Posts Tagged ‘‘I’ Newspaper’

Labour to Help Working Poor in First Term

July 18, 2019

On a more optimist note, yesterday’s I also carried a report on page 8 by Harriet Line, ‘Labour ‘would end in-work poverty by end of first term’. This ran

Labour will eliminate the “modern-day scourge” of in-work poverty by the end of the party’s first full term back  in office, John McDonnell is to promise. 

The shadow Chancellor will pledge to make structural changes to the economy, ensure public services are free at the point of use and provide a strong social safety net to tackle the issue if his party enters government.

Mr McDonnell is to set out his party’s plans in a speech at the launch of the Resolution Foundation’s Living Standards Audit this morning.

He will say:”Behind the concept of social mobility is the belief that poverty is OK as long as some people are given the opportunity to climb out of it, leaving the others behind.

“I reject that completely, and want to see a society with higher living standards for everyone as well as one in which nobody lacks the means to survive or has to choose between life’s essentials.”

“Without any one of these three elements, we will not be able to achieve the sustained eradication of poverty, the dramatic narrowing of inequality, and the transformation of people’s lives that will be the central purpose of the next Labour government.

“The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said last year that ‘in-work poverty is the problem of our times’.

“I am committing today to ending this modern-day scourge, to eliminating in-work poverty by the end of Labour’s first full parliamentary term.”

The JRF executive director, Claire Ainsley, commended Labour’s “significant ambition” as being “the right thing to do”.

She added: “Delivering this commitment should be the No 1 focus for political leaders after Brexit.”

Now expect this to be attacked by the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites. And I don’t doubt that they’re playing up about anti-Semitism in the Labour party again to try to drown out this message. It’s the precise thing they, and their masters in business, really don’t want people to hear.

All of these groups are Thatcherites to the core, and Thatcherism accepted the Neoliberal doctrine, derived from 19th century laissez-faire economics, that wages should be as low as possible. She also believed in making life harder for the unemployed in order to force them to take care of themselves, and this has been extended to other groups, like the working poor. Their poverty and poor conditions are supposed to be justified by lowering labour expenses in business, thus allowing them to become more profitable and enriching managers, proprietors and shareholders. And the constant refrain of Tories in response to complaints about low wages is that if you don’t like it, you can get another, better job elsewhere. Because the free market will supposedly also act to make employers try to remain competitive by offering the best terms and conditions to their workers. Even when the same market forces are expected to act against that very thing.

It’s Labour’s determination under Corbyn to end in-work poverty, to empower workers, giving them proper wages and restoring the welfare state after its decimation by forty years of Thatcherism, that the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites find so threatening. And Margaret Hodge let this hidden agenda behind her faction’s attack on Corbyn and his supporters out the bag a few weeks ago.

She condemned Corbyn and his supporters for offering the working class ‘bribes’, like the above, which they could never fulfill.

Which shows that Hodge and her fellows are simply died in the wool Thatcherite entryists, who have no place in a genuinely socialist, Labour party.

As for the ability of Labour to bring this about, it reminds me of a story about a young American farm boy and the Progressive Party back in the 1920 and ’30s. The Progressive Party aimed at improving conditions in rural America, where there was and is much massive poverty. Among their policies, the Party promised to build roads to every farm. The story goes that a group out in the American countryside was discussing this. They turned to a local farm boy, whom they knew was a supporter of the Progressives, and asked him if he really believed the Progressives could actually do it. The lad replied, ‘If my dog can tree it, I’ll have it’.

And Labour can end in-work poverty, despite the threats and screams from the right. 

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Britain to Gets Its Own Reichsarbeitdienst for the Environment?

July 18, 2019

Yesterday’s I for Wednesday, 18th July 2019 carried an article by Stephanie Soh, ‘How young and old could help a National Nature Service’ on page 26 reported that the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts has suggested that a special Nature Service should be set up. This would be a form of National Service, in which school leavers and young people would be sent out to work on farms and the environment. The article runs

Imagine signing up for national service, and you probably picture yourself doing rifle practice, cleaning graffiti off a wall or helping elderly people in you community. But what about picking up a shovel to farm fruit and vegetables?

A “National Nature Service” – a voluntary scheme that would involve people aged 18 to 25 taking up agricultural work in rural communities – has been suggested by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and set up by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragements of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).

Arguing that “farming is a force for change”, it says that the sector has the potential to boost Britain’s economy and help to mitigate climate change through sustainable practices. But to do this, it needs manpower. In exchange for their work, young people would be able to do their bit for the environment, gain new experiences and reconnect with nature.

The commission suggests in its report Our Future in the Land that “aspects of the service could form part of an accredited learning scheme or apprenticeship”. It could be target at young poeple from disadvantaged communities, as well as retirees who have “time and resources to do the work”.

Grants could fund projects that would provide free bed and board to participants. With many young people struggling to find paid work, with many expected to serve internships to get a foothold in their careers, some might question why they would consider working for free on farms.

But with climate change a problem for communities everywhere, and teenagers increasingly engaged in the issue, perhaps it’s not such as far-flung ideas that they might want to volunteer for a scheme that helps them find solutions for it.

The trouble is, this is a Nazi idea. Hitler set up a Reichsarbeitsdienst, ‘imperial work service’, which was a system of compulsory voluntary work. Young people were sent off to work in agriculture for a set period. It was based on earlier voluntary work schemes set up by the Weimar government to deal with unemployment. The Nazis then took it over and massively expanded it. Again, it was used by the Nazis to claim that they had solved unemployment.

And this looks almost exactly the same, except that it’s being suggested in a country that is still just about democratic.

I’ve blogged before about the similar to the various ‘welfare to work’ schemes set up by the Tories and the Lib Dems to the Nazi Reichsarbeitsdienst, how they also claimed to be helping people tackle unemployment, while really they’re about massaging the unemployment figures and providing cheap labour to Tory and Lib Dem donors in industry and the charity section. Now the authorities have narrowed any difference between these schemes and their Nazi predecessor even further with this.

There are still some ideological differences. Part of the reasons the Nazis set up the Reichsarbeitsdienst is because they saw themselves as a peasant party, defending the rights and way of life of small farmers. Thus they enacted a series of policies which were intended to regenerate agriculture, and provide help and security for the peasants. At the same time young people were expected to work out their time on farms, they were also expected to absorb the farmers’ healthy peasant, volkisch values. As against the malign influence of the towns and urban culture, which were hotbeds of socialism and cosmopolitanism created and fostered by the Jews.

There doesn’t seem to be any anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist overtones to the scheme just yet, but this may well change if the Tories or, Heaven forbid!, the Brexit party ever get into government.

And there’s another different with the Nazi scheme. The Nazis intended the service to be part of their plan to create a classless German society, a true volksgemainschaft, or people’s community. As such Hitler gave a speech to the Reichsarbeitsdienst in which he said that there wouldn’t be a member of the political or industrial elite that hadn’t risen from their ranks.

But with a government dominated by old Etonians and other public schoolchildren, I can’t see that happening any time soon. None of the other ‘voluntary’ schemes have shown themselves better at getting the underprivileged and unemployed back into work, and I very much doubt this one will either.

Britain Aims for Communications Contract for Moon Space Station

July 14, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Saturday 13th July 2019, also carried from encouraging space news in an article page 13, ‘UK seeks to play key mission role’ by Jamie Harris. This reported that Britain is trying to get the communications contract for a space station around the Moon. The article ran

Britain hopes to provide essential communication between the Moon and scientists back on Earth as multinational plans to build a new space station get under way.

The UK Space Agency is bidding for a slice of key activity on the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, which is intended to serve as laboratory and short-term accommodation post for astronauts.

In November, the next round of funding decisions will be determined by the European Space Agency, of which Britain is a member.

Guildford-based SSTL is bidding to be technology provider for communications, allowing astronauts and rovers on the Moon to send data.

Sue Horne, the head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’d like to do the communications system and the refuelling element. On the refuelling, it is probably fifty-fifty. We have a much better chance of getting the communications.”

News that the space authorities are considering building a lunar space station were revealed last week by the head of Human Resources for the British Space Agency in Swindon on The One Show. The show was doing an item on women in space, presented by Carol Vorderman. It was part of the season of features celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings. The programme discussed women’s contribution to the American space programme. It was a female engineer, who devised the rocket fuel that allowed the Americans to launch their first space probe, Explorer 1, successfully. It was a female nutritionist, who came up with the idea that astronauts should eat good, nutrious, tasty and varied meals. That’s obviously important, because for people working in isolated, dangerous environments, like the poles, meal times can become the highlight of the day and they’re important in keeping up morale. The programme also mentioned that the number of female employees at NASA has grown from a handful when it began, to 40 per cent now.

The HR head added that the British space programme was set to expand, and stated that there were plans to build a lunar space station. Which is why the British equivalent of NASA, based in Swindon, was expanding. And they were looking for all kinds of people, not just scientists and engineers.

So, with luck, there could be some fascinating and inspiring careers in space research for some people! 

The item did not, however, mention some other instances where women, including those from ethnic minorities, were involved in the American space programme. Like the ladies, who trained as Mercury astronauts before the Agency decided that they weren’t going to send women into space, or the group of Black female mathematicians, who did the calculations for the Moon landings. These ladies must have been absolutely brilliant, because the maths behind space travel can be terrifyingly hard. Let’s face it: it is rocket science! But I guess these pieces were left out as there have already been a number of books and features about them already. There has even been a female about the Black lady mathematicians.

I’m extremely encouraged by the news that humanity is planning to return to the Moon, fifty years after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and co. set foot, and I really hope that this time Britain will be there also in some capacity.

Unison: Money from Tax Cuts for Rich Could Have Funded Social Care

July 9, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for 9th July 2019, carried a story on page 8 by Alex Jones, reporting that Unison had said that the money the Tories had given away to the rich in in tax cuts could have been spent on solving the social care crisis. The article, ‘Tax cuts for rich ‘could have gone to social care’ ran

Tax cuts for the rich in recent years have deprived the public of almost £14bn – money that would fund plans to end the social care crisis for two years, a study has suggested.

The trade union Unison said the Government’s decision to cut the top rate from 50p to 45p in 2013 had saved the richest taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds, while local authorities have been starved of funds and services cut, contributed to social care problems across the country.

Unison calculated that the savings for those with incomes of more than £1m a year have reduced payments to the Treasury by £13.98bn between 2013 and the current financial year.

The union said its analysis of HM Revenue & Customs statistics published last week shows the number of taxpayers earning more than £1m each year has risen from 15,000 to 21,000 since George Osborne introduced the tax cut.

Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said: “Instead of helping the rich line their pockets, the Government should be ploughing money into services which make a real difference in society”.

Absolutely – this is what the Tories always stand for: tax cuts to make the rich richer, and cuts to services to hit the poor. All in the name of a trickle-down economics, which has never worked and has been proven not to work.

But Boris and Hunt have started lying again, promising they’ll increase funding for a range of services, like the police. This is a sick joke. Numerous left-wing bloggers have pointed out that both these charlatans have consistently voted to cut public spending, privatise what they could, including the NHS, and reduce the welfare state. And they very keenly backed the savage reduction in police officers. Oh, they’ll promise any amount of public spending from the ‘magic money tree’ they claim doesn’t exist, except when the Tories need it, but the reality is very different. None of these promises are to be taken remotely seriously. On the other hand, Boris’ initial promise where he told the rich he’d cut their taxes even more, are definitely what he really intends.

As for the concern some Tories express over the crisis in social care, this won’t lead them to anything that’s really needed to correct it. A few weeks ago Points West, the local BBC news programme down here in Bristol, Gloucester, Somerset and Wiltshire, ran a story about the deplorable state of funding for social care in Somerset and the closure of many homes due to council cuts. A local Tory MP, one Fysh, raised the issue in parliament. This was also covered on the programme, and he was interviewed about it by anchor Dave Garmston. Garmston asked him what he believed should be done about it. Should people be encouraged to take out private insurance to cover it. Fysh said that one way would be to introduce a surcharge for people, who didn’t have such coverage, as this was done in some countries. What about raising taxes to fund it? Fysh’s reply was quick and dismissive: ‘Oh, let’s not go back to tax and spend.’

Bog standard attitude from a bog standard Tory: Wants to do something, or to be seen doing something about a crisis, but is resolutely against taxing the rich to help the poor. Like Johnson, Hunt and all the rest of them, whatever they may now be claiming in their desperation to look like acceptable candidates for occupancy of No. 10.

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Joins Gay Pride March

June 30, 2019

Here’s one to make the islamophobes’ heads explode, as well as really irritate the Islamist preachers of hate. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim congresswoman released footage of herself dancing along with the marchers at Pride Day in America on Twitter, with an accompanying message saying what a great time she’d had. It’s in this clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report.

Seder and his team, including fellow presenter Michael Brooks (off camera) look at the Tweet and make a few appropriate ironic comments skewering the prejudices of the Right. The Republicans and Fascists fear Muslims, because they believe that they’re coming to America in order to undermine American democracy and replace it with Islamic, sharia law. Which bans homosexuality.

And this Tweet clearly poses a problem for the raving islamophobes, who believe Omar’s a part of this conspiracy, because she’s a Muslim woman enjoying herself at an event they believe that she should be railing against.

And so Seder, Brooks and co. make comments about how she’s clearly doing it to implement strict sharia law there, and deliberately presenting herself so that her Saudi masters can target the crowd more accurately.

The video’s entitled ‘Ilhan Omar Implements Shakira Law at Gay Pride’ probably because her attendance at the march and dancing is more like that of pop star Shakira than sharia.

In fact, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said in her column in the I a few weeks ago, Islam was until very recently far more tolerant of gays, and far less puritanical in many ways than the Christian West. It’s only been in recent decades that the situation’s been reversed, and Islam has become more puritanical and intolerant, while the West has become more tolerant and hedonistic.

Now I’m sure Omar’s very public participation in the Pride events will have upset the hardliners, just as very many Christian political Conservatives are bitterly opposed to gay rights the associated events. But Omar’s just demonstrated that being a Muslim doesn’t prevent someone from being a liberal American or citizen of any other western country. And it may well upset the Israel lobby and its ‘pinkwashing’ of the Israeli state, which tries to present Israel as the only state in the Middle East, where gay people are tolerated, against a hostile and intolerant Islam. And the islamophobes and racist fear-mongers are going to have hard time trying to explain away Congresswoman Omar’s very public show of liberal support for the gay community, and by extension the values of pluralism and tolerance .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ozzy Osbourne Tells Trump to Stop Using his Music

June 30, 2019

Here’s another great story from yesterday’s I, for 29th June 2019. According to the article ‘Trump warned off Osbourne songs’ on page 11, the dark god of Rock has told the Orange Generalissimo not to use his songs for his rallies or campaigns. The article runs

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have ordered Donald Trump not to use the heavy metal star’s music for his political campaigns.

The US President, who is running for re-election in 2020, used Osbourne’s 1980 hit Crazy Train in a video mocking his Democrat rivals.

The clip,  posted to the president’s Twitter page on Thursday, opened with footage of the previous evening’s Democratic debate as the Black Sabbath front man’s song played.

Sharon Osbourne criticised Mr Trump’s use of the song and said he was now “forbidden” from using any of Ozzy’s music.

Rock and Roll!

I don’t think this necessarily comes from any deep aversion to the Republican Party on the Osbournes’ part. If I remember correctly, they stayed at the White House at Bush’s invitation when the soon-to-be butcher of Iraq was elected president. I think it may simply be a case of Osbourne wishing to be seen to be politically neutral, rather than allied with any single party. And I also think a good part of it is also a natural desire not to have his music associated with Trump because of the Cheeto President’s vicious racism and intolerance.

But it also seems very strange to me that the Republicans have decided they like Rock/Metal after the way they and the Moral Majority went after it in the 1980s. This was when the right-wing guardians of western, and specifically American morality started turning their ire on Role Playing Games and rock/pop music. The group Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons declared that the game was responsible for the suicide of a very troubled young man, and was corrupting kids all over America. Bored teenagers meeting in their parents’ living rooms to play table-top games as wizards, dwarves, orcs, elves, women warriors etc were being enticed into Satanism and the occult.

Ditto with Rock and Metal. The Organisation of Senators’ Wives were running around demanding the record companies put labels on their products to indicate if they had offensive lyrics. Black Sabbath were, I believed, sued by one mother, whose son had tragically taken his life. She claimed the lad had been prompted to do it from listening to the track ‘Suicide Solution’. In fact, as I’ve been told by Ozzy fans, the song is about someone considering suicide, who then rejects it. It is not a glamorisation, and the case was thrown out of court. Rock and Metal were also being blamed for rising crime, juvenile delinquency, and spreading sexual perversions and promiscuity amongst the young. And, of course, Satanism and the occult.

This was part of the Satanism scare in America and Europe at the time. There were supposedly multigenerational groups of Satanists responsible for the horrific abuse of children, including human sacrifice. The claims started with a series of books by people claiming to have survived such abuse, like Michelle Remembers. These launched a very real witch hunt, in which numerous children were taken into care on the flimsiest of evidence, and entirely innocent people were accused as their Satanic abusers. Again the evidence against these was often extremely tenuous to non-existent. It often consisted of little more than memories, which had been recovered under hypnosis by their psychiatrists. A British government report in the 1990s effectively put a stop to it over here, by concluding that such Satanic sects didn’t exist.

Rock and Heavy Metal was an obvious target for the scare, because so many bands used occult or Satanic imagery. This reached its nadir in an infamous edition of ITV’s The Cook Report, in which the investigative journalist asked Ozzy if he really was a Satanist. ‘I find it hard enough to conjure myself out of bed in the morning, let alone evil spirits’, said the great man. On the other side of the Pond, Dee Snyder, the front man of rockers Twisted Sister, was called in to give evidence about the influence of rock music on the young to a congressional inquiry. ‘Wasn’t he worried about the effect unsuitable music has on children?’, they asked him. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, ‘and as a parent I’m very careful what my children listen to.’

Rock music 1. The overly censorious moral watch dogs zero.

Given this, and Rock and Metal’s strong association with excess and rebellion, it amazes me that the Republicans have tried to co-opt, because it seems to contradict everything the Religious Right stands for. I know they’re trying to reach out to the young, and many Rockers are politically right-wing, but there’s still a contradiction there.

But all this aside, it’s great that Ozzy and Sharon are standing up to Trump and his very real Fascism. Party on! Excellent!

Scots Tory Davidson Warns Boris Willing to Destroy UK for Brexit

June 28, 2019

On the 18th of this month, Mike at Vox Political wrote a piece noting a YouGov poll that found that the majority of Tory members are hellbent on getting Brexit, even if it means the break-up of the United Kingdom, significant damage to its economy and even the destruction of the Tory party itself.

The poll found that, when asked the question whether they would be willing to avert Brexit if it meant Scotland or Northern Ireland leaving Britain, 63% and 59% of Tories would be quite happy to see those nations leave Britain. 61% said they would also be prepared to accept significant damage to Britain’s economy if we left the EU. 54% also said that they would be happy to see the Tory party destroyed for Brexit. Only 36% put their party’s survival before Brexit.

See: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/06/18/most-conservative-members-would-see-party-destroye

Commenting on this, Mike predicted in his article that Scottish SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would mention it in her speech marking 20 years of devolution.

The Tory death wish: They’ll have Brexit even if it destroys the UK

And now, according to the front page of today’s I, 28th June 2019, the leaders of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, has warned that Boris’ determination to achieve Brexit whatever the cost – ‘do or die’ – risks breaking up the UK. She was therefore backing Jeremy Hunt instead. Davidson said

‘I want to see him [Johnson] make assurances that it’s not Brexit do or die, it’s the Union do or die. That’s exactly what we’ve seen from the other candidate in the race and that’s why he’s going to get my vote.’

The newspaper also reports that

Polling has suggested that if the former foreign secretary becomes prime minister it could boost support for Scottish independence. (p.6).

Mike reported that the only thing that would stop the Tories from demanding Brexit at the first opportunity is the likelihood that this would lead to Corbyn taking up the reigns of government. But, he concluded

such a government is more likely if they choose a leader committed to Brexit at any cost.

And at the moment, Boris Johnson is the the leading candidate in the Tory leadership contest, despite his determination to force through Brexit whatever the cost. The I has also reported that he’s said that those Tories opposed to a no-deal Brexit will not get posts in his government.

And I’m not at all surprised that the Tories are willing to risk the break-up of the EU. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard rumours that the Tories were on the verge of collapse during Blair’s tenure of office. So much so that they were considering changing their name to the ‘English Nationalists’. And I do remember reading an opinion piece in the Heil, which considered that the departure of Scotland from the Union would not significantly harm Conservatism. This claimed that it was only recently that the Tories in Scotland had called themselves Conservatives. Before then they were called the Unionist party. But this still goes back to the period after the early 18th century union with Scotland. What would be the point of having a unionist party, if there was no union, and no real likelihood of ever reviving it?

It just confirms that Brexit is very much an English demand, and the Tory Brexiteers are bitter English nationalists, neither more nor less.

And it flies in the face of the way the Tories under Thatcher appropriated Britishness, its symbols and history. I can remember one headline in the Sunday Telegraph, unsurprisingly about how wonder Thatcher was, had the headline ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British!’ I think it was a quote from Maggie herself. But the Conservatism she promoted was deeply bourgeois and nationalistic to its core. They seemed to waste no opportunity to drape themselves in Union Flags, like Tim Brooke-Taylor in his Union flag waistcoat on the Goodies, but without the comic trio’s irony. In one programme about Thatcher and the Tory party, her husband, Dennis, declared that his favourite song was Rule Britannia. Which he then tried to sing, only to realise he didn’t know the words. And then there was their infamous 1987 election film, which seemed to show that they had singlehandedly won the Battle of Britain. This showed old wartime footage of Spitfires chasing about the skies, while an excited voice declared ‘Man was born free. It’s our fundamental right.’ Really? I thought the complete quote, from the first sentence or so of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract was ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ Which effectively describes the condition of everyone, who isn’t massively rich, under the Tories. The sadly departed Alan Coren commented drily about it on the News Quiz, calling it the Royal Conservative Airforce, and saying what a pity it all was for the Tories that after the War the servicemen all came back and voted Labour. Quite. But it does show how the Tories appropriated British patriotism.

And it also shows the reverse: how the Tories demonised anyone who didn’t share their chauvinism and racism – who wasn’t, as Thatcher put it, ‘one of us’ – was really an evil subversive intent on destroying Britain. Left-wing members of the Labour party, who supported the ‘troops out’ movement, like Tony Benn, land who made the reasonable point that to stop the violence we had to talk to Sinn Fein, were vilified as supporters of the IRA. And the same people, who wanted to thaw relations with the USSR instead of ramping up tensions like Reagan and Thatcher, because of the very real danger of nuclear Armageddon were also vilified as Communists by the Tories, the Tory press, and the press secret state.

Oh yes, and if Labour got in power under someone like Benn, Foote, Livingstone or even Neil Kinnock, when he actually believed in traditional Labour values, would destroy the economy.

But it isn’t Labour threatening to destroy the UK. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t telling the world that they’re content to break up the EU or consciously wreak the British economy, provided they get a disastrous policy through. It’s the Tories.

They’re the real subversives and destroyers of this nation. Which is why they have to make up bogus stories about the Labour party being full of anti-Semites, Trotskyites and Stalinists.

If you want to see a genuinely prosperous, united Britain, that’s fair to working people of every nation in this great country, vote Labour.

Because the Tories are happy to see it destroyed and impoverished.

 

Polish Activist Arrested for Insulting Fascists

June 25, 2019

Here’s a piece from today’s I for 25th July 2019, illustrating yet again the resistible rise of Fascism across Europe. On page 3 is a short piece about the arrest of a Polish activist for insulting Fascism at a nationalist demonstration. To make matters worse, one of the country’s politicos has defended the arrest. The article runs

An activist was charged with insulting the Polish nation for chanting “Down with Polish fascism!” at a Polish nationalist event in Przemysl, a town near the border with Ukraine. Patryk Jaki, of the ruling party, defended the arrest, saying “no person and no nation should be insulted. Nobody should be insulted as Fascists.”

I can understand why the Poles should be sensitive about nationalism, considering how for centuries they were divided up between the German, Austrian and Russian empires until the First World War. And then they were invaded by the Nazis and incorporated into the Reich in the Second, and after that a Soviet satellite until the Fall of Communism. But the protester’s arrest looks to me to be a classic example of Fascism and far right government. Further east, the Turkish government uses a law in that country forbidding the insulting of Turkish nationality to arrest and imprison those, who try to show that the Armenian Massacres were a terrible reality. And Polish nationalism with its racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia has taken on all the trappings of Fascism. The ruling Law and Justice Party, for example, passed a rule banning any mention of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. In fact the Poles and other Slav peoples especially shouldn’t tolerate Fascism because of their experience of genocide during the Third Reich. The Nazis considered that they and other, related peoples like Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Czechs, Slovaks, and Serbs were subhuman and should be exterminated. Hitler himself said that he would wage a war of extermination against the Poles, and they were treated with horrific barbarity. As were the Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians in the areas of the Soviet Union the Nazis conquered, and the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

This country benefited immensely from the Free Poles, who joined us during the Second World War, helping to defend Britain and win Europe back for freedom and civilisation. The Polish airmen in the RAF, along with the boys from the grammar schools, shot down more Nazi aircraft than the public schoolboys, who were made so much of. And I understood that Poles still think well of us because we declared war on Nazi Germany in their support when Hitler invaded them.

The protester was quite right to condemn the nationalists as ‘Fascists’. They are. Just as the other European nationalist parties, including UKIP and the Brexit party in Britain, are also promoting Fascism. The jackboots are marching again across Europe, and it’s long past time they were stopped, whether in Poland, the Ukraine, France, Germany or Britain.

As for the Polish government, despite its increasing anti-Semitism, marked when they allowed the country’s Fascist to march alongside them in an event to commemorate their country’s liberation from the old empires, they’ve been hailed as ‘good friends of Israel’ by Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. Because they buy Israel guns, bombs and other armaments. Polish Jewry is once again under threat, as David Rosenberg has pointed out many times on his blog, but they will get no help from Israel if the country can get a financial or other advantage from supporting their enemies in the Polish government. And its the same with other Jewish communities elsewhere in eastern Europe, in Ukraine and the Baltic States. Which shows you how hypocritical the Israeli state and the Jewish Chronicle are.

Down with Fascism anywhere and everywhere! And down with the politicians and hypocritical press, who defend it!

No Pasaran!

 

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.