel.  Racists have always opposed the use of BDS.  It is therefore no surprise that as a member of a racist German party should oppose Boycott.

My only message to you Mr Philipp is not to expiate your guilt over the Holocaust at the expense of the Palestinians. It was people like you who were responsible for Auschwitz and Treblinka, not the Arabs of Palestine.

The annihilation of the Jews in the Holocaust is no justification for the racial oppression and genocidal murder of the Palestinians today. Your party was once full of Nazis.  It would seem that old habits die hard.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/10/open-letter-to-aachens-racist-mayor.html

The letter’s interesting, not just for Tony’s protest about the withdrawal of the prize and efforts by German, American and European Fascists – he also mentions Italy’s Matteo Salvemini, amongst others – supporting and calling for a ban on the BDS movement, but also for the light it sheds on the Nazi past of many members of the CDU. The Baader-Meinhof gang in the 1970s arose because of scandals like this. They were furious that former Nazis like Globke were continuing their lives and careers, untroubled by proper punishment for their horrendous crimes. And as Ken Livingstone pointed out in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, NATO and the various western intelligence agencies actively recruited them during the Cold War as part of their campaign against Communism.

In fact, the party that consistently fought against the Nazis and their persecution was the SDP and later the KPD, the German Socialists and Communists. These formed resistance cells even after they were formerly banned. Not that German Conservatives were alone in possessing extreme right-wing sympathies. Our own Conservative party and its press, like the Daily Mail, also had Fascist sympathisers before the War, and a Fascist fringe afterwards.

Forget the lies about Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the British Labour Party, anti-Semitism is and has always been far more prevalent on the right. Which is why we need to have decent, left-wing parties presenting an alternative to poverty, austerity and neoliberalism in government all over Europe. And to fight all forms of Fascism, even when it tries to present itself as friendly towards Jews, like Zionist imperialism.

More Lies and Disinformation about Roswell: Crash Hoaxed with Victims of Nazi and Japanese Human Experiments

September 15, 2019

There’s some very nasty lies – at least, I sincerely hope they’re lies – being put about by someone about the notorious Roswell UFO crash. This was the incident in 1947 when a UFO supposedly crashed on Mac Brazell’s ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. The US army came to investigate and collect the debris. The USAF then released a statement by Major Quantanilla that they had recovered a ‘flying disc’. This story was then changed the next day, or a few days later, to a tale that they had in fact recovered a weather balloon, with Quantanilla shown holding up its foil remains. That, more or less, is what is known for sure. However, local people continued to believe very strongly that an alien space vehicle had crashed near their town. In 1980 Charles Berlitz and another researcher published a book claiming that this was the true. This was followed by even more books claiming that not only had a UFO crashed, but alien bodies had been recovered and removed to Wright-Patterson AFB for analysis and dissection. There was also one alien survivor, who was also taken by the Air Force. This in turn spawned the infamous Alien autopsy hoax video created by pop producer Ray Santilli and shown around the world. Which in turn inspired the British SF comedy, Alien Autopsy, starring those lovable funsters Ant and Dec, now appearing on Britain’s Got Talent.

Since then there have been a number of theories and highly dubious claims about what really happened at Roswell. And one of these stories is extremely nasty, and, in my view, grossly offensive. It’s that the crash was a deliberate fake, using children or handicapped adults, who had been experimented upon by Nazi, Japanese, Russian and American scientists, as part of a Cold War plot.

Annie Jacobsen and the Joe Rogan Experience

A few days ago I discovered this video from the Joe Rogan Experience, put up on YouTube on 18th May 2019. In it, Rogan, the host, talks to the journo Annie Jacobsen, about the claims in her new book that American scientists working for the military surgically altered children to look like aliens as part of a Cold War campaign of disinformation against the Soviets. The Russians had supposedly tried to fake a UFO encounter using children mutilated by the Nazis, and the Americans were experimenting to see how the Russians did it.

Rogan’s sceptical about the whole tale. He states that he knows people in the armed forces, and they will spin stories to get people going. And I share Rogan’s scepticism. This seems to be simply the latest version of a series of claims that the crash was faked using children operated upon by the Nazis, Japanese and Russians.

Redfern’s Account of the Russian Hoax Landing

A few days ago the Magonia website published my review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin: UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets. In it, Redfern discusses similar claims made by Jacobsen in an earlier book, published in 2011, Area 51. Based on information supplied by an anonymous informant, she claims that the Roswell Crash was a failed attempt to fake a UFO landing by the-then dictator of the USSR, Joe Stalin. The flying saucer was based on the tailless aircraft designed by the Nazi aeroengineers, the Horten brothers. The aliens were really children surgically altered by the Nazi doctor and war criminal, Josef Mengele. The mysterious hieroglyphs seen on some of the saucer remains was really Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet. Jacobsen doesn’t name her source, but another investigator, Tony Bragaglia, claims that he was Alfred O’Donnell, an elite engineer from EG&G, the leading designer and contractor of federal classified facilities in the US. Redfern then states that he was told practically the same story from a former employee of Area 51, which he published in his 2010 book, The NASA Conspiracies. This source claimed that physically altered people had been flown from Russia to the US aboard a bizarre-looking aircraft in order to convince Americans that their country was being invaded by aliens.

Redfern and Japanese Human Experiments at Roswell

In an earlier version of this tale, also published by Redfern five years earlier, the object that crashed at Roswell was a massive balloon based on Japanese technology, which carried a manned glider. This contained a pilot, and a group of handicapped Japanese. Suffering from diseases such as dwarfism and progeria – rapid aging – they had been brought to the US from the Japanese Unit 731, the infamous Japanese military unit responsible for experiments on humans. These experiments were every bit as sick and horrific as Mengele’s and the Nazis’. A little while ago one of the Horror blogs reviewed a film someone had made about the Unit’s atrocities in Japanese-occupied China and Mongolia during the Second World War. The film claimed to be recreations of real experiments. From reading the review, I decided it was definitely one to miss. Apparently the victims of the Roswell and similar crashes were being used as guinea pigs to assess the effects of exposure to high altitude and radiation.

Redfern’s book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: the Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story (Paraview Pocket Books 2005), was reviewed by Magonia in issue 89, August 2005. Their review concluded that it wasn’t a story that should be accepted or rejected out of hand, but was worth the attention of properly qualified reporters and investigators, and would gain in stature if someone, particularly outside Ufology, would come forward to corroborate it. Or if a whistleblower also came forward, and they brought with them evidence and documentation.

The Magonia article notes that there were unethical experiments conducted by the American state, like the MKUltra drug experiments and the infamous Tuskeegee syphilis experiments on Black sharecroppers. They also mention here the scandal of the British state sending ‘orphaned’ children to be used as slave labour in Canada and Australia. However these conspiracies are backed up by genuine evidence and documentation. But there’s none here. Only people walking up to Redfern at UFO conferences. Magonia says of this

Assuming that these people exist and are who they say they are, then the fact the people on two continents approach Redfern with more or less similar stories suggests either that rumours along these lines have been around for some time and are being ussed as the basis of stories, that the stories are to some degree at least true, or that Redfern is being set up by someone or other. 

My guess is that they’re either just rumours, which people are turning into stories, or that Redfern and Jacobsen have been set up.

The Problem of Age and Memory

In the above interview, Rogan does ask Jacobsen if the people telling her these tales weren’t lying. She replies that her informant was a 95 year-old man, who broke down crying in front of his wife of 65 years, because he was so ridden with guilt at his complicity in the atrocity. She asks him in turn how this could happen if the story wasn’t true.

The problem with this is the same that Magonia also pointed out affected the testimony of other witnesses to the supposed Roswell crash, people who believed they’d seen alien bodies. They were very elderly, sometimes quite frail, and the family of one man said that his mind and memory were prone to deceive him. It’s quite possible that this has happened here and that the whole story is a confabulation by a man, who is clearly upset and disturbed about something in his career, but whose mind has constructed a false story about why. On the other hand, it could also very well be that this entire story is simply malign twaddle dreamed up by someone. It could be the government trying to hide a genuine mystery, or it could simply be private citizens laughing at the gullibility of the public, who have somehow pulled this bloke into their fantasies.

The Weekly World News and the Nazi Saucer Myth

These tales also seem to resemble and draw on a version of the Nazi saucer myth published in the Weekly World News on 27th January 1981. The Weekly World News was an American supermarket tabloid newspaper, and gave us such brilliant investigative reports such as ‘Mom was bigfoot, says beastie man’. This reported the claim of Olav Meyer, a German geologist living in Seville, Spain, that the UFOs were developed by the Nazis, but not actually used because Hitler preferred the V2. The article claimed that this had been corroborated by another journalist and investigator, Christof Friedrich, of Toronto. According to Friedrich, the Germans were working on flying saucers, but were unable to develop them because of a shortage of raw materials. Friedrich also said that he had learned from Major Donald Keyhoe that the Americans had seen troops into Germany to recover the saucer scientists, but that they had escaped to Russia instead. Both Meyer and Friedrich cited a book, published in the 1950s by Rudolph Lazar, which supposedly showed the Nazis were developing flying saucers.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1O8DAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lazar’s book is notorious. Although the WWN article claims that Lazar was a scientist, he was really a former German army officer. His book was about supposed German super weapons developed during the War, which included flying saucers. It’s one of the major sources for the Nazi saucer myth, which returned once again to haunt Ufology back in the 1990s. Apart from ordinary people, who have been taken by this rubbish, the myth seems to be pushed by Nazis trying to create some kind of spurious glamour about the Third Reich. As it developed, the Nazi saucer squadron was supposed to have escaped the allies, establishing a secret base out in the Canadian arctic. They then moved down to Antarctica, which is why the Americans also have a base down there. The video UFO Secrets of the Third Reich, produced by Royal Atlantis Films in the 1990s, also claimed that they were built following instructions channelled through a medium from an alien civilisation around the star Aldebaran. The Nazi saucer myth also formed the basis for the SF comedy, The Iron Sky, in which a female American president, who resembles Sarah Palin, starts a war with a Nazi colony on the Moon. Magonia published a series of articles attacking the Nazi saucer myth. Kevin McClure, a long-time investigator of the paranormal, also published a very well researched piece very effectively demolishing it.

I find the Nazi saucer myth vile and distasteful, if not dangerous for the way it seeks to promote and glamorize the Nazis. And the stories of maimed and disfigured people used to impersonate aliens seems to me to be a kind of blasphemy against the real victims of Nazi and Japanese experimentation.

I have no idea whether these stories are some kind of government/ state disinformation campaign, or simply private hoaxers. But I don’t doubt for a single minute that they’re lies that should be discarded. Until someone involved comes forward bringing real evidence and supporting documents, at least.

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

 

 

Kate Maltby Smears Corbyn and his Supporters as Conspiracy Theorists

August 25, 2019

Last Thursday, 22nd August 2019, Kate Maltby decided to give us all the benefit of her views on Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and the ‘Trumpification of British politics’ in the pages of the I. She opined that both BoJo and Corbyn were like the megalomaniac manbaby over the other side of the pond. She was also irritated by the fact that the similarity between Corbyn and Trump hadn’t been picked up by the public in the same way the similarity between Johnson and Trump had. She then went on to whine that both Trump and Corbyn’s politics were based in conspiracy theories undermining western democratic politics, conspiracies which she thought came straight from Putin and the Kremlin. She wrote

Yet to those of us hwo have followed Corbyn’s rise closely, the sight of him comparing any other politician to Donald Trump felt like an act of such shamelessness that it might only be matched by the Ponzi President himself. If there is a single line running through Tump’s politics, it is the practice of rule by conspiracy theory. Yet it is from those who believe that the existing democratic order is essentially a conspiracy that Corbyn also draws his base. As researcher Peter Pomerantsev writes in his superb new book, This Is Not Propaganda, “we live in a world of mass persuasion run amok, where the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied”. The digital imprint of the Russian state has been particularly successful in undermining the confidence of voters in western democracies in our own democratic norms and even our ability as voters to understand our political realities.

The analyst Ben Nimmo has summed up the Russian approach to disinformation as “dismiss, distort, distract, dismay”. Hence, the birth of a whole new online culture populated by voters who don’t even share a basic epistemology with existing “elites”. Johnson and the Brexit campaign benefited most clearly from this crisis of trust, but so does their fellow Eurosceptic, Jeremy Corbyn. Track the pro-Corbyn and pro-Trump networks online, and you’ll find a commitment to anti-vax theories that tell you the Government wants to make your children ill. Johnson, to his anti-Trumpist credit, has just announced a campaign to counter this particular theory.

Both are surrounded by supporters who trade in conspiracy theories about Jews. While Corbyn’s party is under formal investigation for anti-Semitism, only this week Trump was manically R’Ting the conspiracy anti-evangelical Wayne Allyn Root, who attacked Jewish Democrats for not supporting him.

She then goes on to take Corbyn to task for not coming down hard enough on the Russians about the Skripal poisoning, and for using the memory of the lies over the Gulf War to cast doubt on the Russian’s guilt.

This is all shameless bilge and propaganda itself. The I also reviewed Pomerantsev’s book, and declared that while it was very good on the subject of Russian propaganda, there was very little material about how the West also manipulates information.

And manipulate it the West certainly does. The conspiracy magazine Lobster has been showing since the beginning of the 1980s how the British and American secret state and other covert organisations have manipulated information and worked secretly to influence state policy to their advantage. During the Cold War there was an entire department, the IRD, or Information Research Department set up within the British state to counter Russian and other enemy propaganda. It also tried to undermine the Labour party by producing disinformation and fake texts linking Labour politicians with the IRA and Soviet espionage. And we’ve seen this campaign start up again under the Tories in the form of the Integrity Initiative, with its extensive links to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare division of the SAS producing smears trying to link Corbyn to the Russians. When various right-wing loons and shameless liars haven’t been trying to claim that Corbyn was somehow an agent for the Czechs.

That the British secret state has also done its best to undermine democracy is solid fact. Britain’s disinformation campaign against its foreign enemies is the subject of a book, Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy, by Rory Cormac, (Oxford: OUP 2018). The blurb for this reads

It has long been an open secret that British leaders use spies and special forces to interfere in the affairs of others-as discreetly as deniably as possible.

Since 1945, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has spread misinformation designed to divide and discredit targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland. It has instigated whispering campaigns and planted false evidence on officials working behind the Iron Curtain, whilst GCHQ now uses the internet to undermine terrorist recruiters. MI6 has tried to foment revolution in Albania, and to instigate coups in Congo, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. It has sabotaged ships to prevent the passage of refugees to Israel, secretly funnelled aid to insurgents in Afghanistan, and launched cultural and economic warfare, not only against Cold War enemies such as Communist Czechoslovakia, but also NATO allies.

Through bribery and blackmail, Britain has rigged elections as colonies moved to independence. It has fought secret wars in Yemen, Indonesia, and Oman-and discreetly used special forces to eliminate enemies, from colonial Malaya to Libya during the Arab Spring. This is the world of covert action: a vital, though controversial tool of statecraft and perhaps the most sensitive of all government activity. If used wisely, it can play an important role in pursuing national interests in a dangerous world. If used poorly, it can cause political scandal-or worse.

In Disrupt and Deny, Rory Cormac tells the remarkable true story of Britain’s secret scheming against her enemies, as well as her friends. He uncovers a world of intrigue and manoeuvring within the darkest corridors of Whitehall, where officials fought to maintain control of this most sensitive and seductive work. A fascinating tale of covert operations in its own right, it is also the story of Britain’s attempt over the decades to use smoke and mirrors to mask its decline as global power.

As readers of this blog will be aware, it’s blatantly untrue that Corbyn and his supporters, or at least the vast majority of them, have conspiracy theories about Jews. What they are aware of is the way accusations of anti-Semitism have been levelled at Corbyn and the Labour left for purely political reasons. The Right, including the Blairites in the party, like Tom Watson and John Mann, are using it to try to maintain the Thatcherite status quo. And the Israel lobby is doing it simply to smear and discredit anyone critical of that nation’s apartheid system and its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

I am at a loss, however, to know where Maltby got the idea that Corbynists are opponents of vaccination. The American anti-vaxxers, from what I’ve seen, tend to be on the political right, Conservatives and Libertarians. The kind of people who watch Alex Jones’ InfoWars and have the same bizarre ideas of ‘Purity Of Essence’ as the mad American general Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire, Dr. Strangelove. The type of people, who think putting fluoride in the water is a globalist plot, and any kind of welfare state is a horrendous Commie assault on democracy. Definitely not the kind of people, who support Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, it looks like the accusation is simply a shameless invention of Maltby herself.

I’m not surprised that Maltby has come out with this lying screed. Along with her CV, in which she informs us she’s written for The Financial TimesThe Spectator, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The TLS, The Times, and The New Statesman, and appeared on various TV and radio programmes, she also declares that

Much of what I’ve gleaned about the workings of Westminster I’ve learned from my time on the team behind Bright Blue, the liberal Conservative pressure group and think tank. 

See: http://www.katemaltby.com/about-me/

She’s a Tory, and the only difference I can make out between ‘liberal’ and right-wing Tories, is that the ‘liberals’ are less open in their hatred of the poor and disabled, and their determination to punish, humiliate and kill them. Oh yes, and their better at deceiving the Tory rank and file that they don’t want to destroy the welfare state and privatise the health service.

She’s just another right-wing hack, upset and irritated by the fact that an increasingly media-savvy public are aware of how much the lamestream media is manipulated by corporate and right-wing political interests. And she’s just following a well-worn media path by trying to link Corbyn and his supporters to anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories and the Russians. It’s time she, and the various shameless hacks like her, were given the boot. Then people might start believing in their politicians and their media.

 

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.