Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gove’

The Flippant Jokes about Sexual Harassment – Partly Due to Public School Education?

November 4, 2017

Earlier this week, Mike put up a post commenting on this week’s cover of Private Eye and an off-colour joke about sexual harassment by Michael Gove and a letter Labour’s Dawn Butler had written to Theresa May, condemning not only the culture that turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment of female staff at best, and at worst actively condones it, but also finds the whole subject hilariously funny.

Private Eye’s cover is a joke about the venue for the next meeting of the Tory party: it’s a sex shop. And Gove’s joke was about how an interview on the radio was like entering Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom. In both cases you weren’t likely to emerge with your dignity.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/11/01/why-are-people-turning-the-tory-sexual-harassment-allegations-into-a-joke/

Last night, the BBC news comedy show, Have I Got News For You, made the same joke as the Eye, with the same picture. This week’s host, Jo Brand, got an enthusiastic round of applause, however, when she rightly pointed out that to the women, who had suffered such harassment, it wasn’t a joke but a very unpleasant experience.

So why turn it into a joke? Why dismiss it so flippantly? I’m aware that some of it probably goes back to the old double standard, where men are expected to be sexually active and predatory, while women are condemned as whores if they behave the same way. I’m also aware that attitudes may be better or worse towards it amongst different societies. For example, a book I read on Japan in the 1990s said that the Japanese didn’t take the issue seriously at all. There was even a nightclub in Tokyo called Seku Hara, or something like that, which is the Japanese for ‘sexual harassment’. And in parts of the Islamic world, it’s also regarded with amusement as ‘Eve teasing’.

I’m also very much aware that people will make jokes about all kinds of things, no matter how dark or tasteless, such as sexual abuse, disability, murder, rape, and so on. In these instances sexual abuse is just another subject amongst these to make tasteless jokes about.

I am also very much aware that there is, or there was until very recently, an attitude that those subjected to such abuse should just grow a thick skin and endure it. I can remember reading one piece by a female journo in one of the right-wing papers, possibly the Mail, back in the 1990s. She said that when she started working in journalism, female hacks regularly had to deal with lewd comments and jokes, and wandering hands. Women just had to endure it and get used to it. It was even beneficial in that it spurred them on to become better journalists.

You can see there the ‘macho management’ attitude that was common in the Thatcherite ’80s. I’ve heard tales of how the hacks working in various papers were called into the office every morning by their editors to be insulted and belittled on the grounds that this would make them better journalists. I think it was abandoned long ago in the 1990s. Though the attitude just seems to have shifted to the unemployed, who are insulted and belittled at Jobcentre interviews, while their ‘job coaches’ ring them up at odd hours to insult them further, all on the spurious grounds that they are ‘motivating’ them.

But I also wonder how much of this attitude goes back to the public schools. I’ve blogged before about how bullying, and sexual abuse including rape, was common amongst the feral children of the rich. A number of readers commented on this piece, and wrote about the stories they’d heard from their friends of horrific abuse in the schools for the British elite. You can read some of these tales in Danny Danziger’s book, Eton Voices, reviewed in Private Eye when it came out in the 1980s, and reprinted in Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, edited by Francis Wheen. Punch also reviewed the book shortly before it folded, commenting that the abuse described was so horrific that if Eton had been an ordinary state school, it would have been very loudly denounced by the Tories as part of a failing and brutally neglectful state school system.

The younger boys in public schools were subjected to all manner of physical and sexual abuse by the older boys. But the public school ethos seems to be that they were expected to take it, and not blub. They were to ‘play up, and play the game’. Now this is part of the ‘rules of the schoolyard’, as Homer Simpson put it in an episode of the cartoon comedy back in the 1990s. Bullying goes on, but you don’t break ranks and tell the teacher, or else you’re a sneak. But it is slightly different in British state schools over here. Bullying goes on, but it is not supposed to be tolerated. Whether it is in fact depends very much on the individual head master/mistress/principal. I’ve known headmasters, who were very definitely strongly against it. Others much less so.

Public schools are supposed to be the same, but the attitude revealed in Danzier’s book suggested that Eton, and presumably the others, in fact tolerated it. The reviews almost gave the impression that despite the disgust by many of the interviewees about how they had been mistreated, the dominant attitude was almost that it was just jolly schoolboy japes. Nothing more. Don’t worry, they’ll get over it. One ex-public schoolboy told me that the attitude is that after you’ve been bullied, you go on to bully the younger boys in your turn as you go up the school.

And power is very much involved. I’ve also been told by those, who have gone through the system that the elite send their children to the public schools not because they necessarily give them a better education – and indeed, stats show that actually state school kids do better at Uni than public schoolchildren – but because it gives them access to the same kind of people, who can help their careers.

It’s about the old boy’s club, and the old school tie.

Which, together with the abuse, means that the boys preyed upon are expected to take it, because one day their abuser will be able to do something for them in turn, in politics, finance, business, whatever.

Which sounds exactly like the mindset behind the abuse here. Powerful men, who tell those they’re preying on that they’ll help them out if they just submit to their advances. But if they don’t, they’ll never work again.

Private Eye, in itself, isn’t a radical magazine. it’s founders – Peter Cook, Willie Rushton, Richard Ingrams and co. were all solidly middle class, ex-public schoolboys. As is Ian Hislop. With a few possible exceptions, the Tory cabinet is solidly aristo and upper-middle class, as is the senior management at the Beeb.

Which probably explains why the Eye and Have I Got News For You yesterday night decided to treat the subject of sexual harassment as a joke, even if Jo Brand, as a feminist comedian, made it very clear that to many women it wasn’t funny.

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Kevin Logan’s Satirical Email to the ‘Heil’ Spoofing Brexit University Witch-Hunt

October 27, 2017

Yesterday, Mike put up several articles reporting and commenting on the antics of Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, who took it upon himself to write to university lecturers teaching international relations, asking for their names and details of their courses. He was specifically concerned about what they were teaching about Brexit.

This rightly aroused very strong fears about the government trying to interfere in academic freedom. One university vice-chancellor, Dr. David Green, told Heaton-Harris that he could have the information he wanted, if he stumped up the £9,000 to study the course that all the other students have to pay. He was also quoted on RT as making the point that this was the beginning of the road to Orwell’s thought police and political censorship.

Exactly the same point was made by Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Prentoulis also pointed out that it shows how weak the Tory position on Brexit is, if they have to go around trying to intimidate university lecturers. She also explained that she felt that, whatever her own views about Brexit were, and she said that she had campaigned against it, she trusted her students to make up their own minds.

Absolutely. University and should be an environment where young people are encouraged to be open-minded, to look at and evaluate for themselves the arguments and evidence pro et contra different views. And this, I would argue, is exactly what Heaton-Harris fears. He’s not upset at students being indoctrinated. In fact, he’s pantingly all for it. It’s just that he wants it done by right-wing Tory lecturers, who share BoJo’s attitude about ‘pinko’ papers being full of depressing predictions about how it will fail. Or Michael Gove, and his bug-eyed rant a few years ago about schoolchildren being taught the Blackadder view about the First World War in history.

As I said in my previous post about this, all totalitarian societies, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, persecute and carefully control education because of the threat it poses to their attempts to indoctrinate the young people of their states. It includes the control of school and university curricula, the expulsion of dissident lecturers, including Jews in Nazi Germany, their imprisonment and murder. Both Hitler and Stalin butchered tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teachers and university lecturers when they invaded Poland, in order to deprive its people of their intellectual freedom and independence.

All over the country lecturers and professors have been massively unimpressed. Afshin Rattansi in his interview with Prentoulis said that he understood that most of Heaton-Harris’ letters were thrown in the bin.

Others fought back by sending Heaton-Harris their satirical reply. Yesterday, Mike published a piece about how Peter Coles, an astrophysicist at Cardiff Uni, had responded to Heaton-Harris’ missive with a letter detailing how his course on cosmology and the Early Universe, (EU), also included Brexit, culminating in the line “Unanswered Questions: Limitations of the Standard Model and why the fuck are we doing Brexit?” </em

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/26/astrophysics-professors-response-to-universities-brexit-letter-is-sharp-and-hilarious/

The Daily Heil has taken up Heaton-Harris’ cause, and asked students to send in their stories about anti-Brexit propaganda being taught by university lecturers. And so other academics and members of the general public have also joined in, and today Mike has put up a selection from them.

These have included Steve Peers, professor of law at the University of Essex, whose letter begins ‘Dear Witchfinder General’.

‘Aaron’ sent a message beginning

“I attend updog university, and we are being taught anti Brexit propaganda by our left wing professors. We are now made to gather in the study hall once a week and salute an EU flag whilst the professor slowly eats a croissant.”

Will Davies said that his lecturer in Communism and Masculinities stated he believes in free speech, but only if its in a language other than English.

Tom Goodwin sent an email about how outrageous it was that his lecturers could not give him a straight answer about Brussels and curved bananas, and how infuriating it was that they should fill his head with true facts.

And Tim Brudenell sent in a piece about how he was just saluting the National Anthem, when his history lecturer broke in and forced him to eat a copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

It isn’t just the Heil that is publishing demonstrably fake, sensational news. It’s also the Torygraph, which is just as frantically Eurosceptic and hysterical about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday the weirdo Barclay brothers’ esteemed organ and the Heil ran the story that Lola Olufemi, Cambridge University’s Student Union’s women’s officer, had written a letter demanding that the university replace White authors with Black and Ethnic Minority writers to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

This was another bogus story. Olufemi had made no such demand. Yes, she wanted the curriculum ‘decolonised’, but certainly did not say that she wanted White authors replaced. It’s probably no coincidence that both papers have published piece after endless piece protesting against non-White immigration and the growth of communities of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants.

Mike’s article makes the wider point that these newspaper are effectively shooting down the mainstream press’ claim to be trustworthy and reliable, as opposed to all the fake news coming out of the alternative media outlets, like the Internet. He states that their reputation is now in such a sorry state, that people are starting to lampoon them, and includes a piece satirising the Daily Mail, which claims that Jeremy Corbyn met Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of JFK. Which he didn’t, being only 14 at the time.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/27/right-wing-press-stories-have-backfired-so-often-people-are-creating-their-own-spoofs/

One of the funny spoof replies sent to the Mail I’ve seen is by Kevin Logan, a male feminist on YouTube, who posted this reply. Logan’s a male feminist and supporter of transgender rights, as well as being very anti-racist. His channel consists of a number of videos, such as his series ‘The Descent of the Manosphere’, in which he tackles the outrageous far-right, and the very genuine misogyny, homophobia and racism by members of the Alt-Right and their fellow travellers on YouTube. He’s very highly educated, but is quite a sweary bloke, so be warned: the video below contains ‘colourful metaphors’, as Spock describes foul language in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. (Gratuitous reference for Trekkers).

His spoof letter to the Heil reads

Hello there fellow patriots at the Daily Mail.

I am writing to you concerning the troublingly pro-cheese eating surrender monkey turn of events in the Gimpology Department of Wankchester University, where I am currently reading stuff and that.

I was in my compulsory ‘Communism and Being Gay Studies’ lecture on Thursday of last week and was astonished at the behaviour of my lecturer, professor Karl Stalin Trotsky-Marx, Ph.D.

Upon my raising concerns about his reMOANer sympathies, he made me stand at the front of the class and masturbate furiously while singing ‘les Marseillaise’, which is normally only something we are forced to do during our compulsory ‘White Genocide 101’ classes. Can you please send help, as I am afraid my support of Brexit may end up with me getting bummed by a German called Helmut.

Yours spiffingly, Herbert P. Wiff-Waff.

Yes, I realise swearing ain’t big or clever. But it is the reply the Heil deserves. Just as it deserves all the others.

As for Mr. Heaton-Harris, he claimed that he was writing the letters not to intimidate, but because he was writing a book on the issue. This just makes it worse, as it means that he was using his position in government for his own pecuniary gain. Which is fraud.

Now it seems that the Honourable Gentleman, and I use the words loosely, has mysteriously disappeared, just as he should and his wretched government should have done long ago. All correspondence addressed to him on this issue is now going to Tory Central Office.

And I hope it won’t be too long before these closet totalitarians follow him into obscurity.

RT on the Tory Whip Requesting Information on Universities and Lecturers Teaching Brexit

October 25, 2017

Mike’s already put up an article about this yesterday, including the reply from one outraged lecturer disgusted with this transparent attempt to intimidate and control British universities and the way Brexit is taught and discussed.

One of the Tory Whips, Chris Heaton-Harris, took it upon himself to write to university vice-chancellors demanding the details of their courses on international relations, and specifically where it discussed Brexit. He also wanted the names of the lecturers teaching the courses, the course syllabus and any lecture notes or materials on-line.

This has outraged academics across the UK, who have denounced it as McCarthyism. The programme quotes Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, who states that the letter appears innocent, but is in fact very dangerous. He states that it is the first step to the thought police, the political censor, naturally justified as the will of the people.

Heaton-Harris responded by claiming that Theresa May always believed in the independence of the universities and in free and vigorous academic debate. As Mike points out in his article, however, this guy is a Tory MP and so nobody believes him. RT has as their guest Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. And she calls this exactly what it is: a witch-hunt and intimidation. She states that the letters are intended to intimidate because they come on official House of Parliament notepaper, and ask for the names of the lecturers, as well as details of their coursework. When the interviewer asks if this is really so, as the MP has no authority to demand such information and most of the letters, he’s heard, were filed in the bin. She responds by saying that he could have found out that information simply by going on line. He didn’t. She states that it is an attempt by the government to control the debate. It shows how weak the government’s own position is – and the programme notes that Heaton-Harris is very much a supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign. She also says that it shows the government’s own, entirely false view of history, when they were in the universities and could control what was discussed and taught.

When the lecturer asks about how she can teach the subject impartiality, she responds by saying that students are mature enough to form their own opinions about what they’re being taught. And yes, she is a campaigner, and supports ‘Remain’, but students are able to form their own opinions on the subject.

Mike in his piece on it has the succinct reply from David Green, who told the Whip that he is at complete liberty to see what and how the subject is taught at his university. All he has to do is enroll and pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees the other students have to pay.


http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/24/tory-mp-demands-details-of-university-lectures-on-brexit-this-lecturers-response-is-perfect/

In fact, educators in schools and universities are specifically prevented by law from indoctrinating students. They have to be impartial. And in situations, where they are required to make a statement concerning a political or religious belief or issue, they have to state that it is what they believe. They cannot present their opinions as objective truth.

And I would think that the majority of British teachers and lecturers take this requirement very seriously. I can remember hearing from some of the other graduate students at Bristol that they were surprised to find that some of their lecturers had very strong personal beliefs on political issues, when their conduct in class was completely impartial. I realise that some lecturers are much less reticent about making their personal beliefs known to their class, and that academic discussion is all about forming beliefs and testing them through the weight of evidence. And I can certainly remember some lecturers in the past, who made no secret of their opinions in politics and religion. But Tony Blair’s government passed legislation to prevent indoctrination. And some students, at least, have absolutely no hesitation about making their own minds up about what they’re being taught, as Dr. Prentoulis makes clear. And in my experience also, parents may also been extremely concerned about what their children are taught at universities. So really, Heaton-Harris has no cause to try to intimidate lecturers and other educators, who should be allowed to do what they want to do: educate.

Way back in the 1980s I can remember Stephen Fry giving a rather good little talk on the radio attacking Thatcher’s policy towards education. Fry explained that the British words ‘education’ and ‘education’ come from the Latin ‘educare’, which literally means ‘to lead out’. It was all about bringing forth and developing the pupils’ and students’ own abilities, ideas and talents. But the Tories don’t want this. They want instruction instead. Instead of an intelligent, questioning workforce, they want a society of compliant drones that will have the necessary skills to work for their masters in industry, but no more. They do not want questioning minds, that are keen to decide for themselves and form their own opinions. We’ve already seen that in the way Gove went off and demanded that schools teach the received Tory version of the First World War, not Blackadder Goes Forth. Mike wrote a very good reply to that, pointing out that he was mistaking comedy for history, when Blackadder was very much comedy and did not pretend otherwise. But Blackadder was based on a real view of history supported by evidence, even if it is one with which Gove disagreed.

As for Heaton-Harris himself, he should resign. Prof. Green and Dr. Prentoulis are right: it is intimidation, and a very transparent attempt to control what is taught, as well as make educators frightened for their jobs. Totalitarian regimes always try to control what is taught in schools and universities. This was very explicit in Nazi Germany and the Communist bloc. One of the first things the Nazis did as part of their seizure of power was to ‘coordinate’ the universities, and force out Jews, Communists and anybody else, who dared to teach material they didn’t like. This included established scientific fact, like Relativity. That couldn’t be correct, ’cause Einstein was Jewish. Another victim of this purge was the Jewish mathematician David Hilbert, who was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century. But his ideas were also forbidden because he was Jewish. The resulting purge of intellectuals left Germany academic life and culture seriously impoverished, and enriched America, where many of those purged fled.

And when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia conquered the peoples of Europe during the Second World War, they had a deliberate policy of imprisoning and murdering those nations’ intellectuals, in order to destroy any independent academic or intellectual life. This was particularly brutal in eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers were imprisoned and shot because of the threat genuine free speech and discussion poses to all totalitarians and autocrats.

The same policies are pursued today by dictators and autocratic regimes around the world. These include Israel, where it is illegal to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their native land. This harsh atmosphere of intellectual repression also extends to Jewish Israelis. Tony Greenstein reported a few days ago that Netanyahu’s government is trying to outlaw Breaking the Silence, a civil rights group comprising ex-squaddies, who talk about the massacres and atrocities of Palestinians they have witnessed and taken part in.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/israel-moves-another-step-nearer-being.html

Genuinely free academic discussion, debate and inquiry is one of the cornerstones of democracy and at the heart of any vital national intellectual and cultural life. Government has absolutely no business trying to censor and control political debate. By trying to do so, Heaton-Harris has shown that he is a positive danger to democracy. He should apologise and resign. Immediately.

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.

Boris’ Views on Brexit and Massive Lack of Tact in Myanmar Show Why He Should Not Be In Politics

October 2, 2017

Here’s another Tory politician, who should by rights be firmly ejected from the House, or at least barred from any position of governmental responsibility: Boris Johnson. BoJo would just love to be prime minister, and so has tried to scheme his way there, joining the Leave campaign after he initially backed the ‘Stay’ group, and then stabbed the former Tory leader, David Cameron, and his fellow Tory, Michael Gove, in the back.

As the Tories have complained, he’s trying to drive government policy over Brexit from the backseat. On Saturday, Mike put up an article reporting how the Tories’ Blond Ambition had laid down a set of four conditions that need to be met for a good Brexit deal. One of the experts on politics, who commented about it on Twitter, Ian Dunt, immediately demolished all of them.

It’s not hard to see parallels with the Kippers in this. UKIP are rapidly falling into obscurity. They were a single issue party, pressing for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. And now that’s happening, they’ve lost their entire raison d’etre. So they tried a few months ago to lay down their conditions for Britain’s negotiations over Brexit with the EU. Almost needless to say, they were also rubbish and nobody took any notice of them either.

But it gets worse. For some reason, BoJo the Clown is Britain’s Foreign Secretary, a position for which he is entirely unsuited, for all he likes to boast that his Turkish grandfather was the last vizier of Ottoman Turkey, who was hanged by his outraged people in protest at one of the treaties breaking up Europe in the aftermath of the Great War.

Diplomacy, as part of international relations, requires and prizes very careful, guarded speech in order to prevent avoidable offence, offence which can easily rapidly escalate into disastrous breakdowns in international relations. And in serious cases, war. We talk about ‘tact and diplomacy’, and when describing actions or comments that may cause serious offence, often say, ‘Wars have been fought for less’. BoJo, like Trump, seems to possess none of these qualities.

Covering his official visit to the Shwedagon temple, the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, Channel 4 showed the tousled twat start to recite the opening line from Kipling’s The Road to Mandalay, about the temple bells calling back an English soldier to the Burmese girl he kissed. Britain ruled Myanmar, then called Burma, from 1824 to 1948. And it’s fair odds that its people just might be somewhat sensitive about our occupation of their country. You can easily understand why reciting a poem by a writer renowned as one of the poets of British imperialism, in the country’s most sacred temple, might just be taken as a slight. The documentary, which included the incident, was shown last night on Channel 4. Fortunately, the British ambassador, Andrew Jenkins, was on hand to stop Johnson. The clip shows Johnson asking him why, to which Jenkins simply answers ‘It’s not appropriate’.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/30/boris-johnson-is-out-of-control-again-heres-why-as-if-you-needed-to-see-the-reasons/

It says much about Boris’ complete lack of sensitivity and self-awareness, that he had to ask Jenkins why he shouldn’t recite it. He clearly saw nothing wrong in it, an attitude that could easily be interpreted by his Burmese hosts as imperial arrogance.

This isn’t the first time the Tories have said or done something, that has sparked an international row. I vaguely remember that BoJo managed to upset the Russians, when he went on a diplomatic visit to the Baltic states a year or so ago. And it wasn’t that long ago that Modi’s India accused Britain of colonialist condescension.

If Boris did, by some horrendous mistake of history, get into 10 Downing Street, then it’s clear that within a very short period his lack of tact would have torn the Commonwealth apart, having insulted and alienated as many of its members states as possible, and joined Trump in ramping up international tensions with Russia, Iran, North Korea or whoever into a full-blown shooting war.

Brexit is likely to seriously damage the British economy. True, Boris wasn’t responsible for the Leave campaign, but he did add his weight to it for no good reason than his own, over-vaulting ambition. And now his utter unsuitability for any kind of role in the Foreign Office is amply demonstrated yet again.

Get this oaf, and the other Tories, out of office as quickly as possible.

Russell Brand Takes Down Jacob Rees-Mogg

September 25, 2017

I realise that Russell Brand probably isn’t everyone’s favourite comedian ever since that stunt he and Jonathan Ross pulled leaving sneering prank messages about Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter on the old fellow’s answerphone a few years ago. I also don’t agree with his anarchistic stance encouraging people not to vote. However, in his Trew News videos on YouTube he has produces some very incisive critiques and demolitions of contemporary capitalism, right-wing politics and bigotry.

In this video he takes on Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the darling of the Tory party, many of whom would just love him to take over the reins from Theresa May, whose own failings are increasingly obvious. And they definitely prefer him to Boris after BoJo showed his complete lack of scruple and personal loyalty by stabbing Cameron and then Gove in the back over Brexit.

They like Mogg, because he’s soft-spoken and courteous. But as Brand points out here, his opinions are absolutely toxic. Brand shows the clip of Mogg wrong-footing John Snow when Suchet was interviewing him about May’s Brexit speech. Suchet stated that many people thought here speech was a shambles. So Mogg says ‘It seems a bit harsh to compare her speech to a butcher’s slaughterhouse.’ This throws Snow for a moment, who clear wasn’t aware that that was what the word originally meant, and throws it back to Mogg, saying that it seems a harsh thing for him to say. Only for Mogg to tell him that this is what Suchet himself has said, as that’s what the word means. Brand rightly mocks Mogg for this piece of rhetoric.

In fact, the word shambles actually means the stalls butchers occupied in medieval market places. Bridgwater in Somerset had its shambles, and a fish shambles as well, in the Cockenrow, the name of which means ‘Cook’s Row’, and refers to the shops in that part of town selling cooked meat. The medieval shambles at Shepton Mallet has survived, and you can visit it with the benches on which the medieval tradesmen used to display their wares, above which is mounted a small tiled roof.

In discussing the etymology of the word, Mogg is clearly being pedantic, simultaneously using his knowledge to play down just how awful and uninspiring May’s speech was, while also showing off his superior knowledge in the hopes that this will impress everyone with the depth of his aristocratic education. In fact, the word’s etymology is immaterial here. The word is simply used commonly to mean a mess. Of course, if you wanted to make the point in a more elevated and highfalutin manner, Snow could have said ‘I was using the term synchronically’, which is modern philologist’s parlance for what a term means now. I doubt Mogg’s own knowledge of the theory of linguistics goes that far, and it would have thrown his own rhetorical strategy back at him. But unfortunately, thinking about such responses is usually the kind of thing you do on the way home after it’s all over.

Brand then goes on to talk about Mogg’s appearance on Breakfast TV, where he showed himself against gay marriage and abortion, even after rape. Brand is like many others – impressed by Mogg’s honesty, while at the same time horrified by the views he holds.

And then he attacks Mogg’s performance on LBC Radio, where he declared that the growth in food banks was ‘uplifting’, and goes on to talk about how the state couldn’t provide everything. Brand states that what brings this argument down is the fact that most of the people forced to use food banks are actually working. They’re just not paid enough to live on.

He also rebuts Mogg’s claims that his views are based in Christianity. They aren’t. Most of Christ’s message in the Gospels is about being nice and kind. Mogg, however, prefers to see Christ as being harder towards the poor and sick. To support his point about Mogg’s highly selective interpretation of Christian morality, he cites and shows a letter published by one of the papers, that makes this point.

In fact, Mogg’s views on food banks are more or less standard Tory rhetoric. Many Tories will say something about preserving a welfare state to give some provision for the poor, but will then do exactly what Mogg did, and then say that the state can’t provide everything. When challenged about cuts to the welfare state, they’ll probably make some comment about needing to target the support to those who really need it, rather than scroungers.

This is all highly mendacious. The cuts don’t just attack scroungers – they create real poverty amongst those in genuine need. And nobody expects the state to do everything. They just expect them to provide real support for the poor and the disabled. This support is not being provided, and the Tories are intent on destroying the welfare state piecemeal, so that no-one notices. Rees-Mogg’s comments about retaining some kind of welfare state are a sham, whether he believes it or not, are designed to gull people into believing that the Tories really do want to look after ordinary people. They don’t.

As for Mogg being delighted with the charity and generosity shown by people giving to the food banks, this was actually one of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state. She thought that, with the state unable to provide for the poor there would be a resurgence in private generosity as people rose to the task of giving themselves, rather than relying on state aid. But as Lobster noted in a piece in its editorial, The View from the Bridge, a little while ago, this didn’t happen, And Thatcher realized it. As for the state being unable to provide adequately for the poor, the opposite is true. Conservative, religious Americans do give generously to charity. They’re often more generous than secular liberals, according to polling done a few years ago and cited in the book, The Truth about Evangelical Christians. But this personal generosity is completely inadequate for tackling the deep, widespread and grinding poverty that’s now spreading across America thanks to nearly forty years of Reaganite neoliberalism.

Brand gives Rees-Mogg his professional appreciation as a comedian. He states that Mogg is a comedic character. He makes the point that he seems mostly compounded from Maggie Thatcher. That’s certainly where Mogg got his mistaken and disgusting views about the efficacy of private charity over state aid. Just as Thatcher got it from her mentor, Keith Joseph. And if Mogg was the creation of a comedian sending up the Tories, he would be highly funny. He comes across somewhat as a mix of the Slenderman, the sinister internet meme, and Lord Snooty from the Beano. Or was it the Dandy? Looking at the photo Mike put up, showing Mogg trying to lift his leg over a style reminding me of nothing less than the Monty Python sketch, the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. Brand goes on to the compare Mogg to Trump. Mogg’s a comedic figure in exactly the same way Trump is. But only from a distance. Brand says that if he lived in America, which has to deal with the problems Trump is creating, he wouldn’t find Trump funny at all. The same with Mogg. Like Trump, he can appreciate Mogg as a comic character, but in reality, as a politician, Trump and Mogg are anything but funny.

Pat Mills and Anti-Racism and Anti-Nazism in British and American Comics

September 22, 2017

This week I’ve put up a number of articles about a couple of interviews I’ve found on YouTube with the long-time British comics creator, Pat Mills. Mills was one of the recidivist offenders, who revitalized a moribund British comics industry in the 1970s with a succession of groundbreaking new magazines the war comic, Battle, Action, and, of course, the mighty 2000AD. Mills is of Irish heritage and distinctly left-wing, so that his sympathies are always with the poor and the persecuted against the establishment, and there was more than a little element of subversion in his strips. Judge Dredd from the first was meant to be a symbol of the Fascistic elements in modern American policing, and J.D. is as much villain as he is hero. The mutant heroes of the Strontium Dog strip are second-class citizens in a future Britain which barely tolerates them. They can only live in ghettoes, and the only work they can do by law is bounty hunting. It’s an explicit comment on racism and anti-Semitism. Nemesis the Warlock was a similar attack on religious bigotry, set as it was in a devastated Earth of the far future, ruled by Tomas de Torquemada and his terminators. They were a military order of warriors, who had whipped up fear and hatred of intelligent aliens and embarked on a series of holy wars to exterminate them across the Galaxy. This was partly based on the medieval inquisition in Roman Catholic Europe, with elements of modern Fascism. For example, the robes adopted by the Terminators recalled Ku Klux Klan costumes.

Comics at the time were increasingly focused on the issue of racism and persecution, particularly in the case of Marvel Comic’s X-Men. The mutants in this strip, like those of Johnny Alpha’s nuclear-scarred Britain, were also persecuted. One of the recurring villains in the strip were the Sentinels, a race of giant robots created to hunt down and kill robots by the stock mad scientist in the belief that this would preserve humanity from the threat to their survival the super-powered mutants – Homo Superior – represented. Another of Mighty Marvel’s villains was the Hate Monger, dedicated to whipping up bigotry and strife. This character also wore a costume based on the Klan, and was revealed as Hitler, or a clone of him.

The American comics industry was founded by German Jews, who brought with them their former homeland’s tradition of telling a story through a series of pictures derived from Wilhelm Busch. I think many of them had also seen combat fighting against Nazism in the army during the War. It’s therefore not hard to see in strips such as the X-Men a metaphorical treatment of the persecution of the Jewish people, as well as other outsider groups. As well as being a metaphor for racism, the X-Men also had an large following of gay young people, possibly because the social hostility shown in the strips towards its mutant heroes mirrored their own experiences as marginalized outsiders.

And concerns over the threat of Fascism were also seen in other British comics. The British version of the Captain Britain strip, written by Dave Thorpe and then Alan Moore, was set in an alternative Britain in which a deranged, mutant aristocrat, Mad Jim Jaspers, had created a biomechanical creature to hunt down and exterminate all mutants. At the same time, he had encouraged a Fascist dictatorship to seize power, which then began the process of persecuting and exterminating mutants.

This was succeeded by Moore’s V for Vendetta in the adult comic, Warrior, which featured an anonymous guerilla, V, fighting a personal war against the Fascist authorities of a near-future Britain. It was filmed with Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as his companion, Evie, with Stephen Fry as a gay TV host and John Hurt as the dictator. Moore himself dislikes the movie, partly because the contract he signed with the studio meant that the character is now their property. But it is a powerful film, which accurately shows certain aspects of Nazism, such as the use of concentration camp inmates for medical experimentation.

Pat Mills also says in the interviews I posted about earlier this week that the strip Charley’s War was subversive in that it was anti-war strip in a war comic. Mills is disappointed by the way the strip wasn’t included in an exhibition on comics and subversion, and notes that in this, the centenary years of the First World War, there seems to be a deliberate policy amongst the British broadcasters of not showing anything with an anti-war content, such as Blackadder Goes Forth. Radio 4 have made shows about the great stage play and film, Oh, What a Lovely War!, but it wasn’t that long ago that Michael Gove, the Tory minister for education, opened his mouth to say that children were getting an entirely wrong view of the War based on Blackadder. Mike naturally wrote a very sharp reply to that piece of nonsense.

But there were other strips in Battle, which also rose out of the mass of the usual gung-ho stories of courageous British squaddies winning against brutal and stupid Germans, and which did shock with their realism. Darkie’s Mob, which was about a mysterious commander, who takes over a failing British unit trapped behind Japanese lines in Burma was one of these. Another I remember which particularly shocked me was a short piece in Battle, in which British soldiers are fighting their way through Germany. I think it was a stand-alone strip, rather than part of a continuing storyline. The story ended when the squaddies reach a group of emaciated figures standing behind barbed wire, the inmates of one of the death camps. This was clearly about the Holocaust, and what it was really like, rather than the usual glamorous war stories, and I remember being shocked by the starved bodies of the inmates. As I doubtless was supposed to.

Battle, Action, 2000AD and Warrior were part of a trend that had emerged in American comics in the late 1960s, when they turned from simple escapism to dealing with real issues – such as racism and feminism. British comics up to the launch of Battle and Action had tended to avoid explicit politics, and in some cases had actually been very racist. And this tradition of commenting and attacking racism and bigotry continues in American comics today, and in 2000AD, now sadly nearly all that’s remaining of the British comics industry.

These are the type of strips, which Mike and I grew up reading, along with so many others of our age group. And they reflected the very real anxieties of the time. Left-wingers were worried about the rise of Maggie Thatcher, her links to the hard right and the violence and political threat posed by the BNP/NF. In the original comic strip version of V for Vendetta, the Fascists seize power in Britain after devastating nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union over the crisis in Poland. To many of us, the threat of nuclear annihilation in Maggie’s and Reagan’s New Cold War was only too real.

In his talk to the Socialist Workers’ Party, Mills reads out a letter he received from the CEO of a school, a former punk, who states that everything he learned about Fascism, he got from Judge Dredd; everything about racism, from Strontium Dog, and everything about feminism from Halo Jones. And he now considered it the most subversive thing he could do was to help produce open-minded, critical young people. And it isn’t just racism. When Thatcher tried to criminalise positive teaching of homosexuality in school – that it is perfectly natural – the British comics industry responded with the anti-homophobia anthology AWRGH!, whose initials stood for Artists and Writers Against Rampant Government Homophobia. Comics in the 1980s and ’90s sold much more than they do now, and so they made a very large number of young people aware and alert to these issues. It partly explains why British society has broadly become more tolerant, despite continuing bigotry in some areas. Like the right-wing of the Tories and UKIP.

This is also why I found Mills’ story of how the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained about a story in Crisis utterly amazing. Crisis was another adult comic, which dealt explicitly with contemporary issues of western imperialism, the power of the multinationals and the exploitation of the Developing World. The comic had featured a story about the beating of a Palestinian protester in Gaza, based on a real event told to Mills by a Palestinian. The Board complained because the lad’s broken body, left lying in the road, looked to them a bit like a swastika. As Mills himself said, it wasn’t there because comics creators aren’t that clever. But I was left amazed at the thought that anybody could accuse anyone in mainstream British comics at the time of racism or anti-Semitism, given how radical and anti-racist so many of them were.

It’s also why the accusation by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism earlier this year against Mike is so outrageous. I’ve blogged before in Mike’s defence pointing out that he very definitely is not racist and not anti-Semitic, having both Black and Jewish friends and participating at College in a performance commemorating the victims of the Shoah. Mike read these comics, with the anti-racist and anti-bigotry message which they strove to impart to their readers. I realize that no doubt there were many people who read them, without really taking the anti-racist, anti-bigotry subtext onboard, but even so many people in the comics milieu were and are liberal in their attitudes towards tolerance of minority and marginalized groups.

But the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the rest of the Zionist lobby have no qualms about smearing genuine anti-racists, and people who have written about and denounced anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and persecution, like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone and Tony Greenstein. And there is the real danger that by doing so, not only will they libel and smear decent people, but trivialize real anti-Semitism in doing so.

I’ve blogged earlier this evening about the fine job Richard Coughlan did in producing his videos debunking Holocaust denial. But British and American comics and their creators, like Pat Mills, Alan Moore and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creators of the X-Men, and that strip’s writers and artists since, have also contributed greatly to attacking racism and bigotry in the strips they produced.

Boris Back to Lying about Giving Money from Brexit to the NHS

September 19, 2017

Late last week, Boris Johnson threw the Tories into further chaos as he published his own, 4,000 word document outlining his vision for Brexit. It’s clearly another bid for power from someone, who desperately wants to be in the driving seat and doesn’t care what he says or who he betrays to get there. May responded by calling him a ‘backseat driver’ and insisted that she is in control. Well, as people have commented, if she has to say it, then she obviously isn’t.

And Mike the other day put up a piece showing that Johnson is back to repeating the old Brexit lies he used last time. Yup, he’s told the British people once again that we pay £350 million a year to the EU, when with rebates and other considerations it’s far less than that, and in fact Britain has a net benefit from remaining within the European Union. And he’s also trotted out the old lie that some of this money will be spent on the NHS when we come out.

In fact, Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers have absolutely no intention of doing this. No surprise there. They didn’t when Britain narrowly voted to Leave the European Union. Instead, Johnson did what Tories always do, and reneged on the promise. He made a lot of huffing and puffing about not actually having promised to give that money to the NHS, and only said that if we left the EU, some of that money, for example, could be spent on the Health Service.

Despite the fact that the buses that went round the country clearly stated that the money would be spent on the NHS.

Johnson lied. And he’s doing it again.

It’s all part of his cynical maneoevrings to get himself into No. 10. He was a Remainer, until he decided to throw in his lot with Michael Gove. Whom he then betrayed. And how far he really believes that leaving the EU will benefit Britain is a very good question. From the ashen expression on his face when the result came in that Britain, well, really only England, had voted to Leave, he doesn’t believe in it at all.

The man has no principles, and is just cynically repeating an old, tired lie to get himself a bit closer to becoming PM. Don’t be taken in.

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

As George Dubya nearly said correctly.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/18/boris-johnsons-350-million-eu-claim-is-still-a-lie-no-matter-how-he-dresses-it-up/

Mike’s article is also worth reading for what the folks on Twitter have to say about this latest resurrected falsehood from Johnson. One of the more interesting observations comes from a Beeb journo, who reports that they were under pressure from their bosses to find a positive story about how Brexit would benefit the UK. They couldn’t find any. Eventually, they were going to have to settle for the news that the vaping canisters for e-cigarettes would be bigger. But even that was wrong.

And the piccie Mike uses for that article is also quite fun. It shows one of the buses with Johnson’s infamous lie on its side, stuck halfway up a cliff face.

Which is rather like one of the urban legends that went round in the 1990s, and which got into the pages of Private Eye. According to this tale, American police had found the remains of a chevy out in the Nevada Desert. It seemed the former owner, with a need for speed that went beyond even Jeremy Clarkson’s, had had the bright idea of sticking a JATO engine on his car’s roof. These are small rocket engines that are used to assist air force jets to take off from small runways. This clown forgot just how powerful these engines are, and was completely unprepared for the 8 G acceleration which kicked in when he fired it. According to the story, under its thrust the car left the road and ‘the surly bonds of Earth’, flying five miles before ending its journey by crashing 30 feet up into a cliff face. The impact was so severe that all that was left of the driver was his false teeth.

Fortunately, this story turned out to be untrue. It was a lie, just like Johnson’s porkie about £350 million being paid to the EU, and how that will instead go to the NHS. It never happened, though there isn’t actually anything improbable about the details. Burt Rutan, a former NASA engineer, and the man designing SpaceShip Two for Beardie Branson’s Virgin Galactic, built his own spacecraft, the Volksrocket, for $70,000 using rocket motors that the government had manufactured, then discarded in the local rubbish dump. It shows what private individuals could and are doing in developing space technology, that has the potential to make space vastly more accessible.

As for Johnson, all I can say is that I hope his lies about Brexit, and indeed his entire political ambitions, go the same way as the JATO propelled rocket in the story, and meet a very sudden, and well-deserved end.

The Tory, Privatise Enterprise Cure for Stressed Teachers: Electrostimulate their Brains!

July 3, 2017

Everything about this says Bad Science, as in the book by Ben Goldacre. And ‘bad’ in every definition of the word. Not only wrong scientifically, but also morally. But it’s what you get all too often with the Tories in charge.

Mike over at Vox Political has today posted up a piece commenting on a story in today’s Torygraph, hyping the use of an electronic device, the Alpha-Stim, which Leigh Academies Trust are offering to their staff at seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a special educational needs school in Kent to treat the symptoms of stress amongst their staff. The Torygraph says that the device is the size of a mobile phone, and works by sending micro-pulses of electricity to the brain to stimulate the production of alpha waves. This supposedly helps relieve anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. The Trust is offering it along with other therapies. The extract Mike includes in his piece quotes one Peter Caunt of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust, who says ‘We know this type of therapy works’ before going on to say that the question is whether it is cost-effective.

Mike compares it to the shock treatment used on very disturbed people, which works by burning out part of their frontal lobes. He states that he personally knows people, who’ve had it done, and they have not been the same afterwards.
He asks why the schools management company isn’t trying to solve the problem by making teachers’ lives less stressful.

He wonders if the real reason is that the company’s bosses want to turn their staff into compliant little teaching zombies, who won’t complain, because they’ve had their conscience burned out of them along with the stress.

He also makes the point that the Trust used to be headed by Frank Green, who was appointed to a two-year stint as schools commissioner by Michael Gove. This shows the strong connection between the company and the Tory party.

The device should, apparently, be used for 20 minutes each, but some teaching staff are using it twice or three times. So Mike asks the obvious question of what kind of teachers they’re like afterwards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/03/the-tory-cure-for-stressed-teachers-is-electrocute-their-brains/

Everything about this is highly dubious. It looks very much like something straight out of the accounts of bad, if not pathological science, from the pages of Ben Goldacre, Martin Gardner and others. Ben Goldacre, you may remember, wrote a book, Bad Science, about this kind of nonsense a few years ago. the Sceptic, Martin Gardner also attacked bad and pernicious science a few decades ago in his Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. This looks like a prime example of it, to go with other, earlier pseudo-sciences like eugenics, lobotomies, Lysenkoism, Nazi ‘race science’ and monkey glands.

As for electro-convulsive therapy, it was devised by a German Jewish doctor, who fled Nazi Germany to Fascist Italy. Deciding that it could be an effective method of treating the mentally ill, he started by testing it on tramps he and the authorities rounded up off the street. Adam Parfrey published an essay on it, ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’, in one of his books on the extremes of belief in 1990s America, Apocalypse Culture or Cult Rapture. That essay made it very clear just how nasty it was.

It’s still used, but proper medical professionals only resort to it in the case of severely disturbed people, where there really isn’t much choice.

And everything known about the brain should say that tinkering with it, unless you know exactly what you’re doing, is an appallingly bad idea. The brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Modern neuroscience has succeeded in identifying which parts of the brain produces which mental function, but even so, there is a vast amount we don’t know. Raymond Tallis, who is a Humanist and former neurologist and neurosurgeon, wrote a book, Aping Mankind, with the aim to show that much human thought and mind couldn’t be reduced to neurological functions. He stated clearly that he wanted to show that thinking was ‘as mysterious as walking on water’. Given the vast complexity of the brain, and its vulnerability, it really is stupid and dangerous to mess around with it in this manner.

Remember a few years ago, when many doctors started to worry about possible brain damage caused by putting mobile phones next to your ear? They were afraid of the health risks posed by putting what is a microwave source next to your brain when talking on the phone.

It also reminds me of the ‘feedback cult’ of the ’70s. This also noted the connection between alpha waves and mood. It therefore encouraged people to hook themselves up to special monitors, which registered their alpha waves, and then learn how to control them and so altered their mood, all for supposedly beneficial purposes. That was also debunked some time ago.

The alpha-stim also sounds to be me like something that escaped from the Human Potential labs in the ’60s and ’70s. The Human Potential movement was one of those weird movements based on psychology that emerged in the 1960s, promising to bring people fulfilment and happiness through their programme of therapies. It still survives in various forms, and developed strong links with corporate capitalism, to the point where its detractors have called it a corporate mind control cult.

Adam Curtis devoted a programme to it in his documentary about the legacy of Freudianism, The Century of the Self, over a decade ago now. And what the programme revealed about it was truly chilling. The movement and its doctors managed to convince the medical profession to let them try to treat a selection of patients suffering from schizophrenia. The treatment consisted of dosing these poor souls up to the gills with LSD, and then attaching electrodes to electrify their brains. And all the while they were taught to repeat to themselves, ‘I am comfortable in myself’.

They interviewed one poor young woman, who’d been a victim of this nonsense. The treatment was a horrible, ghastly failure. It was perhaps a mercy that the woman said that she couldn’t remember much about it now, except that sometimes she had it done several times a day. It was this kind of appalling medical experimentation that the producers of Classic Star Trek took solid aim at in the episode ‘Dagger of the Mind’.

As for this latest rubbish, it also reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, when Doctor Bashir is called on treat Garak, the station’s Kardassian tailor and spy. Garak, like many other Kardassian secret agents, had a device implanted in his brain to stimulate his pleasure centres, so he could get through being tortured. Garak, however, has become so miserable that he started using it recreationally, and so has become addicted. Bashir has no choice but to find out what he can about the device, and try to remove it from his friend.

Which all sounds dangerously close to what’s going on here, with the exception that it’s teachers being treated with it, not alien spies.

I am really not at all surprised that it’s the Tories, or a company that’s associated with them, that’s peddling this nonsense. The Tories just love pseudoscience. I’ve reblogged stuff from Kitty S. Jones and other disability bloggers about the model of sickness devised by Unum and their pet psychiatrists at Cardiff University to have people thrown off benefit and declared fit for work, has been roundly debunked by other medical professionals.

And a little while ago, Private Eye in its ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column took a pot shot at a Tory-controlled council in Kent or that part of the world, where the local authority had cut council services, but was funnelling tens of thousands of pounds to a company headed by one of its female members, which specialised in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming or some other kind of dodgy therapy to offer spurious treatment to council staff.

Which, again, sounds very much like what’s going on here.

And then there was the case of the Leaderene herself, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher was into Ayur Veda, a system of alternative therapies brought to the world by one of the dodgy Indian gurus, who rocked up here in the 1960s. Thatcher treated herself to baths, where along with the water there was a weak electric current. Obviously, she thought it would do her some good. I’m quite sure there were many others, who wish the voltage had been somewhat stronger.

This looks to me very much like a potentially harmful pseudoscience. As for Caunt’s statement that ‘we know it works’, that’s what Tory spokespeople have said about work improving people’s mental health, and other mental professionals, not to mention normal, ordinary people without a financial or ideological stake in it, pointing out that it’s rubbish. And I’ve no doubt it’s the same here.

This is just bad science, which is being hyped by company that obviously finds it cheaper to have their staff trying to make themselves less miserable by running electricity through their brains, than actually trying to do something more positive and concrete to improve conditions for them.

Pretty much like British society as a whole, where instead of offering real guidance and support to the unemployed, their harangued and demeaned by Jobcentre Staff through stupid, nonsensical models of unemployment and disability supported as government policy.

Kenneth Surin on Brexit and May’s Corporate Attack on the Poor

April 20, 2017

On Tuesday, Counterpunch published a long piece by their contributor, Kenneth Surin, on Theresa May’s plans for Brexit, and how this will inevitably harm the poor and the working people of this Sceptred Isle. And it’s what you’re already expecting, if you’ve read the Groaniad, those bits of the I newspaper that are still even remotely genuinely liberal, and bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political, the Canary, Another Angry Voice, The Void and so on. May, he predicts, will talk a hard Brexit in order to counter some of the opposition from the Tory Right, but will leave some room for a soft Brexit. She, Boris Johnson, and the other vicious grotesques currently infesting the halls of power, want to use it to turn Britain into a tax haven. So he predicts that the City of London and its connections to some very dodgy individuals – he has a paragraph giving the names of some of them – will get even murkier. But, as he points out, Britain already is a tax haven through the Channel Islands.

He states that we are likely to be given a very hard deal by the EU. He states that there was friction between Britain and the European Union as while the EU represents the power of corporate capital, it draws a line on their direct influence in government. The lingering Social Democratic tradition in these countries, like France, Germany, and the Scandinavian nations, means that the government governs for industry, but is not run like an industry. Unlike the Neoliberal vision, exported to Britain from the US, which wants government to be run exactly like a business.

He also predicts that May and her grotty team will inflict further misery on the poor, because that’s what appeals to the right-wing British press, like ‘the foreigner Murdoch’ and the ‘tax-dodging, Nazi-supporting Rothermere family’. The Tories will follow Farage, and privatise the NHS, just as the are already privatising services and levying charges for them.

He also rebuts May’s feigned concern for those ‘Just About Managing’, or the JAMs. Despite all the crocodile tears she and her cronies shed, she has done absolutely nothing for them. Wages are still stagnant, the opportunities to upgrade one’s skills are similarly being cut, as are welfare services to support the poor and unemployed.

Surin begins his article also by pointing out that when it comes to the day, the vote on Brexit is likely to be influenced by factors and issues that aren’t really relevant. He also talks about the way May has already shot herself in the foot by trying to promote Brexit using images of places, which have actually benefitted from the EU. Like the northern shipyards, which were given a million pound grant.

Surin begins his piece

“So at this moment of change [Brexit], we must respond with calm, determined, global leadership to shape a new era of globalisation that works for all”.

— Theresa May

“My plan for Britain is not just a plan to leave the EU but a plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, underpinned by genuine economic and social reform. To make Britain a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few”.

— Theresa May

The UK’s Brexit roll-out is a constantly evolving project, zig zagging along because the Tories in charge of it, like everyone else, have no real idea of how it will culminate. So far it has been ad hockery all the way, though one or two of the project’s connecting threads are starting to be visible.

One week, Theresa “the woman without qualities” May, who voted against Brexit, is in favour of a “hard” Brexit (basically one involving no deal of any kind with the EU regarding the single market and immigration), the next she softens her tone and hints that a more placative agreement with the EU, amounting to a “soft” Brexit, might be welcomed in whatever hoped-for way.

Nothing was more symbolic of this chaos and muddled-thinking than the most recent pro-Brexit television broadcast by May, which showed her against the background of ships moving in the Scottish port of Aberdeen.

Oops– the port of Aberdeen was granted a €258 million loan from the European Investment Bank on 20 June 2016, just 3 days before the UK voted to leave the EU!

It all seems to depend on how much heat the pro-Brexit right-wing of her party, citing that chimerical entity “sovereignty”, can turn on her.

Her predecessor, “Dodgy Dave” Cameron, weary of feeling this heat, called the Brexit referendum to cool down his party’s right-wing, absolutely confident in his nonchalantly patrician way that Brits would consider themselves better-off by remaining in the EU.

Such referenda, although purportedly on a single-issue, tend invariably to have outcomes determined very much by the mood of the electorate, which is affected by a plethora of considerations having nothing specifically to do with the issue officially on the table on referendum day.

***

May’s calculation requires her to “talk” a hard Brexit, to neutralize the right-wingers who ended her predecessor’s political career, and to gain the support of the right-wing press– owned by the foreigner Murdoch, the Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family, Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire), the tax-dodging Barclay brothers, and a Russian oligarch.

This overseas-domiciled and tax-dodging (in the cases mentioned) crew have set the low-information agenda for those inclined towards Brexit, so May’s strategy, if we can call it that, has been accommodating towards their hard Brexit stance, while leaving things vague enough for loopholes to enable a “softish” Brexit if needed.

May, craving electoral success, has to cater to all sides and eventualities. The results are likely to be calamitous for the UK.

Why is this?

May’s primary objective is to convey the impression that Brexit will “work for all”.

Alas there is no evidence for this claim.

***

The UK’s pro-Brexit movement, in the absence of anything resembling a Lexit, is not going to be shackled by this or that constraint previously imposed by the EU.

For instance, the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Trump’s non-American sycophant par excellence, though a minimal figure, has always advocated the privatization of the NHS. And this is exactly what the Tories have been pursuing by stealth since 2010.

***

May has already said she “stands ready” to use Brexit as an opportunity to turn the UK into a tax haven, or as the financial press euphemistically puts it, “a low-tax financial centre”. It is already one of course (this being the primary function of the islands of Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar).

What May clearly means is that London’s financial sector, which is already awash in murky water, will become an even muddier swamp able to match similar swamps in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Panama, Hong Kong, Singapore, and so forth. Dwellers of these swamps include assorted drug dealers, human traffickers, gun runners, owners of illegal gambling syndicates…

***

In addition to May desiring this state of affairs for the City of London, it is clear from the composition of the team put together by the secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox to negotiate post-Brexit trade deals, that Brexit UK is going to pursue a thoroughgoing pro-corporate agenda.

***

This corporate bonanza will probably be accompanied by a weakening of environmental regulations, since most of the leading Brexiteers are climate-change deniers or supporters of fracking (and in most cases, both).

Pro-Brexit climate-change deniers include Farage, Michael Gove (who tried to ban climate change from the school curriculum when he was education minister), the foreign minister Boris “BoJo” Johnson, Thatcher’s finance minister Nigel Lawson, and the above-mentioned Liam Fox.

***

This hugely attractive and compassionate bunch (sic) are not going to be too concerned about pollution, biodiversity, natural habitats, animals abused by industrial farming, climate change, the prohibition of lethal pesticides, declining fish stocks, the international trade in endangered species, and the use of GMOs, when the agribusiness corporations howl about environmental regulation being a burden to them.

There will be no remotely green agenda under this ghastly crew.

***

May prates on about her deep concern for “just about managing” families (JAMs), but the austerity agenda passed on by the disastrous former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is being implemented with only a slight cosmetic tweak here and there.

The UK economy has grown since 2010, but, according to the Guardian, 7.4 million Brits, among them 2.6 million children, live in poverty despite being from working families (amounting to 55% of these deemed poor) — 1.1 million more than in 2010-11.

The report cited by the Guardian, produced by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that the number living below the Minimum Income Standard – the earnings, defined by the public, required for a decent standard of living – rose from 15 million to 19 million between 2008/9 and 2014/5. The UK’s population is 65 million.

These 19 million people, or just under 1/3rd of the UK’s population, are its JAMs.
***

Social care is becoming increasingly unaffordable for them, the NHS is starting to charge for treatment as it undergoes a backdoor privatization, they have fewer opportunities for upskilling in order to raise their incomes, and so on. This while their wages are stagnant even as the cost of living is increasing for them.

***

Such important and pressing issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency, but they are not.

The Tories pro-corporate Brexit agenda has become the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

***

Many have a name for what is really and truly going on in the UK and US: class warfare.

The bastards have the underprivileged by the throat. All the mainstream political parties are terrified of offending them, if they haven’t already thrown their lot in with the bastards.

What is desperately needed, for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, is a reversal of this situation, in which many firm hands turn round and grasp the throats of those responsible for the misery of tens of millions of people.

Is there anyone in the almost moribund Labour party, torn apart by infighting caused by its still significant Blairite remnant, capable of saying any of the above unequivocally?

Go read the rest of the article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/18/the-calm-determined-stronger-fairer-uk-brexit-zig-zag/

In answer to Surin’s final question, yes, there are plenty of people in the Labour party willing to point all this out. They’ve tried to do so ad infinitum. But the Blairites and the Tory media are doing their best to stop that message getting out. They never report what they say about the detrimental attacks the Tories and Blair have made on the welfare state, the NHS and the economy, but selectively quote them in order to make it all fit the narrative that Corbyn and his wing of the party are ignoring these issues. And it’s done deliberately to fit the narrative of Corbyn as a Trotskyite entryist.

It’s why I’m afraid that the next two months will be a very hard struggle for everyone desperate to save Britain from the corporatist swamp created by the Thatcherites and their media lickspittles.