Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

Trump Passes Law Allowing Gene Testing by Bosses

March 14, 2017

This is another, very chilling step towards genuine Fascism by Trump, who’s surrounded himself with Fascists and White Supremacists. In this piece from the David Pakman Show, the host and his producer, Louis, reveal how Trump introduced legislation that would permit employers to demand their employees take genetic tests and hand over information about the DNA. This was slipped past Congress when the public had their attention on the colossal mess that is Trumpcare. This overturns previous legislation which prevented employers from demanding such information, not least under US privacy laws. The legislation permits US employers to do this if they are running ‘wellness’ programmes. Pakman states that this is all about employers having the ability to charge people more for their healthcare, if they find out they have certain genetic conditions.

This is exactly what the authors Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald wished to expose and counter in their book, Exploding the Gene Myth (Boston: Beacon Press 1997).

The book is subtitled ‘How Genetic Information Is Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians, Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators and Law Enforcers’. It’s about the way the above have tried to link illness and criminality to heredity since the 19th century, and how this has led to eugenics legislation in which the ‘genetically unfit’ were sterilised and institutionalised in order to prevent them breeding. Or else it was used as pretext to prevent the passage of welfare legislation. The argument here was that it would be a waste of resources supporting those, who were unable to work as their illness was down to their own faulty biological heredity, not the terrible working conditions and industrial hazards of the time.

Eugenics was a favourite topic amongst the European and American chattering classes from the late 19th century until it was discredited by the horrors of the Nazi regime during World War II. But Hubbard and Wald warned that it was coming back with the drive to find a genetic basis for illnesses like schizophrenia and other traits. The book has the following chapters

1. Of Genes and People
The Role of Genetics in Our Lives
Genes for Deafness, Genes for Being Raped
A Word about Scientists
Heredity and Environment
What Are Genes?

2. Genetic Labelling and Old Eugenics
The Birth of Eugenics
Genetic Labelling
Involuntary Sterilisation
Eugenic Immigration Policies.

3. The New Eugenics: Testing, Screening and Choice
Overt and Subtle Eugenics
Parenting, Disabilities and Selective Abortion
Genetic Screening
Fallacies of Genetic Prediction.

4. A Brief Look at Genetics
Heredity and Genes
The Beginning: Gregor Mendel, “Traits” and “Factors”
From Mendel to the Double Helix
Genes and Proteins
How Chromosomes and Genes Are Duplicated
X and Y: The Sex Chromosome
From DNA to RNA to Proteins
How Genes Function
Sequencing the Human Genome
RFLPs: Linking DNA with Traits

5. Genes in Context
Definitions of Health and Disease
Individualisation of Health and Illness
Genes as Blueprints
Geneticisation
Diagnostic Labeling

6. “Inherited Tendencies”: Chronic Conditions
Some Underlying Assumptions
Conditions that Run in Families
Diabetes
High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, and Strokes
Cancer
Oncogenes and Anti-Oncogenes
Cancer Prevention and Cancer Screening
Breast Cancer
Cancer Prevention versus Cancer Therapy

7. “Inherited Tendencies”: Behaviours
Which Behaviours?
Homosexuality
Alcoholism
Problems of Linking Genes to Behaviour
Pitfalls of Behavioural Research: The XYY Fallacy

8. Manipulating Our Genes
Conventional Treatments for Inherited Conditions
Modifying DNA: Somatic Cell Manipulations
“Germ-Line Gene Therapy”: Changing Future Generations

9. Genes for Sale
Funds for Research, Profits for Biotechnology
Commercialisation and Conflicts of Interest
Owning the Genome
What to Do?

10. Genetic Discrimination:
Education, Employment and Insurance

Genetic Testing and the Schools
Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace
Measures in Counter Employment-Related Discrimination
Genetic Discrimination in Insurance

11. DNA-Based Identification Systems, Privacy, and Civil Liberties
DNA and the Criminal Justice System
Scientific Problems with DNA Profiles
Genetic Privacy and Civil Liberties
Employment- and Health-Related Issues
Controlling Genetic Information.

There is also a preface, in which they give their reasons and aims for writing the book, a conclusion and afterword, as well as an appendix on mitochondrial DNA, notes, glossary and a bibliography and list of other resources.

There were a series of scandals regarding the enforced genetic testing of employees in the ’80s and ’90s, one of which was compulsory genetic testing of a set of recruits in the US army. They also make it very clear that the insurance companies wanted to introduce it as a way of charging those with ‘faulty’ genes higher premiums.

And from that, it’s a very short step to eugenics and then the mass slaughter of the congenitally disabled under the Third Reich’s Aktion T4.

The forcible genetic testing of US recruits is mentioned in one of the books that came out on the X-Files, as an example of how the paranoid fantasies of the show nevertheless had a factual basis in this instance. To be fair to the Christian Right in the America, they are very hostile to sterilisation and eugenics. However, it’ll be interesting to see if they oppose this noxious piece of legislation. In much of the rhetoric of the religious right, such legislation is linked to oppressive, totalitarian states, like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It’ll be interesting to see if they oppose it when it’s introduced by an ostensibly democratic government (yeah, I know, it ain’t really), dominated by big business and which is bitterly hostile to any kind of Socialism.

I don’t think you’ll see a word against it. As Pakman explains, when it came to voting, all the Republicans voted for it, all the Democrats against. And I doubt the right-wing Conspiracy fringe will oppose it either. Alex Jones on Infowars has been pumping out pro-Trump propaganda since the Orange Nazi’s election campaign. He wants Americans to believe that Trump is somehow ‘anti-globalist’, despite the fact that he’s stuffed his cabinet full of globalists and monopoly capitalists.

This is truly terrifying, as it does bring us once step closer to the genetic dystopia of the film Gattaca.

And it’s yet more proof of the Nazism at the core of Trump’s administration.

Lobster on the Real Reason Britain Didn’t Deport Nazi War Criminal to the Soviet Union in ’70s

March 14, 2017

I found this little snippet in Lobster 41 for Summer, 2001, on reason Britain refused to deport Anton Gecas, a Nazi collaborator and war criminal, to the Soviet Union in the 1970s: he was a British intelligence and Special Branch spy during the 1974 miners’ strike. Here’s the article.

Gecas and Special Branch

A wonderful example of the reach and power of intelligence connections was provided in January. Why did the British state refuse to extradite Anton Gecas, the WW2 Lithuanian war criminal, to the Soviet Union in 1976? Turns out not only had Gecas worked for SIS at the end of WW2, he’d worked for Special Branch in the 1970s, snitching on the miners during the miners’ strike of 1974!

A report in the Edinburgh daily paper, the Scotsman (15 January):

‘Although Gecas was named by the Nazi-hunting organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre as the most wanted Nazi war criminal alive, a two-year investigation by the Special War Crimes Unit concluded that there was insufficient evidence. The decision, announced by the Crown Office in February 1994 caused many people to suspect that Gecas was enjoying protection. According to a source close to the inquiry, investigators were perturbed to discover that witnesses who had freely given evidence against Gecas in the defamation trial [brought by Gecas in 1992] were reluctant to testify in a criminal court or claimed they had forgotten much of the detail of the alleged atrocities. The source said: “I have absolutely no doubt that someone or something got to them before we did” (emphasis added).

‘Red’ Ken Livingstone devotes a couple of chapters in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s London, to describing and condemning the recruitment of Nazi war criminals by British and US intelligence as part of their campaign against Communism. He discusses how many of them were given jobs in the mining industry, where naturally there was friction, not least because the Nazis’ SS and other Third Reich tattoos were clearly visible in the pithead showers.

The Leninist newt-fancier was loudly denounced by the Blairites last year as an anti-Semite, because he dared to state the historical fact that the Israelis and Nazis initially collaborated in Jewish emigration to Palestine, then under the British mandate. As his book shows, the man Private Eye calls ‘Leninspart’ is very far from an anti-Semite. He was right about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, as amply demonstrated by John Newsinger in Lobster. And he’s right about the British and American spooks’ recruitment of Nazis. They were here, in England, and spying on decent Socialists and trade unionists.

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day today. According to Wikipedia, it was first started by the Socialist Party of America, who held the first Women’s Day in New York on February 28th, 1909. Following a suggestion by Luise Zietz at an International Women’s Conference in August 1910, it was then celebrated the next year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It then spread to the Russian Empire, and became a formal day of celebration under Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai after the Bolshevik coup. It was then celebrated mostly by the Communist countries until 1975, when the UN inaugurated International Women’s Day.

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

The earliest organized Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.[3] There was no strike on March 8, despite later claims.[5]

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark.[6] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference.[7][8] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women.[9] The following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.[3] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.[7] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune.[7] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.[2] Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.[7]

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8.[5] In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.[5] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.[5][10]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.[11]

In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Petrograd, Russia, on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[5] Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”[5]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists in 1936.[7] After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.[12]

The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.[13]

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. The article then explains

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world”.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks released the news that the organisers of the Women’s Marches in America were planning a Women’s General Strike against Trump. I don’t know if this is actually taking place, but there are a number of articles about it in today’s I newspaper. Including a report that the veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, has called Trump a ‘walking violation of women’s rights’. Which is true, unfortunately.

So I’d like to give my best wishes to all the females readers of this blog on this special day.

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

On Thursday Mike also posted a short piece about another minority that is now under by Donald Trump – transgender people. After trying to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries, Trump has decided to revoke Barack Obama’s legislation about the use of toilets by transgender students. Obama ruled that students should be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than biological sex. This has been too much for Trump and the Republicans. In his article commenting on Trump’s repeal of the ruling, he makes the point that transgender people don’t pose any threat to the people of the US, as far as he could see. But Trump’s discrimination against them does make him a threat to the transgender community.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/23/transgender-students-are-targeted-for-hate-by-trump/

Milo Yiannopolis, one of the Alt-Right Breitbart squadristi, turned up on the Bill Maher Show on American TV. Yiannopolis is a strange, contradictory figure – a half-Jewish, self-hating gay with a Black boyfriend, who is bitterly anti-feminist and also very racist. Yiannopolis tried to claim that the ruling was quite correct, because there was a dangerous of transvestites entering female toilets to abuse women and girls. He claimed that there was a far greater rate of sex offences amongst transgendered people than amongst ordinary, straight individuals.

Where did he get this statistics? Where do you think! He made it up. And while Maher apparently did little but fawn over Yiannopolis, according to some viewers, one of the guests, Larry Wilmore, solidly refuted Yinnopolis comments again and again. See this video below.

For some reason, the Republicans have had a bee in their collective bonnets about transgender people for some time now. In fairness, not all of this concern is fear-mongering based on prejudice. Right-wing critics of the current medical attitudes towards those, who have problems with their gender identity, have pointed to a paper by a doctor, which has questioned whether many of those undergoing gender realignment surgery really want to be women. According to the paper, those undergoing the transition have a higher rate of suicide than those who remain in their biological gender. Now, there have been instances where people, who have made the transition, have regretted it and taken their own lives. There was a case in the British papers a few years ago about a transwoman, who drowned herself in a river. She left a note stating that she now wished she could return to being a man.

Such cases are tragic, and should be a cause of legitimate concern. But I don’t think this is really what’s driving the issue.

This is really all about cultural decline and the politics of masculinity. The Right has a very traditional attitude towards gender roles. I’ve blogged before about the various right-wing politicians in America, like the highly obnoxious Anne Coulter, who don’t even believe women should vote. The idea that gender roles, and gender identity itself, can be fluid and subject to change is bitterly rejected. Hence this attack on the toilet rights of transgender students.

One of those, who has weighed into this debate is the anti-feminist philosopher, Camille Paglia. Paglia had been a feminist, I gather, before she did a complete reversal some time in the 1990s, and decided that feminism was damaging men and having a generally destructive effect on society as a whole. I think she still considers herself some kind of feminist, but, as Mel Smith’s blokeish character on his and Griff Rhys Jones’ spoof of the BBC talk show, After Dark, she seems to be ‘the kind of feminist, who is not a feminist at all’.

There’s a video on YouTube of her arguing in an interview that transgenderism is responsible for the fall of all civilisations, from ancient Rome to the European empires of the 19th century. This can be seen in the way Greek art moved from depicting muscular hunks to a more androgynous style of masculine figure.

I don’t know enough of Greek art to refute this, but I know enough history to say that it’s twaddle. Despite the comments by Roman moralists, like Tacitus, about the decadence of late Roman society, what actually brought the Empire down were a mixture of severe economic, political and military problems that have precious little to do with gender identity. If at all. The late Roman empire was beset by galloping inflation, massively disproportionate taxation falling on the poor as the senatorial elite sought to evade the tax burden, depopulation caused by plague as well as economic decline, and, of course, the barbarian invasions.

In the east, the late Roman and Persian Empires were overrun by the Muslim Arabs basically because they had fought each other to exhaustion, and simply no longer possessed the military power to fight off the invading Arabs. In the case of Egypt and some of the other eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs offered religious tolerance to Christian denominations persecuted by the official Greek church. The politics of gender identity simply weren’t involved.

As for the European empires, these fell, retreated or transformed themselves due to the rise of nationalist movements in their colonies and the decline of the metropolitan centres. Much of this was hastened by the Second World War. Britain and France emerged exhausted from the conflict, and global power passed to America and the Soviet Union. Again, gender politics weren’t involved.

Paglia, however, draws on the literature of late Victorian writers, including the French Decadents, for her views. These did see the decline of gender identity and roles as a sign of cultural and racial decline. The French Decadents, who saw madness and genius as inextricably linked, celebrated androgyny, while at the same time holding very strong misogynist views. They felt that, like ancient Rome, the fall of the new French empire was also inevitable, and were going to enjoy being Decadent as much as possible during it.

Paglia’s fears about the social damage created by the decline in traditional notions of gender and sexuality are also really a symptom of more general fears of American social and imperial decline. Martin Pugh in his book on the rise of British Fascism between the First and Second World Wars, comments on the role played in its rise by the moral panic created by Pemberton Billing about homosexuality. Billing was a right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the British war effort during World War I was being undermined by gays working for the Germans. He claimed to have a black book with the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’. He was sued for libel by at least one of the people he smeared, but the trail collapsed when he accused the judge of being gay.

Pugh also points out that this period also saw the rise in fears about lesbianism for the first time. He states very clearly that the reason why the British government had not legislated against female homosexuality in the 19th century was because they simply didn’t see it as a threat. It was not because that they, or Queen Victoria, depending on the version of the myth you’ve heard, didn’t think it exist, or because Victoria herself didn’t think it was physically possible for two women to have sex. She and they knew it happened, but weren’t bothered about it. It wasn’t considered to be a threat to society like male homosexuality.

This all changed after the First World War. Pugh makes the point that it was widely believed that the War had killed the flower of British manhood – all the really intelligent, brave and capable men. The guys, who were left, were the second raters. As a result, British society was in crisis, a crisis which only aggressively masculine parties like the NSDAP in Germany and the Fascists in Italy could hope to correct.

And something similar has also occurred in America. It’s been argued that the rapid expansion of Communism after the War was a profound shock to America, not just to the self-confidence of capitalism, but also to notions of American masculinity. This can be seen in depictions of Jesus. For a period after WW2 the traditional depictions of Christ with rather soft features disappeared in favour of more ruggedly masculine representations of the Saviour.

America is a very masculine society, and the link between capitalism and masculinity is very strong in the parties and ideologies of the Right, the Republicans and Libertarians. The Left, and its egalitarianism, is seen as anti-masculine and unpatriotic. It is not accident that Richard Spencer in one of his wretched speeches tried to appeal to American women by saying that his movement offered them ‘pregnancy and strong government’. With the involvement of the gun lobby, we are very much back in the realm of Mussolini’s Fascist slogan ‘Fighting is to man what motherhood is to woman.’ The American Right also strongly opposes women entering the workplace, feeling that they should stay at home instead to raise children to counteract White demographic decline.

This is the real ideological background to Trump and the Republicans’ attack on transgender people. The actual number of transgender people, as a percentage of the population, is probably very small. They’re not really a threat to anyone. Instead, this all about the politics of gender as part of the wider issue of racial decay and American imperial decline.

Have I Got News For You and the Bias in BBC News Satire

December 17, 2016

As I said in the previous blog post, I’ve stopped watching Have I Got News For You, because I’m sick of its bias. This is partly because I’m fed up with the show constantly repeating the anti-Corbyn, anti-Labour line of the mainstream newspapers. I also think its because, after having read some of the alternative news outlets and organisations about various issues, like Counterpunch, Lobster and seen Abby Martin and Amy Goodson on RT and Democracy Now, as well as The Young Turks, Secular Talk, the Jimmy Dore Show and Sam Seder’s Majority Report, I’ve become acutely aware of how far the reporting of the corporate media, including the mendacious BBC, is from the real situation in Britain and other nations around the world.

I was particularly struck by it during an edition of Have I Got News For You a month or so ago. One of the guests that week is the new head of the Conservative part in Scotland. I can’t remember her name. I did, however, find her very smug, self-satisfied and sneering, as you’d expect from a Tory official. She was also introduced as being ‘openly gay’, as if it were part of the changes the Tories had made to make themselves more electable to the guid people north of the Border. The Tories have been fielding many openly gay candidates around the country for several years now, ever since Dave Cameron took over the party and very ostentatiously set about his modernisation policy. This was about trying to make the Conservatives look more left-wing than the Labour party, then under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which wasn’t exactly the most difficult task. Part of this involved them trying to break the image of the ‘nasty party’ by endorsing more female and minority candidates. This is presumably calculated to impress that part of the liberal middle class, who are worried about the lack of representation of women, ethnic minorities and gays in parliament, but only if they come from respectable upper and middle class backgrounds like themselves. If they’re working or lower middle class, then they had better know their place along with the rest of the proles, and not threaten the wonderful Thatcherite utopia the Tories and Blairites have created.

At one point, the Tory went off on a rant about how the Ukraine was under threat from Putin, as part of his campaign to annexe the whole country, beginning with the eastern part of the country and the Crimea, before taking over the Sudetenland and invading Poland. The view pushed very much by her was that the Russians are the aggressor, who need to be stopped at all costs from victimising the innocent Ukrainian regime.

It’s a tissue of lies. The Ukrainian regime is hardly innocent. It is stuffed full of Nazis from the Pravy Sektor, individuals and organisations that have adopted the full regalia and rituals of the SS auxiliaries that fought for the Nazis during the Second World War. These Ukrainians Nazis fully participated in the Holocaust and were responsible for some of the most horrific pogroms against Jews in the occupied Soviet territories during the War. These groups have shot at and savagely beaten left-wingers, including trade unionists. Just as the regime is intent on clamping down on independent journalists, who do not follow Kyiv’s ultranationalist line. This has included compiling and publishing a black list online of several hundred offending journalist, who have subsequently received death threats.

It is also a lie that the current regime is the product of spontaneous democratic demonstrations, like that of the Maidan Revolution. It isn’t. It is essentially the creation of a clique of very corrupt oligarchs, backed by quangos from America and the EU. The orange uniforms the protestors wore were handed out to them at a tent run by these semi-official US organisations.

And instead of being the aggressors, it is the Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who are the victims. Simply looking online, you can find reports of these people being beaten and murdered by the Ukrainian army, and of the Ukrainian government sending troops in to prevent them from reaching polling stations. This is to stop them putting in their votes for the opposition. I realise that some of this is going to be Russian propaganda, but not all.

But this is very much not the image presented by the corporate media and the Beeb. Including Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop. Hislop cut into the woman’s spiel. However, instead of challenging her about the real situation in Ukraine, he instead decided to ask her questions about whether or not she had contradicted Boris Johnson.

This is an issue, especially if you like to see the Tories tear themselves apart. But it’s not the most important issue here.

Which is that the British people are being fed lies by their media, and the British, American and EU authorities to whip up hatred of the Russians and strengthen ties with a brutally intolerant and persecutory Nazi regime. There’s obviously a very good reason why the Beeb and the corporate media want to silence any mention of Nazism in Ukraine. Despite the vile antics of National Action, the sight of a real Nazi politico, like those in the Ukrainian rada, in full SS gear, giving the Nazi salute would appal the vast majority of people in this country, regardless of whichever side of the political spectrum they came from. Except, perhaps, the Tory right and parts of UKIP.

And so in the interests of furthering this international, corporatist agenda of incorporating the Ukraine into the web of western-orientated, free-trade governed countries, any reporting and discussion of just how murderous and undemocratic the Ukrainian regime is, is rigorously censored.

And this incident also showed how the Beeb’s political bias works, even in a show which proclaims itself as ‘irreverent’. In an interview a while ago at the Edinburgh television festival, the genuinely irreverent – amongst many other things – Scots comedian Frankie Boyle discussed political bias at the Beeb. Boyle, you will remember, had been a regular guest on Mock The Week, another news comedy show. This was more like What’s My Line, in that the guests were given subjects to joke about by the question master, Dara O’Brien. Boyle disappeared as some of his jokes were too extreme and dark for the Beeb, even if the show was broadcast after nine O’clock. Boyle commented that the Beeb’s idea of remaining impartial is simply to lampoon all of the parties. It does not, however, like criticism or jokes about particular issues. And so Boyle’s humour was too edgy for the Corporation.

He was also critical of Have I Got News For You and the cosy relationship the show has with the politicians it lambasts and lampoons. Boyle had been to Romania. While he was there, he watched a Romanian comedian on television, who was making jokes about the country’s government, members of which were in the audience. The comedian pointed them out, and the politicos and comedian exchanged quips and greetings. Boyle found it all far too cosy and complacent, and said so to his Romanian guide. The man defended the show, saying that Boyle had it in his own country. How so, asked the Scots comedian. ‘I’ve seen it. Have I Got News For You‘, replied his Romanian friend, who stated it was just like that.

And Boyle concurs that it is. He stated that if the show rips into a politico one week, the next week they’ll have him on the panel, laughing and joking with them. He gave the example of Boris Johnson, who was a regular guest on the show. He could have mentioned many others. Such as Cecil Parkinson, who father a love child with his secretary, Sarah Keays, and then did his best to prevent the story getting out and imposing legal restrictions on Keays and her disabled daughter that led to great hardship. I have to say, I don’t know many women, who find Parkinson at all attractive. Far from it. I think most women find him smarmy. And my mother and her friends described him as ‘the type of man you would not like to be caught behind the filing cabinet with’. But Parkinson’s charm certainly worked on Hislop. After he appeared on Have I Got News For You, the editor of Private Eye talked about he charmed all of them on the programme. Perhaps you have to meet him in person to feel it.

I’m very much aware that Frankie Boyle is very much a controversial figure. Some of his jokes are too dark and tasteless for most people. But in this case, he’s absolutely right. The BBC has a very pronounced bias, even on ‘satirical’ shows such as Have I Got News For You, where the presenters and guests very definitely keep away from certain topics, and keep their criticisms within the very narrow compass prescribed by the official media.

Counterpoint on the Washington Post’s Journalist Blacklist and the CIA, Eugenicist Nazis and Ukrainian Fascists

December 12, 2016

Last week the American radical news magazine, Counterpunch, carried a report analysing a piece by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post, falsely accusing about 200 journalists, websites and news organisations of being disseminators of Russian propaganda. This followed Hillary Clinton’s accusations that her defeat by Trump at the presidential elections was due to Russian hacking. There’s no evidence for this, and Clinton’s accusation and the smears in the Washington Post suggest that the blacklist was compiled and published as an attempt by the corporate mainstream media to close down its rivals, and by the Democratic Party as part of Killery’s campaign to blame anyone and everyone except her for her failure, and to force some kind of confrontation with Russia. Craig Timberg, the author of the piece, was a national security editor at the Post, and was unusually deferential to Eric Schmidt, the head of the world’s largest spying organisation. The Washington Post is closely involved with the American deep state. It’s proprietor, Jeff Bezos, is one of the three richest people in America. His main firm, Amazon, is a contractor to the CIA.

Last weekend Counterpunch also published a story tracing the apparent connections between the authors of the blacklist, a shadowy group calling itself PropOrNot – as in ‘Propaganda or Not’, and the CIA, Ukrainian Fascists, including their sympathisers in the Democrat Party, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a far right think tank, which specialised in defending colonialism, advocated eugenics and thought that America could win a nuclear war with the former Soviet Union.

The article’s author was Mark Ames, owned a satirical newspaper in Russia, which was closed down by the Kremlin on charges of ‘extremism’. Which in the modern Russian context means basically criticising or making fun of Tsar Putin. Ames took the hint, and returned to America. So whatever Timberg or PropOrNot may claim, Ames himself is not a supporter of Putin or traitor to his country.

Ames reveals that one of the news sites smeared was Truthdig, one of whose founders is the veteran newspaperman Robert Scheer. In the mid and late ’60s Scheer was an editor and journalist for Ramparts, a news magazine respected for its investigative journalism. Scheer and Ramparts drew the ire of the CIA when they exposed the agency’s funding of the National Student Association. The CIA then began an illegal campaign of spying on Scheer and his magazine, as they were convinced they were Soviet spies. They weren’t, and the CIA’s intense efforts failed to turn up anything on them. This was, however, just the beginning. The programme was expanded into MK-CHAOS, the CIA operation under which hundreds of thousands of Americans were under the agency’s surveillance. The programme lasted until 1974, when it was exposed by Seymour Hersh.

PropOrNot is anonymous, but there are some clues to the identities of the people behind it. One of its contributors on Twitter goes by the monicker “Ukrainian-American”. Even before PropOrNot was known, this user had revealed their ethnic identity in Tweets in Ukrainian, repeating Ukrainian far right slogans. A PropOrNot Tweet of November 17th, 2016, saluted the efforts of Ukrainian hackers in combating the Russians with the phrase “Heroiam Slavam” – ‘Glory to the Heroes’. This salute was adopted by the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists at their congress in Nazi-occupied Cracow in 1941. The OUN was a Fascist organisation, which fought for the Nazis as auxiliary SS regiments during Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. Two months after the adoption of the slogan, the Nazis allowed the OUN to control Lvov for a brief period. This resulted a horrific pogrom in which thousands of Jews were tortured, raped and murdered.

The article then goes on to describe how the present Ukrainian regime, installed in the 2014 Maidan Revolution, has rehabilited the wartime Fascist and Nazi collaborators as national heroes, and the links many members of the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, have with Fascist organisations. Ames writes

Since the 2014 Maidan Revolution brought Ukrainian neo-fascists back into the highest rungs of power, Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators and wartime fascists have been rehabilitated as heroes, with major highways and roads named after them, and public commemorations. The speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Andriy Parubiy, founded Ukraine’s neo-Nazi “Social-National Party of Ukraine” and published a white supremacist manifesto, “View From the Right” featuring the parliament speaker in full neo-Nazi uniform in front of fascist flags with the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol. Ukraine’s powerful Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, sponsors several ultranationalist and neo-Nazi militia groups like the Azov Battalion, and last month he helped appoint another neo-Nazi, Vadym Troyan, as head of Ukraine’s National Police. (Earlier this year, when Troyan was still police chief of the capital Kiev, he was widely accused of having ordered an illegal surveillance operation on investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet just before his assassination by car bomb.)

Ames also argues that the Washington Post’s wretched article is modelled on a similar blacklist compiled by the Ukrainian secret state and associated hackers. The regime has been attempting to silence and intimidate independent and dissenting journos. It has set up a ‘Ministry of Truth’, which sounds straight out of Orwell, as well as a website, Myrotvorets, which means ‘Peacemaker’. This has the backing of the Ukrainian answer to the KGB, the SBU, Avakov, the head of the Interior Ministry, and his Nazi deputy, Anton Geraschenko. The website publishes the names and personal information of 4,500 journalists, including westerners and Ukrainians working for western media companies. Those so doxed for not obeying the government’s demands to publish only articles from the required ultra-nationalist viewpoint have suffered death threat, many of which ended with ‘Ukraini Slavam!’ ‘Glory to Ukraine’, the other Fascist salute adopted by the OUN at its 1941 congress.

One of the lobbyists working for the Democratic National Committee is Alexandra Chalupa, who is the head of the Democratic National Committee’s opposition research on Russia and on Trump, and founder and president of the Ukrainian lobby group “US United With Ukraine Coalition”. In October 2016, Yahoo named her one of the 16 most important people, who shaped this year’s election. It was Chalupa, who blamed Shrillary’s defeat on Russian hackers, and that Trump’s campaign was aided by the Kremlin. This was because Trump had appointed Paul Manafort as his campaign manager, who had ties to Putin. Chalupa worked with Michael Isikoff, a journalist with Yahoo News, to publicise her views on Russian influence on the election campaign. She has also hysterically accused Trump of treason, even requesting the Department of Justice and other official government departments to investigate Trump for this alleged crime.

Ames is very careful, however, to state that he is not arguing that Chalupa is one of those behind PropOrNot. Rather, he is using her to show how PropOrNot is part of a wider, venomously anti-Russian movement within the Democrat party. He states that in his opinion, it is a classic case of blowback. After the Second World War, the US supported Ukrainian Fascists, despite their collaboration with the Holocaust and the massacre of the country’s ethnic Polish population, because they were seen as useful agents and allies against the Russians. Now that policy is beginning to blow back into domestic American politics.

Timberg’s other source for his blacklist was the Foreign Policy Research Institute, citing its ‘fellow’, Clint Watts, and a report Watts wrote on how Russia was trying to destroy America’s democracy. The Institute was founded on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania by Robert Strausz-Hupe, who had fled Austria in the 1920s. It was funded by the Vick’s chemical company, which sponsored a large number of initiatives devoted to rolling back the New Deal. It was also clandestinely funded by the CIA. Strausz-Hupe’s collaborator was another Austrian émigré, Stefan Possony. Possony had been a member of the Fascist governments of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg, but fled in 1938 after the Nazi annexation. Possony was the co-author of nearly all of the institute’s publications until he moved to the Hoover Institute at Stanford in 1961. He also continued publishing in the FPRI’s Orbis magazine, and was one of the contributors to Mankind Quarterly. This was one of the leading proponents of pseudoscientific racism and eugenics. Possony also wrote books advocating the same vile policy with another White supremacist, Nathaniel Weyl.

Possony claimed that Black Africans, along with the peoples of the Middle East, Latin America and Southeast Asia, were mentally inferior to Whites. He stated that giving them independence was high dangerous. Instead, they benefited from White rule, which was gradually improving them. Whites dedicated to overthrowing colonialism were derided as ‘fashionable dupes’ who would be responsible for a ‘White genocide’. Possony defended William Shockley’s theories on racial eugenics, which argued that spending money on welfare was wasteful, because non-White races were too inferior to improve their conditions. Possony also supported Reagan’s Star Wars programme, as he believed it gave America first strike capability, and thus would allow it to win a nuclear war with Russia.

Strausz-Hupe believed that America was losing the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, and demanded a series of reforms to strengthen the American propaganda machine and close the gap between Soviet and American propaganda. And when Kubrick’s Cold War black comedy, Doctor Strangelove, came out, he accused the great cineaste of either being a conscious Soviet propaganda agent, or a willing dupe.

Ames’ article concludes

Today, the Foreign Policy Research Institute proudly honors its founder Strausz-Hupe, and honors his legacy with blacklists of allegedly treasonous journalists and allegedly all-powerful Russian propaganda threatening our freedoms.

This is the world the Washington Post is bringing back to its front pages. And the timing is incredible—as if Bezos’ rag has taken upon itself to soften up the American media before Trump moves in for the kill. And it’s all being done in the name of fighting “fake news” …and fascism.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/09/the-anonymous-blacklist-promoted-by-the-washington-post-has-apparent-ties-to-ukrainian-fascism-and-cia-spying/

These are very disturbing and dangerous times for western democracy. Not only is it under threat from Trump and the Nazis and White Supremacists in his supporters, but it’s also under attack from the corporatist Democrats, the Clintonite wing, desperate to expand American military and industrial power throughout the world, and using Cold War-era McCarthyite rantings and persecution to stifle dissent at home. If we are to enjoy peace and genuine democracy, it means effectively combatting both of these threats.

Donald Trump Attacks Media Hosts and Company Directors in Meeting

November 23, 2016

This more evidence of the authoritarian, Fascistic nature of Trump’s planned regime. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski talks about how Donald Trump called a private meeting yesterday, attended by 30 to 40 media executives and TV hosts, in which he attacked them, giving them a dressing down. Amongst other criticisms and remarks, he told the head of CNN that he hated his network. Kulinski states that he also believes that the media deserved this lambasting, as they have done a horrible job of reporting the news. However, this is extremely dangerous, as he is treating the media as if he owned it. The system instead is intended to be structured so that the media can hold the government to account. Trump clearly intends to stop this, and Kulinski predicts that the media will buckle. All the supposedly ‘principled’ Republicans, who swore they’d never support Trump, will fall into line, as will the Democrats, once Trump starts tweeting angrily at 3.00 A.M. in the morning, and Democratic senators start finding themselves flooded with calls from angry Trump supporters. Kulinski states that he’s not necessarily opposed to that tactic, as he’d play rough if he was present to get his legislation through. But this is dangerous as it will affect how the media report the news. They will, he predicts, soft-pedal on criticising Trump, even if it is only subconsciously.

Kulinski is absolutely right to compare this meeting with the treatment of the press in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, like Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or the former Soviet Union. But it’s also becoming increasingly common in western democracies. Berlusconi and Sarkozy, the premiers of Italy and France, both exercised highly authoritarian control over the state media, sacking executives, news anchors and performers who dared to criticise them. A similar control has been attempted in Britain through successive governments interfering in the running of the BBC, for instance, and threatening either to privatise it or cut the licence fee in order to gain its general compliance. And then there’s the way Maggie Thatcher bullied the media. Thames Television lost its broadcasting licence because of the documentary, Death on the Rock, which showed the shooting of an IRA terror squad was a planned assassination. The terrorists had been tracked all the way through Spain into Gibraltar, and could have been picked up at any time without bloodshed. The documentary outraged Thatcher so much that she effectively destroyed the company, which was replaced by Carlton. She also had the Beeb pull an edition of Panorama, entitled ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, which argued that the Tories had been infiltrated by members of the Fascist Right.

Despite his protestations to the country, Trump is very much a Fascist with a very thin skin and a desire to control and suppress contrary viewpoints. This has to be fought. As Kulinski points out, a free press and media is one of the cornerstones of democracy. But if Trump successfully bullies the establishment media, more people will turn to alternative sources of information, like the various alternative news shows on YouTube, such as Kulinski’s own Secular Talk, The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, the Jimmy Dore Show and so on. Mind you, YouTube have also threatened to demonetarise those shows, which they consider too radical.

This might throw America back into the same conditions as the former Soviet Union, where dissenting opinion was ruthlessly suppressed. In which case, the only recourse will be to copy the Russians there as well and start setting up the samizdat underground presses to bypass official censorship. I don’t think the situation will ever become that bad, at least, not in the foreseeable future. But it is a danger, and the threat of some state political interference in the allegedly free media is very real.

Counterpunch: A No-Fly Zone Will Not Save Lives in Syria

November 9, 2016

Counterpunch on Monday published an article by Luciana Bohne that made it very plain that not only was Hillary Clinton risking nuclear war with Russia by pressing for a no-fly zone in Syria, she was also lying when she claimed that it would save lives. She wrote

In her last presidential debate, Clinton said that she wants a no-fly zone in Syria because it will “save lives”:

“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria, not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians.”

The “leverage” she is seeking is Russian roulette with the planet. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, noted in response that a no-fly zone in Syria might trigger a war with Russia, a nuclear power. Neither does she believe that a no-fly zone will save lives. In a closed-door speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013, Clinton said:

“To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk—you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

She knows what is at stake with a no-fly zone in Syria, and yet she tells us the opposite of what she knows will happen. In other words, she’s lying.

She also makes the point that no-fly zones are illegal under international law, are not recognised by the UN, and that the Russians are in Syria perfectly legally, as they have been invited in by the internationally recognised, legitimate government of Assad.

A no-fly zone is a coercive appropriation of the partial airspace of a sovereign country. It is the arbitrary creation of a demilitarized zone in the sky to prevent belligerent powers from flying in that air space. In Syria, the “belligerent power,” ironically, would be the internationally recognized legitimate Syrian government and its legitimate ally, Russia.

According to former UN Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in an interview with John Pilger, a no-fly zone is illegal under international law. No-fly zones are post-Soviet inventions. The measure was never proposed, used, or authorized to this day by the UN Security Council until the Soviet Union virtually dissolved. This restraint was exercised by the US for the excellent reason that no such aggression on a sovereign state would have been tolerated without massive fuss at the UN Security Council and a bad rap for the US. There have been only three instances of a no-fly zone so far, all in the wake of the disappearance of the USSR: Iraq (1991-2003), Bosnia (1993-95), and Libya (2011), all initiated on the hypocritical pretense of “saving lives.”

She points out that the Queen of Chaos started pressing for a no-fly zone because the anti-Assad opposition America, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been funding and supplying, which includes as well as the Free Syrian army, Daesh and al-Nusra – the latter the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda – have been hard hit by the Russians. The American led coalition would like to overthrow Assad, but realises that they cannot unless the Russians are somehow prevented from aiding their ally. And so Hillary’s false claim that a no-fly zone would save lives. Failing that, Obama also had a plan B. This was to provide ground to air missiles to the Free Syrian army and the ‘moderate’ opposition, even if the so-called moderates were allied with the Islamists.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/07/the-lethal-lie-of-hillary-clinton-saving-lives-with-a-no-fly-zone-in-syria/

I mention this because on Saturday, Mike posted a piece commenting on an article by Iain Duncan Smith, which called for Britain and the West to arm the people of Aleppo so that they could shoot down the Russian warplanes.

Mike makes the same points Bohne does in her article. He states that Aleppo is being pummeled because it does contain real terrorists. Assad and the Putin are not attacking it for no reason. Furthermore, if British arms were used to shoot down a Russian plane, this would result in the escalation of further Russian attacks in Syria, as well as demands by Russia for restitution from Britain. And, he asks rhetorically, who knows what form that would take?

As the title of Mike’s article makes clear, Iain Duncan Smith is demanding we help the Syrian opposition shoot down Russian aircraft because Smudger is a ‘bloody fool’.

And in answer to Mike’s other rhetorical question, whether IDS wants us to fund terrorists – the answer is ‘yes’. Yes, America is already funding Islamist terror groups in Syria in order to oust Assad, and yes, IDS wants to give the weapons if he really believes in this stupid, murderous policy. I assume that Smitty already knows that the US and our ally, Saudi Arabia, are funding the Islamists if he has seriously studied the situation in the region. Of course, this might be demanding too much of a moral and intellectual vacuity like Smith. He showed absolutely no sense of any kind of critical intelligence when he led the Tory party and even less when he was head of the DWP. He doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions or policies, just blindly follows them no matter how many thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands may be harmed. Rather than change these policies, his strategy is to start denying his critics access to information on them, and lie through his teeth.

So I thoroughly agree with Mike’s conclusion:

There was blood on his hands at the DWP and now he is trying to get them dirty on the international stage.

He deserves poetic justice – the swift and final kind.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/05/iain-duncan-smith-wants-to-attack-russia-because-he-is-a-bloody-fool/

And let’s also bring IDS military career into the debate. For all that he claims to have been an officer in the Scots Guards, it seems very strongly to me that IDS is a chickenhawk. He was a soldier in the British army, but he was never a captain as he claims and I think Mike’s right when he says that the closest IDS has come to being bombed personally is when a bird dropped a message of its own on him. Photo in Mike’s article, above. IDS is a coward as well as a bully. How else would you describe a man, who turned up at parliamentary committee surrounded by bodyguards and armed coppers, just in case the disabled people and their carers in the gallery turned violent. Or runs and hides from protesters in hotel laundry baskets. He’s a foul individual, who has absolutely no right or business demanding that other people risk their lives for him and his political and corporate masters and colleagues.

William Blum on American Preparations for Nuclear War with Russia

November 9, 2016

William Blum in his Anti-Empire Report 146, posted a few days ago, has put up various thoughts on American foreign policy. Blum’s a veteran critic of American imperialism, and his observations on it in the latest Report cover a wide range of issues including Cuba, the bogus rationale for the Iraq invasion, Syria, China, Iran, the different countries America has attacked and whose governments it has tried to overthrow, the perilous position of Christians in the Middle East, thanks to America foreign policy, and democratisation as the pretext for invading and looting foreign nations. Along with his own comments, Blum also provides a series of very telling, pertinent quotes.

One of the issues Blum discusses is America’s confrontational stance towards Russia, and the very real danger that this will lead to a nuclear conflict between the two. This is shown in the following quotes.

“I don’t believe anyone will consciously launch World War III. The situation now is more like the eve of World War I, when great powers were armed and ready to go when an incident set things off. Ever since Gorbachev naively ended the Cold War, the hugely over-armed United States has been actively surrounding Russia with weapons systems, aggressive military exercises, NATO expansion. At the same time, in recent years the demonization of Vladimir Putin has reached war propaganda levels. Russians have every reason to believe that the United States is preparing for war against them, and are certain to take defensive measures. This mixture of excessive military preparations and propaganda against an “evil enemy” make it very easy for some trivial incident to blow it all up.” – Diana Johnstone, author of “Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton”

“War with Russia will be nuclear. Washington has prepared for it. Washington has abandoned the ABM treaty, created what it thinks is an ABM shield, and changed its war doctrine to permit US nuclear first strike. All of this is obviously directed at Russia, and the Russian government knows it. How long will Russia sit there waiting for Washington’s first strike?” – Paul Craig Roberts, 2014

On supposed Russian plans to invade Ukraine and seize Crimea, Blum makes the following observations

Crimea had never voluntarily left Russia. The USSR’s leader Nikita Khrushchev, a native of the region, had donated Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. Crimeans were always strongly opposed to that change and voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia after the US-induced Ukrainian coup in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin refers to the Ukrainian army as “NATO’s foreign legion”, which does not pursue Ukraine’s national interests. The United States, however, insists on labeling the Russian action in Crimea as an invasion.

Putin re Crimea/Ukraine: “Our western partners created the ‘Kosovo precedent’ with their own hands. In a situation absolutely the same as the one in Crimea they recognized Kosovo’s secession from Serbia legitimate while arguing that no permission from a country’s central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence is necessary… And the UN International Court of Justice agreed with those arguments. That’s what they said; that’s what they trumpeted all over the world and coerced everyone to accept – and now they are complaining about Crimea. Why is that?”

Paul Craig Roberts: “The absurdity of it all! Even a moron knows that if Russia is going to put tanks and troops into Ukraine, Russia will put in enough to do the job. The war would be over in a few days if not in a few hours. As Putin himself said some months ago, if the Russian military enters Ukraine, the news will not be the fate of Donetsk or Mauriupol, but the fall of Kiev and Lviv.”

Blum also states that the plans for regime change in Syria involve damaging Russian interests in the Middle East and its natural gas combine in favour of the Qatari gas pipeline:

A successful American regime change operation in Syria would cut across definite interests of the Russian state. These include the likely use of Syria as a new pipeline route to bring gas from Qatar to the European market, thereby undercutting Gazprom, Russia’s largest corporation and biggest exporter. Assad’s refusal to consider such a route played no small role in Qatar’s pouring billions of dollars in arms and funds into the Syrian civil war on behalf of anti-Assad forces.

He also quote Dick Cheney to show that absolutely all of this is based on American plans for world domination. Not humanitarianism, not democracy, but the simple goal of extending American power across the globe until it dominates the world completely.

“The Plan is for the United States to rule the world. The overt theme is unilateralism, but it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.” Vice-President Dick Cheney – West Point lecture, June 2002

Oh yes, and in many regards Obama is no better. In 2014 he told the UN that Russia was one of the three greatest threats to the world. The others were ISIS and the Ebola virus.

For more, go to https://williamblum.org/aer/read/146.

It’s clear from this that America’s leader are colossal warmongers, who are threatening to tip us all into nuclear Armageddon just purely from their own selfish nationalism and drive for power.

West World and the Original Robots of R.U.R.

October 23, 2016

A few weeks ago H.B.O. launched the latest SF blockbuster show, West World. It’s a TV series based on the 1970s film of the same name, written by Michael Crichton. Like Crichton’s Jurassic Park nearly twenty years or so later, West World is about a fantasy amusement, presided over by a sinister inventor played by Anthony Hopkins, the man who scared audiences witless as the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs and its sequel, Hannibal. While Jurassic Park was about scientific attempts to recreate the dinosaurs for popular amusement, in West World the amusement park was a resort which attempted to recreate past eras for fun. This included the Middle Ages, and a section devoted to the old West. Like Jurassic Park, things go disastrously wrong. A computer malfunction makes the robots break the inbuilt restrictions on their behaviour, so that they gain autonomy and independence. In the medieval part of the resort, a man, who is used to getting his way with the female androids has his advances rebuffed with the curt answer, ‘Methinks Sir forgets himself’. But the real action of the story is the attempts by the movie’s hero over in the West World part of the resort to overcome the black-garbed, robot gunfighter, played by Yul Brynner. Like Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, the gunslinger is an implacable, unstoppable killing machine, and the hero has to destroy it before it kills him, just like it gunned down his friend.

The TV series has adapted and altered the story. The gunman is now human, rather than robotic, and the focus seems to have shifted more to the robots than the humans. They are the victims of the humans enjoying the resort, who come to act out terrible fantasies of rape and killing that they would never dare consider doing in the real world to other human beings. The robot hosts they use – and abuse – are repaired and have their memories wiped ready for the next set of visitors to do the same, all over again. But attempts to give the machines consciousness have had an effect. The machines are beginning to remember. The press releases to the series state that its premise is not about machines developing consciousness and intelligence, but what they will make of us when they do.

The artificial humans in West World are less robots in the sense of mechanical people, than artificial humans. The titles show artificial tendons and muscles being placed on synthetic skeletons by robotic arms in a more developed version of 3D printing.

This conception of artificial humans shows the influence of Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film changed Dick’s androids to ‘replicants’, artificial men and women created through sophisticated genetic engineering for use as slave soldiers and sex workers. Produced by the Tyrell Corporation under the slogan ‘More Human Than Human’, these genetic constructs have a desire for freedom and longevity. In order to stop them overthrowing humanity, they only have a lifespan of six years or so. They are also becoming increasingly sophisticated psychologically and emotionally. In the book and film, they can only be distinguished from natural people through the Voight-Comp Test. This is a complex psychological test in which the subjects have to answer a series of questions. Part of this is to measure their capacity for empathy. Replicants generally are unable to sympathise or understand others’ suffering. The test asks those undergoing its questions to imagine their in a desert. They see a tortoise lying on its back, dying in the hot sun. The animal is clearly in pain and dying, but they don’t help it. Why not? At the end of the movie, Deckard, the film’s hero, a Blade Runner – the special policemen charged with catching and ‘retiring’ replicants that have made it down to Earth, is in serious danger. In his battle with Roy Batty, the replicants’ leader and now their only survivor after he has tracked them all down, Deckard has failed to make a jump across two of the buried skyscrapers underneath the sprawling future LA. He is hanging from a girder, about to fall to his death. Until Batty, before his own programmed obsolescence kills him, pulls him to safety. Batty has developed genuine sympathy for another stricken creature. He has triumphantly passed the Voight-Comp test, and shown more humanity than the humans who made him and who enslave his kind.

It’s a very old theme, which goes all the way back to one of the very first Science Fiction plays, if not the very first SF play, to deal with a robot revolt, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots. Written by the Czech playwright Karel Capek, this was the play that introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. The word comes from the Czech for ‘serf’ or ‘slave’. It’s set in a company producing these artificial people, which are used for everything from factory workers to domestic servants. They have also been stripped of complex emotional responses to make them suitable servants. But as with the synthetic hosts of West World, this is breaking down. Instead of simply performing their tasks, the robots are increasingly stopping and refusing to work. They simply stand there, grinding their teeth. Eventually their growing dissatisfaction turns from simple recalcitrance to outright revolt. The machines rebel, exterminating humanity and leaving the company’s accountant, Alquist, as the only survivor.

Like Blade Runner’s replicants and the synthetic hosts of West World, Capek’s robots were not machine so much as creatures produced through a kind of artificial biology. In the first act, the company’s general manager, Domain, explains the origins of the robots in the biological researches of the biologist, Rossum, to Helena Glory, the daughter of an Oxbridge prof.

‘It was in the year 1922’, informs Domain, ‘that old Rossum the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist, betook himself to this distant island for the purpose of studying the ocean fauna, full stop. On this occasion he attempted by chemical synthesis to imitate the living matter known as protoplasm, until he suddenly discovered a substance which behaved exactly like living matter, although its chemical composition was different; that was in the year 1932, exactly four hundred years after the discovery of America, whew!’ (The Brothers Capek, R.U.R. and The Insect Play(Oxford: OUP 1961) p. 5). Later Domain tells Helena a little about the industrial processes in which the robots are manufactured:

Domain: … Midday. The Robots don’t know when to stop work. In two hours I’ll show you the kneading-trough.

Helena: What kneading-trough?

Domain. [Dryly] The pestles and mortar as it were for beating up the paste. In each one we mix the ingredients for a thousand Robots at one operation. Then there are the vats for the preparation of liver, brains, and so on. They you’ll see the bone factory. After that I’ll show you the spinning-mill.

Helena: What spinning-mill?

Domain: For weaving nerves and veins. Miles and miles of digestive tubes pass through it at a stretch. Then there’s the fitting shed, where all the parts are put together, like motor-cars. Next comes the drying-kiln and the warehouse in which the new products work. (p. 15).

Like Blade Runner, the robots of R.U.R. end by becoming human emotionally. Just as the replicants in Blade Runner have a severely limited lifetime, so Capek’s Robots, as beings created purely for work, are sterile. After their victory, they approach Alquist requesting that more of them be created as their numbers of falling. Despite their entreaties, Alquist can’t. He is not a scientist, and the last of the company’s management destroyed the manuscript describing how they were made before they themselves were killed. Radius, the leader of the robots, requests Alquist to find out by dissecting living robots. When Primus, one of the male robots, and Helena, a female robot, each defend the other, refusing to let Alquist take them for experimentation, the old accountant realises that the mystery of their reproduction has been solved. The play ends with him reciting the text of Genesis describing God’s creation of Man. The last lines are him reciting the Nunc Dimissit : ‘Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy will, for mine eye have seen Thy salvation.’

This last marks the major difference between R.U.R. and modern treatments of the rise of robots and their possible replacement of humanity: R.U.R. is explicitly Christian in its underlying tone. It’s stated very clearly that Rossum was a militant atheist, who wanted to play God in order to show that God is unnecessary for the emergence of life. The ending, however, is ambiguous. Rossum was an anti-theist, but his artificial creations, which are based on a chemistry not found in nature, clearly work, and in turn become genuine, self-perpetuating, authentic men and women with intelligence, emotions and morality.

Some critics have said that R.U.R. really isn’t SF so much as a technological parable about the threat of Communism. It was written in 1920, a few years after the Russian Revolution and similar outbreaks of working class militancy across Europe, including Germany, Austria and Hungary. But other works, that are undoubtedly considered Science Fiction, are also veiled comments on events and issues of the time. Much of the SF of the former Soviet Union, like that of the Strugatsky brothers, who wrote the classic Stalker, was written in the ‘Aesopian Mode’. They were intended as parables to say in veiled form truths and comments that could not be overtly made under Soviet censorship.

And the conception of robots as a form of genuine artificial life does seem to be based on some of the scientific speculation of the time. Russian scientists, such as Oparin, were acutely interested in the emergence of life on the prehistoric Earth, and devised several experiments to suggest how the chemicals necessary for life may have been formed. And the Communists, as militant atheists, were keen supporters of Darwinian evolution, though I think they viewed it as proceeding through a form of dialectal materialism, and so bearing that theory out, rather than some of the more sophisticated, non-Marxist conceptions that have occurred later. Russian Cosmists, like the Transhumanists today, wished to develop scientific methods of resurrecting the dead and then colonising space as a suitable habitat for the new, perfected humanity.

Furthermore, some experiments and speculation in robotics has moved away from simple, mechanical processes. Human muscles operate biochemically. Messages from nerves changes the shape of the molecules composing muscles, which in turn makes those same muscles contract or expand, moving the organism’s limbs. Some scientists have therefore worked on trying to mimic this process of movement using artificial substances, rather than existing electrical or petrol-driven motors. This brings the construction of robots very close the type of 3D printing shown in West World’s titles.

My own feeling is that it will be a very long time, if ever, before humanity produces anything like the sentient robots of SF. As I mentioned in my previous article, one of the scientists interviewed by the science magazine, Frontiers, in 1998 stated that he didn’t think we’d see genuinely conscious, intelligent robots in his lifetime. Anthony Hopkins in an interview in this week’s Radio Times makes the same point, stating that we haven’t created anything as simply as a single cell. This does not mean that humanity won’t, or detract from stories about robots as entertainment, or as the means by which philosophical issues about creation, the nature of life and humanity, consciousness and intelligence, can be explored. West World in this sense is part of a trend in recent screen SF attempting to explore these issues intelligently, such as Automata and The Machine. These new treatments are far more secular, but as philosophical treatments of the underlying issues, rather than simple stories about warfare between humanity and its creations, like the Terminator, they also follow in a long line that goes all the way back to Capek.