Posts Tagged ‘NHS’

Satirical Song: Jeremy Hunt Does a Version of Eminem’s ‘My Name Is’

July 12, 2019

This is another satirical piece by JOE, whose videos are like those of Cassetteboi. Like them, he edits snippets of his subjects’ appearances on TV, and arranges them so that they appear to be saying something monumentally stupid, deeply satirical and very, very funny.

In this piece, he has Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary and now Foreign Secretary singing a version of the above track by Eminem, which reveals precisely what’s he like. It begins with him singing ‘My name is’, interrupted by Boris singing, ‘Who,’ and ‘what’, before going on to ask kids if they like Brexit and are worrying about their grandchildren. And export marmalade to Japan like him, f**k things up, but come up smelling of roses. He then goes on to explain that he’s the secretary of state, who’s campaign’s dead weight, ’cause he can’t work out, which said to advocate. Theresa May has also told him he’s a remainer, asked him what he’s afraid of, and told him he’s worse than Labour. Since 2016, he’s changed his mind, like on homeopathy and whether the NHS should be privatised. When he was health secretary he ripped the junior doctors off by working them so hard that they went go on strike. He’s a bloke from the ruling class, who can afford to fall on his rear end, receive dividends in property, to avoid paying tax. At this point Johnson interrupts, telling him that’s his job. Hunt continues by saying that God sent him to p*** the world off. The video ends with him singing ‘Hi, my name is’, followed by Johnson singing ‘what?’, ‘Who?’ and others say ‘Jeremy Hunt’. Or a four letter obscenity that rhymes with his surname, just like the do throughout the video.

All of which precisely sums up Hunt’s career in government.

 

 

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Question Time Now Stoops to Getting Guido Fawkes Propagandist on Panel

July 7, 2019

Another character from the sewer of the British far right appeared on Question Time on Thursday. This was Tom Harwood, a member of the Paul Staines’ malign team over at the Guido Fawkes blog. Yes, that cesspool of borderline Fake News was invited to give his opinion on the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme. As Zelo Street points out, this shows how low the programme has sunk after it has been revealed to have used Tory plants in the audience, Tory and other extremely right-wing panelists spouting facts that are just plain wrong, using spurious statistics and gaslighting left-wing panelists, like Diane Abbott, when they have been right.

As Zelo Street points out, many of the peeps on Twitter were not impressed.Comments included

Question … what does Tom Harwood have that makes him qualified to stand on Question Time? He’s not a serious journalist, he’s just a snot-nosed brat on a Right-Whingers blogging site” … “The fact we have people like Tom Harwood on question time shows how low this country has sunk. Surely it starts getting better soon?” [Ron Hopeful there] … “You can definitely tell what Tom Harwood is going to look like at 80 years old when he’s standing in the street shouting at nothing”.

And they continued, with the language including what Spock describes in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as ‘colourful metaphors’. Very colourful metaphors. Mark Taggart commented on the whole charade

Typically dreadful Question Time with Tom Harwood, an absolute nonentity, being this week’s BBC choice as cheer-leader to the bigoted, cheering, jeering, drown out any opposition Brexit mob. For anyone with a brain the whole show has become utterly unwatchable”.

As for the reason such an odious figure was invited on the programme, ‘Darren’ suggested this

He’s risen through working for an extreme right wing blog which encourages racism in its forums and does things like misrepresents tweets to get people sacked and doxed. He then gets congratulated by BBC journalists and accepted into #bbcqt. The whole thing is sickening”.

Quite. As Zelo Street says, it’s rewarding dishonesty and dirty tricks. They conclude that one day the Beeb will learn not to get into bed Staines and the rest of the Fake News merchants, but by that time it’ll be too late.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/question-time-credibility-fawked.html

The programme also bears out the French Philosophical Feline’s observation, over Guy Debord’s Cat, that the TV companies are always softer on the far right than they are on the left. And this now includes Question Time, despite the savaging the panelists gave the then head of the BNP when he appeared on it all those years ago.

And Paul Staines is far right. Very far right. He’s a Libertarian, and was a member of the Freedom Association. But for Libertarians and particularly the Freedom Association, ‘freedom’ only means ‘freedom for the corporate rich’. It certainly does not mean freedom for working people as they are strongly opposed to the welfare state, including the NHS, trade unions and any kind of state intervention in industry. In the 1980s Staines attended an official dinner in which the guest of honour was the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads in El Salvador. Because killing, torturing, raping, castrating and mutilating peasants in ways so horrific that they can’t be decently described is a thoroughly respectable defence of free trade economics as preached by Thatcher and the Chicago School. Keeping starving rural workers in conditions of serfdom is entirely consistent with saving them from socialism, as advocated by von Mises and von Hayek in the latter’s The Road to Serfdom.

And in addition to his Fascist views, Staines was a fan of psychedelic drugs, particularly DMT, and complained that because of his advocacy of such psychoactive chemicals he wasn’t taken seriously.

Paul Staines and his wretched crew thus are another bunch of rightists, who have much in common with Mosley and his Fascists. And the fact that the producers of Question Time seem to consider members of his shabby outfit suitable guests on their programme also shows how biased the show has become.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right Wing Clowns and the EU: Boris Johnson

July 6, 2019

Here’s another walking indictment of the Conservative party and its attitude to the EU, and a massive demonstration of the stupidity and super-patriotism of Tories: Boris Johnson. You can tell just how low and farcical the Tory party have become on the world stage when you consider that one of the issues Channel 4 News was debating on Thursday night was whether the European Union would respect Johnson if he became Prime Minister. John Suchet interviewed one young Conservative woman about this, who steadfastly maintained that somehow the Europeans would. I can’t remember the arguments. They were the usual flannel. One of them, if I remember properly, was that they would respect Johnson, because he would then be the Prime Minister. Er, no. I see no evidence that the EU would respect Johnson simply on that basis.

I didn’t catch all of Suchet’s arguments why the Europeans wouldn’t respect Johnson except for one or two. Apart from that notorious photo of Johnson suspended in mid-air on a wire during a stunt at the London Olympics, he also quoted Johnson’s fellow Tory, Alan Duncan. Duncan said that you couldn’t ‘not like Johnson, but it was impossible to respect him’. I don’t know about that. There are millions up and down the country, who not only don’t respect him, but they don’t like him either. In fact, I think almost the entire city of Liverpool has the right to despise him after a sneer he made about them, for which he later apologised. Another argument was that Johnson had made some kind of public school joke in talking to the EU leaders. They didn’t get it, and he had to explain it to them.

In fact there is ample evidence why Johnson should never be allowed to be Prime Minister, and that he wouldn’t command the respect of the EU. Nor, I suspect, of a sizable proportion of the British public. Among his brilliant wheezes as Mayor of London, he wasted tens of thousands of pounds of public money on three water cannon, which are illegal in mainland Britain and £65 million on a garden bridge, that was impossible to build. As foreign secretary, his achievements included speaking in defence of imprisoned Brit Nazarin Zeighari-Radcliffe, and getting the poor woman’s sentence increased. He started reciting The Road to Mandalay in a visit to Thailand’s holiest Buddhist temple, and couldn’t understand why this could be considered offensive. He also went to Russia to resolve tensions between Britain and Putin. On his return, he immediately gave a press conference, in which he did his best to stoke them up again.

And this is just a few examples of his massive, gargantuan incompetence.

Johnson attempts to laugh all this off, and turn it to his advantage. He poses as a lovable oaf. Yes, he and his supporters say, he makes mistakes, says offensive and racist comments about Blacks and Muslims, but he’s just honest and direct. He means well. And it all comes right in the end. And look how clever he is: he’s accurate about Europe, and used to edit the Spectator. He’s been on Have I Got News For You. Aren’t you impressed with his schoolboy charm. He’s just a bit like Billy Bunter, that’s all.

No, he’s an utterly malign political schemer. He’s stabbed his cabinet colleagues and his allies in the back, and fully supports all the wretched policies of privatisation, including the destruction of the NHS and the welfare State, that have seen millions forced into poverty and reliant on food banks for their next meal. He was massively incompetent and negligent as Mayor of London, as Mike and other left-wing bloggers, like the Angry Yorkshireman, have pointed out. And as Foreign Secretary, he was such a complete pratt that I’m surprised he didn’t spark a major international incident.

If he becomes Prime Minister, Boris will wreck this country, destroy whatever industry it has left, and reduce its working people to absolute poverty. All for the benefit of the elite 1% in the City. And he’ll make us a laughing stock for the Europeans. Always assuming that he doesn’t start a war first.

And that’s no kind of joke.

BBc Drama about Fascist Radicalisation of Deprived White Youth

July 4, 2019

Next week’s Radio Times also says that next Wednesday, 10th July 2019, there’s a drama, The Left Behind, on BBC 1 at 10.35 pm after the news about young White men drawn into Fascism. The play’s set in an unnamed Welsh town, and is about a working class lad, Gethin, who becomes increasingly radicalised as his life collapses through poverty. The blurb for it on page 78 of the magazine runs

Factual drama from the Bafta award-winning team behind Killed by My Debt and Murdered by My Boyfriend. Gethin is a working-class teenager in a south Wales town with no secure job, housing or future. As he seeks solace online, he is increasingly attracted to anti-immigrant sentiment as a way of explaining why he’s been “left behind” in his own country.

The additional piece about it by Alison Graham on page 77 runs

Gethin is a nice lad, part of a fractured family, but he is close to his sister and niece. He has a handful of good mates and not much of a job – he’s on a zero-hours contract in a fast food takeaway shop.

But the fates conspire to send Gethin (Sion Daniel Young, who is excellent) completely off the rails as the fragile thread that hold his life together unravel and snap, leading to tragedy.

The Left Behind looks at the rise of far-right extremism in the poorer parts of Britain through the prism of Gethin, a young man looking for easy targets who blames outsider for robbing him of everything worthwhile.

The mag also has a feature about the programme on pages 20-21 by Claire Webb, pointing out the working class roots of the play’s author, Alan Harris. Harris’ parents were forced to sell their house in Tonteg, near Cardiff, when he was a child, and he grew up in a caravan on his grandfather’s smallholding. After he graduated, he had a series of poorly-paid jobs, including selling Santa hats in the street and working in a car park. He was also homeless for a time, sleeping on friends sofas or in their spare rooms. He got his break into theatre after training as a journalist and submitting scripts to a theatre group encouraging new writers. The article quotes him as saying ‘We don’t see honest stories of White working class men.’ It also states that he spent a lot of time talking to people using food banks and a community centre in one of Cardiff’s most deprived suburbs. He says

“They told me people feel powerless,” he says. “It is a case of being left behind, but it’s also a case of being left out. There are a lot of people in the UK who have no hope of progressing, and once hope is gone, a wedge is driven between different sections of our society and extremism is very good at exploiting that wedge. Online radicalisation does that well: it turns personal problems into a crusade.”

The article contains the chilling statistic that in 2018 there was a 36% increase in the number of far-right extremists referred to the government’s Prevent programme. Harris spoke to a counterterrorism expert working on the programme as part of his research. It says he was frightened by how quickly people can become radicalised, and how the far-right organisations have smartened up their act.

“These are well organised, respectable-looking organisations,” he explains. “They don’t turn up in red braces with a skinhead. They turn up in a suit with a much more professional attitude. They realised that the old model wasn’t working from a recruiting point of view.”

The article also states that these organisations’ supporters are concentrated in Britain’s post-industrial towns and cities, which is why the drama’s producers set in south Wales.

To the possible objection that the programme is a sympathetic treatment of a violent extremist, Harris replies that we need to under where they’re coming from if we are to tackle domestic terrorism.

“Society tries to ignore these things but they’re happening, whether we like it or not. Understanding these people is a movement towards making society better.”

For one scene, in which a chipper councillor is confronted by residents angry at the lack of social housing, the producers used working class extras drawn from that area, and asked them to improvise. And their raw, pent up anger exploded. They ripped the councillor to shreds to the point where Harris felt sorry for the actor.

Asked if he was apprehensive that Cardiff’s working class communities would be offended by the drama, Harris replies

“Not at all. I think it’s a good thing to shine a light on the problems that some people experience. Hopefully those issues of housing, of employment, will ring true with a lot of people from Cardiff and the surrounding area. Hopefully it’s bits of their lives reflected back at them. I don’t have all the answers, but at least we can ask questions.”

While this isn’t a programme I can I’d like to watch, it does seem to be an honest attempt to grapple with the underlying issues behind the far-right’s attempts to reach out and recruit disenfranchised working class Whites. But the responsibility for the growth in racism goes far beyond the Fascist right itself, right to the heart of the neoliberal establishment. At one level, the Nazis are only building on the extreme nationalism and racism that’s been pushed for decades by the Tories and the Tory press – the Scum and the Heil are two notorious examples. But it also includes the supposedly more upmarket Spectator, which, as the Sage of Crewe has pointed out, employs the anti-Semitic Taki and is increasingly Alt Right.

And among the causes of the growth of Fascism in this country is Blair and the New Labour project. Blair abandoned socialism and the party’s traditional working class base to appeal instead to Tory swing voters. They fully embraced and participated in the destruction of the NHS and the welfare state, with Gordon Brown particularly enthusiastic about encouraging a flexible job market. In other words, job insecurity. And Tony Greenstein has repeatedly pointed out how hollow and non-existent are the Blairites’ attempts to deal with Fascism. Margaret Hodge, now the darling of the anti-Semitism smear merchants, was so negligent in her treatment of the growth of Fascism in her constituency, that the BNP actually sent her flowers when seven of their stormtroopers were elected on to Tower Hamlets local council. As for Tom Watson, he was a friend of Phil Woolas, a New Labour politico, who ran a very racist campaign against a Lib Dem opponent, claiming that he was soft on immigration and encouraged Muslim radicalisation. Woolas said that his campaign was about getting White men angry. And David Rosenberg on his blog warned that the anti-Semitism witchhunt was designed to purge the Labour movement of genuine Left-wingers and anti-racists, and that this was damaging real opposition to Fascism in working class communities. The witchhunt and Blairism meant that recent anti-racist counterprotests were, for the first time, outnumbered by the Fascists. And to add insult to injury, the Nazis chanted ‘Anti-Semites! Anti-Semites!’ at their genuinely anti-racist opponents. Rosenberg has shown repeatedly on his blog how proper campaigning in working class communities, by socialists determined to give working people better opportunities and conditions, will devastate Fascist organisations by depriving them of the real, social and economic issues they exploit to misdirect rightly angry Whites into hating Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities.

The play looks like a good, honest account to deal with the growth in working class racism by showing that it is partly caused by the real despair in these communities at their poor and declining conditions. And tackling those and combating Fascism means attacking and combating the Tories and New Labour, who have caused them and seek to exploit the anger they’ve caused in turn by scapegoating ethnic minorities.

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

June 11, 2019

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

Majority of British Public Want Railways Nationalised

May 31, 2019

Here’s a piece of encouraging news, courtesy of Wednesday’s I for 29th May 2019. According to the article, ‘Public sector should run railways’, over half of people polled supported the nationalisation of the railways. The article ran

A majority of people believe railways would be better value if they were publicly owned. Just over half of 1,000 people surveyed supported the public sector, with only one in five backing privatisation. Lobby group  We Own It said people believed fares would be cheaper under public control.

They aren’t wrong, either, but I think some caution must be taken because, reading the article, the poll seems to have been taken by the lobby group. Nevertheless it is true that privatisation has not brought the improvements to the railways promised by John Major and the Conservatives back in the 1990s when they sold them off. Instead of bringing in more investment, the companies running the railways have consistently done as little as possible to improve services, instead cutting them back as far as possible, in order to boost their chief executives’ pay and the companies’ share value. The result has been less value for money as fare prices have increased, and the rail companies now enjoy far more public money in subsidies than they did when the rail network was nationalised under British Rail. The situation is so bad that a few years ago Ian Hislop went on a rant about how the private rail companies were running a shoddy service so that they could play at being the executives of blue chip companies instead of the minor civil servants they had been on Have I Got News For You.

One of Labour’s policies is the return of the rail network to public ownership, along with electricity and water. These policies, along with Labour’s commitment to restoring the welfare state, renationalising the NHS, strengthening workers’ rights and creating effective, powerful trade unions, are extremely popular with the electorate. Which is, no doubt, why the Tories and the Blairites have started yet another campaign of anti-Semitism smears and accusations against the party. Especially as the Tories have done very badly indeed at the elections.

Soubry Turns on Allen for Massive Election Defeat of Change Party

May 28, 2019

Here’s an interesting little piece from today’s I for the 28th Mary 2019. Change UK came very much bottom of the poll in the Euro elections this Thursday, and the recriminations have started. Anna Soubry as criticised her party leader, Heidi Allen, for telling people to vote tactically. She considers that Allen was effectively telling them not to vote for their party.

The article by David Hughes, titled ‘Allen’s bizarre strategy hit votes, says Soubry’, on page 10, runs

Senior figures in Change UK were involved in a public row after the party formed by breakaway Tory and Labour MPs failed to win any MEPs.

Anna Soubry, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, accused leader Heidi Allen of “bizarre” behaviour for suggesting their supporters engage in tactical voting.

Former Tory minister Ms Soubry said “over 600,000 people went and voted for us, a genuinely new party”, which was an “extremely good” result, she claimed.

But she criticised Ms Allen, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it is rather bizarre for an interim leader on the eve of a poll to tell people essentially not to vote for their party.” Mocking the leader, she added: “Let’s engage now in big, grown up politics.”

Former Tory MP Ms Allen acknowledged that her party needed to learn from what went wrong in the European Parliament elections before the next general election.

I caught a snippet of one of the female members of Change UK talking on the Beeb the other day comparing her party’s performance with that Farage’s Brexit. She said that Brexit’s success wasn’t surprising, as it wasn’t really a new party. It was simply another vehicle for Nigel Farage and his campaign against the EU. Which is exactly true. It’s simply another version of UKIP when it was under Nigel Farage’s leadership, complete with the racism, anti-environmentalism, anti-feminism, planned destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. All of which the female speaker for Change UK didn’t mention, probably because they’re also mostly policies shared by the Tories, Blairite Labour and Change UK, with the possible exception of the anti-feminism.

She then complained that Change UK really was a genuinely new party, trying a different type of politics. A politics that was no confined to party interests. Here she was utterly wrong. There was absolutely nothing new about Change UK. It was the same old Thatcherite neoliberalism, still demanding austerity, the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state. It very happily continued the existing system of parliamentary corruption by working for the interests of its rich, corporate donors, instead of the British electorate. That’s why it was registered as a private company, rather than a political party, so that they could hide their accounts. It was, unlike the Tories, pro-Remain, and tried to dress up its solid hostility to policies that would genuinely improving conditions for working people by claiming that it was somehow centrist and non-partisan. Which is what the Lib Dems have also been saying for decades. And many people would have been put off voting for Change UK because of their selfish rejection of democratic principle by refusing to hold by-elections in their constituencies after they switched parties.

The simple fact is that Change UK is a party no-one wants and practically no-one voted for. But they really can’t accept that, and so have to carry on with all this rubbish about being a brave, new party and finding someone they blame for a defeat all of them deserved. I doubt, however, that the recriminations and backbiting are going to stop here. Time to get the popcorn in and watch as they melt down!

Mike Presents Two Good Reasons Not to Vote Tory in these Elections

May 20, 2019

With the European elections looming on Thursday, Mike today has presented two very good reasons why no decent, thinking person, should vote Conservative. Or rather, the Tories themselves have.

The first is Tory grandee Michael Heseltine. The former member of Thatcher’s and Major’s cabinets, who is an ardent pro-European, has said that he will not vote for the party of which he is such a prominent member because of its determination to take us out of the European Union, and because it is infected with extremism. I’ve no doubt this won’t surprise his detractors in the Tories, as Maggie herself once sneered at him as ‘a socialist’. He isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t exactly right in this instance. The Tories do want to take us out of Europe, and they are infected with extremism.

And the second reason exactly proves Heseltine’s point. It’s Boris Johnson, the man who would be Prime Minister. Or in his case, Chief Chump. BoJo has shown himself to be ruthlessly self-seeking, treacherous, conniving, mendacious, vain and massively incompetent. This is the man, who lied that leaving Europe would save the country £300 million + a year better off, and that this money would be spent on the NHS. Nothing of the sort has happened, and Boris was then forced to bluster about how it wasn’t a lie, and nothing was really promised when he plastered it all over the sides of buses. It was just an example, of what could be done with the money. Honest, guv’. And then when the issue of the EU came round again, he was trying to repeat the same lie. He also squandered millions of public money when he was mayor of London on three watercannon, which are illegal in mainland Britain, and so couldn’t be used. And then he wasted £65 million on the plans for a garden bridge that would never be built. This is the same man, who, when he was head of the Foreign Office, started to recited ‘The Road to Mandalay’ when being shown round Thailand’s holiest temple. And couldn’t work out why it might not be tactful when the British ambassador gently told him it wouldn’t be appropriate. The man, who went to Russia to cool tensions down with Putin’s government, and on his return made a speech stoking them back up again. And this is apart from the racism, the comments about ‘grinning pickanninies’ and the membership of the European Research Group. Who, jokingly, called themselves the ‘Grand Wizards’. But it wasn’t a reference to the rank in the Klan, no, honestly.

The fact that Boris sincerely wants to be Prime Minister shows exactly how far to the right it has lurched, and how utterly bereft of talent and integrity its leaders are. Don’t vote for them, in any election.

EU elections: Conservatives deliver two clear reasons NOT to vote for them

What A Surprise! Anti-NHS Thinktank Funded by Tobacco and Fast Food Industries

May 18, 2019

One of the fascinating articles Mike put up yesterday was about an article in the British Medical Journal that reported that Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing think tank that funds the Tories and which demands the privatisation of the NHS, is funded by all the industries that actively damage people’s health: tobacco, gambling, alcohol, sugar and fast food. One of the major donors to this secretive think tank is British-American Tobacco. The report noted that the IEA had attacked campaigns against smoking, drinking and the obesity academic, and raised concerns that a future leader of the Tories would side with these industries against the interests of the British people.

Well, as Bill Hicks used to say ironically, ‘Colour me surprised!’

I don’t wish to sneer at the doctors and medical professionals behind this article, and am absolutely fully behind its publication. But I’m not remotely surprised. It’s almost to be expected that a think tank that demands absolute privatisation and deregulation in the interests of complete free trade, should be funded by those industries, which have the most to lose from government regulation. And in the case of the Tories, that has always included tobacco, alcohol and gambling. Way back in the early ’90s under John Major, when Brits were just beginning to get into the habit of binge drinking and the government was considering allowing pubs and nightclubs all day licences, there were concerns about the damaging effects of alcohol. People were demanding greater regulation of the drinks industry. But this was being blocked by the Tories, because so many Tory MPs has links to these companies. This was so marked that Private Eye actually published the names of these MPs, and the positions they held in various drinks companies.

As for gambling, the Labour government after the War tried to crack down on this, but it was the Tories under MacMillan, who legalised the betting shops. Later on, Tony Blair, taking his ideas from them, had plans to expand the British gambling industry further with the opening of ‘super-casinos’, one of which was to be in Blackpool, I believe. But fortunately that never got off the ground. Unfortunately, there has been a massive rise in gambling addiction, despite all the warnings on the the adverts for online casinos.

The Tories have also had a long relationship too with the tobacco industry, resisting calls for bans on tobacco advertising. Private Eye also reported how, after Major lost the election to Blair, former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke then got a job with British-American Tobacco. As did, I believe, Saint Maggie of Grantham herself. BAT was employing him to open up markets in the former Soviet central Asian republics. The Eye duly satirised him as ‘BATman’, driving around in a car shaped like a giant cigarette, shoving ciggies into people’s, mostly children’s, mouths.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is a particularly nasty outfit that’s been around since the mid-70s. For a long time, I think it was the only think tank of its type pushing extreme free market ideas. A couple of years ago I found a tranche of their booklets in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. One was on how the state couldn’t manage industry. This looked at four examples of state industrial projects, which it claimed were incompetently run and a waste of money. One was the Anglo-French supersonic airliner, Concorde. The booklet had a point, as many of the industries they pointed to, like British Leyland, were failing badly. Concorde when it started out was a massive white elephant. It was hugely expensive and for some time there were no orders for it. But now it is celebrate as a major aerospace achievement. While the British aircraft industry has decline, the French used the opportunities and expertise they developed on the project to expand their own aerospace industry.

Looking at the booklet, it struck me how selective these examples were. Just four, out of the many other nationalised industries that existed at the time. And I doubt the pamphlet has worn well with age. Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and John Quiggin’s Zombie Economics have very effectively demolished their shoddy and shopworn free market capitalism, and shown how, rather than encouraging industry and prosperity, it has effectively ruined them. Read these books, and you’ll see just why we need Corbyn, whatever the champions of free market capitalism scream to the contrary.

Oh yes, and ladies, particularly, be warned. This is an anti-feminist organisation. Mike mentions in his article that it has a spokeswoman, Kate Andrews, who turns up regularly on Question Time to push for the privatisation of the NHS. Or rather, its reform, as they don’t want to alarm the populace by being too open about what they want to do. Despite this feminine face, this is an organisation that has very traditional views about gender roles. One of the pamphlets I found had the jaunty title Liberating Women – From Feminism. The booklet was written by women, and I know that some women would prefer to be able to stay home and raise their children rather than go to work. And that’s fine if it’s their choice. But this outfit would like to stop women having a choice. Rather than enabling women, who choose to stay home, to do so, they would actively like to discourage women from pursuing careers.

The IEA really is a grubby organisation, and the sooner it’s discredited everywhere, the better. Like the Tories.