Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power’

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

Arthur C. Clarke Book on the Terraforming of Mars

March 18, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke – The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – The Illustrated History of Man’s Colonization of Mars (London: Victor Gollancz 1994).

A little while ago I put up a number of articles on the possible terraforming of various planets in our solar system. The prime candidate at the moment would be Mars, but people have also suggested ways to terraform Venus and the Moon. I’ve managed to dig out from my bookshelves a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, The Snows of Olympus, which I bought way back in the 1990s. Clarke’s been called ‘The Space Prophet’ because of his article published in a radio hobbyists’ magazine shortly after the War predicting geostationary communications satellites. He has jokingly said in an article ‘How I Lost a Million Dollars in My Spare Time’ that he should have patented the concept, and so made himself a billionaire because of its immense value to the telecommunications industry. This book is no less prophetic in that it uses computer simulations to depict the gradual greening of the Red Planet over a thousand year period from the next few centuries to c. 3000.

The book has a prologue, in which Clarke gives the text of a speech he gave to future Martian colonists as part of the Planetary Society’s ‘Visions of Mars Project’. Launched by the late and much-missed astronomer and space visionary, Carl Sagan, this was a project to send the future colonists the gift of a collection of SF short stories about Mars aboard two probes due to land there. There’s then a short introduction in which Clarke lays out the aims of the book. The first chapter, ‘Prelude to Mars’, discusses the history of the exploration of the Red Planet by terrestrial astronomers and writers, such as Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet, and the controversy surrounding the supposed ‘face’ on Mars, made by Richard Hoagland and others.

Chapter 2 – ‘The Curtain Rises’ – is on the probes sent to explore Mars, such as the Mariner probes and discussion between himself, Sagan, Ray Bradbury and the JPL’s Bruce Murray at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the probes and their findings. He goes on to discuss Viking probes and the debate about American and Russian cooperative ventures in space research. This last ended for a time because of international tensions created by the Solidarity crisis in Poland.

Chapter 3 – ‘Going There’, describes the problems and suggested methods for reaching Mars, establishing crewed bases there, including various types of rocket from the conventional chemical to nuclear-thermal and atomic; solar sails and space elevators, George Bush seniors’ intention to launch a crewed mission to Mars by 2019, and the tasks that would immediately face the astronauts landing there.

Chapter 4- ‘Virtual Explorations’ is on the use of computers and VR to explore and map Mars, and particularly the Vistapro programme used in the generation of many of the images in the book.

Chapter 5 is on the artistic and computer depictions of Olympus Mons, the planet’s highest mountain and the gradual reclamation of its surface by vegetation, beginning with lichens, during the long centuries of terraforming. This culminates in the emergence of liquid water and creation of a sea surrounding the mountain.

Chapter 6 does the same for Eos Chasma, the ‘Chasm of the Dawn’, in the Valles Marineris.

Chapter 7 shows the same process as it would affect the Noctes Labyrinthes – the Labyrinth of Night. This forecasts the growth of forests in this part of Mars, beginning with pines but later including deciduous trees.

Chapter 8 – ‘The Longest Spring’ discusses the various methods that could be used to terraform Mars, such as coating the ice caps with carbon from Mars’ moon, Phobos, the use of orbiting mirrors to melt them, raising its temperature by turning Phobos into a miniature sun for about 40 days using ‘muon resonance’ – a form of nuclear reaction, and bombarding the planet with comets to cover it with water, and ‘Von Neumann’ machines that would gradually terraform the planet automatically.

‘Disneymars’ looks forward to a museum display and audiovisual presentation that would show the colonists what their planet would look like in the future as the terraforming progresses.

Chapter 9 – ‘Concerning Ends and Means’ discusses the moral dimension of terraforming, the immense historical importance of exploration and the need to continue this exploration to the Red Planet in order to preserve human civilisation and progress.

There are two appendices. The first is an extract from a speech, The Mars Project: Journeys beyond the Cold War, by US senator and WWII hero, Spark Matsunaga. The second, ‘So You’re Going to Mars’, is fictional advice given by the immigration authorities to people moving from Earth to Mars.

The quality of the computer graphics is mixed. Many of them, which were without doubt absolutely astonishing for the time, now look rather crude and dated as the technology has improved. Others, however, still stand up very well even today. The quality of the computer simulations of the terraforming process can be seen from this image below of what Eos Chasma might look like in 2500 AD.

There are also plenty of illustrations of Mars, rendered using more traditional artistic methods such as painting, including photos of Percival Lowell’s own drawings of what he believed was the planet’s network of canals.

Although the computer tools may have been superseded and improved in the decades since the book’s publication, I think the science, and the social issues Clarke discusses, are still solidly relevant and contemporary. Certainly there is now a popular movement to send humans to the Red Planet at some point in the coming decades, and prospective future colonists have even come forward to volunteer a few years ago. There is, however, a greater awareness of the medical dangers from radiation and microgravity that would affect – and possibly destroy – a mission to Mars. The dream, however, is still there, as shown by the success of the film The Martian a few years ago.

William Blum on the American Demonization of Iran

February 8, 2017

I bought a copy today of William Blum’s book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy – The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything (London: Zed Books 2013). Blum’s a long term, extremely vociferous and very knowledgeable critic of American foreign policy and its allies. He’s been protesting against the country’s assassinations, coups and manufactured wars and other interventions since the Vietnam War, and his website, the Anti-Empire Report, is highly recommended for telling you what the media is not reporting about the global actions of America and its allies.

The book’s chapters deal with:
US foreign policy vs. the world; Terrorism; Iraq; Afghanistan; Iran; George W. Bush; Condoleezza Rice; Human rights, civil liberties and torture; WikiLeaks; Conspiracies; Yugoslavia; Libya; Latin America; Cuba; The Cold War and anti-Communism; the 1960s; Ideology and society; Our precious environment; The problem with capitalism; The media; Barack Obama; Patriotism; Dissent and resistance in America; Religion, Laughing despite the Empire; But what can we do?

It’s a treasure trove of information showing just how unpleasant American foreign policy is, and how the military-industrial complex running it has not only bombed, murdered and exploited people all over the world, it also lies shamelessly and constantly to its own people as well as the world at large. Nearly every page has a telling fact that flips the conventional, establishment narrative right on its head.

The chapter on Iran is a case in point. Blum cites White House aides, journos and diplomats to show that Iran’s nuclear programme was never a threat, despite the hysterical table-thumping by the odious Tzipi Livni and the rest of the thugs now running Israel. Far from it. Over a decade ago, the Iranians were even responsible for negotiating some of the peace deals in Afghanistan, and even approached Bush through the Swiss ambassador for a deal to improve relations with America, in which they promised to give major concessions. Blum writes

Shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran made another approach to Washington, via the Swiss ambassador, who sent a fax to the State Department. The Washington Post described it as ‘a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table – including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.’ The Bush administration ‘belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax’. Richard Haass, head of policy planning at the State Department at the time and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Iranian approach was swiftly rejected because in the administration ‘the bias was toward a policy of regime change.’

So there we have it. The Israelis know it, the Americans know it. Iran is not any kind of military threat. Before the invasion of Iraq I posed the question: What possible reason would Saddam Hussein have for attacking the United States or Israel other than an irresistible desire for mass national suicide? he had no reason, and neither do the Iranians. (p. 105).

James Dobbins, Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference in which the parties in the Middle East negotiated the political settlement for Afghanistan, states that it was the Iranians who made sure that democracy and the war on terrorism were included in the Afghan constitution, not the Americans. (pp.104-5). Now that’s very, very definitely something I haven’t heard report on the Beeb. Have you?

But what struck me as urgently important this week was this passage

Not long ago, Iraq and Iran were regarded by USrael as the most significant threats to Israeli Middle East hegemony. thus was born the myth of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the United States proceeded to turn Iraq into a basket case. The left Iran, and thus was born the myth of the Iranian Nuclear Threat. As it began to sink in that Iran was not really that much of a nuclear threat, or that this ‘threat’ was becoming too difficult to sell to the rest of the world, USrael decided that, at a minimum, it wanted regime change. The next step may be to block Iran’s lifeline – oil sales using the Strait of Hormuz. Ergo the recent US and EU naval buildup near the Persian Gulf, an act of war trying to goad Iran into firing the first shot. If Iran tries to counter this blockade it could be the signal for another US Basket Case, the fourth in a decade, with the devastated people of Libya and Afghanistan, along with Iraq, currently enjoying America’s unique gift of freedom and democracy. (Pp. 98-9, my emphasis).

The Americans have been gearing up for a war with Iran for the past decade. But this week Donald Trump’s advisers were banging their shoes on the table for war. An American warship had been fired upon by the Yemeni Houthi rebels. The Houthis are Shi’a, and so backed by Iran. At the same time, the Iranians test fired a ballistic missile that flew 500 miles before crashing. This was, assures Drumpf, a preparation for nuclear missiles. The Orange Generalissimo and his courtiers therefore started talking about a possible attack on Iran.

I’ve blogged earlier this week about how a war with Iran would be disastrous. It also wouldn’t be to liberate the Iranian people from a deeply authoritarian and repressive regime. It would be just another attempt by US-Saudi oil multinationals to grab their oil, just as America and Britain organised a coup against Mossadeq when he nationalised Anglo-Persian Oil in the 1950s.

Iran’s not a threat, and the Iranians were responsible for establishing clauses mandating democracy and denouncing terrorism in the Afghan constitution. This is all about finding a pretext for a new pack of lies to justify yet the invasion and looting of yet another country.

Trump Puts Iran ‘On Notice’

February 4, 2017

It seems that Drumpf is gearing up to start another war, this time with Iran. Yesterday the Trumpists’ National Security advisor, Michael Flynn, stated that they were putting Iran ‘on notice’ following an attack by Houthi rebels on a Saudi warship and the Iranians’ testing of a ballistic missile. The Houthis are supported by Iran. Under UN resolution 2231, Iran is barred from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The missle launched by Iranians was not capable of carrying such a weapon. The rocket flew 500 miles before crashing. Iran has tested ballistic missiles before, and while they are observing the letter of the resolution, Obama’s administration condemned them for violating the convention’s spirit. This was because the results from these tests could be used to construct a missile that would be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The former Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, said that ‘this is not the first time an inexperienced person has threatened Iran … The American government will understand that threatening Iran is useless. Iran does not need permission from any country to defend itself.’ He also stated that the weapon was not covered by the nuclear accords, and that they would not use missiles produced in Iran to attack another country.

Trump also made a statement attacking Obama’s agreement with Iran, in which frozen assets were returned to the country in return for the regime abandoning any effort to development nuclear weapons. I think the monies returned to Iran was about $180 million. Trump declared that until Obama gave them the money, the country was on its last legs. There’s no evidence for that, and Drumpf misrepresents the payment as some kind of gift. And like his Republican predecessors, Drumpf also seems to want to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran. Despite the fact that it is preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms, and international monitoring agencies have confirmed that Iran is abiding by the agreement.

In the video, John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian also state why an invasion of Iran would be a bad idea. They make the point that the Iraq invasion and consequent occupation has been bad enough, but Iran would be much more difficult as it has a larger army and is better armed and equipped.

There are also a number of other points that could be made here. Firstly, any invasion of Iran would not only face difficulties presented by confronting a much better armed country, but would also cause the same ethnic blood bath that broke out in Iraq. 51 per cent of the Iranian population speak Farsi, but the country is also a mosaic of other tribes, including Arabs in Khuzestan, Kurds, Baluchis and various nomadic tribes speaking languages related to Turkish. Many of these have also waged war in the recent past for their independence. The Kurds have been fighting for their independence since the reign of the Shah, and several of the Turkish tribes rose up in revolt in the 1970s after the Iranian regime confiscated their tribal lands as part of a programme of land redistribution.

It’s hardly known in the west, but there is also a massive, growing underground Christian church in Iran similar to underground church in China. Apostasy from Islam is forbidden, and converts to Christianity imprisoned and persecuted. It has got to the point that the Iranian regime is posting armed soldiers around the ethnic Armenian churches, so that Iranians don’t sneak in to participate in their worship. If America invades Iran, this already persecuted minority will suffer even worse harassment and victimisation as they will be identified with the invaders. And the same will be true of the Bahai’is. They see themselves as a separate religion, which has grown out of Islam, in the same way that Christianity developed from Judaism. Mainstream Islam, at least in Iran, sees them as a heresy, and they have been savagely persecuted. Because Baha’ullah, one of the religion’s founders, was imprisoned in Haifa, which is now in Israel, there’s a conspiracy theory grown up about the Bahai’is, which accuses them of being spies and saboteurs working for Israel. It’s rubbish, but this hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of Bahai’is being killed in pogroms. Any American invasion of Iran will see these people suffer even worse persecution.

Iadarola and Kasparian also make the point that Trump’s belligerence also threatens to miss a golden opportunity to turn the country into an ally. They make the point that it’s a young country, with a burgeoning middle class, who want western consumer products. It should be possible to draw Iran into the international community, and neutralise any threat they may pose simply through friendly relations. But Trump is taking the much easier route, of turning it into another North Korea, isolated from the rest of the world.

The peoples of the Middle East have suffered too much. The last thing they, and indeed the rest of the world need, is another wretched, stupid war of aggression. And let’s forget the rhetoric about Iran being a ‘rogue state’ and part of the ‘Axis of evil’ as George Dubya put it. The Iranian theocracy is brutal. But it is still more liberal than many of the other countries around it, like Saudi Arabia. There is a democratic component to their constitution, which there is certainly isn’t in the Wahhabi kingdom. And I’ve also heard that if the Iranians were developing nuclear weapons, it wouldn’t be to use against Europe, but to defend themselves against the Saudis.

If America were to invade Iran, it wouldn’t be to spread democracy. That would be another lie, the same that has been used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reality would be that it would be another attempt by the Neocon political and economic elite to loot another Middle Eastern country, and steal its oil and industries. While the Saudis would back it in their campaign to advance their kind of repressive Sunni Islam against Iranian Shi’a.

Space Scientist John S. Lewis on Prosperity and the Colonisation of the Asteroid Belt

December 27, 2016

I found this really interesting, optimistic passage below in John S. Lewis’ Mining the Sky (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley 1997).

John S. Lewis is the Professor of Planetary Sciences and Codirector of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Subtitled, Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets, the book discusses the ways the immense mineral wealth of the solar system and the access it gives to the energy available from the Sun through solar power can be exploited through the colonisation of the solar system with present-day space technology, or developments from it that can reasonably be expected. The chapter ‘The Asteroid Belt: Treasure Beyond Measure’ describes the vast resources of the tiny, rocky worldlets of that part of the solar system, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not only does he describe the various metals and other minerals available there, but he also discusses the vast increase in personal wealth that would be given to nearly everyone on Earth if the money gained from the mining of these minerals were shared out equally.

I do not want to leave the impression that enough mineral wealth exists in the asteroid belt to provide $7 billion for each person on Earth. That would not be fair. In fact, this estimate completely ignores the value of all th other ingredients of asteroids besides iron. We know, for example, that for every ton of iron in the asteroids, there’s 140 pounds of nickel. That comes to about $6 billion worth of nickel. Meteorite metals contain about 0.5 percent cobalt, which sells for about $15 a pound. That gives another $26 billion each. The platinum-group metals, which sell for about $460 per troy ounce ($15 per gram, or $6,800 per ound) make up about fifteen parts per million of meteorite metal. That comes to another $1.6 X 10 X 20, which is $32 billion per person. So far that is about $72 billion each, and we are not close to done. Add in gold, silver, copper, manganese, titanium, the rare earths, uranium, and so on, and the total rises to over $100 billion for each person on Earth.

It appears that sharing the belt’s wealth among five billion people leads to a shameless level of affluence. Each citizen, assuming he or she could be persuaded to work a forty-hour week, could spend every working hour for 70 years counting $100 bills at the rate of one per second (that’s $360,000 per hour) and fail to finish counting this share of the take. If we were instead to be satisfied with an average per capita wealth comparable to that in the upper economic classes of the industrialised nations today, roughly $100,000 per person, then the resources of the belt would suffice to sustain a million times as many people on Earth. These 10 to the power of 16 people could all live as well as ninety-fifth percentile American of the late twentieth century. With recycling and an adequate source of power, this immense population is sustainable into the indefinite future. The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is not to generate insane levels of personal wealth for the charter members; the best use is to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all-human beings. People embody intelligence, by for the most precious resource in the universe and one in terribly short supply. (p. 196).

Now clearly, this is the ideal situation, presented without the risks and costs of actually reaching the asteroid belt and extracting the wealth bound up in its rocks. I also believe that in practice, much of that wealth would also be consumed by the mining companies or terrestrial government agencies responsible for the belt’s commercial exploitation. But it is refreshing to see humans viewed not as a cost in the process of production, which needs to be eliminated as much as possible, but as a valuable and indispensable resource, which needs to be used in the process of exploration and commercial exploitation as much as possible, and handsomely rewarded for its contribution.

On the next page, Lewis also describes the advantages of solar power for the future miners and colonists over fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

But wait a minute! Why not use solar power? The Sun pumps out power at the prodigious rate of 4 X 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, equivalent to 4 X 10 to the power of 26 watts. Our supercivilisation needs 10 to the power of 19 watts to keep going. The Sun is pumping out forty million times as much power as we need! But what do we need to do to capture and use that energy? The simplest answer (not necessarily the best-there may be even more desirable options that we have not thought of yet) is to use vast arrays of solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical power. If the cells have an efficiency of about 20 percent, similar to the best commercial cells made at present, then each square meter of cell area exposed to the Sun near Earth’s orbit would generate 270 watts of electrical power continuously. We would need thirty-seven billion square kilometers of solar cells to provide our power needs, an area comparable to the total surface area of our habitats. At about 0.1 grams per square centimeter for the solar cells, we would need about 3.7 X 10 to the power of 19 grams of silicon to make the cells and perhaps three times as much metal to provide the supports and wires for the power-collection system. The asteroids give us 4X10 to the power of 23 grams of silicon, more than ten thousand times the amount we need for this purpose. The cost of the solar power units is set by the need to construct a few square meters of solar cells per person. The cost would be about two hundred dollars per person at present prices, or a few dollars per person at future mass-production prices. That is not your monthly electric bill: it is a one-time-only expenditure to provide all the electric power you will need for the rest of your life.

All this reckons with 1997 technology. New types of high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or other exotic materials, combined with ultra-lightweight parabolic reflectors to collect and concentrate sunlight onto small areas of these cells, promise to perform much better than these highly conservative estimates. (pp. 197-8).

This is the solar power available for the asteroid colonies near Earth. In a later chapter, 14, Lewis discusses ‘Environmental Solutions for Earth’.

Lewis certainly isn’t against private industry in space. Indeed, in an imaginary scenario in one of the first chapters he has a future businessman enthusing about the profits to be gained from mining the Moon or other parts of the Solar system. But he’s clearly like many space visionaries in that he believes that humanity’s expansion into the cosmos will bring immense benefits in enriching and raising the personal quality of life for each individual as well as benefiting the environment down here on Earth.

But reading that paragraph on the benefits of solar power does show why some politicians, particularly in the Tory and Republican parties in Britain and America, who are the paid servants of the nuclear and fossil fuel companies, are so dead set against solar power, as well as other renewables. Quite simply, if it’s adopted, these industries immediately become obsolete, the obscene wealth enjoyed by their CEOs, senior management, and the aristocracy of Middle Eastern oil states, like Saudi Arabia, vanishes along with their political power. And the proles have access to cheaper power. Indeed, people using solar power today are actually able to reverse the usual norm slightly and sell power back to the grid.

No wonder the Tories are trying to shut it all down in favour of nuclear and fracking.

Secular Talk: Congress Imposes Iran Sanctions, Upsets Nuclear Deal

December 6, 2016

This is another piece of American news, which unfortunately has very ominously, and potentially deadly, implications for all of us. In this piece from Secular Talk, the host Kyle Kulinski discusses how the US Congress has managed to upset the deal Barack Obama negotiated with the Iranians over their nuclear programme. The Iranians promised to stop their nuclear programme in return for the Americans lifting the sanctions they had imposed on the country. The international nuclear regulatory body also confirmed that the Iranians were complying with the treaty. The treaty was opposed both by Israel, which wanted a bombing campaign, and the Iranian hardliners, including the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini. Nevertheless, the peaceful settlement to this issue was a major achievement for Barack Obama and the reformist Iranian president, Rouhani.

Now Congress has undermined all this, and re-imposed sanctions. For no reason whatsoever. Obama has yet to sign the legislation, and Congress has claimed that they’re just symbolic. Nevertheless, it has caused the Iranians to decide that if the Americans can’t be trusted to fulfill their side of the deal, they don’t have to honour theirs. So they’ve restarted their nuclear programme. Kulinski makes the point how stupid Congress has been in both undermining the treaty, and the Iranian reformists, like Rouhani, who negotiated it. And it seems just about all of Congress, with few exceptions, is responsible for this mess.

My guess here is that the Neocons in both the Republican and Democrat parties are desperate to start a war with Iran, and this is the means of providing a pretext for it. Israel wanted military actions against Iran, and a few years ago unleashed a stuxnet virus attack on the Iranians’ computers. From what I’ve read, this led to a major incident at one of their labs and the deaths of several of the scientists and engineers involved. The Republicans in America have also bitterly hated and opposed Obama’s and Rouhani’s treaty. It’s been revealed that the Republicans had plans even before 9/11 for the invasion of seven countries and the overthrow of their leaders. These included not only Iraq and Syria, but also Libya, Somalia, Lebanon and Iran. 9/11 provided them with a pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, although in the case of the last it was justified, as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan had committed on act of war.

And Hillary Clinton has been no better than the Republicans. She has also pressed for further military action, including against Russia for supposedly leaking the incriminating emails about her corrupt business dealings.

My fear is that the hawks in Congress are hoping to provoke the Iranians into resuming their nuclear programme, so they have an excuse to launch another invasion. I’ve also written extensively elsewhere on how this would be disastrous. Like Iraq, Iran is a mosaic of different ethnic groups. The majority religion is Twelver Shi’ism, but three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians. The country is also the birthplace of the Baha’is, a religion which grew out of Islam in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Baha’is are not recognised as a distinct religion, and have suffered terrible persecution as heretics and suspected agents of Israel. There is also a growing movement of underground Christianity, which is also severely persecuted. If America invades, you can expect the same process of balkanisation, tribal bloodshed and persecution, as has occurred in Iraq.

And this will not be done to protect America or Israel from any nuclear threat from the Islamic Republic. Shirin Ebadi in her book on the current social unrest in Iran makes the point that when the Iranians say they are developing nuclear power as a source of domestic electricity, they’re speaking the truth. The Iranian regime is supported internationally by its oil exports. In order to maximise these, the regime is determined to cut down on domestic oil consumption. Other sites I’ve seen on the web have also suggested that if the Iranians were to develop nuclear weapons, it would be as a deterrent against the other, neighbouring regimes which pose a possible threat, such as Saudi Arabia and possibly Pakistan, both Sunni regimes.

Any war which America and its allies fights with the Islamic Republic will be done for the very same reasons America invaded Iraq: to safeguard Israel, seize the country’s oil and other industries, and comply with the Saudis’ campaign to destroy Shi’ism, moderate Islam, and non-Muslim religions in the Middle East.

This deliberate attempt to increase tensions with Iran should be stopped right now, before any more of our brave servicemen and women are killed, and more millions are massacred or made homeless, just for the profit of big oil and Wahhabi intolerance.

Trump’s Islamophobia Empowering Hardline Muslim Radicals in ISIS, al-Qaeda and Iran

November 27, 2016

The I newspaper on Friday also ran a piece by Parisa Hafezi reporting that the Revolutionary Guards in Iran were delighted with Trump’s victory, as they saw his anti-Muslim stance as a means by which they could get back into power. The Revolutionary Guards are the elite, hardline branch of the Iranian army dedicated to preserving the regime. They’ve lost some of the power and influence in recent years through the election of more moderate mullahs to the presidency and Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the regime. But now they hope to use Trump’s militant Islamophobia to win back influence as the protectors of Iranian Islam.

An anonymous senior official within the government stated “Trump and the Isis militants were gifts from God to the IRGC.”. And a former reformist official also said, “If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the deal, hardliners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from it”. (The hardline Revolutionary Guards can profit from Trump’s belligerence to Islam, p. 36).

And on Tuesday, 21st November, Patrick Cockburn put up a piece in Counterpunch, ‘Trump’s Team Will Start New Wars in the Middle East’, which reported that ISIS and al-Qaeda were similarly looking forward to Trump’s presidency because of the radicalisation his hatred of Muslims promised. Cockburn wrote:

Isis is under pressure in Mosul and Raqqa, but it is jubilant at the election of Donald Trump.

Abu Omar Khorasani, an Isis leader in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying that “our leaders were closely following the US election, but it was unexpected that the Americans would dig their own graves.” He added that what he termed Trump’s “hatred” towards Muslims would enable Isis to recruit thousands of fighters.

The Isis calculation is that, as happened after 9/11, the demonisation and collective punishment of Muslims will propel a proportion of the Islamic community into its ranks. Given that there are 1.6 billion Muslims – about 23 per cent of the world’s population – Isis and al-Qaeda-type organisations need to win the loyalty of only a small proportion of the Islamic community to remain a powerful force.

Blood-curdling proposals for the persecution of Muslims played a central role in Trump’s election campaign. At one moment, he promised to stop all Muslims from entering the US, though this was later changed to “extreme vetting”. The use of torture by water-boarding was approved and applauded, and Hillary Clinton was pilloried for not speaking of “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Trump and his aides may imagine that much of this can be discarded as the overblown rhetoric of the campaign, but Isis and al-Qaeda propagandists will make sure that Trump’s words are endlessly repeated with all their original venom intact.

Cockburn goes on to predict that Trump, whatever non-interventionist statements he made before the election, is almost certain to start new wars in the Middle East simply through the venomous hatred of Islam of some of the candidates for his cabinet posts. General Michael O’Flynn, who has reportedly been offered the post as National Security Adviser, has stated that ‘Fear of Muslims is rational’. And according to two journalists with The Daily Beast, one of Trump’s defence advisers is Clare Lopez, who wrote a book, See No Sharia, which claims that Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the White House, the FBI, and the Departments of State, Justice, Defence and Homeland Security. And one of the other candidates Trump was considering declared that ‘Islam is a cancer’.

O’Flynn also runs a private intelligence organisation, which has amongst its clients the Turkish government, which would like to invade Iraq and Syria to sort out the Kurds there. Considering all these explosive and incendiary elements, it’s hard not to agree with Cockburn that, one way or another, Trump’s going to start more wars in the Middle East.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/21/trumps-team-will-start-new-wars-in-the-middle-east/

When will this hatred, mass murder and the destruction of whole nations, their history and cultural heritage, end?

Counterpart on American Foreign Policy and Regime Change in Syria

October 15, 2016

With the Conservatives and their pet media now howling for further military action against Assad in Syria in this country, and the American government gearing up for the same, Counterpunch has published an article by Gary Leupp. Entitled, ‘An Urgently Necessary Briefing on Syria’, it discusses the country’s history in the 20th century, and the very numerous attempts by the US to undermine or overthrow its government.

Its first paragraph gives a brief description of Syria’s size and population, states that it is not a threat to the US, and has cordial relations with very many other nations. It states that at various periods it was rule by the Persians, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks, before being ruled by the French from the First to the Second World. The current ruling Ba’ath party was founded in 1947.

Under the French and after independence, the Syrian authorities tolerated the Communist party. The Americans thought they were too soft. It is widely believed that the 1949 military coup in Syria was sponsored by the US to install an anti-Communist regime. The CIA openly acknowledges that it was responsible for two further abortive coup attempts in 1956 and 1957. After the latter was exposed, embarrassing the US, America responded by declaring Syria to be a Soviet client.

It notes that Syria and Egypt were briefly united in the same state, until this collapsed in 1961. The Ba’ath party seized power a couple of years later in Iraq and Syria. The Ba’ath party continued ruling Iraq until the western invasion in 2003.

Up to the 1967 war the US broadly favoured the Ba’athist as the middle ground between Islamism and Communism. The Ba’ath party stood for pan-Arab nationalism, economic nationalism and secularism. After the 1963 coup Saddam Hussein worked with the US to round up and execute Communists in Iraq.

After the 1967 war, America was strongly influenced by the Israel lobby to declare Syria an ‘Anti-Zionist’ and ‘Anti-Semitic’ state, because it provided political and other support to the Palestinians and Lebanese other one hand, and demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which had been seized by Israel. America declared Syria and Iraq to be ‘terror-sponsoring states’. From 1976 onwards the Syrians also interfered militarily in Lebanon.

This did not prevent the Americans also allying with Syria when they found it convenient, such as during Gulf War I in 1991, and then with the extraordinary renditions programme of suspected terrorists after 9/11.

It notes that in the 21st century, the American authorities have been divided between the Neocons, who wanted to overthrow the Syrian government in a strategy of regime change across the Middle East, and those who did not, fearing the consequences.

The Iraq invasion was part of a Neocon strategy which planned the overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Iran. George Dubya’s government included individuals, who parroted Israel’s accusation that the missing WMDs not found in Iraq were in Syria. They are also supported the Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor.

Although Bashar al-Assad was hailed as a reformer when he came to the Syrian presidency, and Shrillary was still calling him such in 2010, the plans to overthrow him were in place before 2011. After the Arab Spring and the regime’s attacks on demonstrators, Clinton and Obama demanded that Assad should step down. Shrillary was keen to start arming rebels. A group of 53 were so trained in Turkey, but gave themselves up or defected after they entered Syria. The backbone of the anti-Assad movement is forces descended from al-Qaeda, such as Daesh, which seized the area around Raqqa, and al-Nusra, which has connections to Pakistan, which holds Damascus and Aleppo. Al-Nusra is the core of the ‘Free Syrian Army’, and receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Obama was all set to invade Syria after a Sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb was attributed to Assad. The Russians prevented this by claiming that it may have been the opposition instead, and manoeuvring to allow the Assad regime to surrender its chemical weapons to the UN.

The article points out that the rapid expansion of ISIS in Iraq is a severe PR disaster for the Americans, as it shows how the Iraq invasion overthrew a secular state and created the militant theocratic regime based on torture and other horrific human rights abuses. The US has been forced to bomb Daesh, but not al-Nusra, which it continues to support. At the same time, it claims that the real reason for the rise of ISIS is opposition to the Ba’ath regime.

The article makes clear that this claim is utterly nonsensical. The Ba’ath regime is authoritarian and Fascistic, but it was the Americans who created ISIS by arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, destroying Iraq and trying to overthrow Assad. Daesh was formed after the Americans threw its leader, al-Zarqawi, and his troops out of Afghanistan, alienated Iraq’s Sunnis and then weakened Syria.

The American government is also torn by indecision about what it can or should do about the situation, whether to overthrow Assad or destroy Daesh. Most of the American administration now favours overthrowing Assad.

In 2015 General Petraeus, then the director of the CIS, recommended using al-Nusra against ISIS in Syria. This means allying with al-Qaeda to destroy an even worse branch of that organisation, as a means of ultimately overthrowing Assad.

Russia began bombing ISIS a year after the Americans began their attacks. It was at the request of the regime, which is supported by the UN and a plethora of other nations. Under international law, the Russian action is legal while the Americans’ isn’t.

It also notes that the US press has ignored Russian successes in aiding the Syrians to recapture Palmyra from ISIS and destroying the terrorists’ illegal oil convoys. Instead it just follows the State Department’s line of attacking Russian support for the Syrian state against the rebels.

The Russian successes forced the Americans to ally briefly with them in operations against the various terrorist groups. A one week ceasefire was arranged to allow the US-backed rebels to separate themselves from the al-Nusra front, which would then be attacked. At the same time, peace talks were to begin in Geneva. The US-backed rebels refused to do so, and some turned on the US. The Americans then accidentally bombed a Syrian army base then fighting against Daesh. Syria then resumed attacks on east Aleppo, controlled by al-Nusra. The US then blamed the bombing of an aid convoy on Syria or Russia, although Counterpunch notes that the bombing is still unexplained. America has thus sabotaged the peace talks designed to end a conflict American foreign policy has massively exacerbated.

Hillary Clinton supports a no-fly zone, although she realises that this will mean the deployment of tens of thousands more troops and result in a war with Syria and Russia. Last June, 51 members of the State Department signed a memo of dissent demanding that the focus be switched from combating Daesh to overthrowing Assad. She also wants to appoint Michele Flournoy as her Secretary of Defence. Flournoy also supports no-fly zones and limited military action to overthrow Assad involving the deployment of US troops.

Leupp’s article concludes

Is it not obvious? Public opinion is being prepared for another regime-change war. The most high-stakes one to date, because this one could lead to World War III.

And it’s hardly even a topic of conversation in this rigged election, which seems designed to not only to inaugurate a war-monger, but to exploit crude Russophobia to the max in the process. The point is for Hillary not only to ascend to power—whatever that might require—but to prepare the people for more Afghanistans, Iraqs and Libyas in the process. The point is to lull the people into historical amnesia, blind them to Hillary’s record of Goldwater-type reckless militarism, exploit the Cold War mentality lingering among the most backward and ignorant, and insure that the electorate that, while generally deploring the result of the rigged election in November, will soon afterwards rally behind corrupt Hillary as soon as she seizes on some pretext for war.

Very, very dangerous.

Please read the whole article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/14/an-urgently-necessary-briefing-on-syria/

The article notes how the US media automatically follows the government’s line on Syria, as does ours. And I think Leupp’s article is correct in its conclusion that the western public is being prepared for Hillary’s assumption to power as the latest American warmonger. As the article shows, the Americans have long wanted to overthrow the Ba’ath regime in Syria because it was too ‘soft’ on Communism, allied to Russia, and a threat to Israel.

I think there are other factors involved. I’ve no doubt that the Americans also want to seize its oil industries and reserves, as well as its state assets, which will also be sold to suitably grasping American and western countries, just as the Americans looted Iraq. And somewhere lurking behind this is the Saudis. My guess is that they want the Syrian regime overthrown because of its secularity, and tolerance of Christians, Shi’a and Alawis. The last two are bitterly hated as heretics by the Wahhabis, who would no doubt like to see the creation of a theocratic state similar to their own.

We are being brought to the very edge of a nuclear war to enable Hillary Clinton get into power, destroy another nation in the name of corporate profit, and support the emergence of yet another theocratic state under the influence of the Saudis.

Counterpunch on the Hinkley C Power Station: Last Gasp of a Dying Nuclear Era

September 18, 2016

Counterpunch this week also put up a very pertinent piece about the proposed construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by the French nuclear energy company, EDF, and the Chinese. The power station was the go-ahead this week by Theresa May, after she had first stated she was opposed to the deal. The piece, by Oliver Tickell, the editor of The Ecologist magazine, argues that not only is the station uncompetitive, massively expensive, and a threat to the environment, but it is also very much a last gamble by EDF and its partner, Areva, to prove the viability of the proposed reactor type, and indeed nuclear energy as a whole. Tickell states that four EPR reactors are under construction in France, Finland and China, and they are massively over budget to the tune of billions of Euros, and very late. Indeed, the reactor at Flamanville in France may never be finished. EDF and Areva are owned and controlled by the French state, and are also massively in debt.

The reasons behind May’s giving in to the French and Chinese are political and economic. She wants good relations with the French, in order to have them on the British side when it comes to negotiating the new relationship with the European Union post-Brexit. China needs the deal to go ahead, because it wants to keep the contract for the construction of the power station at Bradwell in Suffolk. This has the proposed ‘Hualong’ reactor, which has yet to be tried. The government wishes to win over the Chinese and get access without the imposition of tariffs to their market for British manufacturing and financial services industries.

There are also major doubts whether the Hinkley C reactor will ever be built, despite May’s official deal. The subsidy package given to the project as part of the deal appears to contravene EU legislation on how much state aid may be given. EDF and the Chinese company, CGN, have invested so much in the project, that it’s unlikely they’ll be prepared to invest any more until the problems and Flamanville are resolved and the reactor type has demonstrated its viability. That may also be years away. If the power station fails, or fails to work reliably, it will bankrupt EDF, and the company has yet to find the billions it is obliged to spend on the project. There is also much opposition to the power station in France. It is disliked by both the French trade unions and some of the candidates for the French presidency. The type of steel used in the reactor is also being examined for flaws in a power station in France by the French regulator. The Chinese reactor in Bradwell also hasn’t got a safety licence yet. This can take four years, so it will be built, if at all, by the next government.

By which time, the director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, Richard Black, points out, power from other sources may be far less expensive than today.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/09/16/a-nuclear-plant-for-a-dying-era-why-the-uk-approved-the-dangerous-hinkley-point-reactor/