Posts Tagged ‘New Scientist’

Lotus Eaters Now Blaming Migrants for the Housing Crisis

June 21, 2022

I had to blog about this, as it’s another example of the right-wing media only telling you one side of the story. Yesterday or the day before the Lotus Eaters put up a video claiming that the housing crisis was a result of immigrants taking up so much housing, and no doubt looking at the channel migrants in particular as they did so. Because they should all be deported to Rwanda, of course. They argued that immigration was the source of the housing shortage, and thus all the new building work that is threatening to cover our green and pleasant land with concrete, as the British birth rate is 1.24, below that needed to maintain the population. The reason why our population is growing, however, is because of immigration. Now the Lotus Eaters are fervent Brexiteers, hate Woke and are very strong opponents of immigration. But they’re not wrong. I believe the Pears Cyclopedia 1984 edition said the same nearly 40 years ago. It’s solid fact, rather than racist myth. Mind you, I also believe that that the population has grown also because people are living longer and not dying off as young as they did, and so there’s a younger generation growing up at the same time as its grandparents and great-grandparents are still alive. But possibly for not much longer if Johnson and his foul effluvium have their way. In the past decade they’ve been in power, life expectancy has gone into reverse so that the present generation has a shorter life expectancy than we did.

Now for what John, Callum and Sargon aren’t telling you. The welfare state and capitalism need a population that’s stable or growing. Years ago, the Financial Times wrote that the welfare state was maintained by the contributions of the present generation of workers, which were needed to maintain the level of benefits to support the older generation. Fewer people being born means less money being paid into the welfare state,, equals cuts to welfare provision. This presumably is the thinking behind the Tories’ decision back in the ’90s to try and get people paying into private ‘workplace’ pension schemes rather than the state pension, and why the state pension’s been kept low. It’s also no doubt being used to support the cuts to the welfare state in general, following Thatcher’s line that we now can’t afford to support everybody and people should have to look out for themselves. This may not affect the Lotus Eaters, as their smug sneers about ‘socialism’ and ‘leftists’ and general support for unfettered capitalism suggests to me they come from monied backgrounds. But I could be wrong.

But capitalism also requires a stable or growing population. It’s all about consumer demand, you see. The more people, the more demand for goods and services, which in turn stimulates production and should produce more profits and less unemployment as workers are taken on to produce the goods. If you have fewer people, you have less demand, declining profits and rising unemployment.

Immigrants help solve these problems, because they tend to put more into the welfare state than they take out in terms of benefits and so on. And by maintaining or expanding the population, they help to create the demand that powers industry.

And I suspect some of the demand for new housing is local to certain parts of the country. A few years ago the ‘Communist’ BBC as the Lotus Eaters no doubt think of the Corporation produced a documentary following a prospective Romanian immigrant as he tried to find accommodation over here. He ended up sleeping rough in one of the London parks. At one point he went north seeking available homes. He found a whole street-load, boarded up and deliberately kept empty. Because some obscure reason of capitalism. He was obviously not impressed, and made the obvious comment that it was stupid to have houses go empty when people needed them.

I think – and this is only my impression – that some of the migration pushing up house prices and creating demand is internal. People from the declining north, or some of them, are moving south in search of work and opportunities. People in the countryside are being priced out of local homes by rich outsiders seeking second homes. And respect to the council the other day that was reported to have banned this! Here in Bristol local people are being priced out of the housing market due to recent migrants, not from Africa, Asia or Jamaica, but from London. As a result, some Bristolians are looking towards places like Wales and the borders for affordable homes, which is going to push the prices up there. And so there’s a knock-on effect.

And last but not least, the Tories and the Heil can take some of the blame. In order to keep the economy afloat, I think it was George Osborne who linked some part of our financial performance to house prices. As a result, house prices have to be kept high. Quite apart from the Daily Heil in the ’90s constantly advising its readers on the ‘money’ pages to invest in brick and mortar as part of the ‘buy to rent’ boom. People have done that, leaving less homes around for people, who actually want to live in them to purchase.

Yes, I think there are a lot of problems surrounding immigration that need proper discussion and solution. There are problems of assimilation and integration, and while I don’t like Kemi Badenoch’s party, I think she is right about growing segregation. That’s been going on for some time, since at least the beginning of this century. The concentration on race is probably a part of it, but only a part. But you can’t blame immigrants solely for the housing shortage and new building work.

Hidden behind this is also an anti-feminist agenda. Sargon and the other Lotus Eaters have the same anti-feminist views as American conservatives. In their view, the population decline is due to modern women choosing not to settle down and marry but concentrate on having careers. They’d like to return to the old traditional family in which mum stayed at home to raise the kids and Dad worked to support them. Now I think that if they were given the choice, more women probably would stay home to look after their children. But they don’t have a choice. Since women entered the workforce, it’s been argued that the economy has responded so that families need the income from both parents to pay off mortgages and buy the family groceries. However, this claim also needs examination as I’ve also read that long before the 70s families needed both parents to work. And back in the 30s and 40s, women didn’t have a choice about not working. Some of the firms in Bristol would not employ married women with children, which was a real problem for women running away from abusive or criminal husbands.

The decline of the existing, traditional populations is also one of the arguments against abortion. If all the kids lost to abortion were allowed to come to term and live, then the population would be growing. This isn’t necessarily a racist argument. Turning Point, an arch-conservative think tank, put up a video of one of its presenters challenging a young woman on the issue. He argued that the reason the Black population has remained at 13% in the Land of the Free is due to abortion. If there was less abortion, the population would expand. She was obviously racist for being in favour of abortion, and hence fewer Blacks, while he wanted more of them. I don’t want to get into the politics of abortion, except to say that it includes major issues of bodily autonomy, female healthcare, the dangers of a return to backstreet abortions and poverty. What happens in the case of women too poor to bring their children up? Conservatives like Thomas Sowell already blame the welfare state for the decline of the Black family, but without it many women would be too poor to have the children Conservatives would like them to. In the 1920s Mussolini got very worried about falling Italian birthrates, and one of the methods he chose to tackle it, apart from getting women out of the workplace, was providing something like the equivalent of family allowance. Perhaps, if the Tories want women to stay at home and raise their families they should consider providing them with a state income for doing so. But I can imagine the screams and horror from the right if someone dared suggesting that. They shouldn’t, not if they’re good classicists. The later Roman emperors were so worried about the declining population of their empire, they passed legislation giving first Italians, and then all Roman citizens throughout the empire, a kind of family allowance. Possibly not something Johnson wants to be reminded of, for all he goes on about how wonder the Romans were.

Years ago New Scientist covered this issue with an interview on demographics. A declining birthrate is happening not just in the West, but also in Japan and China. Way back in the 90s one of the leading Japanese newspapers was so worried about it that they published an article that declared that if it carried out, in one thousand years the Japanese would be extinct. They also tried encouraging men to take an extra day off work to improve marital relations with their wives and so make more little Japanese. This got an angry response from a housewife, who said that relations between married couples didn’t improve simply because the husband was at home. China and India are also suffering from a shortage of women because of generations of infanticide. What the New Scientist demographer noted, was that the countries that have the highest birthrate have the less macho cultures and men are prepared to share the childrearing. Thus Scandinavia has a higher birthrate than Italy, and China and Japan, which have the same traditional attitudes to the division of labour, also have a low birthrate. In the case of Japan, there’s also the problem that young Japanese aren’t dating and having sex. Some even say that it revolts them. A decade ago there was a Radio 4 programme reporting this phenomenon and asking why it was so. I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure someone will blame video games.

The birthrate is also falling all over the world, although obviously in developing countries it is still much higher than over here. But Africa loses very many of its infants to appalling rates of infant mortality, so its population is very stable. In fact, there are fears that if the population continues to fall in some of these nations, their population will actually decline.

Which bring me to another point: the same demographer predicts a population crash throughout the globe in the middle of this century. This obviously contradicts the predictions of the various scientists and experts of the ’70s, who were worried about the ‘population bomb’. If this happens, countries will instead compete with each other to attract migrants. P.D. James’ SF film, Children of Men, showed that. It’s a dystopian movie in which the human race has become infertile. As a result, there’s massive political instability, but Britain has managed to keep order by becoming a quasi-Fascist state. But migrants from the rest of the world are invited, as shown by Arab mule trains around London. The hero in the story is charged with protecting an immigrant woman, who’s become the first in a very long time to become pregnant. Its a chilling movie, and one which marks a departure from the detective novels with which she made her name. But it was chilling realistic and had a point.

There are issues with immigration, but it ain’t the sole cause of the housing shortage, nor is the solution the Lotus Eaters want underneath it palatable to today’s women wanting independence. It may not even be one that works. We might instead be better off passing legislation giving greater assistance to manage family and work, like perhaps more maternity leave, and encouraging dad to share some of the housework more. But those aren’t good, Conservative attitudes and involve capitulating to feminism and greater state legislation of industry. But this terrifies the Lotus Eaters, and so they ain’t going to tell you about it. Except to argue against it.

The Black Prof Who Proposed a Trans-Time Radio

May 31, 2022

Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video yesterday asking if Black people wrote about anything other than race. He contrasted a book, Don’t Touch My Hair, written by a young Black woman studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, with pop-science books written by Richard Feynman and Michio Kaku. He argued that there were other ethnic groups who had suffered just as much as Blacks, but these nevertheless wrote about something other than race and racism. It’s a good question, as Black Conservatives like Thomas Sowell have argued that Black people have taken the wrong road to improving themselves. He states that rather than being intent on taking political power, they should instead of have concentrated on raising their economic status through building business, education and so on, as the Jews, Chinese and other ethnicities have done. In the case of the Jews, there’s clearly a large amount of Jewish literature about anti-Semitism, but also about other subjects. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, for example, is about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell.

I’m no expert at all on Black literature, but there are a couple of Black SF writers: Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler, and looking through Waterstone’s the other year a found Dark Matters, an anthology of Black SF. I don’t know how much SF written by Black authors concerns racial issues. I got the impression that it was a significant theme in Butler’s work, though this also includes alien contact and genetic engineering. Delaney’s bisexual, and his novels also cover gay issues, though at least one is about an immortal wandering a devastated Earth.

At the moment there are very few Black scientists, which the discipline is trying to change. However, I do remember that way back in the 1990s, at about the same time the remake of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine came out, a Black American lecturer at a Community College was in the scientific news for his proposal for a type of time machine. This used a supercooled gas to create an Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen condensate. This is a weird type of plasma in which the ions in the gas all behave as single one. The ideo was to start the ionised gas whirling in one direction, and then send an electron into it travelling in the opposite. Stars and Black Holes are so massive that they drag space-time around after them when they revolve. This is why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and its predictions about the way gravity distorts the fabric of space-time has been useful in predicting the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. One of the suggestions for achieving real time travel is that a spacecraft could travel in the wrong direction against the rotation of a Black Hole and thus against the direction of the bits of space-time it’s pulling with it, and so travel into the past that way. The scientist suggested that if you suddenly saw two electrons in the condensate, it would mean that the electron had travelled from the future back into the past, where it joined itself. The experiment and its proposer were featured in New Scientist and there was even a programme on Channel 4 about it and the Time Machine film, looking forward to a future in which we in the present could communicate across time with the future. The experiment was due to be taken into space for testing aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think the shuttle that carried it was one of those that disastrously blew up, thus leading to a cancellation of the programme.

I’m not sure that a cross-time telephone would be a good idea. It raises awkward questions of predestination. If history cannot be changed, how would humanity cope with the news from the future about crimes, wars and disasters yet to happen, but which we would be unable to avert? And if history could be changed, this could lead to chaos with messages coming back to us from the future, which would affect the present and thus their past. One solution to this is that if we attempt to change the past, it leads to the creation of an alternative universe following the consequences of the change while the first universe continues with its set progression to an immutable future. Gregory Benford used this in his book, Timescape, about a physicist receiving messages from the future through one of his experiments, warning him and the rest of humanity of an ecological disaster that would destroy Civilisation As We Know It. The messages have been sent by his future self, and in that future civilisation is indeed collapsing and leads to the hero, his friends and family taking refuge in a farmhouse as society prepares to collapse. In the other, alternative time path, he is able to convince the world that the messages are genuine and persuade the world to use the techniques sent back to him and his colleagues to destroy the algae blooms devastating Earth and humanity is saved. I read in a book on the SF pulp magazine, Astounding, and its editor John W. Campbell, and most prominent writers Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard, that Benford had indeed been researching the possibility of time travelling radiation, dubbed Tau radiation in the novel, so I think the book may have been based on his own research. Since the shuttle explosion, nothing’s been heard of the real, cross-time communication experiment. If it had gone ahead and worked, the prof who invented it would have got a Nobel prize, no problem, and the world would have been very different.

But the point here is, beyond the issues raised by time travel, that a Black academic certainly was actively pursuing something that didn’t have anything to do with race. And while I dare say that race and racism is an issue that informs much Black SF, it isn’t the only issue. I also recall a video I found on YouTube contrasting the situation today, where the arts are being increasingly defined and compartmentalised by race, with that in the 1960 when Black writer James Baldwin published one of his novels. The characters in the book were mostly White, and the book was praised by the critics as a great piece of modern literature. Baldwin was praised as a great novelist in his own, individual right, and not as a great Black novelist. He was praised for his literary skills, rather than simply because of his race. This is one of the reasons Sowell and other Black Conservatives don’t like books by Black authors being promoted and included in the canon of great works simply because of their race. They want talented Black writers and artists to be respected because of their individual merits, and are afraid that they will have their deserved reputations tarnished because of more mediocre literature promoted simply because of the authors’ race.

You may also remember that a little while ago, BBC 4 showed a 4-part series, the Lost Civilisations of Africa, fronted by a Black academic. I think he was an art historian, rather than archaeologist, but he sported the Indiana Jones-style hat. Going through my local branch of Blackwells, when it still existed, I found the book that accompanied the series. Now I realise that it could be argued that this was about race, as the presenter was discussing Black civilisations, just as another Black presented did in another programme about the African city of Timbuktu and its wealth of medieval philosophical and scientific literature. But these programmes are no more about race than a White presenter talking about the general history of Britain and Europe, or a Chinese presenter talking about the history of his country.

It seems clear to me that Black people are capable, and certainly have written about other matters quite apart from race. It simply appears that way at the moment because of the way anti-Black racism has become one of the dominant contemporary issues following Black Lives Matter and the rise to prominence of Critical Race Theory.

Incidentally, BBC 4 is one of the BBC channels about to be culled due to cost-cutting measures. I’m not surprised, as it’s devoted to highbrow subjects like history, archaeology, literature and the arts. I can’t say I’ve watched much of it, but I do remember that it has broadcast programmes like The Lost Civilisations of Africa, as well as a number of other programmes about the Lost Civilisations of South and Central America. There was also one fascinating programme on historic maps and what they told you about the attitudes and politics of the time they were made and who made them. I’m afraid the cancellation of this channels represents another attack on high culture and serious arts programming, in order to appease the Beeb’s right-wing critics who want it privatised anyway. It’s an assault on genuine Reithian values by people who would like to keep this country uneducated and uniformed in the name of making TV another conduit for Thatcherite propaganda, delivered by Rupert Murdoch.

FOIA Documents Show Governments and Scientists Conspired to Discredit Lab Leak Theory of Coronavirus Origins

January 13, 2022

This is another very interesting video from History Debunked’s Simon Webb. He’s not talking about race and fake history this time, but about the release of documents in America under the Freedom of Information Act that confirm that the government and leading scientists believed that it was certainly not unlikely that Covid had escaped from a Chinese lab, and deliberately lied to the public to discredit the idea. Webb states that he found it suspicious that Coronavirus emerged in bats in Wuhan, which housed the Wuhan Centre of Virology. This carried out research into both bat and the SARS virus, the family of diseases that includes Covid. He was persuaded, however, that this was nonsense by the various respectable scientific magazines such as the Lancet and New Scientist, that told the public that this was, in fact, extremely unlikable. This gave rise to a conspiracy theory that held that the disease did in fact come from a lab, and that these scientists and magazines were lying. This was attacked in turn as completely false, and coming from anti-Chinese racism.

Documents released in America under the Freedom Of Information Act have shown that many leading scientists did believe that the disease may have come from a Chinese laboratory. Apparently it’s genetic structure shows evidence of human tinkering. The government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Valance, was himself briefed on this possibility. However, the government and scientific establishment decided that, partly from diplomacy, this possibility should not be revealed to the public. Instead it was to be criticised and discredited. Webb states that we still do not know the origins of the virus, but it is certain that there was a real conspiracy by the authorities to cover up the real possibility that it came from a Chinese laboratory.

This may be a Friend Of A Friend story, but the other week I heard from someone, who claimed to have been told it by academic scientists that he knows, that the Coronavirus not only is artificial, but it probably escaped while being tested on humans. While western germ warfare and microbiological labs test diseases on animals, the Chinese apparently test it on their own peasants. They’re inject with diseases in return for a few bags of extra rice to plant. It’s very much like the infamous Tuskeegee experiment in America, in which a group of southern Black sharecroppers were deliberately infected with syphilis and left untreated in order to monitor the spread of the disease. In return their funerals were paid for by the state.

The Tuskeegee experiment is solid, established fact. I don’t know if the Chinese really test diseases on humans, nor if the Coronavirus really was a product of the lab in Wuhan. But it seems the idea cannot be discounted. Nor can we really trust the authorities and scientific establishment to tell us the truth about it.

Instead of convincing us that such ideas are conspiracy theories in the pejorative sense, these revelations have instead done much to confirm them.

Simon Webb on Black History’s Appropriation of Other Cultures

November 24, 2021

In this video, Simon Webb of History Debunked critiques another Black history book promoting racial propaganda and fake history. The book’s Black History Matters, published by Franklin. The book follows Martin Bernal’s Black Athena, published in the 1980s, in viewing ancient Egypt as not only a Black civilisation, but the ultimate source of western civilisation as its cultural achievements were taken over by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Webb states he read the book in the 1980s, and while it was interestingly written he thought it was a load of rubbish. Since its publication there has been further research into the ethnic origins of the ancient Egyptians, including DNA analysis. This has found that the ancient Egyptians didn’t descend from Black Africans, but were genetically related to the people’s of the ancient Near East, such as Mesopotamia. The Black component of the modern Egyptian genome was introduced later during the Arab occupation. The book has pages on ancient Egypt,, and at one point declares one of the manuscripts recovered to be a ground-breaking medical compendium. Well, sort of, but not really. It’s a collection of spells for use against various diseases. This was pretty much the standard practice in the ancient Near East at the time. Similar spells against disease are known from Babylon and the Hittite Empire. But it ain’t medicine as it’s now understood, Jim.

The book goes on to discuss Ethiopia, but neglects to mention that this was an Arab colony, as shown by the Semitic nature of its languages, Amharic and Tigrinya. These are descended from various South Arabian languages, like Sabaic, the language of the ancient kingdom of Sheba, now Marib, in Yemen. The book also discusses the Swahili civilisation without acknowledging that it, too, was the result of Arab colonisation. The Swahili culture was founded by Arabs from the Sultanate of Oman, who were also responsible for setting up a slave trade in east Africa. However, while there is plenty of material in the book on the transatlantic slave trade, there is absolutely nothing whatsoever on the Arab slave trade. This is despite the fact that the Arab slave trade captured and transported the same number of slaves as White Europeans.

The belief that the ancient Egyptians were Black and were the ultimate source for western culture is widespread in the Black community and passionately held. Much of it comes from the Senegalese Afrocentrist scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop in the 1960s, and Webb has also made a video debunking this fake history. It goes back further back, however, to Black American travellers to Egypt in the 19th century. It’s understandably based on a simple syllogism: Africa is the home continent of the Black race. Egypt is in Africa, therefore the ancient Egyptians were Black. There’s also a psychological need behind the identification of the ancient Egyptians as Black: much western scholarship before the rise of the modern Black power movements scorned African culture as worthless, and Blacks themselves as racially and intellectually inferior. This has created a need amongst Black activists to demonstrate their cultural and intellectual equality, if not superiority to Whites. And as the best known, and most magnificent ancient African civilisation, ancient Egypt fits this requirement. There also seems to be a conspiracy grown up about the Black identity of the ancient Egyptians as well. I remember being told by a Black American exchange student at College that the reason so many statues from Egypt missed their noses and lips was because they had been hacked off by those evil imperialist Victorians determined to hide their true race. As noses and lips are some of the features most likely to be chipped off over time, regardless of the race of the statue, I don’t believe that at all. But it shows the paranoia and racial suspicion among some Afrocentrists.

There have been a number of attempts outside of Afrocentric history to find an African component in ancient Egyptian civilisation. A few years ago archaeologists examining a number of mummies found that the features of their occupants were more characteristically African than the portraits on the cases. This fuelled speculation that, due to first the Greek and then the Roman domination of Egypt, indigenous Egyptians were deliberately having themselves painted to appear more European. If this was the case, it would come from the oppressive system of apartheid the Romans operated which reduced indigenous Egyptians to second class citizens. A head of Queen Tiyi, which has rather African features, was also adduced as proof that the ancient Egyptians were Black, or had some Black ancestry.

In the 1990s New Scientist also published a piece speculating about a prehistoric sub-Saharan contribution to ancient Egypt. An ancient stone circle had been found further south, and the central stone seemed to be roughly carved to resemble a cow. The archaeologists behind the discovery speculated that the circle dated from the time when the Sahara was still green and had been made by a Black, pastoralist people. As these people’s livelihood and culture was based on their cattle, they naturally worshipped a cow goddess. As they climate changed and the region became a desert, the herders moved north to join the White ancestors of the Egyptians, and the cow goddess became the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor.

There were also programmes by the Beeb at the same time that claimed that the Egyptians were Black until the race became lighter following the Arab conquest. On the other side, I don’t recall any of the Roman or Greek authors, like Herodotus, who visited ancient Egypt, describing its people as Black.

To be fair, not every Black intellectual believes this. Caryl Phillips wrote a book, Afrocentrism, debunking it way back in the ’90s/ early 2000s, which was reviewed in the Financial Times. I’ve seen the Egyptians as a race somewhere between White and Black. They certainly portrayed themselves as darker than Europeans. Ancient Egyptian art stereotypically shows men as reddish-brown in colour, and women as yellow. European cultures, like the Minoans, painted themselves as pink. The Egyptians also, however, painted the Black cultures further to the south as Black. However, it makes more sense to see ancient Egypt as part of the ancient Near East because it was part of that geopolitical and cultural area. Basil Davidson, a White Afrocentrist, defended his view that the ancient Egyptians were ultimately the source of Greek and Roman culture and science by stating that it was what the Romans themselves said. Perhaps, but the majority of the foreign contribution to Greek science actually comes from the Middle East, such as Babylonia and Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

Davidson also wrote an interesting history of the Swahili culture, which I found in Bristol’s Central Library years ago. This was written as a kind of ‘bottom-up’ history. Instead of viewing it as an Arab culture that had been imposed on Black Africans, he saw it as Black Africans accepting Arab culture. However, he did not deny or omit the Arab contribution, as this book appears to do.

The book’s title clearly shows that it’s been rushed out to cash in on the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, instead of being proper history it’s just pushing racial, if not racist, propaganda. I’d argue that any attempt to argue that Black Africans are the unacknowledged source of White culture and dwelling on the transatlantic slave trade while saying nothing about the Arab is racist against Whites.

African culture and history is genuinely fascinating without its reduction to myths and racial propaganda, and there are a number of excellent books about it. Unfortunately it looks like they’re going to be ignored in favour of extremely flawed and biased treatments like this.

Beeb’s ‘Horrible Histories’ Pushing Myths and Falsehoods as Black History

May 7, 2021

One of the major aims of the ‘History Debunked’ YouTube channel is attacking the myths and sometimes deliberate lies, which try to present past British society as far more ethnically diverse and multiracial than it really was. This is being done in order to create an image of the past that fits and reflects today’s racially diverse society. Although undoubtedly well meant, it is a fabrication. Simon Webb, the YouTuber behind the channel, is a Telegraph-reading Conservative, but I don’t think he can be fairly accused of racism. He’s a published author, who does know his history and the reality behind the falsehoods he tries to debunk.

On Tuesday he put up a video attacking the latest editions of the Beeb’s Horrible Histories programme. This is a children’s history programme based on a series of best selling books. This is intended to present history in a fun way with much comedy, though Webb, with rather more serious tastes, decries it as slap-dash and inaccurate. A recent edition of the programme was on Black British history, and was simply full of myths and falsehoods presented as solid, historical fact. So much so, that Webb said he couldn’t go through all of them, and described the programme as propaganda aimed at children. So he confined himself with a couple of the more egregious.

The programme began with the Empire Windrush and the statement that its passengers had been invited to England to help with reconstruction after the War. This is a myth that’s been promoted by a number of people, including Diane Abbott. The truth is that Blacks weren’t invited to Britain by anyone and definitely not the British government. They were appalled at the immigrants’ arrival because they didn’t have anywhere to accommodate them. Webb states that some ended up living in air raid shelters because of the lack of proper housing. The truth is that the Empire Windrush was a troop ship that was returning to Britain from South America. There was hardly anyone on board, so the captain decided to open it up to paying passengers to reduce costs. The adverts for places aboard the ship in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner simply gives the prices of the various classes of accommodation. There is no mention of work in Britain. As for the motives of the people, who took passage aboard the ship, the Sheffield Daily News in Britain reported the comments of a Jamaican businessman, Floyd Rainer, who said that the immigrants had come to Britain because they were dissatisfied with pay and conditions in the Caribbean. They were seeking better opportunities for themselves, not to help Britain.

The programme then followed this with an item about Black Roman soldiers at Hadrian’s Wall. These were Moors from the Roman province of Mauretania. However, Mauretania was in North Africa, in what is now Morocco and Algeria. It was a province settled by Carthaginians, who were Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon, and the Berbers. Although comparatively dark-skinned, they had Mediterranean complexions, and were not Blacks from the modern West African country of Mauretania, has an American website claims.

It then went on to St. Adrian of Canterbury, who it was claimed was also Black. But he came from what is now Libya in north Africa, and so wouldn’t have been a Black African. However, the programme stated that he was an African, and left the viewer to imagine that he would therefore have been Black.

Mary Seacole was also shown tending British soldiers in a hospital during the Crimean War, which is also a myth. She set up a bar and restaurant and never did any actual nursing. It also showed Cheddar Man as Black. This is based on a reconstruction that was widely covered in the press at the time. However, Webb has done a previous video about it and similar reconstructions showing how flawed they are. In the case of Cheddar Man, the scientists behind the announcement that he was Black actually retracted this in a piece published in New Scientist. No-one really knows what colour people’s skins were 10,000 years ago.

I think the BBC actually means well with all this, and its presenters and compilers probably don’t think that they’re falsifying history. I’m sure they genuinely believe that they’re uncovering previously hidden aspects of the British past. I think projecting the presence of Black people back into the past is part of an attempt to deal with the continuing racist attitude towards Black and Asian Brits that still sees them as foreign, even though they have now been here for three generations. And a smaller number will have been here for much longer.

But I also think that the Beeb is also prepared to falsify history in this direction as well simply to make a programme. Back around 2003/4 the Beeb screened a series about the way modern artists and musicians were taking inspiration from the Psalms of the Bible. In one edition, feminist icon Germaine Greer went to Jamaica to meet the Rastafarian musicians, who sang the Psalms in the origin Amharic, according to the Radio Times.

Historically, this is nonsense. The Psalms were originally written, like almost all of the Tanakh, the Christian Old Testament, in Hebrew. Hence its alternative name of Hebrew Bible. It very definitely wasn’t written in Amharic, which is the modern Ethiopian language of the Amhara people. But Rastafarianism is based on the worship of Haile Selassie, the late emperor of Ethiopia, as the Lion of Judah and Black messiah. Hence, presumably, the insistence that the Psalms were written in Amharic. It seems to me that the Beeb obtained the cooperation of the Rastafarian musos for the programme on the understanding that the programme would be presented from their theological point of view. If they contradicted the assertion that the Psalms were written in Amharic, a language that didn’t exist when the Psalms were actually composed, then no programme. And so the Beeb and the Radio Times published this piece of historical nonsense.

I think a similar process may also be working behind the Horrible Histories and similar programmes present long held myths as facts about the Black past. I don’t know, but I think some of them might be made in collaboration with Black groups and individuals, who passionately believe these falsehood. The Beeb wants to make these programmes and include the views of Blacks themselves. These individuals insist on the inclusion of these myths, which the Beeb won’t challenge because its researchers don’t know that their myths, and the organisation is afraid of these organisations denouncing them as racists if they ignore these long-held Black views.

There are some excellent books and materials on Black British history out there. Three I’ve come across are Gretchen Herzen’s Black England – Life Before Emancipation, the collection Under the Imperial Carpet – Essays in Black History, edited by Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, and Our Children Free and Happy – Letters from Black Settlers in Africa, edited by Christopher Fyfe and published by Edinburgh University press. But there is an awful lot of myth and falsehoods as well.

However well meant, these need to be rejected as falsehoods, even if they’re told as truth by the Beeb.

No, We Are (Probably) Not Going to See a Black Death Pandemic

July 6, 2020

Mike this morning has put up a piece on his blog reporting that the Chinese city of Bayannur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, has sounded the alarm after a hospital reported a case of Bubonic Plague. This was the disease, spread by fleas on rodents, which was responsible for the Black Death in 14th century Europe. The disease is believed to have killed a half to two-thirds of the European population and China experienced an even higher number of deaths.

Coming after the Coronavirus pandemic, this all sounds really scary, right? Well, I don’t think there’s any need to panic. Bubonic Plague has still been around in parts of the Developing World, like India for years. There’s no question that it should be wiped out, but it’s now much, much less lethal than its medieval and early modern predecessor. So much so that some historians and microbiologists have wondered if it really is the same disease.

For example, way back in the 1990’s New Scientist carried a piece about an outbreak in India. It was extremely localized. While the people living in one house or set of houses fell ill with the disease, the folks a few doors down were left unscathed. The small scale of Bubonic plague outbreaks, which only mercifully affect a very few, have led some scientists to question whether the Black Death was actually another, far more contagious disease. Back when I was at secondary school, the Beeb’s history series, Timewatch, aired a programme which suggested that the Black Death may instead have been anthrax. I think the symptoms are similar, but anthrax can also be contracted from dead bodies, which Bubonic Plague cannot. This would explain why Medieval people believed even handling the bodies of the dead was dangerous.

There is another, related form of Bubonic Plague, Pneumonic Plague, which is rather more serious as its an airborne disease and so more contagious. But fortunately even the outbreaks of this disease have been far more restricted than the outbreaks of the plague in the Middle Ages and 16th/17th centuries.

Rather more worrying is the news, which was also reported by the Mirror as well as a number of other papers, that a new strain of Swine Flu has developed, which is resistant to current vaccines. I’d consider that a more serious risk, but I don’t think we’re quite in danger of seeing that become a world-wide pandemic just yet.

Obviously, these diseases need to be monitored and are of serious concern to organizations like the World Health Organization, but the chances of either of these becoming another global pandemic like the Coronavirus is probably remote. As for avoiding people who have visited the Far East, I can remember Dr Kevin Fong’s remarks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science during the Bird Flu epidemic. Fong was speaking about space medicine, of which he’s an expert. He was also suffering from a cold and had just come back from Beijing. As he appeared on stage blowing his nose into a handkerchief, he reassured the crowd by saying, ‘Don’t worry – it’s just a cold.’ He explained how he’d just come back from the Chinese capital, and said that it was amazing how much room you could get now on the London Underground as an Asian man. Which was his jokey way of allaying any suspicions.

It might still be best to avoid people, who have travelled to China and neighbouring countries, but that would only be because of the Coronavirus. I’m very sure we aren’t going to see a return of the Plague next.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/06/if-you-thought-2020-couldnt-get-worse-brace-yourself-for-the-black-death/

Virus Death Toll Mounting, But Scum Still Demanding Lockdown Lifted – Because Murdoch Needs His Profits £££

April 7, 2020

The Scum provided further evidence yesterday of Rupert Murdoch’s utterly loathsome attitude to the Coronavirus crisis. The death toll in Britain was continuing to rise, we had lost young people as well as the disabled and elderly to the disease. I’m sure many of you will have been particularly upset by the fact that one of the new victims was a child of five, who had an underlying condition. We have also lost some of our dedicated healthcare professionals – doctors, surgeons and nurses – who carried on doing their duty despite an appalling lack of proper protective equipment. And yesterday Boris Johnson himself was hurried to hospital. This was supposed to be nothing special. It’s just that Boris’ cough had carried on longer than usual. He was just going to have a check-up. Zelo Street, as perceptive as always, smelled more Tory lies, and said that looking at the situation rather than listening to the flannel, Johnson was in a far more serious condition than the Tories were telling us. He was. It’s now been reported that Johnson had to be given oxygen, and is now in intensive care. There have been more reassurances from the Tories that Boris isn’t in that serious a condition, but the Mirror, and Zelo Street, disagree. It looks like he’s got pneumonia. And Matt Hancock, the odious Health Secretary, has said that he has also lost two people to the disease.

It’s serious, and Johnson’s current condition in intensive care should show this to anyone. It demonstrates how anybody can get the disease, no matter how rich and powerful they are. It also shows how you also have to take it seriously. Johnson, like everyone else, was told not to shake hands as this could allow him to catch the disease. He ignored the advice, and carried on shaking mitts, blithely telling the world that this wasn’t a problem, as all you needed to do was wash your hands afterwards. That didn’t help. Johnson has been hospitalised through his own failure to take the virus seriously, just as the same attitude stopped him from introducing the lockdown weeks earlier and making preparations for the disease, which would have saved hundreds of unnecessary deaths.

But that didn’t prevent Scum hack Trevor Kavanagh yesterday publishing another piece demanding that the lockdown should be lifted. Because the disease isn’t that serious, according to some other modelling by a different group of scientists, and the damage it’s doing to the economy. Similar arguments have been used before against measures to combat climate change and global warming and other hazards. These have been refuted in turn. One of the best arguments was put forward a few years ago in an article in New Scientist. This was the principle that even if something wasn’t as dangerous or harmful as suggested, it was still better to err on the side of caution. Hence harmful substances or processes still shouldn’t be used, and measures should still be taken to stop global warming. But obviously Kavanagh disagrees.

Or rather his master, Rupert Murdoch. When Kavanagh first published this nonsense, Zelo Street suggested that his motives probably weren’t as pure and altruistic as he made out. He wasn’t worried about the bankruptcies, mass unemployment and poverty that have resulted from the lockdown, or the way the country will still be paying for it in the years to come. No, he was rather more worried about the effect the lockdown was having on the fortunes of the Fourth Estate, and particularly the titles of his employer, Murdoch. Print editions of newspapers are down by five million. All of the press is taking a hit, including Murdoch’s. And so Zelo Street concluded that Kavanagh was demanding an end to the lockdown for the simple reason that Murdoch wanted his empire of lies, smears and filth back on track and making money. Or rather, less of a massive loss than it’s made in previous years.

There are other warning signs about Murdoch’s self-interest in this. A few days ago Zelo Street also reported that Fox News and Murdoch were being sued by a group in Washington State. They contended that the network had broken the Consumer Protection Act by denying the virus presented a threat. At the same time, according to other hacks, Murdoch himself and his family had been taking personal steps to protect themselves. Joanna, one of the great commenters on this blog, has pointed out that WASHLITE’s suit has been thrown out of court on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. That is the right to free speech and publication. That still doesn’t stop the plaintiffs from being morally correct.

If Murdoch really took precautions against the virus, while telling everyone that a lockdown was unnecessary, then it means that he really isn’t worried about the public’s health. It strengthens the argument that Murdoch is really only interested in having the lockdown raised for his own selfish interests, no matter how many people die, including his readers and the country’s own political leaders.

Murdoch doesn’t care about the British public, or the people of any of the other countries in which he has his grotty tentacles. He doesn’t care about their leaders, even if he supports their right-wing programme of destroying the welfare state, privatising healthcare and education, and destroying workers’ rights. He just cares about profit.

By printing Kavanagh’s nonsense at the same time Johnson was taken into hospital, Murdoch has shown that he is absolutely no friend of the Tories. They should treat his rags in that light, and stop reading them.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/sun-pundit-volunteers-for-euthanasia.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/boris-illness-and-giveaways.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/boris-johnson-is-unwell.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/murdoch-facing-covid-19-lawsuit.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/sun-pundit-lies-about-covid-19-deaths.html

Tory Candidate Recommends Paying Mentally Handicapped Less than Ordinary People

December 9, 2019

There really couldn’t be a clearer statement of the Tories’ contempt for society’s weaker, less privileged and disabled members. Mike put up a piece today reporting that the Tory candidate for Amber Rudd’s old constituency of Hastings & Rye, Sally Ann Hart, managed to outrage people at a local husting with her recommendation on how much people with learning difficulties should be paid. She said that they should earn less than people of normal intelligence, because ‘they don’t understand money’ (!) This lead to shouts of ‘Shameful!’ and one person in the audience shouting that they were autistic, and they wanted to get paid for the work they do. As they should.

Amber Rudd, when she held that constituency, only had a majority of 346 votes over Labour. After this, Mike reckons that the Labour candidate, Peter Chowney, might just take it. And Mike also makes it clear what Hart’s comment means:

I think it means it is Conservative policy to rip off and shortchange people whenever and wherever they think it is possible.

Never mind whether they do a good job or not, if someone has a learning disability, the Tories are saying not only that you can – but that you should – pay them less money.

He goes on to describe what the Tories’ re-election would mean for other disabled people across Britain.

But we can see what kind of nation the Tories would create if they are elected into government again on December 12: one in which the hostile environment they have already built for disabled people would spill over into open contempt, with more pushed into poverty, and possibly even more deaths than we’ve seen in the last nine years of Tory misrule.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/08/will-labour-take-hastings-rye-after-conservative-candidates-disablist-remark/

The Tories really do amaze me. Just when you think they couldn’t get lower or scummier, they do. Their morals are so low they’re subterranean. And I also wonder if Hart herself isn’t a bit defective in the old grey matter. Years ago I read a piece in New Scientist about some of the problems suffered by people with injuries or other impairments to specific parts of their brain. One region of the brain apparently regulates morality. According to the neurologist interview by the magazine, those of his patients who’ve suffered damage to that area will do things like start eating the food off other peoples’ plates in restaurants. They do so simply because, with that part of their brain not working correctly, they no longer understand that’s not the right thing to do.

It’s tempting to speculate that Sally Ann Hart may have a similar mental impairment. But sadly, I doubt it. She doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage to her brain. She just has a nasty attitude to the disabled.

As for disabled people not understanding money, while that’s no doubt true of some, it most certainly isn’t true of others. Some autistic people, for example, are superb mathematicians, but find it difficult to cope in social situations. And there are too many people of normal intelligence, who are unable to deal properly with money. I’ve heard stories of people falling on severe financial difficulties because the money they should have used to pay the rent or the mortgage they’ve instead spent on an expensive car or luxury holiday to somewhere exotic. They’ve made a stupid choice, but they aren’t mentally handicapped and shouldn’t be paid less for their work either.

But Hart’s comments about the disabled also reveals much about the wider Tory viewpoint, at least for some members of the party. One writer on American Neoconservativism believed that they had an essentially Hobbesian worldview. That is, they followed the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in considering people purely as isolated units in society, engaged in a ‘war of each against all’. This also seems to be Hart’s thinking, in which those physically, mentally or socially inferior are to be taken advantage of and exploited. Because they are unable to cope for themselves, and so ultimately it’s for their benefit. Hence the punitive benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Test. These may strike everyone with an ounce of compassion and objectivity as grossly unfair and cruel to the point of murder, but to the Tories it’s all for the good of those at the receiving end of it. They have to be kept in line, even by exploitation, as they cannot cope and function as proper, self-reliant, responsible members of society otherwise.

It’s a disgusting attitude. Stop this Tory exploitation of the disabled and, indeed, anyone else on Thursday. Get them out, and Corbyn in!

‘I’ Article on Planned British Lunar Rover

October 13, 2019

Friday’s I for the 11th October 2019 also had a really cool piece of space news. It seems that there are plans to send a British rover, designed by a start-up company, to the Moon in 2021. It is, however, tiny, and looks something like a four-legged, boxy mechanical spider. The article, ‘Give us a lift: Britain’s first lunar rover hitches a ride to the Moon’, by Nina Massey, runs

The UK’s first Moon rover will be sent into space in 2021 – and will be tiny.

Announced at the New Scientist Live event in London’s ExCel, British space start-up SpaceBit created and designed the robot. SpaceBit founder Pavlo Tanasyuk said: “Our goal is to go and see what is available there for all humanity to explore.”

He added that, unlike rovers with wheels or tracks, this robot with its four legs would provide an opportunity for “something a little bit like a human” to explore the lunar surface.

Only three other countries have put a rover on the Moon: the US, Russia and China.

In May, NASA announced that Astrobotic and two other companies had been awarded funding to build lunar landers.

US firm Astrobotic was awarded millions of dollars to carry up to 14 NASA instruments to the Moon, as well as 14 payloads from other partners.

SpaceBit will be one of those partners, sending the rover to the surface inside Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander.

It is expected to land in June or July 2021. Once the lander reaches the Moon, the 1.5kg rover will drop from beneath it to the surface along with other payloads.

It will scuttle across the surface taking measurements and collecting exploration data that can be analysed for scientific and exploration purposes.

It also has two cameras that will enable it to take “robot selfies”, SpaceBit said.

The reason for the legs is that in future lunar missions, the rover will go into lava tubes, which has not been possible before, Mr Tanasyuk said. he added: “It will spend up to 10 days on the Moon before going into the night and basically then freezing for ever.”

The article carried two photographs, one of the rover, and the other of Mr Tanasyuk holding a model of it.

This is great news, as it shows that British entrepreneurs are getting into space exploration. With luck, this rover should do better than the Beagle probe sent to Mars a few years ago. This was intended to find life, but crashed on its surface. SpaceBit join a number of other British space companies that have been set up, like Orbex, now building a spaceport in Scotland, and the expected development of the Skylon spaceplane. It seems that Britain may now be developing a full-fledged space industry, after the cancellation of the British space launcher project in 1975. I wish them God speed, and every success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.