Posts Tagged ‘Middle Ages’

May’s Speech to Rich Tory Donors: This Is What the Lollards Warned You About

February 11, 2018

Sunday is the Christian holy day, so I thought I’d include here a particularly relevant piece of radical Christian polemic against the rich and powerful and their neglect and oppression of the poor from the 15th century.

A few days ago Mike put up a piece reporting Theresa May’s speech at a fundraising banquet for rich Tory donors. To get in, you had to pay £15,000 for a ticket. The long reign of Thatcherite neoliberalism in this country has led to a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer sections of society – the working and lower middle classes – upwards to the extremely rich. Thatcher, and her fanboys and -girls – have cut and privatised benefits and services to the poor, with the specific intention of making the bloated rich even richer, though tax cuts, massive subsidies, and exploiting the very state industries, that they have privatised and sold to them.

The Lollards were a proto-Protestant sect of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, who followed the teachings of the Yorkshire priest and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was disgusted by the corruption of the church and society in his day. He advocated the Bible in English, holy scripture as the only source for religious authority, clerical marriage and proper concern for the poor. And he and his followers were bitterly critical of the friars, as they were generally perceived to have neglected their vocation of teaching and preaching Christianity to focus on serving the rich for their own material gain.

The text here is ‘The Perversion of the Works of Mercy’, which inveighs against the way Christ’s commandment to feed, give drink, and clothe poor people, and visit those in prison, as well as other holy works, have been so corrupted so that those, who feign moral rectitude and Christian charity now spend their time doing this for the rich and powerful instead. Here’s an extract. You should be able to understand the late medieval spelling and vocabulary.

Hou Sathanas [Satan] and his children turnen werkis of mercy upsodoun and discyven men therinne and in here five wyttis.

First Crist comaundith men of power to fede hungry pore men. The fiend and his techen to make costy festis and waste many goodis on lordis and riche men and so suffer pore men sterve and perishe for hunger and other myschevys. Ye, men that feynen hem [them] ful of charite and religion gadren proper goodis to hemselven and festen dlicatly lordis and laides and riche men and suffer here pore brethren begge for meschef and fare ful harde.

Crist comaundith to yeve drynk to thrusty [thirsty] [men] and wymmen. The fiend and his techen to puveye high wyn and spised ale and strong for riche men and lordis to make hem drunken and chide and fighte and foryete God and his lawe, and to suffer pore, that han nought of hore owene and may not labore for febilnesse or sikenesse and blyndenesse drynke water and falle in feveris or ellis perische.

Crist comaundith to clothe nakyd men and wymmen whanne thei han noght of here owene. Thereto the fend and his techen to yeve costly clothis and manye to riche men and mynstralis and shavaldours {Northern slang for robbers] for worldly name and suffer pore men have nakid sidis and schakynge lippis and hondis for cold that woo is hemwith the lif. Ye, prelatis and men singular religion, that taken the charge to ben procuratouris and dispenderis of pore mennus liflode, clothen fatte horsis with gaie sadlies and bridles and mytris and croceris with gold and silver and precious stonys, and suffren pore men and children perische for cold. And yit these prelatis and newe religious comen in staat of Cristis povert and his apostlis, and techen and crien that whatever thei han is pore mennus goode. Yit riche men closen dede stockis and stonys with precious clothis, with gold and silver and perlis and gaynesse to the world, and suffren pore men goo sore acold and at moche meschefe.

Crist trechith to herberwe [harbour, accommodate] pore men that han non houses ne penby to peye for here innys [inns, lodging]. The fend and his techen to herberwe riche men and lordis with grete cost and deyitte for worldly worschipe and suffer pore men wander in stormys and slepe with the swyn and many tymes suffer not hem come withinne here yatis, and so to fynde many excusacions and coloure this doynge, Ye, ypocritis of privat religion maken grete houses and costy and gaily peyntid more than kyngis and lordis bi sotil beggynge and confessions and trentalise and mayntenynge of synne, and herberwe lordis and riche men, and namely ladies, and suffer more men lie withouten or geten houslewth at pore men or ellis perische for wedris and cold.

Crist techeth to visite sike men and counforte hem and helpe hem of sustenaunce. The fend and his techen to visiten riche me, lordis and ladies in here prosperite and lykynge to be holden kynde [high born] and curteis, and to comforte eche other in synne and to have lustis of glottonye, lecherie and other schrewidnessis; but of pore men that ben beddrede and couchen in muk or dust is litel thought on or noght. Yit ypocritis of feyned religion vistien not fadirles children and modirles [motherless] and widewise in here tribulacion, and kepe not hemself unbleckid fro this world as Seynt James techith; but visite off riche men and wymmen and namely riche widewis [widows] for to gete world muk by false deceitis and carien it home to Caymes’ {Cain’s] castelis and Anticristis covent [convents] and Sathanas children and marteris [martyrs] of glotonye.

Crist techith to visit men in prison and helpe to delyvere hem in good manere and counforte hem bi almes-yevinge. The fend and his prresonen pore men for dette whanne thi ben not at power to paie and traveil night and day and liven ful harde and toylen with trewthe and susteynen wif and children…

From Middle English Religious Prose, edited by N.F. Blake (London: Edward Arnold 1972) pp. 239-41.

Clearly, this is a piece of sectarian polemic, and isn’t entirely fair. Historians have pointed out that the church was suffering serious poverty and neglect the time, which affected many of the lower clergy and monastic institutions, so that they simply weren’t in any position to perform their Christian duties of aiding the poor themselves.

And my point here is not to attack the Roman Catholic church, as I know many ordinary Catholics and Roman Catholic clergy are deeply involved in caring for the poor. But simply to make the point that the issues the Lollards inveighed against are still present and embodied in the Tory party and people like Tweezer. In the Middle Ages, it was the church that had the function of providing whatever welfare services there were to the poor, as well as the personal charity of great lords. But since Thatcher, public institutions and the welfare state – the modern, secular equivalents of these religious institutions, have been run down for the profit of the rich.

And there’s also a distinct religious parallel here too, though it’s with the evangelical Christian Right and their prosperity gospel. Tweezer is a vicar’s daughter, who claims that when she was a child she was a ‘goody two-shoes’. Lobster has pointed out just how many right-wing Christians gathered around IDS and now Damian Greene in the DWP. The evangelical Right in America believe that God doesn’t want you to be poor, for whom they have nothing but contempt. One particularly self-righteous Republican politico – it might have been Ted Cruz – even declared that the poor should be taxed more. ‘Because it’s what Christ would have wanted’. No, and this moron should read the Gospels before opening his mouth.

And I’m still furious at the way a large number of right-wing pastors made it clear that they didn’t care if one Republican candidate was guilty of molesting underage girls. He stood for their values, which were for the rich, and against the poor. And, of course, gays. Which shows how selective their concern over changes and violation of traditional sexual morality is.

These hypocrites have done as much harm to Christianity as Dawkins and the militant atheists. Many of the atheist polemicists are socially conscious people, whose rejection of religion is partly based on the way the religious don’t live up to their ideals. And as history has shown, and these pratts continue to show, all too often the atheists have been right in this criticism.

And in there moral condemnation of the fawning over the rich at the expense of the poor, the Lollards were right. And this text from six hundred years ago shows up the Tory party and its hypocritical supporters in the Christian religious right as it is today.

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Mike’s Hearing before Labour Disputes Tribunal: a Show-trial and Travesty of Justice

January 20, 2018

The following comments below are mine only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mike Sivier or his blog, Vox Political.

Mike this week put up a long blog post describing the results of his hearing for alleged anti-Semitism before the Labour Disputes Committee. It was not encouraging, and shows how these committees are nothing but Kafkaesque travesties of justice, designed to protect the mendacious and intolerant, and persecute their ideological adversaries.

To recap, last year Mike put up a series of posts on his blog defending some of the Labour and Momentum supporters, who had been accused of anti-Semitism, such as Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was historically correct when he said that Hitler initially collaborated with the Zionists to send Jews to the nascent Jewish colony in Palestine. It was part of the Ha’avara agreement, which is mentioned in mainstream textbooks and on websites connected with the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel. You can find mementoes, such as medal, struck by the Nazis in commemoration of the agreement and the visit by a Nazi to the colony over at Tony Greenstein’s website.

It is not anti-Semitic to point this out. But it annoyed and terrified the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a badly misnamed Zionist organisation, that was formed in 2014 to counter public opposition to Israel after the bombardment of Gaza. To do this, they followed the standard Zionist tactic of spuriously connecting this to anti-Semitism. So does the Jewish Labour Movement, which decided that Jackie Walker was an anti-Semite last year, because she didn’t go along with their tortured definition of anti-Semitism, which also connects it to opposition or criticism of Israel.

Mike wrote a pamphlet about this, and sent it off the Labour party. Then some little snitch decided to complain and accuse him, in turn, of anti-Semitism.

Tony Greenstein, the very Jewish anti-racist, Socialist and anti-Zionist, posted a little snippet on his blog showing this to be unJewish. Medieval Jewish law was firmly against Jews informing on other Jews to the authorities. Okay, Mike’s a gentile, but very many of those accused of anti-Semitism by this squalid organisations are god-fearing, Torah observant, or secular, self-respecting Jews. And this issue affects gentiles as well as Jews. Greenstein came out with the Jewish dictum prohibiting informing. It’s in Biblical Hebrew or perhaps Talmudic Aramaic, so it sounds very grand. But it essentially boils down to ‘snitches get stitches’. As you’d expect from when it was written. The Middle Ages were a period of terrible persecution for the Jews, and the authorities would find any excuse to terrorise Jewish communities.

Mike was called in to a disputes hearing to answer the charge. And here it becomes very Kafkaesque. In Kafka’s great novels The Trial and The Castle, the hero is arrested and tried. But he does not know who his accuser is, nor what the charges against him are. It was a terrible prefiguration of the perversions of justice in Nazi Germany and the Fascist states, and Stalin’s Russia. As well as the secret courts Blair, Cameron and Clegg, and Tweezer want to set up in this country.

It’s also unBritish. And I mean this in an inclusive sense, as part of the core British values that should protect all Brits, regardless of creed and ethnicity. Under British law, you are innocent until proven guilty. Unlike the continent, where you are guilty until proven innocent. You are also supposed to know who you are accuser is, so you and your lawyer can cross-examine them and you can defend yourself. This has been the case ever since Magna Carta and the Middle Ages. Under medieval law, you could only be tried if there was an accuser. So quite often county sheriffs would round up the local neerdowells and crims, lock them up in their castles, and then appeal for someone to come forward and accuse them of a crime, so that they could be tried.

Then there were the accusations themselves. Mike stated that it was clear that they had not read his pamphlet or articles, but just relied on the accusation, which was simply quotes ripped out of context. One of these numbskulls asked Mike why he called the JLM, formerly Paole Zion, a Zionist organisation. Mike replied quite truthfully because that’s how they define themselves in their constitution and their mission statements, and quoted them. On another point, he was asked why he made a particular statement, and could he not understand how that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. So Mike pointed out that the answer was to be found elsewhere in the text. Hadn’t the official read it. Well no, actually he hadn’t. He’d been told only to read the bits highlighted. This raises the question of who gave him this instruction. It sounds like a deliberate move to find Mike guilty by stopping his interrogators reading the evidence to the contrary.

Mike’s case then went to Labour’s constitutional committee. Jon Lansmann, one of the leading lights in Momentum, who does not know Mike, argued strongly in his favour. Others wanted Mike passed along to another committee, so that he could be expelled. Another suggestion was that he should be given a warning, and made to do a training day with Paole Zion, I mean, er, the Jewish Labour Movement. Mike rejected this, because he’s innocent and does not want to do anything that may indicate that he accepts that he is guilty. As more Mike saying that Paole Zion, or the Jewish Labour Movement, does not represent Jews – this is a fair comment. The Jewish Labour Movement accepts gentiles as members. Moreover, many Jews, including an increasing number in America, are becoming increasingly estranged and hostile to Israel because of the barbarous and inhuman way it treats the Palestinians. This includes young Jews, who have been on the heritage tours the Israelis organisation for Jewish Americans, and those who have personally suffered anti-Semitic abuse or worse. So with gentile members, and the opposition of many Jews to its support of Israel, it’s a fair question whether it does represent Jews, or whether it exists to defend Israel disguised as representing them.

They also accused him of anti-Semitism when he talked about a conspiracy involving the Israelis. Was this, they asked, referring to all the stupid, murderous Nazi lies about a worldwide conspiracy by Jews to control and exterminate the White race? No, replied Mike, this was about Shai Masot at the Israeli embassy being filmed by Al-Jazeera discussing how they wanted various Tory MPs removed from office. This is a conspiracy, and it is odious and disgusting that the Zionists should try to make discussion of it off-limits, by accusing those who do of anti-Semitism through connecting it to historic lies about them. But it’s also very, very much par for the course for Zionists.

Mike has also commented on the ant-gentile racism of the comments he was subjected to by the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism. Many of them made needling, niggling comments about gentiles. This was probably done to provoke an anti-Semitic reaction, so they could go running to the authorities screaming ‘See, we were right! He is an anti-Semite!’ It’s the actions of the bully in school, who hits you just before the teacher comes into the room. When you retaliate, the bully screams out ‘Miss! He hit me!’ in order to get you into trouble. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these Zionists really didn’t believe that their Hebrew ancestry made them superior to everyone else. A few years ago, the IDF found itself in hot water and having to apologise to the world after they published a pamphlet claiming that Jews were racially superior to gentiles. But what do you expect from a White colonial settler state, where only Jews, and preferably only full-blooded Jews, can become full citizens. When it was suggested a few decades ago that people, who were only half-Jewish, but who had converted to Judaism and made the profession of faith, could become citizens, the Jewish Right in the country was horrified.

This seems to be the attitude of the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism, and it is directly opposed to mainstream Halaskah – Jewish Enlightenment – Judaism. They have been keen to play down and remove any notion that their ancestry as God’s chosen people make them in any way superior to others. Rather, it means that Jews are God’s servant nation. Moses Mendelsohn, one of the founders of the Jewish Enlightenment in the 18th century and the grandfather of the composer, Felix, dreamed of uniting Jews and Christians in a single, Platonist monotheistic faith. It’s impossible, as the religions are too different, although some Christians remained on the fringes of the Jewish community as late as the 4th century, when some historians believe that the split between Jews and Christians finally occurred. And absolutely none of the Jewish people I, Mike or any of my family have met, have ever experienced any kind of racial animus from their Jewish friends. Far from it. Dad remembers with affection the kindness he was shown by his Jewish mates in the army.

At the moment Mike’s left in the air, while the inquisitors in the Labour party ponder what to do with him. I wonder who did make the complaint. It looks like someone connected with the Campaign Against Anti-Zionism, I mean, er, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, but it could equally well be the Blairites or the Jewish Labour Movement. Blair was heavily involved with the Israel Lobby. He was supported by the Labour Friends of Israel, while one of his staunchest supporters, Lord Levy, supplied him with money from Jewish Zionist businesspeople in Britain, money that made him independent of the trade unions and which ultimately allowed him to attack them. Does anyone remember when he was threatening to cut trade union ties just before he took power?

This all seems to be another tactic of the Blairites and Zionists. The American socialist journalist, Chris Hedges, remarked in one of his speeches attacking Israel for its maltreatment of the Palestinians about how they infiltrated groups like the one he was speaking to, to pass on reports to Zionist organisations and the Israeli embassy. But the situation was being reverse. Those, who skulked in darkness were being dragged into the light.

So should these anonymous snitches, liars and false accusers. Back in ancient Rome, those who made a wrongful accusation against someone had the letter ‘K’ for ‘Kalumniator’ – libeller – branded on their forehead. This is how it should be with these people.

What is frustrating is that there seems to be no-one to complain to about this kangaroo court. The Blairites presently in control of the Labour party aren’t interested, and have effectively closed off any chance Mike has of defending himself. And the press don’t want to know. They hate Corbyn and Momentum with a passion, and have used every opportunity to smear him and them as anti-Semites. Because Corbyn wants to do something for working people, and has sided with the Palestinians in their struggle. While also making it very clear that he isn’t automatically against Israel, as was pointed out by a commenter on here. And with the Blairites losing power, and the Tories losing patience with May, you can expect more of these vile smears in the future.

But enough’s enough. This has got to stop. The finest elements of British legal tradition are against such kangaroo courts. I want to know who accused Mike, and I want a proper hearing, where he is told what the charges against him are, rather than vague waffle about ‘anti-Semitism’, by people who’ve actually read everything he’s written. And are actually able to take what he says on board, rather than lie in their official report that his answer were vague – they weren’t – and he didn’t seem to understand that what he’d written could be considered anti-Semitic. No, he dealt with that at the kangaroo hearing as well. More lies from people determined to find him guilty. I wonder what their names are, so an accusation can be made against them.

Until those, who make such libellous smears against the critics of Israel, both gentile and Jewish, are dragged into the light, and forced to defend themselves before those righteous individuals they’ve besmirched, disciplinary hearings like Mike’s will always be kangaroo courts. It is not Corbyn who’s a Stalinist, but these grotty Blairites and Zionist Fascists.

Steeleye Span’s Seasonal Hit ‘Gaudete’

December 29, 2017

I remember when at least one pop band nearly every year during the 1970s and 1980s released a Christmas single. The classic examples are Slade’s ‘Well, Here It is, Merry Christmas’, and one of the other glam rock band’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. These seem to have disappeared these past few years, possibly due to the collapse of the charts. A friend of mine told me that it was now nearly impossible to compile them in the way that had been done a few decades ago, because the music scene has become very fragmented, with different people listening to a wide number of musical genres. Or it may just be that public taste has changed, and people are no longer interested in buying songs about Christmas. Some of this might be due to the increasing secularisation and religious plurality of British multicultural society, but I doubt it. After all, people still put on school nativity plays, and there’s even been two British comedies about them. This is despite the scare stories run by the Daily Mail about ‘left-wing’ councils or schools banning such plays in case they offend Muslims.

One of the great pieces of British Christmas pop from the 1970s was Steeleye Span’s ‘Gaudete’, which was released in Christmas 1972. Steeleye Span were one of the great folk rock bands, who produced a series of great rock versions of folk songs. ‘Gaudete’ itself is a medieval carol, celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s in Latin. The first line means, ‘Rejoice – Christ is born of the Virgin Mary’.

I found this video of Steeleye Span with their lead singer, Maddy Pryor, performing it on the Park Records channel on YouTube. It was staged as part of the 35th anniversary tour. The band is obviously older, looking very definitely middle aged, but their musical skill has not dimmed with the years.

I realise that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I hope whatever your views on religion, you can still enjoy a piece of great medieval music, performed by some of the great folk artists of the 1970s.

Here it is. Enjoy!

Vanessa Beeley: Britain Doesn’t Have Any Good Intentions in the Middle East

December 15, 2017

In this clip from RT, Going Underground’s host Afshin Rattansi speaks to Vanessa Beeley, a British journalist, who has covered the war in Syria. He asks her about Theresa May’s condemnation of the blockade against Yemen, which is resulting in a terrible famine that is starving about half of the population or so. Surely this shows that Britain has good intentions in the Middle East.

In reply, Beeley states very clearly that she cannot agree that Britain has any good intentions in the Middle East. Britain tried to undermine the UN Resolution 2216, which condemned the blockade. Britain’s military industrial complex has profited immensely from arms sales to Saudi Barbaria, and British specialists were in the command and control centre in Riyadh helping select targets. She openly describes May’s gesture as ‘faux humanitarianism’.

I think this is part of a rather longer interview, which I intend to put up, in which she talks about how the British and western media is deliberately presenting a false image of the corruption in the NGOs operating in Syria. One of them, the Adam Smith something-or-other, was the subject of a Panorama documentary. This revealed that massive sums of money were being taken out of the organisation by Islamist terrorist groups, through the use of payments to fictional people on the payroll, and even people, who’d died.

Beeley described this as ‘a controlled explosion’. The media and political establishment couldn’t keep it secret, and so did a limited expose of what was going on in order to divert attention from corruption and atrocities committed elsewhere. Like in the White Helmets, who are lauded as non-partisan heroes, but in fact are as partisan as everyone else. They have saved people, who aren’t members of their organisation, but this is just occasional, if they happen to be there. They don’t put themselves out of the way to do it, as is claimed on mainstream TV. Moreover, a number of their members put up posts and Tweets praising the Islamists. So definitely not the whiter-than-the-driven-snow heroes we’ve all been told. Beely made the case in that longer video that this cover up is because the White Helmets are becoming a global brand. They’re branching out in South America, Brazil and the Hispanic nations.

As for the Adam Smith whatever, I’ve had suspicions of any organisation that puts up his name ever since the Adam Smith Institute emerged under the Thatcher. These were manic privatisers, who wanted the health service sold off and the welfare state destroyed. This Adam Smith organisation isn’t connected with them, but still, I’m suspicious. It looks far too much like another wretched free enterprise group come to implement western privatisation under the guise of humanitarianism. In which case, you can expect the same results free enterprise has had on Iraq, Libya, Algeria and the rest of the Arab world. And indeed the world as a whole. I think the government of Algeria, or one of the Arab states in the Maghreb had been pursuing a socialist economy, before the recession of the 70s/80. They then followed the trend and started privatising industry. This made matters even worse, poverty grew, and people started looking to the Islamists for aid. The American-mandated free enterprise policy in Iraq after the invasion resulted in 60 per cent unemployment. This is in a poor country. Ordinary Iraqis were actually better off materially under Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a monster, without question. But they had access to free healthcare, free education, and relatively secular society in which women enjoyed a high status. They could go out to work, and felt safe going home at night.

The invasion destroyed all that. Instead you had sectarian violence, which did not exist in Baghdad previously, or if it did, it was at a much lower level than under the western occupation. You had General MacChrystal running death squads against the Sunnis. Valuable state assets were privatised and sold to American multinationals, and tariff barriers torn down so that the world and especially the Chinese dumped all the stuff they couldn’t sell on the country, driving native Iraqi firms out of business.

You can find the same wretch story in Libya. Gaddafi was a monster, but as I’ve pointed out ad nauseam he did some good things for his country. They were the most prosperous country in Africa. Gaddafi gave his people free education and healthcare. Women had high status. He was not racist, and supported Black Africans from further south. He saw himself as an African leader, and did was he thought was best for the continent. This involved using the Islamists to knock off his rivals, both in Africa and the Arab world. But they were never allowed to recruit or attack his own country.

Now there are something like two parliaments in the country, the free education and healthcare is gone, and the Islamists are running riot. The women connected with his party have been raped, and Black Africans are savagely persecuted by the Islamists. Slavery has returned, with these barbarians selling them at auctions. And this is partly motivated by hatred of Blacks for benefiting from Gaddafi’s rule.

All the claims that these military interventions are for humanitarian reasons are a lie. They’re so western industry can get its grubby, blood-stained mitts on these countries’ precious industries and natural resources. Oh yes, and they’re to help the Saudis spread their own, viciously intolerant version of Islam, and Israel to destroy possible Arab rivals and threats in the region. Plus the fact that the American military-industrial complex loathes Arab nationalism, secularism and socialism with a passion as the next worst thing to Communism. And our European leaders, Cameron, Blair, Sarko and now Theresa May have been enthusiastic accomplices, even the ringleaders, of these assaults on independent, sovereign states.

For the sake of global peace, we need to kick May out and put Corbyn in. His work for disarmament and peace was recognised last week when the International Peace Bureau in Geneva awarded him the Sean McBride Peace Prize, along with Noam Chomsky and the All-Okinawa Committee against Henoko New Bridge. But this received almost zero coverage in the lamestream media.

General Smedley Butler was right was right: War is a racket. Or to put it another way, was is business, and under neoliberalism, business is good.

I’m sick of it. Brits of all faiths and none, of all races and varieties thereof are sick of it. Americans are sick of it. But it means big bucks to the arms manufacturers and the military-industrial complex. And so Obama, who now describes himself as a ‘moderate Republican’, increased the wars in the Middle East to seven. Trump, following the demands of AIPAC and the Christian Zionist lobby, wants to start a war with Iran, if Killary and the Democrats don’t push him into a military confrontation with Putin and the Chinese first.

The people fighting and dying in these wars are working and lower-middle class young men and women. Service people of immense courage and professionalism, whose lives should not be squandered for such squalid profiteering. Old-school Conservatives in the American armed forces despised the neocons around George Dubya as Chickenhawks. They were more than happy to send American forces into countries that had never directly threatened the US. But when it came to fighting themselves, they lacked the courage they expected in others. Bush and the others had all scarpered abroad during the Vietnam War. Generalissimo Trumpo had three exemption from national service during the Vietnam War. He claimed that he had growth in one of his feet that made walking difficult. Still didn’t stop him playing college basketball though.

During the Middle Ages, kings led their armies from the front. In ancient Germanic society, that was the prime function of kings. The Romans noted there were two types of kings in the barbarian tribes that later overran them. There were hereditary religious leaders, who acted as judges. And then there were elected kings, who took charge of the tribe’s armies. They were often elected only for a single campaign. And the Roman Empire itself basically arose through the seizure of supreme power by military dictators, like Julius Caesar and then Augustus. I think the last British general, who physically led his army into battle was in the 19th century.

Would our leaders be so keen on sending good, brave men and women to their deaths and mutilation, if they had to stand there and personally lead them into battle. Shouting like Henry IV, ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends!’ If they personally had to put on the heavy, cumbersome battle armour, or wear hot and unpleasant chem suits in case of a gas attack. If they themselves had to feel some of the squaddies’ natural fear of suffering a hit, of seeing their friends and comrades die, or lose limbs and other organs. If they personally saw the civilian casualties, the ordinary men, women and children driven out of their homes, or killed as ‘collateral damage’. Dying and suffering from wounds, famine, disease. If they had to face the horrors that have scarred decent, strong women and men, leaving them mental wrecks. Sights no civilised person, whether in Britain, Damascus, Cairo, New York or wherever, should ever see.

No, of course they wouldn’t. They’d run screaming to their offices to get their spin doctors to find some bullsh*t excuse why they were too valuable to fight, er, things need doing back home, terribly sorry and so forth.

Saint Augustine said in his City of God that kingdoms without justice are giant robberies. It was true when he wrote in the 5th century AD, and it’s true now. Whatever the gloss put on it by the corporatists and the religious right.

Radio 4 Programme on Science in the Dark Ages

November 15, 2017

Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme next week, which intends to challenge the view that the Dark Ages were a period of intellectual decline with very little interest in science. The new series of Science Stories kicks off next Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, with ‘A Wold, a Goat and a Cabbage’. The blurb for this in the Radio Times on page 135 reads

Philip Ball looks at how the Dark Ages was a far more intellectually vibrant era than is often perceived-and the monk who was the prsumed author of mathematical puzzles.

I’ve written several pieces on this blog about how the Middle Ages in the West were a period of scientific and mathematical invention and discovery, far more so than is generally recognised. Scientists have been rediscovering and re-evaluating scientific progress in the Middle Ages science Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine. The previous view, which most people of my age were brought up with, that the Middle Ages were intellectually backward until the Humanists appeared in the Renaissance, has now been overturned.

James Hannam, a scientist of Christian faith, did a Ph.D. on medieval science about ten years ago, and his book, God’s Philosophers, shows how the ‘natural philosophers’ of the Middle Ages laid the foundations of modern Western science. These writers, who were largely Christian clergy, were very much aware of the faults of Aristotelian science. While they did not break with it, they did try to modify it so that it conformed more to what actually existed in nature, or offered a more intellectually plausible cause.

And rather than creating modern science, the Renaissance Humanists were actually a threat to its emergence. The Humanists insisted on a far more faithful return to the ideas as well as literary style of the great classical authors. Which meant a far more literal and dogmatic approach to Aristotle. In his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, Galileo spoofed the Humanists by making the character, who represented them, appear as stupid as possible. In one episode, a physician invites the Humanist to come to his house one evening and see him dissect a body. The physician intends to show him that it must be the brain, not the heart, that is the seat of intelligence. Pointing to the dissected corpse, the physician shows the far greater number of nerves passing into the brain, in contrast to the single, thin nerve running to the heart. This, he says, shows that the brain must be the centre of thought and reason. The Humanist replies that he would believe him, if the great Aristotle also agreed.

The Christian medieval authors were also aware of the debt they owed to the Arab and Muslim world for editions of classical works that had previously been lost to the West. One medieval poem describes how scholars headed to Toledo and other areas in Spain to consult the Arab scholars, who were masters of these new intellectual frontiers. One of the French chroniclers of the Crusades, either Joinville or Froissart, described how, during negotiations between King Louis and one of the Arab potentates, one of Louis’ nobles trod on his foot under the table. It was intended as a secret warning. The negotiations involved maths in some way, and the nobleman wanted to warn his liege to beware, as the ‘saracens’ were much better calculators than they were.

As for the reliability of science, the poem I quoted above also remarked of one scientific phenomenon, that its existence couldn’t be doubted as ‘it was proved by SCIENCE’.

Clearly, science and the investigation of the natural world was very much in its infancy in the Middle Ages, and ideas were subject to censorship if they conflicted with Christian dogma. But the Middle Ages were also a period of scientific investigation and were far more rationalistic than is often believed. For example, the theologian William of Auvergne, described the supposed appearance of a great of demons in one of the French monasteries. These devils proceeded down the corridor, until they disappeared into the privies, from which came a horrible stench. William was not surprised. He put visions like this down to poor digestion interfering with proper sleep. After too full a meal, the stomach hung heavy on the nerves, preventing the proper circulation of the humours and nervous fluids, and so creating nightmarish visions like the one above. Other writers seriously doubted the abilities of cunningmen and scryers to find lost or stolen objects. When they did claim that an article had been stolen by a particular person, it was far more likely that the individual was a known thief than that they had been shown it by the spirits.

I’ve been annoyed before now at the way the media has continued to present the Middle Ages as a period of dark superstition, with a few notable exceptions. One of these was Terry Gilliam and his TV series, Medieval Lives, which has appeared as a book, and his radio series, The Anti-Renaissance Show, both of which were broadcast by the Beeb. Now it seems that the Corporation is once more showing the other side of intellectual life in the Middle Ages.

‘Florence’ Suggests I should Compile a Book about British & American Support for Fascist Dictators

November 12, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a video from the Aussie left-wing blogger, Democratic Socialist. This showed the Tory media’s double standard in reviling Jeremy Corbyn as a supporter of terrorism, Iran, and an anti-Semite, when he is none of those things. But the hacks of the Telegraph definitely did not make those accusations against their Tory molten idol, Maggie Thatcher, when she by association supported all of the above through her friendship with General Pinochet.

Corbyn’s support for Iran was based on an interview he made to an Iranian group, the Mossadeq Project. Mohammed Mossadeq was the last, democratically elected prime minister of that ancient and extremely cultured nation. He was no theocrat, but a secular liberal. He was also a Baha’i, a post-Islamic, syncretistic faith which embraces human equality, including that of men and women. The Shi’a Muslim establishment have hated them since the faith first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there have been terrible pogroms against them. This hatred is not shared by all Iranian Muslims, and I have personally known Iranian Muslims, who are heartily sick of the way their Baha’i friends are treated.

Mossadeq’s crime was that he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry, then dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which became BP. This resulted in us and the Americans organising a coup, which toppled Mossadeq, and began the long process by which the Shah gradually assumed absolute power, ruling through terror and a secret police force, SAVAK.

‘Florence’, one of the many great commenters on this blog, commented

In the early 70s I volunteered to help type up translation transcriptions of reports from torture victims of the “Shit” of Iran, as Private eye called him. (It was as evidence for Amnesty.) Its not something you can ever forget. When the revolution happened, it was simply new bosses at the same slaughter houses. This is another lesson learned; the violence required by a state to terrorise its own people seeps into the culture, and remains for generations (maybe longer, its too early to tell in most of the cases you cover in this interesting and evocative piece). The violence of the state becomes symmetrical in the revolution in many countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. that follows such repression.

(For this reason I also worry that, for example, the almost visceral hatred of the disabled (and other poor) in the UK bred by the eugenics of neoliberalism for decades will not be so easily dislodged with a change in government. )

I see that the experience of having lived through those times is no longer part of the wider political education of the younger members of the left. In Labour the excesses of the neoliberals all but wiped out that generation and the links. I talk sometimes to our younger members in the Labour party and they are fascinated – but totally clueless. I do try to point them at this blog for this very reason. They are oblivious to who Pinochet was, why it mattered to us then and now, the refuge given to that butcher by Thatcher, the entire history of the Chicago school etc. The traditional passing in of this history, personal history too, through social groups in the Labour party has all but broken down.

As a suggestion, perhaps you could edit your blogs into a book we could use in discussion groups? You would help us be that collective memory board for the newer (not just younger) activists. It would help tease out the older members stories of their personal part in the struggles at home and abroad, but more than that your pieces on the collision of religious and political also show the rich complexities of life.

I am really honoured that my blog is so highly regarded and useful. While talking to Mike earlier today, I mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic and supportive, making a few suggestions on how I should go about it. I told him I have had problems finding a mainstream publisher for some of my other books I have written. He suggested I should try Lulu again, and have the cover done by a professional artist. This would be a great help to actually selling the book, and he could put me in touch with some of the great comics artists he’s worked with.

I am therefore definitely going to look into this.

Now for the other points ‘Florence’ has raised in her comment.

As for the point about how a whole generation in the Left and the Labour party having an awareness and opposition to the various Fascist leaders run riot around the world thanks to British and American support as part of their political education, I think that’s how very many people got involved in politics. Private Eye covered these issues, as it still does, and there was the series of comedy reviews put on in support of Amnesty in the 1980s called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. These featured some of the greatest comedy talents of the day, such as the Pythons and the languid, caustic wit of Peter Cook. I don’t think you had to be particularly left-wing to be a fan, only a supporter of democracy and civil liberties. Very many of the other kids in my Sixth Form were into it, including those, who could be described as working-class Tories.

But come to think about it, we haven’t seen anything like that on our screens for many, many years. The series was becoming long and drawn out towards the end, but nevertheless there’s no reason something else like it, which could be launched. And I don’t doubt that there are young, angry, talented comedians out there, who are perfectly capable of stepping up to the mike and doing it.

And some of the absence of comment and criticism of the monsters, who ran amok across the globe thanks to British and American support does come from the victory of neoliberalism. Including its adoption by New Labour. Blair was an Atlanticist, and an alumni of the Reagan-founded British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP for short. This was a group that trained up future British political leaders, sending them on free jaunts to the US, so that on return to Britain they would be enthusiastic supporters of the ‘Special Relationship’. And they did a superb job on Blair. Before he went on one jaunt, he was a supporter of unilateral disarmament. When he returned, after meeting the American nuclear lobby, he was fully on board with us supporting America’s siting of nukes in Britain, as well as our own, independent nuclear deterrent.

Much of the activism against these thugs came out, it seems to me, of the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This inspired the radical young people of the time to look more closely at what America and the West were doing in the Cold War, and the people we supported as the bulwark of ‘freedom’ – which really meant ‘capitalism’ and western big business – against the Soviets. And the brutal realities of Pinochet’s regime, and that of the Shah of Iran, and very many others, were extensively reported. Clive James in one of his TV reviews written for the Observer, acidly commented on an interview on British TV with some high level thug from the Shah’s Iran. This torturer was asked about the brutal methods of interrogation employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. There was no problem, said the thug. They were improving all the time. Oh yes, commented James, or something similar.

Incidentally, an Iranian friend of mine told me had some experience of the activities of the Shah’s secret police himself. Back in Iran, he’d been a footie fan. But he noticed that several of his mates kept disappearing. He then found out that one of his friends was a snitch for the secret police, and had been informing on them. It’s when you hear these experiences from the people, who observed what was happening, that really begin to understand why so much of the world is less than enthusiastic about western imperialism. And why so many Iranians were taken in by that other thug, Khomeini. When he returned to Iran, he promised freedom to all Iranians. That didn’t last long, as it was back to normal with the rapists and torturers in Evin prison under his regime.

I was also part of a British medieval re-enactment group. One of the great peeps I met in that was an American chap, whose ancestry was South American. He was proud of his Incan heritage, and in America he’d been part of a similar group, that recreated the warrior traditions of this Andean people. He’d also been a translator for one of the human rights organisations, translating documents on abuses from Spanish.

There is indeed a whole generation out there, with personal experience of the dictatorship supported by the West, people whose wealth of knowledge and experience should be passed on.

But part of the problem is the supposed break with dictatorship and the entry of neoliberalism into the Labour party. The Fall of Communism was meant to be the End of History, as heralded by Francis Fukuyama. From now on, Western liberal democracy and capitalism would reign unchallenged. And with the threat of Communism gone, the Americans decided to cut their losses and move against the Fascist dictators they’d been propping up. Hence their ouster of General Noriega.

This gave the impression that the world was going to be nicely democratic, with the unspoken assumption that western, Euro-American culture would remain dominant and unchallenged.

But the old culture of lies, coups and regime change when the dominated countries in the developing world get too uppity is still there. As are the Cold Warriors. We didn’t invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to free its peoples. We invaded because the Neocons wanted their state industries for American multinationals, and the Saudi-American oil industry wanted their oil fields. And Israel wanted to stop Hussein from aiding the Palestinians. Human rights was just a convenient pretext. And it’s been like this for the last 14 years.

Just like we’re also being told lies about the situation in Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution was not spontaneous. It was staged by the CIA, National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and Victoria Nuland in Obama’s state department. It was to stop Ukraine becoming too close to Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has always had strong links to its eastern neighbour. Indeed, Kiev was one of the earliest and most powerful of the Russian states to emerge in the Middle Ages. Trying to sever the links between the two is similar, as someone put it, to Canada moving away from America to side with the Communist bloc.

But we aren’t being told any of that. Nor are we told that real, unreconstructed Nazis from the Pravy Sektor are in the ruling coalition, and that there is credible evidence that human rights abuses have been visited on the Russian minority and Russian speaking Ukrainians.

We are just being told that Putin is a thug – which is true – and that he’s ready to invade the former Soviet satellites. Which probably isn’t.

There is also a further problem, in that some of the countries, whose Fascist leaders Britain and America supported, are very remote. I’d guess that many people really wouldn’t be able to find them on a map, let alone know much about their history. And so we face the same problem the Czechs faced, when Chamberlain sacrificed their country to Hitler at Munich. They are faraway countries, of which we know nothing.

And this is a problem with British imperial history generally. Salman Rushdie once said that the British don’t know their own history, because so much of it happened abroad. This is true. British capitalism was stimulated through the colonisation of the West Indies, the slave trade and the sugar industry. How much is a matter of debate. Black and West Indian scholars have suggested that it was the prime stimulus behind the emergence of capitalism and the industrial revolution in Britain. Others have argued instead that it added only 5 per cent to the economy. But that it did have an effect is undeniable, especially on its colonised peoples. In the West Indies, this meant the virtual extermination of the indigenous Amerindian peoples and their replacement with enslaved Africans.

Well, the Empire has gone, and been replaced by the Commonwealth. But western domination of these countries’ economies still remains through the various tariff barriers that the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal called Neocolonialism. As well as the domination of their industries by western multinationals.

There are book available on the British Empire, some of them critical. Like John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried, and a recent book about the internment, torture and mutilation of the indigenous Kenyans during the Mao Mao crisis, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But the people, who appear on TV to talk about imperialism tend to be those on the right, like Niall Ferguson, who will admit that the British Empire was seriously flawed, but on balance did more good. Which might be true, but still glosses over some of the horrors we perpetrated.

And many of these are still kept from us. The public documents supporting the allegations of the victims of British torture in Kenya only came to light because they fought a long and hard battle in the British courts to get them released. I honestly don’t know what other nasty little secrets are being kept from us, in case it embarrasses senior ministers or industrialists.

So if you want to see the brutal reality behinds the West’s foreign policy, you have to read specialist magazines, many of them small press. Like Robin Ramsay’s Lobster, which has been going since the 1980s, and which is now online, and Counterpunch, an American radical magazine and website, which has been digging the sordid truth up about the American Empire and the rapacity of capitalism and the global elite. I also recommend William Blum’s The Anti-Empire Report, and his books, as well as Greg Palast’s dissection of the real reasons we invaded Iraq, Armed Madhouse.

More material on the rapacity of western imperialism is coming to light through the internet, and especially the emergence of alternative news sites. And there is a growing audience for it, as young and older people from across the world are brought together through international links. This isn’t just business, but also through the foreign students coming to Britain, as well as Brits living, working and studying elsewhere in the world.

The problem is getting it out there, and moving it from the sidelines so that it becomes a major topic that can be used to challenge our leaders and hold them to account, without being written off as ‘loony radical lefties’ spouting about things no-one else wants to know about or even hear. About other ‘faraway places, of which we know nothing’.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

History Book on Working Class Gardens

July 2, 2017

Gardening is one of Britain’s favourite pastimes, with programmes like Gardener’s World one of the long-running staples of BBC 2. The Beeb also devotes week-long coverage to the annual Chelsea Flower Show. A few years ago, one of the gardening programmes told a bit of the history behind popular gardening in Britain. It was deliberately started by the Victorians, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves as the patrons, as a way of encouraging the labouring poor to be respectable. Among the other virtues gardening would foster in them was neatness, from what I remember of the programme.

Looking through a copy of the Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2015, I found a blurb for a book, The Gardens of the Working Class, by Margaret Willes, published by Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300212358. The price of it in paperback was £12.99. The blurb ran

This magnificently illustrated people’s history celebrates the extraordinary feats of cultivation by the working class in Britain, even if the land they toiled, planted and loved was not their own. Spanning more than four centuries, from the earliest records of the labouring classes in the country to today, Margaret Willes’ research unearths lush gardens nurtured outside rough workers’ cottages and horticultural miracles performed in blackened yards, and reveals the ingenious sometimes devious, methods employed by determined, obsessive, and eccentric workers to make their drab surroundings bloom. She also explores the stories of the great philanthropic industrialists who provided gardens for their workforces, the fashionable rich stealing the gardening ideas of the poor, alehouse syndicates and fierce rivalries between vegetable growers, flower-fanciers cultivating exotic blooms on their city windowsills, and the rich lore handed down from gardener to gardener through generations.

Garden history is taught in some universities in their archaeology departments, and the archaeology of gardens is also part of the wider field of landscape archaeology. Much of what is known about gardens in history comes from those of the rich, the great parks and gardens of royalty and the aristocracy, and the work of the great landscape gardeners like Inigo Jones and Capability Brown. They were also an important part of the lodges constructed by the medieval and early modern mercantile elite just outside town limits, to which they went at weekends to escape the cares of weekday, working life.

This book looks like it attempts to complete this picture, by showing that the working class were also keen gardeners. And its particularly interesting that the rich were nicking ideas from them.

Radio Programme Tonight on Bishop Grosseteste’s Medieval Big Bang Theory

June 14, 2017

Science Stories on Radio 4 tonight, `14th June 2017, at 9.00 pm is on ‘The Medieval Bishop’s Big Bang Theory’. According to the short description about it in the Radio Times, the programme’s presenter, ‘Philip Ball tells the tale of a medieval Big Bang Theory forged by Bishop Robert Grosseteste in the 12th century’.

Grosseteste was the 12th century bishop of Lincoln, and was one of the leading figures of the 12th century renaissance. As well as leading English churchman, Grosseteste was a pioneering natural philosopher. In his Hexaemeron, a theological and philosophical meditation on the first six days of creation, according to the story in Genesis, he worked out a theory that is surprisingly close to that of the modern ‘Big Bang’. In Genesis, the creation of the world begins when God separates the light from the darkness. Grosseteste believed that God had created the world beginning with a tiny point of light, which exploded outwards. Its expansion created ‘extension’, or space, and the material from which God subsequently created the material universe over the next five days.

A.C. Crombie, in his Science in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1: Augustine to Galileo (London: Mercury Books 1952) writes

The first important medieval writer to take up the study of optics was Grosseteste, and he set the direction for future developments. Grossetest gave particular importance to the study of optics because of his belief that light was the first ‘corporeal form’ of material things and was not only responsible for their dimensions in space but also was the first principle of motion and efficient causation. According to Grosseteste, all changes in the universe could be attributed ultimately to the activity of this fundamental corporeal form, and the action at a distance of one thing on another was brought about by the propagation of rays of force or, as he called it, the ‘multiplication of species’ or ‘virtue’. By this he meant the transmission of any form of efficient causality through a medium, the influence emanating from the source of the causality corresponding to a quality of the source, as, for instance, light emanated from a luminous body as a ‘species’ which multiplied itself from point to point through the medium in a movement that went in straight lines. All forms of efficient causality, as for instance, heat, astrological influence and mechanical action, Grosseteste held to be due to this propagation of ‘species’, though the most convenient form in which to study it5 was through visible light. (99-100).

This makes it sound very close to the modern theory that all the forces – gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – were united at the Big Bang, and subsequently separated out from this primal Superforce.

Grosseteste was also one of the medieval writers, who first posited the Moon as the causes of the tides. The association between the Moon and the tides had first been made by the Stoic philosopher, Posidonius, who was born c. 135 BC. Crombie writes

Grossetest in the next century [following Giraldus Cambrensus in the 12th] attributed the tides to attraction by the moon’s ‘virtue’, which went in straight lines with its light. He said that the ebb and flow of the tides was caused by the moon drawing up from the sea floor mist, which pushed up the water when the moon was rising and was not yet strong enough to pull the mist through the water. When the moon had reached its highest point the mist was pulled through and the tide fell. The second, smaller monthly tide he attributed to lunar rays reflected from the crystalline sphere back to the opposite side of the earth, these being weaker than the direct rays. (126-7). It’s not quite right. The tides are simply caused by the Moon’s gravity acting on the oceans as a whole. Mist isn’t involved. Nevertheless, he was right in pointing to the Moon as the cause of the tides.

Which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly. Until recently, O’Reilly was the lead anchor on Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing news network over in America. The host of the ‘O’Reilly Factor’, he specialised in right-wing harangues which occasionally ended with him insulting and screaming at his guests if they dared to disagree with him. He did this to the son of one of the firefighters, who lost his life in 9/11. The lad committed the unpardonable offence of saying that his father would not have blamed all Muslims for the attack, and would not have wanted America to go to war over it. This was too much for the veteran newsman, who screamed at the lad that he was a disgrace to his father, and then had him thrown off the show.

He also showed himself massively ignorant scientifically in an interview with the head of American Atheists, the atheist movement, which I think was set up and headed for years by Madalain Murray O’Hair. Trying to refute whatever point the man was making, O’Reilly seized on the notion of the tides as something that was scientifically inexplicable. There are clips on Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk and other left-wing news programmes of O’Reilly repeating, ‘Tides go in, tides go out, you can’t explain it’. All the while the lad looks at O’Reilly with a bemused expression on his face, and simply comments, ‘Perhaps its the mighty Thor’. O’Reilly, however, didn’t get the hint that he was being justifiably mocked, and so simply carried on with his daft refrain.

O’Reilly’s comments and use of the tides shows that O’Reilly knew precious little science, and that Grosseteste had a better idea of what caused it 900 or so years ago, in an age when books had to be copied out by hand and western science was beginning the recovery of ancient Greek and Latin scientific and mathematical texts and learning from the great natural scientists and mathematicians of the Muslim world.

Given O’Reilly’s massive ignorance on something I can remember being discussed in some of the text books we had at school, it’s no wonder that American scientists, educationalists and the general public are seriously worried by Trump’s attack on science education in America, and particular in his attempts to cover up climate change.

As for O’Reilly, he was sacked from Fox News a few months ago after his sordid and vile attitude towards women finally caught up with him. Like the head of the network, Roger Ailes, O’Reilly used his position to try to exploit women sexually. In the early part of this century he was forced to settle a case brought against him by a female colleague to whom O’Reilly had made an uninvited and very unwelcome sexually explicit phone call. This was followed by a series of allegations by other female journalists at Fox News of sexual harassment. This got to the point where the advertisers on the network got fed up, and started taking their custom elsewhere, at which point the veteran reporter lost his job.

Bishop Grosseteste, however, remains one of great figures in the history of western science. While many scientists would not share his religious beliefs, and would question the grounding of his scientific views in them, he is nevertheless important as one of the leading medieval scientists, who contributed to the foundation of modern science through his study of optics, mathematics and the natural world.

TYT Politics on the Historic Unitarian Church Determined to Defend Trump’s Victims

November 17, 2016

This is really heartening. In this video, The Young Turks’ Eric Byler interviews the Rev. Dr. Robert Hardies, the minister of All Souls Unitarian church in Washington DC, on his determination to offer his church as sanctuary to all the groups, who are going to be attacked by Trump now he’s in office – the gays, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks and others. There’s footage of the reverend gentleman preaching, in which he talks about how God, before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, were told to set up cities of refuge, to which persecuted individuals could flee. He describes how in the Middle Ages the church also offered sanctuary for those fleeing secular justice, and so his decision to make his church protect those now threatened with persecution from Trump is part of this tradition. He also talks about his historic church’s own individual tradition of sounding its bell during times of national crisis and celebration, including the ending of the American Civil War.

The Turks, in their blurb for this video, state:

“This congregation will provide sanctuary to all who are vulnerable and oppressed by the incoming administration.”

Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies, addressed his congregation at the historic All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC on the Sunday following the election of Donald J. Trump to be the United States’ 45th president. TYT reporter Eric Byler ( http://Twitter.com/EricByler ) sat down with Rev. Hardies, who is one of the nation’s most respected gay ministers as well as a leader in the national fight for racial justice, to ask whether his advice to his church would be the same he would offer to the nation. Hardies spoke both of reconciliation and resolve to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

Our response to a comment saying churches should stay out of politics:

“The reality is we are going to be governed either by (a) corporatists plus religious people blinded by partisanship and “white racial identity” or (b) corporatists and people of conscience and compassion whether their inspiration be secular or nonsecular. One of these two coalitions will govern us better. It won’t harm anything to learn about, and have dialogue with religious communities, and, perhaps even learn how to tell the difference.” — @EricByler

Our response to comments from viewers marvelling at the existence of progessive people of faith:

“There have always been progressive and regressive churches. As the abolitionist movement began to take root, circa 1830, many of the churches split over slavery. This is why we have Southern Methodist vs. Methodist, Southern Baptist vs. Baptist, for instance Other churches, like the one seen in this report, were formed for the PURPOSE of fighting slavery and other forms of oppression. The reason why we are SO MUCH MORE familiar with regressive churches in today’s America is that plutocratic interests have worked very hard to annex the churches as amplifiers of their political agendas. They did so in the 1830’s (slave owners) and they did so in the 1970’s and 1980’s (white nationalist corporatists), both times with great success. The progressive churches have continued to exist, but they have not been put in the lime light of corporate media, with the intermittent exception of progressive Black churches, especially during the Civil Rights movement. But they do exist. Two of the best known progressive evangelicals are Rev. Dr. William Barber (whom you probably know) and Rev. Jim Wallis ( http://Twitter.com/jimwallis ) Here is info on Wallis: https://sojo.net/biography/jim-wallis

Their comment about the greater attention given to the regressive churches due to their annexation by the plutocracy is exactly right. A few years ago, a pair of sociologists published a book The Truth About Evangelical Christians, which presented the real picture of the nature of American theologically conservative Christians. They found that, in contrast to the picture presented by the Televangelists like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson and his appalling 700 Hundred Club and the rest of the religious Right, about half, or over half of American Evangelicals were actually left-wing. In fact, many were even further left than American Roman Catholics.

This is part of submerged, left-wing America, the America of the unseen, ignored masses of liberals and progressives, coming together to challenge the quasi-Fascist beast now squatting in the White House. It’s part of the movement that saw Americans in cities across the US get on to the streets to march together against Trump’s election, and the political and corporate corruption that put him there. Amen to all this.