Posts Tagged ‘Oxford University’

Boris Was a Terrible Speaker with or without a Secret Earpiece

November 24, 2019

Questions are being asked about After Boris’ performance on the Question Time leader’s special on Friday. According to Zelo Street, the peeps on Twitter are wondering whether he was secretly being coached in his answers, as there he seems to have had what looks suspiciously like an earphone. Will Black posted images of Boris’ right ear, which may show the device. Cathy Higgins called on Johnson, Cleverly and Tory HQ to clarify if it was an earphone. Matt Buck suggested it could just be for the studio’s sound system. But  Zelo Street observed that it raises the question why it was so discreet. Suzy Williams, however, complained about it to the Beeb by telephone and email. And even if it was an earpone, it did Johnson no good whatsoever. Julie-JC4PM-Stevenson observed that if he was wearing an earpiece, it didn’t help him much. Paul Usher expressed the same view, that even with it in he was ‘incredibly shit’. And Rinders declared that “I reckon he had Cummings shouting, ‘GET BREXIT DONE’ (sic) down his earpiece every 5 seconds. Johnson was ridiculous”.

See:  https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/bozo-and-question-time-earpiece.html

Some idea of how terrible Johnson’s performance was can be gleaned from the rage from the Tory press, who started screaming that the Beeb was biased against him. Thus the odious Sarah Vine, Gove’s missus, declared that the audience was a labour stitch-up. Allison Pearson announced that she was complaining about the Labour bias of the BBC audience. Darren Grimes moaned about how the BBC behaved typically and there weren’t any pro-Tory, pro-Brexit voices. Murdoch hack Tim Shipman complained that Johnson was interrupted 45 times, far more than the other leaders Corbyn, Swinson and Sturgeon. The Daily Heil’s Andrew Pierce complained that the audience was packed with ‘Corbynistas’ and wondered if there were any Lib Dems or Tories in the audience. He didn’t know, as he hadn’t seen the programme because he was presenting his LBC show. Ian Dale made the same complaint, and also made a cheap sneer about whether Daniel Blake, the titular character of the film of that name, would appear. Along with another sneer about Momentum packing the audience. The Scum’s political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn, and Guido Fawkes’ invertebrate Tom Harwood Tom Harwood both complained about Kate Rutter, an actress from the film I, Daniel Blake and Coronation Street being in the audience.

Zelo Street concluded of Johnson’s wretched performance that

‘Bozo The Clown failed to live up to the hype once again. That is not the fault of the BBC, but those who put him in 10 Downing Street and his press cheerleaders. End of story.’

In addition to his account of the proceedings, the commenters on his story also made some very good points. ‘Mirandola’ and ‘Mark’ both pointed out that a South African, Ryan Jacobsz, appeared at the very beginning of the programme to ask Corbyn questions. Jacobsz had definitely been on Question Time four or five times before. Jacobsz was a Conservative, who the Tory hacks had somehow overlooked in their moans about Labour bias.

And Andy McDonald commented on the Tory mentality behind these complaints. They took it for granted that they would win, and when they don’t, they start whining about bias.

What’s interesting is the assumption, the default expectation that their side is going to win. That any criticism isn’t just the natural way arguments work, but an aberration. That it has to be a “stitch up”, because they cannot conceive of anyone naturally reaching the conclusion that Labour might be better for them.

Says an awful lot about the Oxford debating club mentality driving the Tories (what larks, all a big game, call daddy’s lawyer if shit gets a bit real).

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/question-time-tories-whine.html

In fact, as Zelo Street, Mike and various other left-wing blogs have pointed out numerous times, Question Time has a massive Tory bias both in its guests and the audience, so it’s massively hypocritical for the Tory hacks to complain of bias in their turn.

Martin Odoni also put up a piece describing how terrible Johnson was as a speaker at the ITV leaders’ debate, filmed near him at MediaCity in Salford Quays. Martin was part of crowd determined to give our farcical Prime Minister the benefit of their opinions on his squalid, malicious government and character. He points out that BoJob has all of May’s faults as a speaker. Both of them repeat meaningless catchphrases. With May it was ‘strong and stable’, with BoJob it’s ‘getting Brexit done’. They both stutter and stammer. And they both run away from hostile crowds. Martin describes how Boris took one look at the mass of protesters, and order his driver to go in the back way. Corbyn, by contrast, came out to talk to them. Martin comments

I must remind everyone once again though, evading the public was a dreadful weakness May showed for most of the spring and summer of 2017. I criticised her myself for refusing to speak to the public, given that, in a country that likes to call itself ‘a democracy’, politicians should be accountable to the people, especially during a General Election. How can that happen if the Prime Minister refuses to speak to them? It looks arrogant, high-handed, and cowardly, and yet Johnson is now emulating it almost daily, after his embarrassing experiences on visits to hospitals during the Autumn.

Martin also discusses how Johnson also shot himself in the foot by declaring that the monarchy was beyond reproach, at a time Prince Andrew is in serious trouble about his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.He’s also shown how hopelessly out of touch he is through his frequent remarks about how the rich deserve sympathy as they are a ‘put-upon minority’. As for the Tories trying to rebrand their HQ as ‘Factcheck UK’, Martin states

Now, it is insulting enough that the Tories would imagine significant numbers of people would be stupid enough to fall for this. But if it had worked, that would be worse, because once again the Tories have shown a pathological willingness to corrupt the democratic process to advance their power. If the Tories had actually been seeking a way of convincing the public to trust Corbyn more than their own leader, they could have found no more certain way than this.

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2019/11/20/whos-the-chicken-really-boris/

Boris fancies himself as a statesman of truly Churchillian stature. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that, literary ambitions as the great man’s latest biographer aside, he is nowhere near. And the more he speaks on television and in public, the clearer it is. Zelo Street remarks that if the object in his ear was an earphone, ‘then it tells you all you need to know about the Tories’.

Exactly. They don’t believe they can win except by cheating, and that includes whining about BBC bias. They’re a danger to this country, it’s people, and to democracy itself. Get them out, and Corbyn in!

Lobster on the Economic Damage Caused by the Financial Sector

November 22, 2019

Lobster over the years has criticised the dominance of the financial sector over the British economy, and attacked the way this has actively harmed other sectors, particularly manufacturing industry. Thatcher, Major and then Tony Blair favoured banking and financial services over the industries, partly from economic illiteracy and partly from the conviction that Britain’s manufacturing sector was doomed. Thatcher believed very much in a strong pound and didn’t think it would harm the manufacturing industries. One of the few businessmen from that sector in Thatcher’s government tried to tell her otherwise, and show her that it would damage our exports by making them too expensive over our competitors. But Thatcher wouldn’t hear of it. She was convinced that it wouldn’t have any effect on manufacturing because the Germans had a strong manufacturing base, and they had a strong Deutschmark. The businessman tried to explain to her that the Mark was strong because they had a strong manufacturing base, not the other way around. But it was too much for the Leaderene’s brain and she refused to listen.

Thatcher also made it very clear that she was not going to help failing industries. What help there was, was supposed to come from the privatisation of state utilities and the operation of market forces. This was supposed to open up new forms of private investment. If they didn’t, then that company or industry was uncompetitive and doomed to fail. Meanwhile, the thinking went that the financial sector would take over from the failing manufacturing industries as a new source of wealth and employment. Thus Blair, Brown and the late Mo Mowlam opened up the ‘prawn cocktail’ campaign to win over the City of London, promising light regulation. One of the chief executives at the Bank of England, imported from America, was Deanne Julius, who said that Britain should abandon its manufacturing industries and allow them to be replaced by America’s. Instead, Britain should concentrate on the service industries.

This is another load of neoliberal economic rubbish that has been conclusively proved wrong. The Oxford economics professor, Ha-Joon Chang, in his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism shows that despite Thatcherite dogma, manufacturing is still crucially important for the British economy. It only looks weaker than the other sectors, because it has grown at a slower rate.

Now Robin Ramsay in the latest update to his ‘News from the Bridge’ column in Lobster 78 has published a piece actually describing the active harm the privileged position of the financial sector has done the British economy as a whole. It’s in a piece ‘The Future of Britain’s Crisis’, which begins with a few sharp observations about the impotence of the House of Commons Security and Intelligence Committee. This is supposed to supervise Britain’s intelligence services, but its lack of effective power is demonstrated by Johnson’s suppression of the report into Russian influence in UK politics. From leaks to CNN and others, it shows that rich Russians have purchased UK citizenship and poured money into Tory coffers. He states that this is just part of the price Britain has to pay for Britain being one of the leading centres of money laundering. He continues

The idea that there is a structural conflict between the interests of the manufacturing economy and that of the City has been around since the late 1970s in my experience, and probably much longer. The conflict was rarely articulated by public figures beyond the British left but in 1980, with Bank of England base rates lifted to 14% ‘to control inflation’, Sir Terence Beckett, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told its annual conference that they had to ‘to take the gloves off and have a bare-knuckle fight’ with the Thatcher government. But no such fight ensued, Beckett resigned and in the following decade while the City boomed, British manufacturing shrank by about 20%.

The focus these days is less on structural conflict than on what is known as ‘over-financialisation’: roughly, that the financial sector gets to be too big for the rest of the economy. Recently a trio of economists/econometricians (from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield) have tried to quantify the cost of UK over-financialisation and have concluded:

‘Our calculations suggest that the total cost of lost growth potential for the UK caused by “too much finance” between 1995 and 2015 is in the region of £4,500 billion. This total figure amounts to roughly 2.5 years of the average GDP across the period.

The data suggests that the UK economy, may have performed much better in overall growth terms if: (a) its financial sector was smaller; (b) if finance was more focused on supporting other areas of the economy, rather than trying to act as a source of wealth generation (extraction) in its own right.

This evidence also provides support for the idea that the UK suffers from a form of “finance curse”: a development trajectory of financial overdependence involving a crowding out of other sectors and a skewing of social relations, geography and politics.’ [Emphases in the original.] 

On similar lines, Grace Blakeley writes in her On Borrowed Time: Finance and
the UK’s current account deficit, that

‘Rebalancing the UK’s international position requires moderating the significance of finance within the UK economy and bringing asset price volatility under control, while nurturing non-financial exporting sectors.’

Ramsay concludes the article by remarking that it would be a difficult job convincing the political establishment of this, never mind the electorate. The failure of people working within London to understand that the capital’s influence and share of the country’s wealth is harming the rest of the country has helped the rise of the Scots and Welsh Nationalists, along with less significant movements like the Yorkshire Party, the Campaign for the North and Mebyon Kernow.

See: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster78/lob78-view-from-the-bridge.pdf

£4,500 billion lost to the British economy between 1995 and 2015! 

And never mind the millions of jobs lost, the destruction of working class communities right across the country from Cornwall to Scotland and Northern Ireland, lost skills and damaged lives!

All that simply so that Thatcher’s, Blair’s, and now Boris and Rees-Mogg and their chums in the City of London could make a tidy profit.

This is proof that we need a Corbyn government that will do something for public services and manufacturing industry, rather than more of the self-serving Tory economic policies that benefits only the City.

Ian Hislop Presents Beeb Programme on Fake News

October 6, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, is going to present a programme tomorrow at 9.00 pm on BBC 4 on fake news. The programme’s titled ‘Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story’. The blurb for it on page 75 of the Radio Times runs

The concept of “fake news” may seem like a recent, politically motivated invention, but Ian Hislop takes a long view and finds that fake news was found to be profitable long before the uncertain times of internet trolls and echo chambers. He recounts the story of the 1835 New York Sun “scoops”, which told its readers there was evidence of flying man-bats on the Moon. He also learns how fake news caused a real war between America and Spain.

An additional article about the programme, written by the Radio Times’ editor, Alison Graham, on page 73, runs

Ian Hislop looks sceptically at Christopher Blair, an unapologetic purveyor of fake news, or rather, made-up nonsense that’s simply designed,  claims Blair, to provoke the American alt-right into a frothing frenzy. It’s all done,m he says, in the name of satire.

Of course, Hislop knows a thing or two about satire, and he is unconvinced, worrying that sending such pap into the universe means even sensible people doubt the truth of real and actual news stories.

In a jolly, occasionally serious history of fake news, which of course didn’t begin with Donald Trump, Hislop goes back to 1835 and an American newspaper’s pile of piffle about telescopes trained on the Moon spotting herds of bison and “flying man-bats”. It was a sensation as crowds thronged the street outside the paper’s offices, demanding more. Thus an important lesson was learnt: fake news sells.

The Origin of the Press in 17th Century Wars of Religion

The 1835 Moon hoax is notorious. It was based on Britain sending a real astronomer to oversee the construction of a telescope and astronomical observations in South Africa. The editor of the New York Sun used this as the occasion to run a spectacular story about this astronomer having discovered, through his telescope, life on the Moon. But fake news also long predates that incident as well. The ultimate origin of the news media lies in the 17th century and the 30 Years’ War in Germany and British Civil War. The first newspapers were written to inform merchants around Europe about evens in Germany, during a conflict which ended with 1/5 of the population dead of starvation. During the British Civil War supporters of both sides wrote news sheets not just to inform people of events, but also as propaganda. And some of it was very definitely fake news. This was a deeply religious age, and the wars were religious conflicts between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Germany, and the monarchy and Anglican church on one side against parliament and the Puritans and other, more radical Protestant groups on the other. Visions, omens and miracles were widely publicised, as it was believed that these showed God’s anger or favour towards the different factions. And some of these look very, very much like fake news. Such as the supposed encounter by a British ship out in the English channel with a merman, bearing a scroll in his hand. This fishy fellow told the astonished sailors that he was heading up the Thames to present the scroll to Crown and parliament in order to get them to desist. Or something like it. Whatever happened, it all seems very dubious to me, and looks very much as though the story ultimately had its origins in a tavern somewhere, written by the kind of hack, who used to write for the Scum and the Sport. Back in 1983 the Scum ran a story in which a medium supposedly contacted the spirits of dead British heroes and heroines to see which politicians they backed. Boadicea, apparently, gave her support to Maggie Thatcher and the warriors of Goose Green. While the Sport told us all how a B52 bomber had supposedly been found on the Moon.

The Sport and the Weekly World News

The Sport always struck me as an attempt to imitate the American Weekly World News and other tabloid newspapers. It was the Weekly World News that gave the world very obviously fake stories about aliens giving their vote to Bill Clinton and interviews with a man, who claimed his mother was the yeti. Quite. This all looked like harmless fun, a bit of sensationalism that despite academic fears, no-one ever really believed. But there are allegations that there was a much more serious, even sinister side to this. According to former tabloid reporter in his book about this side of the press, Grossed-Out Surgeon Vomits Inside Patient, the American intelligence agencies were planting false stories in them as deliberate disinformation.

The British State and Official Fake News

And it isn’t just the tabloid press that published disinformation and black propaganda on behalf of the government. Over here, the IRD – a department of the British secret state – used to plant fake stories in the newspapers as part of a propaganda battle with the Communist bloc. They also concocted fake stories to destabilise the IRA and other Republican groups in Northern Ireland, and to smear the Labour party as having connections with Communism or Irish nationalist terrorism. Indeed the amount of lies put out by the IRA and other terror groups and the British government was so bad, that academics trying to make sense of what was going on in Ulster stated that they had no idea what was going on. And we’ve seen a resurgence of the British government’s black propaganda against Corbyn and the Labour party with the tweets and fake news sent out across social media by the Institute for Statecraft, which has extensive links with British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS.

BBC’s and Private Eye’s Lies about Labour Anti-Semitism

It is also richly hypocritical of the Beeb, and Ian Hislop, to produce a programme on fake news too, because of the role they have both played in promoting fake news against the Labour party. The BBC news team are incapable of opening their mouths about the Labour party without lying. This has become so bad and egregious that there is now a group appealing for funding to produce their own film refuting the lies about anti-Semitism in the Labour party put out in a recent, much criticised edition of Panorama. see, for example, Mike’s article at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/03/leading-labour-figure-joins-documentary-to-counter-biased-bbc-panorama/

And Private Eye have been exactly the same in this regard. There is much excellent material in it, but it has shown itself as frantic as the rest of the lamestream press in denouncing Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because they are critical of Israel, or have pointed out that those who are, are historically correct. As Mike did when he wrote a piece stating that Ken Livingstone was right about Hitler initially supporting Zionism. That was the piece that got Mike attacked as an anti-Semite, and libeled as such in a series of articles in the press. These also claimed that he was a Holocaust denier. They were all flat-out lies, and the newspapers retracted them after Mike complained to IPSO. Nevertheless, Private Eye and the rest of the press are still pushing their lies about Corbyn and the Labour party, just as Mike, and others like him, like Jackie Walker, are still receiving foul abuse from ignorant fanatics.

And the Beeb’s history of right-wing lies doesn’t stop there. There’s also the infamous case where they put the footage of the police attack on the Miners during the Miners’ Strike the wrong was round. It was reversed, so it appeared to show the miners attacking the police. And I’ve no doubt there are many, many other incidents like this.

BBC Trying to Regain Loss Credibility with this Programme?

It’ll be interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about these incidents. But I’m not holding my breath. This looks very much like the Beeb tackling this subject partly as a way of trying to burnish its own squalid image. The BBC and the rest of the lamestream media are rapidly losing credibility in a digital age, when you can go on the Net and find out what’s really been said and done. Along with real fake news, it has to be said. This is frightening them, as the younger generation are turning away from the Beeb’s news output altogether. The Beeb is also frightened by the fact that they are increasingly unable to shape consensus opinion, and express this in statements that claim that as a society we are in danger of becoming more fragmented as people stick to the media niches they like, which may be very different from everyone else’s. Cut through this verbiage about fears about a more ideological fragmented society, and the real fear is that of the Beeb’s management and news hierarchy that they are no longer as credible or as influential as they were, and thus are increasingly irrelevant. As shown by the fact that BoJob has tried to make the internet work for him by circumventing the Beeb and holding some kind of ‘people’s Prime Minister’s Questions’ on the Net.

The Beeb has rightly become notorious for its fake news against the left, and this programme looks like an attempt by the Corporation to try to reclaim some of its loss credibility. By presenting a programme on fake news, it tries to show that it doesn’t do anything of the sort itself. And you can trust it, because the editor of Private Eye, which did prick the establishment, is presenting it. But Private Eye was set up by people, who were very much part of the establishment. John Wells was the headmaster at Eton, for example. And Ian Hislop is very much part of the same, privately educated, Oxbridge set.

It will therefore be very interesting to see if the programme has anything to say about the Corporation’s role in peddling fake news. But I very much doubt it will.

Scientists Demand Outlawing Teaching of Creationism in Wales

September 6, 2019

Here’s a different issue to Brexit and the Tories, but one which, I think, also raises profound questions and dangers. According to today’s I for 6th September 2019, David Attenborough has joined a number of other scientists backing a campaign to ban the teaching of Creationism as science in Welsh schools. The campaign was started by Humanists UK. The article, titled ‘Attenborough calls for creationism teaching ban’, by Will Hazell, on page 22, runs

Sir David Attenborough is backing a campaign urging the Welsh Government to outlaw the teaching of creationism as science from its new curriculum.

The broadcaster is one of dozens of leading scientists to sign a letter calling for evolution to be taught at primary level as well as an explicit ban on teaching creationism as science.

Humanists UK, which organised the letter, claims the draft national curriculum does not teach evolution until ages 14 to 15.

The letter reads: “Pupils should be introduced to [evolution] early – certainly at primary level – as it underpins so much else.

“Without an explicit ban on teaching creationism and other pseudoscientific theories as evidence-based, such teaching may begin to creep into the school curriculum.”

In 2015, the Scottish Government made clear that creationism should not be taught in state schools, while in England, state schools – including primaries – have to teach evolution as a “comprehensive, coherent and extensively evidence-based theory”.

The new Welsh curriculum, due to be rolled out in 2022, set out six “areas of learning and experience”, including science and technology.

A spokeswoman for Wales Humanists said it “could allow schools much more flexibility over what they teach”. “This is very worrying, as it could make it much easier for a school to openly teach creationism as science,” she added.

But a spokesman for the Welsh Government denied the claims, saying: “It is wholly incorrect to claim that evolution will only be introduced at 14 to 16.

“We believe that providing children with an understanding of evolution at an early age will help lay foundations for a better understanding of wider scientific concepts later on.”

Both Mike and I went to an Anglican comprehensive school, which certainly did teach evolution before 14 or 15 years of age. In the first year I can remember learning about the geological history of the Earth and the formation of the continents. We were also taught evolution, as illustrated by the development of the modern horse from ancestral species such as Eohippus.

Theories of Evolution before Darwin

I am also very much aware that the history of religious attitudes towards evolution is much more complex than the accepted view that Christians and other people of faith are uniformly opposed to it. One of the first books promoting the evolution of organisms from simpler ancestral forms was written by Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather. Erasmus Darwin was part of the late 18th century scientific group, the Lunar Society, who were the subject of book, The Lunar Men, published a few years ago by the British writer and academic, Jenny Uglow. I think Erasmus was a Quaker, rather than a member of a more mainstream Christian denomination, but he was a religious believer. In his book he argued that the evolution of different organisms made the existence of a Creator ‘mathematically certain’. Erasmus Darwin was followed in turn by the great French scientist, Lamarck, who published his own theory of evolution. This was highly influential, and when Darwin was a student in Scotland, one of the lecturers used to take him and the other students to a beach to show them the shells and other fossils showing the evolution of life. And one of the reasons why Darwin himself put off publishing his magnum opus, The Origin of Species for so long was because of the reception of another, preceding book on evolution, Joseph Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chambers’ book had caused a sensation, but its arguments had been attacked and refuted on scientific grounds. Darwin was afraid this would happen to his own work unless he made the argument as secure as possible with supporting facts. And he himself admitted when it finally was published that even then, the evidence for it was insufficient.

The Other Reasons for Darwin’s Loss of Faith

Darwin certainly lost his faith and it’s a complete myth that he recanted on his deathbed. But I think the reasons for his loss of faith were far more complex than that they were undermined by his own theory, although that may very well have also played a part. Rather, he was disturbed by the suffering in nature. How could a good God allow animals to become sick, prey on each other, and die? I might also be wrong here, but I think one of his daughters died, and that also contributed to his growing atheism. As you can understand.

Christian Acceptance and Formulation of Theories of Evolution

At the same time, although Darwin’s theory did cause shock and outrage, some Christians were prepared to accept it. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, when he debated T.H. Huxley on Darwin’s theory, opened the debate by stating that no matter how uncomfortable it was, Christians should nevertheless accept the theory if it were true. And after about two decades, the majority of Christians in Britain had largely accepted it. One of the reasons they did so was theological. Some of the other theories of evolution proposed at the same time suggested that evolution was driven by vital, supernatural energies without the direction of a creator. The mechanistic nature of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rebutted the existence of these non-materialistic forces, so that Christians could still believe that God was in charge of the overall process.

In the 1840s in Britain, Samuel Baden-Powell, a professor of Mathematics at Oxford, proposed a view of evolution that attempted to prove that it was driven by the Almighty, by comparing it to the manufacturing process in factories. In 1844 the Polish writer, Juliusz Towianski, published his Genezis z ducha – ‘Creation through the Spirit), an explicitly religious theory of evolution. He believed that God had created the world at the request of disembodied spirits. However, these were given imperfect forms, and since that time have been striving to ascend the evolutionary ladder back to God through a process of transformation and catastrophe. By the 1900s in many Christians eye evolution had become an accepted theory which posed no obstacle to religious faith. The term ‘fundamentalism’ is derived from a series of tracts, Fundamentals of Christianity, published in America in the early 20th century. This was published as a response to the growth in religious scepticism. However, it fully accepts evolution.

Scientists Against Evolution

The Intelligent Design crowd have also pointed out that rather than being the sole province of churchmen and people of faith, many of Darwin’s critics were scientists, like Mivart. They objected to his theory purely on scientific grounds.

Creationism, Christianity and Islam

If the history of the reaction to Darwin’s theory is rather different than the simplistic view that it was all just ignorant religious people versus rational scientists, I also believe the situation today is also much more complex. A decade ago, around 2009 when Britain celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of the Species, there was a determined attack on Creationism, particularly by the militant New Atheists. Some of this was driven by anxiety over the growth of Creationism and the spread of Intelligent Design. This was framed very much as combating it within Christianity. The problem with that is that I understand that most Creationists in Britain are Muslims, rather than Christians. There was an incident reported in the press in which one Oxford biologist was astonished when a group of Muslims walked out of his lecture. This was Steve Jones, who presented the excellent Beeb science series about genetics and heredity, In the Blood back in the 1990s. One male student told him frankly that this conflicted with their religion, and walked out of the lecture hall, leaving Jones nonplussed. The far right Christian Libertarian, Theodore Beale, alias Vox Day, who really has some vile views about race and gender, caustically remarked on his blog that this showed the powerlessness of the scientific establishment to opposition from Islam. They were so used to Christians giving into them, that they didn’t know what to do when Muslims refused to cave. That said, I would not like to say that all Muslims were Creationists by any means. Akhtar, who led the demonstrations against the Satanic Verses in Bradford in the late ’80s and early ’90s, angrily declared in one of his books that Salafism – Islamic fundamentalism – did not mean rejecting evolution, and he could point to Muslims who believed in it.

Scepticism Towards Evolution Not Confined to the Religious

Another problem with the assumption that Creationism is leading to increasing scepticism towards evolution is that the statistics seem to show the opposite. Back around 2009 there was a report claiming that 7 out of 10 Brits didn’t believe in evolution. One evolutionary biologist was quoted as saying that this was due to the marginalisation of the teaching of evolution in British schools, and demanded that there should be more of it. Now it might be right that people don’t believe in evolution because of its teaching or lack therefore in British education. But this was the same time that the New Atheism was on the march, led by Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. This was supported by statistics showing that Christianity and church attendance was well in decline in this country. According to the stats, although many people identified as Christians and about 70 per cent at the time declared they believed in God, the actual number who go to church is far smaller. Only a few years ago further polls revealed that for the first, atheists were in the majority in this country. The growth of disbelief in evolution can’t simply be explained as the product of Creationism, whether Christian, Muslim or whatever.

Atheists and the Problem of Persuading Creationists to Accept Evolution

There’s also the problem here in that, however, well meant Humanists UK’s campaign may actually be, at one level they and Richard Attenborough are the last people, who should be leading it. They’re atheists. A few years ago Attenborough was the subject of an interview in the Radio Times, in which he photographed chatting with Dawkins. He was also quoted as saying that he had stopped believing in God when he was child, and at school he used to wonder during services how anybody could believe in such rubbish. He’s not the first or last schoolkid to have felt that. But it does mean that he has a very weak personal position when dealing with Creationists. Many Creationists object to the teaching of evolution because not just because they think it’s unscientific, but because they also believe that its a vehicle for a vehemently hostile, anti-Christian or simply irreligious and atheist political and intellectual establishment to foist their views on everyone else. A campaign insisting on the teaching of evolution by an atheist organisation like Humanists UK will only confirm this in their eyes.

Anti-Creationist Campaigns also Attacking Reasoned Critique of Materialist Views of Evolution

Another problem with the campaign against Creationism is that is leading scientists to attack any critique of the contemporary neo-Darwinian theory or materialist views of evolutionary. Gordon Rattray Taylor, a former Chief Science Advisor to the Beeb and editor of the Horizon science series, himself published a detailed critique of conventional evolutionary theory, The Great Evolution Mystery, shortly before his death in 1981. He states in it that he doesn’t want to denigrate Darwin, but he concludes that it is not so much a theory, as a subset of greater theory that has yet to be formulated. He also quotes another evolutionary biologist, von Bertalanffy, who said

‘I think the fact that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable … has become a dogma can only be explained on sociological grounds’.

Rattray Taylor himself concludes

Actually, the origin of the phyla is not be any means the weakest point in the Darwinian position. Many facts remain inexplicable, as we have seen. Modern biology is challenged by ‘a whole group of problems’ as Riedl remarks. Now, however, the attempt to present Darwinism as an established dogma, immune from criticism, is disintegrating. At last the intellectual log-jam is breaking up. So we may be on the verge of major advances. The years ahead could be exciting. Many of these advances, I confidently predict, will be concerned with form.

It is unfortunate that the Creationists are exploiting this new atmosphere by pressing their position; this naturally drives the biologists into defensive attitudes and discourages them from making any admissions.

Evolutionists have been blinkered by a too narrowly materialist and reductionist approach to their problems. But the trend of the times is away from Victorian certainties and Edwardian rigidities. In the world as a whole, there is growing recognition that life is more complex, even more mysterious, than we supposed. The probability that some things will never be understood no longer seems so frightening as it did. The probability that there are forces at work in the universes of which we have scarcely yet an inkling is not too bizarre to entertain. This is a step towards the freeing of the human mind which is pregnant with promise.

Conclusion

This is an effective rebuttal to the charge that challenges to materialist conceptions of evolution are a science-stopper, or that they will close minds. Rattray Taylor’s book was published in 1983, 36 years ago. I have no doubt that it’s dated, and that scientific advances have explained some of the mysteries he describes in the book. But I believe he still has a point. And I am afraid that however genuinely Humanists UK, Attenborough and the scientists, who put their name to the letter, are about making sure Welsh schoolchildren are scientifically literate, that their efforts are also part of a wider campaign to make sure materialist views of evolution are not challenged elsewhere in society and academia.

What Johnson as Nietzschean Superman Really Means – Amoral and Absolutely Self-Centred

July 25, 2019

Boris Johnson and other blond beasts

Zelo Street yesterday put up a post about the shameless grovelling panegyric Spectator journalist and Tory advocate of eugenics, Toby Young, gave to our new, rich and privileged Prime Minister, Boris Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson on the Victoria Derbyshire show and on Quillette. This last included the lines

I first set eyes on Boris Johnson in the autumn of 1983 when we went up to Oxford at the same time … With his huge mop of blond hair, his tie askew and his shirt escaping from his trousers, he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. Yet with his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him”.

To which the sage of Crewe simply added, ‘ Oh, just fuck off Tobes. I mean … just fuck off.’ Which is coarse, but exactly describes what very many people must have felt reading it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/toby-young-says-gissa-job-bozza.html

But what exactly was Nietzsche’s superman?

This did not mean an individual with special, superhuman powers like Superman or the other, similar comic book heroes like Spiderman, the Hulk and so on. Rather, it meant the new, superior human ideal, who had rejected both the slave morality of Christianity, and the master morality of the aristocracy. This was someone, who fully lived up to the challenge of living in a world where God was dead, a universe that was now devoid of transcendent meaning. This was a person – the word Nietzsche used was ubermensch, which literally means Overhuman – who had moved beyond notions of good and evil, and lived according to his or her own notions of morality.

Nietzsche was an ardent individualist, who categorically rejected the idea of a  common morality shared by all , as put forward by the Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Nietzsche wrote

A word against Kant as moralist. A virtue has to be our invention, our more personal defence and necessity, in any other sense it is merely a danger … ‘virtue’, ‘duty’, ‘good in itself’; impersonal and universal – phantoms, expressions of decline, of the final exhaustion of life, of Konigsbergian Chinadom. The profoundest laws of preservation and growth demand the reverse of this; that each one of us should devise his own virtue, his own categorical imperative.

The British philosopher Mary Midgley attacked this in her book, The Myths We Live By (London: Routledge 2011), writing

This, he said, would naturally lead any enlightened person in the modern age to live alone, despising his contemporaries and rejecting claims by others on fellowship or compassion, feelings that he regarded as shameful weaknesses. Nietzsche advertised this ideal strongly as a virile one, and buttressed it by a great deal of spiteful misogyny in the style of Rousseau and Schopenhauer. he did not, apparently, see that solitude might as easily be a refuge for weakness as an assertion of strength, nor that childish boasting about one’s own superiority makes this interpretation rather likely. (p. 135).

From this you can see that Boris does have Nietzschean qualities, and this isn’t a complement. He is amoral, self-centred, and, at least political, without compassion, as shown in his and his party’s dedicated loathing on the poor, the disabled, and the less privileged. He also very strongly reminds me of another remark by Nietzsche, hailing the new ‘blond beasts’: ‘Will without intelligence! How beautiful! How free!’

Nietzsche intended his superman to be a heroic figure with the ancient ‘tragic sense of life’, trying to live fully and create meaning in a cold, uncaring, meaningless cosmos. Johnson himself is a odious buffoon, whose incompetence matches his vaunting ambition. There’s nothing heroic or grand about him, and the clownish exterior with which he seeks to ingratiate himself with the public as nothing but a harmless character is nothing but a mask, a sham.

He’s a malign, selfish clown in a malign, greedy, selfish, conscienceless party. And his presence in No. 10 is a catastrophe that shames this country.

‘I’ Newspaper: Aristocracy Have Doubled Their Wealth in Past Decade

July 22, 2019

The cover story on Saturday’s I for 20th July 2019 was a report that Britain’s landed gentry had doubled their wealth in a decade. Beneath the headline declaring that very fact were the lines

  • Dramatic surge in fortunes of British nobility since the 2008 financial crash, I learns
  • 600 aristcratic families now as wealthy as they were at the height of the British Empire.

The story on page 12 of the paper by Cahal Milmo was based on the research of two academics, Dr Matthew Bond and Dr Julien Morton, lecturers, sociology lecturers at the London South Bank University, who had examined probates, or settled wills, of 1,706 members of the aristocracy going back to 1858. However, the article made the point that these wills only represented part of the aristocracy’s immense wealth, and their real fortunes is likely to be much higher because their lands, property, art collections and business investments are very frequently held in separate trusts which cannot be examined.

The article stated that

A hereditary title is now worth an average of more than £16m – nearly twice the value it stood at proior to the 2008 financial crisis, I can reveal. their fortunes contrast starkly with the decade experienced by the vast majority of Britons, whose inflation-adjusted wages remain stuck at 2005 levels.l Since the Thatcher era, the value of a hereditary title has also increased four-fold.

The academics’ research also

shows that the minimum value of one of these (aristocratic) titles now stands on average at £16.1m. The same figure, adjusted to reflect current purchasing power, stood at £4.2m between 1978 and 1987.

The four-fold increase suggests the aristocracy has prospered spectacularly under the era of financial deregulation and economic liberalisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power in 1979.

The I also stated

The figures represent a sharp recovery in the fortunes of the nobility, which went into a decline during the Second World War and the post-war consensus, which brought in more progressive taxation and the welfare state. From a pre-war high of £23m, average fortunes fell to £4.9m by the 1980s.

The data suggests that Britain’s wealthiest aristocrats have more than weathered the economic problems caused by the 2008 financial crisis, apparently using existing assets to take advantage of low interest rates to buy up stocks and shares and other investments which have rocketed in value. In the decade to 2007, the average wealth of the nobility stood at £8.9m – suggesting it has nearly doubled in the decade since. (pp. 12-13).

The article also looked at the educational background of the ten richest toffs. And what a surprise! They nearly all went to Eton and Harrow, before going on to Oxbridge.

Of the ten largest probates between 2008 and 2018, seven of the deceased attended Eton or Harrow, with the remaining three also attending major public schools. Six of the 10 went to either Oxford or Cambridge universities. (p. 13).

The newspaper also asked the Labour MP, Chris Bryant for his views about this. Bryant was the author of A Critical History of the British Aristocracy, published two years ago in 2017. He responded

“For more than a century the landed aristocracy have been moaning about their terrible impoverishment. Ostentatiously sitting in dilapidated drawing rooms with buckets and pails catching drips from the beautiful but bowed stucco ceiling, they have extended the begging bowl.

“Yet the last century has seen many do remarkably well. The end result is that eh great old landed, crested and hallmarked families of the UK are still in possession of most of the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.” (p. 13).

The I was at pains to state that the study itself takes no view on the social role of the aristocracy, whose fans argue that it plays a valuable role supporting rural communities through fishing and farming. It quoted Morton as saying

“It may well be that having a rich and vital aristocracy is good for the country. We are interested in understanding this group as objectively as possible.”

Well, that might be the case, but they’ve also been severely bad for the rest of us. The I doesn’t mention it, but one of the ways the aristocracy has almost certainly increased their wealth is through the massive tax cuts the Tories have given high earners. They’ve been enriched through the Thatcherite doctrine that taxes and government spending have to be cut, the welfare state destroyed and everything, including the NHS privatised, in order to benefit the upper classes. Their wealth will then magically trickle down to the rest of us, as they open new businesses, pay higher wages and so forth. Except they don’t. They simply take the money and put it in their bank accounts, where it stays. And far from opening new businesses, business proprietors simply carry on as before, laying off staff in order to enrich themselves and their shareholders. The Young Turks and a number of other left-wing American internet news shows, like the Jimmy Dore Show, have put up videos about various companies that have made thousands unemployed after they were given tax cuts by Trump.

As for the British aristocracy, way back in 1988 Private Eye published a very critical review, ‘Nob Value’, of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles, as well as the-then emerging ‘heritage’ sector. Massingberd, who wrote a ‘heritage’ column in the Torygraph, was a massive fan of the aristocracy to which he belonged, and, of course, Maggie Thatcher. In this book he loudly praised her policies, and looked forward to a ‘social restoration’ that would see the blue-bloods return to power. The Eye wrote

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability of large inheritances and the return of a rentier class: the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon. 

In Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994), 320-2 (322).

Quite. It’s as true now as it was then, after Downton Abbey on the Beeb and now with the Tory party dominated by two toffs, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, coming after another Eton educated aristo, David Cameron, all of whom very much represent the interests of their class against the poor.

The only chance for the rest of us to shake them off, and go back to having a society where ordinary people have a decent standard of living, can enjoy good wages, proper welfare support and a truly national, and nationalised health service, is by voting for Corbyn.

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

May 26, 2019

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

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

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

The Plot

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

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

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

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

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

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

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

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

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

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

 

Rees-Mogg’s Book Savaged by Critics

May 21, 2019

Here’s an interesting piece from yesterday’s I for 20th May 2019. It seems that Jacob Rees-Mogg fancies himself as a literary gentleman, and has written a book about a number of eminent Victorians. And it’s been torn apart by the critics.

The article by Dean Kirby, ‘Rees-Mogg’s ‘silly’ book torn apart by critics’, on page 5 of the paper, reads

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s new book has been panned by critics as “staggeringly silly”. 

The work by the Conservative MP, The Victorians: Twelve Titans Who Forged Britain, tells the story of 12 figures from the era. 

But, writing in the Sunday Times, historian Dominic Sandbrook described the book as “so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly bad”. And in a Times review, A.N. Wilson said it was “staggeringly silly”. 

Rees-Mogg clearly has literary as well as political ambitions, and it looks very much like he’s using the one to boost the other. Boris desperately wants to be the leader of the Tories, and published a biography of Churchill a year or so ago. Presumably this was partly to show how he was a true Tory intellectual – if such a creature can be said to exist – and was somehow the great man’s spiritual and ideological are. Rees-Mogg is also angling for the Tory leadership, and he’s done the same, though in his case it’s a selection of the 12 great figures from the Victorian period that he feels have created modern Britain.

I’m not remotely surprised he’s chosen the Victorians, and even less surprised by the rubbishing its received from Sandbrook and Wilson. The Victorian period was an age when modern Britain began to take shape. It was a period of massive social, economic, political and technological change, as Britain moved from a rural, agricultural society to an urban, industrial one. New scientific ideas emerged, were debated and taken up, there was rapid technological innovation with the creation of the railways and the spread of mechanised factories. Overseas, the British Empire expanded massively to take in Australia, New Zealand, the Canadian West, parts of Africa and Asia. It’s a fascinating period, and Tories and Libertarians love to hark back to it because they credit Britain’s movement to global dominance to the old Conservative principles of free trade and private property, as well as Christian benevolence. It is a fascinating period, and certainly Christian philanthropy did play a very great part in the campaigns against the slave trade and other movements for social reform, such as the Factory Acts.

But it was also a period marked by grinding poverty, misery and social upheaval. Trade unions expanded as workers united to fight for better pay and conditions in the work place, Liberal ideology changed to keep up with the movement in practical politics towards state regulation and interference, and socialism emerged and spread to challenge the dominance of capitalism and try to create a better society for working people. The Victorian period also saw the emergence of feminism following the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman in the late 18th century. And the massive unrest in Ireland caused by the exploitation of the Roman Catholic Irish peasantry by absentee landlords, and the hostile reaction by some elements of the British establishment during the Potato Famine, has created a legacy of bitterness and violence that continues to this day. I doubt that Rees-Mogg or any of the other Tories are very enthusiastic about tackling or describing these aspects of Victorian history.

I’m also not surprised that the book’s been savagely criticised. Rees-Mogg supposedly read history at Oxford, but nobody quite knows what period he studied. And his ignorance of some extremely notorious events is woeful. Like when he claimed that the concentration camps we used against the Afrikaners during the Boer War were somehow benevolent institutions. In fact, they were absolutely horrific, causing tens of thousands of deaths from starvation and disease among women and children, who were incarcerated there. And which, again, have left as lasting legacy of bitterness right up to today.

I think any book on the Victorian period written by Rees-Mogg would be highly simplified, ridiculous caricature of the events and issues of the period. Like Boris’ book on Churchill, I doubt that it’s a serious attempt to deal objectively with all aspects of its subject, including the more malign or disturbing events and views, rather than an attempt to present the Tory view. An exercise in Tory historical propaganda, as it were.

What’s also interesting is that it’s been the right-wing press – the Times and Sunday Times – that’s savaged it. This seems to me to show that Rees-Mogg’s ‘magnificent octopus’, to quote Blackadder’s Baldrick, was too much of a travesty even for other Tories, and that there is a sizable body of the Tory party that doesn’t want him to be leader. Or at least, not Rupert Murdoch. And as the Tory party and the Blairites have shown themselves desperate to do whatever Murdoch says, this means there’s going to be strong opposition to a bid from Mogg to become Prime Minister.

Mike’s List of Corbyn’s Proud Record of Tackling Anti-Semitism

April 7, 2019

Hey-ho, another day, another anti-Semitism smear. It’s almost like the stereotypical opening of a Blues song ‘Woke up this mornin’, and what did I see?’ It was another smear piece against the Labour party being discussed on the Beeb. And imagine my surprise (sarcasm) when I found out that it was published in the Sunday Times, and written by Gabriel Pogrund and his mate, Richard Kerbaj. Whose name is nearly ‘garbage’, which is what he writes. Followers of Mike’s and this blog will remember that it was the Pogrund, writing in the Sunset Times two years, that published the article smearing Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Mike isn’t. Never was, never will be, and like just about everyone else smeared as an anti-Semite by that vile rag and the sordid excuses for journalism that followed it, like the Scum and the Jewish Chronicle, he’s a resolute opponent of all forms of racism. His real crime was that he stood up for Ken Livingstone, writing the Livingstone Delusion against the smear that Red Ken’s an anti-Semite. Just as Livingstone himself, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Cyril Chilson, Marc Wadsworth and so many, many others have been smeared. They’re members of the Labour Left, who have criticised Israel and the Israel lobby. Because Israel’s a fascistic, apartheid state, no difference from the other repulsive Fascist states around the world. The right, both within and outside the Labour party hates and fears Corbyn because he’s undo the corrupt and decaying neoliberalism that’s wrecking this country and impoverishing and literally killing it’s people. And the Israel lobby fear him because they hate and fear anyone, who seriously wants to do something for the Palestinians. And so the Right and the Israel lobby have swung into action and tried to discredit Corbyn and his supporters by smearing them as anti-Semites.

It looks to me from here that it’s the standard hatchet job. It’s supposedly based on leaked emails and texts, and the Labour Party has already attacked the article as biased and untrue, and for taking the quotes used out of context. Mike in one of the two article’s he’s put up today has pointed out that this is precisely what the Sunset Times did to him, and no-one from the Party came to his defence. Instead they put him through a kangaroo court, of the same type that summarily found Greenstein, Walker, Wadsworth and the rest guilty, against the evidence. Mike’s also pointed out that despite the headline declaring the alleged anti-Semites to be ‘Corbyn’s army’, there’s no connection to the Labour leader. And Zelo Street has pointed out that only five cases are discussed, despite the article’s hype about an army of anti-Semites and having a disc full of this stuff.

We’ve seen all this claptrap before. It’s the standard modus operandi of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and its appendages, David ‘Gnasherjew’ Collier and his chums, who pore over the email and social media records of the people they want to smear, pulling quotes and comments out of context. Which they then present as absolute proof that the person concerned is indeed the evil spawn of Hitler. They did this to Jackie Walker, a very principled woman of colour, who’s also Jewish by birth and religion. Walker’s an anti-Zionist, as many Jews are, because she was a member of the movement against apartheid in Namibia. She found she could not campaign against the state racism there while supporting Israel, which discriminates against and persecutes the Palestinians. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement smeared her by taking a sloppily worded statement she made about the chief’s being the chief financiers of the slave trade – she should have said that they were among the chief financiers of the slave trade – out of context, and secretly recorded her objecting to the definition of anti-Semitism the JLM was using at a workshop on the commemoration of the Holocaust to portray her as an anti-Semite. The Labour party documents she obtained for her trial acknowledged that the case against her was weak. But nevertheless, she was summarily found guilty, and expelled. And she has been viciously demonised. She has received messages telling her that she’s a fake Jew, or not really Black, but a White women in dreadlocks – she’s mixed race – that she should be lynched, cut up and put in bin bags, or should have been killed in the Holocaust. It’s vile, ugly stuff, and she’s had to tell her children not to read messages on social media about her, because of what they’re see being said about their mother.

This is how nasty the JLM, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Collier and the rest of the Israel lobby and the rags, who repeat their lies and smears are. They’re out to destroy utterly anyone, who stands up against the racism of the Israeli and supports Jeremy Corbyn, who is their ultimate target.

Despite their lies and smears, Corbyn has always been a determined opponent of racism and anti-Semitism. Mike in his article about the latest sorry attempt to smear Labour has put up on his blog a timeline of the Labour leaders’ actions against anti-Semitism, defending Jewish people from real attacks, and those of the Labour party under his leadership. These are:

1. In October 1936, Jeremy Corbyn’s mother participated in the battle of Cable Street in defence of British Jews after British fascists had staged an assault on the area. Corbyn was raised in a household passionately opposed to antisemitism in all its forms.

2. In 23rd April 1977, Corbyn organised a counter-demonstration to protect Wood Green from a neo-nazi march through the district. The area had a significant Jewish population.

3. On 7 November 1990, Corbyn signed a motion condemning the rise of antisemitism in the UK

4. In 2002 Jeremy Corbyn led a clean-up and vigil at Finsbury Park Synagogue which had been vandalised in an anti-Semitic attack

5. On 30 April 2002, Corbyn tabled a motion in the House of Commons condemning an anti-Semitic attack on a London Synagogue

6. On 26 November 2003, Jeremy Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion condemning terrorist attacks on two synagogues

7. In February 2009, Jeremy Corbyn signed a parliamentary motion condemning a fascist for establishing a website to host antisemitic materials

8. On 24th March 2009, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion praising British Jews who resisted the Holocaust by risking their lives to save potential victims

9. Nine years ago, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion praising “Jewish News”for its pioneering investigation into the spread of antisemitism on Facebook

10. On 9 February 2010, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion calling for an investigation into Facebook and its failure to prevent the spread of antisemitic materials on its site.

11. On 27 October 2010, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion praising the late Israeli Prime Minister for pursuing a two state solution to the Israel/Palestine question.

12. On 13 June 2012, Corbyn sponsored and signed a motion condemning the BBC for cutting a Jewish Community television programme from its schedule.

13. 1 October 2013, Corbyn appeared on the BBC to defend Ralph Miliband against vile antisemitic attacks by the UK press.

14. Five years ago Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion condemning antisemitism in sport.

15. On 1 March 2013, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion condemning and expressing concern at growing levels of antisemitism in European football.

16. On 9 January 2014, Jeremy Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion praising Holocaust education programmes that had taken 20,000 British students to Auschwitz.

17. On 22 June 2015, Corbyn signed a Parliamentary motion expressing concern at the neo-nazi march being planned for an area of London with a significant Jewish population.

18. On 9 October 2016, Corbyn, close to tears, commemorated the 1936 Battle of Cable Street and recalled the role his mother played in defending London’s Jewish community.

19. On 3 December 2016, Corbyn made a visit to Terezin Concentration Camp where Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis. It was Jeremy’s third visit to such a camp, all of which were largely unreported in the most read UK papers.

20. Last year, a widely-endorsed 2018 academic report found ninety-five serious reporting failures in the reporting of the Labour antisemitism story with the worst offenders The Sun, the Mail & the BBC.

21. On 28 February 2016, five months after becoming leader, Jeremy Corbyn appointed Baroness Royall to investigate antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club.

22. On 27 April 2016 Corbyn suspended an MP pending an investigation into antisemitism.

23. A day later, Corbyn suspended the three times Mayor of London after complaints of antisemitic comments.

24. On 29 April 2016, Corbyn launched an inquiry into the prevalence of antisemitism in the Labour Party. In spite of later changes in how the inquiry was reported, it was initially praised by Jewish community organisations.

25. In Corbyn’s first seven months as leader of the Labour Party, just ten complaints were received about antisemitism. 90% of those were suspended from the Labour Party within 24 hours.

26. In September 2017, Corbyn backed a motion at Labour’s annual conference introducing a new set of rules regarding antisemitism.

27. In the six months that followed the introduction of the new code of conduct, to March 2018, 94% of the fifty-four people accused of antisemitism remained suspended or barred from Labour Party membership. Three of the fifty-four were exonerated.

28. When Jennie Formby became general secretary of the party last year, she appointed a highly-qualified in-house Counsel, as recommended in the Chakrabarti Report.

29. In 2018, Labour almost doubled the size of its staff team handling investigations and dispute processes.

30. Last year, to speed up the handling of antisemitism cases, smaller panels of 3-5 NEC members were established to enable cases to be heard more quickly.

31. Since 2018, every complaint made about antisemitism is allocated its own independent specialist barrister to ensure due process is followed.

32. The entire backlog of cases outstanding upon Jennie Formby becoming General Secretary of the Labour Party was cleared within 6 months of Jennie taking up her post.

33. Since September 2018, Labour has doubled the size of its National Constitutional Committee (NCC) – its senior disciplinary panel – from 11 to 25 members to enable it to process cases more quickly.

34. Under Formby and Labour’s left-run NEC, NCC arranged elections at short notice to ensure the NCC reached its new full capacity without delay.

35. Since later 2018, the NCC routinely convenes a greater number of hearing panels to allow cases to be heard and finalised without delay.

36. In 2018, the NEC established a ‘Procedures Working Group’ to lead reforms in the way disciplinary cases are handled.

37. The NEC adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and all eleven examples of antisemitism attached to it.

38. A rule change agreed at Conference in 2018 means that all serious complaints, including antisemitism, are dealt with nationally to ensure consistency.

39. Last year, Jennie Formby wrote to the admins and moderators of Facebook groups about how they can effectively moderate online spaces and requested that any discriminatory content be reported to the Labour Party for investigation.

40. Since last year, no one outside Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit can be involved in decision-making on antisemitism investigations. This independence allows decisions free from political influence to be taken.

This is a very, very long list. And actions speak louder than words, so Mike’s quite right when he asks at the end of his article if this is clear enough to everybody. It certainly should be. Except, perhaps, to those taken so far in by the media nonsense that the still believe that the Sunset Times is any kind of reputable newspaper.

For more information, see:

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/04/07/was-sunday-times-smear-timed-to-influence-jewish-labour-movement-confidence-vote-on-corbyn/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/labour-anti-semitism-claims-repeat.html

Tony Greenstein on the Abuse of Anti-Semitism to Silence Criticism of Israel

March 24, 2019

This video was put on YouTube two years ago, in March 2017, by Brighton BDS, the local branch of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and oppression of the Palestinians. It’s one of two videos from that meeting, in which Greenstein and Jackie Walker respectively tell of how accusations of anti-Semitism are used to stifle justified criticism of Israel. Both Greenstein and Walker are Jewish critics of Israel, and despite their being firm anti-racists and anti-Fascists, have thus been smeared as anti-Semites.

Greenstein begins his speech by welcoming his audience, and congratulating them in that they are going to see two anti-Semites for the price of one. He explains that the accusations of anti-Semitism have nothing to do with real anti-Semitism. They’re the method used to silence critics of the unjustifiable, like Israel’s destruction of a Bedouin village in the Negeb desert to make way for a Jewish village. And Administrative Detention, where the only people detained without trial are Palestinians. It is also difficult to justify a law which retroactively legalises the theft of Palestinian land, and the existence of two different legal system in the West Bank, one for Palestinians and the other for Jews. He states that in most people’s understanding of the word, that’s apartheid. It’s certainly racist. And it’s easier to attack critics as anti-Semitic, than deal with the issues concerned.

And Israel doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It receives more aid from the United States than every other country in the world combined. Israel is defended because it’s a very important partner of the West in the Middle East. It’s critics do single out Israel, because it’s the only apartheid state in the world, the only state that says one section of the population – Jews – will have privileges, while the other section won’t. He states that there are many repressive states in the world, but there is only one apartheid state. The Zionists then reply that there’s only one Jewish state. Greenstein responds to that by pointing to 1789 and the liberation of the Jews in France during the French Revolution, the first people to be granted such emancipation. The French Revolution established the principle that the state and religion should be separate. This is also a cardinal principle of the American Constitution, but it doesn’t exist in Israel. Greenstein states that he has the right to go to Israel, claiming citizenship, and get privileges like access to land because he’s Jewish, while Yasser – a member of the audience – has no such rights, despite being born their and having a family there, because he’s not Jewish. You can’t say it’s not racist and unjust, and so they accuse people, who criticise it, of anti-Semitism.

He makes the point that it’s like the British in India. They didn’t claim they were going there to exploit the natural wealth of India, and pillage and rape it. No, they justified it by saying they were going there to civilise it by getting rid of Suttee, the burning of a man’s widow on his funeral pyre. He cites Kipling’s metaphor as the Empire as a burden on the White man’s back. It was the Empire on which the sun never set, which was because, as some people said, God didn’t trust the British. It wasn’t just the Conservatives, but also the Labour party, who justified British imperial rule in these terms. The Labour Party justified it as trusteeship. Britain held the lands in Africa and Asia in trust for their peoples until they came up to our standard of civilisation.

It’s the same with Israel today. When Britain and America support Israel, they don’t do it because it’s colonisation, or because Jewish mobs go round Jerusalem every Jerusalem Day chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’, utter anti-Muslim blasphemies and their other actions, which mean Arabs have to stay in their homes to avoid being attacked by thousands of settler youths. It’s because of anti-Semitism and some vague connection with the Holocaust. But opposing Israel is in no way anti-Semitic. He states that the definition of anti-Semitism is simple. It is ‘hostility to Jews, as Jews’. He states that a friend of his, the Oxford academic Brian Klug, worked that out years ago. He then talks about how the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism was devised in 2004 to connect anti-Semitism with Israel by the European Monitoring Commission. It met much resistance, and was opposed by the University College Union, the National Union of Students opposed it along with other civil society groups. In 2013 the EUMC’s successor took it down from its website and it fell into disuse. It was then revived as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. This then emerged a few months previous to the meeting, when a Home Affairs Select Committee report, apart from attacking Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabarti for tolerating anti-Semitism in the Labour party, came up with this new definition. This takes 500 words to say what could be said in 50.

One of these is accusing Jews of being more loyal to each other than their own nation. He shows that definition is nonsense by stating that if he received a pound for every time he was called a traitor because he was an anti-Zionist, he’d be quite rich. The essence of Zionism is that Jews owe a dual loyalty, and their main loyalty is to Israel. Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, not just for its own citizens, but for Jews everywhere. This is unique, as most countries have a citizenship based on that country, to which everyone belongs, and a nationality. Britain has a British nationality. That nationality applies to everyone who lives in a particular place. If Scotland became independent, as the SNP made clear, then everyone living in Scotland would have Scots nationality. The same with France and Germany. But in Israel there is no Israeli nationality, although it says so on the Israeli passport. But the Hebrew translates as ‘citizen’ not ‘nation’, but the Israelis assume most people are too stupid to notice the difference. There are hundreds of nationalities in Israel, primarily Jewish, but also Arab, Islamic, Christian and those of other religions. But the only nationality that counts is Jewish, and it applies not only to Jewish citizens and residents, but also Jews wherever they live. He states that this is the foundation stone of Israeli racism, that some people – Jews- are returning, because their ancestors were there 2,000 years ago. This is one of the many racist myths that abound.

He then goes on to another definition, ‘Denying the Jews the right to self-determination’. He states that he asked Joan Ryan, the Labour MP and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, when she was wittering on about how anti-Semitic to oppose the Jewish right to self-determination about it. He wrote her a letter, to which she never replied, which asked her when precisely Zionism talked about the Jewish right to self-determination. It’s only very recent. If you look back at Zionist documents, like The Jewish State, by the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, it talks about colonisation. The first Zionist congress, held in 1897, was a result of the publication of Herzl’s pamphlet. The Zionists never talked about Jewish self-determination, they talked about colonisation and did so for most of their history. But with the change in zeitgeist they changed it to Jewish national self-determination. But this means that Jews are not citizens of the country where they live. He compares Jews to Roman Catholics, as the idea that all Roman Catholics form the same nation is clearly a retrogressive step. In many ways it’s an anti-Semitic step, as it says that Jews do not belong in the countries in which they live, as they’re all one and the same. 

He goes on to talk about Herzl himself, and encourages his audience to Google him, if they haven’t already. Herzl was a Viennese journalist, who operated in Paris. His diaries are particularly interesting, as if you read all four volumes of them, you find he talks about anti-Semitism as having the divine will to good about it. In other words, there would be no Zionism without anti-Semitism, which provides the propulsion for Jews separating out of their own nations and going on for what he hoped would be a Jewish nation. Herzl traveled around Europe trying to create an alliance between Zionism and one of the imperial powers of the time. Eventually in 1917 they reached an agreement with the British imperialists, Lloyd George’s war cabinet, the Balfour Declaration, in which Britain granted them the land of Palestine over the heads of the Palestinians, who were not asked for their opinion.

When Herzl was going around the European princes, he met the Kaiser’s uncle, the Grand Duke of Baden, who told Herzl that he agreed with him and supported him. This was because Herzl told him that Zionism would take the revolutionary Jews away from the socialist movement and move them to a pure national ideal. The Grand Duke said he had no problems supporting Zionism except one. If he supported Zionism, which was at that time very small, only a handful of Jews supported Zionism up to 1945, then people would accuse him of being anti-Semitic. Most Jews at the time considered Zionism to be a form of anti-Semitism. Greenstein asks how many people know that on Lloyd George’s war cabinet, the one member who opposed the Balfour Declaration was its only Jewish member, Sir Edwin Montague, who later became the Secretary of State for India. He accused all his fellows of anti-Semitism, because they didn’t want Jews in Britain, but wanted them to go to Palestine. And he states that is what they’re opposing today. The opposite is true when they accuse Israel’s opponents of being anti-Semitic. It is the Zionist movement that has always held that Jews do not belong in these countries  and should go to Israel. We see it today in the election of Donald Trump. There has been an outbreak of anti-Semitism, and the Zionist movement has no problem with it, because Trump is a good supporter of Israel. And the appointment of Steve Bannon was welcomed by the Zionist Organisation of America, who invited him to speak at their annual gala in New York. He didn’t attend because there was a large demonstration of leftists and anti-Zionists. He concludes that if someone today tells him he doesn’t belong in this country, they’re either a Zionist or an anti-Semite.

Greenstein thus exposes the real agenda behind the anti-Semitism accusations and the utter hypocrisy of those making them, as well as the real anti-Semitism that lies at the heart of Zionism itself. It’s to silence critics like Greenstein and Walker that they, and so many other decent anti-racists, have been accused of anti-Semitism while the real anti-Semites, like Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, have been given enthusiastic welcomes by the Israeli state.

However, the decision by many Democrat politicos not to attend the AIPAC conference this weekend may indicate that there’s a sea change coming in the American people’s tolerance for this nonsense. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Israel’s critics like Greenstein and Walker are properly recognised as the real opponents of racism and anti-Semitism, and the people who smeared them held in contempt for their lies and vilification.