Posts Tagged ‘New Scientist’

Gardiner: Umunna Split from Labour Because Knew He Couldn’t Be Leader

February 26, 2019

Yesterday’s I also carried another interesting piece on page 9 by Adam Forrest, which reported claims that Chuka Umunna split off from Labour for no better reason than frustrated personal ambition. The piece ran

The shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, has claimed that Chuka Umunna only helped to form The Independent Group because “he knew he could never be the leader of the Labour Party”.

Mr Gardiner accused Mr Umunna of being motivated by frustrated personal ambitions. “It was fairly clear to me that the reason he wanted to leave the Labour Party was he knew hye could never by the leader of the Labour Party,” he told Sky News.

Mr Gardiner also cast doubt on anti-Semitic abuse as a primary motivation for leaving the party. Several of the nine Labour MPs who quit last week cited the party’s failure to tackle the abuse as a reason for leaving.

Mr Gardiner said he was “deeply saddened” that one of the MPs, Luciana Berger, felt she had to leave over the harassment she suffered in her Liverpool Wavertree constituency.

“I have no time for the others at all, because actually their reasons are varied by different,” he said. “What I’m clear about is that I don’t believe that [anti-Semitism] is the sole focus of why they’ve left the Labour party.”

No, I don’t believe that they left solely because of anti-Semitism either. It’s more likely because, like Umunna, all of them are Blairite mediocrities. Umunna was asked by Sky News to name a Labour policy he disagreed with. He couldn’t. Or, as has been remarked, he daren’t because they’re all popular. As for Leslie, as I’ve said, in his interview with New Scientist he was against a 50 per cent tax rate, renationalisation of the utilities, and ending tuition fees. Angela Smith’s also for keeping the water industry private. And all of them don’t want to hold an inquiry into the Iraq invasion. And they were all, or nearly all, the subject of ‘no confidence’ votes or threatened with deselection. They were jumping before they were pushed. Six of the original eight were also members of Labour Friends of Israel. And by anti-Semitism, they almost certainly anti-Zionism, or simply criticism of Israel. They’re thus standard Blairite neoliberals and warmongers.

And I don’t doubt, that as Blairites, they’re getting money from Israel. Joan Ryan was caught by the undercover journo for al-Jazeera’s documentary, The Lobby, saying that she met Shai Masot, the disgraced official at the Israeli embassy, most days for discussions. And Blair himself was financed by the Israelis and the Israel lobby through Lord Levy, whom he met at a gathering at the Israeli embassy.

These are almost certainly the real reasons they left: an attempt to preserve Thatcherite capitalism, western, corporate driven imperialism, and the preservation of Israel from justifiable criticism. Everything else is simply lies and propaganda.

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Watson Intriguing Again After Splitters’ Departure, Stoking Anti-Semitism Witch-Hunt

February 26, 2019

After the departure of the nine Labour splitters, Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party, is up to his old tricks again trying to undermine Corbyn. Watson to my mind looks like the American comedian Greg Proops, but without any of Proops’ wit, personality or charisma. He’s a Blairite, who is now trying to use the splitters’ departure to try to get his old chums back onto the front bench, develop a separate back bench power base, and then purge Corbyn’s supporters on the pretext that they’re anti-Semites.

Watson was on the Andrew Marr show to peddle his malign views on Sunday. He claimed that he had received 50 complaints of anti-Semitic abuse from MPs, and that he had passed them on to Corbyn. Now today I read in the Metro that he was demanding to be allowed to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism as well as the party secretary, Jenny Formby, because Formby allegedly wasn’t dealing with them quickly enough.

Yesterdays I, for Monday, 25th February 2019, quoted Watson as saying

‘I think he [Corbyn] needs to take a personal lead on examining those cases and, if necessary, recommend to our [ruling body]NEC what has to be done.

‘The test for him as a leader is to eradicate anti-Semitism. It is not Labour party members, who will be the judge of that, it is the British Jewish community.’

He also demanded a reshuffle of the front bench to represent a greater range of views, saying

If there isn’t one, I think I’d need to give a platform for my colleagues who want their ideas to be listened to by the current Shadow Cabinet’.

The I’s report about his intention to set up a back-bench group of MPs, ‘Splintering: Deputy leader to set up backbench group’, runs as follows

A new grouping of Labour MPs who are disillusioned with the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn is being set up by his deputy Tom Watson.

Its launch, which is expected within a fortnight, is aimed at preventing the trickle of defections of MPs to The Independent Group from becoming a flood.

But the faction will also inevitably be seen as a rival power based to Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. I understands that organisers hope to attract more than 100 backbenchers into the group, which will appoint spokespeople and work on policy initiatives.

Meetings will be held within days to gauge the level of support for the group.

‘We need to assert ourselves more than we have done in the last two years,’ said one MP.

Mr Watson said he wanted to ‘give a platform’ to Labour MPs who felt excluded by the leadership.

‘My central point is that the social democratic voice has to be heard, because that is the only way you keep the Labour party unified and prohibit other colleagues from potentially leaving the PLP_ [Parliamentary Labour Party]. The situation is serious,’ he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Of course, Watson denies he is rebelling. The previous article in the I quoted him as saying that he was ‘standing up for pluralism in the party’.

This is just lies and doubletalk. Watson and the 100 MPs he wants to recruit are obviously Blairites, indignant at being forced out of power. They’ve been intriguing against the Labour leader ever since he came to power. They’ve threatened to leave several times before, just as they’ve tried to oust him as leader. But Corbyn is genuinely popular with the Labour grassroots activists, and his policies are immensely popular with the public. Which puts Watson and his fellow plotters in an awkward position: no-one wants their shoddy, mouldy neoliberal economics any longer. People are sick and tired of Labour trying to copy to the Tories as Blair and his coterie did. And the Blairites themselves were a small minority within the party. They dominated it because they seized control of party bureaucracy, just as Stalin and his supporters were able to seize control of the Communist apparat in the former Soviet Union. These backbench MPs may claim to be defending a plurality of views, but they only views they’re interested in defending and promoting are their own. Not Corbyn’s, and not anyone else’s in the party.

As for claiming to be Social Democrats, this is a sick joke. The Social Democratic tendency in the Labour party was the creation of Anthony Crosland. Crosland didn’t want further nationalisation, because he felt it was unnecessary. Its benefits, he felt, could be obtained instead through progressive taxation, strong trade unions and social mobility. Well, thanks to Thatcherism, social mobility stopped under Blair. In fact, I think under the Tories it’s even been reversed, so that for the first time since the late 19th century Marx’s statement that the middle class are being forced down into the working class is true, at least as far as middle class poverty goes. Similarly, Blair, as a Thatcherite, hated the trade unions and passed legislation aimed at destroying their power. With their acquiescence, it should be said. As for progressive taxation, they’re against that as well. Aaron Bastani quoted an interview in last week’s New Scientist with Chris Leslie in his article on the corrupt, compromised policies of the Independent Group. Leslie had said that he was not in favour of a 50 per cent tax rate. This was the tax rate set by Gordon Brown. And I don’t doubt Leslie was alone. My guess is that a number of the Blairites, who still remain in the Labour party, have the same noxious views.

Watson and the other Blarites aren’t Social Democrats: they’re Red Tories, Thatcherites. Any other description of them is a lie.

As for the anti-Semitism allegations, my guess is that it’s just more smears of people supporting Corbyn and standing up for the Palestinians. And when Watson says that Labour will be judged by the Jewish community, he’s not talking about the Jewish community as a whole. He’s talking about the Tory, Zionist Jewish establishment. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is monstrously right-wing and which is an explicitly Zionist organisation. An organisation which is morally corrupt and deeply compromised. How else can you describe an organisation which issued nauseating, spurious justifications for the IDF shooting unarmed Gazans last year? Which excludes Orthodox and secular Jews? And which howled with rage when Corbyn spent a Pesach (Passover) seder with the socialists of Jewdas, and claimed this was an insult to the Jewish community?

And the same is to be said about the Chief Rabbinate. The former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, caused shock and outrage when he called Reform Jews ‘enemies of the faith’, like a medieval inquisitor about to launch an auto-da-fe against heretics and Jews. He also considered homosexuality to be a terrible sin and warned his congregation not to join a gay rights march, until he later changed his mind, that is. And he led a contingent of Jewish British thugs to Israel to join the March of the Flags. That’s the day when Israeli ultra-nationalists march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem vandalising their homes and businesses and threatening and intimidating them. I see no difference between it, and Tommy Robinson and his odious crew marching into British Muslim communities, or Mosley and the British Union of Fascists goose-stepping into the Jewish community in the East End in the 1930s. And when the Jewish community held their rallies last summer against Corbyn, organised by the Board and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, those attending including members and supporters of the Fascist organisations Kach, the Jewish Defence League, and the English Defence League Jewish Division.

Similarly, Watson’s declaration that he wants to assist in dealing with cases of anti-Semitism cases means that he’s unhappy with Formby’s handling of it for other reasons. He wants more Cobynites thrown out through the same spurious reasons that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism and that describing Israeli plotting to determine who should be in the cabinet as a ‘conspiracy’ is the same as reviving the smears on Jews as a whole of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Oh yes, and that showing a photoshopped image of a Jobcentre with the slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ on it is another terrible anti-Semitic smear, rather than a justifiable description of the murderous policies of the DWP.

And his demand to decide these cases personally is the precise same tactic Stalin used when he gained power. Before Stalin became leader of the Soviet Communist party, the post of General Secretary was a relatively unimportant position. His comrades thought he was thick, and so gave him the job thinking that he would satisfied purging it of all the drunks and seducers. But as well as getting rid of them, he was also using it to purge his enemies’ supporters and fill it with his own. He’s supposed to have said of the power of elections, ‘It’s not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes’.

Watson is a typical Blairite. He follows Blair and the others as a destructive neoliberal, who wants absolute obedience to a highly centralised, dictatorial party elite. It is not Corbyn and his supporters who should be thrown out, but him and his.

Aaron Bastani on the ‘Independents’ as the Old, Blairite Austerity Politics

February 25, 2019

In this 20 minute long video from Novara Media, presenter Aaron Bastani utterly demolishes the new ‘Independent’ grouping of MPs. He shows that rather than being any kind of new politics, they are simply the old, Blairite and Tory politics neoliberal politics. They are radically out of tune with what people really want, especially millennials, who have left much worse off than the preceding generation by the same politics the Blairites and Tories were pushing. And they’re being promoted by the media because they represent the old style of politics the media like: austerity with a smiley face.

Labour MPs All Going Before They’re Pushed

Bastani begins the video by describing how the departure of the seven Labour MPs – Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Ann Coffee, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, who left to form the Independents – wasn’t actually a surprise. They were all loud critics of Corbyn, and almost all of them had been subject to motions of ‘no confidence’ or were facing deselection. They were then joined the next day by Joan Ryan, another critic of Corbyn, who had also lost a ‘no confidence’ motion. They were then joined the day after that by Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston from the Tories, who complained about the old, ‘broken’ politics of Labour versus Tories.

Independents Not Democratic, and Not a Political Party

The Independents, however, aren’t a political party as such. Which means that they don’t get the Short Money given to opposition parties. This could add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. They also don’t have to conform to the same standards as proper political parties, although they claim that they will try to do so as best they can.  They also don’t have a membership. You can give them your name and contact details, and make a donation, but there is no mechanism for creating a mass organisation where the membership can determine policy. It’s a private organisation more than a political party. But what concerns Bastani the most is that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, because this would ‘crush democracy’. It’s doublespeak, and the truth is that they don’t want bye-elections because they’d lose.

Angela Smith’s Racism

He then goes on to describe how the seven founding ex-Labour members claim that they were driven out of the party by its racism, only for Angela Smith to say within hours the most racist thing he’s ever heard a politician say on television. To show how badly their launch went, Bastani produces some viewing figures. On the Monday the video of their launch had 75,000 views on Twitter. The video of Angela Smith’s apology got 700,000 views. But the video of Smith making her racist comments got even more – 1.5 million views. And while the Mirror and the Guardian wanted to splash on a video by Tom Watson, which got 500 shares on Facebook, Novara’s video of their own Ash Sarkar showing the corruption at the heart of the group – she challenged smith on her chairmanship of a parliamentary group supporting water privatisation, funded largely by the water companies – got 200,000 views. Chris Leslie then appeared later on the Beeb to sort this out. Where once again he talked about their love of democracy. A love so strong, that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, thus disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of people, who voted for these 11 MPs. They claimed to be anti-racist, but set a new record by being racist ‘pretty much by lunchtime’.

People More Politically Engaged, Not Less

But their fundamental principle is that people don’t want Labour or Tory, but what Labour used to be 15 years ago. But at the 2017 election, 82 per cent of the population voted for either of the two main parties – Tories or Labour. That was the highest percentage the parties had since 1979. In 2010 only 65 per cent of the public voted Labour or Tory. The idea that people are turning away from the two main parties when there is a clear choice, socialism or neoliberalism, isn’t true. And the claim that people are disengaged from politics doesn’t stand up either. Voter turn-out was higher in the 2017 election, just as it was higher during the Scottish reference in 2014, and the Brexit referendum in 2016. Which was the biggest democratic exercise in British history. More people voted in that than in any previous general election or referendum. And Labour now has more than 500,000 members – more than it has had in a generation. The same is true for the SNP. More people are members of political parties now than at any point in Bastani’s lifetime. And if people genuinely do want centrist politics, how is it that the Lib Dems, who got only 8 per cent of the vote in 2015, got even less in 2017? This was despite the ‘media Einsteins’ telling us all that they would do well against the two main parties in a Brexit election. It’s almost as if, says Bastani, that the media don’t know what they’re talking about when they claim to know what the public wants.

Labour Policies Massively Popular

And then there are the policy issues. Labour’s policies are very popular. They’re right at the top of the list of why people voted Labour. But they don’t want to imitate these popular policies. Chris Leslie in an interview with New Scientist said he didn’t want a top tax rate of 50 per cent. That’s not a Corbynite policy, it’s one of Gordon Brown’s. He was also against stopping tuition fees and rejects the renationalisation of the railways, both extremely popular policies. These aren’t just popular with Labour voters, but also with Tories and Lib Dems. And polls conducted by IPPR And Sky News did polls at the end of last year which showed clear majorities of the British public wanting the Bank of England to keep house prices down and a minimal presence, at least, of workers on company boards. People don’t want centrist policies. They’re moving left, as shown on poll after poll.

Millennials Left-Wing because of Neoliberalism

And there’s a clear generational difference. At the last Labour split in 1981 when the SDP was formed, there was a clear movement to the right and post-war socialist policies had become unpopular. And yet when this split happened, the Economist carried an article decrying the popularity of socialism amongst millennials both in America and Britain. This meant ‘Generation Z’ young people, who want the government to address climate change as a fundamental part of 21st century politics. And these millennials despised the Tories, as shown by footage of an anti-Tory march. These are going to be the voters of the 2020s. And they’re not going to be bought off. They’re not left-wing because of something the read in a book, or because they want to be countercultural. They’re left-wing because their living standards and expectations are lower than their parents, they have a less expansive welfare state, they’re going to have higher levels of debt and earn less, and they will have to deal with systemic crises like demographic aging and climate change. They rightly feel that they’re screwed over. And the idea that these same people are going to agree with Chris Leslie’s idea of politics is probably the stupidest thing you’ll hear this year. And this is only February.

The Failure of Centrist Parties in France, America, Italy, Spain and Canada

But since 2015 centrist politicians have been hammered in election like Hillary Clinton in 2016. Emmanuel Macron in France was hailed as the saviour of French centrism, despite only taking 24 per cent of the vote in the first round. Now he’s the most unpopular president in French history after months of protests by the gilets jaunes, which have been met with tear gas attacks by the gendarmes, which have left people losing their eyes and their lives. Then there’s Matteo Renzi of the Partito Democratico, the Democratic Party, the Italian sister party to Britain’s Labour. In 2014 they took 42 per cent of the vote. But he was out within two years, having lost a referendum by 20 points. And in the last election the party lost half of their senators, leaving Italy governed by the Five Star Movement and the far-right Liga. Then there’s the example of the PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez. The PSOE is the Spanish equivalent of the Labour party. He’s also suffered mass protests and this week Spain called new general elections, which his party are certain to lose. Centrism is not popular in Europe or America, so the Independents have to turn to Canada’s Justin Trudeau. But Trudeau is now less popular in his country than Donald Trump in the US. Not that the media pushing ‘centrism’ will tell you this.

The Centrist Real Policy: More Austerity

The unpopularity of centrist politics is due to the fact that they still haven’t solved the problems of global capitalism created by the 2008 crash. They believed that financialisation would create the economic growth that would support public services. But financialisation hasn’t created growth since 2008. And as they can’t create prosperity and tackle income inequality, all they’ve have to give us is austerity ‘with a nice smiley face’.

Labour Splitters against Iraq Inquiry, For Welfare Cuts

And not only do the eight former Labour MPs have Brexit in common, they also voted against an independent inquiry into Iraq. A million people have been affected by the war, along with those, who suffered under ISIS, and Iranian influence has expanded across the Middle East. The idea that Iraq is irrelevant is not only absurd, it is a disgrace. People have died, and it has made an already volatile region even more so. And Britain is directly responsible. The former Labour MPs also abstained on the vote of welfare reform before Corbyn came to power. They do not stand for a moral foreign policy, or for a more just social system at home.

Their politics are a mixture of careerism and opportunism, and their opposition to Brexit actually makes a new deal more likely. They are driven by fundamental democratic principles, but won’t stand for a bye-election. No members, no policies, no party democracy, no vision. Bastani states that this isn’t the future of politics, it’s the past, and the worst aspects at that. He looks forward to sensible people joining them, because they’re going to be found out sooner or later. And if we want to establish the primacy of socialist ideas, he says, then bring it on.

Kitty S. Jones on Cambridge Analytica’s Datamining of Facebook

March 23, 2018

Aside from the Skripal poisoning, one of the major issues this week has been Cambridge Analytica and their datamining of Facebook to get the personal particulars of something like 50 million people, so that they could be targeted for political manipulation. Kitty’s article is a long one, but she makes some very good points. Not least is that GCHQ and the other western intelligence services discussed ways of using the internet to target particular individuals to manipulate them or disrupt groups that posed a threat to national security. She also connects this to ‘behavioural economics’ and the infamous Nudge Unit, which uses subtle psychological techniques to manipulate people into making decisions the government wants. With those two, we are well into the kind of dystopian future, where a totalitarian government manipulates the minds of its subjects portrayed in the Beeb’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7. Some of this datamining appears to have been done to benefit Russian oil interests. Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this to her piece, commenting on the immense value of personal information on the Net:

“The Wiley disclosure certainly had quite a media make over, he sits in a trendy bare room with a big photo shoot light for the Guardian and in a graffiti tunnel for ITV news, yet with all his intellectual prowess his deductive reasoning interestingly falls short on his employer making a link with Russian oil: “It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

REF: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

The spotlight on this company must be just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 I had blogged about the EU intending to make it clear how internet users would have their digital data exploited and the New York Times had a comment re the intended EU overhaul of privacy regulations. I had written that the publishers value was not based on content or brand but on the information that can be collected about each digital visitor, as we click away our preferences and online patterns are being delivered up to the advertising market because the ability to sell this information about us is the true value a publisher holds. Here is the comment in the New York Times (20 Nov 2010) about the E.U´s intention to overhaul the online privacy rules to protect personal data which would hamper the “development of services” – a great euphemism for snooping:

“Rules requiring Internet companies to secure users’ consent upfront could hamper the development of services that align online advertising with Web users’ personal interests, as reflected in the Web sites they visit or the preferences they express in social networks and other online forums. From a marketer’s perspective, this could dilute one of the big advantages of the Web over traditional media.”

REF: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/technology/05privacy.html?_r=2

Evidently the misuse of data has been understood for many years, (as you have pointed out Sue), I also noted in 2010 a New Scientist article: “EVERY move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.”

REF: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727701-100-social-networks-the-great-tipping-point-test/

So how did the ‘security services’ miss Cambridge Analytica’s flagrant misuse of data when it has been clearly understood even in the public realm for almost a decade? These supposed revelations at this juncture come at a time when the hype to cold war status is already far too high…”

Kitty’s article is at: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/cambridge-analytica-the-commodification-and-marketisation-of-democracy/

And the Americans are not alone in using Cambridge Analytica, it seems. I found this report by RT about our government also using them and their parent company, SCL, to gather data on us. RT’s presenter, Polly Boiko, states that the two were hired by the Ministry of Defence, and paid for providing staff with training and for keeping government secrets on their computer, amongst other services. Yvette Cooper has demanded a wider investigation into their activities. They have also been hired by some very dodgy governments around the world. Like Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling party to gather data on its opponents, and create a psychological strategy that would allow them to hold on to power. The company has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions as part of this. They were also hired by Ukraine to undermine the breakaway Donetsk Republic. This ended in failure, but the company’s report not only went to the Ukrainians who commissioned it, but was also shared with the British government. She concludes that the next stage of the scandal will probably be the company’s connections to the world’s governments.

This has been touched on today in the I newspaper, which reported that Israel had also hired the company to swing elections Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is a real threat to democracy, but I doubt that many people are paying attention, because of the way May and her team are ramping up tensions with Russia to distract everyone from just how terrible they are. And if the MOD have been using them to gather data on British citizens, then the immediate comparison that comes to my mind is with the Stasi and the other totalitarian secret police. It ain’t Corbyn who’s a threat to democracy, but Cambridge Analytica and their Tory government paymasters.

Norman Tebbit Claims Air Pollution Making People Transgender

October 29, 2017

Mike’s put up a lot of material on his blog, which deserves to be read and commented on. But I really couldn’t let this one pass.

Norman Tebbit, the noted opponent of LGBTQ rights, has risen once again to show his ignorance and bigotry.

Pink News reported that the elderly Thatcherite appeared in the pages of the Torygraph to claim that transgenderism is a new phenomenon. He said he couldn’t remember there being any other children, who were unhappy with their sex at his school, or amongst his intake for National Service or in his children’s school. He wants research conducted into it to examine its extent in time and geographical space. He also states that it’s unknown whether ours or other species are affected, and stated that some scientists believe it could be caused by air pollution. Pink News concluded that it was unclear what scientists he was referring to.

Mike makes the point that there have always been people unhappy with their gender, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were people at his school or amongst his cohort for National Service, who weren’t happy with the sex into which they were born. They kept silent, and hid it, because of the very strong hostility towards it. Those were more primitive times, and what has changed is that society has become more tolerant.

He concludes

The current situation is far from enlightened, but progress has been made – as a result of decades of campaigning against oppressive prejudice such as that displayed by Lord Tebbit.

And it is oppressive. It is an attempt to tell other people how to live. How would you like it?

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/28/lord-tebbit-thinks-air-pollution-is-making-people-transgender-is-that-as-opposed-to-narrow-minded/

There are a number of aspects to this, which do need to be carefully dissected and commented on.

First of all, I think somewhere along the line Tebbit has come across some entirely respectable research into the growth of reproductive abnormalities and intersex conditions in male animals, and then got it somehow twisted in his weird, bigoted little mind. Scientists have become worried about the increase in malformed sexual organs and female characteristics amongst some animals, such as frogs. I can remember reading an article in New Scientist back in the 1990s that reported that scientists had found an increase in these, as well as other birth defects, in areas in Canada and America that were particularly heavily polluted. I don’t think this was air pollution. It was chemical pollution from factories entering the water table. Amongst the human population, there was a growing gender imbalance with an abnormally low incidence of male births.

In short, there is plenty of evidence which shows that industrial pollution is feminizing animal populations, including humans. And I think it is reasonable to conclude that this process is connected with the fall in sperm vitality in developed, industrial countries, that will leave half of all men classified as clinically infertile by the middle of this century.

But this is not the same as transvestism or transgenderism. This has always been present in human societies. It’s condemned, along with homosexuality, in Leviticus in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Other cultures have been more accepting. For example, in Polynesian culture there were homosexuals, who dressed as women and did female tasks, and were accepted. Herodotus, the Father of History, states that the upper class of the Scythians were not only impotent, but they also dressed as women and did women’s work. The Scythians were a nomadic people on the steppes of central Asia and Siberia. And many of the shamans in Siberian spirituality were transvestites.

In the west, transvestism and transgenderism remained very illegal until very recently. Not only was it frowned upon, but it could also get the transvestite thrown in jail. There was a notorious case in the 19th century of two men, who dressed in drag as part of their music hall act, who were prosecuted because they went out in public wearing their female togs ‘for immoral purposes’, according to the prosecution. Transvestism has also been called Eonism, after the Chevalier d’Eon, a French nobleman and spy, who was also a transvestite. He was also very good at it. He lived as a woman for 20 years, and the woman, who shared his accommodation with him said that in all that time she didn’t know he was a man. One of the small press magazines that emerged in the great flourishing of independent zines in the 1990s was entitled Eon: The Magazine of Transkind, which was dedicated to defending transvestite/ transgender people and their rights.

Western society has become more tolerant towards the transgendered as part of the gay rights campaign that began in the 1950s and ’60s. And at the popular level a strong influence was David Bowie and Glam Rock. Bowie in the ’60s and ’70s adopted a very strongly sexually ambiguous persona. There are photos on the web of him with long hair wearing a man dress. Bowie inspired parts of the pop and rock scene to adopt a similarly androgynous image. Thus the number of Rock and Heavy Metal bands, who also sported long hair and the spandex clothes they’d bought from Chelsea Girl with their sisters. This whole attitude could be summed up in Twisted Sister’s old maxim, ‘Dress like women, sing like men, play like Motherf***ers’. These ’80s monsters of metal arguably achieved their ambition when, in 1987, they were voted America’s ‘worst dressed women’.

It wasn’t just down to Bowie, of course. And despite the massive hair, make-up and spandex, Rock and Heavy Metal are very aggressively masculine musical genres, although certainly not without their female fans and stars. The Goth subculture, or parts of it, also took up the androgynous look as well as a certain tolerance towards bisexuality, which was also becoming increasingly common across popular music generally as part of the changes in sexual attitudes amongst young people.

As for the prevalence of transvestism and transsexuality across different cultures through time, there have been a number of histories of sex written by serious anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, one of whom was also interviewed about his work and book by New Scientist. These issues have also been explored by some of the gay historians. A friend of mine used to have one lying around, which did cover homosexuality and related queer issues as a global phenomenon, from Asia and Europe to Africa and elsewhere.

If Tebbit wants to know more about the Scythians and their sexual habits, he can read Herodotus: The Histories, and the collection of ancient Greek medical writings ascribed to Hippocrates, The Hippocratic Writings. Both are, or were, in Penguin Classics. I’m afraid I can’t remember the titles and authors of the books on the history of sex, although one of them I think was simply titled, The History of Sex, and published by a mainstream publisher. The gay history book was, I think, published by one of the gay publishers.

The Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2017 also contains a recent book, Exploring Sex and Gender in Bioarchaeology, ed. by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Julie K. Wesp (University of New Mexico Press 2017).

The blurb for this runs

Archaeologists have long used skeletal remains to identify gender. Contemporary bioarchaeologists, however, have begun to challenge the theoretical and methodological basis for sex assignment from the skeletons. Simultaneously, they have started to consider the cultural construction of gender roles, recognising the body as uniquely fashioned from the interaction of biological, social, and environmental factors. As the contributors to this volume reveal, combining skeletal data with contextual information can provide a richer understanding of life in the past.

(Page 6 of the catalogue).

This book ain’t cheap, however. The hardback edition is £88.95. But as Tebbit was a Tory cabinet minister, he can probably afford it. As for the other books, he could simply go on Amazon to find them, or simply look round his local branch of Waterstones.

As it is, it looks as if Tebbit has simply been watching too much Alex Jones, the bonkers American conspiracy theorist, and his foam-flecked rant about ‘the globalists’ putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay!’

And here’s some light relief at the great conspiracy theorist’s expense:

TYT Interviews Director of ‘Medicare For All’ Cartoon

October 26, 2017

In this short clip, The Young Turks’ Nomiki Konst interviews Josh Fox, the director and creator of a series of political cartoons, Anti-Totalitarian Bedtime Stories. Here they talk about his cartoon promoting Medicare For All. The film stars Susan Sarandon as the Doctor, and Louisa Gomez as the little Girl.

The film is unusual in that its hero is a leech. The leech is having an existential crisis, as he has found out that every other creature except him has a purpose. So he jumps off his log and goes swimming. A little girl enters his pool, and he attaches himself to her chest in order to suck her blood. As leeches do. The little girl’s mother takes her to the hospital, as they can’t get the leech off. The little girl is a haemophiliac, and so there is the danger that she will die from bleeding. The doctor pulls the leech off, but finds that the leech’s saliva contains a coagulant. This coagulant can be used to treat other haemophiliac.

This is what would happen if America got Medicare For All. Not only would people be treated free of charge, but science would advance, and new medicines and procedures would be developed to help the sick. Unlike today’s private, for-profit healthcare system, which is only interested in extracting money from the sick.

Fox states at the outset that it’s popular across the board with both Republicans and Democrats. The only people who don’t like it are the private healthcare companies and their associates.

The video is somewhat fanciful, as leeches’ saliva actually contains the exact opposite: it has an anti-coagulant. Nevertheless, as New Scientist reported back in the 1990s, this is still very important for treating certain conditions.

As for the cartoon’s message, clearly research is done into disease by for-profit healthcare and drug companies, but there is a problem in that some of these are engaged in horrendous price gouging. Like Martin Shkreli, the CEO of one company, who increased the price of one drug so that it cost hundreds of dollars, so that only the rich could afford it. Such price gouging is also a problem with the multinational drug companies on this side of the Atlantic as well, as needs to be tackled.

This is a fascinating little video, and I hope it reaches more Americans and encourages more people to support Medicare For All. America desperately needs it.

The Sky at Night on the Vatican Observatory

June 14, 2017

Tomorrow evening, Thursday, 15th June 2017 at 11 O’clock on BBC4 the Beeb’s repeating its Sky at Night special on the Vatican, ‘Inside God’s Observatory’. This was first shown on Sunday at 10.00 pm.

The blurb for it for Sunday in the Radio Times runs

Maggie Aderin-Peacock and Chris Lintott have been granted rare access to the Vatican and its little known observatory, the Specola Vaticana, perched on a hill top 30 km outside Rome. They explore the observatory’s rich history, going inside the Vatican walls to visit the Tower of the Winds – a secret antique sundial that helped revolutionise the calendar – and the remains of a nest of telescopes, atop an old medieval church where the science of spectroscopy was born. (57).

A few years ago, New Scientist interviewed the head of the observatory, Guy Consolamano, an American, who is a monk as well as an astronomer. There have also been other programmes on the observatory on the Beeb over the years. I seem to recall there being one in the 1990s on the radio. I’ve got a feeling the Observatory was set up by one of the popes as an attempt to undo some of the damage to the church’s reputation caused by Galileo’s trial for heresy. It was to show that the church wasn’t against science, and I believe that since then the popes have been very careful not to say anything about the scientific validity of scientific theories.

The Observatory’s also interesting because in the 19th century, its mathematical calculations were performed by nuns, who were referred to as ‘computers’. Which is obviously of interest for the history of women in science.

Weak and Wobby May Does Massive U-Turn over ‘Dementia Tax’

May 22, 2017

This also shows how much pressure and desperate the Tories are feeling from a resurgent Labour. In her manifesto four days ago, ‘strong and stable’ May said that she intended taking the value of people’s houses into consideration when assessing the amount they would be charged for their social care. This would lead to people having to take out ‘equity release’, in which their houses would be sold and the money used to pay for their care, while allowing them to remain as tenants.

Florence, one of the great commenters to this blog, has pointed out just how nasty this policy is in a comment she posted to an earlier piece I did about it. She wrote

Equity release is not the same as insurance. Using equity release to pay for care is already available and has many times been shown to be the worse possible use of a house for the elderly. They are essentially unpaid mortgages where the interest accrues along with the original debt, so any capital increase in value is eaten up by interest and charges. The resident can be forced out of the house at any time. Instead of banning these deals the May cabal want to force us to use them.

Insurance will only be available to the young and fit or through workplace schemes. No one will insure a retired person.

Not surprisingly, large sections of the population did not welcome having the government force them to sell the homes they saved for throughout their lives. With the result that May has now made a U-Turn so fast, that she’s left skidmarks in the road, if not in her underwear.

It’s a very quick U-Turn indeed, as only this morning various Tory talking heads were appearing on breakfast TV defending it, saying that the Tories were showing resolve in coming to grips with Britain’s aging population. Now she’s telling everyone she’s going to put a cap on the amount they will be expected to pay. Even though her ministers, like Jeremy Hunt, have been saying all week. She’s also gone on the offensive – and to me, she’s always been very offensive – and accused Labour of scaremongering.

But, as various people on social media have noticed, it’s May herself who appears scared. Or ‘frit’, as the former Leaderene used to say in her native Grantham patois.

Mike’s posted up two videos of her speaking, stating that her own fear is evident from her body language and tone of voice.

One person has posted a picture of a backbone, with a note beside it saying ‘Wanted for Theresa May’. Marcus Chown also posted a photograph of a jelly, to show how weak and wobbly May is. Chown’s a scientist and science writer, who’s written for New Scientist, and published a book on the Cosmic Background Radiation, The Afterglow of Creation, far back in the 1990s. But you really don’t need the Hubble Space Telescope or Jodrell Bank to see how desperate May and her fellows now are.

She’s now telling everyone that she’s going to keep her new promise to cap charges for social care. And the Daily Mail, like the Tory lapdog it is, has issued an article hailing her as an ‘honest politician’.

No, no she isn’t. Not remotely.

Among the various promises and pledges she’s broken are her support for ‘Remain’, which has now definitely been ditched in favour of Brexit; her promise to raise National Insurance contributions from the self-employed; she claimed she wanted to put workers in the boardroom – that went very quickly; and her stated resolution not to hold a snap election. Along with a pledge to reduce the sugar content in children’s foods.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/22/dementia-tax-u-turn-theresa-may-is-a-weak-and-wobbly-conservative-in-chaos/

As Mike states in his article, it’s not a complete list.

In fact, May’s party lies frequently and shamelessly. Remember when David Cameron, May’s predecessor, was telling everyone that the Tories would ring-fence NHS spending against cuts? How he, IDS and the rest of the Tory faithful claimed they were trying to protect the NHS for New Labour’s closure of hospitals up and down the country? These policies were ditched almost as soon as Cameron got his foot in No. 10. As was his statement that his would be the ‘greenest’ government of all. That was ditched along with the little windmill outside his house, and replaced with a huge support for fracking and other environmentally destructive policies.

And May’s new pledge about capping the Dementia Tax is, in my opinion, another lie, from a party of liars.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy

April 22, 2017

This is another couple of videos from the redoubtable Martin Kennedy showcasing the amazing work of yet another space and Science Fiction artist, David A. Hardy. Hardy is one of the longest running space and SF artist working. The entry on him in Stuart Holland’s Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History, runs:

David Hardy’s introduction to astronomical illustration was a somewhat rushed affair. In 1954, as a mere 18-year-old, he was commissioned to produce eight black and white illustrations for a book by legendary UK astronomer Patrick Moore: Suns, Myths, and Men. He had just five days to create them before British national service-conscription-required him to join the Royal Air Force. The commission was all the more remarkable as Hardy had only painted his first piece of astronomical art four years previously, inspired by the work of Chesley Bonestell.

Since those early days, Hardy (1936-) has garnered numerous awards for artwork that spans the science fiction/hard science divide. Born in Bourneville, Birmingham, in the UK, he honed his talents painting chocolate boxes for Cadbury’s. By 1965 he had become a freelance illustrator, beginning a career that resulted in covers for dozens of books and magazines, both factual, such as New Scientist, Focus, and various astronomical publications, for which he also writes; and SF, including Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. 1972 saw the publication of Challenge of the Stars, which Hardy not only illustrated but co-wrote with Patrick Moore (the book was updated in 1978 as New Challenge of the Stars). A bestseller, it joined the select pantheon of book that influenced a new generation of up-and-coming astronomical artists.

By now, Hardy’s work was receiving international recognition, and in 1979 he was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Tow years later, another book followed, Galactic Tours, which as the name suggests is a “factitious” guidebook for the interstellar tourist. As a result of the book, travel company Thomas Cook approached Hardy about becoming a consultant on the future of tourism in space-long before Richard Branson had planned Virgin’s conquest of the stars.

Hardy has written an SF novel, Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds; worked on the movie The Neverending Story, and on TV (Cosmos, Horizon, The Sky at Night, Blake’s Seven), and produced record covers for – unsurprisingly – Holst’s The Planets and for bands such as Hawkwind, the Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.

In 2004, Hardy’s long-standing partnership with Patrick Moore culminated in the award-winning Futures, in which the two explored the changing perceptions of space exploration since they first collaborated in the ’50s, the ’70s (the era of Challenge of the Stars) and into the 21st century. Artistically, Hardy has also embraced the growing digital trend that started in the approach to the new millennium. While still painting in acrylic and oil, he now uses Photoshop as a matter of course.

In March 2003, Hardy was paid perhaps the ultimate accolade an astronomical artist can receive: he had an asteroid [13329] named after him. Discovered ini September, 1998, it was christened Davidhardy=1998 SB32-high praise indeed!
(P. 130).

Several of the paintings in the video come from the Challenge of the Stars and its updated version.

The videos also include his cover illustration for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – the History of Man’s Colonisation of Mars, which is another ‘future history’, this time of the terraforming of the Red Planet.

I have to say that I’m really impressed he also worked on Blake’s 7. This was low-budget British SF, but it had some create scripts and a really beautiful spaceship in The Liberator. And I would far rather go into space on something designed by Hardy, and operated by Thomas Cook, than by Branson.

Victorian Solar Power for Moon Explorers

October 1, 2016

I’ve put up a number of pieces on this blog about the history of science. It never ceases to amaze me how inventive humans have been throughout history, and how peoples as far back as the ancient and medieval worlds nevertheless produced scientific ideas that even now seem stunningly modern. Solar power is another example of scientific ingenuity. It was demonstrated by a French engineer, Pifre, at a scientific expo in the Tuileries in Paris in the 1880s. Monsieur Pifre rigged up a parabolic mirror so that it powered a printing press, which produced his own newspaper for the exhibition.

I found the illustration below in David Kyle’s The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas and Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977). This is an illustrated history of SF and its concepts from Jules Verne in the 19th century to the late 20th. The caption for the illo reads

‘This is a solar-heat condenser’, says the young astronomer in The Conquest of the Moon (1890) by A. Laurie. This one hundred-year-old SF ide, as illustrated by J. Roux, looks like something being tested today. The novel is filled with scientific facts and explanations, much in the manner of Verne. (p. 28).

victorian-moon-power

With the exception of the dress of the Victorian visitors, it looks like something from the pen of a modern illustrator for either a popular science journal like New Scientist, or a work of SF. it is amazingly modern. I was reminded of it by Hasan Piker’s piece for The Young Turks, discussing how Germany is well on its way to replacing fossil fuels with Green energy, including solar power, by 2050. I’ve blogged about that in my last piece. The Victorians were discussing the use of such power sources and the colonisation of space over a hundred years ago. Now it seems, we’re just catching up with their visions.