Posts Tagged ‘Mobile Phones’

Time Travel Tale of Scientists Warning of Ecological Collapse: Gregory Benford’s ‘Timescape’

May 10, 2019

Gregory Benford, Timescape (London: Victor Gollancz 1980).

Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, has asked me to do a review of Gregory Benford’s time machine book, Timescape. I read it a few years ago, having bought the 1996 edition, over a decade and a half after it was first published. It is just a bit dated now in its prediction of life in 1998, but still well-worth reading if you’re into physics and hard SF.

Benford, the ‘Galactic Centre’ Novels and Timescape

Gregory Benford is an American astronomer and hard SF writer. He’s probably best known for his ‘Galactic Centre’ series of novels. Set thousands of years in the future, this is about the last remnants of humanity battling for survival against a ruthless and almost overwhelmingly superior machine civilisation, the Mechs, at the centre of the Galaxy. Hard SF is the type of science fiction that tries as far as possible to keep to established scientific rules. Such as, for example, the inviolability of the rule of Relativity, so that there are no Faster Than Light drives taking humans to the stars in a matter of hours, days or months rather than years. But that doesn’t mean ruling out other scientific advances, like time travel. Several of the ‘Galactic Centre’ novels are set in an artificial environment within the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy, where careful engineering by alien creatures formed of pure magnetism have merged two Black Holes to form an artificial environment of warped space time, within which humans and organic aliens are able to seek sanctuary from the Mechs. The curvature of spacetime and stress cracks within it in this environment allow the inhabitants to travel backwards and forwards in time. One of the novels features the adventures of a modern human family, who are forced to flee forward in time as the Mechs invade, almost to the end of time itself.

Brief Synopsis

Timescape doesn’t go that far, and is very firmly set in the recent past, and near future according to the time it was written. It’s the tale of two scientists and their friends, Gordon Bernstein and his fellows at CalTech in 1963, and Gregory Markham, an American scientist and his friend Markham, at Cambridge Uni in 1998. Bernstein is a young graduate student, who detects strange signals from an experiment he and his fellows are running, signals that he gradually begins to realize cannot be explained as just random noise or the product of background radiation. In 1998 Markham and Renfrew are working on ways to generate tachyons, faster than light subatomic particles that will travel back in time through bombarding iridium with high energy particles. They hope that by creating such particles, they may be able to use them to send a warning to the past.

The Earth in this very near future is dying. The ecology is collapsing through a deadly bacteriological bloom that destroys vegetable and animal life. The result is global famine, poverty and social unrest, with food rationing and bands of hostile, violent beggars moving across England. Markham and Renfrew hope they can send a message to the past detailing how the disease can be fought and eradicated in order to save civilisation by preventing the catastrophe occurring in the first place.

Time Travelling Subatomic Particles from Space

The idea of using subatomic particles and quantum physics to contact the past is highly speculative, of course, but not unreasonable. Some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that information is able to move backwards through time, so that events in the future are able to determine the results of certain experiments, for example. There was also speculation in the 1990s that some subatomic particles reaching Earth from despite might be tachyons in origin. I can’t quite remember whether these were a type of neutrino or meson, but the theory was that they were produced by high energy events in space, such as supernovas. This produced tachyons, which traveled backwards in time until they decayed to become neutrinos or mesons or whatever, which were then able to be detected by scientists.

The Connecticutt College Professor’s Time Machine

Also in the 1990s came a plan by a Black professor at Connecticutt Community college to build a real, working time machine. This wouldn’t be able to transport people, just other subatomic particles back into the past. The idea was to create an Einstein-Rosen Condensate of iridium ions. An Einstein-Rosen Condensate is a strange state of matter where a plasma – an ionised gas is supercooled so that its component particles behave as a single particle. This plasma was to be whirled around in a chamber mimicking the spin of stars. Stars are so massive that as they spin, they pull the fabric of space time itself around after them. The effect has been observed around the Sun, providing confirmation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It has been suggested that this effect could be used in the case of extremely massive objects, like Black Holes, to travel back in time. You simply enter the region of space being dragged around by the Black Hole, and then travel in the opposite direction to the local movement of spacetime. This should make you go back in time, it is suggested, and so you should be able to leave that area of space some time in the past, before you entered it. The professors plan worked along similar lines. Electrons would be shot into the chamber in the opposite direction to the circulation of the condensate. This should allow them to travel back into the past. If the scientists running the experiment found a larger number of electrons in the condensate than normal or otherwise explained, before they had started shooting them into it, then it would mean that the electrons had traveled there from the future. Time travel, or at least that possibility of communication between past and future, would be possible.

This obviously got very many people very excited. H.G. Wells’ grandson, who directed the ’90s version of his grand-dad’s classic, The Time Machine, appeared in a documentary telling us that the age of time travel was almost upon us. The experiment was due to be run aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think it must have been cancelled when one exploded, thus grounding the fleet and finally endings its use.

Time and the Weird World of Quantum Physics

Benford warns in his acknowledgements that

Many scientific elements in this novel are true. Others are speculative, and thus may well prove false. My aim has been to illuminate some outstanding philosophical difficulties in physics. If the reader emerges with the conviction that time represents are fundamental riddle in modern physics, this book will have served its purpose.

Which must be one of the rare occasions when a scientist writes a book to show how mysterious and incomprehensible a scientific phenomenon is, rather than how it can be grasped and understood. This famously applies to quantum physics. As one prominent scientist said of this subject, you don’t understand it, you just get used it.

Science and Society in the ’60s and ’90s

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of physics in the book, though none of its so hard that only physics graduates, let alone the late Stephen Hawking, would be the only people that understand it. And the book does an excellent job of showing what it must have been like doing physics at an advanced level in the early 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Gordon Bernstein, the hero of the early years, is a New York Jew, whose girlfriend, Marjorie, is a Conservative gentile. As his investigations proceed, he first believes that the signals are messages from space before coming to understand they’re from the future instead. He faces scepticism and opposition from his colleagues and academic supervisors, and risks being failed and his academic career and research terminated. as he goes on and his theories become public, he suffers from the attentions of the press and a procession of cranks, who traipse through his office door offering their own weird theories. I think this is a common experience to many astronomers and cosmologists. I can remember reading a comment by one such scientist that hardly a week went by without him receiving in the mail letters from people explaining their ‘theory of the universe’. At the same time, Bernstein’s relationship with his girlfriend also comes under pressure. His family don’t approve, and would like him to marry a nice Jewish girl instead. There are also political disagreements. Penny and her friends fully support the Vietnam War, views that aren’t shared by the liberal Bernstein. But in a twist, it’s Penny who understands that the waiters at their favourite restaurant are gay, is comfortable with that fact.

Back in Blighty in 1998, Markham’s and Renfrew’s backgrounds are solidly middle class. This is still a world where women were expected to stay home and cook, and the aristocracy still wields power and influence. A society in which entitled public school boys shout their food and alcohol choices in the local pub in Latin. It’s a world in which Markham is an outsider, and resents the privilege and condescension of the upper class Brits among which he moves.

Timescape and ’70s Fears of the End of Civilisation

Like much near-future SF, the book’s now dated. 1998 is now twenty years ago, and fortunately civilisation has not collapsed. Not yet. The book was partly a product of the sense of crisis in the 1970s, when many people really did fear the end of civilisation through industrial and social unrest and ecological collapse. It was predicted that overpopulation would result in mass famine, while the resources would run out and the Earth itself become uninhabitable through massive pollution. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened. Not yet. But there is still a real danger of global civilisation collapsing through irreversible ecological damage from climate change and pollution, and algal blooms are poisoning the water in some parts of the world. Despite it’s age, the book thus remains acutely relevant.

Social Change and the Rise of Domestic Computers

In other respects, the book as a prediction of the future hasn’t worn quite as well. The advance of feminism in the 1980s and ’90s meant that traditional gender roles were breaking down as women sought careers outside the home. By 1998 there was the expectation that both partners in a relationship would be working, and the old domestic arrangement in which women looked after children and the home and were supported by their husbands was seen as anachronistic. At the same time, he also doesn’t predict the advances in information technology that has produced the home and personal computers or mobile phones. There is, however, a machine called the Sek, which is a type of answerphone and database, if I recall correctly.

Conclusion

These differences between the book’s expectation of what the ’90s would be like and the reality actually don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the story. Science Fiction tends not to be very good at predicting the future. If it was, then humanoid robots with a comparable level of intelligence and genuine consciousness, like Star Wars’ C3PO, would be in every home and we would already have colonies on the Moon, Mars and Earth orbit. We don’t have any of that. But we do have personal computers, the internet and mobile phones, as well as a variety of industrial machines, which weren’t predicted. Many SF novels still remain worth reading even though their predictions of the future, or the contemporary present in which they were set, are dated. These include such classics as those of H.G. Wells’, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and so on. What matters in the story and the writer’s ability to create a convincing, fascinating world, which Timescape does.

While some of its details are inaccurate, this is still a readable, gripping story with a solid base in plausible science, and whose warning about environmental decline is, horrendously, just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1980.

 

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George Galloway: Torygraph Publishes Piece Speculating on Coup to Overthrow Corbyn

May 12, 2018

This is an excerpt from George Galloway’s Talk Radio Show, which I found on YouTube. He begins with talking about a conversation he had with James Whale, a fellow presenter, about the dangerous situation in the Middle East, where Israel is now facing an Arab, Russian and Iranian enemy. He pours scorn, however, on the juvenile scribblers, as Galloway sees it, who claimed that the missiles shot at the Golan Heights had entered Israel. Galloway states that the Golan Heights were illegally seized by Israel from Syria, and so are not part of Israel, no matter what the hacks say.

He then goes on to talk about Theresa May’s volte face, which has meant that victims of the Grenfell Tower fire will now be allowed onto the board investigating it. After that, he moves on to talking about how the Brexit negotiations are an appalling mess, and the whole affair something which all of us will have difficulty getting out of.

But the main subject of his ire is a piece published by Paul Carter in the Torygraph the day before, which may be 10th May 2018. The Torygraph had speculated on the possibility of a military coup against Corbyn. Galloway describes the article as chilling, and states that its author, Paul Carter, has no footprint in social media. The article claims that this coup would occur if the labour leader was elected to power and proceeded to enact to enact three particular policies. These were conducting a referendum to abolish the monarchy, taking us out of NATO, and taking us out of the western foreign policy consensus. Galloway himself wishes Corbyn would do all these, but the Labour leader will certainly not do any of them. The proximate cause of the Torygraph article is that it is 50 years since Mountbatten and the editor of the Mirror met to plan a coup against the Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson. Galloway states that Wilson was a political giant, who dominated the sixties and much of the seventies. He was right-wing Labour, a social democrat. But he had his house burgled and his mail intercepted because it was suspected that he was a Russian secret agent. If the coup had gone ahead, the country would probably be led by Mountbatten from the Despatch Box, probably from the House of Lords, unless he resigned and fought a bye-election. Not that such constitutional niceties would bother people, who had just overthrown their democratically elected leader.

He also makes the point that there were plans to intern 4,000 other leftists, including journalists, on the Shetland Islands. Galloway himself was too young at the time, but if they did launch a coup against Corbyn, this would be the last you’d hear of him for a long time, unless he managed to get onto Radio Free Shetland. He notes one expert, who has said that it would be much harder to launch a coup now that people have mobile phones and social media. It was easier fifty years ago when it was the editors of the newspapers to overthrow the government. But Corbyn would be wise to keep his mobile phone handy. If they did launch a coup, then millions would pour onto the streets to defended their elected leader? Or would they? Galloway leaves this as a matter of discussion for later in the programme. He says that eventually the plans for the coup were abandoned, because the conspirators thought better, including the government’s scientific advisor, Solly Zuckerman. But Galloway thinks this is false, and that they simply got cold feet.

Galloway then closes the segment with a piece about how popular the woman presenting the weather reports is becoming.

This is worrying, as it looks like a combination of smear piece and speculation by the Torygraph. Corbyn hasn’t any intention of trying to abolish the monarchy, taking us out of NATO or acting against the current foreign policy consensus, so it’s a smear to suggest that he might. The absence of any social media footprint for Paul Carter suggests that this is a pseudonym. And this in turn invites speculation that it’s someone from MI5 or another branch of the security services.

This wouldn’t be the first time MI5’s been acting against the government, if this is the case. The agency was convinced Wilson really was a KGB spy, and Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, have suggested that it was behind the smears circulating then about the Labour leader.

As for the coup they’re discussing, the plotting occurred later than the article claims. Mountbatten and the editor of the Mirror were making their plans in the mid-70s. And the Times was also looking forward to Wilson being toppled, though replaced by a civilian government of trusted members of the Labour party, like Shirley Williams, as well the Tories. These plots are discussed in Francis Wheen’s book, Strange Days Indeed: Paranoia in the 1970s, and by Ken Livinstone in his book Livingstone’s Labour. The date’s out, but otherwise everything that Galloway’s said about the proposed coup is correct. One of the reasons it failed is because one of the plotters approached Sandhurst, to ask if the old colonels there would help. They said they wouldn’t, and sent him away. Hurrah for Sandhurst!

Galloway says at the beginning of his discussion of the article that no-one else was talking about it. Which suggests that this is purely speculation and wishful thinking by the Weirdo Barclay Brothers and the paper’s managing director, Murdoch McLellan, and whoever is now the editor of this wretched rag. The paper’s been running articles attacking Corbyn, claiming that he’s an anti-Semite and so on, along with the Daily Mail. But this shows more than a hint of real desperation. For all the Tory and media talk about ‘peak Corbyn’, it seems they really afraid he’ll win the election. In which case, they want the troops to overthrow him. Not because they’re afraid he’ll do all the things they claim he will, but because his very mild socialist programme will cause the end of the Thatcherite consensus. The corporate rich could no longer look forward to a privatised NHS and railways, and parts of the electricity grid would also be renationalised, would which would also upset corporate profits. Not to mention that they could no longer rely on having a cowed, cheap workforce of the desperate on poverty wages, on zero hours contracts and kept in line by the threat of benefit sanctions and starvation.

This is all too much for the Torygraph and its scribblers. So they’ve started fantasising about the possibility of a coup. Just like the British stock exchange cheered the Fascists when they revolted against the Republican government at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

The Torygraph has just about gone full Fascist with this article. And its publication is more than a bit hypocritical for the Tories. Not after they went berserk and accused Hilary Mantel of encouraging terrorism when she published her short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. But this shows just how far Corbyn has rattled the Tories, and shown how some of them, at least as for the Torygraph itself, have started hankering after a coup to stop him.

Counterpunch on the Threat of Military Policing in America by 2030

February 19, 2017

Last week there was a chilling piece in Counterpunch by John Whitehead. The left-wing American magazine, the Intercept, had obtained a five minute promotional video by the Pentagon. This forecast that by 2030 conditions in American cities will have decayed to the point where the army is being sent in as a police force.
He writes

The U.S. military plans to take over America by 2030.

No, this is not another conspiracy theory. Although it easily could be.

Nor is it a Hollywood political thriller in the vein of John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May about a military coup d’etat.

Although it certainly has all the makings of a good thriller.

No, this is the real deal, coming at us straight from the horse’s mouth.

According to “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a Pentagon training video created by the Army for U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. military plans to use armed forces to solve future domestic political and social problems.

What they’re really talking about is martial law, packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security.

The chilling five-minute training video, obtained by The Intercept through a FOIA request and made available online, paints an ominous picture of the future—a future the military is preparing for—bedeviled by “criminal networks,” “substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,” “impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened sewers,” a “growing mass of unemployed,” and an urban landscape in which the prosperous economic elite must be protected from the impoverishment of the have nots.

He then makes connections between the demands by the commentary in the Pentagon’s video to ‘drain the swamp’, with the same slogan used by Donald Trump. He also points out that Americans have become used to the all-powerful surveillance state, which can pinpoint your location and gain information through mobile phones and personal computers.

For further information, see: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/16/coming-soon-to-a-city-near-you-military-policing/

Whitehead states that it’s like the ’60s political thriller, ‘Seven Days in May’. It’s actually far closer to the urban dystopias of Cyberpunk and similar SF, like Blade Runner, Elysium, James Cameron’s Strange Days and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and its sequel, Escape from LA. This is the America the Pentagon believes will arise within the next fifteen years. Back in the 1990s there was a programme on one of the Beeb’s documentary slots arguing that the cyberpunk future that had been forecast would arise from Thatcherism hadn’t emerged, and that thanks to free market economics, countries all round the world were actually prospering. This is just right-wing biased reporting and wishful thinking. It’s becoming painfully evident that neoliberalism is destroying countries around the world, and immiserating their citizens in even more grinding poverty. But it makes massive profits for big business, so they and their shills in the media will keep that very carefully covered up. The predictions were true. They just go their timing wrong.

There’s another point to be made here as well about the brutal methods America has used around the world to enforce its domination. These have included organising Fascist coups and right-wing military dictators. Critics of this policy that have argued that in addition to the harm done to the countries that have been the victims of these policies, there is the added danger that inevitably the repressive measures empires use to oppress the indigenous peoples of their colonies return to be used on the people of the imperial homeland itself. And this will be the case in America.

Unless neoliberalism is comprehensively scrapped, wealth is redistributed and the widening gap between the poor and the rich is closed.

Here’s the opening titles from Escape from New York, to show the kind of America such SF depicts, and which may arise in the next decades unless we do something to stop it.

Trump Wants to Publish List Immigrant Crimes, Just Like Nazis Did to Jews

February 5, 2017

Here’s another step towards real Fascism by the Trump administration. In this clip from Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodson and her co-host talk to Andrea Pitzer about yet another policy of Trump’s, which is very close to the Nazi vilification of the Jews. Pitzer is the author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. She and the Democracy Now! team discuss Trump’s proposal to publish official lists of crimes committed in sanctuary cities – those towns where the officials are unwilling to comply with Trump’s deportations of illegal immigrants. They point out that this is exactly what the Nazis did in the pages of their ‘newspapers’ Der Sturmer and Das Neues Volk with the Jews. Der Sturmer had a column called ‘Letterbox’, in which its readers were encouraged to send it stories about crimes committed by Jews. The Nazi life-style magazine, Das Neues Volk, which was mostly about wonderful Aryan families and their beautiful homes, also carried stories about crimes supposedly committed by Jews, or Jewish-looking people. This section of the clip illustrates the point by showing covers of the rags with their illustrations showing the blood libel – the anti-Semitic smear that Jews ritually kill gentile, Christian children, along with other vile charicatures.

They also point out that in America some newspapers have also used the same tactic of vilifying ethnic minorities. Before Japanese internment during World War II, the San Francisco Chronicle used to run stories about how the Japanese minority were unassimilable, and how they were also responsible for crime. More recently, Breitbart ran a ‘Black Crimes’ list, and their CEO, Steve Bannon, is now one of Trump’s closest advisors in the White House.

The show points out that immigrants to America have a lower crime rate than those committed by members of the host population. Some of this is possibly to avoid drawing attention from the immigration authorities. However, they also point out that detailing crimes committed by immigrants without providing any context is very dangerous, and it serves to place them in a simplistic ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ view of immigration. And this is particularly dangerous, as this view has the official imprimatur of a government document.

They also briefly discuss another of Trump’s proposals, that immigrants should hand over their cell phone information. Pitzer points out that totalitarian government is impossible without a secret police. Even with the resources of the Nazi state, it was still difficult for them. Himmler apparently used to complain about not having enough men. But you don’t need quite so many staff with the massive expansion of the American surveillance state and its powers and abilities to spy on the electronic communications of American citizens. This is far more than the Nazis had.

This is very frightening, and should concern everyone who’s genuinely concerned about racial justice and personal freedom on either side of the Atlantic. Over here in Britain, Black and ethnic minority campaigners bitterly objected to the way the British right-wing press misrepresented them as being disproportionately responsible for crime. The issue became particularly controversial after the 1981/2 ‘race riots’, when the newspapers became blatantly racist in equating Blacks with crime and anti-White racism. And sections of the Tory press are notoriously ready to run stories about immigrant criminality today, such as the Daily Heil and the Scum. If Trump goes ahead with this, and it is not successfully challenged, it will emboldened UKIP and very large sections of the Tory party to do the same, as well as encourage rags like the Mail, the Sun and the Express to become even more racist in their equation of Blacks and other ethnic minorities with criminality.

Cassetteboi Versus the Investigative Powers Bill

April 30, 2016

More fun with a very serious point from Cassetteboi again. In this video, they poke fun at David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s Snooper’s Charter to expand massively the powers of the surveillance state. May and Cameron are made to rap about how they’ll take every piece of information they can, even from your mobile phones, and corporate, social security and hospital records, all to the tune of Sting’s ‘I’ll Be Watching You’. At one point May says that if you sign an internet petition, you can expect the Spanish inquisition. At the end there is a serious written message urging the viewer to take a minute to support Privacy International in their campaign to stop this further erosion of our privacy and freedom.

Secular Talk on the Iranians Raising the Bounty on Salman Rushdie by $600,000

February 27, 2016

Private Eyatollah

The cover of Private Eye for Friday 13th March 1989. If you can’t read the caption, one mullah is saying to the Ayatollah, ‘Have you read the book?’. He replies, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

Kulinski in this clip discusses a report in the Guardian that a group of 40 newspaper and other media companies in Iran have clubbed together to raise the money offered under their government’s fatwa for killing Salman Rushdie by a further $600,000. The fatwas was imposed way back in 1988 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for Rushdie writing the book, the Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah considered blasphemous against Islam. Kulinski points out that it hasn’t just been Rushdie whose life has been put in danger by the fatwa. The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Kirigashi was fatally stabbed in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator, Ettore Caprioli, was also the victim of a stabbing, though mercifully he survived. Aziz Nessin, the Turkish translator, survived an arson attack on an hotel in which 37 other people died in 1993. William Nyegard, the Swedish translator, was also attacked in 1993. He was shot three times in Oslo, though thankfully he too survived. And last year, 2015, Iran withdrew from the Frankfurt book fair because they had announced that Rushdie was speaking.

Kulinski states that the Iranians have the attitude that they’re being oppressed, because of their offence at Rushdie’s book. He points out that for civilised people, the solution to such a difference of opinion is to argue about it, and then move on. He states very strongly that the reason why the Iranians aren’t doing this is because they know their arguments are weak. This is why they have to force it on children when they’re young. He also points out that the younger generation in Iran is also disgusted by this. Iran is a very young country, and most of them are much more liberal than their elders. ‘Tick tock,’ he says, ‘the clock is ticking. Times running out for you.’

I’m reblogging this as there’s much more going on here than simply a revival of anti-Rushdie feeling in Iran. In fact, the evidence points the other way. If these media companies have decided to band together to add even more money to the fatwa, then it shows very effectively that few people in Iran are interested in killing the author. Again, thankfully.

The book has been a source of tension between Islam and the secular West almost from the first. Not all Muslims are as extreme as the Ayatollah, but many, perhaps the majority, do resent what they see as an attack on their religion. The book’s Islamic opponents have also pointed out that Viking Penguin was also ambivalent about publishing the book. The publisher’s advisors told them three time that it would result in serious trouble, including mass protests. These were eventually ignored and overridden. Roald Dahl, the renowned children’s author, speaking on Radio 4 several years ago, also felt that the book should not have been published given the hatred and violence that this had caused. He did not consider it great literature, and felt it should be pulped.

The outrage caused by The Satanic Verses is also a major cause of the current surge of anti-western and Islamist Muslim activism. Outrage at the book prompted Muslims to band together for pretty much the first time in protest, organising demonstrations and book burnings. And the preachers of hate used it as a pretext to attack Britons and British society in general. I can remember Kalim Saddiqui speaking in his mosque on a documentary shown late at night on the Beeb, The Trouble with Islam, in which he described Britain as ‘a terrible killing machine’ and stated that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ When the documentary-makers picked him up on this, he blustered that it was about the Satanic Verses, which had been published in preparation for a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ He was, of course, talking poisonous rubbish.

In fact all the people I know, who’ve actually read the book, tell me that it’s not actually blasphemous. I know a lecturer in Islam, who actually got his students to read the book when he was teaching in Pakistan. They’d been talking about how the book was blasphemous, so he asked them if they’d read it. When they said they hadn’t, he asked them if they would, and gave copies to them to read. They carried them home in brown paper bags so no-one would see them. When they’d read the book, he asked them again if they thought it was blasphemous. They said, ‘No’.

There were very cynical, political reasons for the Ayatollah’s decision to put a price on Rushdie’s head. He was afraid he was losing Iran’s position as the premier Islamic revolutionary regime to others, like Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In order to try and whip up some more popularity, he resorted to that classic Orwellian technique: the five minute hate. This is the episode in Orwell’s classic 1984, where ‘Big Brother’ orchestrates a wave of hatred against a traitor figure for about five minutes. It’s very, very much like the way Stalin whipped up hatred in the Soviet Union against Trotsky, who was accused of all kinds of treachery and perfidy against the state and its people. Khomeini was doing the same here, but with Rushdie as the hate figure.

The fatwa didn’t work as well as the Iranians hoped it would, though I have Iranian friends who feel that the Satanic Verses was deliberately published by the British government to sever relations with Iran. After about a decade or more, the Iranians announced that, while the fatwa couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be lifted, they weren’t going actively going to enforce it.

Then a few years ago, more money was placed on the price. This was after the rioting around the world against the film, The Innocence of Muslims, which was a genuinely blasphemous attack on Mohammed. The film, however, was the group of expatriate Egyptians and nothing to do with Salman Rushdie. Again, it looked like a cynical attempt by the Iranian revolutionary authorities to gain some kind of political advantage, which they felt they had lost.

And now this. And everything about this says exactly the same to me: that this is nothing but a cynical attempt to exploit Rushdie’s notoriety to marshal support for the regime. Except that I don’t know how successful they’ll be. Not very, is my guess. They weren’t before, despite the vicious attacks on Rushdie’s publishers and translators. After all, they had to drop it as a dead letter for several years. And Kulinski is right about the Iranian population. They are on average very young. Most of the population is under 30. This generation doesn’t remember the Shah or the Islamic Revolution, and Rushdie to them is nothing but decades old news.

Now I don’t share Kulinski’s atheism. I think that people have the right to bring their children up and have them educated in their faith, and I don’t see it as brainwashing. But I do share his feelings that if the Iranians are resorting to violence, or advocating it, then it does mean that they don’t have confidence in their own ability to confront and overcome Rushdie in the realm of ideas. Which is itself astonishing, considering the rich heritage of Islamic philosophy. But then, I don’t think combating Rushdie’s ideas are what the fatwas is intended for. As I said, I think it’s an appeal to raw emotion simply to bolster the regime.

So why would the Iranian state and authorities need this renewed campaign against Rushdie? It might be because the young general is much less religious, and more secular. Atheism is expanding across the Middle East, including Iran. This is pretty much what you’d expect when religion, or indeed any ideology, becomes oppressive and the source of violence instead of peace and prosperity. Christopher Hill, in one of his books on what he called the English Revolution, his term for the British Civil War notes that the religious violence in Britain in the mid-17th century led to a similar growth in atheism and unbelief. And Iran many people resent their lack of political and social freedoms, and the immense corruption of Islamic clergy, who have enriched themselves through backhanders from commerce, industry and control of the bonyads, the religious trusts, which manage about 50 per cent of the economy, including the oil industry. All this growth in atheism is very, very clandestine. Atheism and apostasy are capital crimes in many Islamic countries, and so people have to be very careful about who they talk to about this issue. Even social media is very carefully monitored. ISIS in Syria kept the facebook and twitter accounts of a female anti-Islamist activist open long after the woman herself had been captured and murdered by them, as a honey trap to catch other anti-Islamist dissidents. And Nokia sold software across the Middle East to the despots and autocrats enabling them to hack into people’s mobiles in order to spy on them. So it’s still incredibly dangerous. Nevertheless, atheism and general disaffection against these regimes is growing. So I’m very sure that the Iranians have raised the fatwa bounty once again, because they hear the ticks of the clock sounding out the final moments of their regime only too well.

The Young Turks on America’s Death Squad Drone Programme

October 20, 2015

This is yet another video from The Young Turks, which is acutely relevant to what is happening in Britain, and to British citizens. The Turks are here reporting and commenting on the revelations by another whistleblower from the shady world of American covert operations. This whistleblower has handed over secret documents from the drone programme. These show how the drone operators are effectively a death squad used to kill their targets rather than capturing them for trial, or for supplying potential valuable intelligence.

The methods used to target their intended victims are also extremely flawed. The drone homes in on the signal from their cell phone or their computer, regardless of who is actually using it. That person may not actually be the intended terrorist, but their mother or daughter. Moreover, several times the signal used does not actually belong to the terrorist’s own phone or computer, but that of a family member, like their mother. As well as the terrorists themselves, drone strikes have also killed the people with them at the time, who may well be innocents.

The result has been that of 200 people killed by American drones during a specific period, only 35 were actually terrorists. Nevertheless, everyone killed by a drone is automatically designated an EKIA – Enemy Killed In Action. This status is only revised if they can prove otherwise. As Cenk Uyghur, the Turks’ main man says, this is the most Orwellian thing he’s ever heard. How can they challenge their status when they’re dead? Family members perhaps?

British citizens have also been targeted for drone strikes, rather than arrest and trial. The Turks’ video includes the case of one Berjawi, who was killed by a drone strike in Africa. British and American intelligence tracked him going to and from Africa, but did not intercept and capture him. Rather, he was simply stripped of his British citizens and then assassinated by drone.The Turks also criticise the way the gathering of the metadata used to guide the drones is presented as being harmless intelligence gathering without any dangerous consequences, which it is now clearly shown not to be.

Here’s the video:

I’m posting this up as it is directly relevant to the way Cameron is gradually constructing a highly secretive and extremely brutal judicial system on the pretext of protecting us from terrorism, and the nuisance and disruption of trade union strikes and popular protests. I reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political the other day, who was concerned about Cameron’s apparent discarding of the principle ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in his anti-terrorism bill. This provides for a person to be prevented from working with children or vulnerable adults, if they are believed to be terrorists. The obviously problem there is who decides that they are, and on what grounds? As I pointed out on piece on it, there were numerous cases during the Cold War in which perfectly ordinary citizens were mistakenly blacklisted as Communists or potential troublemakers, simply for the most trivial reasons. Such as wearing punk clothing, being an unmarried mother, or having spoken to a Communist in a pub. Will British citizens also be executed by drone strikes simply because someone believes they’re a terrorist, but can’t or won’t prove it in a court of law? The evidence from the extra-judicial killing of Berjawi suggests this is a real possibility.

Yay! X Files Returns in 2016!

October 17, 2015

Okay, I can’t really talk about conspiracy theories and conspiracy cultures without mentioning the return next year of the X Files, after a hiatus of ten years. During its 9 year run, Mulder, Scully and co in the FBI battled evil aliens, genetically engineered super soldiers, shadowy human conspiracies, bizarre cults, poltergeists, vampires, mad scientists, demons, ghosts, mutants and bizarre environmental hazards. The series finally ended with the trial of Fox Mulder, the defeat of the super soldiers, and the death of the series’ arch-villain, the Smoking Man in an explosion. Like Twin Peaks, which was similarly going to be revived after a twenty year or so gap, the X Files is going to return next year.

To those of us old enough to remember it when it was first on, the X Files is one of the modern classics of SF/ Horror television, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some of the classic SF themes – alien infiltration, mad scientists, as well as more modern fears of Satanic Ritual abuse and the fascination with serial killers and gave it a modern angle. It also had a dry sense of humour, which gave it a uniquely quirky treatment of some of the themes, which formed a counterpoint to the grim subject matter. The episode, ‘Die Hand, Die Verletzt’ opens with a boring PTA meeting in the headmaster’s office in a typical American state school. The headmaster, his teachers and parent members are all presented a stolid, respectable citizens concerned about the moral content of the school plays. Grease is rejected as morally unacceptable for its portrayal of teenage sexual activity. It’s only when the meeting closes with a prayer that it’s revealed that the assembled group are in fact a coven of Satanists. The episode, ‘The Postmodern Prometheus’, is a homage to the Frankenstein movies of James Whale, but given a postmodern twist: the action takes place within the text of a comic book created by two of the characters. It’s title is also a postmodern homage to Mary Shelley’s original classic. That was subtitled ‘The Modern Prometheus’.There’s also a further, darkly humorous twist in that the monster, the deformed product of his father’s genetic experiments, is a fan of Sher.

Unfortunately, the factual background of some of the material – like all too real conspiracies, where the CIA and US intelligence funded and armed Fascist groups in South America – meant that too many people on the UFO fringe took it way too seriously. On the plus side, I don’t think it did the tailoring industry and the manufacturers of suits any harm. I’m looking forward to the new series, and hope it does really well and that it won’t be too soon before it crosses the channel. Here’s the trailer for it.

It’s obviously science fiction, though there really are people, like Alex Jones and the Tea Party, who genuinely believe that there is a secret conspiracy to launch a coup against the American government to set up a Satanic dictatorship. What I would say has far more basis in fact is the comment about the growth of the surveillance state. In the above video, Mulder says over footage of a drone that we are more watched than ever. This is supposed to make us safer. But in fact we’re in bigger danger than ever.

That’s not fiction. Snowdon’s revelations show that the intelligence agencies can hack into our mobile phones, turning them on to get secret footage and recordings of us. The software permitting this was used by the Yemeni authorities to intimidate and collect information on a human rights lawyer. It would be great if this was SF, like genetically engineered super soldiers with alien DNA and technology. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. And the real Fox Mulders bringing this to light need all the support they can get.

Israeli Advert for Friendly Relationships with Iran on the Net

April 11, 2015

I’ve put up a number of posts over the past few weeks reporting the Israeli’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his supporters in the Republican party in America have been trying to drive America to war against Iran. They have tried to undermine and discredit Obama’s peace deal with the Iranians limiting their nuclear programme. Before then, back in 2012, Netanyahu lied to the UN about supposed Iranian readiness to develop nukes. Even Mossad, the Israeli internal security service, the Shin Bet and his own generals denied that the Iranians had the nuclear capability he claimed.

Needless to say, Netanyahu and his warmongering doesn’t speak for all Israelis, just as the Repugs don’t speak for every American. I thought I’d post the video below to show the other side of the situation, that there were Israelis who also want peace and friendly relations with the people of Iran.

It shows a young Israeli guy walking through the streets of an Iranian city, before sitting down at a café and getting out a backgammon set. He is then discovered by an Iranian friend. They greet each other, and then sit down to play a game.

I don’t speak Hebrew, but the blurb for it put up by the poster on Youtube states that it roughly reads that ‘In reality this is not yet possible. But it happens on the internet all the time’.

Here it is

I first saw it about two decades ago when it was broadcast here in Britain on Tarrant on TV. That was a late night show looking at sleaze and general weirdness on television around the world. It was mostly lurid, tabloid entertainment, but here and there it did include pieces that made a genuine moral point. One of these was this Israeli ad.

The video’s message is exactly right. Apart from ISIS and the preachers of hatred and violence, the Net has also brought nations together in ways that their rulers don’t like and can’t allow. It’s why the Iranian government during the Green Revolution attempted to censor the internet. It’s why countries like Egypt and others in the Gulf are trying to hack into mobile phones, aided with software developed by Western companies like Nokia.

Through the Net, people in widely separated countries, divided by deep historical and religious hatreds, can nevertheless meet each other in peace and friendship. Nation, can indeed, speak peace unto nation.

And it’s got a rocking soundtrack by the tartan terror himself, Rod Stewrt.