Posts Tagged ‘Florence’

The Young Turks on the Republicans’ Hatred of College Education

August 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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French Academic Olivier Roy on the Nihilistic Psychology of Suicide Bombers

June 15, 2017

Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism website put up a very interesting interview last week with Olivier Roy, a French academic and expert in terrorism at the European University Institute in Florence, by Safya Khan-Ruf. Roy has published a book, Jihad and Death, about the motivations of Islamist terrorists, based on his own research. He states he first became interested in the topic while working in Afghanistan, and from his own experience growing up in Dreaux, a French town where immigrants constitute 30 per cent of the population.

Olivier states that from his sample of youths, who had belonged to a terrorist network, 65 per cent were second generation immigrants, 25 per cent converts. 50 per cent were juvenile delinquents, and none of them had been religious, belonged to a mosque or tried to spread Islam through preaching.

He also makes the point that ISIS’ terrorist methods differ strongly from those of Islamic terrorist groups in the 1970s and ’80s. These groups did not intend to die during their atrocities, and made every effort to escape.

Now the situation is reversed. The suicide bombers actively intend to die. He also argues that it isn’t racism or marginalisation that motivates the bombers either, and points to the fact that British Libyans are actually well integrated.

He argues instead that they have a powerful need for very rigorous, extreme forms of religion, coupled with a violent nihilism that is ultimately drawn from western individualism and the idea of the solitary hero. They use selected teachings from Islam to justify their atrocities like the KKK and other extremist groups in the west used Christianity as the justification for their attacks and terrorisation of others, such as Blacks in America. He states

Despite what many people say, these youth are not the products of unemployment, of racism, or a lack of integration. It’s just not true. For Abedi for example, Libyans are pretty well integrated and while he had a chaotic past, it wasn’t because of his family life.

And then people are ‘stuck’.

My thesis is that these are youth in revolt: nihilists that are suicidal and will ascribe their revolt into the narrative provided by IS. For those that have a Muslim background, it’s easy to adopt the narrative because the keys are already there.

But we also see hundreds of converts that adopt this. IS placed a very sophisticated narrative in play that combines references from Islam at the time of the Prophet with a modern type of extreme individualism – the image of the solitary hero – and a modern aesthetic of violence and death. That is what is working.

So we first need to attack the narrative of IS and the fascination it causes.

In these youths there is a demand for spirituality and mysticism. We’ve known since the anarchists and Dostoyevsky that there is a spiritual dimension to terrorists. The problem is, we fight this demand of spirituality by secularising and using our rational thought. I think our society has a problem with the religious – it doesn’t understand the religious anymore.

He then goes on to argue that people of faith should be allowed to express their religious beliefs freely, without being forced to adapt them to the demands of the secular state. For example, secular society should not demand that religious people alter their traditional hostile view of homosexuality.

He also states that we should be very careful not to overreact to these atrocities. He makes the point that similar killings occur regularly, such as the German pilot who committed suicide, killing all his passengers with him when he crashed the plane. These murders don’t have the same effect as Islamist or White Fascist killings.

http://hopenothate.org.uk/2017/06/05/nihilist-youths-turn-islamic-state-terrorists/

It’s an interesting viewpoint into the murderous, self-destructive psychology of suicide bombers. He’s right in that there is a similarity between their attitudes and the figure of the great, destructive, supremely individual hero that emerged in European Romanticism.

While I don’t dismiss the idea that the ‘great, bad man’ of Romantic literature hasn’t exerted some influence on their psychology, I also think it’s a mistake to downplay their links to organised Middle Eastern terrorism in favour of ascribing their motives to their own, individual psychology. A week or so ago Counterpunch published an article making the point that many Islamist terrorists were imported by Western secret services, who wished to use them for their own neocolonial schemes against secular leaders and regimes in the Middle East. Salman Abedi’s family was part of one such militant Islamist group, set up to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi.

The Counterpunch article further argues that ignoring these connections in favour of pursuing policies based on supposed radicalisation through the internet or in the Muslim community generally are misguided and ultimately harmful. Very few terrorists are recruited through online propaganda, and the ‘Prevent’ strategy of scrutinising all Muslims to check against radicalisation risks alienating British Muslims further. Far from being deterred from joining terrorist networks, they may feel that they are being unfairly suspected of being a terrorist or terrorist sympathiser, simply because of their faith.

And the emphasis on looking for indications of terrorist sympathies in the particular psychology of individual Muslims can lead instead to the mistaken condemnation or suspicion of the victims of violence from the Middle East. The article cites the case of a young boy, whose family had sought asylum in Britain from one of the war-torn countries in the Middle East. In his drawings in class, the lad depicted the planes and violence he had witnessed in his country of origin. Unfortunately, his teachers became alarmed as they thought this showed he had terrorist sympathies, and the poor lad was packed off to be investigated by the authorities and psychologists.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/12/britain-refuses-to-accept-how-terrorists-really-work/

Vox Political: Torygraph Spreading More Lies about Break-Away Labour Group

May 11, 2017

It seems the Torygraph will publish any old rubbish, not matter how hackneyed and obviously wrong, to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday Mike put up a piece about an article in it, which claims that about 100 Labour MPs are in talks with potential donors about setting up a new ‘Progressives’ group in parliament if Corbyn stays on after a Tory landslide.

As Mike says, this is just the same old rumours that right-wing Labour MPs were planning to split the party that were circulating just before Corbyn won his second leadership election with a landslide.

He concludes

This is just a stupid smoke-and-mirrors bid to sap support for Jeremy Corbyn after Labour’s storming campaign launch and yet more blunders from ‘Team Terrible’ – I mean, Team Theresa.

I notice the name of the Torygraph reporter is ironically appropriate – C Hope? There’s no hope for Tories to see here.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/10/how-many-times-must-we-read-this-twaddle-about-mps-breaking-away-from-corbyns-labour/

A little while ago Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted this remark about similar rumours of a Labour split:

It seems you may not have long to wait, as rumour has it that Blair is indeed trying to found a new party (or should that be a New Party?), with Sainsbury’s money being redirected from Progress to the New Blair Party. I have no doubt at all that this will claim to hold the middle ground as long as the ideals of neoliberalism seem centrist and “moderate”. I also have no doubt that this is yet another attack on the working people of the UK.

Let’s just stick with the current Labour party, that has promised to represent the 99%, and not the 1%?

My guess is that the Torygraph writer has heard some of these same rumours, and decided to repeat them as fact. It might be true that Blair wants to set up a new ‘Progressives’ party – the title of this new ‘moderate’ – read: neoliberal – group touted by the Torygraph seems to be based on ‘Progress’, the Blairite faction in Labour. Blair himself wants to return to British politics and was in the papers a week ago spouting on about how he wishes to spread ‘moderate’ politics.

I doubt he would have any chance of forming a new party. As Richard Seymour has pointed out in his book on Jeremy Corbyn, Progress is tiny numerically. It’s only causing trouble because its members have seized key position in the party. Furthermore, Blair himself is politically toxic, though like Thatcher he has no idea that he is long past his political sell-by date. Mike and Seymour in his book have pointed out that from 2002 to the end of their administration, Labour lost five million votes. He alienated voters with his right-wing policies.

And even some Tories despise him for reasons that are entirely right and correct. The Mail on Sunday columnist, Peter Hitchens, refers to him as ‘the Blair creature’ and voices his intense disgust at him for starting the needless wars in the Middle East which have cost so many brave men and women their lives and limbs.

My guess is that if the 100 Labour MPs did split off from Labour, it would result in them immediately losing their seats. The party would then be able to put up proper left-wing candidates, who would support Corbyn – or a suitably left-wing successor. These proper Labour MPs would then win the seats previously held by their Blairite predecessors.

But as Mike said, rumours of these splits have run before, and been wrong. The Blairite MPs themselves have been desperate to hold on to their nominations as Labour MPs by any means, fair or foul. We’ve seen whole local Labour parties suspended on trumped up charges because they’ve scared the Tom Watson and his minions by threatening to deselect their Blairite MP.

And Barry Davies, one of the long-term commenters over on Mike’s blog, raises the spectre of what happened to the SDP:

Well let’s honest if they “moderate’s” broke away what are they going to do, renew the social democrats?, start another party? join the lib dems, whatever they would be assured of losing their cushy jobs.

Yes, what did happen to the SDP? They were supposed to be about to break the mould of British politics. I can remember David Owen telling his troops to go back home and prepare for government.

It didn’t happen.

But he did get an invitation from Screaming Lord Sutch to join the Monster Raving Loony Party. Sutch said in his autobiography, Life As Sutch, that if Dr Owen had joined them, he’d be in government by now.

This looks like wishful thinking at best from the Torygraph. They’ve been one of the most venomous and persistent of Corbyn’s critics in the media. Possibly this is due to the paper’s very blatant right-wing bias, made worse by its ownership by the weirdo Barclay Twins, and desperation to ingratiate itself to potential advertisers by spiking stories that reflect badly on them. According to Private Eye, this prostration before the advertisers has resulted in readers leaving it in droves. I got the impression that this has resulted in mass sackings by doddery CEO Murdo McClellan and the Gruesome Twosome in order to keep the paper’s share price up.

Either way, it’s the Torygraph that’s in dire straits, not Labour. And hopefully one result of a Labour victory will be to utterly discredit the Telegraph and the other right-wing denizens of Fleet Street as influential opinion-formers.

Richard Seymour on the Anti-Semitic Smears against Jeremy Corbyn

April 6, 2017

The decision against Ken Livingstone yesterday, sentencing him to suspension for another year because of his entirely accurate statement about the initial collaboration between the Nazis and the Zionists was declared to be anti-Semitic, brought fresh denunciations and anger from Jewish leaders. Members of the Jewish establishment from Rabbi Mirvis, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, downwards, ranted about how Labour was riddled with anti-Semitism, the sentence was insufficient, and Red Ken should be expelled.

It’s all nonsense. As the five Jewish Labour party members, whose statements Mike put up on his blog yesterday pointed out, the Leninist newt-fancier had said absolutely nothing anti-Semitic. Indeed, at least one pointed out that in her experience she had encountered no anti-Semitism in the party. Florence in her comments about this shabby affair states that Labour has far fewer racists and anti-Semites in its ranks than the Tories. What really infuriated Mirvis and his fellows wasn’t that Ken was an anti-Semite, but that he and Naz Shah – who actually had a very good relationship with her local synagogue – had dared to criticise Israel for its brutal and barbarous treatment of its indigenous population. The Zionists have worked long and hard to try to forge a spurious equivalence between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It’s rubbish, because not all Jews are Zionists by any means, and that the real definition of Anti-Semitism, as used by Wilhelm Marr, the founder of the League of Anti-Semites, was hatred of Jews simply for being Jews. The League of Anti-Semites were one of the odious precursors to the Nazi party, so this definition of anti-Semitism comes from ‘the horse’s mouth’.

Furthermore, two of the people giving their statements about this issue came from homes, which were staunchly Zionist. One lady stated that her mother had lived in Palestine after being forced to leave Ukraine due to the anti-Semitist outrages there. Her paternal grandmother had also been an active supporter of Zionism in Britain. In a letter sent to the NCC, and signed by 30 Jewish Labour party members in support of the man Private Eye calls ‘Leninspart’, the signatories point out that not only aren’t all Jews Zionists, but many Zionists believe that Zionism itself has to be open to criticism, and hence the outrage to Ken’s entirely accurate statement is unwarranted.

Richard Seymour, in the chapter on how Project Fear failed to stop Corbyn in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, also discusses some of the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour leader. He writes

One of the most insidious attacks from the Right was organised by the Jewish Chronicle, edited since 2008 by the Tony-Blair worshipping neoconservative pundit Stephen Pollard. In an article published a month before the outcome, the Chronicle posed a series of ‘key questions Jeremy Corbyn must answer’. Most of these were insinuation, guilt-by-association tactics. So, for example, it queried his links to Carlos Latuff, whom it characterised as ‘the notorious anti-Semitic cartoonist.’ Latuff is notoriously pro-Palestinian, but support for Palestine is a far cry from anti-Semitism. Even the Jewish daily Forward considers it a ‘stretch’ to call his cartoons ‘anti-Semitic’. Far more insidious was the attack on Corbyn for supporting Raed Salah, whom the Chronicle depicted as ‘a man convicted of the blood libel’. This was particularly obnoxious, because Salah had been the subject of a deportation struggle, in which these claims of anti-Semitism were used by the government to support his expulsion from the UK. What the Chronicle failed to mention was that Salah won that court case precisely because these claims were shown to be false and based on mistranslations. The fact that Salah was being slandered by the government is the reason why Corbyn, quite ethically, stood by him. Nonetheless, the Chronicle’s article provided material for reams and reams of similarly insinuating media attacks, such as Dan Hodge’s claim that Corbyn’s victory would be ‘cheered by terrorists and racists; and it served as ammunition for Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan to attack Corbyn in the Daily Mail for ‘encouraging terrorism’. (pp. 35-6).

The Zionists have had very strong links to Blair and New Labour ever since Blair bumped into the future Lord Levy at a gathering at the Israeli embassy in the 1990s. It was Levy, who got Blair funding from Jewish businessmen, funding that allowed him to be independent of the unions, whom he despised. The Blairite coterie have benefited from trips to Israel, paid for by the Israeli state, and have given their wholehearted support to Israel.

This has absolutely nothing to do with real anti-Semitism, about which, as one of those giving their statements yesterday pointed out, the Board of Deputies of British Jews will say nothing if it also serves their purposes. The Board kept their mouths firmly shut when the Mail used dog-whistle tactics to make a series of anti-Semitic smears against Ed Miliband when he was Labour leader. This is all about a Blairite political establishment, which was always a minority, trying to cling on to power, hysterically supported by a Zionist establishment desperate to criminalise support for the Palestinians against Israel’s massacre and deportation of them.

Florence on Terraforming Mars Using Existing Microbes

January 2, 2017

One of the pieces I put up yesterday was on a paper by two scientists in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, discussing the possibility of terraforming Mars using genetically engineered microbes. Florence, one of the commenters on this blog, used to be a microbiologist, and was extremely interested in the exploration of Mars and the prospect for finding life there. She commented that there are already anaerobic microbes that can exist in comparable conditions on Earth. She felt that the experiments carried designed to detect life on the Red Planet were very inadequate. She wrote

There appears little need to create GMOs for terraforming. We already have the real deal here on earth. Back 3.6 billion years ago, when first life is thought to have arrived/ developed / etc there wasn’t an oxygen based atmosphere. It was anoxic, and the first organisms (the archeao bacteria) were very sensitive to oxygen, and there are still many that find oxygen toxic. These are still found in many places including the human gut! Some microorganisms developed oxygen tolerance and that allowed them to use new food sources, and they began adding oxygen to the atmosphere. These organisms then used this evolutionary advantage to evolve and diversify. When I studied anaerobic bacteria the main problems were sensitivity to oxygen – very difficult to remove from all materials prepared in the standard lab – and the slow growth rate (making the rapid generation of results for research funding cycles pretty difficult).

http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/07_03/extremo.shtmlhttp://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/07_03/extremo.shtml

Then there are the organisms that can grow in both aerobic and anaerobic environments. These are the ones that would be useful in terraforming if the aim was to develop a breathable atmosphere for humans and other animals. These live on very basic nutrients of sulphur and iron containing minerals, plus water. I think the “red” planet would be a great place to find these organisms, and vee may not even need to send ours over, but to stimulate the environmental conditions that would allow the planet to terraform itself. I recall the so-called search for life on the early Mars probes left me speechless – they were just totally inappropriate. But that’s can other story! Thank you for reminding me of the whole area of microbial life here and across the solar system! Happy New Year, too!
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23354702https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23354702

The paper discussing the use of GEMOs to terraform Mars did mention that some existing microorganisms had been considered, such as a variety of cyanobacteria.
Looking through the index of papers published in the Proceedings of the Founding Convention of the Mars Society: August 13-16, 1998, edited by Robert and Linda Zubrin, I did find one paper by James M. Graham and Linda E. Graham on terrestrial microbes on Mars. This was ‘Physiological Ecology of Terrestrial Microbes on a Terraformed Mars’, published in the third volume of papers. Unfortunately, I don’t have that volume, and so I really don’t know anything about the paper or its conclusions, just that it exists.

As for the inadequacy of the instruments aboard the Viking probe to detect life on the Red Planet, Dr. Heather Couper and the late Colin Pillinger also believed that they were too limited to disprove the existence of life in that part of the cosmos. Heather Couper is an astronomer, writer and broadcaster, who’s written a series of books on astronomy. A few years ago I heard her talk about life on Mars at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. Before she began speaking, she asked her audience how many of them believed there was life there. Only a few people put their hands up. She asked the same question again at the end of her talk, after she had explained the problems with Viking’s experiments, and the evidence for life. That time the majority of people put their hands up.

Dr. Colin Pillinger, who was a scientist with the Open University, also made a very strong case for life on Mars, life he hoped to find with the Beagle Probe. One of the ways life could be detected was through its waste gases, like methane. The Beagle Probe carried just such a detector, and Dr. Pillinger said, ‘So if a bacterium farts on Mars, we’ll find it.’ He was another speaker at the Cheltenham Festival of Science, and was well worth hearing. Sadly, the Beagle Probe was a disastrous failure. Rather than soft-landing, it crashed on to the Mars surface, and was destroyed.

Despite this, I still have immense respect for the man. He and his team seemed to be fighting a lone battle to send a British probe to explore the issue, and I am deeply impressed by the way he and his fellow scientists were able to mobilise public support, including celebrities like the artist, Damian Hurst. I got the impression that his team were rushed, and it may well have been this that caused the mission’s failure. But I don’t fault the man for trying, and I think he did a grand job in taking on British officialdom and winning a place for the probe aboard the Ariane craft, when the British authorities didn’t appear to be at all interested, at least, at the beginning.

It’s sad that he failed, but he was genuinely inspirational in pushing for the project. I hope that it will not be too long before someone else sends another, better probe to Mars. And I think we need more scientists, and science educators like him, who can pass on their great enthusiasm for their subject.

British Interplanetary Society Paper on Terraforming Mars with Microorganisms

January 1, 2017

Yesterday I put up a couple of articles on terraforming the various planets of the Solar system, including Mercury, Venus and Earth’s Moon, as well as Mars. There have been a couple of really interesting comments posted to them. Florence, one of the great people, who read this blog, stated that she was a microbiologist. She was very much looking forward to working on microorganisms for Mars, but unfortunately that, and much of the rest of the space programme, vanished.

As well as Carl Sagan’s suggestion in the 1960s that blue-green algae could be used to create a breathable atmosphere and Earthlike environment on Mars, a number of scientists have also suggested using microorganisms to terraform the Red Planet. Twenty years ago the American Astronautical Society published a series of papers, edited by Robert M. Zubrin, about the colonisation of Mars, From Imagination to Reality: Mars Exploration Studies of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society: Part II: Base Building, Colonization and Terraformation (San Diego: Univelt 1997). This included a paper, ‘Genetic Modification and Selection of Microorganisms for Growth on Mars’ by Julian A. Hiscox and David J. Thomas.

bis-mars-terraforming

The abstract for this paper reads

Genetic engineering has often been suggested as a mechanism for improving the survival prospects of terrestrial microorganisms when seeded on Mars. The survival characteristics that these pioneer microorganisms could be endowed with and a variety of mechanisms by which this can be achieved are discussed, together with an overview of some of the potential hurdles that must be overcome. Also, a number of biologically useful properties for these microorganisms are presented that could facilitate the initial human colonisation and ultimately the planetary engineering of Mars.

After an Introduction, in which they state that the terraformation of Mars could be a two-stage process, with the construction of an Earthlike environment by microorganisms being the first, they then proceed to the following sections:

2. Selection of Bacteria for Mars The Search for a Marsbug, which discusses the suitability of terrestrial microbes for the process, such as the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiops and the extremophiles, which occupy of extreme environments here on Earth;

3. Genetic Engineering – A simple Matter of Cut and Paste;

4. Genetic Modification and Selection;

5. Gene Expression, with subsections on

1) Survival Properties – Tolerance to Peroxides; Osmotic Adaptation; UV Resistance; Tolerance to High Intracellular Acid Concentrations; Endospore Formation;

2) General Properties, with further subsections on photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, and denitrification;

6. Uses of GEMOS and Some Speculations,

and then finally the conclusion and acknowledgments.

The conclusion reads

The introduction of microorganisms on Mars will greatly facilitate colonisation, both during initial attempts and in establishment of a stable ecosystem, either in enclosed habitats or at the end of ecopoiesis or terraformation. During the initial stages of ecopoiesis climatic conditions on Mars will be limiting for most terrestrial microorganism. By using genetic modification and directed selection under simulated Martian conditions, it may be possible to greatly enhance the survival capability of microorganisms during the alteration of the Martian climate to more clement conditions. Such microorganisms could be used to facilitate any planetary engineering effort. For example, they could be used to release Co2 and N2 from putative carbonate and nitrate deposits.

The genetic alteration of microorganisms will not be so much of a problem of introducing foreign genes into the organism but more a matter of understanding and controlling the regulatory pathways for the expression of such genes. However, such understandings will provide valuable insights into genetics, not only for increasing the productivity of microorganisms on Mars but possibly for Earth.

I’ve got very strong reservations about genetic engineering and modification, but here there is a strong case if it can be used to bring life to a sterile world. Assuming, that is, that Mars does not already possess life. In a way, the article’s ironic. Over a century ago, H.G. Wells had a germ, the common cold, destroy the invading Martians in his book, The War of the Worlds. Now terrestrial scientists are discussing using such organisms as ways to creating a living environment on the Red Planet.

Florence on Oliver Letwin and Thatcherite Anti-Welfare Think Tanks

November 27, 2016

This morning I put up a piece about the report in Friday’s I newspaper that Margaret Thatcher had continued planning to dismantle the welfare state, including the NHS, even after her own cabinet had revolted against it. Thatcher was keen to follow the plans outlined by the CPRS, a right-wing think-tank, to whom she had given the task of formulating plans to transform Britain into a free market economy. Amongst their proposals was the abolition of free universal healthcare, meaning the NHS, and the introduction of compulsory school fees, quite apart from the destruction of the rest of the welfare state.

I said in the article that it would be good to know who the people responsible for the CPRS were, as they should take their share of the blame, rather than just the politicos who fronted the reforms. As it stands, unfortunately it seems to me that even when one politician espousing the views of one of these wretched groups goes down, the members of the think tank just slink away to another job advising someone else. Like the various right-wing groups that jumped from the Tories to New Labour under Blair.

Florence replied:

I would suggest Letwin is the thread running through the whole sorry tale. Elected to a safe seat in 1997, he finished his academic studies (PhD) in 1982, and almost immediately became part of the CPRS in 1982. That was coincidentally when the ideas initially proposed in 1978 became part of the assault on the individual budget holders began in earnest. He then moved on to working with the CPS think tank.

In fact Letwin was associated with some of the most controversial policies – such as using Scotland as a testing ground for the POl Tax, and other unpopular policies. He is associated with racist memos written for Thatcher. He was also the author with Redwood of the 1988 CPS pamphlet that is the blueprint for the 2012 Act, which had itself been under preparation since 2007 -8 (ish).

The CPS was founded in 1972 by the “Mad Monk” Keith Joseph, and Alfred Sherman and Thatcher, to champion “liberal thinking” (now called neo liberalism). “In her own words, its job was to ‘expose the follies and self-defeating consequences of government intervention….’to think the unthinkable’ ” (Margaret Thatcher The Path to Power (London 1995), p. 253). The proposals on the NHS certainly fulfilled that objective, and seem to have arisen from within this coterie and melting pot while the Tories were in opposition in the 1970s. Other notable members of the CPS who are still influential in the Tory party include John Redwood, Dave Willitts, and Michael Fallon. Letwin of course was the main back-room grandee for Cameron and Osborne. He has since left the Downing Street role but his policies continue to be implemented.

Friedman, Joseph and Sherman were the main right-wing influences on Thatcher, but through Friedman and the Chicago School there were links directly to Pinochet in Chile (the Chilean “Chicago Boys”) and into the economic ideologies of nations across the globe. In the Wiki entry for Chicago school for the UK it sparsely notes that Thatcher implemented the Chicago school neoliberal policies and these were left intact and some were completed by Blair including the entry of private medicine into the NHS.

Getting information in who the members of the CPRS and the CPS were during those years is surprisingly difficult.

From my own reading about the subject, Keith Joseph was certainly Thatcher’s mentor, and she was very definitely influenced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys, who were also responsible for General Pinochet’s grotty economic policies. Friedman even went down to Chile to see how his ideas were being put into practice. As for Alfred Sherman, he’s another shadowy figure responsible for much of the neoliberal suffering around the world. I’ve got a feeling he’s the subject of a number of articles in the parapolitical magazine Lobster, as well as possibly being mentioned by Guy Debord’s Cat in his blog. The ‘Deep Politics’ angle – meaning covert manipulation by the secret state – probably explains why information on the CPRS is so difficult to obtain. They were a conspiratorial group within the heart of the establishment, and the establishment most definitely does not want their perfidy exposed.

Florence on the Fabians and the Labour Right

August 15, 2016

Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted this comment on the links between the Fabian Society and the Thatcherite entryists on the Labour right.

The Fabian Society is a small group, they say dedicated to networking, I call it as a closed shop for privilege, the white middle class, and the political dynasties. The Fabian Society has also been spotted hovering in the shadows with the Blairites, such as Benn and Kinnock, and especially those who seem to be trying to redefine feminism to their own liking, Jess Philips, Jo Cox, Tessa Jowell, Hariett Harman, to name but a few in Fabian Women’s section. They run a mentoring programme, and in their own words,

“The programme has already delivered some incredible results for its 125 participants and the Fabian Women’s Network. Mentees have been selected or shortlisted as Parliamentary candidates, as candidates for the London and Welsh Assembly with brilliant support from other mentees. Many others were shortlisted. 27 women have been elected into local government positions and a number of women have gone on to become school governors and trustees on the boards of charities. The majority has gained promotion, been nominated for awards and written or spoken in national media.”

Not bad for a society with only 6,000 members in total. A lot of influence for the few. Don’t get me wrong, women’s mentoring to prepare for public life is great, it’s just that an awful lot of the “parachuted” or more correctly imposed New Labour candidates into winnable Labour constituencies proves there is a link between THIS Fabian programme and the actual elected MPs, notably those who are very vocally anti- Corbyn and anti-Socialism. This also shows how far the webs reach between the PLP problems, and the disconnect with the actual membership and in the country. The graduates of the programme seem to know very little about the Labour movement or socialism, it’s aims and more about neo-liberalism as a “good thing”, and of course Corbyn as democracy as a “bad thing”.

https://fabianwomen.org.uk/fabian-women-mps/https://fabianwomen.org.uk/fabian-women-mps/

The source of Fabian Society funding also bears some inspection, where there are a number of corporate donors and sponsors are powerful lobbyists for corporate interests, and not known for their support for socialist ideals- such as Barclays and Lloyds banks, Bellendon PA (political lobbyists) the Portman Group (lobbyists for the drinks trade), Sanofi – a large pharmaceutical, and so on.

http://www.fabians.org.uk/about/how-we-are-funded/http://www.fabians.org.uk/about/how-we-are-funded/

This is depressing. The Fabians have always had a reputation for being ‘milk-and-water’ Socialists, but I used to have far more respect for them than I do today. I was briefly a member of the society back in the 1980s, when I felt I had to do something to stop the rampant privatisation under Maggie Thatcher. My great-grandfather had been a member, and I was impressed with the intellectual work they’d done. This was a time when there was still a variety of opinions in the Society. Indeed, one of the sources I’ve used for my blog posts and pamphlets against the privatisation of the NHS was a Fabian pamphlet by Robin Cook against it. It’s not just from Florence that I’ve heard about the Fabians forming part of the network of Blairite groups. A friend of mine also remarked on it, with the suggestion that if Corbyn wanted to destroy the Blairites, he could do much by simply expelling the Fabians.

It’s a profoundly depressing development for the organisation of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, and, briefly, H.G. Wells. The Webbs did much to promote Socialism in Britain, and their report on the state of British healthcare laid some of the foundations for the development of the NHS decades later. It’s now become a mouthpiece for the corporate shills trying to privatise everything, and break up that greatest of British institutions.

Tony Greenstein on Zionist Lies and Smears in New Statesman

August 9, 2016

The other day I put up a long piece attacking the outrageous bias against Jeremy Corbyn in Private Eye. This clearly chimed in with what very many of my readers have observed, and feel strongly about, and I got comments about it from Florence and Jeffrey, amongst others. Michelle also sent in this comment, remarking on the way the supposedly left-wing New Statesman, was also biased against Corbyn, and linking to a piece on it by Tony Greenstein, another blogger. She wrote:

Hi Beastie, it seems to be a generic problem for the ‘intellectual’ press, in similar vein here’s a piece on the NewStatesman with similar tactics by Tony Greenstein:
http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-lies-deceit-of-new-statesman_8.html?m=1

Mr Greenstein’s article is well worth reading. The article is about his disgust with the increasingly right-ward bias of the Staggers. He was particularly angered by its printing of an article claiming that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour party by Simon Johnson. Johnson’s a senior member of a pro-Zionist Jewish organisation. Greenstein states that Johnson’s group is unelected and unrepresentative. Greenstein was so annoyed by the article, and its uncritical repetition of these false allegations, that he wrote a letter of complaint to the Staggers, the text of which he includes in that blog post. He decided to put it up himself, as he felt sure that the Statesman’s editors weren’t going to print it.

Like many of the others accused of anti-Semitism by the Zionists, Mr Greenstein is Jewish. He’s a member of the Jewish Labour party organisation, and is also active against racism and Fascism. But he’s been suspended because of supposed anti-Semitism. This is because he’s a fierce critic of Israeli racism and its persecution and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians. Greenstein describes just how nasty this racism is in his piece. He also remarks on how ridiculous it is that, under the Israeli law of return, he has the right to return to a country that he has never visited, while Palestinians, who were born in Israel, but who fled or were driven abroad by the Israelis, are banned from settling in the country of their birth.

This clearly is monstrous, just as it is monstrous that accusations of anti-Semitism should be levelled at Mr Greenstein, simply for speaking for speaking the truth. As for the allegations of anti-Semitism, he’s in good company. Other victims of that accusation include Jackie Walker, who is half-Jewish on her father’s side, and whose partner is Jewish. Ms Walker is also a woman of colour. Her mother was a Black woman, who was thrown out of America for activism in the Civil Rights movement. And Ms Walker has similarly been active against racism and Fascism in this country. In America, the head of Bernie Sanders’ Jewish Outreach department in his campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination, was also forced to resign because of allegations of anti-Semitism. She was also Jewish, and very active in her community. And Sanders is himself Jewish.

And some of the gentiles, who have been accused of anti-Semitism, are also obviously anything but. Ken Livingstone’s GLC, as I’ve said before, was notorious for being ‘right-on’. It was anti-racist, anti-sexist, and very pro-gay rights, to the fury of Maggie Thatcher. In his book, Livingstone’s Labour, ‘Red’ Ken states that he was opposed to all forms of racism, whether anti-Semitism, or against Blacks and the Irish. He also devotes sizable sections of two chapters describing and attacking the recruitment of Nazis responsible for the persecution of the Jews during the Third Reich, by us to serve in British intelligence against the threat of Communism in the Cold War.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but in my experience, avowed Jew-haters tend not to go on anti-Fascist marches and demos, risking personal violence by some extremely nasty characters with long histories of racist attacks. I don’t think many people, who despise their ethnic or religious heritage, actively join groups for the people of that community, or readily identify themselves as belonging to that group. Rather, they do the opposite, and try to deny that they belong to it. At the most extreme of this, is some of the self-hating Jews, who deny their heritage completely and join Neo-Nazi organisations. There was a case a while ago in America of the leader of a group of Nazis over there, who committed suicide after it got out to his fellow stormtroopers that he was Jewish.

I admit that’s an extreme case, but none of the people accused of anti-Semitism are remotely like it. Quite the opposite. And considering how serious the charge of anti-Semitism is, after the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and similar genocidal organisations, it should be used sparingly against those who really are. Otherwise, it’s a very gross slander.

And Mr Greenstein also points out that by using the accusation to slander those who aren’t, there is the danger of the boy, who cried ‘wolf’. If you abuse the term so frequently, then it loses its seriousness, and clears the way for the genuine anti-Semites and Nazis to make their claims without fear of opposition, because the term has been so abused so as to become meaningless.

Friedrich Engels on the Difference between Socialism and Communism

June 19, 2016

Engels Communism Pamphlet

This morning I posted up a few extracts from Friedrich Engels’ Principles of Communism, published by Pluto Press. The Principles of Communism was the first draft of the Communist Manifesto. Unlike the Manifesto, it’s short – only about 20 pages or so, laying out the essence of Communism in the form of a catechism – short answers to particular questions.

Florence, one of the great commenters on this site, posted this remark in response to the piece:

Not having a copy of the Engels text to hand, I think many would be interested in his thoughts on how socialism and communism differ. It is at the heart of many misunderstandings at the moment!

This is a really big issue, and whole books have been written about the topic. Here’s what Engels says in the pamphlet:

24 How do Communists differ from Socialists?
The so-called Socialists are divided into three categories.

The first category consists of adherents of a feudal and patriarchal society which has already been destroyed, and is still daily being destroyed, by big industry and world trade and their creation, bourgeois society. This category concludes from the evils of existing society that feudal and patriarchal society must be restored because it was free of such evils. In one way or another all their proposals are directed to this end. This category of reactionary socialists, for all their seeming partisanship and their scalding tears for the misery of the proletariat, is nevertheless energetically opposed by the Communists for the following reasons:
(I) It strives for something which is entirely impossible.
(II) It seeks to establish the rule of the aristocracy, the guildmasters, the small producers, and their retinue of absolute or feudal monarchs, officials, soldiers and priests – a society which was, to be sure, free of the evils of present day society but which brought with it at least as many evils without even offering to the oppressed workers the prospect of liberation through a Communist revolution.
(III) As soon as the proletariat becomes revolutionary and Communist, these reactionary Socialists show their true colours by immediately making common cause with the bourgeoisie against the proletarians.

The second category consists of adherents of present-day society who have been frightened for its future by the evils to which it necessarily gives rise. What they want, therefore, is to maintain this society while getting rid of the evils which are an inherent part of it. To this end, some propose mere welfare measures while others come forward with grandiose systems of reform which under the pretence of reorganising society are in fact intended to preserve the foundations, and hence the life, of existing society. Communists must unremittingly struggle against these bourgeois socialists, because they work for the enemies of Communists and protect the society which Communists aim to overthrow.

Finally, the third category consists of democratic socialists who favour some of the same measures the Communists advocate, as described in question 18, not as part of the transition to Communism, however, but rather as measures which they believe will be sufficient to abolish the misery and the evils of present-day society. These democratic socialists are either proletarians who are not yet sufficiently clear about the conditions of the liberation of their class, or they are representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, a class which, prior to the achievement of democracy and the socialist measures to which it gives rise, has many interests in common with the proletariat. It follows that in moments of action the Communists will have to come to an understanding with these democratic Socialists, and in general to follow as far as possible a common policy with them, provided that these Socialists do not enter into the service of the ruling bourgeoisie and attack the Communists. It is clear that this form of co-operation in action does not exclude the discussion of differences.

From what I learned at College, there are a number of differences between Communism and Socialism, and there are a number of different forms of Socialism.
The main difference, which split the Socialist parties off from the Communists at the end of the 19th century, was over the question of whether a revolution was needed to bring about the power of the workers. Marx and Engels were part of the European revolutionary tradition, though they did not oppose fighting elections and in part of their writings looked forward to a peaceful transition to Socialism.

Reformist Socialists, such as Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democrats, pointed out that instead of getting poorer as Marx and Engels had predicted, the European working class seemed to be becoming better off. He therefore recommended that the SPD should concentrate on fighting elections and promoting the interests of the workers that way, rather than on trying to bring down the system through revolution.

Communism also differs from Socialism generally in that it sees the essence of history as the struggle between succeeding classes. It sees the motor of history as being economic relationships, in which each classes creates in turn the class that eventually is destined to overthrow it. Thus feudalism and the rule of the aristocracy gave rise to bourgeois capitalism. This cleared away aristocratic rule and set about instituting democracy instead. The bourgeoisie in their turn created, through mechanisation and big business, the working class, who do not own the means of production, but merely work at the big machines owned by the factory masters. The working class are therefore the last class to be created by the process of Dialectal Materialism, and will overthrow the bourgeoisie and private property.

There’s also an exclusive emphasis on the role of the working class in the struggle to create a Socialist system. The working class are seen as the only genuinely progressive or revolutionary class, as opposed to the lower middle class or the peasants. This has been modified. For example, Mao based his revolution on the Chinese peasantry, and so significantly modified Marxism in this respect. As did the Russian revolutionaries, who brought about a Communist state in the Soviet Union, when most of the population were still peasants and the working class only constituted a small minority. Marx and Engels expected the first Socialist states to be in the industrialised nations of Western Europe, and were very doubtful about a Socialist revolution succeeding in the Russian Empire.

Marxists also believe in the transvaluation of values. That is, there is no objective, eternal set of moral values. Each society develops a system of morality appropriate for its time, based on the economic foundations of that society. Thus, while Marx is scathing about the exploitation of the poor, nowhere in his writing is there a moral condemnation of that exploitation.

His attitude is in marked contrast to other Socialists, who came to Socialism through religion and ethical considerations, such as some of the Fabians. Lenin and the Russian Communists were extremely sniffy about them, as Marxism considers that it gives an objective account of the origins of society and social change, in contrast to the subjective analysis based on morality of other forms of Socialism.

Communism also differs from other forms of Socialism in that it regards Socialism as merely a transitory period during which people will get so used to sharing, that eventually the state will wither away and something like anarchism will emerge instead.

Finally, Communism in practice has largely consisted in nearly total nationalisation and a one-party state, although China is now one of the major capitalist nations, and reforming, dissident Communists like Imre Nagy in Hungary and Anton Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, and also Mikhail Gorbachev, wished to replace the coercive Communist system of Stalinism with ‘Communism with a human face’, in which other parties would be permitted and the Communist party would have to fight elections like everyone else.