Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

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Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

September 2, 2017

This clip from Telesur reports that Los Angeles has decided to drop Columbus Day from the holiday calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The clip states that the city was a centre of indigenous American culture when it was inhabitant by the Tongva tribe. The Tongva were, however, subjected to the Spanish mission system, in which they were forcibly attached to Roman Catholic missions in order to convert them to Christianity. This was part of the wave of dispossession, enslavement, forced conversion and genocide that overtook the indigenous peoples following Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1495.

I’m sure that city council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the Amerindians will be criticized by the Republicans, and the Alt-Right and overt Nazis that have come out of the woodwork under Trump as another ‘loony left’ conspiracy to destroy America and White culture. I can just hear right-wing blowhards and ignorami like Rush Limbaugh even now spouting it over the airwaves, from political platforms and on the Net. But Columbus and his legacy have been immensely controversial for a long time.

Over 20 years ago, back in 1995 there was a storm of controversy surrounding the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. Indigenous Americans argued that the celebration of his voyage amounted to celebrating their genocide at the hands of the conquistadors and the other European colonisers that followed. From what I remember, the Italian-American community got extremely upset at these remarks, as Columbus was Italian and therefore a great hero to them.

But the American First Nations have history on their side. Columbus’ discovery of the New World – actually the West Indies. He believed he’d actually gone all the way around the world and landed in Asia, and only dimly became aware that the place on which he’d landed might be an entirely new continent at the end of his life. It’s been estimated that the West Indies had a population of 3 million before Columbus’ arrival. The peoples of theses islands included the Arawaks, Caribs – from whom the word ‘cannibal’ is derived, because they were believed to eat people – and the Taino. The rock art produced by these ancient cultures still survives, and has been studied by archaeologists.

These people were then enslaved and decimated as the New World was claimed by the Spanish. They were forcibly converted to Christianity. Those that weren’t were executed. A year after Columbus’ arrival, most of the indigenous chiefs or caciques, who had welcomed him on his arrival, had been burned to death for their continued adherence to their traditional religious beliefs. Those that survived this, were enslaved and worked to death mining and producing gold for the Spanish. Those who tried to resist, or simply didn’t work hard enough, were tortured and mutilated in horrific ways. There are descriptions of Indians having their hands cut off and hung round their necks as a punishment, for example.

The Spanish mission system is also immensely controversial for the very same reasons. There’s been a long campaign by indigenous Californians against the conservation of the mission complexes as part of the state’s culture, because of the suffering they inflicted on the peoples forced into their care. Peoples like the Tongva were enslaved, their members isolated from each other, subjected to a system of cruel punishments. Many of them died from disease and hunger.

We British were also a part of this system of genocide and enslavement. The British popularized the Spanish persecution and extermination of the Caribbean peoples as part of a propaganda campaign to create hostility against them. The Spanish were resented as the Roman Catholic superpower that had threatened Protestant England, and the other Protestant European states. European Protestants drew parallels between their persecution of Amerindians their persecution of Protestants. This created the ‘Black Legend’ of the Spanish in America. However, when we expanded in the West Indies, we also persecuted and sought to exterminate and clear the islands we claimed of the remaining Caribs. Quite apart from the wars and genocide committed by us on the North American continent itself.

However, enslavement and genocide is not the whole of the history of the relationship between Christianity and indigenous people in America. In the 19th century many of the Protestant missionaries working amongst the American First Nations were staunch supporters of indigenous rights, and were profoundly concerned about the threat to them from White settlement. They were in contact, and often close friends, with British missionaries, who had worked with indigenous Australians and Polynesians, who were also members of the British Anti-Slavery Society. These missionaries, American and British, strongly believed that, while Native Americans would benefit immensely from conversion to Christianity, they also needed proper legal protection, and should be left firmly in possession of their ancestral lands. These missionaries formed the Aborigines’ Protection Society in order to defend the indigenous peoples of the British empire from exploitation and dispossession. Several of the 19th century missionaries were also firm in their view that Christianity should not be forced on to indigenous peoples in European cultural forms, but that it should be adapted to their culture. They thus looked forward to these nations developing their own distinctive Christian culture, and so contributing to Christianity as a world religion composed of many different and distinctive peoples and cultures.

Blade Runner 2049 Short Film: 2036: Nexus Dawn

August 31, 2017

The sequel to Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 is another film I want to see when it comes out in October. It isn’t directed by Scott himself, but the French Canadian director, Denis Villeneuve. In this short piece, Villeneuve talks about how amazed he was by the original film, and introduces this very short film. It’s a kind of prequel to the coming full length cinematic feature. Set 13 years before the Blade Runner: 2049 in 2036, the manufacturer Niander Wallace introduces his new generation of replicants, utterly obedient to humanity, even at the cost of their own lives.

Although I’m really looking forward to seeing the film, I’ve also got some reservations about it. Blade Runner is rightly regarded as one of the very best SF movies, and so the bar for its sequel has been set very high. I’m afraid that the film’s going to be a disappointment because of this, in the same way many people hated the Star Wars sequels, and were also disappointed by Scott’s prequels to the Alien franchise, Prometheus and Covenant. As it stands, from what I’ve seen from the trailers, Blade Runner: 2049 looks very good, expanding Scott’s vision of a dystopian Los Angeles, and using a diffuse, golden light similar to the colour palate Scott used in the original movie. But we’ll only know if it is as good as it looks when it’s finally released in British cinemas on October 6.

The Influence of French Science Fiction Comics on Star Wars

April 24, 2017

This is another fascinating video about French SF comics and the influence they may have had on George Lucas’ Star Wars. In his description for the video, the post, Abstract Loop, writes

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, French comics artists revolutionized their medium and created groundbreaking works of science fiction. Artists like Jean-Claude Mézières, Philippe Druillet, and Jean Giraud, aka Moebius, had a significant, if rarely recognized, influence on many Hollywood films. Star Wars is one of the most prominent examples.

“There are quite a few illustrators in the science-fiction and science-fantasy modes I like very much. I like them because their designs and imaginations are so vivid […] Druillet and Moebius are quite sophisticated in their style.”
– George Lucas, 1979

Unless noted otherwise, all art in this video is taken from the following comics and comics series:
Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin: „Valérian and Laureline“ („Valérian et Laureline“)
Jean-Claude Mézières: „Les baroudeurs de l’espace“
Moebius & Dan O‘Bannon: „The Long Tomorrow“
Moebius & Alejandro Jodorowsky: „The Incal“ („L’Incal“)
Moebius: „Le Bandard fou“
Moebius: „The Airtight Garage“ („Le Garage hermétique“)
Philippe Druillet & Jacques Lob: „Delirius“
Philippe Druillet: „The 6 Voyages of Lone Sloane“ („Les 6 Voyages de Lone Sloane“)
Philippe Druillet: „Salammbô“
Philippe Druillet: „La Nuit“

Film stills: „The Empire Strikes Back“, „The Return of the Jedi“ & „Star Wars: Droids“
Concept art and storyboard panel by Joe Johnston

Music: Tycho „Awake“

For further reading:
“Valérian and Laureline”
: http://kitbashed.com/blog/valerian-an…
“The Moebius Probe”: http://kitbashed.com/blog/moebius
“Als die Zukunft wieder cool wurde” (in German): http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/com…

Certainly the artists mentioned have had an impact on Science Fiction cinema. Scott used Philippe Druillet’s depictions of soaring futuristic sky-scraper cities as the basis for the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, and Moebius certainly was a profound influence on the style of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. From this video I’m not sure how much influence French comics had on Star Wars. Some of the pieces shown are very similar, others less so, and some of the similarity between Star Wars and the comics could simply be due to coincidence between two similar scenes that were produced entirely independently. Nevertheless, the video does how the power and individuality of the vision of the future produced by the great French SF artists in their comics.

Blade Runner Sequel Teaser Trailer

December 20, 2016

I found the teaser trailer for the sequel to Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, on YouTube yesterday. The film’s entitled Blade Runner 2049, and is set 30 years after the events of the original movie. It stars Harrison Ford, who is reprising his role as Rick Deckard, and Ryan Gosling. It won’t be directed by Scott, but Denis Villeneuve. Scott was going to be the director, but I think he’s too busy with other projects. While I’m disappointed that he won’t be sitting in the director’s chair, from what little I’ve seen and heard of it, Villeneuve is an excellent choice. The movie is due to open in cinemas in June next year (2017).

As you can see, the trailer’s very short and doesn’t give very much away. It begins with Deckard’s line from the original film about Replicants being like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a problem. And if they’re a benefit, then they’re not his problem. It also seems to have the same run-down, towering cityscape of the first movie, but also adds what looks like a desert. The film’s score also seems to follow the original movie’s brilliant soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, in being played on synthesiser, though it has a rougher, grittier tone. And also there’s the same vehicles carrying adverts for people to move off world. Also the desert scenes have the same diffuse, golden light Scott used to create such a moody tone in the scenes Tyrell’s apartment in the original movie, but this time far brighter and more intense.

I’m really looking forward to this flick, but I do have some reservations about it. Blade Runner is now rightly recognised as one of the great SF movies of 20th century. William Gibson, one of the inventors of the Cyberpunk SF genre, said that he felt distinctly unnerved when he saw it. He was writing Neuromancer at the time, and was somewhat dismayed to find that the film had beaten him to portraying the same kind of future he was writing about. Grant and Naylor, the creators of Red Dwarf, have also admitted that it was Blade Runner that inspired them to create their own SF show. That was very obvious in the episode aired several years ago on satellite/ cable, where the crew of the Red Dwarf go in search of their creators on Earth, one of whom is a genetic engineer. ‘Noses’, the scientist says in answer to their questions, ‘I only do noses’. Which is, as fans of Blade Runner will recognise, a parody of the line the Chinese genetic engineer gives Batty and Leon when they pay him a visit: ‘Eyes. I only do eyes.’

My fear is that Blade Runner is such a classic, and the movie so perfect in itself, that the sequel will be unable to add anything new or match the original. Part of the reason many people will terribly disappointed with George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, apart from its many flaws, was that the original films had set the bar so high, and the fans had waited so long for it, that when it came out it was almost bound to fail expectations. I hope the same isn’t true of this attempt to revisit one of the greatest SF movies.

The American Court Ruling against Holocaust Denial

October 17, 2016

In my article on Saturday reviewing the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review, edited by Israel W. Charny (London: Mansell Publishing 1991) I mentioned that amongst its contents, the chapter on Holocaust Denial has a passage describing how a Neo-Nazi rag in America was successfully sued over the issue of the existence of the Holocaust. The rag stated it never happened, and challenged people to prove that it had. One man did, and when the magazine refused to pay out the sum it had promised to pay, took them to court. The judge ruled in his favour, and stated that it was more than adequately demonstrated that the Shoah was historical fact. Here’s the passage:

Verdict of an American Judge on the Offer to pay $50,000 for Proof that the Nazis Gassed Jews

In the United States, the Institute for Historical Review offered to pay fifty thousand dollars to anyone who would be able to “prove” that the Nazis gassed Jews. IHR advertised this challenge in Los Angeles at their September 2, 1979 International Revisionist Conference. Such proof was provided by Mr. Mel Mermelstein, who now lives in Huntington Beach, California, and whose family died in the Birkenau gas chambers, but the institute refused to accept the proof or pay Mermelstein the money. Mermelstein sued them, and the result was an official statement by Judge Thomas Johnson, on October 9, 1981 in Lost Angeles Superior Court, that that “This court does take judicial notice of the fact that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland” and that the Holocaust is not reasonably subject to dispute. “It is capable of immediate and accurate determination by resort to sources of reasonable indisputable accuracy. It is simply a fact.”

Despite this unequivocal statement of the Superior Court, the IHR still did not pay Mermelstein, but Mermelstein sought further relief in the Courts. Judge Robert Wenke in Los Angeles Superior Court approved the settlement that called for the IHR to pay the Auschwitz survivor. As reported in the New York Times, “The institute, which says the Holocaust never happened, must also pay Mr. Mermelstein $100,000 for the pain and suffering caused by the reward offer.”

Mr. Mermelstein’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, stated:

Mr. Mermelstein’s victory in this case will now send a clear message to all those throught the world who attempt to destroy history and inflict misery and suffering on Jews, that the survivors of the Holocaust will fight back through the legal system to protect themselves and vindicate the truth about their lives. (p. 55).

This hasn’t stopped Nazis repeating their despicable claim that it never occurred, or that it somehow was much smaller than the 6 million or so Jews killed in the death camps. But it does mean that, at least under American law, and certainly under German and Austrian legislation, they are peddling a lie. The IHR were fortunate. As Americans, they only had to pay out $50,000, plus no doubt costs and damages for their refusal to do so. In Germany and Austria, and a number of other European countries, Holocaust Denial is a crime, for which you can be imprisoned. Considering the disgusting nature of their claim, the IHR got off very lightly.

Republicans Attacked Unions as Terrorist Supporters after 9/11

February 21, 2016

This afternoon I put up a piece showing the continuity between Trump’s plans to exclude Muslims from the US and compel the registration of those already in the country with the round up of Arabs and other Middle Easterners as ‘suspicious persons’ under George Dubya after 9/11.

I’ve also been alarmed that Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic will move from interning Muslims and persecuting other minorities, such as Mexicans and Blacks in America, to incarcerating left wing and labour activists. In the 1970s at the head of the paranoia about Harold Wilson MI5 and MI6, along with elements in the Tory party, were planning a coup. They investigated the possibility of setting up an internment camp for 40 MPs, ‘not all Labour’, and a total of 5,000 others, including journalists, youth, minority and senior citizens’ activists, as well as trade unionist, and members of the Socialist Workers and Communist parties.

It seems that after 9/11, certain sections of the Republican party also wanted to do the same. John Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty describes how in 2003 the office of the House majority leader, Tom DeLeay, sent out a letter appealing for donations to supporters of the National Right to Work Foundation. This is an anti-union pressure group. The letter stated that organised labour ‘presents a clear-and-present danger to the security of the United States at home and the safety of our Armed Forces overseas’. It attacked ‘big labour bosses’ who were ‘willing to harm freedom-loving workers, the war effort, and the economy to acquire more power.’ (p. 244.)

Kampfner traced the DeLay’s office’s assault on the unions to the Red Squads that were set up by the police forces in major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in the 1920s to combat ‘subversives’. These included Communists, Anarchists, civil rights activists, feminist activists, trade unionists and just about anybody else they thought was a threat to good, Right-wing patriotic American values. (p. 243).

I blogged the other day about the Tories’ plans to build a special prison for radical Islamists following Mike’s article on this. Mike considered this approaching the Nazi concentration camps. I concur. It looks very much like the first steps towards creating internment camps. And it won’t just be Muslims that will eventually be interned. There are enough people on the British Right, who share the Republicans’ attitudes that trade unionists and organised Labour are a subversive threat.

Much has been written recently about the various employers’ groups, who compile black lists of trade unionists and other ‘disruptive’ workers and pass them on to firms so that those same workers don’t get jobs. There have been a number of excellent documentaries on them since the 1980s. One of them was Hakluyt, but there are others. Hakluyt was the successor of a much older organisation dating from the 1920s, the Economic League against Industry Subversion.

And several of the national papers have also demanded that striking workers should be jailed. I can remember reading a piece in the 1980s in the Sunday Express, which recommended that laws should be passed preventing workers in essential industries from going on strike. Those who did, like air traffic control personnel in America, should then be arrested and jailed.

Cameron has already passed a series of legislation designed to emasculate the trade unions. In the latest of these, he allowed employers to hire scab labour from agencies, though reducing the right to strike to being merely symbolic. This has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation in the UN. It also follows a long line of anti-union legislation passed by the Tories, and similar actions intended to break up strikes by the Italian Fascists and Nazis in Germany. And members of his own party attacked part of his anti-union legislation. This was the clause demanding that trade unionists on pickets should give their names to the police. Even David Davies, the right-winger’s right-wing, found that a step too far and called it ‘Francoist’.

Given the authoritarianism and intolerance of Cameron and his aristo cronies and the way they and their Lib Dem enablers pushed through the establishment of secret courts to try accused terrorists, I think it is all too possible that after the Republicans in America and Tories over here have finished rounding up the Muslims, they’ll start on trade unionists and organised labour. All while loudly claiming that they stand for freedom, transparency and democracy, of course.

The War on Drugs, Racism and Eugenics in Modern America

January 29, 2016

There’s a particularly chilling passage in the chapter ‘The History of “Black Paranoia” in Cockburn and St. Clair’s End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, where they describe the revival and continuation of eugenics policies, including the use of castration and sterilisation, and the US government’s ‘war on drugs’. The chapter as a whole is intended to show that Black Americans have very good reason for not trusting the US government, considering the numerous policies that have been deliberately enacted against them. This has includes treating them as unwitting subjects for human experimentation, and the way crimes have been specifically framed by the legal authorities so that punishment bears down hardest on Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The various anti-drugs legislation is a case in point. Although middle class White Americans also used opium, marijuana and cocaine, the laws against them were formulated and promoted to specifically attack Blacks, Mexicans and Chinese, as a way of making them seem threateningly foreign. Cannabis was originally just called ‘hemp’. It was renamed ‘marijuana’ as a way of associating with Mexican workers, who were then competing with White workers in the Depression for jobs. It was associated with the racial threat supposedly posed by Black men, often using the crude imagery of school playground racial stereotype. One government headline screamed that ‘Negroes with Big Lips Lure White Women with Marijuana and Jazz.’ And all this was going on a mere few decades after one US cigarette manufacturer offered smokers cocaine-laced ciggies for their consumption.

The Destruction of Black Communities by the War on Drugs

Cockburn and St. Clair talk about the devastation wrought in downtown L.A. by the War on Drugs, which effectively turned poor Black neighbourhoods into war zones. Wards were walled off from each other, curfews imposed, and Black men were stopped and searched on the street. 89 per cent of those arrested were released without charge. Unemployment soared, as did the proportion of Blacks in US prisons. Poverty increased, and for the first in a century, the average Black life expectancy fell.

Fred Goodwin on Inner City Men Evolving Backwards

And as conditions in the inner cities deteriorated, there was a revival of eugenics. In 1992, Fred Goodwin, the director of ADAMHA, or the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, declared that the increase in Black violence in the inner cities may well have been due to a gene for violence. He recommended that a national biomedical campaign should be launched to isolate the gene and treat the gene’s carriers. In February of that year he gave a speech to the National Mental Health Advisory Council, in which he explicitly stated that violence had increased, as individuals in the jungle conditions of the inner cities had reverted to more ‘natural’ behaviour. He stated:

There are discussion of “biological correlates” and “biological markers”. The individuals have defective brains with detectable prefrontal changes that may well be predictive of later violence. The individuals have impaired intelligence, in this case “cognitive deficit” … Now, one could say that if some of the loss of social structure in this society, and particularly within the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilising evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn’t just the careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilisation over thousands of years in our evolution.

Planting Electrodes in Brains to Control Violence

Cockburn and St. Clair link Goodwin’s attempt to find the genetic origins of violence and a medical treatment, with that of Lewis “Jolly” West, who presided over the neuropsychiatric institute at UCLA. In 1969 West announced his plan to plant electrodes in the brain of violent offenders, in order to control them. This caused such an outcry that he was forced to abandon his plans. There are shades here of the limiter in the BBC SF series, Blake’s 7. One of the early characters, Oleg Gan, had had a limiter – an electronic device designed to prevent him from killing anyone – implanted in his brain after he killed the Federation trooper, who’d raped his girlfriend. Blake’s 7 was a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ meets Star Wars, in which a motley crew of criminals led by the dissident Blake took on the totalitarian Federation. It was very much of its time, and strongly influenced by the medical abuse of psychiatry against dissidents in the former Soviet Union. West and his electrodes suggest that its creator, Terry Nation, the man, who gave children the world over the terrible joy of the Daleks, was also very much aware of the totalitarian tendencies in western science.

The Castration of the Violent

One of West’s own mentors was Dr Ernst Rodin, who was in charge of the Neurology department of Lafayette Clinic. He recommended neurosurgery and castration for the ‘dumb young males who riot’. His views were echoed by West after the Watts riots, but instead of surgery, West recommended sterilising them with cyproterone acetate. In 1972 he recommended that this should be carried out on the inmates in US prisons. This caused such an outcry that his funding was cut.

The Eugenic Sterilisation of the Unfit

Cockburn and St. Clair also cover the eugenics laws enacted in twelve US states in the first two decades of the last century. Between 1907 and 1964 about 63,678 people had been compulsorily sterilised in thirty states and one colony. But this was probably an underestimate of the true numbers of the policy’s victims. In 1974 Federal Judge Gerhard Gessell, reviewing the suit brought by them, declared that 100,000 to 150,000 people with low incomes had been sterilised annually over the past few years in federally funded programmes. Allan Chase, the author of a book on this, The Legacy of Malthus, states that this is comparable to the rate of the Nazis in their sterilisation campaign.

Such programmes were supposed to be voluntary, but Gessell ruled that an unknown number had been forced into it through the authorities threatening to take away their welfare benefits. Those most frequently targeted with this kind of pressure were women reliant on Medicaid to pay their bills for childbirth. One of the intended victims of this was Katie Relf, who successfully fought it off by locking herself into her room. Chase has estimated that by the end of the 1970s, the US was sterilising 200,000 citizens annually.

Winston Churchill, Eugenics, and the Bengal Famine

And the policy was not without its supporters over here. Winston Churchill also supported the policy, and wanted to see about 100,000 degenerates in the UK forcibly sterilised. This isn’t by far the most loathsome thing the great War Leader ever said or did. Last week, Secular Talk covered the story in the Independent that 40 per cent of Brits miss the Empire. The show covered a series of crimes against humanity committed by the Empire and its servants. These included the Amritsar Massacre, the incarceration of Afrikaaner women and children in concentration camps during the Boer War, and the Bengal Famine, in which 27 million people died of starvation. The wheat that could have fed them was diverted to British troops fighting in Europe in the Second World War. For the victims, Churchill had no sympathy. He said he hated Indians, and that it served them right for ‘breeding like rabbits’. He may have been the great leader who kept Europe free, but that doesn’t stop him from also being a moral slug.

Conclusion: Don’t Trust Those Who Claim to Have Found the Gene For Whatever

Apart from its main point – that American Blacks have every reason to be alienated and distrustful of the government and authorities, the chapter also shows how recently such racist attitudes were accepted by medical authorities, as well as the use of sterilisation against the poor generally. And it also provides very good reasons for being extremely distrustful of scientists when they claim to have found the gene for ‘X’. This includes the gene for schizophrenia, for homosexuality, and for violence. The latter surfaced yet again about a few months ago. Someone was claiming that extremely violent crims had a certain mutated chromosome. Then another biologist pointed out that roughly half of everybody also had the gene, and it didn’t make them into psychos. There’s a real danger here that if we pay too much attention to these scientists, we’ll be back with sterilisation and compulsory lobotomy. Just like the early 20th century and Nazis.

Republican Senators Attempt to Scupper Peace Deal with Letter to Ayatollah of Iran

March 12, 2015

This is another piece from The Young Turks that I found on Youtube. I’ve blogged recently about how the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Republicans in America have been criticising Obama because of his negotiations with Iran in order to stop them developing nuclear weapons. Netanyahu and the Repugs have been attempting to scare the American public by lying to them about how the Iranians are on the verge of developing nuclear weapons that can be launched at Tel Aviv, New York or Los Angeles.

It’s all lies. According to the international atomic energy authorities, Iran is not developing nuclear arms. Their nuclear research programme is doing exactly what the Iranians claim: it’s purely for domestic power production.

This, however, has not been good enough for the Repugs. A few days ago a group of 47 Republican senators, under the leadership of Tom Cotton, wrote a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, stating that they intended making sure that any treaty between their nation and the Iranians would have no congressional ratification. Without this, it would merely be a presidential agreement, which they were also determined to modify or disregard completely in subsequent administrations.

Here’s the video giving The Young Turks’ take on the letter.

The Turks’ anchor, Cenk Uyghur, is absolutely right on this. It is outrageous, and borderline treasonous for the Republican to undermine the leader of their own nation simply on behalf of another country, regardless of whether that nation is Israel, Canada, Germany or Siam. Worse, these people actually seem to be campaigning for another war.

And Uyghur here makes another good point: the Neo-Con Repug leadership are all chickenhawks. None of them have ever fought in a war, and in fact most of them actively dodged the draft. Dick Cheney is a case in point. He had it deferred seven or eight times because he ‘had better things to do.’ There’s a long list in the book, Confronting the New Conservatism, of Dubya and the other Repugs who similarly squirmed out of serving in Vietnam. The book quotes Conservative critics of the Neo-Cons, including high-ranking military personnel, to show that they don’t understand the Middle East and deeply resent the diplomats, generals and senior officers that do.

And these people won’t be sending their sons and daughters to die out in the desert. The people who’ll do the dying will be spouses and children of Mr and Mrs regular American.

A few years ago there may have been an argument for a pre-emptive strike on Iran. Ahmedinijad was a millennialist, who believed that the End Times were upon us. He was part of a group of Twelver Shi’ah, who believed that the return of the Mahdi, the ‘Rightly-Guided’ Twelfth Imam, was imminent. The Shi’ah differ from Sunni Muslims in that they believe that Mohammed’s son-in-law, Ali, was the true successor to the prophet. Ali’s descendants were the Imams, who were the true spiritual guides and rulers of the Muslim community. The precise number of Imams venerated differs from Shi’ah sect to sect. Some believe that there were only seven. The majority of Iranians are Twelver Shi’ah, who believe that there were twelve rightly guided imams. The last imam went into occultation – that is, vanished from the world, after going to a well in the ninth century. Twelver Shi’ah believe that he will reappear to fight the forces of evil just before the end of the world.

Ahmedinijad was one of those, who believed that the twelfth imam’s return was imminent. He renovated the well at which the imam is believed to have vanished. Before then it was quite neglected, although it was a site of pilgrimage for some Shi’ah. It’s now been extensively restored and is the centre of a complex of religious buildings devoted to spreading the faith. Even liberal papers over here, like the Independent, were afraid that Ahmedinijad’s religious convictions would lead him to start another war in the mistaken belief that he was hastening the way for the return of the imam.

Ahmedinijad is not the only political leader to have dangerous millennial beliefs. Similar concerns were expressed in the 1980s about Ronald Reagan because of the way he surrounded himself with extreme right-wing Christians, who also believed that the End Times were upon, following Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth. They saw the millennial conflict as between America and the Soviet Union, representing the forces of Satan. And there was a similar fear that Reagan would start a nuclear war as part of a programme to hasten Armageddon and the return of Christ.

Ahmedinijad and Reagan are both gone, and the current elected Iranian leader rather more liberal. As I’ve also blogged, any attempt to avoid further war in the Middle East is well worth pursuing, given the bloody chaos that has resulted from the invasion of Iraq. Apart from the massive general bloodshed and loss of life that has resulted from the West’s invasion of Iraq, it has resulted in the religious cleansing and attempted extermination of Christians and other religious minorities, like the Yezidis, from their ancient homes by ISIS. Iran is already the eighth worse country in the world for its persecution of Christians. I don’t want it joining the North Korea, Somalia and Iraq as the very worst, just as I don’t want any more people, whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Yezidi, Buddhist or whatever, to die just to enrich the multinationals and boost Netanyahu’s election chances.

America and Iran have a real chance of making the Middle East just a little bit more stable, and pushing the forces of death and war back just that little bit. It’s monstrous that it’s being scuppered by Repugs and their attempt to join forces with the hardliners in the Islamic Republic.

Private Eye on the Spooks Covering Up Scandals at HSBC

February 15, 2015

This past week we’ve had the revelation that HSBC were helping their customers avoid tax, and that the corruption included a number of influential MPs. One was Labour; six were Tories, including the Tory donor, Lord Fink. This isn’t the first time the bank was mired in scandal over corruption. A few years ago it was being investigated for money laundering, and murky dealings with the Iranians.

The Americans wanted to prosecute, but according to Private Eye, the Foreign Office and the Treasury stepped in to block the declassification of certain pieces of evidence under the Freedom of Information Act. in their issue for 4th – 17th October 2013 the ran the story HSBC and the Spooks. This went

Official efforts to protect Britain’s rampantly money-laundering banks from the wrath of US regulators and prosecutors extended as far as the security services, the Eye has learnt in a series of Freedom of Information Requests.

Back in May campaigners in the US obtained emails from the US Treasury showing that chancellor George Osborne had written to his counterpart Tim Geithner on behalf of Standard Chartered. But at far greater risk of losing its licence was HSBC, with money laundering at the core of US operations that were, for example, taking drugs cash from Mexico without checking its provenance and doctoring paperwork to hide Iranian business (all under the leadership of former HSBC boss and soon to retire trade minister the Reverend Lord (Stephen) Green).

So how did HSBC keep its US licence and escape a potentially terminal criminal prosecution there? With help from friends in high places, it seems.

The Eye asked the Treasury and the Foreign Office for their correspondence with the US authorities. After long delays both admitted they did have such material but refused to disclose it, citing harm to international relations, damage to the economy and threats to commercial interests.

On planet Treasury, where the last five years haven’t happened, disclosure might, er, “damage banks (sic) business reputation and possibly the confidence of their customers”. The Foreign Office meanwhile feared that any information “might prejudice the commercial interests of HSBC” – the public interest favouring those commercial interests over the public’s right to know anything about wholesale corruption in banks to which taxpayers have recently provided financial support.

More mysteriously, the Treasury tacked on to the end of its responses a reference to section 23 of the freedom of information act, an exemption for “information supplied by, or relating to , bodies dealing with security matters”. This shadowy provision allows officials not to confirm or deny they do hold such information but, since no other FoI requests mention it, it’s safe to assume there is such information. From the chancellor to the spooks, if a bank faces embarrassment or worse, the full might of Whitehall has to be secretly mobilised behind it.

Corruption and Conservative Complicity

Now that it’s been revealed that MPs, most of whom were members of the ruling party, were benefiting from the bank’s advice about tax avoidance, you’re also left wondering how many Tories and others were also involved with the HSBC’s other shady dealings. How many knew about the money laundering and the breaking of trade sanctions to Iran? In fact, how many were actively involved in these activities?

And these ain’t victimless crimes, by any stretch of the imagination. Quite apart from the misery caused by drug addiction in Britain, America and Europe, the Mexican and South American drug cartels are brutal and ruthless. In Guatemala or one of the Central American states, they shot up an ordinary bus full of people just to make a point about their ruthlessness to the government.

In Mexico, the war on drugs has become a true civil war between the authorities and powerful drug gangs. And they are vile. Feminist and Human Rights organisations have talked about the ‘feminicide’ in the poorer communities in Mexico, where the gangs kidnap, rape, torture and murder young women, simply for the fun of it. It’s sickening to even think that someone’s making money from dealing with these butchers.

HSBC: Britain’s Iran-Contra?

The fact that the British government also tried to shut down US investigations into the bank’s dealing with the South American drugs trade and Iran also raises the spectre of another scandal that hit the CIA in the 1980s. This was the Iran-Contra affair, where Ollie North’s friends did deals to allow South American drug lords to import cocaine into the US, in return for their backing in the war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. At the same time the Company was selling arms to Iran in return for their help in negotiating the release of American prisoners in Lebanon.

When that scandal hit, the effect on the poor black population of the Land of the Free was potentially explosive. One of the areas where the drugs were being dumped was downtown LA. Drugs are a major blight of Black America, to the point where some Black radicals believe that they’re being used as part of a deliberate, planned genocide by the American state against its Black citizens. When the news broke that America’s spooks really were importing drugs in America, the same drugs that were ravaging Black communities, there was a mass meeting by Black Angelenos that nearly flared into a riot.

Although the story has never been refuted, the guy who broke it has effectively had his career ruined through pressure from the authorities and the news corporations.

Now it looks like Britain and our spooks were doing exactly the same. Remember, Maggie set up secret companies to deal with Iraq, while Major’s government was deeply implicated in the affair of the Iraqi ‘supergun’. It really wouldn’t surprise me if we had also followed suit in also supplying arms to the Iranians in order to gain some kind of political leverage in the Middle East. And the Libertarians in Thatcher’s party, like Norris McWhirter, also had absolutely no qualms about dining with South American dictators and death squad leaders.

This piece from two years ago now adds an extra, very suspicious dimension to a very murky business.