Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Ordinary British Jews Condemn Chief Rabbi’s Attack on Corbyn

November 28, 2019

Yesterday Mike put up a great piece yesterday reporting that after Tory Chief Rabbi and friend of Johnson and Netanyahu Ephraim Mirvis had taken to the pages of the Times to smear the Labour party once again, British Jews from right across society, from ordinary Brits to the noted actor Miriam Margolyes, had take to social media to condemn Mirvis’ comments. One of the first was an open letter which was circulating on the Net, which read:

Dear Chief Rabbi, you have shamed your office today and rendered the Jewish people even more vulnerable to real antisemitism by reinforcing the fake, media-induced antisemitism that you recklessly impute to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

To interfere politically at this point in an election in a way that could affect the only party that could bring hope and social justice to this country is beyond contempt and renders you unfit for office.

As a Jew and a Labour Party supporter, I am proud to be part of a venture that I see as a continuity of so many of my Jewish forbears who have fought for social justice here and in Europe.

You talk about ‘the soul of the nation being at stake’ yet have you not noticed what has happened to that soul over the last nine years where: 1. The poor have been vilified 2. The ill have been attacked 3. The mentally ill have suffered 4. Inequality has soared. 5. Greed and financial rapaciousness has flourished 6. Austerity has been unnecessarily applied after a financial crisis brought about by an out of control finance sector that has benefited the wealthiest.

Where was your voice about the nation’s soul then?

Yet you inveigh against a decent and honest man who, even now, maintains integrity in the face of manifest manipulation, deceit and digital sleight of hand from the Tories.

You have shamed your office, the justice-loving tradition of the Jewish people and laid the grounds for future tensions in the most irresponsible way. You seem to lack the acuity of intellect to even spot the most obvious use of this bogus antisemitism as a political weapon.

Justin Schlossberg of the Media Reform Coalition called the antisemitism saga ‘a disinformation paradigm’ and made a detailed study of the issue. The great scholar, Norman Finkelstein, likewise, sees this a purely politically motivated attack.

How dare you, amateurishly intervene in this, betraying the great Jewish scholarly tradition of intellectual and analytical acumen embodied in the Talmud and the exegetics of the Chumash.

The letter is signed, “With profound sadness and considerable disgust.”

Labour supporter Hasan Patel retweeted a piece from Margolyes’ comments about the affair on Channel 4. The actor said

I don’t think people are looking at the real issue. In Rabbi Mirvis’ statement, the word ‘Israel’ does not appear and that to me is the heart of the problem. People are not anti-Semitic, they are anti-Zionist as I am myself. It doesn’t mean that I’m anti-Semitic. I fight anti-Semitism and prejudice wherever I find it and so does Jeremy Corbyn and I think that the Chief Rabbi whom I respect because of his position is just making a terrible mistake. It is completely wrong to listen to what people are saying about Jeremy Corbyn. I just don’t understand it. I don’t believe that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic. I’m sure that he’s handled it badly. Everybody makes mistakes and I’m sure he’s made mistakes. But he hasn’t become an anti-Semite, he doesn’t support anti-Semitism, he loathes it, as every right-thinking person does. And I just feel desperate that we are prepared to take on board as Prime Minister a shoddy liar like Boris Johnson. How can you believe a thing he says? The man is a complete falsehood from start to finish. He’s a blustering bully, and I think if you have to choose between the two for goodness’ sake choose Jeremy Corbyn.

Margolyes has been a long-term critic of Israel’s barbarity towards the Palestinians. Nearly a decade ago she condemned the bombardment of Gaza ‘as a proud Jew, and an ashamed Jew’. She came out as a lesbian a few years ago, and works with a Jewish organisation aimed at combating anti-gay prejudice in the Jewish community, Gay Yids.

Children’s Poet Laureate David Rosenberg attack Mirvis’ silence on Tory racism. He tweeted

Chief Rabbi has had nothing to say on Tories hostile environment and Windrush Scandal, nor on formal Tory links with antisemitic gov’ts in Poland and Hungary. Think he’s sitting on his moral compass.

And ordinary Jewish Brits were also angry that Mirvis was using their community identity to attack Corbyn. Dr. Simon Goodman tweeted

Today I’m feeling terrible that my religious identity is being used to argue that an obvious anti-racist is an . is awful and must always be fought, but it is simply not the case that or is antisemitic.

And Juliette Emery said

Off for today
I need to calm down, it’s not healthy to be this angry 😡
Too many lies and mendacious attempts to undermine the only leader I know that wants peace, equality and a fairer society for us all whilst protecting this planet we all call home

Sleep well

Mike comments that British people dislike being told what to think, and this seems especially true of Jews. Exactly! I got the impression that Jews see themselves as a people particularly given to debate and argument. It’s been that way ever since the Talmud recorded the debates and disagreements over the Law by the rabbinical sages of antiquity. ‘Two Jews, three opinions’, as the Jewish saying goes. Years ago I bought an old book of papers from a wartime American academic conference, in which religious groups, philosophers, people of letters and scientists put forward arguments to show that their disciplines upheld and promoted the liberal, democratic values under threat from Fascism. A group of Jewish scholars put forward a fascinating paper to show that Judaism was intrinsically democratic. This included a piece from the Haggadah, extra-Biblical Jewish legend, which called for Jews in leadership positions to be concerned to create consensus and agreement, rather than impose their decision by fiat.

The story is that when God gave Moses the Torah, He commanded Moses to first go to the Jewish people to see if they would accept it. The Lawgiver replied that there was no need, because they would have to accept the Torah as the express word and law of the Almighty. ‘Nevertheless’, said God, ‘God to the people.’

They also argued their point on a remark about the Bible from one of the great rabbis, whose views are recorded in the Talmud. When asked what the most important sentence in the Hebrew Bible was, he replied ‘And these are the generations of men’. Not God, not Jews, but humanity as a whole. God’s revelation is intended to benefit all of us. Liberal Jews writing in the American radical magazine Counterpunch have said that they came to their values through the teachings of the Talmud, just like the author of the open letter at the start of this post. They stated that to be a Jew means always identifying with the oppressed, never the oppressor.

But Mirvis is defending the oppressor in seeking to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism in order to smear Corbyn and his supporters. And to support a Tory party determined to impoverish and disenfranchise ordinary working people, whether they be Jews or gentiles. And for many British Jews, this is intolerable.

John Bercow Denies Jeremy Corbyn Is Anti-Semitic

November 9, 2019

More evidence to add to the plentiful pile of it showing that Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a Jew-hater was given by John Bercow the other day. Bercow, who has just stepped down as Speaker of the House of Commons, was interviewed by Alistair Campbell for GQ magazine. Campbell told him that he realised Bercow was a Jew, and asked him about the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Bercow responded cautiously and diplomatically, pointing out that racism was a problem across society. He said that anti-Semitism was an issue in the Labour party, and that it needed to be dealt with and that he respected those, who were concerned about it. But in all his time in parliament he had never encountered it from a member of the Labour party, and in the 22 years he had known and worked with Corbyn he had never experienced it from him either. This was not even when Bercow was a right-winger. Campbell joked with Bercow about Corbyn, as a long-time opponent of New Labour, probably voting with the Tories more often than he voted with the Labour party. Bercow chuckles, and admits that he always got on well with Corbyn, and found him personally very supportive.

Okay, it’s not a refutation of the lie that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour party. It most definitely isn’t anywhere near as serious as the Tories and the right-wing media are making out. Anti-Semitism has actually dropped in the party since Corbyn became leader, and he himself has led numerous initiatives to root it out. But Bercow has said that Corbyn isn’t anti-Semitic, which contradicts what Stephen ‘Goysplaining’ Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle and Rabbi Jonathan Romain in the Torygraph have been telling people this week.

Tory Fibs has put a short clip of this part of Bercow and Campbell’s discussion in a tweet, which Mike posted on his blog yesterday. Along with twitter comments from other people supporting the Labour leader. Many of these messages came from Jewish Labour supporters, who have also found themselves abused as anti-Semites by those taken in or responsible for these lies.

Also, Mike and another twitter commenter, ‘Paul’, point out that Corbyn rarely voted with the Tories. The Conservatives mostly voted for New Labour policies, which is hardly surprising as both groups were Thatcherites. Corbyn, as an old-fashioned Socialist, would have opposed them.

There was also a tweet from RedCountessa, who said that there were plenty of left-wing Jewish people, who support Corbyn, but it was also very noticeable that they were rarely interviewed by the lamestream media to get the other side of the argument.

And Jill Gore showed a twitter response from a Mark Fleischmann to show the odious response some individuals have towards Jews, who support Corbyn. So convinced was Fleischmann that no true Jew could ever support the Labour leader, that he was demanding the Jews who did to prove their Jewishness. I’m not Jewish, but this strikes me as a form of anti-Semitism itself. It’s as racist as Richard Spencer ranting about ‘octaroons’ to smear Blacks and people of mixed race, and in my opinion, anti-racist Whites, ’cause he can’t understand how real White people don’t hate Blacks.

And there were other tweeters attacking Ian Austin, who was in the news yesterday telling everyone to vote for Boris.

Pauline Lane retweeted a message from Children’s Poet Laureate, Michael Rosen, asking the Tory party to stop using the Holocaust and the threat of anti-Semitism to attract people to the party of Windrush, the Hostile Environment Policy, the anti-refugee and 20 years of austerity.

There was also a tweet from ‘Norman’ of Austin interrupting Michael Rosen’s testimony before the Education Committee for Holocaust Education. Norman states that he was aware of Austin, because of his support for Phil Woolas. Woolas was a ‘moderate’ Labour candidate, who got deselected because he ran a dirty campaign designed to get White voters angry and smearing the rival candidate, a Muslim, as a supporter of terrorism. But his interruption of Rosen showed how really horrible Austin is. Rosen testified that when the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands, all nine Jews were deported. Austin says something about how we cannot know what would have happened in Britain, because we fought back and stood alone against the Nazis. Rosen corrects him about this, stating that we had the support of two major powers, the US and Russia.

Rosen is quite correct. We didn’t stand alone. We not only had the support of America and Russia, but we were also supported by the entire resources of the British Empire. If we hadn’t, I gather that we too would probably have only lasted a week. As for what happened on the Channel Islands, Norman states that his grandfather evacuated from Jersey, and that Austin ‘is wrong’.

Absolutely right there, too. The Nazis did invade UK/ Britain, as the Channel Islands are part of it. And the people there were starved, they saw Russian P.O.W.’s worked to death as subhuman slaves, as they were seen by the Nazis, as well as the deportation of the islands’ Jewish citizens. And we can be sure that what happened there, would have happened elsewhere in Britain if the Nazis had invaded. Years ago Anne Applebaum wrote a piece in the Spectator saying that Brits would have collaborated with the Nazis, which I think was probably based on the evidence of the collaboration of the island authorities with the Nazis. This comes from the Speccie, which is the arch-Tory magazine.

And Josh tweeted a clip from Question Time, in which a Jewish lady stood up and attacked the Tories and the Conservative media for using anti-Semitism to smear and demonise Corbyn and the Labour party. The lady states that she and all her family are Jewish, and they’re not scared of leaving the house because of anti-Semitism. The Tories and the press take quotes of context to vilify Corbyn. But only 7 per cent of the time do they discuss his policies. 80 per cent of the time, she says, they’re just attacking his character, because his policies are right.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/11/08/never-mind-the-newspapers-bercow-buries-claims-of-anti-semitism-against-corbyn/

Clearly, not all Jews buy this rubbish about Corbyn being an anti-Semite by a long chalk. Ken Livingstone, who has now resigned from the party because of the smears and suspensions, said in an interview with George Galloway that he had Jewish people walk up to him in the street and tell him that they know he’s not anti-Semitic.

Perhaps that explains the desperation of the Tories to keep repeating the claim. Because now more and more people don’t believe it!

Happy Halloween, Folks!

October 31, 2019

It’s October 31st, Halloween, the day when it was traditionally believed that the dead returned to Earth, and people dressed up as witches, wizards, ghosts and ghouls and went to parties. It was believed that the festival was based on the pagan Irish feast of Samhain. Research by folklorists suggest that it did start in Ireland, but the historian Ron Hutton published a piece in the folklore/ Earth Mysteries magazine Third Stone back in the 1990s disputing the idea that it was based on any pagan Celtic festival.

I had a book of ‘spooky verse’ as a child, which contained all manner of poems about ghosts and witches and so on, some funny, some tragic and some genuinely creepy. One of these was

Hey, ho, for Halloween,

And the witches to be seen.

Some black and some green.

Hey ho for Halloween.

Which is great when your a child, but hardly Ted Hughes.

However, I hope whatever you’re doing tonight, you’ll have a great evening, and best wishes to all. And just rejoice – Boris hasn’t got his way, and we haven’t left Europe!

Establishment Media Bias and the Cheltenham Literary Festival

September 23, 2019

Someone really ought to do a study of the way the big literary festivals – Haye-on-Wye, Cheltenham and the others – select the books and media celebs they want to push and the way they try to manipulate public opinion towards the establishment consensus. Because, believe me, it is there.

In a couple of weeks’ time, right at the beginning of October, it’ll be the Cheltenham Literary Festival. As it’s booklet of coming events tells you, it’s been proudly going for 70 years. I think it was set up, or given a great deal of assistance when it was set up, by Alan Hancock, who owned a secondhand bookshop on Cheltenham’s Promenade. It was a fascinating place, where you could acquire some really fascinating, valuable academic books cheaply. But it had the same internal layout as the fictional setting of the 1990’s Channel 4 comedy, Black Books, but without Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey or Tamsin Grieg.

The festival’s overall literary stance is, very roughly, broadsheet papers + BBC, especially Radio 4. It pretty much shows what’s captured the attention of the newspaper literary pages and the BBC news team, several of whom naturally have books coming out, and who are appearing. In past years I’ve seen John Simpson, Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts, Giles Brandreth and John Humphreys talk or appear on panels. This year they’ve got, amongst others, Emily Maitlis and Humphrey’s again.

Much of the Festival’s content is innocuous enough, even praiseworthy from a left-wing perspective. For example, there are a number of authors talking about their books about empowering women and ethnic minorities. These include Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene talking about their book, Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which is what it says: a guide for Black girls. Other topics and books discussed are on how empowered Black men are, and various feminist works about how gynaecological problems should be discussed openly, and the changing nature of the female muse. Rather than being passive creatures, modern muses are active, liberated women conquering business, sports, the arts and science. There’s also a piece on the future of masculinity, titled ‘Will Boys Still Be Boys’, which asks what will happen to boys now that the idea that there is a natural realm of masculinity, such as superiority and aggression, has been disproved. The concern with ethnic minority authors has always been there, or at least since the 1990s. Then, and in the early part of this century, a frequent theme of the Festival was ‘crossing continents’, which gave a platform to prominent literary authors from outside Europe and the West. It also gave space to Black and Asian literature from the UK. I can remember too, how one of the events staged at the Festival was a celebration of Black British poetry, much of it in Caribbean Patois.

The Festival also caters for more popular tastes. In the past it had speaking the Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, along with the approved, heavyweight literary types. It has events for children’s books, and this year features such media celebrities as Francis Rossi from Status Quo and Paul Merton. So, something for everyone, or so it seems.

But nevertheless, the Establishment bias is there, especially as so many of the speakers, like Maitlis and Humphreys, are drawn from the mainstream media. Back in the 1990s the Festival was sponsored by the Independent. Now it’s sponsored by the Times, the Murdoch rag whose sister paper, the Sunset Times, has spent so much time smearing Corbyn and his supporters as Communist infiltrators or vicious anti-Semites. Maitlis and Humphreys are BBC news team, and so, almost by definition, they’re Conservative propagandists. Especially as Humphreys is retiring, and has given interviews and written pieces for the Heil. Any chance of hearing something from the Cheltenham Festival about the current political situation that doesn’t conform to what the Establishment wants you to hear, or is prepared to tolerate? Answers on a postcard, please. Here’s a couple of examples. One of the topics under discussion is ‘Populism’. I don’t know what they’re planning to include in it, but from previous discussions of this in the media, I’m prepared to bet that they’ll talk about Trump, possibly Boris Johnson, the rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Marine Le Pen former Front National in France, the AfD in Germany, Orban and so on in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Five Star Movement in Italy. All of whom are definitely populists. But they’ll also probably include Corbyn and Momentum, because Corbyn is genuinely left-wing, challenges the Thatcherite neoliberal consensus and will empower the masses. All of which threatens the Establishment. There are also individual politicians speaking this year, but the only one I found from the Left was Jess Philips. Who isn’t remotely left-wing in the traditional sense, though she is an outspoken feminist.

The other topic is about what should be done with Putin. Now let’s not delude ourselves, Putin is a corrupt thug, and under him Russia has become once again a very autocratic state. Political and religious dissidents, including journalists, are being attacked, jailed and in some cases murdered. Among the religious groups he’s decided are a threat to Mother Russia are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not a member of the denomination, and find their doorstep campaigning as irritating as everyone else. But they are certainly not a dangerous cult or terrorist organisation. And they have stood up to tyrants. They were persecuted by the Nazis during the Third Reich, with their members imprisoned in the concentration camps, including a 17 year old boy, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular messiah. For which I respect for them. The Arkhiplut has enriched himself, and rewarded his cronies with company directorships, while assassinating the oligarchs, who haven’t toed his line. And I still remember the genocidal butchery he unleashed in Chechnya nearly two decades ago, because they had the temerity to break away.

But geopolitically, I don’t regard Putin as a military threat. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Putin is interested solely in preserving the safety of his country from western encirclement. Hence the invasion of the Ukraine to protect the Russian minority there. If he really wanted to conquer the country, rather than the Donbass, his tanks would be in Kiev by now. I’ve blogged before about how Gorbachev was promised by the West that in return for allowing the former eastern European satellites to break away from the USSR, they would remain neutral and not become members of NATO. That’s been violated. They’ve all become members, and there are NATO military bases now on Russia’s doorstep. The Maidan Revolution of 2012 which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian president of Ukraine was stage managed by the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. There’s evidence that the antagonism against Putin’s regime comes from western multinationals, who feel aggrieved at not being able to seize Russian companies as promised by Putin’s predecessor, the corrupt, drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin. Putin also seems to be quite genuine in his belief in a multipolar world, in which his country, as well as others like China, are also superpowers. But the Americans are interested only in maintaining their position as the world’s only superpower through ‘full spectrum dominance’: that is, absolute military superiority. The US’ military budget supersedes both the Russian and that of the four other major global countries combined. Arguably, Russia ain’t the global threat. America and NATO are.

Festivals like that of Cheltenham are important. They’re business arrangements, of course. They exist to sell books. But they also encourage literacy, and allow the public to come face to face with the people, who inform and entertain them through the written word. Although here the books’ pages of Private Eye complained years ago that the Festival and others like it gave more space to celebrities from television, sport, music and other areas, rather than people, whose primary living was from writing. But the information we are given is shaped by the media – by the papers and broadcasters, who give the public the news, and the publishers, who decide which books on which subjects to publish. And then there’s the bias of the individual festivals themselves. And in the case of Cheltenham, it is very establishment. It’s liberal in terms of feminism and multiculturalism, but other conservative, and increasing Conservative, in others. It’s through events like Cheltenham that the media tries to create and support the establishment consensus.

But that consensus is rightly breaking down, as increasingly more people become aware that it is only creating mass poverty. The Establishment’s refusal to tolerate other, competing opinions – their demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Nazis, for example – is leading to further alienation and disaffection. Working people don’t find their voices and concerns reflected in the media. Which is why they’re turning to the online alternatives. But Festivals like Cheltenham carry on promoting the same establishment agenda, with the odd voice from the opposition, just like the Beeb’s Question Time. And this is going to change any time soon, not with lyingt rags like the Times sponsoring it.

Magonia on Right-Wing Tories and UFOs

September 15, 2019

Going through a stack of old copies of the small press UFO magazine, Magonia, yesterday evening I came across a couple of articles, which mentioned the bizarre attitudes of two right-wing Tory MPs. One of these was a humorous piece about the Eurosceptic politico Teddy Taylor, who was beating his drum against the EU because they wanted to set up a commission to study UFOs. The article was in Magonia 48 for January 1994, titled ‘Watch the skies – and your wallets’ and ran

According to newspaper reports, Eurosceptic Tory MP Teddy Taylor has been looking into a potentially profitable new gravy-train for clued-up ufologists. In a Parliamentary question to Trade and Industry Secretary Michael Heseltine about “unidentified flying objects and aliens in the asteroid belt”, and their “implications for public policy” he has been trying to shake loose information on a ‘fact-finding tour’ (i.e. publically funded bunfight) about UFOs by Euro MPs. Taylor fumes: “These MEPs have been swanning around Europe asking people if they’ve seen one. They’ve come to the staggering conclusion that aliens might exist, but that you can’t be certain.” Amazingly, it appears the European parliament is considering setting up a Euro UFO Observation Centre as an official European Institution. “This may sound fun, but it makes me angry. My constituents have lost jobs because of the EC’s incompetence and nuttery.”

It makes us angry too – if the EC (sorry, EU) is throwing money at UFOs, why is none of it coming our way? We are investigating. You have not heard the last of this. Brussels, be warned!

The second is more serious, and comes from a review of Nick Redfern’s On the Trail of the Saucer Spies: UFOs and Government Surveillance (Anomalist Books 2006) In Magonia 92, June 2006, p. 18. Redfern’s book also claims that various extreme right-wing groups have tried to infiltrate Ufology. This comes from an anonymous individual, who claims that he was a member of Special Branch tasked with combating such infiltration. This is highly debatable, as the extreme right-wing group involved was APEN, which was a hoax perpetrated by a student at Cambridge University. The supposed whistleblower also doesn’t mention real instances of right-wing infiltration, like a conference on conspiracies set up in the 1990s that gave a platform to anti-Semites and Nazis like Eustace Mullins, or how some of them also joined the ‘Witness Support Group’. This was supposed to be a group to support people, who had witnessed UFOs or been abducted by aliens. Its newsletter, Rapport, contained some extremely nasty anti-immigrant ravings by a member of the BNP, who put all his hate into sub-Kiplingesque poetry. The group ended in tragedy when one its members committed suicide after some moron told them they were under CIA surveillance.

But the Magonians also pointed out in the review that one of the leaders of the big British UFO organisation, BUFORA, Patrick Wall, also had very extreme right-wing views and deeply unsavoury connections.

And if we are going on about the far right connections of ufology, then what about BUFORA’s one time President Patrick Wall, often regarded as the most racist and reactionary of all post-War Tory MPs. Wall was associated with a shadowy ‘anti-communist’ movement, the World Anti-Communist League, said to be financed by Saudi Arabia and Taiwan (then under the dictatorship of Chiang Kai Shek), and involved in channelling funds to all sorts of extreme right organisations, and used to channel money for the CIA to help set up the Provisional IRA.

With friends like that, who needs to do any infiltrating?

Actually, if Teddy Taylor was worried about politicians with weird views about UFOs wasting public money, he needn’t have gone as far as the EU. One was much closer to home in the shape of the Earl of Clancarty, otherwise known as Brinsley Le Poer Trench. Trench was a market gardener, who inherited a place in the House of Lords as he was a cousin of an Anglo-Irish lord. He was very racist, anti-immigrant, and a supporter of Ian Smith’s Whites-only government in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He also believed in UFOs, ancient astronauts and that the Earth was hollow and inhabited by subterranean civilisations. In 1979 he organised a debate in the House on UFOs, in which he also asked questions about what the government knew about alien bases in the asteroid belt. Uncovered Editions published the documents from the debate as a book in the 1990s. Trench’s debate was notorious at the time, and one of the countercultural presses published a piece about it, calling it ‘a most visionary and loony debate’.

Finally, why the EU was certainly flawed, membership in it is far preferable to the chaos and economic destruction that’s going to hit this country if the Eurosceptics like Taylor get their way. MEPs spending public money to ask people if they’ve seen alien spacecraft is a small price to pay for jobs, proper funding for industry, access to the single market and working migrants and students bringing their skills and hard work to this country.

Book on What’s Really Needed for Artificial Intelligence: Emotion, Spirituality and Creativity

July 6, 2019

The Muse in the Machine: Computers and Creative Thought, by David Gelernter (London: Fourth Estate 1994).

I came across this book looking around one of Cheltenham’s secondhand bookshops yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I fully intend to. Although it was published nearly a quarter of a century ago, I think the issue it addresses is still very real, and one that isn’t acknowledged by many computer scientists. And it’s immensely provocative. Gelernter argues here that the brain is not like a computer, and by concentrating on rationality and logic, computer scientists aren’t developing genuine Artificial Intelligence – true minds – but simply faster calculating machines. What is needed instead is creativity and inspiration, and that can only come from emotion and spirituality.

The blurb for the book in the inside cover runs

Is Artificial Intelligence really getting any closer to understanding the workings of the brain? Or is it, despite generations of smarter, more logical reasoning machines and more refined philosophical theories, missing the point? Is the AI model, for all its apparent sophistication, simply too crude?

David Gelernter believes that it is. In this dazzling, powerfully persuasive new book he argues that conventional AI theory is fatally flawed, ignoring as it does the emotional elements in the human mind. AI can go on improving its creations as much as it likes, but as long as it insists upon seeing the mind as a machine, it will always been building machines and not minds.

It’s time to tackle a fundamental truth: feeling isn’t incidental to thought, a pleasant diversion or unwelcome distraction. It’s essential, a precondition and part of all our thinking. A mind that can’t be irrational can’t be rational; a machine that can’t feel can’t think.

Spirituality is not failed science, anymore than poetry is botched prose. Significant as recent developments have been, suggests Gelernter, the real renaissance is yet to come. The new science of the mind will involve art and theology as closely as it does technology, and will owe as much Wordsworth and Keats as to Papert and Minsky.

Bound to cause a furore in the field of Artificial Intelligence, the Muse in the Machine has far wider implications than this, and far great importance. It is a book which demands to be read by everyone who values human thought and its achievements. If it offers much to intrigue and to provoke in its daring, wide-ranging discussion of the mind and its workings, it provides much, too, to delight and move.

It’s probably no surprise that Gelernter believes that art, literature and spirituality/ theology should also be important components of genuine machine intelligence. Not only is he credited as an associate professor computer science at Yale University, but also a lover of philosophy and published poet, with an MA in Classical Hebrew Literature.

For all that the book and its thesis were – and no doubt still are – controversial, he has correctly identified a major problem. Other philosophers and scientists, both of computers and the human brain, have pointed out that the brain isn’t a computer. Rather, the computer is simply the latest metaphor for the brain. Before then, the metaphor was of an immense telephone exchange. And before that, in the 17th century, when modern neurology was only just beginning, it was as a series of fountains. I also understand that many neurologists now believe, following the ideas of the paranormal researcher Stan Gooch, that much of human thought and cognition actually occurs deeper in the more primitive sections of the brain, connected with emotion. And I can imagine many atheists distinctly unsettled by the idea that true rationality also requires a spiritual, religious and theological component. That’s enough to send Richard Dawkins completely up the wall!

It’s going to be an very interesting, provocative book, and one I shall look forward to reading. And I’ll definitely post about it when I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yay! David R. Bunch’s ‘Moderan’ Now Back in Print

May 7, 2019

Bit of good news for fans of classic SF. Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s last week, I found that David R. Bunch’s Moderan was now in print. This was published in 1971, and is really a series of vignettes originally published in small magazines, as well as the big SF mags Amazing and Fantastic. These are set in a future in which organic humanity has decided that its reached the end of its natural evolution, and to evolve further it must transform itself into machines. This process is described as it affects the hero, Stronghold 10. The style is superficially sympathetic to heighten what the reality of what this new, cyborg humanity has become: immortal, but paranoid with each stronghold at war with their neighbours.

Brian Aldiss gives as sample paragraph of Bunch’s prose style, which explains the background to the novel, in his and David Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree:

Now, to turn tedious for a time, this is what happened. Flesh-man had developed to that place on his random Earth-ball home where it was to be the quick slide down to oblivion. All the signs were up, the flags were out for change for man and GO was DOWN. To ENDING. Flesh-man was at the top, far as he could climb as flesh-man, and from there he was certain to tumble. But he had the luck to have these brave good white-maned men in the white smocks, the lab giants, the shoulders, and great-bulged thighs of our progress (what matter if they were weazened, probe-eyed, choleric scheming, little men sometimes – more often than not, REALLY?) authors of so much of man’s development and climb to that place where he was just due to die, expire, destroy himself and his home at this grand stage of development to make new-metal man and set him in the Strongholds upon the plasto-coated Earth that had been man’s random and inefficient home. New-metal replaced flesh (down to the few flesh-strips and those, we hope, may soon be gone) the bones were taken out and new metal rods, hinges and sheets put in (it was easy!) and the organs all became engines and marvellous tanks for scientifically controlled functional efficiency forever. YAY! Don’t you see?! Our Scientists made of life-man (the VERY-STRANGE-accident man) essentially a dead-elements man, one who could now cope with eternity, but he certainly was not a dead man. AH! Heavens no! He was alive! with all the wonderful scienc3e of the Earth ages, and just as functional as anyone could wish. YAY! science, take your plaudits now! You’ve shown what was meant from the beginning for the VERY-STRANGE-accident man. (p.324).

Aldiss states that it’s a technophobic piece in the SF tradition of questioning technological progress that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Moderan was out of print for a long time, so I’m looking forward to reading it some time. Bunch also wrote poetry in an avant-garde style very much like his prose, though in verse. A collection of his pieces, of which only one or two were SF, The Heartacher and the Warehouseman, was published in the 1990s. The title poem is set in the Moderan world, and is about one of these cyborgs coming to a warehouse carrying his pump in his heart. He complains that he – and all the other cyborgs – have no heart. The cyborg warehouseman, suspicious, retreats behind his armoury of weapons, informing him of all the cyborg bits and pieces they have, like hearts and mechanical fingers. But he fails to understand the man’s real complaint – that their civilisation has no heart in the metaphorical sense. The warehouseman drives the Heartacher away, but wonders what will happen to him as he retreats back into his cubby-hole.

It’s one of those pieces that was acutely relevant in the 1990s, when there was much talk among the chattering classes of transhumanism and cyborgisation. It was the decade when Radio 3 broadcast the series Grave New Worlds examining these possibilities through interviews with writers, artists and scientists, including Paul J. McAuley, J.G. Ballard and the Australian performance artist, Stelarc, who really has tried to turn himself into a cyborg in performances in which he wired himself up to the net, so that images found online would work his body automatically through galvanic stimulators some Borg organic puppet, and by giving himself a third, cybernetic arm. It’s still relevant as prosthetic limbs continue to improve. While these are an immense benefit to those, who have lost their real limbs through accident or disease, it does raise the question of how far this process can go and humans become the cyborgs of SF. This was the central question David Whittaker was pondering when he created Dr. Who’s cybermen. Bunch’s novel also seems to have influenced one of the writers of Dr. Who Magazine way back in the ’70s. One of the comic strips, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman, was about a cyberman, who had some how retained his emotions and compassion. The story was set on the planet ‘Moderan’. And in the 1980s the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, expressed concerns that people, who were heavily reliant on medical machines suffered a loss of creativity when he explored the possibility of similar mergers between humans and machines in his class Man and the Planets.

I’m glad that this lost classic is back in print. But still more than a little annoyed that it, and other SF works like it, are overlooked by the literary crowd in favour of those by ‘literary’ authors like Ian McEwan. Sorry to ride this old hobby-horse again, but a few weeks ago there was an interview with McEwan in the I. The newspaper mentioned to him that Science Fiction fans were upset about him denying that his book was part of the genre. McEwan repeated his sentiment, saying it wasn’t SF, but was based on him considering real world issues. Well, so is much Science Fiction, all the way back to Frankenstein. Aldiss has praised it as the first real work of Science Fiction as it was based on science as it was known at the time. This was Galvani’s experiments making the severed legs of frogs twitch and move through electricity. McEwan’s attitude shows the basic contempt of many literary authors and critics for the genre. They’re keen to borrow its tropes, but sneer at it as essentially trivial fantasy, unlike the serious stuff they’re writing. Much SF is, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. But there is a very large amount which isn’t, and which deserves to be taken as seriously as so-called ‘serious’ literary works like McEwan’s.

 

Ken Loach Talks about Writer and Poet Kevin Higgins, Suspended for Satirising War Criminal Blair

March 3, 2019

Here’s another excellent piece from Labour Against the Witchhunt, where the respected left-wing film-maker, Ken Loach, talks about the case of Kevin Higgins. Higgins is a writer and poet, an overseas member of the party, living in Ireland. He was suspended in June 2016 for daring to write a poem satirising Tony Blair and the bloody carnage he had caused in Iraq. Loach only reads a part of a poem, as it’s rather too long to repeat in full. Before he does he jokes that as this is what got Higgins suspended, then everyone present is also going to be suspended simply for being there. So anyone who doesn’t want to be suspended should leave.

The poem is a reworking of a piece by Brecht, about a soldier, who gets shot, and his needy widow receives only something insignificant. In the part Loach reads, which I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, Blair’s ‘no longer new’ wife wonders about what she will receive from all the depleted uranium shells he had dropped during the battle of Basra, all the soldiers he had sent to meet Improvised Explosive Devices in far Mesopotamia? She got for all that white night terrors of him on trial for his crimes and the desire never again to look out the window of their fine Connaught Square House at the tree, which people said was once used to hang traitors.

Loach says of  Higgins that he guesses Higgins isn’t the only one who’s disgusted with Blair, with his illegality, the hundreds of thousands he caused to die and the millions he’s made since he left office. ‘If anyone brings the party into disrepute, it’s that mass murderer.’

He goes on then to reveal what happened to Higgins himself. He didn’t hear anything, so in May 2017 he wrote to the Governance and Legal Unit requesting all the documents relating to him to be sent to him within forty according to his right in the laws about data protection. Nine months later, no reply. The video was uploaded on YouTube on 7th February 2018. He was still suspended, as far as Loach knew.

The cineaste concludes

It is incompetent. It is inefficient. It is unprincipled. And those people should not be in charge of that disclipinary procedure.

Loach is absolutely correct. And Higgins’ suspension, simply for satirising Blair, isn’t the mark of a democratic socialist party. It’s the action of a rigidly centralised dictatorship, where the leader was, like Mussolini, always right. It’s like nothing so much as Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’ in the USSR, with the exception that Higgins only got suspended. In Stalin’s USSR, he’d have been tortured and shot, or at the very least sent to a gulag.

And Loach is definitely correct when he says that he probably isn’t the only one disgusted with Blair. Millions of us are. Over a million people marched against the Iraq invasion, including the priests at my local church. It was one of the biggest popular demonstrations in British history, but Blair and his vile cronies ignored it. And people certainly left the party and refused to vote for the grotty profiteer because of his greed, his illegality, his warmongering, his privatisation, his insistence on absolute obedience and micromanagement of party affairs. Private Eye called him the ‘Dear Leader’, satirising the smaltzy, sentimental image he tried to project, as well as his demand to be loved. The Tory party at the time stood in opposition to the War, which got a left-wing friend of mine to buy the Spectator for a time. I think that this was mostly opportunism on the Tories’ party, as there is nothing they love better than a good war. But to be fair to them, Peter Hitchens, the brother of the late atheist polemicist Christopher, genuinely despised him for Iraq and continues to loathe him, describing him as ‘the Blair creature’.

And this monster seems intent on coming back into politics. He has praised the Independent Group, which led Mike, Martin Odoni and others to ask why he should still be allowed to remain in the Labour party. It is against the rules to be a member or support a rival organisation. This was the rule the Blairites used to throw out Moshe Machover, the Israeli academic and anti-Zionist. His crime was that he had a piece published in the Morning Star, as have very many leaders and MPs over the years. Professor Machover was grudgingly readmitted to the party after a massive outcry. But Blair gives them his support, and no-one important seems to raise any objections whatsoever. The left-wing vlogger, Gordon Dimmack, says he has heard speculation that if the wretched group survives, then before long Blair will return to active politics. It’s an idea that he says gave him nightmares.

Unfortunately, I think it’s a distinct possibility. Despite the fact that his time as this country’s leader has been and gone, he was on Andrew Marr’s wretched propaganda show today. I’m glad I missed it, as it would only have infuriated me. But it does seem to bear out these rumours.

One million men, women and children killed. Seven million displaced all across the Middle East. A secular state with free healthcare and education destroyed and looted. A state where women were free to have their own careers and run businesses. Where there were no ‘peace barriers’ between Shi’a and Sunni quarters in cities to stop them murdering each other. A country whose oil reserves have been looted by the American and Saudi oil companies, and whose state industries were plundered by American multinationals.

And this creature appears on TV again, to grin his sickly smile and utter neoliberal platitudes and smooth words. But hey, you can’t criticise him, because he stands for inclusion and diversity. While parents starve themselves to feed their children, students are faced with unaffordable tuition fees and the disabled are thrown off benefits thanks to the wretched assessments and work capable tests he, Mandelson and the others in his coterie introduced.

Higgins’ poem reminds me about one of the great protest poems written back in the ’60s about another unjust war, Vietnam. This was To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam) by Adrian Mitchell, where every stanza ended ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’. The note about it in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport states that he added stanzas later to include more leaders and more wars.

So perhaps if Blair comes back to politics we should write another: ‘Tell Me Lies About Iraq’. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio 4 Series of Political Interviews Next Week with Nick Robinson

October 23, 2018

According to the Radio Times for next week, 27th October to 2nd November 2018, Radio 4 are broadcasting a series of 1/4 hour interviews with various politicos daily, from Monday to Friday. The show’s hosted by the Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson. They’re on a 1.45 pm.

The first, on Monday, is with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.

Tuesday’s edition has him talking to the general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, who talks not just about his political beliefs, but also his love of poetry and the end of a friendship.

On Wednesday he talks to Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Thursday it’s Andrea Leadsom.

And it concludes, on Friday, with Tony Blair.

The only one I would really like to listen to is Len McCluskey. Tom Watson could be interesting, if it reveals just why he’s spent the last three years or so trying to undermine his leader and shore up a dying and murderous neoliberalism in the party’s ranks. Truss and Leadsom don’t interest me at all, and I think listening to them will only annoy me. As probably would the edition with Watson. And I’m sure Tony Blair’s interview would make me incandescent with rage about what he’s done to this country, the Middle East, and how the arrogant, power-hungry maniac still desperately wants to return to power to make the world safe for free market capitalism and the worse for everyone else. All while simpering about how well everyone’s doing with a cheesy grin on his face.

And it hasn’t escaped me that all the politicians Robinson is talking to, with the exception of McCluskey, who’s a trade unionist, are right-wingers. Watson and Blair are Thatcherite Labour, Truss and Leadsom Tories. So in turns of political philosophy, there’s not a lot of difference between them. But there of different parties, so the Beeb can say it’s unbiased.

Roman Poet Martial on Malice, and the Tories’ Violation of Good Taste

October 21, 2018

I found this quotation on malice from the Roman poet and epigrammist, Martial, in an old copy of Focus magazine dating from the ’90s. The great Roman wit said

Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men, nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud.

Well, that’s how things should be, amongst people of taste. Unfortunately, many people really aren’t that well-brought up. And this extends to the entire Tory party, who are full of hatred and malice against the unfortunate. Not just the poor and the unemployed, but also the disabled, including men with one eye. You can see that from their entire welfare policy of depriving benefits to those, who desperately need it, and the way it has forced people into misery, debt, starvation and death. And this is despite all their hypocritical crocodile tears about the poor and cant about ‘caring conservatism’. Heidi Allen, who ostentatiously wept about the suffering of one poor soul on benefit, has voted against reforming the Universal Credit that has caused so much of it. And David Cameron and his mate Iain Duncan Smith had a good cackle together in parliament when a Labour MP read out a piece from one of their constituents describing the depths of suffering she had been reduced to due to their wretched reforms.

The Tory cabinet is stuffed full of public school toffs, who like, Boris Johnson, have received a Classical education. Clearly they were asleep or skiving that day when they covered that epigram of Martial’s.