Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

Anton Petrov’s Tribute to Veteran Cosmonaut and Space Artist, Alexei Leonov

October 16, 2019

Last Friday, 11th October 2019, Alexei Leonov passed away, aged 85. Born on 30th May 1934, Leonov was one of the first Russian cosmonauts and the first man to walk in space. His obituary in yesterday’s I, written by Nataliya Vasilyeva, ran

Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago – and who nearly did not make it back into his space capsule – has died in Moscow aged 85.

Leonov, described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No 11, was an icon both in his country as well as in the US. He was such a legend that the late science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Leonov staked his place in space history on 18 March 1965, when he became the first person to walk in space. Secured by a tether, he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule. “I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” he recalled later. “I was mesmerised by the stars. They were everywhere – up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”

Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-racking, according to details that only became public decades later. His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to release oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch. Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first American spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.

Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family. 

The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even in space, and took coloured pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975.

That mission was the first between the Soviet Union and the US, carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international co-operation aboard the current international Space Station.

Nasa offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death. “His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible”, it said in a statement.

“One of the finest people I have ever known,” the Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”

Russian space fans have been laying flowers at his monument on the memorial alley in Moscow that honours Russia’s cosmonauts. Leonov, who will be buried today at a military memorial cemetery outside the Russian capital, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. 

Anton Petrov put up his own personal tribute to the great cosmonaut on YouTube yesterday, 15th October 2019, at his vlog, What Da Math. Petrov posts about astronomy and space, and his video yesterday placed Leonov in his context as one of a series of great Soviet science popularisers before Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan. Petrov shows the stunning paintings done by Leonov with his friend, the science artist Andrei Sokolov. He describes how Leonov’s spacesuit expanded so that he couldn’t enter the capsule, and was forced to let some of the oxygen out. As a result, he nearly lost consciousness. This showed both the Russians and Americans that spacesuits had to be built differently. He also describes how Leonov, during his 12 minutes in space, was profoundly struck by the profound silence. It was so deep he could hear his heart pumping, the blood coursing through his veins, even the sound of his muscles moving over each other.

Petrov states that the Russian cosmonauts did not enjoy the same celebrity status as their American counterparts, who could live off book signings. Many had to support their families with other work. In Leonov’s case, it was painting. He illustrated a number of books, some with his friend Sokolov. These are paintings Petrov uses for the visuals in his video. He considers these books the equivalent to works by modern science educators like Carl Sagan. They were meant to encourage, inspire and educate. Sokolov’s and Leonov’s art was not just beautiful, but very accurate scientifically and included some SF elements. Some of these elements were borrowed by other science fiction writers. the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is somewhat similar to one of Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings. This became a joke between the two, with Leonov creating a miniature version for the great American director to keep. Kubrick also borrowed many of the ideas for the movie from the Russian film director, Pavel Kushentsev. An extremely talented cameraman, Kushentsev made films about the first Moon landing, the first space station and the first man in space decades and years before they became reality. And all of his movies were scientifically accurate. Some of his movies are on YouTube, and Petrov gives the links at his site there for this video.

Petrov explains that he is talking about these men because their era has ended with Leonov’s death. Leonov was the last of the five astronauts on the Voskhod programme, and so all the men who inspired youngsters with amazing paintings and film are now gone. He considers it unfortunate that some of their experiences in the last days of their lives were not very happy. They did not live to see the future they depicted, and their paintings were not appreciated by the modern generation. Kushentsev said before his death,

Popular science is dying, because there is no money. No demand. Nobody wants to educate. Everyone just wants to make money everywhere possible. But one mustn’t live like this. This is how animals live. Men have reached the level of animals – all they want to do is eat and sleep. There is no understand that this humanity has passed a certain phase of evolution. We must understand the direction of this evolution. For this, we need culture, we need knowledge. 

Petrov believes Kushentsev’s criticism of modern Russian society also applies more broadly to the modern generation in the West, to all of us as well. We are all doing what he said we shouldn’t – just living for the money, to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, according to Petrov, nothing has changed in the 20 years since his death. But there are people out there in the world working to change this, to produce culture, to inspire and share knowledge. But sometimes the world crushes them, simply because it can. But Petrov says that, like those Soviet men before him, despite not being a famous astronaut or talented artist, or even someone who has very good diction, he will continue doing his part of sealing the hope for humanity, continue the work of these great men and inspire new generations to do things, believe in science and create a better world. Because as Leonov once said,

the Earth was small, light blue and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word ’round’ meant until I saw the Earth from space. 

Petrov concludes ‘Goodbye, comrade, and thank you for all the paintings.

This is the first of two videos about Russian art from that era of space exploration. I’ll post the other up shortly.

I don’t feel quite as pessimistic as Kushentsev. Brian Cox, who’s now taken Sagan’s place as the chief space broadcaster on British television, has attracted record audiences for his stage presentation about science and the universe. There is a massive interest among the public in space and space exploration. At the same time, there are a number of really great science vlogs and channels on YouTube. Petrov’s is one, but I also recommend John Michael Godier and the Science and Futurism channel, presented by Isaac Arthur.

Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings, they are of a universe of rich, vibrant colour. Spacesuited figures explores strange, new worlds, tending vast machines. They stand in front of planetary landers somewhat resembling the American lunar module. Or crawl across the landscape in rovers, gazing at horizons above which hang alien, often multiple, suns. The best space art shows worlds you’d like to visit, to see realised. These paintings have this effect. It’s a pity that on the blurb for this video over at YouTube, Petrov says that these paintings come from old postcards, which are difficult to come by. It’s a pity, as they still have the power to provoke wonder and inspire.

I’m not sure Leonov himself was quite so pessimistic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main space museum was closed, and many of its exhibits sold off. Before it finally closed its doors to the public, they held a rave in it. I think Leonov was in attendance, sitting at the back with his wife. Someone asked him what he thought of it all. The old space traveler replied that they had found graffiti on the walls on Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘the young man’s world’. It is indeed, and may cosmonauts, space pioneers, scientists and artists like Leonov, Sokolov, Kushentsev and Kubrick continue to inspire the young men and women of the future to take their strides in the High Frontier.

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Tony Greenstein on Zionist Opposition to the Commemoration of other Holocausts

June 9, 2019

This past week has been dominated by the ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces landed in Normandy in 1944 in an invasion that was to roll back the German forces. With the Soviet advance across eastern Europe, the invasion eventually led to the final defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe. The news coverage of the various displays, ceremonies and discussions of the events of D-Day and their historical significance have also included the Holocaust, and calls for its survivors each to be given proper honours by the Queen.

I’ve absolutely no objection to this. These men and women, now obviously thinned by time and old age, survived a true living hell at the hands of a regime that has come to symbolise tyranny and mass murder at its darkest, most extreme and malign. I also believe that the Holocaust needs to be taught, remembered and properly understood and placed in its historical, sociological and political context. The forces of the extreme Right, though severely beaten, are always at the political margins, seeking to gain a foothold back into power. Thanks to neoliberalism and its impoverishment of the masses in order to benefit the elite super-rich, Fascism and extreme right-wing populism is now on the rise again across Europe and America, from Donald Trump in the US to UKIP and the Brexit party here in the UK, Marine Le Pen and her crew in France, and the AfD in Germany. These last contain some unreconstructed, real Nazis, who have denounced their country’s Holocaust monument as ‘a badge of shame’ and have said that when they get into power, they will open up an underground railway to the infamous death camp. And then there’s the various bitterly racist and anti-Semitic regimes in eastern Europe, like Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, the Baltic states and their determination to honour as patriotic heroes Nazi collaborators during War, and the truly Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukraine.

Now more than ever we need to show how genocidal Fascism arises, and leads nations to commit the most horrific atrocities.

However, nearly a month ago, on the 13th May 2019, Tony Greenstein, a Jewish activist against all forms of racism and Fascism, and particularly its Jewish form, Zionism, put up a piece on his blog arguing that the Holocaust should not be commemorated. It’s a highly controversial piece, and obviously shocking to very many. But Greenstein is not alone, and his piece is backed up by very strong arguments. For example, it was only after the 1967 War that Israel began commemorating the Shoah. Before then they played it down and actively discouraged its commemoration. It was felt that the sufferings of the Jewish people would reflect badly on their ability to found a new state for themselves. The survivors themselves were vilified. Greenstein states that in Israel they were subject to the disgusting epithet ‘sapon’ – soap – from the myth that the Nazis turned the bodies of those murdered in the gas  chambers into the substance.

Greenstein also shows that, despite Holocaust Day being a regularly part of the Israeli calendar and the emphasis on the Holocaust and its commemoration in the Israeli education system, with young Israelis taken on trips to Auschwitz, there is no proper understanding of it or the reasons behind it. Instead, Israelis are simply taught that it was due to anti-Semitism. The result is that the Holocaust is used to foster the sense of national persecution and intense patriotism, especially against the indigenous Arabs. Forty-four per cent of young Israelis don’t believe that Arabs should be elected to the Knesset. And no Israeli, after visiting Auschwitz, has gone to the walls and fences around Gaza, and vowed ‘Never again’ for its citizens as well.

As for the Shoah’s survivors in Israel, many of them live in abject poverty, denied the compensation that Israel has claimed on their behalf. Which shows how hypocritical the Israeli state’s attitude to the welfare of these people, who endured so much, actually is. 

But the Zionists are determined that the Holocaust should be considered a unique event, a phenomenon that occurred only to the Jews. In fact Gypsies were also singled out for extermination because of their race in Nazi Germany, and the techniques of mass murder – gassing with Zyklon B cyanide gas – was developed first to destroy the congenitally disabled, who were also considered racially undesirable. The Holocaust also had a precedent in the Armenian Massacres, the attempt by the Young Turks regime to exterminate the entire Armenian people, when they rose up against their imperial masters during the First World War. Hitler was encouraged to move to the mass extermination of the Jews by his observation that the great powers – Britain, France and America – had done nothing to stop this genocide. ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ he remarked.

And in order to preserve the idea that the Holocaust was a unique event, peculiar only to the Jews, some Zionists have also done their best to discourage comparable commemorations of the Nazi murder of the Romany and disabled, or the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians. Greenstein wrote

The elevation of the Jewish Holocaust above all other acts of genocide not only suggests that it is unique but that it has nothing to tell us beyond the fact that it occurred. If the purpose of remembering and commemorating acts of genocide is to prevent their reoccurrence and to act as a warning against their repetition, why single out one act of genocide? The genocide of the Gypsies and the Disabled are all but omitted from Holocaust museums such as Yad Vashem and the Washington US Holocaust Museum. The genocide of Africans in the slave trade or Armenians forms no part of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Indeed from the days of Herzl onwards there has been a determined refusal by Zionism to acknowledge the Armenian massacres and genocide. Lucy Dawidowicz, a prominent Zionist historian went so far as to say that unlike the Nazis, the Turks had a ‘rational’ reason for massacring Armenians. Elie Wiesel, Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Hertzberg, all prominent Zionists, withdrew from an international  conference on genocide in Tel Aviv when the sponsors refused to remove sessions on the Armenians. (Novick pp. 192-193, Finkelstein pp. 69-70)  The Zionist lobby in the United States has repeatedly opposed any commemoration of the Armenian holocaust.

Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, in a debate with Dr Sybil Milton, the Senior Resident Historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Council argued that

‘the tragedy of the Gypsies’ whilst being ‘ no less poignant, and no less horrible’ was nonetheless not part of the Holocaust. Whilst ‘it happened at the same time as the Holocaust, and there are of course many similarities. Yet it appears to me that the Holocaust is very much a unique case. If someone prefers to call it Judeocide, that is his her privilege. It is exactly the same thing: it is the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.’

For Zionism the Holocaust is a Jewish only affair. Sybil Milton, who was herself Jewish, responded succinctly:

‘(The) Nazi genocide, popularly known as the Holocaust, can be defined as the mass murder of human beings because they belonged to a biologically defined group. Heredity determined the selection of the victims. The Nazi regime applied a consistent and inclusive policy of extermination- based on heredity- only against three groups of human beings: the handicapped, Jews, and Gypsies.’

This correspondence ‘Gypsies and the Holocaust’ can be found in The History Teacher, Vol. 25, No. 4. (Aug., 1992), pp. 513-521.

Wiesel’s, Dershowitz’s and Hertzberg’s decision to walk out of the international conference on genocide because its inclusion of the Armenian massacres, in my view, is no doubt a direct contradiction of the fellowship many Jews feel towards them because of both peoples’ shared experience of genocide. It can be seen, for example, in the play, Burning Issues, which Mike and I saw at the theatre in Quakers Friars here in Bristol way back in the ’90s. Set in the American publishing industry, it’s similar to King Lear in that the drama is about an elderly, failing patriarch being challenged by his children. In this case, the central character is an Jewish publisher, who is determined to bring out an exhaustive encyclopaedia of the Holocaust. His fixation with the Third Reich is damaging sales, however, and his children wish to rescue the firm from bankruptcy by ditching the project and publishing something far more popular instead. The old man is himself a survivor of the Shoah, and his closest relationship is with his Armenian cleaner through the shared bond of surviving the attempted extermination of their peoples. The behaviour of Dawidowicz, Wiesel, Hertzberg and Dershowitz in their refusal to allow the extermination of other groups into the memorialisation of the Holocaust, even when they are directly comparable and relevant, is disgusting and should rule them out utterly as any kind of moral authorities on this subject.

Greenstein goes on to consider how the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, has been used to whitewash many extreme right-wing political leaders from around the world. People like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has compared himself to Hitler, and the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, which was founded by two former members of the SS. These politicians sign agreements with Israel, duly visit Yad Vashem, at which they lay wreaths, and then are duly legitimised by Israel’s Zionist establishment as friends of the Jews.

He also describes how Yad Vashem doesn’t discuss the Nazis’ murder of other ethnic groups during the Holocaust, quoting one of the journalists for the Israeli paper Haaretz. He says

Blatman noted the absence of Yad Vashem from the 5thGlobal Conference on Genocide in Jerusalem in 2016. Why? It has nothing to say on anything bar the Jewish genocide. Blatman wrote of how  

None of the hundreds of scientific events organized by Yad Vashem has been dedicated to the Holocaust and genocide…. You have to look hard to find any reference to the destruction of other populations in the Holocaust, and its chief aim seems to be to silence criticism. Similar museums in Paris and Washington hold regular activities on these topics

Whilst Yad Vashem studies what happened to the Jews in Polish or Ukrainian cities ‘they rarely address Nazi atrocities against other ethnic groups’. They study the minute detail of what happened to the Jews without ever seeing the wider picture. Yad Vashem ‘helps keep the Holocaust in a narrow Jewish ghetto that serves the xenophobic manipulations Israel makes of it.’

That is why Yad Vashem has never given birth to a comprehensive book on the Holocaust such as Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution or Raul Hilberg’s Destruction of the European Jews. Holocaust research in Israel has done nothing to combat racism.

In fact, Yehuda Elkana, an Israeli historian, believed instead that the commemoration of the Holocaust had been so appropriated and corrupted by the Zionists, including Yad Vashem, that it was actively fostering Israeli racism. The only lessons they had learned from it was that Jews were victims, and so they were morally empowered to do anything against those they considered enemies with force. Elkana therefore argued that the Holocaust needs to be forgotten. Greenstein also quotes another Jewish scholar, Gideon Levy, who made the same point.

Greenstein himself writes

The Holocaust cannot be forgotten. The question is how it is remembered, by whom and for what purpose. Zionism’s abuse of Holocaust memory has to be challenged. Under capitalism all memory serves a purpose.

And concludes

The Holocaust needs to be reclaimed by the Left and Anti-Fascism.  For too long the Zionist movement has got away with harnessing the Holocaust to the chariot of racism and ethnic cleansing.

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2019-05-15T04:00:00%2B01:00&max-results=7&start=17&by-date=false

Absolutely. If Europe is to be saved from the new wave of racism and Fascism, it has to be by showing how similar the Holocaust is to the other prejudices and strains of racism now spreading across Europe. Like hatred of Blacks, Asians and Islamophobia. This needs to be done because vicious islamophobes like Tommy Robinson will declare their support for Israel and march with the extreme Right Jewish Defence League on the grounds that Israel is an outpost of western civilisation that needs to be defended from Islam.

It is absolutely disgusting that Zionism, or at least leading Zionists, are not allowing and indeed have actively blocked the commemoration of similar genocides against other ethnic groups in their memorialisation of the Holocaust. Just as it also shows that Jackie Walker had a point in her complaint that the plans by the Jewish Labour Movement to commemorate the Shoah also left out the genocidal persecution of other peoples and races, like the slave trade in Black Africans.

It is entirely right that survivors of the Holocaust should receive proper honours by her Maj at the 75th anniversary of D-Day. But we desperately need to remember also that they were and are not alone as the victims of attempted extermination. These horrors continue today, such as the Chinese state’s attempts to destroy the culture and ethnic identity of Uighurs of Sinkiang. The victims of these genocides are every bit as worthy as the generation, who passed through the Shoah, and their suffering every bit as deserving of commemoration and condemnation.

Two Books Showing Bristol Has Not Kept Secret Its Involvement in the Slave Trade

June 6, 2019

The week before last, Channel 4’s Britain’s Most Historic Towns was in Bristol, examining its history in the Georgian period. The show’s presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, who I believe is the Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham University. She’s had a long career in television presenting programmes on archaeology, history and human evolution, beginning in the 1980s with Time Team. She’s a medical doctor, who I believe also taught anatomy at Bristol University. She regularly appeared on Time Team to give her opinion on any human remains that were recovered during their escavations.

Channel 4’s ‘Britain’s Most Historic Towns’

Time Team was finally cancelled after a very successful run several years ago, but like its presenter Tony Robinson, Roberts has continued fronting history and archaeology programmes. Each week the show visits a different British town and explores a specific period of its history. Roberts tours the town, talking to experts on its history and architecture during the period, and very often tries on the ladies’ costume at the time. Last year among the various towns the series covered was Cheltenham during its heyday as a regency spa. This year’s series started off with Dover, concentrating on it history during World War II. Last week it was looking at Cardiff in the early part of the 20th century, when the city became the major centre of the global coal industry. And the week before that they were in Bristol, telling its history during the Georgian period. Roberts has a personal connection to the city, as it’s her home town and she went to school here. She also had a personal connection to Cardiff, as it was at its university that she studied medicine.

Georgian Bristol

During the Georgian period – the age of the four Georges, from the early 18th century to the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837 – Bristol was one of the leading cities in Britain. It’s a port, whose location on the Bristol Channel gave it an excellent position for trading with Africa and America. The programme covered other aspects of Bristol’s history during the period, like the emergence of gin, the 1827 massacre by the army in Queen’s Square in Redcliffe of a mob demanding electoral reform, and the development of the Clifton and Hotwells suburbs as genteel residential areas for the city’s new mercantile elite. But Bristol’s wealth at the time was largely produced from the immense profits from the slave trade. Ships from Bristol took trade goods down to west Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. These were then taken to the West Indies to be sold, and the ships returned to Bristol with West Indian goods like sugar and rum in what has become known as the triangular trade. And it was on this aspect of Bristol’s Georgian history that the programme concentrated.

The show is well done and the research is very thorough. Among those Roberts talked to was Dr. Steve Poole, a lecturer at the University of the West of England; a member of Bristol’s Radical History Group, who talked about the Queen’s Square Massacre; and a couple of distillers, who showed her how 18th century gin was made. She also talked to Dr. Edson Burnett about the slave trade, going through some of the ledgers left by the slavers itemising their ships’ human cargo in the city archives. Some of these are really shocking. They simply give the number of slaves shipped aboard, and the deaths during the voyage. Those taken were simply items of merchandise, with no names. The ledgers give brief descriptions of those who died and how the body was disposed of. They were simply thrown over the side. One of the most horrendous incidents was the scandal surrounding the Zong, a slave ship, which threw its entire cargo of slaves overboard during a storm, and then tried to sue the insurance company for compensation for them as lost cargo. It’s a horrific atrocity and injustice. She also mentioned how a number of plays were written during the 18th century attacking the slave trade, many of which were set in Bristol. She then spoke to the writer and artistic director of a modern play about the trade being staged by Bristol’s historic Old Vic theatre.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

The programme’s coverage of Bristol’s history during the period was fair, although there was much obviously left out because of the constraints of the programme’s length. It’s an hour long, and it could easily take that long to discuss the city’s involvement with the slave trade and some of the architecture that was built for the merchants involved in the trade. As it was, the programme showed only one of them, the house of George Pinney, a 19th century West India planter and merchant. This is now a museum, the Georgian House, open to the public in one of the streets just off Park Street. However, Roberts opened the discussion of the city’s complicity in the slave trade with a statement that was simply wrong. She said that it was a terrible secret.

Exhibitions

Well, if Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade is a secret, then it’s a very badly kept one! Bristol’s M Shed museum, which takes visitors through the city’s history and some of its industries, including aircraft and motor vehicles built here, has a display on the slave trade. This shows not only slave manacles and the manillas, bracelet-like items used for barter, but also maps of homes and other properties owned and occupied by the slave merchants and plantation owners. This follows an earlier exhibit at the City Museum in Queen Street, ‘A Respectable Trade’, which was timed to coincide with the TV series of that name on BBC 1, based on the book by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. The book and TV series were about the slave trade, and much of it was set in the Bristol of the time. The exhibition was staged by local council and showed the historical reality on which the fiction was based. Gregory also appeared in a TV programme at the time, exploring the city’s connection to the slave trade, in which she spoke to several Black anti-racist activists.

Books and Pamphlets

Since then there have been a number of books published on Bristol and the slave trade. The city library has published a catalogue of books and other materials it holds on the subject.  There has also been a book published on the City in 1807, the year in which the slave trade was officially prohibited throughout the British Empire. Dr. Madge Dresser, a historian at the University of the West of England, has also published a book, Slavery Obscured, on the persistence of the slave trade after its formal abolition, in which merchants from Bristol were involved. And back in the 1990s the local branch of the Historical Association published a booklet on Bristol’s Black population in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Society of Merchant Venturers, the mercantile organisation that dominated Bristol’s trade in that period, has also published a catalogue of its holdings, which included it’s members’ plantations in the West Indies.

Origin of Belief Bristol Keeping Slave Trade Connection Secret

I’ve been told by members of the city’s Black cultural and anti-racist organisations that the idea that the city council is somehow covering up the city’s involvement in the slave trade dates from the 1970s. A member of the community rang the council up to inquire about what they knew about Bristol and the slave trade, only to be told that the city wasn’t involved in it. Which is wrong. I wonder if the person, who answered the call genuinely didn’t know about Bristol’s history of slaving. But whatever the reality, this planted the idea that the city council was deliberating hiding the truth. I think it was partly to dispel this idea that the City Museum staged the 1995 exhibition.

Two Books on Bristol from the 1950s and 1970s

But even before then, the city’s involvement in the slave trade was known and discussed. For example, the book Bristol and Its Adjoining Counties, edited by C.M. MacInnes and W.F. Whittard, and published by the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, has several pages on the slave trade in the chapter by MacInnes, ‘Bristol and Overseas Expansion’, pp. 219-230.

The 1975 textbook, Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey, published by Georges, also covers the slave trade in its chapter on city’s 18th century trade, pp. 31-2. All the chapters are a page or so in length, with another page suggesting projects or containing questions for students on that period of the city’s history. The paragraph on the slave trade runs

Unfortunately, Bristol was better known at this time for its links with the slave trade. The “Blackbirds” sailed to Africa with various goods, exchanged them for slaves which were then shipped to the West Indies or North America. The ships then returned home iwth sugar and tobacco, the whole “Triangular Trade” bringing enormous profits to many Bristol merchants. Before 1760, Bristol carried about one-third of all the slaves, but this number died away by the end of the century as the anti-slavery movement made progress. (p. 31).

Few Obvious Monuments to Slave Trade in City

I also think that part of this misconception may come from the fact that there are few monuments from the time that obviously have direct connections to the slave trade. When I was studying archaeology at Bristol, one of the foreign students on the archaeology course complained to one of the lecturers that her housemate believed Bristol was racist, because there were no monuments for the slaves. The housemate was another foreign student, from Guiana, where I believe the buildings for landing and sale of slaves still exist. I think the student expected similar buildings to exist in Bristol. But they don’t, as the bulk of the city’s slave trade was with the West Indies. There were slaves in Bristol, but these were brought to the city as personal servants, rather than imported en masse as they were in the Caribbean.

Historic Buildings and Later Monuments Connected to Slaves and Slave Trade

However, there are architectural hints at the city’s connection to the slave trade all around. The city’s merchants decorated the exterior of their homes with carvings symbolising their connection to Africa or the Caribbean, such as pineapples. There are also coloured statues, representing the indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas in St. Nicholas Market, one of which is a Black African. And several of the city’s pubs also claim a direct connection to the trade. The Ostrich, one of the pubs on the harbourside, had a cellar, in which, it was claimed, slaves were held ready for sale. When I used to drink there in the 1990s there was a poster up about it, along with reproductions of the advertisements of the time for runaway slaves. However, it may be the reality here was more prosaic. The 1995 exhibition said that many the connection of many of parts of Bristol to the slave trade may just be urban folklore. Blackboy Hill, for example, is probably not named after a slave boy, but possibly a racehorse owned by Charles II. The city has also made other gestures to commemorating the victims of the slave trade. There’s a slave walk along Bristol’s docks, and a plaque put up to those enslaved by city on one of the former warehouses by M Shed. A remarkable bridge built across the docks in the 1990s, which features two horn-like constructions, has been called ‘Pero’s Bridge’, after one of the slaves imported into Bristol. And there is a gravestone for Scipio, an African slave brought to the city by his master in one of the city’s churchyards.

Bristol has a very rich and fascinating history, of which the slave trade is one part. It’s a history that definitely needs to be told. And it has only been within the last quarter century or so that the slave trade has been memorialised in local museums, not just in Bristol, but also elsewhere. Bristol has joined Liverpool and Nantes in France in creating exhibitions and galleries on its involvement in the trade. Before then it’s fair to say that City Museum did not display anything on the slave trade. It was a period of the city’s history that most Bristolians probably would have preferred not to commemorate, but it was never forgotten nor kept hidden.

 

Book on the Plight of the Embattled Christians of Palestine

April 13, 2019

Said K. Aburish, The Forgotten Faithful: The Christians of the Holy Land (London: Quartet 1993).

Aburish is a Palestinian, born in Bethany, and the author of several books about the Arabs and specifically the Palestinians and their persecution by the Israelis – A Brutal Friendship, Children of Bethany – The Story of a Palestinian Family and Cry Palestine: Inside the West Bank. In The Forgotten Faithful he tackles the problems of the Christians of Palestine, talking to journalists, church official, charity workers, educationalists, businessmen and finally of the leaders of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi. Christians used to constitute ten per cent or so of the Palestinian population before the foundation of Israel. Now they’re down to one per cent. Much of this decline has been due to emigration, as educated, skilled Christians leave Israel to seek better opportunities elsewhere, and the indigenous Christian future in the Holy Land, the in which Christianity first arose, is uncertain.

Said states clearly the issues driving this decline early in his book – persecution by the Israelis, and particularly their attempt to wrest the lucrative tourism industry from them on the one hand, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the other. He writes

Twenty-five years of Israeli occupation have been disastrous for Palestinian Christians. In addition to the widely known closures of schools, imprisonment and torture of children, deportation of dissenters and activists, the expropriation of land owned by individuals and church-owned property, the Christians’ primary source of income, tourism and its subsidiary service businesses, have been the targets of special Israeli attempts to control them. In other words, when it comes to the Israeli occupation, the Christians have suffered more than their Muslim countrymen because they have more of what the Israelis want.

Furthermore, the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism is confronting the Christians with new problems against most of which they cannot protest without endangering the local social balance, indeed their Palestinian identity. Muslim fanatics have raise the Crescent on church towers, Christian cemeteries have been desecrated, the statues of the Virgin Mary destroyed and, for the first time ever, the Palestinian Christians are facing constraints on their way of life. In Gaza a Muslim fundamentalist stronghold, Christian women have to wear headscarves and long sleeves or face stoning, and Christian-owned shops have to close on the Muslim sabbath of Friday instead of on Sunday. 

These combined pressures come at a time of strain between the local Christian communities and both their local church leadership and the mainline churches of the West. The mainline churches in the West are accused of not doing enough to help them financially or drawing attention to their plight, for fear of appearing anti-Semitic and to a lesser degree anti-Muslim. The local church leaders are caught between their parishioners’ cry for help and the attitude of their mother churches and have been undermined by their identification with the latter. In addition to problems with the mainline churches, Christian evangelist groups from the United States, Holland and other countries support the State of Israel at the expense of local Christians. The evangelists accept the recreation of Israel as the prelude to the second coming to the extent of ignoring local Christian rights and feelings, a fact overlooked by Muslim zealots who blame the local Christians for not curbing their insensitive pro-Israeli co-religionists.

Two subsidiary problems contribute towards closing the ring of helplessness which is choking the local Christian communities of the Holy Land. The suffering inflicted on them by others and the direct and indirect results of the neglect of outside Christianity still haven’t induced their local church leaders to cooperate in establishing a common, protective Christian position. The traditional quarrel, alongside other disputes between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, continues and its stands in the way of creating a constructive Christian front. Furthermore, the Israelis make the appearance of favouring them against their Muslim nationals, a divide-and-rule policy which contributes towards inflaming the feelings of ignorant Muslims who do not understand the reasons behind the Israeli actions and use them to justify whatever anti-Christian feeling exists. (pp. 2-4).

The Palestinian Christian community has largely been middle class, assimilated and patriotic. They have provided the Palestinian people with a large number of businessmen and professionals, including a significant part of the membership and leadership of Palestinian nationalism and the PLO, as well as the civil rights lawyers working to defend the Palestinian people from persecution by the Israeli state and military. They have also been active establishing charities to provide for the Palestinians’ welfare. Said visits one, which specialises in rehabilitating and providing training for people physically injured and mentally traumatised by the Israeli armed forces. Visiting a Palestinian hospital, he also meets some of the victims of the IDF wounded and crippled by the IDF, including a young man shot by a member of the Special Forces simply for spraying anti-Israeli graffiti on a wall.

This isn’t an anti-Semitic book, as Aburish talks to sympathetic Israeli journalists and academics, but he describes very clearly the violence and bigotry that comes not just from the Israeli state and army, but also from Jewish religious fanatics. In the first chapter he describes a group of Israeli soldiers sneering at Christian Palestinians, and how he deliberated placed himself between a group of Jewish schoolboys and an elderly Ethiopian nun going through one district of Jerusalem. The boys had first started insulting her, and then began throwing stones at her and Aburish before the local, Jewish inhabitants rushed into the street to drive them away. The churches and monasteries in that part of town are close to an area of Jewish religious extremists. They’re not usually physically aggressive, but they make it very clear they don’t like Christians being there.

Nor is it anti-Muslim. The Christians community itself sees itself very firmly as part of the Palestinians. Many Christian men have adopted the name Muhammad in order to show that there is no difference between themselves as their Muslim fellow countrymen. And historically they have been fully accepted by the Muslim community. Aburish talks to the headman of a mixed Christian-Muslim village. The man is a Christian, and historically Christians have formed the headmen for the village. The Christians also point with pride to the fact that one of the generals of Saladin, the Muslim leader who conquered Palestine back from the Crusaders, was a Greek Orthodox Christian. Aburish is shocked by how extremely religious the Muslim community has become, with Friday services packed and one of his aunts traveling to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to pray. This, like the less obvious religious revival among the Christians, is ultimately due to Israeli pressure and the failure of secular Palestinian politicians. There is no truth in politics, so they seek it instead in Islam and the pages of Qu’ran. And behind this rise in Islamic intolerance are the Saudis. Aburish recommends better Muslim-Christian dialogue to tackle this growing intolerance.

Aburish hears from the Palestinians how their land is seized by the Israelis for the construction of new, Israeli settlements, how people are shot, beaten, injured and maimed, and the attempts to strangle Palestinians businesses. This includes legislation insisting that all tourist guides have to be Israeli – a blatant piece of racism intended to drive Christians out of the tourist business through denying them access to the many Christian shrines, churches and monuments that are at the heart of the industry. Christian charities and welfare services don’t discriminate between Christian and Muslim, but they are oversubscribed and underfunded. And the churches are more interested in defending their traditional institutional privileges than in helping their local flock. They look west, and are more interested in promoting and defending the churches’ response to the worlds’ problems as a whole, while the Palestinians are also being pulled east through their Arab identity. Senior Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clergy are often foreigners, who cannot speak Arabic and may be to a greater or lesser extent indifferent to the needs and problems of their congregations. The Palestinian Christians are also hampered by the fact that they don’t want to acknowledge that they have specific problems as a minority within the wider Palestinian nation, partly for fear of further antagonising the Muslim majority.

Nevertheless, some Palestinian Christians choose to remain, stubbornly refusing to emigrate while they could get much better jobs elsewhere. And all over the world, expatriate Palestinian communities are proud of their origins and connection to the land. Aburish even talks to one optimistic Palestinian Christian businessman, who believes that Cyprus provides the model for a successful Palestine. There local people have built a thriving commercial economy without having the universities and educational institutions Palestine possesses. And some Palestinian Christians believe that the solutions to their crisis is for the community to reconnect with its oriental roots, reviving the traditional extensive Arab family structure, which has served Arabs so well in the past.

The book was published a quarter of a century ago, in 1993, and I’ve no doubt that things have changed since then. But not for the better. There have been recent magazine articles by National Geographic, among others, that report that the Palestinians are still suffering the same problem – caught between the hammer of the Israeli state and the anvil of Islamic fundamentalism. Christian Zionism, however, has become stronger and exerts a very powerful influence on American foreign policy through organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Netanyahu’s vile Likud is still in power, and Israeli politics has lurched even further to the right with the inclusion of Fascist parties like Otzma Yehudat – Jewish Power – in the wretched coalition. And some British churches maintain a very determined silence on the problems of the Palestinians. According to one anti-Zionist Jewish blog, the Methodist Church has passed regulations at its synod preventing it or its members officially criticising Israel. Because of the church’s leaders was friends with members of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

I am very well aware of the long, shameful history of Christian anti-Semitism and how real, genuine Nazis have also criticised Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and claimed that they’re just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to provoke further bigotry against the Jewish people. But Israel is oppressing the Christians of Palestine as well as the Muslims, but we in the West really don’t hear about it. And I’m not sure how many western Christians are really aware that there is a Christian community in Palestine, or how its members largely identify totally as Palestinians. Certainly Ted Cruz, the American politico, didn’t when he tried telling a Middle Eastern Christian group that they should support Israel. He was shocked and disgusted when they very firmly and obviously didn’t agree. He made the mistake of believing they had the same colonialist attitude of western right-wing Christians, while Middle Eastern Christians are very much the colonised and know it. Hence the fact that according to Aburish, many Palestinian Christians look for theological support to South American Liberation Theology and its Marxist critique of colonialism. And they also supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, as a secular Arab state that would allow them to maintain their religious identity and culture.

The book’s dated, and since it was written the Christian presence in the Holy Land has dwindled further. Aburish describes in strong terms what a catastrophe a Palestine without indigenous Christians would be. He writes

The growing prospect of a Holy Land Christianity reduced to stones, a museum or tourist faith without people, a Jerusalem without believers in Christ, is more serious than that of a Rome without a Pope or a Canterbury without an archbishop. It is tantamount to a criminal act which transcends a single church and strikes a blow at the foundations and the very idea of Christianity.

I thoroughly recommend this book to every western Christian reader interested in seeing an alternative view of the religious situation in Palestine, one of that contradicts the lies and demands of the right-wing press. Like an article by the Torygraph’s Barbara Amiel back in the 1990s, which quoted a Christian mayor as stating that the Christian community welcomed the Israeli occupation. His might, but as the book shows, most don’t. Or that scumbucket Katie Hopkins telling us that we should support Israel, because it represents Judaeo-Christian values and civilisation, a claim that would outrage many Jews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klan Jokes Show Racism Far Stronger in Tories

March 29, 2019

I realise that this is a few days old, and that blogs like Zelo Street, Tom Clarke and Mike have already commented on it, but I really can’t let this one go without putting my ha’pence in. A few days ago, Laura Kuensberg tweeted that the members of the right-wing eurosceptic European Research Group had, according to her anonymous sources, been calling themselves ‘Grand Wizards’. This, as any fule kno, is one of the grade in the Ku Klux Klan. Outrage naturally erupted, at which point Kuensberg showed her true colours – deep Tory blue – by rowing back on her claim. She’d only heard it from two people, who were anonymous, and the ERG didn’t know about its Klan connotations when they started using it.

A likely story, as my grandmother would say when presented with tall tales of this magnitude. Firstly, as Tom Clarke and Zelo Street have pointed out, much news comes to journalists through anonymous sources. And with some stories the individuals providing the information may have their identities hidden by journalists, even when that person is known to them. Like in the various stories where information or comments are credited to unnamed ministers, civil servants or other anonymous ‘official sources’. And as the above blogs also point out, does anyone really believe that Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith didn’t know that Grand Wizard was a Klan term? No, I don’t either.

I dare say that Boris or one of the others could probably huff and puff and try to make it all sound very innocent by referring back to one of Lloyd George’s nicknames: the Welsh Wizard. The Tories at the time had other words for him, such as ‘the little bounder’ and worse. Or they could try saying that it was just a bit of fun and meant in the spirit of the peeps who play Dungeons and Dragons and other Fantasy role-playing games. I think the Fantasy card game, Magic: The Gathering, is produced by a company called the Wizards of the Coast. But here’s the point. The ERG weren’t simply calling themselves wizards. No-one would be bother if they called themselves the ‘Wizards of Westminster’, in the same way that no-one is bothered when someone’s described as a wizard at maths, finances or whatever. It’s the fact that they called themselves ‘Grand Wizards’.

The Klan, their robes and their jargon are grotesque, and have generated a great deal of laughter after their expense. One anti-fascist described them as sounding like a Nazi party set up by D&D fans. But this hides a very grime, terrible reality: they’re White supremacists, who’ve killed thousands. They’re a secret society, who were set up to terrorise the Black liberated by the American Civil War. The full, pompous title is ‘The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’. And the violence and terror they caused was and is horrific. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks described in one of their videos how his eyes were opened to right-wing racist violence in the US when he went into a Black Museum while passing through the South. This had a display on the lynchings, which revealed just how extreme the terror was. A wrong word or gesture could result in an angry mob surrounding a Black man, who would then be beaten, mutilated, or set on fire, and then hung from the trees. What is really disturbing is that the White mobs and onlookers would also see this as some kind of occasion for a party, holding picnics and breaking pieces off the bodies to take home as souvenirs. Not all the victims were Black. Tariq Ali on one of his shows pointed out that in Louisiana more Italians were lynched than Blacks. But it is truly horrific, and makes you wonder about how civilised the people and communities that committed, or simply acquiesced in these lynchings were. Uygur stated that if this was done by Muslims, then people here would automatically see it as more evidence of Muslim barbarism.

I am also honestly not surprised that the ERG decided to refer to themselves by such a loaded, disgusted monicker. There’s always been a section of the public school educated, Tory far right, that’s thought it absolute top hole and boffo to dress up as Nazis and goose-step around as Fascists, even when they’re not actually members. It was, after all, back in the 1980s when Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog was hobnobbing with real south American Fascists and their supporters. It was the time when the denizens of the Tory students union were singing, ‘We Don’t Want No Blacks or Asians’ to the tune of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and demanding the death penalty for Nelson Mandela, ’cause he’s a terrorist. IDS was Cameron’s mate when Dodgy Dave decided that he was going to modernise the Tory party by severing its link with the Monday Club and clearing out members, who had connections to the Far Right. But this shows how superficial this was. And if IDS was one of those, who liked the ‘Grand Wizards’ nickname, then he’s nothing but a hypocrite. But this is pretty clear from his vile treatment of the poor, the unemployed, sick and disabled anyway.

And the fact that Kuenssberg was desperately trying to cover up this scandal after she revealed it also shows how biased the Beeb is. If this had been Labour, the scandal would have been played up  and magnified, with various hacks and pundits, including probably the Zionist Jewish establishment, all bleating about how it shows the racism at the heart of the Labour party, and that Corbyn hasn’t done enough to stamp it out. But if it’s the Tories, the story’s quickly buried, and everything is done to try to reassure the public that they are the natural party of government where racism is minimal and swiftly dealt with.

This shows that the opposite is true. It extends to the highest levels, but they and their media puppets are desperate to cover it up.

 

Rapper Fab 5 Freddy to Host Beeb Film on Renaissance Art

January 25, 2019

More arts news. Also according to yesterday’s I for Thursday, 24th January 2019, the New York rapper Fab 5 Freddy is due to hos a Beeb documentary about the Renaissance. The article, written by Adam Sherwin, ran

Move over Simon Schama, Fab 5 Freddy wants your spot. The New York hip-hop pioneer and former graffiti artist is the unlikely choice to present a BBC 2 documentary on Italian Renaissance Art.

Fab – real name Fred Brathwaite – was approached to do the film, ‘A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy’, after the BBC learnt that he was an art lover who worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 80s, curating the cult artist’s Manhattan shows.

“Amidst superstar artists such as Michelangelo and powerful patrons such as the Medicis, Fab discovers groundbreaking images of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that have slipped through the cracks of art history,” the BBC said. (‘A ‘Fresh’ take on the Renaissance’, p. 21).

It might be a surprising choice, but it seems to be a good one in line with current arts policy of getting different voices to open up the arts. A number of BAME artists have appeared in the news complaining that there aren’t enough Black artists shown in museums and art galleries, and that when they were small they weren’t interested in visiting them because there was nothing for them there. It therefore looks like the Beeb is trying to appeal to a younger, Black audience with Fab 5 Freddie in order to stop it being viewed as just something made by old White guys for White guys.

I am also not surprised that they chose a former graffiti artist for other reasons. Archaeologists have been working with graffiti artists for several years now in order to explore rock art and its links with modern graffiti art. I can remember attending an archaeological seminar at Bristol university at least six years ago in which one of the speakers presented a piece about their research about the graffiti in a particular area of one of the Spanish towns. And Radio 4 a few years ago also presented a programme about rock art which included comments from some of Britain’s leading street artists.

As for the Renaissance, Florence was a major centre of trade and industry, but historians have pointed out in books like The Renaissance Bazaar that many of the commercial innovations that made the Renaissance possible had their origins further east in the Islamic world. This was also a period when Europeans were turning from the Slavic east to Africa for a supply of slaves, so that you do find Blacks portrayed in art in this period. Not that they weren’t here before, of course. A 12th century manuscript from London in the National Archives shows a Black person, while one of the books that used to be stocked in shop in Bristol’s M Shed was on Blacks in fifteenth century England.

I’ve no doubt critics of the programme will decry it as ‘dumbing down’ and complain about ‘diversity’, but this could be a programme worth watching because of the original insights Fab 5 Freddie could bring.

Video of Fascist North West Patriots Being Driven Out Of Liverpool

November 6, 2018

This is a short video from RT UK showing the reception the North West Frontline Patriots got when they tried to march in Liverpool. They were met by crowds of people waving anti-Fascist placards from a variety of organization, chanting ‘No Pasaran’. The groups shown demonstrating against them include Merseyside Anti-Fascist Action, Stand Up To Racism, and Unite Against Racism.
I don’t think they got out of the station before they were forced back and had to take the next train home.

The video features Liverpool councilor Anna Rothery, the mayoral lead for equality, who says,

Well today we’ve had the North West Patriots trying to come to the city to spread their hate, they have come in through Moorfields Street station or attempted to, but because we’re such a strong city and we are so against these people coming here they didn’t make it out once again.

Paul Sillet of Unite Against Racism says

The likes of Steve Bannon and many others of his ilk are directly influencing and helping to channel large funds into people like Tommy Robinson’s pockets, and now you have internationally, they are building – Greece, Italy and elsewhere as I mentioned Germany and so on, these people are building. It is going to be a challenge for us, but I have every confidence because of things like today we can stop them.

All of this is true. The Fascists are growing across Europe, and they are being encouraged and supported by Steve Bannon and other members of America’s extreme right. But it’s great that the Left is able to mount successful counterdemonstrations and drive them away, humiliated.

As for the ‘Patriots’ themselves, this is a new organization I really don’t know anything about. But I heartily and strongly dispute their right to call themselves patriots. A few weeks ago the anti-Fascist, feminist blogger Kevin Logan put up a video which, amongst other things, attacked the Far Right for appropriating the Remembrance Day poppy.

Britain was aided in both World Wars by troops from around the British Empire, including Black and Asian countries. These men and women gave their lives for Britain, and it was only a few years ago that a monument was put up commemorating the contributions of these brave men and women. Way back at the beginning of this century, when I was still doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, it ran an exhibition on the Great War and the contribution of non-White Commonwealth troops. One of the photos was a magnificent picture of a Black trooper, chest festooned with medals, proudly hoisting the Union Jack. The people I was working with at the time commented that it was a great picture, and a very powerful refutation of the Far Right’s attitude that Blacks and Asians aren’t British, and only White racists themselves are patriotic. As well as ordinary infantry troopers, there was even a Black RAF pilot in World War II. Quite apart from the Chinese, who served in the First World War as labourers for the army.

Many of the Black and Asian squaddies were so impressed by the warm greeting they had experienced from us during World War II, that they came back here as immigrants. Only to be faced with hostility and racism. Attitudes like those of Fascists like the North West Patriots.

Surveys have shown that typically immigrants are more optimistic about Britain than the traditional White community. Fascists like the North West Patriots have absolutely no right to call themselves such, and deserve to be driven out. Very definitely ‘No Pasaran!’.

The Artists Saying ‘Nope’ to the Arms Industry

October 19, 2018

This is another great little video from Novara media, posted on YouTube on the 17th October 2018, about a group of artists, who withdrew their work from the Design Museum and exhibited elsewhere. This is the Nopetoarms collective, a group of radical artists protesting against the arms industry.

They made the decision to withdraw their works following the announcement that the museum would be hosting a reception for Leonardo, the 9th largest arms company in the world. Novara’s Ash Sarkar tweeted that it was a case of the British art establishment coopting radical artists to stay relevant, and ‘facilitating the social calendar of slaughterers to stay wealthy’. They also told her it was a private event, and she had to use other entrances and exits. One of the artists, Glen Orton, states that the movement contained work by Syrian artists, the Hong Kong movement, and other protest groups, who’d been teargassed, beaten, bombed. He was ‘gobsmacked’ that they even considered hosting the company. The Museum stated that they could not immediately commit to refusing money from the arms, oil and tobacco industries.

Another artist, Jess Worth, states that when the time came to move their works, there were forty people in the collective, which now comprised a third of the exhibition. The artists then decided to exhibit their work themselves, on their own terms. Charlie Waterhouse, another artist with the group, states that once the decision was made to remove their work, the Museum’s PR machine attacked them by claiming they were trying to shut down free speech and stop people seeing the exhibition. This made them think that putting the show back on would be a good thing. The exhibition is now being held in the basement of a leisure centre in Brixton, where it is curated and controlled by the artists themselves.

Worth explains that they wanted their exhibition to be free, unlike the Design Museum, which charged 12 pounds, the artists would write the labels themselves, so that it would present the work in the way they wanted. They wanted it grounded in community. They also wanted to make it accessible to people, who wouldn’t normally go to an art gallery.

Waterhouse also explains why the art is hung on clothes pegs from fences. It’s so that people say, ‘Oh, I can do that. Then, ‘I can do that’, and go and do it.

The video explains that oil and arms funding in the arts industry is a massive problem. Worth explains that being in a museum space conveys the impression that a company’s work is legitimate, because otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed to be there. This is immensely valuable to the companies involved.

Waterhouse goes on to say that this has got to stop. On the one hand, they’re taking money from the arms industry. On the other, they’re levering cachet from the artists’ work without paying them. It’s a scam, he concludes.

The video also explains that the collective would like to do more. Worth says that what they’d really like to see is museums and other cultural bodies having a code of fundraising ethics, determining who they will and won’t take money from, that’s really clear on their website that everyone can see.

Waterhouse says that it’s time for artists to mobilise, to realise that their ethics, morals and feelings are valid, and they don’t just have to kowtow to the money.

Orton ends the video by saying that the Design Museum doesn’t know what it’s done.

The video shows the works of art as they’re displayed in the leisure. They not only comment explicitly on the arms industry, corruption and other issues, but also on the exploitation of the poor and working class through zero hours contracts. And among the iconic figures used in the works there’s David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

I think it’s really great that these artists have stood up for their beliefs against the arms industry, and that they’re encouraging their public to get involved and create their own pieces as well. I wish them all the best for their exhibition.

The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

October 19, 2018

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.