Posts Tagged ‘‘I’ Newspaper’

Have Astronomers Found Traces of Life on Venus?

September 19, 2020

The big story on Tuesday was that astronomers had discovered traces of a gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The gas is produced by living organisms, and so it’s discovery naturally leads to the possibility that the second planet from the Sun may be the abode of life.

The I’s edition for 15th September 2020 reported the discovery in an article by David Woods entitled, ‘Forget Mars, a startling discovery may mean there’s life on Venus’. This ran

Alien life could be thriving in the clouds above Venus: a team of astronomers detected a rare gas in its atmosphere, according to a study involving British researchers.

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has a surface temperature of 500o C, and 96 per cent of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide. But the discovery of phosphine, around 31 miles (50Km) from the planet’s surface, has indicated that life could prosper in a less hostile environment.

On Earth phosphine – a molecule of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms – is associated with life. It is found in places that have little oxygen, such as swamps, or with microbes living in the guts of animals.

A group of British, American and Japanese scientists – led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University – first identified Venus’s phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The presence of the gas was confirmed at an astronomical observatory of 45 telescopes in Chile. The discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Professor Greaves said: “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock.” Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, a Royal Greenwich Observatory astronomer, who was part of the research team, added: “This was an incredibly difficult observation to make. We still have a long way to go before we can confirm how this gas is being produced but it is definitely an exciting time for science.”

The team is now awaiting more telescope time to establish whether the phosphine is in a particular part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. While the clouds above Venus have temperatures of around 30oC, they are made from 90 per cent sulphuric acid – a major issue for the survival of microbes.

Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, has called for a new mission to Venus to investigate the findings.

This reminds me somewhat of the excitement in the 1990s when scientists announced that they may have discovered microfossils of Martian bacteria in a meteorite from the Red Planet found in Antarctica. The above article was accompanied by another piece by Woods, ‘Nothing found since claims awed Clinton’, which described how former president Clinton had made an official announcement about the possibility of life on Mars when the putative microfossils were found. The article states that confirmation that these are indeed fossils is lacking. It also notes that 4,000 exoplanets have also now been found, and that some of them may have life, but this has also not been confirmed. Astronomers have also been searching the skies for radio messages from alien civilisations, but these haven’t been found either.

Dr Colin Pillinger, the head of the ill-fated Beagle Project, a British probe to the Red Planet, also argued that there was life there as traces of methane had been found. This looked like it had been produced by biological processes. In a talk he gave at the Cheltenham Festival of Science one year, he said that if a Martian farted, they’d find it.

A few years ago I also submitted a piece to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that there might be life in Venus’ clouds. It was based on the presence of organic chemicals there, rather similar, I felt, to those on Saturn’s moon, Titan, which at one time was also considered a possible home of alien life. I got a letter stating that the Journal was going to run it, but in the end they didn’t. I think it may have been because another, professional astronomer published an article about it just prior to the proposed publication of my piece. I think I threw out the Journal’s letter years ago while clearing out the house, and so I don’t have any proof of my claim. Which is obviously disappointing, and you’ll have to take what I say on trust.

The possibility that there’s life on Venus is interesting, and undoubtedly important in its implications for the existence of life elsewhere in the cosmos if true. But I think that, like the Martian microfossils, there isn’t going to be any confirmation for a very long time.

Spain Passes New Laws Against Glorification of Fascist Franco

September 18, 2020

This is another excellent piece of news I found in Wednesday’s issue of the I, for 16th September 2020. It reports that the Spanish government has passed a historic law banning the glorification of General Franco, the country’s Fascist dictator, and granting reparations to his victims. The article reads

Spain has passed a law to give reparations to the victims of the late dictator General Francisco Franco.

The Democratic Memory Law will ban the foundation which guards the memory of the dictator and fine those who glorify Franco up to 150,000 euros (£138,000).

The mausoleum where Franco’s body lay for more than four decades will also be transformed into a civilian cemetery as part of other changes. School children will be taught about the law.

This is the same law that an earlier article in that same day’s edition reported offers Spanish citizenship to the descendants of Brits who served in the International Brigades that fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. It’s a great piece of news. Franco was a butcher, who held on to power from the his victory at the end of the civil war to his death in 1975. There’s evidence, but no proof, that he may have been helped launch his rebellion against Spain’s Republican government by our secret services.

Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to overturn his legacy. Spanish archaeologists have faced considerable resistance to the excavation of the mass graves of the old thug’s victims. His mausoleum was particularly offensive. He claimed that it was a monument to everyone who fell in the civil war, regardless of what side they were on. In fact it solely glorified Franco and his Fascists. And he continued to cast a long shadow over Spain even decades after his death. I remember the looks of real horror and fear that came into the face of young Spaniards back in the 1990s at the mere mention of his name.

There was a statue of him on horseback somewhere, which has become a rallying point for Fascist scumbags from across Europe. I don’t know whether that’s still around, but the Spanish people made their own efforts to take it down. Way back in the 1980s its hindquarters were blown off with a bomb. And he was another dictator, who liked having towns and villages named after him. One of these got into the news in 1980s as it changed its name. I can’t remember precisely what the new name was, except that it roughly translated as ‘Our Town’ or ‘Our Village’. Which is obviously better than Pueblo Franco or whatever.

He was like the rest of the dictators in that he was of much less than imposing stature. I’ve got a biography of him somewhere, which said that he was under five foot tall and had a high, piping voice. He was a pious Roman Catholic, and his father had left his mother for another woman, leaving her to bring him up. He was thus very chaste, and so when he was an officer in Spanish north Africa, the other troops thought he was gay because he didn’t visit the brothels.

He was a brutal disciplinarian. When he was an officer in north Africa, he had an Arab/Berber solider shot after the man threw his meal at him. He was ruthless in his treatment of the north Africans, and treated the Spanish the same way in the civil war and his reign afterwards.

It’s great that at last the Spanish have been able to undo his cult, and are offering citizenship to the descendants of the people, who fought against him, and reparations to his victims. It’s just a pity that it’s taken all this time to do it.

Spain Offers Citizenship to Descendants of Brits Who Fought Against Franco

September 17, 2020

I found this great piece of news in yesterday’s I newspaper, for Wednesday, 16th September 2020. It’s a piece by Graham Keeley, ‘Spanish offer to those in UK related related to civil war heroes’, reporting that Spain is offering citizenship to the descendants of the British volunteers who fought against General Franco and his Fascists. The article reads

British descendants of the members of the International Bridgade, which fought fascism in the Spanish civil war, have been offered Spanish citizenship as part of a new law which confronts the legacy of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Some 2,500 British volunteers went to Spain to support the Republican government against an armed uprising by Nationalist troops loyal to General Francisco Franco in the conflict between 1936-1939.

Yesterday Pablo Iglesias, the Spanish deputy prime minister, confirmed that descendants of the International Brigades “that fought for the liberty and against fascism in Spain” would be eligible for Spanish citizenship.

He tweeted : “Now is the time to say from this government to these heroes and heroines: thanks for coming.”

About 35,000 members of the International Brigades from around the world fought in Spain. No British volunteers are still alive.

Jim Jump, president o fthe International Brigade Memorial Trust, told I: “We are delighted. It honours the descendants who have kept up the memories of their relatives who went to Spain to fight fascism. It comes at an important time when Spain tries to deal with its past.”

The offer of nationality to the descendants was one of the measures in the Democratic Memory law, which was passed by Spain’s government and which also offers reparations to the victims of General Franco.

The article is accompanied by a box explaining that the novelist George Orwell was nearly killed when he was shot in the neck while fighting in a left-wing militia, the POUM. Orwell famously describes his experience fighting in Spain in his Homage to Catalonia.

This is great news, as Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to combat Franco’s legacy. When I was studying for my archaeology Ph.D., I went to a seminar where a Spanish archaeologist described the excavations that were being carried out on the mass graves of those massacred by the Spanish dictator. These were being done despite opposition from the surviving members of the Spanish extreme right. There’s also controversy over Franco’s mausoleum. Franco claimed that this was to commemorate everyone, who fought in the civil war. In fact, it just glorifies him and his fellow Fascists.

But there have also been other moves to celebrate the contribution of the International Brigade. The anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation Hope Not Hate reported a couple of years ago that a brewery had launched a pint commemorating the International Brigade, though I’ve forgotten what the beer was called.

I also wonder if this initiative is another, liberal response to allow some Brits with links to the country to get round Brexit. A few years ago the Germans granted citizenship to British Jews, who left their country fleeing the Nazis. And the Irish have also offered citizenship to Brits, whose grandparents were Irish.

Paranoid Trump Blames Black Lives Matter Protests on Secret Conspiracy

September 4, 2020

Here’s more evidence that Trump has Fascistic tendencies. A piece by Amanda Seitz in yesterday’s I for 3rd September 2020, ‘Trump uses conspiracy theory about race protests’ reported that Trump was blaming the various Black Lives Matter protests and riots on shadowy plotters. The article ran

President Donald Trump is promoting a baseless conspiracy theory to claim that recent race protests have been orchestrated by powerful people in “dark shadows” intent on undermining his re-election prospects.

The claim first took root on Facebook and Twitter earlier this year after racial justice protests swelled across the country following the deaths of Black Americans in police custody. Thousands of social media users shared posts suggesting a covert network was coordinating the protests and rioters were descending on communities across the country.

Mr Trump appeared to amplify those unfounded conspiracy theories in an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham that aired Monday night, suggesting that protests in Washington during the Republican National Convention were orchestrated by unspecified forces.

“We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend. And in the plane, it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear and this and that,” said Mr Trump, adding that the matter is under investigation.

Given the increase in paranoia and the proliferation of belief in spurious theories about secret conspiracies since the ’90s, it was almost inevitable that somebody would also claim that the mass protests against Trump are due to THEM. When riots have broken out here in Britain, some people have tried to explain them as having been planned and carried out by organised radical groups from outside the area. The groups blamed were either anarchists, some other group from the far left, if not simply described as ‘the far left’, or else just nameless malcontents intent on stirring up trouble.

Trump hasn’t identified who he thinks is behind this conspiracy, but the unvoiced fear here is that he’s talking about the Jews. He’s been accused of anti-Semitism, and although his daughter’s husband is Jewish and she is a convert to Judaism, his aids have included a number with links to the Alt-Right, like Steve Bannon and his supporters have included real anti-Semites, racists and White supremacists. Remember when the Alt-Right’s leader Richard Spencer greeted Trump’s election with ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ One of the conspiracy theories about the Jews is that they are deliberately encouraging non-White immigration and racial mixing to destroy the White race as part of their programme for world domination. I don’t know if Trump believes this poisonous nonsense, but the danger is that a section of the American public does and could act on it. The shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue a few years ago was committed by a gunman, who believed it and chose the synagogue and its congregation because they were active helping immigrants and asylum seekers find refuge in America.

It’ll be very interesting to see what the Anti-Defamation League have to say about this. They’re the chief Jewish organisation in America fighting anti-Semitism. They’ve criticised Trump before for his racism, as when he tried to stop immigration from Muslim countries. But the ADL is also staunchly Zionist, and Trump is a solid supporter of Israel and its aggressive campaign to annex even more Palestinian land. Tony Greenstein has pointed out on his blog that time and again Zionists will betray Jews to real anti-Semites, if they believe it will benefit Israel. One example is a notorious quote from David Ben Gurion that he would rather a small number escape the Nazi Holocaust to settle in Israel and the rest die, rather for all of them escape to Britain. Then there’s the recent example of Stephen Pollard, the gentile editor of the Jewish Chronicle, defending a Polish politico from the Law and Justice Party. This is another extreme right-wing nationalist party, which passed legislation banning blaming the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Poland on Polish collaborators. Pollard declared that the politician couldn’t be anti-Semitic, as he was a good friend of Israel. Liberal Israelis have also criticised the way their country’s leaders have welcomed real Fascist dictators and butchers. These have tried to present a veneer of respectability through visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

And Tony’s also pointed out that the Zionist organisations in America dislike Black Lives Matter. BLM are pro-Palestinian, seeing the position of Black Americans as comparable to that of Israel’s indigenous Arab people. He’s also shown that the American Zionist organisations have attempted to win over Black support through offering theirs for Black anti-racism and civil rights campaigns. But BLM won’t compromise on this issue, and so have won the animosity of many Zionist groups and organisations.

It’ll therefore remain to be seen what the Zionist Jewish groups will say, if anything, about Trump’s comments. Will they condemn them, and so criticise someone they regard as an ally? Or will they remain silent because Trump’s America is Israel’s strongest supporter and they too hate Black Lives Matter?

Archaeologists Discover Bronze Agent Musical Instrument Made of Human Bone

September 4, 2020

This is an interesting piece of archaeological news from Tuesday’s edition of the I for 1 September 2020. The article ‘Bronze Age people turned human thigh bone into musical instrument’ by Nina Massey reported that archaeologists from Bristol University had discovered the instrument buried with other fragments of bone and tusk and axes buried as grave goods with a man near Stonehenge. The article reads

Researchers have uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age tradition that saw human remains retained and curated as relics over several generations.

The findings indicate a tangible way of honouring and remembering individuals some 4,500 years ago, experts say.

Led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal Antiquity, the study used radio-carbon dating and CT scanning.

Lead author Dr Thomas Booth said: “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.

“After radiocarbon dating Bronze Age human remains alongside other material buried with them, we found many had been buried a significant time after the person had died, suggesting a tradition of retaining and curating human remains.”

He added: “People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy.

In one example from Wiltshire, a human thigh bone, crafted into a musical instrument was included as grave goods with the burial of a man found near Stonehenge.

The carved and polished artefact was found with other items including axes, a bone plate and a tusk. Radio-carbon dating of the thigh bone suggests it belonged to someone this person had known.

Professor Joanna Bruck, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s department of anthropology and archaeology, said: “Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display.”

Dr Booth said: “This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective.”

He is also quoted as saying, “Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

This is the first time I’ve read about human remains being turned into a musical instruments in ancient Britain, but I’m not surprised. There are many cultures all over the world that preserve the skulls of dead ancestors and enemies. They included the Mandan and other tribes in the US, some indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and the ancient Celts. There’s a carving from an ancient Celtic temple from southern Gaul of a monster, whose two front claws rest on severed heads. Around the statue are depressions carved into its base, possibly to hold the real thing. Nigel Barley in one of his books on death around the world notes that in the traditional culture of one of the Pacific peoples, the skeletons of dead relatives are handled and taken apart, so that their descendants can carry bits of it about of them as an act of respect and remembrance.

And there are also cultures that turn human remains into musical instruments. There’s the Chod ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the priests wear aprons made out of human skin and play drums made of human skulls and, I believe, flutes from bone. Something similar may well have been done here with this instrument.

The Stonehenge connection is interesting and possibly relevant. One of the theories about the standing stones is that they were originally put up as monuments to the ancestors in a process involving secondary burial. This followed the suggestion of a Madagascan archaeologist, who said that they reminded him of the practice among his people. There the remains are interred for a period after death while they decay. After a certain time, they’re taken out, prepared and then re-buried in another set of ceremonies during which a stone or a wooden pole is set up as a monument. It may well be that this instrument was created as part of such a burial rite.

MoD Records Show Britain Training Repressive States

August 30, 2020

There was a very interesting piece by Cahal Milmo in yesterday’s edition of the I, for Saturday, 29th August 2020. The MoD has released a series of papers in response to a question in parliament, showing that the British armed forces are training those of 17 states guilty of human rights violations. The article, ‘Britain trains soldiers for repressive regimes’ runs

The British military has provided training to the armed forces of a succession of repressive regimes from Belarus to Bahrain, according to official records.

A list of countries receiving training from UK armed forces since 2018 includes 17 nations formally designated by the British government as “human rights priority countries”, where there is particular concern about repression or other abuses. 

The training ranges from instruction on piloting state-of-the-art fast jets for allies such as Saudi Arabia to officer training for China.

In Belarus, where the authorities have this month been condemned for a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and armed forces have been placed on a state of high alert, Britain provided an advanced command course for senior officers.

The training,k detailed in records released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) following a parliamentary question, drew condemnation from campaigners who said it put Britain at risk of becoming “complicit” in gross breaches of human rights.

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “Many of these armies have appalling human rights records and have been linked to brutal oppression as well as international aggression.

“By training and collaborating with despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers, the UK risks making itself complicit in the abuses that are being inflicted.” The group said it wanted to see an investigation into precisely which military forces the UK had given training to and whether they had been subsequently linked to repressive actions or other breaches of basic liberties.

However, the defence ministry insisted that all of its training abroad emphasised the observation of human rights protections.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “Every defence relationship is taken on a case-by-case basis. Any defence engagement is designed to educate where necessary on best practice and compliance with international humanitarian law.”

The figures suggest that more than half of the 30 countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights priority list have received training assistance from British forces. They include Uzbekistan, Sir Lanka, Bahrain, Egypt and Pakistan.

I’m not surprised by any of this. We already sell armaments to vicious, repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. Britain has also used private mercenary companies as a method of unofficially sending military assistance to repressive regimes, such as Keenie Meenie Services, (KMS), founded by retired Brigadier Mike Wingate Gray, a friend of Maggie Thatcher, and whose son Arthur is a mate of princes William and Harry. Among other nasty regimes, KMS has provided troops for Sri Lanka, the Nicaraguan Contras and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, as well as Sultan Qaboos of Oman. On the other hand, they don’t seem to have provided any assistance to the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s. This was probably done by the SAS. See ‘Profiting from War’, John Newsinger’s review of Phil Miller’s Keenie Meenie: The British Mercenaries Who Got Away with War Crimes (London: Pluto Press 2020) in Lobster 79, Summer 2020 . See https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster79/lob79-keenie-meenie-review.pdf

I’ve no doubt that the training given by the official British armed forces does stress the observance of human rights. However, this still does not absolve us of training the troops of brutally oppressive regimes, which those providing the assistance must know will ignore anything they are taught about observing human rights.

The mercenaries, however, are rather different. They don’t just providing training, but have actually participated in atrocities. During the proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the head of the CIA’s Afghan Task Force declared that Thatcher was to the right of Attila the Hun and remarked on the lack of any legal restraint on MI6. Miller’s book quotes him as saying that they had a willingness to do jobs he wouldn’t touch. This comes from a senior figure in the organisation that helped overthrow Salvador Allende in Chile and install the Fascist dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Britain has spent too long training and providing guns and troops to the world’s thugs and butchers. It’s long past time we stopped. But the last time anyone suggested we should have an ethical foreign policy was Robin Cook under Tony Blair. Which after the Iraq invasion sounds like a very sick joke.

Report Demands Reform of Major Public Inquiries

August 28, 2020

This is another interesting piece from Tuesday’s issue of the I for 25th August 2020. Written by Jane Clinton, it discusses the publication of a report by the Justice reform group demanding extensive reforms of major public inquiries. The piece, ‘Major public inquiries ‘need radical reform’ runs

The way the justice system responds to incidents ranging from the Manchester Arena bombings to the Grenfell Tower fire needs a major overhaul, according to a report.

Official investigations to discover what happened and how to stop it recurring are too slow, insufficiently concerned about victims and their families and too often limit the likelihood of preventing similar events in the future.

The report, When Things Go Wrong, by the influential Justice reform group warned public trust in how the justice system responds to deaths has been “eroded” and says a “consistent, open, timely, coherent and readily understandable” response is required to restore public confidence.

The report, chaired by former High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, who conducted the inquest and public inquiry into Russian poisoning victim Alexander Litvinenko makes recommendations for improvements. It highlights “costly delay and duplication” of a system that has “insufficient concern for the needs of those affected by disasters” with the bereaved and survivors “often left confused, betrayed and re-traumatised”.

It calls for a central inquiry team to run such investigations. “Previous experience has not been routinely captured,” it said.

It also calls for greater collaboration between investigating agencies to prevent those affected from having repeatedly to recount traumatic events. Sir Robert said that a system cannot provide justice if its processes “exacerbate the grief and trauma” of participants.

I think Sir Robert Owen and his group are right about the public having low confidence in official inquiries. It seems to me that we’ve seen them repeatedly used, especially by Boris Johnson and the Tories, as a way of whitewashing or trying escape the blame for their catastrophic decisions. The Grenfell fire, and the way its victims have been treated, with many still homeless years after the government promised that they’d be rehoused, is a case in point.

But I have absolutely no doubt that these reforms won’t be implemented by Boris. He’s used public inquiries himself as a way of deflecting blame and attention away from his government. It’s not just with major disasters, but also lesser issues like the allegations about islamophobia. There are revelations that the Tories are riddled with it, and the Equalities Commission was prepared to launch an inquiry. Until Boris said that he was going to launch one himself. So the Equalities Commission backed down. So far, there has been no Tory inquiry into islamophobia in the party, and I doubt there ever will be. But as Mike has pointed out, this incident also shows that the Equalities Commission is politically biased and unfit for purpose. It spent years trying to uncover the largely spurious anti-Semitism in the Labour party. But when it comes to casting the same critical glance over the Tories because of the very real, poisonous hatred of Muslims there, it does nothing.

And then there’s Boris’ promise at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests to do something about the Black community’s condition in Britain. This was going to be another inquiry. Just like Tweezer promised one.

The government has made too many broken promises, and arranged too many public inquiries to allow officials and senior MPs and government leaders to escape blame. The Justice reform group are right – the system’s reform is urgently needed. But Boris and co. will continue abusing it for as long as they can get away with it. And with a mendacious, complicit press and media, that’s going to be a long time.

 

‘I’ Article about Micro Robots That Can Repair Body from Inside

August 28, 2020

Here’s a piece of optimistic science news. Yesterday’s I for 27th August 2020 carried this article by Tom Bawden, ‘Microbots can be injected to repair human body’, reporting that scientists have developed tiny robots that may injected into the body to carry drugs or repair tissue. The article runs

Scientists have created a new kind of microscopic walking robot that is shorter, thinner and narrower than the width of a human hair and can be injected into the body in a syringe.

Researchers hope that this new kind of robot – the first to carry and use onboard electronics – can be used to deliver drugs deep into human tissue or to sew up miniature blood vessel wounds deep in the body.

They hope that within five to 10 years the robot – currently a prototype that has been tested successfully in the lab – can be developed into smart, autonomous devices that can explore an area without the need of human guidance, according to a study in the journal Nature.

In their current form, these are the first microscopic robots that incorporate semiconductor components, allowing them to be controlled with electronic signals.

Each bot consists of a circuit made from silicon photovoltaics – which convert light into electricity and functions as the torso and brain – and four electrochemical “actuators”; components that function as legs.

The researchers control the robots by flashing laser pulses at different photovoltaics, each of which charges up a separate set of legs. By toggling the laser back and forth between the front and back photovoltaics, the robot walks.

“Machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds”, said Marc Miskin, of the University of Pennyslvania.

There’s also a snippet stating that they hope to use the robots for neurology:

The researchers are exploring ways to soup up the robots with more complicated electronics that could result in swarms of microscopic robots being dispatched to probe large areas of the human brain.

Scientists have been working on such robots for a long time. I think the ultimate goal is to develop nanorobots – robots so tiny that they could climb inside and repair cells. It’s been suggested that such machines could be so effective that they’d give people immortality. On the other hand, such nanobots have also raised the spectacle of the ‘grey goo’. In this scenario, scientists develop self-replicating nanomachines that simply turn everything into a grey goo. These escape, and destroy the world. I think we’re a long way from that just yet. The robots do, however, remind me of the old SF movie, Fantastic Voyage, in which a crew and their submarine are miniaturised and injected into a wounded scientist to save his life. But obviously without the miniaturisation technology and Raquel Welsh, who was one of the stars.

However, from reading the article it seems that they haven’t quite perfected remote control. I don’t see how using a laser to guide its legs would work if the robot was injected far away from a light source inside someone. But perhaps I’m missing something. I also have grave doubts about using them to explore the human brain. I’m very much aware that this would be immensely useful, considering how little we still know about it, but the technology seems to me also to have the potential for massive abuse. For example, if swarms can be injected into the brain to explore, it’s possible that they could also be used to alter the brain and control the person on whom they’re being used.

There’s clearly much potential here, but I wonder how long it will actually be before there are any practical machines developed from these devices.

 

Ed Davey Elected Leader of Hated, Failing Party

August 27, 2020

Ed Davey has beaten his rival Layla Moran and been elected leader of the Lib Dems. But according to an article in Monday’s I by Nigel Morris, ‘Liberal Democrats to crown new leader as party hits ‘rock bottom’, the Lib Dems are still in major trouble with the electorate. The article states that the British public may still hate them for joining the Tories in the coalition government under David Cameron and their leader, the noxious and duplicitous Nick Cligg. The article runs

The new Liberal Democrat leader, who will be crowned this week, will inherit a party whose fortunes remain at “rock bottom” following a succession of dire electoral performances, the polling expert Sir John Curtice has said.

The party’s support has fallen to a 50-year low amid signs that it is still being punished for its part in the Tory-led coalition government of 2010-15.

Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran are vying to become the Lib Dems’ fifth leader in five years, with the victor facing the daunting task of carving out a distinctive niche for a party at risk of being reduced to a bit player on the political stage.

The winner also must decide how to respond to moves by the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to steer his party towards the political centre ground.

Despite their initial optimism that they could attract anti-Brexit voters, the Lib Dems won just 11 seats in last year’s election, and two polls this week showed them languishing on 6 and 7 per cent support.

Sir John, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, told I: “There was a brief moment last year when it looked as though they might be able to turn around their fortunes on a wave of Remain discontent with Brexit, but by polling day in December most of these voters had slipped through their fingers.

“As a result, the party finds itself still at rock bottom and having to start from scratch in persuading voters of its relevance and message.”

Although its vote share edged up to 11.6 per cent in December, it finished the night with two fewer MPs and suffered the embarrassment of its leader, Jo Swinson, losing her seat, plunging the party inito yet another leadership contest. Lib Dem insiders predict a close finish as Sir Ed, who has been acting leader for nine months and served in the Coalition cabinet, faces the insurgent appeal of Ms Moran, who has been an MP only since 2017.

Voting closes on Wednesday, with the result being announced on Thursday.

Mark Pack, the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire, said the party had some grounds for optimism, including increased membership, a growing local government base and stable finances.

“We cannot afford to be blase about the situation, but there is material for a new leader to have a decent opportunity,” he said.

“One of the clear needs is to communicate the positive vision we have for the country. People just don’t notice we are around. The new leader has to make voters feel we are relevant.”

Mike in his report on Davey’s election reminds us that this is the party of mischief. The Lib Dems targeted the Labour party in various constituencies with misleading graphs and polling figures claiming that Labour couldn’t win there. Davey and Moran have also adopted some of the popular Corbynite policies, like increased taxes for the rich and Universal Basic Income, that Starmer has dropped like the good, corporatist Blairite he is. There’s therefore a real danger that some Labour voters may go over to the Lib Dems, thus weakening opposition to the Tories even further. Because after the Lib Dems’ betrayal of their supposedly liberal principles to join the Tory government in the coalition, you really can’t expect them to honour their promises one bit.

And some of the centrists in the Labour party are also worried about the fate of the Lib Dems. A few weeks ago, Labour MP Ayesha Hazarika was in the pages of the I arguing that Starmer should work out some kind of partnership or pact to save them. Why? She confessed she liked them, and wanted to create some kind of anti-Brexit opposition bloc. I have no time for Hazarika. She seems to me to emblematic of much that is wrong with the Labour party under Starmer. She comes across as a Blairite, and I think her media prominence is entirely due to the fact that she is a young woman from an ethnic minority. Her parents are Indian Muslims, and according to Wikipedia, she went to Laurel Bank, a private girls’ school in Edinburgh. She’s thus a very privileged ex-private schoolgirl, who really doesn’t have anything to offer the working class. But due to her gender and ethnic background, she represents diversity and liberal values.

In fact, it could be argued that centrist, Labour MPs like Hazarika are a particular liability to the Labour party. The Tory media are currently whipping up White resentment against current affirmative action programmes and the anti-racist political consensus. You only have to look at Alex Belfield’s wretched output on YouTube, in which he posts rant after rant attacking ‘left-wing snowflakes’ and their attacks on Britishness and Whites. Such as attacks on the singing of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the Last Night of the Proms, and an announcement by Channel 4 that one day next year will be entirely given over to Black presenters. And one of the other far-right websites on YouTube has put up a video on the ‘Demonisation of the White Working Class’.

UKIP’s core support came from older, White working class voters, who felt left behind by the mainstream parties. Blair and Brown turned the party away from its working-class roots to concentrate on getting the votes of middle class swing voters. They rejected traditional Labour policies and embraced privatisation, the free market and the destruction of the welfare state. But nevertheless they complacently believed that the working class would still support them as they had nowhere else to go. There is clearly a need to increase the representation of women and ethnic minorities in politics and parliament, but the selection of privileged, Blairite MPs like Hazarika threaten to further weaken parts of working class support for the Labour party. Because if working class voters don’t see Labour offering them anything except more poverty, and appearing to favour the BAME community instead, then some of them will respond to the barely coded racism of the Tories.

As for the Lib Dems, they are treacherous and completely unprincipled. They’ve shown that, whatever they may say about being a centre party and pulling the Tories in a more moderate direction when they were in government with them, they actually did anything but. It was Nick Clegg who wanted to raise tuition fees, for example. Cameron was prepared to give in to the Lib Dems, who had pledged not to raise them. Clegg, Cable, and Swinson have all shown that they are simply another neoliberal party of deceit with nothing to offer Britain’s working people except more poverty and despair. Instead of being given a life-line, the party should die.

And it would only be a good thing if the Blairite faction in the Labour party died out with them.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/08/27/ed-davey-elected-leader-of-the-party-of-mischief/

 

 

 

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

August 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.