Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

Real Steampunk Inventions from the Pages of ‘The Engineer’

May 29, 2017

I’ve posted up several pieces this weekend about some of the real inventions of the Victorians, and how they have inspired and resemble the science and machines of steampunk Science Fiction. This is a branch of SF, which imagines what would have happened had the Victorians invented space travel, computers, time machines and were able to journey to parallel worlds. One of the founding works of the genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which was set in an alternative Victorian Britain, which had entered a steam-driven computer age after building Charles Babbage’s pioneering mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title.

Some of the most amazing examples of Victorian and Edwardian engineering and technology can be found in the pages of The Engineer. This was the industry’s trade magazine, founded in 1856 by Charles Healey. In 1976 the magazine issued a glossy book celebrating the history of the magazine and the legacy of its founder. The book said of him

Healey has been described as a man of great strength of mind and character who always had ‘a smile, a question, and a penetrating look’. He had financial interests in railways in the Bourdon gauge, and among his many friends were leading men in railway engineering including Robert Stephenson, Isambard Brunel, and Sir William Fairbairn. But there is no evidence Healey used his editorial pages to promote his financial interests.

The magazine’s purpose, as it confessed in January 1916

was to spread the gospel of engineering. ‘Whilst engineering knowledge was the possession of but few men great progress was impossible, and it is the object of the paper to expand and distribute technical and scientific information. In so doing so it may fairly claim to have been a factor of no little importance in the great developments that have taken place during the late 60 years.’

And the magazine celebrated the practical work and achievements of engineers over the more abstract theorising of scientists. The book states

The Engineer pointed out that men of abstract science had done something, ‘but not much for us’. While applied science ‘has done for the physical world everything which science so far provide capable of accomplishing at all – railroads, manufactories, mines, the electric telegraph, chemical factories. And by who is it applied? Why the civil engineer, the mechanical engineer, the mining engineer and the shipbuilder who himself represents an important branch of engineering.

‘The wide earth over, we find the engineer working on principles, dealing with physical truths, using the investigations of those who have preceded him as stepping stones to knowledge, and leaving behind him through each generation mementoes of his labours. Mementoes, the result of a perfect acquaintance with such physical truths as men of the most exalted intellects have discovered-mementoes which will endure when the existence of the “leading journal” has become a matter of history’.

The ’70s were a period of economic depression, and part of the purpose behind the centennial volume was to counteract the mood of the times and inspire a new, fresh generation. The magazine declared

Today, when the economy is depressed, is an opportune moment to produce a book which will remind industry of its glorious past and act as a spur to project it into the future. It will also remind engineers and manufacturers of the power, grace and majesty of engineering.

Very much the same could be said today. Later this week, one of the topical issues programmes on Radio 4 will be discussing Britain’s critical lack of engineers, and asking how more young people can be persuaded to enter the profession. I’ve said in my previous blog posts that one way could be to link it to the interest people have in restoring and repairing motor vehicles, and the cyberpunk milieu of Science Fiction enthusiasts, who design fashions and exotic machines for this Victorian technological age that never was.

Much of the material in the book is about industrial machines and processes, which to most lay people, myself included, probably isn’t that interesting. Such as various types of manufacturing machines, industrial smelters, metal and chemical refining processes, pumping engines and so on. There’s also a chapter on railway engines, which is clearly of interest to steam enthusiasts and the people, who played with Hornby Railway sets when they were children.

But the machines and buildings I find the most interesting, are where the Victorians’ ideas prefigure those of modern technology, both real and in the imagined worlds of SF.

In architecture, the magazines shows two designs for a colossal tower for London, that was intended to rival the Eiffel tower in Paris. One of these shows very clearly the influence of the French structure.

Another was more straightforwardly British in design. Except for its size. It was going to be 1,240 feet.

We’re almost looking here at the soaring tower blocks of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or indeed, Judge Dredd’s Megacity 1.

Instead of a channel tunnel, a massive bridge was proposed to span La Manche, and link Britain to France.

And to warn ships of dangerous rocks and water, they also designed a floating lighthouse.

As well as normal railways, they also designed an overhead railway and rainwater collector.

The book also showed contemporary illustrations for the steam carriages and buses that were being developed in this period as the first precursors to modern vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine.

This included the Randolph Steam Coach of 1872.

Other vehicles included Goodman’s velocipede of 1868, which could reach the amazing speed of 12 mph, and the Liquid Fuel Company’s steam van of 1985, which was entered in a competition the magazine ran for road carriages.

There was also an illustration of a one horse power road steamer, which could carry two people.

It also included the schematics for another vehicle, the Serpollet Steam Phaeton of 1891.

From this, it looks like a budding car enthusiast could possibly build one of these machines, in the same way people also build their own custom cars, and cyberpunk inspired machines like the one I posted up yesterday.

A Mr Nairn, an engineer from Leith in Scotland, also published his design in 1870 for a three-wheeled steam omnibus.

There was also this illustration of an early motorcycle, Duncan and Superbie’s bike of 1894.

and an early car, Panhard and Lavassor’s two-seater from 1894.

And to show that waiting at traffic lights were also a blight that afflicted the Victorians, there’s an illustration of the traffic signals at Bridge Street in Westminster in 1868.

The Victorians and Edwardians were also experimenting with new ways to move vehicles across ground, such as caterpillar tracks. These included traction engines, such as Ingleton’s Automatic track of 1868. This was engineered to allow the tracks to be raised when the engine reached the end of the field, and needed to make a tight turn.

Even after petrol began to supersede steam in the early 20th century, some firms were still experimenting with caterpillar tracks on the new petrol-driven tractors. The photo below shows the caterpillar tractor and train produced by the Holt Manufacturing Company of Peoria in America.

In some cases, the search for alternative means of locomotion went so far as reinventing the wheel. In 1909 Diplock patented a design for putting ‘walking feet’ on a wheel.

This is interesting, as H.G. Wells’ The Land Ironclads was about warfare conducted using machines some have seen as predicting the tank. The land ironclads of the title, however, are much more like contemporary naval vessels. They are long, contain rows of snipers along their sides. And unlike tanks, they walk across the ground on mechanical legs like vast, mechanical millipedes, somewhat like the Walkers in Star Wars, but with more legs.

The Victorians were also keen to solve the problems of ships navigating shallow waters. Bourne’s Steam Train, proposed in 1858, attempted to solve this problem through using the paddle wheels as terrestrial wheels, allowing the vessel to climb over sandbanks, and the engine could be geared down to provide more power.

It struck me looking at this that if it had been developed further, you’d have had amphibious landing craft like the DUK of World War II.

This was also the age in which people were making their first attempts at flight. One of the bizarre vehicles featured in the book was Carlingford’s aerial chariot of 1854. This was launched from a pole ranging from 6 to 9 feet in height, carried forward by a falling weight. This was like the Wright Brother’s early planes. Unlike the Wrights’, the aerial chariot didn’t have an engine and the pilot tried to crank the propeller by hand.

The magazine also published illustrations of the British military’s experiments with balloons in 1874.

As well as wings, engineers were considering more exotic methods of flight. In 1916 there were a series of designs for planes held aloft by spinning discs. Looking at them, it is hard not to see them as the first predecessors of the helicopter.

As for balloons, this led to the development of dirigibles like the Zeppelin, a 1923 design for which was also published in the magazine’s pages.

Petrol driven cars and motorbikes are now ubiquitous, though there is still great affection and interest in vintage, veteran and historic road vehicles. One businessman in Leckhampton, one of the suburbs of Cheltenham, proudly displayed his early motorcycle from about the time of the First World War in his shop window.

The steam vehicles weren’t as efficient as modern petrol and diesel vehicles. They also faced stiff political opposition from traditional, horse drawn vehicles. Nevertheless, you do wonder what Britain would have been like if these machines had caught on to the point where they were the preferred method of transport, rather than horse-drawn carriages.

And these carriages, and the other machines and designs shown above, still have the potential to fire the imaginations of fans of historic technology, steam enthusiasts, and Cyberpunks. And perhaps, if more people saw some of these machines and their designs, some of them might try to make some of them. This would not only bring them to life, but also possibly inspire more people to take an interest in engineering and the great heritage of invention.

Theresa May Was Told in 2015 that Her Cuts Were Dangerous

May 25, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has posted up another excellent article showing that Theresa May’s cuts to the police force have seriously weakened it, leaving the nation more vulnerable to crime and terrorist attack. Like the one a few days ago in Manchester, that has claimed 22 lives and 59 or so people wounded.

The Police Federation warned her that the cuts had damaged national security, and made the threat of an attack like the one in Paris more likely.

Mike has also posted up a tweet from Andrew Scattergood, containing a video in which Theresa May is told by a former police officer that her cuts are a danger. The police officer had been given an award by her for his services to community policing. He tells her that he left the force in 2012 because he could not stand any longer what the Tories’ cuts had done to it. He describes community policing as having collapsed, including their intelligence gathering. He states very plainly that this is dangerous and ultimately a threat to national security.

May took no notice, and laughed these warnings off as ‘scaremongering’. No doubt with that infuriating shake of the head and irritating, condescending laugh she makes when Corbyn or another opposition MP has just made an entirely accurate criticism and she’s trying to laugh it all off as ridiculous.

Corbyn and the Labour party announced their plans to make Britain safer a week ago. These were

* 500 more border security guards.
* 3,000 more prison officers.
* 3,000 more fire officers.
* 10,000 more police officers.
* Spending 2 1/2 per cent of GDP on defence.
* Renewal of Trident.
* Banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
* £10 billion spent on cybersecurity.
* More financial support for veterans.
* And he would use Trident to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/25/heres-the-moment-in-2015-theresa-may-was-told-her-police-cuts-were-dangerous/

These are all excellent policies, which reverse or put the lie to some of the claims about the Labour party. Like the accusation that somehow, because Corbyn isn’t a xenophobe like the Tories and UKIP, he’s complacent about the threat of terrorism from immigrants.

Apart from spending more on the police, he’s also right to want more prison and fire officers. Remember the scandals a few years ago when our prisons were in a crisis, because there weren’t enough police officers? And the way the fire brigade tried to point out that the cuts to them and the Tories’ attacks on their pensions would make people more at risk?

And the ban on arms sales to the Saudis is an excellent idea. Patrick Cockburn is in the I today with an article pointing out how the Saudis are partly responsible for promoting terrorist attacks like the one in Manchester through their efforts to export Wahhabism, the extremely intolerant version of Islam that is their official religion. Apart from banning all non-Muslim religions, the Saudis also prohibit other Islamic creeds. A few years ago, the Sharif of Mecca declared the Shi’a an enemy of Islam and ‘worthy of death’, chilling words advocating genocide. And Saudi law makes atheism illegal, defining it as ‘terrorism’. This is grotesque. It’s horrifically unfair to persecute individuals, who don’t believe in the Almighty but are law-abiding and peaceful, by claiming that they are somehow equivalent to those, who kill and maim, simply because the regime despises their religious views.

And the Saudis have been active sponsors of real terrorism around the globe themselves. It was only the other year that Obama finally released the suppressed 24 pages of the official report on 9/11, that concluded that the terrorists had links to the Saudi government. The Saudis, including the current regent, Salman bin Salman, were funding and arming ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They only stopped because ISIS then turned against them, and released a video urging the Saudi people to rise up and topple the monarchy.

But this will not be acknowledged by the authorities, because the Saudis control the world’s oil industry and western arms companies are making too much money selling them weapons, that they then use on innocents, like the civilians killed by Saudi bombing in Yemen.

I’ve no doubt that in the next couple of days, May and her vile horde will be running around trying to convince everyone that only they can protect Britain from terrorists through ‘strong and stable’ government. But in fact, May’s position on many things is weak and wobbly, and the cuts she was personally responsible for have grievously damaged national security.

Don’t believe the Tory propaganda.
Vote Labour on June 8th for a stronger and fairer Britain.

Uri Avnery on Trump and Israel’s Anti-Semitic Zionists

May 9, 2017

The accusation that Ken Livingstone is a anti-Semite is partly based on his historically accurate statement that there was initially an agreement between the Zionists, or at least, some of them, and the Nazi party, to take Jews out of Nazi Germany and smuggle them into Palestine, then under the British Mandate. This was when sections of the Nazis didn’t care where Jews went, so long as they weren’t in Germany. It’s the Haavara agreement, and is recorded fact. There is an entry for it on the website of the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Israel. The agreement didn’t last very long. Nevertheless, it existed. And at the end of last year, Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom, wrote a piece in Counterpunch describing other collaborations between Zionists and anti-Semites.

His article was a response to Netanyahu’s reaction to a UN motion condemning Israel for its expansionism and maltreatment of the Palestinians. The UN had attempted to have similar motions passed many times before, but had been blocked by the US, using its veto. This time Barack Obama had not blocked it, and the motion had passed.

Netanyahu was furious. He withdrew Israeli ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand, nations that have always been friend to Israel, called in foreign ambassadors to upbraid them, and generally ranted and raved.

Avnery states that while it was monumentally stupid on a diplomatic level, it was a very astute move domestically. It allowed Netanyahu to present himself as the virtuous defender of his nation, another David pitted against the Goliath of the UN. He makes the point that Jews and Israelis have taken a perverse satisfaction from the rest of the world’s opposition to them. In his view

For some reason, Jews derive satisfaction from a world-wide condemnation. It affirms what we have known all the time: that all the nations of the world hate us. It shows how special and superior we are. It has nothing to do with our own behavior, God forbid. It is just pure anti-Semitism.

As an example of this bizarre mentality, back in the days of Golda Meir one of the Israeli army’s dance band used to play a tune with the lyrics ‘The whole world is against us/ But we don’t give a damn…’

He goes on to say that the establishment of the state of Israel was supposed to put an end to this, by making Israel a normal country. But it hasn’t. He goes on to observe how Donald Trump has sent a rabidly right-wing Jewish American to Israel as his representative, a man so right-wing he makes Netanyahu seem liberal, while also appointing as one of his closest aides an anti-Semitic White racist. He states that Trump can support both anti-Semites and Zionists simultaneously as both have the same goal of taking Jews out of their historic homelands and relocating them in Israel.

He states that Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, tried the same tactic with the anti-Semites of Tsarist Russia. Herzl offered to persuade the Jews to emigrate, if the Russians helped them. This was during the horrific pogroms of the late 19th century. it didn’t quite work as Herzl wanted, as the Jewish emigrants largely went to America, not Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

He also gives as an example of such anti-Semitic Zionism the British and American evangelicals, who preached that the Jews should return to Israel. This was before the foundation of the Zionist movement proper, though he suggests it may have served as one of the inspirations for it. These evangelicals did so in the belief that the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland would result in the Second Coming of Christ. This would be followed by the conversion of a minority of Jews to Christianity. Those, who did not convert, would be destroyed.

Later other members of the Zionist movement cooperated with anti-Semites in Poland and Nazi-occupied Europe. 1939 the extreme Zionist leader, Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky approached the anti-Semitic commanders of the Polish army with a similar deal to the Haavara Agreement. If they took on and trained Jews, the Zionists would send them to Palestine to liberate the country from the British, and the Jews would then leave Poland to emigrate there. This plan collapsed after the Nazi invasion.

During the War, but before the Holocaust, Abraham Stern, the founder of the Irgun, approached Adolf Hitler through an intermediary in neutral Turkey, offering to aid the Nazis against the British. Hitler didn’t reply.

Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz also attempted to make a number of deals with the Zionists. Eichmann approached Israel Kastner and his group in Budapest. If the allies gave the Nazis a thousand trucks, he would halt the deportations. As a good will gesture, he allowed a few hundred Jews to escape to Switzerland. Kastner sent Yoel Brand as his messenger to the Zionist leadership in Jerusalem. However, he caught by the British and so the deportation and extermination of Hungarian Jews continued.

Netanyahu’s right-wing minister of defence, Avigdor Lieberman, also went berserk at the French plan to convene a meeting to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in Paris. Avnery notes that the French plan was almost identical with one he and his friend published in 1957. Lieberman, however, went off ranting that it was the notorious Dreyfus Affair all over again, referring to the case in which a Jewish officer in the French army was court-martialed and sent to Devil’s Island on trumped up charges motivated by his accuser’s anti-Semitism.

Despite the French offer of a peaceful settlement, the Israelis still want Trump, with the Zionists and anti-Semites in his administration, to support them.

See http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/30/trump-and-israels-anti-semitic-zionists/

Does May Look like an Actor from Ancient Rome?

May 8, 2017

I know this is ad feminam, but I couldn’t resist it. Not when the Tory press has flung out so many ad hominem attacks at Labour politicos and trade unionists over the years.

In his article on Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May running away from the British public yesterday, Mike has a photo of the Tory leader in full grimace.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/07/how-does-jeremy-hunt-respond-to-the-public-like-theresa-may-he-runs-away/

Looking at her, I was reminded of a picture of a Roman statue of an actor, now in the Petit Palais Museum in Paris.

It all brings to mind what Frankie Howerd would’ve said as Lurcio in Up Pompeii, ‘Titter ye not! Oooooh, she’s off again! Don’t mock! You mustn’t mock! It’s rude to mock the afflicted.’

Howerd was one of the greatest funny men this country has produced, who gave millions joy with his own brand of comedy. May and the Tories are also clowns, but it’s a black farce and the only laughter is what Russian writers call ‘the laughter through tears’.

The ancient Greek word for ‘actor’ is ‘hypocrite’. And that’s what the Tories are: massive hypocrites, pretending to care about ordinary people, ending poverty, protecting the NHS, while doing the exact opposite.

Help end their hypocrisy and cruelty by voting Labour on June 9th.

William Blum on the Police Bombing of Black Americans

February 9, 2017

I found this passage in William Blum’s America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy absolutely mind-blowing as it says so much about Reaganite and post-Reaganite America’s willingness to use deadly force, regardless of who gets killed, and the militarisation of the police.

In the chapter on human rights and torture, Blum discusses the continuing misuse of American drone strikes to assassinate terrorist leaders. These are notorious, as most of the victims so far have been civilians, including women and children. Blum mentions that Amnesty International has protested several times against their use. He makes the point that drones are only ever used against poor countries, like Yemen and Pakistan, and would never be used against America’s allies in the Developed world, like Britain. But bomb strikes have been used by the police in America against terrorists in poor Black neighbourhoods, with the resulting massive loss of innocent lives and destruction of people’s homes. He writes

Can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a house in Paris or London or Ottawa because they suspected that high-ranking al-Qaeda members were present there? Even if the US knew of their presence for an absolute fact, and was not just acting on speculation, as in the Predator cases mentioned above? Well, they most likely would not attack, but can we put anything past Swaggering-Superarrogant-Superpower-Cowboys-on-steroids? After all, they’ve already done it to their own – US drone attack killed two American citizens in Yemen in 2011, and on May 13, 1985, a bomb dropped by a police helicopter over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania burned down an entire block, some sixty homes destroyed, eleven dead, including several small children.. The police, the mayor’s office, and the FBI were all involved in this operation to evict an organization called MOVE from the house they lived in.

The victims in Philadelphia were all black of course. So let’s rephrase the question: can it be imagined that American officials would fire a missile into a residential area of Beverly Hills or the Upper East Side of Manhattan? Stay tuned. (p. 127).

No, of course they wouldn’t.

But what in the name of Heaven is a police force doing with bombs? This whole affair reads like something from a dystopian SF novel. You know, something like Stephen King’s The Running Man, which was set in a Fascist America where the cops shoot people rioting to get bread. That one was filmed in the 1980s with Arnie. Or The Hunger Games. It does not sound like the actions of a responsible democracy based on ‘justice for all’.

I’m not disputing that sometimes it is necessary to use force against armed, violent criminals and terrorists. But I am absolutely amazed that the US police was militarised to the extent that the used bombs. As for the victims being Black, that explains so much about why so many Blacks in America hate the police, and the entire point behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

The French Astronomer Who Gave His Name to the Captain of the Enterprise?

December 28, 2016

More space/ SF stuff.

Looking through the 1982 Yearbook of Astronomy, edited by Patrick Moore, I found on the chapter for July a very brief biography of the 17th century French astronomer, Jean Picard. The piece ran

1982 is the anniversary of the death of Jean Picard, a celebrated French astronomer. He was born at La Fleche, in Anjou, on 21 July 1620; he studied for the priesthood, and was ordained, but his main interest was in astronomy. In 1645 he was appointed Professor at the College de France, and took a leading part in the establishment of the Paris Observatory. His most famous piece of research was undertaken in 1669-70, when he made a new and more accurate determination of the radius of the Earth. it has been said that it was this which allowed Isaac Newton to complete his work on the theory of gravitation, though in fact Newton’s earlier hesitation was due to the fact that one link in his chain of argument was incomplete. Jean Picard died as the result of an accident on 12 July 1682. (pp. 103-4).

Reading that, I wonder if he was the inspiration for Patrick Stewart’s character in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I’ve also got a feeling that another Francophone space scientist may also have inspired the name and character. Professor Calculus in the Tintin books by Herge is based on a real French scientist, who ascended to the edge of space in a high altitude balloon in the last century. I can’t remember the scientist’s name, but I’ve got a feeling it was also Picard.

Of course, it could all be coincidence. But considering the high standard of TV drama set by the series, it really wouldn’t surprise me if the creators and producers had done their historical research, and decided to create the Picard character partly as a tribute to these scientists.

Marine Le Pen Wants to End Free Education for Immigrant Children

December 10, 2016

Padraic Flanagan also wrote a story in yesterday’s I reporting that Marine Le Pen, the head of the French Front National, had recommended that immigrant children should not automatically qualify for free education. The report ran

The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has called for an end to automatic free education for foreign children. She has said foreigners in France should go through a “waiting period” before benefiting from the country’s social services and that children whose parents are in France illegally should not be allowed access to free schooling.

Ms Le Pen, a candidate in France’s spring presidential election, took the subject in front of reporters yesterday during a stroll through the Paris Christmas market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

The National Front leader also wants to stop what she calls “massive” immigration and is urging an exit from the European Union and its common euro currency. (p.13).

Mike’s covered similar issues in several of his blog posts. There have been demands from Tory and Kipper politicos to stop immigrants and immigrant children from qualifying for certain welfare benefits in this country. Mike has pointed out how this is not only grossly unjust, but also risks increasing the spread of disease, in the case of denying illegal immigrants medical care. He has also most recently stated that it is immoral to punish children for the crimes of their parents.

Much the same arguments apply here. This policy also risks pushing up immigrant crime. If immigrant children are denied the right to an education, this effectively blocks them from entering the jobs market. They will thus either have to rely on the welfare state, or turn to crime. And it will further radicalise them, by forcing them to turn inward to their own communities for support.

It’s a vile idea. But unfortunately, such ideas are becoming increasingly common in the post-Brexit, post-Trump world.

Thomas Sowell on Marx and Engels’ Support for Democratic Socialism

July 6, 2016

Sowell Marx Cover

For just about everyone born after the Russian Revolution, and particularly after the horrors of Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot and a myriad other dictators, who have claimed to govern on behalf of the workers and peasants, Marxism has appeared quite contrary to democracy. Marx and Engels stood for violent revolution, and their theories provided the basis for oppressive, oligarchies ruling through mass arrests, terror and murder.

Marx on Democracy

Thomas Sowell in his brief book on Marx and his theories, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics (London: George Allen & Unwin 1985) shows that while Marx and Engels certainly did not disavow violent revolution, and despite his sneers about it, like his quip that democratic capitalism was merely a case of ‘deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in parliament’, took democracy very seriously, and believed that Socialism could be achieved mainly through the victory of Socialist parties at the ballot box. He writes

To the French workers in 1870, on the eve of the uprising that produced the Paris Commune, Marx advised against an uprising as a “desperate folly” and urged instead: “Let them calmly and resolutely improve the opportunities of Republican Liberty.” He closed with the motto: ” Vive la Republique.” A quarter of a century later, Engels wrote in a similar vein that “the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal actions of the workers’ party, of the results of election than those of rebellion.” In Britain, according to Marx, “the gradually surging revolt of the working class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labour.”

Democracy was seen as a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for freedom. (p. 142).

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat Does Not Justify Dictatorship

He warns the reader not to read back into Marx’s discussion about the dictatorship of the proletariat – the period in which the working class will govern society before the achievement of true Communism – the all too real dictatorships of Stalin and its counterparts in eastern Europe and Asia. Sowell writes further

The Communist Manifesto described “the first step in the revolution” as being “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.” In a preliminary draft for the Manifesto, Engels declared that a Communist revolution “will inaugurate a democratic constitution and thereby, directly or indirectly, the political rule of the proletariat.” the use of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” – in Marx’s sense – is little more than a paraphrase of these statements

Between capitalists and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

In his correspondence, Marx asserted that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which in turn represents a “transition” to a classless society. How is this compatible with “winning the battle of democracy,” as mentioned in the Communist Manifesto? Because “the democratic republic,” as Engels explained, is “the specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Just as in a capitalist state “wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely”, so in a workers’ state the numerical superiority of the proletariat turns democracy in form to a class dictatorship. Marx’s contemporary, John Stuart Mill, agonised over precisely this point. The democratic republic under capitalism becomes the arena in which workers struggle to wrest political control from the capitalists. Once this is accomplished, then under socialism it is the workers’ state that exists as long as any state is necessary -i.e. until the “withering away of the state”. (p. 143).

The Revolution Could Be Peaceful

He notes that Marx admired the Paris Commune, because he believed it had universal suffrage, an open society, freedom of religion and separation of church and state, and a non-militaristic viewpoint. (p. 144).

On revolution, he quotes Engels as saying ‘the abolition of capital is itself the social revolution’, and later, at the end of his life, that ‘the bourgeoisie and the government came to be more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of lections than of those of rebellion.’ (p.148). Engels was also aware that it was extremely rare for civilian rebels to overcome an army in street fighting. (p.149). He also believed that violence was more likely to be started by the capitalists than by the workers.

The irony of world history turns everything upside down. We, the “revolutionists”, the “over-throwers”, – we are thriving far better on legal methods than on illegal methods and overthrow. The parties of Order, as they call themselves, are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves … And if we are not so crazy as to let ourselves be driven to street fighting in order to please them, then in the end there is nothing left for them to do but themselves break through this fatal legality. (p. 149)

Democracy Draws the Working Class into Politics

He also quotes Marx as admiring democracy under capitalism for drawing the masses into politics and political discussion:

The parliamentary regime lives [according to Marx] by discussion: how shall it forbid discussion? Every interest, every social institution, is here transformed into general ideas, debated as ideas; how shall any interest, any institution, sustain itself above though and impose itself as an article of faith? The struggle of the orators on the platform evokes the struggle of the scribblers of the press; the debating club in parliament is necessarily supplemented by debating clubs in the salons and the pothouses; the representatives, who constantly appeal to public opinion, give public opinion the right to speak is real mind in petitions. The parliamentary regime leaves everything to the decision of majorities; how shall the great majorities outside parliament not want to decide? When you play the fiddle at the top of the state, what else is to be expected but that those down below dance?

Rejection of Terrorist Conspiracies

Marx and Engels contrasted the democratic nature of the Communist League, which had elective and removable boards, which ‘barred all hankering after conspiracy, which requires dictatorship, with revolutionary secret societies of Louis Blanqui and his followers. He stated that such conspiratorial small groups – such as those which Lenin would later advocate in his book What Is To Be Done? were “the fantasy of overturning an entire society through the action of a small conspiracy.” (pp. 150-1). He also notes that Marx did not see the workers as being automatically paragons of virtue from the very beginning, or would have to be led by a group of elite leaders. (p.151). Again, this is very in contrast to Lenin and his theories in What Is To Be Done? Engels said

The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. (p. 152).

He also notes that Engels did not abandon the possibility of armed revolution where the aims of the ‘workers’ party’ could not be achieved through democracy. And he also notes that Marx was quite happy for terror to be used against ‘hate individuals or public buildings that are associated only with hateful recollections’. Engels, however, had a much more critical attitude. He said

We think of this reign of people who inspire terror on the contrary, it is the reign of people who are themselves terrified. Terror consists of useless cruelties perpetrated by frightened people in order to reassure themselves. (p. 153). It’s advice that far too few self-confessed Marxist regimes put into practice.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Margaret Thatcher tried to have legislation passed to ban Marxists from having positions in academia. Furthermore, radicals like Noam Chomsky point out that America did have a tradition of working class, left-wing politics, under this was destroyed by the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War. In all fairness, Thatcher and the Cold Warriors had a point, in that the Communist Party founded by Lenin was based on the monopoly of power by a small, revolutionary coterie, who jailed and persecuted their enemies, with horrific brutality. But many Marxists actively opposed them. Rosa Luxemburg was bitterly critical of the Bolshevik coup and the suppression of political freedom in the USSR. So was Karl Kautsky, one of the leading figures of Austrian Marxism, who occupied the centre of the country’s Social Democratic Party, the main Socialist party, and which today roughly corresponds to the Labour party in Britain. Kautsky wrote pamphlets and articles attacking the Bolshevik coup, and supported the break-away Menshevik regime in Georgia.

There are very many problems with Marxism, ranging from its rejection of eternal, objective moral values, to its conception of history as based on the class struggle and the Hegelian dialectic, as well as its materialism. But it also provides material for a democratic socialism, as against totalitarian tyranny and mass murder.

Omar Mateen: Islamist Warrior, or Just Angry Nutter?

June 14, 2016

Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, apparently phoned up ISIS and swore allegiance to the murdering scum, before going out to commit his own horrendous atrocity. He had been investigated by the FBI before, as one of his friends had been a suicide bomber. They’d let him go. Now questions are being asked about the investigation and the soundness of their decision.

My guess here is that the FBI probably did have to face a genuinely difficult decision. Many people know someone personally who is a ‘bit dodgy’. For most people, it’s low-grade criminality, nowhere near the level of mass murder. The problem with looking at networks of people is that just because person X knows Y, who might be a known crim, or be a member of an unpleasant political or religious organisation, doesn’t mean that person X is either. Of course, ISIS are bound to claim him proudly as one of their own, because they are, after all, a gang of cut-throats with a twisted sense of morality and a need to kill and maim. But that doesn’t mean that Mateen joined them out of any deep religious or ideological reasons. He could just have joined them because he was an angry, nihilistic thug with a need to take out his rage on innocents, and ISIS gave him a pretext, a rationale for his atrocity.

Way back in 19th century France, Paris was rocked for a time by a series of bombings committed by Ravachol, an anarchist. Yet when Ravachol himself was caught, his self-declared ideological reasons for blowing up cafes and their patrons looked less than sound. He has no connection to other anarchist groups, and far from attacking the ruling classes, his bombings were of working class bars and cafes. He might have been genuinely motivated by the ideas of Bakunin and the other advocates of ‘propaganda of the deed’. Or he might simply have been a maniac with a need to kill and maim, and seized on anarchism for his rationale. Just as Mateen used ISIS.

After all, if Mateen was a dedicated Islamist, it looks like he left it rather late. Rather than phone them up before going out and shooting people, you’d have thought he’d have done it long ago. And then there’s his choice of venue. He had a very specific hatred of gays. I think this is remarkable, because in previous Islamist atrocities, they target the general population indiscriminately. They’re just interested in killing Western unbelievers, which includes those Muslims, who don’t share their warped views. You think of the 7/7 bombers. They targeted public transport. They didn’t target gay pubs. I’m not saying that they didn’t hate gays. It’s highly likely they did. But specifically targeting one particular group wasn’t their aim. They wanted to kill all infidels generally. The same with the Boston bomber. He targeted a marathon in order to kill the maximum number of people in a public place, irrespective of their sexuality.

Now it could be that Mateen was a genuine Islamist, and that from killing the patrons of the nightclub, he would have moved on to other sections of the population, apart from gays. But I wonder. At the moment, it looks to me like he was a nasty homophobe with a specific desire to kill gay people, rather than being a warrior for Islam.