Posts Tagged ‘Private Eye’

Tracy Ann Oberman Smears Ash Sarkar and Guardian/ Private Eye Journo as Anti-Semites

July 7, 2019

Oh dear! It appears that Tracy Ann Oberman,(above) an actress and friend of the equally litigious Rachel Riley, might just have bitten off more than she can chew in her attacks on Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Oberman and Riley believe that Corbyn really is a raging anti-Semite, as are his supporters. They therefore attack and smear them as Jew-haters over social media. If the victim replies with a few sharp observations about them in turn, they immediately respond by threatening them with a libel writ from their lawyers. They did this to Mike and many other people, simply because they reblogged an article describing how Princess Countdown and Cyberman bullied a sixteen year-old schoolgirl with anxiety, because she was a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and thus, in their eyes, an anti-Semite.

This week she decided to attack Ash Sarkar of Novara Media, and then Solomon Hughes, a journalist for the Guardian and Private Eye, when he dared to stand up and defend Sarkar. Oberman started off by sneering at Sarkar, claiming that she wasn’t a serious political debater. Sarkar made a few sharp remarks about Oberman and her appearance on Eastenders. The spat went back and forth, with Oberman making the following highly defamatory comments among others.

Don’t play the race card with me @AyoCaesar you have stirred up more antisemitism than nearly any woman on here you personally and Novarra [sic] have lied libelled and trolled many Jewish people. You’re a hypocrite. But enough attention your way”.

“Doubt after today’s view thy Ash doesn’t care about Jews who were murdered. Maybe she concurs with the tweeter who said ‘every member of your family deserved to die in the Holocaust to atone for One Palestinian’”.

Sarkar wasn’t impressed, and replied with

Tracy, you’re going to have to find some evidence of me personally libelling and lying about Jewish people. Or I’ll have to contact those libel lawyers that you’re so keen on”.

Oberman seemed to look forward to the prospect of getting a writ, and said so

Bring it on. Many would love the opportunity of putting Novarra [sic] in the dock to answer some pertinent questions. My team are waiting”.

But in his coverage of the, er, frank exchange of views, the Sage of Crewe remarked that, as of 22.00 the previous night there didn’t seem to be much evidence that Oberman had her lawyers waiting.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/tracy-ann-oberman-crosses-line.html

Solomon Hughes tweeted in defence of Sarkar

No doubt people can be all kinds of horrible on Social Media about Palestine/Israel, & don’t use this as a prompt to be horrible to Tracy [Ann] Oberman, but the claim Ash Sarkar ‘stirred up antisemitism’ is both untrue and ridiculous.( As is the mention of ‘The Race Card’)”.

As you can see, this is a fairly measured response. Hughes recognises that there is poisonous stuff posted online about the Palestine/Israel conflict, and appeals to people not to abuse Oberman as her corrects her about Sarkar not being an anti-Semite. But this was too much for Tracy, who demanded that he explain it, rather than use it for clickbait. Which was a ridiculous suggestion, as his following on Twitter was a tenth of hers.

Hughes then stated again that the accusation that Sarkar was an anti-Semite was ridiculous. Oberman then accused him of trying to incite a pile-on. She then posted

I personally do believe that Ash / Novarra [sic] has stirred up race tension. I think not supporting the IHRA is racist. Saying that Palestinians should define Jewish Racism is igniting  upset. You may disagree but to incite a pile on isn’t very Guardian or Buzzfeed?

Zelo Street commented that this contrasts with her original statement about Sarkar, which is presented as fact. By then stating it is opinion, she has just undercut any defence she might have of the original statement as she has effectively admitted that it is just opinion and she has no evidence to back it up. Zelo Street commented

These are opinions, and no more.

We know this as she adds “You may disagree”. If Ms Sarkar did contact her lawyers, they will be all over this: it is effectively an admission that Ms Oberman cannot stand up her claims. 

He also said that Private Eye might also take an interested, as it looks like Oberman was going to accuse him of anti-Semitism or other unprofessional conduct to his Groaniad editor, Kath Viner. Oberman said she was going to drop Viner a line immediately after the conversation.

Zelo Street concludes

Tracy Ann Oberman just dug herself in deeper with Ash Sarkar. Then she invited the Eye to investigate her. This campaign may progress not necessarily to her advantage.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/tracy-ann-oberman-one-in-eye.html

It’ll be very interesting indeed if Private Eye do get involved and cover this accusation of anti-Semitism against one of their own reporters. The Eye has followed the rest of the lamestream media in promoting the anti-Semitism smears and the Labour party and Corbyn viciously anti-Semitic. This baseless attack on Hughes therefore presents them with a problem. If they defend Hughes, as they should, then they risk at least hinting that may be the rest of the anti-Semitism smears they have published and supported over the last few years are also baseless, and that the victims of the majority of them are decent, innocent people, who have been grossly libeled. As Private Eye hasn’t spoken to any of the victims, allowing them to explain how they have been smeared, defending Hughes would represent a change of editorial direction by Ian Hislop on this matter. The only thing I’ve seen published by the satirical magazine in defence of the Labour party on this issue have been letters to the magazine, followed by others from readers claiming the opposite. Except for an editorial reply, citing Jon Lansman, the head of Momentum, that there was a problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This is despite testimony from many of the party’s Jewish members, stating that they have never, or only very rarely encountered it, testimony that has definitely not been published by the Eye. The Eye has never published an article casting doubt on the witch hunt, or pointing out that at least some of its victims are innocent.

I therefore wait to see what the forthcoming Eye, published this week, will have to say about all this. If anything at all.

 

 

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Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

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

June 11, 2019

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

Which means the NHS.

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

He’s absolutely right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private Eye’s Ian Hislop Pushes the Anti-Semitism Smears on Have I Got News For You

June 2, 2019

This is another issue that I couldn’t let pass without comment. On Friday on the Beeb’s satirical news quiz show, Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop took it upon himself once more to push the establishment smear that anti-Semitism is rife in Labour. The editor of Private Eye was responding to a question about the expulsion of Alistair Campbell, Blair’s former spin doctor, by the party for saying he voted Lib Dem in the elections. As Mike and Martin Odoni have shown on their blogs, Labour has Campbell bang to rights. What he’s done is very much against Labour party regulations. And Martin has further pointed out that there is no hypocrisy on Jeremy Corbyn’s part for his congratulation of George Galloway when he won Bradford West for the Respect Party. He was only doing what other Labour leaders have done before, such as Neil Kinnock when he congratulated John Major on becoming leader of the Tories. There really isn’t any comparison of the two cases. See

https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/reaction-to-alastair-campbells-expulsion-from-labour-demonstrates-how-pathetically-easily-led-centrists-are/

Campbell whined about how there was a difference between his case and those of members accused of anti-Semitism. Mike pointed out that Campbell’s whinge was a case of sour grapes, and there were differences between his and other Labour party members. Like Kerry-Ann Mendoza, the mighty chief of The Canary, had been thrown out of the party for admitting she voted Green before she joined the Labour party. As for those accuse of anti-Semitism, if they are high-up in the Labour party, and aren’t supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, an excuse will be found not to investigate them and exonerate them. If they’re high-profile supporters of Corbyn, any excuse will be found to expel them. As happened to Mike, who didn’t get any right to appeal.

Alastair Campbell expelled from Labour – but he thinks HE has been mistreated

Hislop, however, is ignorant of all of this, and followed Campbell’s line, ranting that no-one had been expelled for anti-Semitism with a sneer at Ken Livingstone. Livingstone, he claimed, was particularly foul because he had said that Hitler was ‘a little bit Zionist’. 

This comes just after the Equalities and Human Rights Commission announced it was investigating Labour for anti-Semitism, and the MP, Peter Willsman, was suspended on anti-Semitism charges. Why? He claimed quite reasonably that the Israeli embassy may be interfering in the internal politics of the Labour Party. It is an entirely reasonable question, given that Shai Masot, the Israeli embassy official guilty of plotting to decide with British civil servants which Tories would serve in May’s cabinet, offered Joan Ryan of Labour Friends of Israel £1 million in funding at a Labour conference. See

The Peter Willsman debate is a parade of ignorance

As for the assertion that Livingstone was somehow lying about Hitler’s support for Zionism, no, it’s historical fact. Mike, Tony Greenstein, myself and many, many other bloggers have made it very clear that this is so, quoting chapter and verse from the relevant sources. As has John Newsinger, a historian at one Bath’s excellent universities, who is a regular contributor to the conspiracy magazine, Lobster. Hitler and the Nazis did indeed initially support the Zionists from the cynical motive of simply wishing to get the Jews out of Germany. It’s called the Ha’avara Agreement, and there’s even a page about it on the website of the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, in Israel.

But history, genuine history, in this case, rather than establishment smears, appears to be utterly foreign to Hislop in this issue.

Just as it is to his magazine, Private Eye. I still read it, and it contains much excellent material, but it has consistently smeared Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites. These have included smear pieces from its correspondent ‘Ratbiter’, alias the Groaniad’s Nick Cohen. Like the rest of the lamestream media, it completely accepts the anti-Semitism smear unquestioningly. And it has never, ever interviewed anyone on the receiving end of those smears, like Mike, Martin, Tony, Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Cyril Chilson and on and on.

If you’re falsely smeared as an anti-Semite, Ian Hislop and his magazine were support the smear and the smearers, not you.

Which gives the lie to his claim that his magazine is somehow anti-establishment and brings you the stories the other parts of the media won’t touch. Admittedly, this is often true, but on certain issues Hislop, Private Eye and Have I Got News For You solidly toe the establishment line. The anti-Semitism smears about the Labour party is one case. The claim that Putin is the aggressor in the Ukraine and a threat to the freedom of the eastern European states is another.

I’ve been tempted many times to write a letter of complaint to Private Eye about their promotion of the anti-Semitism smears, but I’m afraid it would do no good. They either wouldn’t publish it, or would publish it in a very carefully edited form that would deliberately weaken my argument and allow them to publish a reply that appeared to refute it completely. Or else I’d find that my details had been passed on to the CAA or other Zionist smear merchants and trolls, and I’d be accused in turn of being an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier like Mike. Are Hislop and his crew at Private Eye that nasty? I hope not, but as they are part of the media establishment, and the media establishment is that vicious, I’d rather not find out.

As for Have I Got News For You, Hislop and the Beeb were boasting a few months ago that people trust it more than the ordinary newspapers, especially asylum seekers, who come from countries where the state heavily controls and censors the news. This is dangerous, because the BBC itself is very heavily biased against Labour, and consistently follows the Tory, government line. Which is unsurprising, given the number of Beeb newsroom staff, who left to find jobs working as the Tories’ spin doctors. Have I Got News For You appears to be impartial, but it also follows the government line in pushing certain interpretations of news stories. The fact that the Maidan Revolution in the Ukraine in 2012 was carefully orchestrated by the American State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy, will definitely not be covered, either by the mainstream British news or by Have I Got News For You and Hislop’s mighty organ, Private Eye. And neither will they ever publish the truth behind the anti-Semitism smears.

Hislop once again ignores history to smear Livingstone, the Labour Party, and everyone, who has been false accused of anti-Semitism. And despite the satire, Have I Got News For You is, like much of the Beeb’s news coverage when it comes to Labour, fake news.

Change UK Candidates Warned against Speaking to Hack Who Libeled Mike

May 31, 2019

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye for 31 May – 13 June 2019 carries a very interesting little snippet on its ‘HP Sauce’ column on page 11. The article ‘The Rachel Papers’, reported how BoJo’s sister, Rachel Johnson, opened her loud mouth to Henry Zeffman of the Times and bitterly criticised her party’s leadership and fellow members. In the words of the article, her comrades Heidi Allen, Sarah Woolaston, Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and indeed the rest of their politicos, were presented by Johnson as ‘blithering idiots’. But the most interesting part of this article for me and other friends and followers of Mike and his work, was the beginning of the piece. Which stated that the candidates had been warned that Gabriel Pogrund of the Sunday Times wanted to contact them, and that they should not speak to him. The article said

ON 14 May the new Change UK party warned everyone on its candidates’ confidential WhatsApp grou about Gabriel Pogrund from the Sunday Times. He had been “trying to contact various candidates for a pieces he’s working on. If he contacts you, please do not speak to him.”

“Understood,”said Carole Tongue, who stood for Change in London. “what’s he after?” asked Kathryn Heywood in the North East. “I smell a stitch-up,” said Michael Taylor from the North West.

Pogrund, or Poo-Grunt, as I think he should be better called – and yes, I know it’s just infantile name-calling, but that’s all I think this poisonous hack deserves – was the journo, who wrote the article back in 2017 smearing Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, partly based on material leaked to him from the Blairites in the Labour party. From this, and the Eye’s article, it can be inferred that Pogrund is a known smear merchant. There’s more than a little irony here, as the ex-Labour politicos, who split to form Change UK, were more than happy to claim that they were leaving because of the rampant anti-Semitism they claimed was in Labour. And now they stand revealed as being terrified of speaking to one of the hacks responsible for promoting this vile lie.

In fact I think they’re quite right to avoid talking to him. Mike had a call from him, and despite Mike telling him the truth about these smears against him, the Sunset Times still went and libeled him anyway. He, or at the very least, his editor, is not remotely interested in truth, just in smearing and destroying the lives and careers of anyone who dares to criticise Israel, neoliberal Thatcherite capitalism and the Tory party.

He’s a poisonous liar, and even the politicos keen to promote some of his lies realise it and try to avoid him.

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

May 26, 2019

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

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

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

The Plot

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

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

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

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

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

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

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

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

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

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

 

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

May 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transgender Activists Making Death Threats Against their Opponents

May 15, 2019

Private Eye on Threats and Abuse Sent to SNP Joanna Cherry

This fortnight’s Private Eye for 17th – 30th May 2019 has an article in its ‘HP Sauce’ column, ‘Social Niceties’, on page 11 about the SNP MP Joanna Cherry’s questioning of Twitter UK’s head of public policy, Katy Minshall in parliament two weeks ago. Cherry, a Queen’s Council, stated that the wanted to concentrate on what Twitter is doing to protect women. The result of this has been that Cherry herself, according to the article, now needs police protection.

The examples of threatening and abusive content posted on Twitter given by the article seem to be by militant transgender activists against their opponents. The Eye reports that during the debate, Cherry showed Minshall a video clip posted by the Gamer Sonic Fox, ‘This is what I do to TERFS’, which shows a woman having her neck repeatedly cut open. TERFS is an acronym for feminists, who exclude transwomen from their definition of womanhood: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists.

The Eye states that New Statesman journo Helen Lewis also protested against the clip. She was sent a video showing a man flaying a woman alive, with the comment “SHUT THE FUCK UP”. Lewis complained to Twitter, which initially claimed the tweet didn’t break their rules against behaviour, before finally changing its mind after Cherry said that she herself was going to challenge Minshall about it.

Cherry was herself then sent a violent image with the message “SHUT THE FUCK UP TERF”. She was then abused as a transphobe, which she responded to by posting to her proud record of championing LGBTQ rights for over 30 years. Cherry said ‘I am saddened by abusive nature of the current Twitter debate. As I have repeatedly stated publicly I deplore any abuse directed towards trans people.’

Lily Madigan, a 21 year old transgender activist and Labour Students’ national women’s officer, then attacked Cherry, saying “You can tell a lot about someone by how they respond to being called transphobic. This isn’t even an apology.’ Apparently Madigan has a record of abusing feminists on twitter.

Cherry received further violent and abusive tweets and messages after she raised her concerns about such messages being sent to women. One of those she received included a picture of a gun and the words “DO IT”, along with details of her regular constituency surgery. As a result, when she held her constituency surgery last last Friday, she had to be accompanied by two police protection officers.

Private Eye has published several articles about the abusive behaviour of transgender activists ranting against their feminist opponents as TERFs. After they argued that such rants by one activist were misogynist, they printed a later article reporting that the person had tried to rebut the criticism by claiming that most TERFS were men. Which is obviously unlikely, as it’s doubtful many men are radical feminists.

Speaker Cancels Conference Appearance due to Death Threats

I was talking to a friend of mine this weekend, who told me of another case where a speaker had to pull out of a conference, one that was incidentally completely unconnected to gender issues, because of death threats from transgender activists. It therefore appears that these death threats are not isolated incidences but symptomatic of a deeply militant, viciously intolerant attitude among some transgender activists.

I confess I don’t really understand all the points of the debate, but I believe it isn’t just a case of cisgender prejudice against transpeople. I believe that LGBTQ people should not be persecuted, and that transpeople should, generally, enjoy all the legal rights of the sex to which they have transitioned, and be regarded as members of such gender. But I think there are also genuine issues that need to be discussed. For example, the argument that some transwomen had an unfair advantage over cis-women, stemming from the time when they were biologically male, and so have higher testosterone levels, seems entirely reasonable. As is concerns that some children, who may be unhappy with their biological gender, are in danger because of a desire to see the child transition while that may not be appropriate. One of the women making this argument has done so from her own experience. When she was a child, she insisted that she was a boy and demanded that she be called Jack instead of her birth name. However, when she hit puberty, she left all that behind. I am not saying that this is true in each and every case, only that it may be in some case, and that the woman is right to express her fears.

These are very controversial issues in which tempers run high for reasons that are absolutely obvious. But it needs very careful thought and debate. It will not be solved through threats and intimidation, and I have absolute contempt for anyone who makes them, whatever their position on this issue is.

 

 

Private Eye on Brexit Party’s Claire Fox’s Support for Murderous Fascists

May 6, 2019

The furore over UKIP’s lurch to the far right and Batten’s recruitment of such controversial, deeply bigoted YouTube personalities and activists like Sargon of Akkad, Count Dankula, Paul Joseph Watson and Tommy Robinson has somewhat obscured the issue of just how politically extreme Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party is. The Brexit party seem to be eating UKIP alive at the polls, but although it’s somewhat more moderate than UKIP, Farage himself was credibly accused of racism and Fascist sympathies when he was in charge of the party. He also wants to privatise the NHS and carry on the other Tory policies of destroying the welfare state and impoverishing its working people. All for the benefit of the extremely rich, like himself. And when he was in charge of UKIP, it also was full of racists, anti-feminists, those, who bitterly hated gays and Muslims. And his Brexit party also contains its fair share of very offensive characters.

One of these is Claire Fox, formerly of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who, like the rest of her comrades, ditched Marxism and moved to the libertarian extreme right. Zelo Street have published a series of pieces refuting her claims to have joined the Brexit Party from the Left, and revealing her disgusting comments supporting IRA terrorism at the time of the Warrington bombing. Fox, then in the RCP, wrote a piece justifying the atrocity, declaring that Irish nationalists had the right to use all and every means necessary to achieve freedom for Ulster. Which meant the right to kill innocent men, women and children. When she was asked about these remarks a few days ago, rather than disavow them she doubled down and confirmed her support. And she isn’t alone in supporting Irish Republican terrorism either. Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, one of the Brexit party’s candidates in London, was also a member of the RCP, which as a whole supported Irish nationalist terrorism.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/05/nigel-farages-terrorist-sympathisers.html

Private Eye has also published a piece about Fox’s offensive views in its current issue for 3 – 16 May, 2019, ‘Outfoxing Nigel’, on page 10. It’s written by ‘Ratbiter’, otherwise known as the Absurder journo Nick Cohen, who has taken time off from ranting about how Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. His accusations there are rubbish, and some of his claims are seriously skewed. But in this instance he may well be right. The article runs

“I’ve been a left-wing campaigner for 35 years,” Claire Fox wrote in the Daily Mail after posing alongside Nigel Farage to announce her candidacy for the Brexit Party. “You’d struggle to find a pair of more unlikely political bedfellows.”

Apart from Brexit, is there anything the “left-wing” Fox and the right-wing Farage have in common? Just about everything, as it turns out.

Fox’s Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was one of the weirdest sects on the far left. Its leading cadres – Frank Furedi, Mick Hume, Brendan O’Neill and Fox herself – decided in 1997 that there was no future in Leninism, since “the working class has no political existence”, and tried their luck with the media class instead.

The RCP’s successor organisations, the Institute of ideas and Spiked magazine, exploited the limitless appetite of the BBC and Tory press for “contrarian” opinions. Such was their success in thinking the unthinkable and saying the unspeakable they drew a $300,000 donation from the billionaire Koch borthers, who fund dozens of right-wing causes.

Farage could not fail to be impressed. He and his former Ukip colleagues opposed attempts by the EU to improve ‘elf and safety, and the rebranded RCP had little time for public safety either. Fox denounced the mollycoddling of the “anti-bullying industry”, arguing that teachers who tried to protect children were sapping their “resilience”.

Famously, Farage doesn’t much like East Europeans. At times, it seems as if the only East Europeans he can stand are dictators: Viktor Orban may have censored the media, packed the judiciary and presided over epic corruption, but to Farage he is a “defender of Hungarian culture” against the EU.

Although Fox told the Mail she disagreed with Farage’s demands for immigration conrols, she and her old RCP comrades have had no problems with the most brutal controls imaginable in on Europeans who stay in their own countries. When Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic organised rape and death squads in the 1990s to “cleanse” Bosnia’s Muslims, they had no more loyal defenders than the RCP’s magazine Living Marxism.

After Penny Marshall of ITN and Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian revealed the appalling conditions in Serb prison camps at Omarska and Trnopolje, Living Marxism declared that the journalists had faked the pictures. Fox and friends and offered no defence of their story when ITN sued for libel. They did not recant when survivors gave testimony in the Hague or when mass graves were found near Omarska. Last year the journalists who run London’s Frontline Club considered inviting Fox to speak. Vulliamy insisted she apologise to the camp victims first, but Fox refused to back away from the modern equivalent of Holocaust denial. Naturally, the BBC thinks she is the ideal person to have as a regular panelist on the Moral Maze.

To be fair to Farage, he has never endorsed bullying children, indeed he broke down when describing how his own children had been bullied. He may have won the Brexit referendum by demonising East European immigrants but he has never covered up their murder. And although he endorses Orban, he has yet to act as a propagandist for Balkan strongmen who have been convicted of crimes against humanity.

The question is now how Fox can bear to be in same party as Farage, but how Farage can bear to in the same party as her.

Francis Wheen on RCP Violence

I’m not surprised the LM/Spiked crowd support bullying children. Francis Wheen in his book on paranoia in the 1970s, Strange Days, describes how the international training camps the Revolutionary Communist Party ran were rife with violence. One girl was raped in one, and a young Black American stabbed to death in another. But the Party’s leader refused to do anything about it, and indeed approved of the violence, because he felt it would toughen the working class up for revolution.

Fox and Ulster Terrorism

As for Fox’s support for IRA terrorism, I’m also disgusted, but not surprised. I think there were quite a few on the extreme left like her. But the murder of innocent civilians is utterly disgusting no matter who does it, whether it’s the IRA, Ulster Loyalists or the British state. And it’s an insult not just to the victims of terror, including the mothers who reached across the aisle in Ulster to demand an end to the violence. I’ve also met plenty of Roman Catholic Northern Irishmen, who would like a united Ireland, but thoroughly reject sectarianism and violence.

Serb Atrocities in Bosia

I’ve also come across allegations that some of the stories about Serb atrocities in the war in Bosnia were falsified by the media and British state in order to provide a pretext for keeping British and other NATO troops stationed in the Balkans. However, the carnage inflicted on the Bosnian people was quite real. Way back in the 1990s Mike spent a week as a guest of a Bosnian Muslim family in a visit arranged by a human rights organisation to show the destruction caused by the war in the Muslim region. Mike enjoyed his stay and his hosts were great people. But the damage caused by the Serb assault was everywhere. Although the war was over by that time, conditions were still very dangerous as the retreating Serbs had left booby traps.

I also used to do voluntary work with a former member of the British armed forces and the British diplomatic team sent to negotiate an end to the war. He told me that, although all the parties in the war, Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs, committed atrocities, on the whole most of them were committed by the Serbs. I’ve also spoken to British army officers, who were sent into Bosnia as part of the peacekeeping forces, and they described some of the atrocities that the Serb forces committed.

Zelo Street in their article on Fox’s disgusting views quoted Times hack Otto English, who wondered how James Glancy, another Brexit candidate in the Euro elections and former member of the SBS felt about Fox celebrating the murder of his comrades. Or Ann Widdecombe about rubbing shoulders with the people, who supported the Brighton Bombing that killed and maimed so many of the Tory party.

Farage’s Brexit Party is far Right, and so should be kept out of power. They aren’t quite a revolting as Claire Fox, whose disgusting views mean that she should be kept out of any party that’s trying for electoral respectability, and definitely not be given a platform on radio or TV to broadcast them.

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.