Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Kubrick’

Zionist Fearmongering and Israel’s Demographic Crisis

April 27, 2017

Tuesday evening I got the news from Mike, of Vox Political, that he’d been libelled as an anti-Semite by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, who wish to have him deselected as his local Labour candidate in the Powys council elections. As I blogged yesterday, Mike is actually one of the least prejudiced people I know. As his record shows, he is not remotely anti-Semitic, or prejudiced against anyone else based on their skin colour, religion or sexual preference. When he was at College, he was asked by one of his Jewish friends to be a reader in her commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. Mike was one of those reading out some of the names of the millions butchered by the Nazis. He was very proud of the fact that the girl was deeply moved by his performance.

Mike’s real crime is to oppose the attempts of the Israel lobby and the Blairites within the Labour party to silence Israel’s critics by smearing them as anti-Semites. It’s standard practise for the Zionist lobby in general. Decent people, who stand together with the Palestinians against their brutalisation, massacre and expulsion, are libelled as racists. The victims includes not only anti-racist gentiles, but also proud Jews, from the secular to the Torah-observant. Indeed, many of the Jewish victims of these smears believe that the Zionist lobby especially singles out Jews for particular vilification. Those so maligned by the Zionists also include Israelis, like Dr Ilan Pappe, who was forced out of his homeland because of his determination to present and publish the truth about Israel’s crimes against humanity. But Dr Pappe is no self-hating Jew, and has defended his people, the Israelis. In one video I put up a few months ago, he spoke about how Israelis were decent people, who just need the facts of their country’s terrorisation of the country’s indigenous people explained to them. Before he was forced out, he was very proud at opening his home, every Thursday evening, to his fellow Israelis so he could do just that. He states that these evenings were very well attended by decent, but confused Israelis, seeking the truth.

While I am certainly not complacent about the threat of anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the West, I am very sceptical of some of the grosser claims about it made by apologists for the Israeli regime. These are a gross distortion of what is really happening and are made, not to protect British or European Jews, but to provide further colonists for Israel.

Over the past decade and a half, various individuals have come forward claiming that the situation facing Jews in Europe today is exactly like that which faced their parents and grandparents in the 1930s. This often reaches extremely grotesque and hysterical anticipations of a renewed Holocaust in the very near future. Round about 2004 the Conservative magazine the Spectator, published a review of an American book set in France in the next decade or the 2030s. The remnants of the Socialist parties in the European parliament had joined forces with the burgeoning Islamic parties to begin the process of exterminating the Jews. This farrago was given a glowing review, if memory serves me correctly, by Frederick Raphael, then back in the media eye after his work on the script for Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut. This was part of a standard narrative being sold to the European and American public by the Zionist right after 9/11. There were various books published in America, which claimed that the response of the Left after 9/11 and their attempts to defend innocent Muslims against victimisation, showed that liberals in America and Socialists in Europe where inherently anti-Semitic.

Many of those making these libels offered a simple solution for European Jews: they should emigrate to Israel. This was made by a rabbi in the south of France following attacks on Jews in his country a few years ago. One of the top level bureaucrats at the BBC, Danny Cohen, resigned and emigrated to Israel a few years ago, making the same claims.

As a Brit and a European, I don’t recognise these portrayals of my continent and my country, although I do realise that there is a terrible culture of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe. These claims aren’t made to combat genuine anti-Semitism. They’re made to encourage Jews to move to Israel, because of the profound demographic crisis the country is facing. That crisis is explained in the chapter on modern Israel in the history textbook, The Modern Middle East, edited by Albert Hourani.

In the 1990s there was a poll of Jewish young people, which asked them where they would rather live. Would they rather live in America, where their neighbours were Christians, who loved them, or Israel, where their neighbours were Muslims, who hated them? I’ve forgotten the exact figure, but about 75 per cent of the youngsters, who responded said ‘America’.

The country’s leaders are also faced with a demographic crisis caused by Arab immigration, lower Israeli fertility and pressure from the Likud party’s coalition partners, who want to colonise the West Bank. Jewish Israelis are less fertile, in the strict demographic sense of having fewer children, than Arabs. As a result, many Israelis fear that they will be outbred by the Arabs, thus undermining Israel’s character as the Jewish state. Moreover, diaspora Jews are becoming increasingly assimilated into the general population. On May 21, 1986, The New York Times carried this snippet under the headline ‘Concern in Israel over Immigration’.

… Prof. Robert Bacchi, head of the Hebrew University statistics department, told the Cabinet that today’s 9.5 million Jews living outside of Israel would shrink to about 8 million by the year 2000 if current demographic trends in assimilation, intermarriage and low birth rates continues.

Prime Minister Shimon Pere said the answer is that every Jewish family in Israel should have four children. On Sunday the Cabinet approved in principle the allocation of as much as $20 million to help 6,000 infertile Israeli couples have children.

Quoted in Adam Parfrey, ‘Eugenics: The Orphaned Science’, in Adam Parfrey, ed. Apocalypse Culture, expanded and revised edition (Feral House 1990) 227-8.

The Israeli state relies on Arab labour in many sectors of the economy, to perform menial or other low-waged work that Jewish Israelis do not with to perform, like fruit picking. In some areas, such as the Negev, the Jewish population is extremely thinly spread. But Likud’s coalition partners are keen to expand Jewish colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian territories on the West Bank, as part of their programme to create a greater Eretz Israel matching the boundaries of ancient Israel. However, to do so with Israel’s present population would mean withdrawing Jews from areas like the Negev to colonise these areas. As a result, they would become wholly, or almost wholly, Arab.

It seems very clear to me that Likud and their ethno-nationalist partners are trying to solve this problem by encouraging Jewish emigration by the diaspora in which fearmongering and anti-Semitic slurs are a major instrument. Israel’s critics are vilified and the all-too real threat of rising anti-Semitism grotesquely exaggerated and misrepresented, in order to make European and British fear and distrust their gentile compatriots, in the hope that they will move to Israel to bolster that country’s declining share of the population.

It’s a vile policy, that goes back to the 1930s. A little while ago I posted a piece about how some of the Zionist leaders made it quite clear that they were happy for the Nazis to butcher Jewish Europeans, if that encourage the survivors to move to Israel. They really hated those patriotic Jewish organisations, like the League of Jewish Servicemen, the Bund Judischer Frontsoldaten, in Germany, who fought for Jews to continue to live in peace in their historic European homelands.

Fears of a similar holocaust are being played up by the Zionists for exactly the same reasons today. It’s a vile, racist policy designed to make European Jews feel insecure and suspicious of wider, gentile society, in order to provide more colonists for what is a European settler state. Right up to the point of smearing and vilifying Jews and Israelis, who object to this policy, as anti-Semites themselves.

Hence the lies and smears, of which Mike, Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and so many, many others, have been victims. We need to stand together, Jews and gentiles alike, against these lies and attempts to divide us. Just as we need to stand together against the genuine anti-Semites now crawling out of the woodwork, the Islamophobes, and those who would stir up hatred against Blacks, Asians, gays or whoever.

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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.

Motherboard Report on the Japanese Robot Hotel

November 25, 2015

This is another interesting video I found over on Youtube. It’s a piece by the science news programme, Motherboard, on the Henn-na – Japanese for ‘weird’ Hotel in Tokyo that’s staffed by robots. The presenter states that Japan has legions of industrial robots, and Japanese trends were believed to show what the future would be like. In the case of the hotel industry, a few decades ago this was believed to be the capsule hotels, where tired Sararimen hired what was basically a stacked space about the size of a coffin to sleep in. The presenter tries one of these out, and talks to a traditional Japanese hotelier about how he feels about the rise of hotels where everything is done by robots.

The human hotelier states that he believes that people actually want the human touch, and personal contact with other human beings. So to compete, he believes that ordinary hotels will have to concentrate on being more human, rather than like those run by the machines. The journalist then goes on to sample what a night in one of these robot hotels is like. He states that the Japanese are turning to robots in order to cut down on high labour costs.

Inside the hotel, he is greeted with the hotel reception, which consists of two robots on a desk. One is in the guise of a woman, the other is a dinosaur in a hat. To check in, he has to use a touch-screen, which he describes as like those used at checkouts. Any valuables you have is placed in a locker behind glass by a robot arm, which the journalists says could come from a state of the art factory. Your luggage is taken to your room by another robot, though this is a robot trolley, not any kind of humanoid machine. In the bedroom on the bedside drawers is another, rather diminutive robot, which responds to your voice, greets you, and asks if you want the lights on or off.

Back down stairs, there are no catering staff. All the meals come from vending machines. There is a small human staff of about three guys. When interviewed, they also talk about how these hotels are driven by the need to cut labour costs. The journalist also interviews the managers, who states that he believes these hotels will become more popular and appear around the world. He and his staff also believe that to compete, hotels staffed by humans will also have to offer a more uniquely human experience.

The presenter himself and some of the guests he interviews are, however, in the end less than enthusiastic about the experience. He states that while its exciting to begin with, it’s actually rather lonely. The group of young women he interviews actually state that it’s really rather boring.

Here’s the video:

Now the presenter makes the point that as machines take more of our jobs, businesses like these raise the question of what can be uniquely done by humans. I’d argue that hotel catering and accommodation may not be an industry that can only be done by humans, but at the moment its an industry that can only be done well by humans.

If you look at the type of robots that have been popular in SF, they’re fictional machines that have had real characters and personalities. Think of Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet, C-3PO and R2D2 in the Star Wars films and K-9 in Dr Who. The same with the sentient computers, like Zen, Orac and Slave in Blake’s 7, or the Hal 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Or even Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These machines became favourite SF characters because they were precisely that: characters. They were essentially artificial people, with human-like intelligence, personality traits and even flaws. Robbie the Robot had all the polite aloofness of a human butler. C-3PO was fussy and rather camp, but a foil for R2D2, who was cheeky and slightly wilful, in the manner of a child determined to have its own way. Orac in Blake’s 7 was arrogant and pedantic, like a rather tetchy university professor. Slave was grovelling and subservient. K-9 was a perky companion, eager to help his master, but also with his own mind and opinions. The Hal-9000 computer was proud of its model’s computing power, accuracy and reliability, stated it enjoyed human companion, even though it went on to kill the crew on the grounds that human unreliability made them a threat to the success of the mission. Finally, it felt fear, when Dave Bowman, the hero of that segment of the film, closed it down. Zen was the most impersonal of all the machines. Except for its dying moment in the last episode of the third series, ‘Terminal’, it did not refer to itself. It was basically a hemisphere in a corner of the Liberator’s flight deck, across which flowed patterns of lights. Yet these lights and the slight inflections in its voice gave the impression of a distinct personality, and again, real human-like intelligence. Peter Tuddenham, the voice actor for Orac and Zen, in an interview with Blake’s 7 magazine in the 1980s, stated that of the two, Zen was his favourite. Orac, he felt, had merely taken on the personality of its creator, Ensor, who was also tetchy, pedantic and professorial. Zen’s personality was a more natural growth of the machine’s basic nature. It could have become human-like, but had deliberately held back and remained as it was.

And back in the 1970s and ’80s, 2000 AD also gave their own very comic version of what form robot accommodation for humans would take in the Robohunter strip. This followed the adventures of Sam Slade, that’s ‘S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’, as he attempted to combat robot crime. In the first story, Slade found himself despatched to the distant planet, Verdus. This had been occupied by robots in preparation for human colonisation. The robots, however, had refused to recognise the colonists as humans on the grounds that humans would obviously be superior to them in the every way. When the human colonists turned up, the robots found that they were instead weaker, and less intelligent. They concluded that they must somehow be ‘sims’, simulated humans, sent to deceive them for some purpose they didn’t understand. As a result, humans were rounded up into concentration camps to be experimented on and culled. Slade managed to break out, find the original robot sent to colonise the planet, who duly recognised and testified that he was indeed human. This convinced some of the robots that the Sims were humans, while others remained unconvinced. A war broke out between the two sides, which was only stopped by Slade destroying every robot on Verdus. This restored peace, but left his employers furious.

All this makes the strip seem grimmer than it actually was. The strip, scripted by long-time 2000 AD writer John Wagner, and drawn by Ian Gibson, was funny and satirical with a distinct cartoonish quality. On Verdus, everything was done by robots. There was a robot parliament, occupied by deranged and moronic MPs, like the Stupid Parties, which existed solely to provide comic amusement to the planet’s true leader, Big Brain. There was a robot archbishop and chief rabbi, demanding rights for Sims as God’s creatures. The robot armies included stereotypical ‘Colonel Blimp’ generals, while members of the robot constabulary in Robopoly, a robot board game, where also corrupt and brutal, following several real police scandals of the time. There were also robot singers and TV stars, like Frankie Droid, and Valve Doonican, a pastiche of the Irish singer, Val Doonican, who had his own show on British television at the time.

In the last couple of decades, a number of computer entrepreneurs and SF writers have predicted that eventually, everything will have computers chips in and so be computer controlled. The Robohunter strip also depicted that possibility, but gave it its own, twisted slant. In the page below, Slade and his diminutive sidekick, Kidd, on the run from the robots break into an apartment. Once inside, they find that everything, from the kettle, to footwear and furniture, is a robot.

Robohunter Pic 1

What makes this interesting, and extremely funny, is that all these machines have their own personalities. They talk and argue. They discuss whether Slade and Kidd are really human, or just Sims, and then decide to put it to the vote whether they should turn them in or not.

This is absolutely unlike the real robot hotel. For all the talk about Artificial Intelligence, the machines there aren’t really sentient. They respond in a very limited way to a set of instructions. These may be verbal or keyed in. Unlike the fictional machines, there is no ‘I’, no sense of self lurking within the chips and circuit boards. And no real understanding of what they’re doing either. It’s just one set of circuits responding to a certain stimulus according to its programme or wiring. They’re moving mannequins, rather than the artificial people of SF.

So instead of the robotic maniacs of Verdus, what is instead presented is something far more like the antiseptic, alienated futures of Stanley Kubrick’s SF films. In 2001 everything is gleaming white, clean, and sterile. People speak, but don’t actually communicate or really say anything much at all. And that was deliberate. Clarke had told Kubrick that he had trouble writing dialogue for the movie. Kubrick told him not to worry. He liked it stilted, as he saw the people in this future as brittle and alienated. They had reached a high stage of technological sophistication but had little human warmth or empathy in their social interactions themselves. Critics have commented that the only real personality in the movie is that of Hal, the murderous computer.

The programme’s presented states that the increasing use of robots in Japan is driven by the need to cut labour costs. I dare say that’s part of it, but not quite what has been said elsewhere. Japan actually has a labour shortage, partly caused by a falling birth rate and strongly traditional attitudes against women in the workplace. As a result, there’s been campaigns not only to introduce robots into Japanese industry, but also to humanise them, to get the other, human members of the workforce to accept them as a fellow being, rather than just a machine.

And for all the country’s immense technological sophistication and ingenuity, it’s actually extremely reluctant to implement mechanisation itself as comprehensively as its competitors in the West have done. Way back in the 1990s I read a book on Japan written by a Times journalist. The author stated that while in the West were used to computer checkouts, if you went into a Japanese shop or the post office, the clerk there would be using old fashioned ledgers. The Japanese had worked out that if they fully automated their industry, it would put half their workers out of a job. And the actual numbers of robots in Japan may well be colossally exaggerated. Geoff Simons in his book Robots: The Question for Living Machines, states that most of the what the Japanese call robots are what in the west are viewed as machine tools. The impression I have is that the Japanese love robots, but want to introduce them as an addition to the human workers, not as a replacement.

The film shows the journalist enjoying the robot actors and dancers at a carnival or nightclub. Alongside some machines, are people dressed as robots, playing at them. This strikes me as what visitors to a robot hotel would really want from the experience – real humans alongside the machines, and the machines themselves to be more like personalities than just simple automatic mechanisms. The danger there is that if you did give robots personalities, you run the risk of creating miserable robots like the eternally depressed Marvin, the Paranoid Android. He was a ‘personality prototype’. ‘You can tell, can’t you?’ as he himself put it.

I’ve no doubt that the ruthless logic of capitalism means that there’ll be more of these hotels in the future. I think there’s already another like it in Los Angeles. But in the meantime I think human-run premises probably offer a better service. At least they have real cooks, rather than vending machines.

Simon Pegg and SF and Comic Book Infantilism

May 23, 2015

I was on holiday last week, which was why I haven’t put anything up for a few days. Never mind – I’m back now, and ready to pour more scorn, criticism and bile on the Tory government and the establishment sycophants and global corporate exploiters that support it.

But before I do, I’d like to tackle one issue that’s been bothering me, ever since I read about it in the papers and Radio Times last week. Simon Pegg got in the news for claiming that contemporary culture was being infantilised through Science Fiction, comic books, and the movies that were based on them.

As Pegg himself admitted, this is deeply ironic comic from him. He’s made his name as an SF and comic book nerd. In Spaced, the comedy he co-wrote, he played a struggling comic book artist/writer, who worked behind the counter at his local SF and comic shop. As well as the zombie rom-com, Shaun of the Dead, he also wrote Paul, his homage to science fiction geekdom, in which he and Nick Frost play a pair of SF geeks, who stumble upon the real alien that the US government has kept secret ever since the Roswell crash. The interview in the Radio Times, in which he made the comments, begins with a discussion of his role as Scotty and one of the writers on the new Star Trek movie.

Pegg made his comments about the infantilising effects of comics and SF when talking about how he was trying to smarten up and not be a ‘slobby husband’ for his wife, Maureen. As part of which, he had stopped drinking, turned to living a healthier life style, and stopped dressing as a teenager. The Radio Times then went to state how this new, adult perspective had changed his view of Science Fiction and comics. It said

This new grown-up perspective chimes with Pegg’s views on the culture in which he made his name and plies his trade. As Mark Gatiss said in Radio Times last month, “The geeks have indeed inherited the Earth.” On the other hand, this empowers the fanboy who wrote an autobiography called Nerd Do Well.

But on the other… “Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed.

Now, I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science-fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things comic books, superheroes … Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, “he continues. “Because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

Now Pegg hasn’t said anything that a multitude of other, SF writers haven’t said before. Ray Bradbury, the author of The Martian Chronicles, famously said that the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction was thirteen. Brian Aldiss, who amongst his various works wrote the short story, Supertoys Last All Summer Long, on which the Kubrick/ Spielberg film A.I. was based, was highly unimpressed by Star Wars. In his history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree, he made the sneering observation of its massive fan popularity that ‘a thousand throats thirsting for escapism must be slaked (if not cut)’. Many SF authors moved away from writing SF over their careers, such as Christopher Priest. Priest denies that he was ever an SF writer, but does not despise the genre or its fans. He’s said that he still has affection for the genre. Michael Moorcock, the editor of the SF magazine, New Worlds, leader of the SF ‘New Wave’, and author of the cult Elric novels, in the edition of the 1979 series on SF writers, Time Out of Mind, also stated that Science Fiction was essentially an immature form of literature. Moorcock then considered that the reason why so many SF writers had stopped and gone on to other forms of literature was simply that they’d grown up.

The great Polish writer, Stanislaus Lem, made pretty much the same point from his own personal experience in his book on Science Fiction, Microworlds. Lem’s an extremely highbrow Polish writer, who amongst his various works wrote Solaris, which was later filmed by the Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky. Lem has been very strongly influenced by the South American ‘magic realist’ writer, Borges, and was deeply impressed by Philip K. Dick. In Microworlds, he talks about the ‘transformation of trash’, in which the shop-worn props of Science Fiction – robots, aliens, mutants and spaceships – were transformed into a new kind of serious literature by Dick. He hoped, through his own writing and literary criticism, to make a similar contribution and raise the literary standards of the genre so that it could take its place as serious literature. He abandoned this, and the genre itself, as impossible.

Moorcock also began his career keen to raise the literary standard of Science Fiction. He was keen to import the experimental styles explored by William S. Burroughs and other, contemporary, literary writers. Again, in Time Out Of Mind, he talks about how he find his attempts to do so rejected and condemned by the SF old guard, particularly Frederick Pohl.

Now it’s fair to say that much Science Fiction is escapist fantasy, as is much literature generally. Nevertheless, much Science Fiction literature and cinema has tried to tackle serious issues. SF at times has been the ‘literature of warning’, exploring the terrible consequences that could arise if a particular political, social or technological course is pursued now. It’s also been used to critique and criticise existing society. This was particularly true of SF in the former Soviet Union, where writers like the Strugatsky brothers wrote in the ‘Aesopian mode’, to present Science Fictional fables to say obliquely observations about the true state of Soviet society, that could not be said openly.

It’s possible to draw up a list of Science Fiction novels, films and short stories, that have made serious points about human existence and the state of society. Most fans of the genre undoubtedly have their own favourites, or can think of others, that also do this. This is just happens to be the list I’ve drawn up at the moment.

1. War of the Worlds.

H.G. Wells’ novel of the devastation of Earth by Martian invaders had its origins in a discussion between Wells and his brother about the destruction of indigenous, primitive societies, by European colonialism. Wells wondered what it would be like, if a similarly technologically superior invader came and did the same to Great Britain, the leading imperialist power of the late 19th century.

The book remains relevant to contemporary society even today, more than a century after its publication. Stanislas Lem has praised the book for its depiction of the nature of total war, and what it feels like to be the victim of an invader determined to wipe you out utterly. Lem lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation of his home country. Apart from their aim of exterminating the Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also saw Poles, along with Russians, Ukrainians and the other Slavic peoples as ‘subhuman’, who were to be worked to death as slave labour. Their treatment of the Poles was similarly brutal. Lem felt that Wells’ novel of alien invasion gave a far better depiction of what the Nazi occupation was actually like, than many purely factual accounts of this dark period in his country’s history, to the point where he got annoyed with them and discarded them.

2. Brave New World.

Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopian novel of the dehumanising effects of biotechnology, in which humans are artificially gestated in hatcheries. In this technocratic, hedonistic society, real culture has withered away and society itself grown static because of the concentration on the purely sensual.

3. Rossum’s Universal Robots.

Karel Capek’s stage play introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. It was one of the very first to explore the possibility that humans could one day be overthrown by their mechanical creations. The robots in the play aren’t mechanical so much as artificially created humans, very much like the Replicants in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Capek was writing at the time working class, radical Socialist and Communist revolutions had broken out in central and eastern Europe, and the play can also be read as a parable about their threat to the bourgeois European order.

If anything, the book has become even more relevant today, as scientists and social activists have become increasingly alarmed at the threat that robots might shortly do exactly as described in the book. Kevin Warwick, the Reader in Cybernetics at Reading University and former cyborg, begins his pop-science book on robots, March of the Machines, with a chilling depiction of the world of 2050. In this world, the machines have very definitely taken over. The mass of humanity have been exterminated, with those few remaining either living wild, if lucky, or enslaved as domesticated animals by their mechanical masters.

Some international agencies share this alarm. There is a pressure group actively campaigning against the construction of killer robots. A few years ago the international authorities were so alarmed that they actively forbade the use of such robots on the battlefield after one country made the suggestion that such machines should be used today, based on existing technology.

4. Silent Running

After working on 2001, Doug Trumbull wanted to produce a less coldly-intellectual, more emotional SF film than Stanley Kubrick’s epic. This was film is one of the first with a ‘green’ message, about humanity’s destruction of the environment. It’s about one astronaut’s quest to save the last green spaces from Earth, now preserved on spaceships, from destruction. He disobeys the command to scupper his ship and return to Earth, and takes them to safety in the rings of Saturn.

Other films exploring similar themses include Zero Population Growth and Soylent Green. In Zero Population Growth, the world is massively overpopulated to the point where most animal and plant species, including domestic pets, have become extinct. The government therefore mandates a total cessation of reproduction for a generation. The film tells the story of a couple’s attempts to preserve the life of their child after the wife finds out she’s pregnant. The husband and father is played by Oliver Reed, who was a brilliant actor as well as notorious drunk.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, and based on Harry Harrison’s book, Make Room! Make Room!, was the first SF book to explore the possible consequences of the global population explosion and mass starvation.

5. Solaris

Based on Lem’s novel of the same name, Tarkovsky’s novel explores the problem of communicating with a genuinely alien intelligence, and what this would say in turn about human nature. The story follows the attempt of an astronaut to find out just what is happening aboard a space station orbiting the eponymous world. The planet itself is one vast organism, which creates replicas drawn from the human explorers’ own minds to try and work out what they are. One of these replicas takes the form of the hero’s ex-lover, with whom he begins a second, doomed romance.

Among its comments on space and humanity’s place in the universe are the lines ‘There are only a few billion of us. A mere handful. We don’t need spaceships. What man needs is man.’

The film was remade about a decade or so ago by Steven Soderbergh. His version is shorter, but apart from adding a sex scene and making Snow, the physicist, a Black woman rather than White man, there really isn’t much difference between the two, to the point where in some places they’re shot for shot the same. I prefer Tarkovsky’s original version, but you may feel differently.

6. Stalker

This is another movie by Tarkovsky, based on the novel by the Strugatsky brothers. The stalker of the title is an outlaw, who makes his money taking people into, and retrieving objects from, a mysterious, forbidden zone. In the book, the normal laws of nature do not apply within the zone, and its hinted that it is due to the crash of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. In Tarkovsky’s version, the zone is result of some kind of disaster. Tarkovsky’s film explores the nature of guilty and responsibility as the various characters attempt to venture further into the zone. The highly polluted, dangerous environment has a destructive effect on the biology of those entering into it. The Stalker himself has a disabled daughter, Monkey. Some hope for humanity is indicated by the fact that, although she cannot walk, Monkey nevertheless has developed psychokinesis.

Although this is another classic of Soviet, and indeed SF cinema generally, I think it’s seriously flawed. Tarkovsky cut out most of the special effects sequences from the books on which Stalker and Solaris were based, in order to concentrate on the human characters. As a result, the film suffers from a lack of genuine, shown menace, and instead is verbose and actually rather boring. Also, the central character in the book is far nastier. In the final scene in the novel, he wilfully sacrifices his accomplice to one of the Zone’s traps, so that he can retrieve the central, alien object coveted by everyone venturing into the zone – a golden ball that grants wishes. This is a film, which in my view does need to be remade by a director like Ridley Scott.

7. Blade Runner.

Apart from its sheer immense style, and the beauty of some of the scenes, this is another film that attempts to explore human nature through the mirror of its artificial, bio-mechanical opposite. Although it’s told from Deckard’s perspective, in many ways he’s actually the villain. The Replicants he hunts are bio-engineered slaves, who have escaped their bondage and come to Earth in the hope of extending their extremely short, artificial lifespans. They can’t, but in the process grow and develop in psychological depth and as moral beings. To the point where they are morally superior to their human creators. The penultimate scene where Batty saves Deckard from falling shows that he has passed the Voight-Comp test, which judges a subject’s a humanity according to their empathy and desire to save a trapped, struggling animal. It also has one of the most quoted poems in SF cinema – I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’

8. They Live.

This alien invasion drama is also a sharp satire on modern, global capitalism. A homeless construction worker discovers that the world is secretly dominated and exploited by skeletal aliens, who are at the heart of global capitalism. While it’s a low-budget action piece, Carpenter has said in interviews that he intended to give it an extra element by using it to criticise contemporary politics and economics. In the film, humanity’s exploitation by the interplanetary corporate business elite and their human shills and partners is responsibility for mass poverty, unemployment and homelessness – all to boost profits. If you cut out the aliens, this is pretty much what the bankers and global corporate elite have done and are still doing today. And it’s got the classic line, ‘I’ve come to do two things: kick ass and chew gum. And I’m all out of gum.’

9. V For Vendetta

This is another film, which has been denounced by the author of the work on which it’s based, in this case the SF strip of the same name by Alan Moore, which first appeared in the British anthology comic, Warrior before being published by DC in their Vertigo imprint. The strip was very much a product of its time – Thatcher’s Britain, and the new Cold War with the former Soviet Union. The strip envisaged the emergence of a Fascist Britain following a nuclear war between the US and the Eastern bloc. Moore has said in interviews that the strip attempted to explore the moral ambiguities of violence, whether it can be justified against innocents as part of a wider campaign against an unjust system. He also wanted to make the point that many of the supporters of the Fascist regime could be considered otherwise good people, just as many otherwise decent Germans supported the horrific Nazi regime.

It’s a superhero movie, which does nevertheless accurately show the realities of life in a Fascist dictatorship – the mass internment of political prisoners, arbitrary censorship, and experimentation on those considered subhuman or ‘dysgenic’ – in the language of eugenics – by the authorities. It lacks the contemporary relevance of the original strip, as Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did have strong links to the far right. Thatcher was an admirer of Pinochet, for example. The strip explored many of the issues thrown up by contemporary stories of corruption in the political, social and religious establishment, like paedophile clergy. Despite Moore’s rejection of the movie, it’s still a piece of genre, comic book cinema that does try to make an extremely serious point about Fascism and intolerance by placing it in modern, 21st century Britain.

10. Children of Men

Based on the book by P.D. James, and starring Clive Owen and Thandie Newton, this is another dystopian yarn. This time it takes a completely different view of the future and its perils from Soylent Green and Z.P.G. In this future, humanity has been afflicted with mass sterility. No children have been born for 18 years. Owen plays a policeman, charged with protecting an immigrant woman – Newton – who carries the only child to be conceived for over a decade. As a consequence of the sterility, society in volatile and unstable. Only Britain has a relatively stable system thanks to the establishment of a Fascist-style dictatorship.

Although fiction, James’ book nevertheless explores a genuine social issue. Globally, populations are falling, to the extent that some demographers have predicted a population crash sometime in the middle of this century. In Britain and much of Europe, they’re below population replacement level. This is particularly acute in Japan, and is one of the causes of that country’s massive investment in the development of robot workers. Much of the fall in birth rates is due simply to people limiting the number of children they have in order raise their quality of life. There is, however, the additional problem in that the sperm counts of western men is falling, to the point that during this century a significant number will be considered medically sterile. Children of Men is another dystopian work that is chillingly plausible.

It’s possible to go on, and add further works of serious SF cinema, such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and The Zero Theorem and Gattaca, with its depiction of a stratified society ruled by the genetically enhanced. Now I have to say that I agree with Pegg that an awful lot of SF films since Star Wars has been escapist fantasy, and can see his point about some of it having an infantilising effect. This is by no means true of all of it, as I’ve attempted to show.

Even films like Star Wars that are pure, or mostly spectacle can be worth serious discussion and consideration, if they’re done well. For all its escapism, Star Wars was astonishing because it showed a detailed, convincingly realised series of alien worlds, machines and space craft. Moreover, the second movie – The Empire Strikes Back – did present Luke Skywalker with a genuine moral dilemma. His friends Han Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids have been captured and are being tortured by Vader and the imperials. Skywalker is faced with the choice of trying to help them, and in so doing losing his soul, or preserving his moral integrity by letting them suffer and die. His confrontation with Vader present him further with another, particularly acute moral dilemma. Vader reveals himself to be his father, and so if he kills him, he commits parricide, a particularly abhorrent crime. This also has literary antecedents. In one of the medieval Romances, the hero is faced with the revelation that the leader of the foreign army devastating his lord’s realm is his father, and so he is confronted with the terrible dilemma of having to kill him.

Now I don’t think that the potential of Science Fiction to explore mature issues and genuinely relevant problems has been fully explored in the cinema. One of the solutions to the problem is for fans of genre cinema to try and support the more intelligent SF movies that are released, such as Moon, which came out a few years ago. This would show producers and directors that there’s a ready audience for genuine, thought-provoking, intelligent SF as well as the gung-ho, action escapism.