Posts Tagged ‘The Time Machine’

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

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Time Travel Tale of Scientists Warning of Ecological Collapse: Gregory Benford’s ‘Timescape’

May 10, 2019

Gregory Benford, Timescape (London: Victor Gollancz 1980).

Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, has asked me to do a review of Gregory Benford’s time machine book, Timescape. I read it a few years ago, having bought the 1996 edition, over a decade and a half after it was first published. It is just a bit dated now in its prediction of life in 1998, but still well-worth reading if you’re into physics and hard SF.

Benford, the ‘Galactic Centre’ Novels and Timescape

Gregory Benford is an American astronomer and hard SF writer. He’s probably best known for his ‘Galactic Centre’ series of novels. Set thousands of years in the future, this is about the last remnants of humanity battling for survival against a ruthless and almost overwhelmingly superior machine civilisation, the Mechs, at the centre of the Galaxy. Hard SF is the type of science fiction that tries as far as possible to keep to established scientific rules. Such as, for example, the inviolability of the rule of Relativity, so that there are no Faster Than Light drives taking humans to the stars in a matter of hours, days or months rather than years. But that doesn’t mean ruling out other scientific advances, like time travel. Several of the ‘Galactic Centre’ novels are set in an artificial environment within the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy, where careful engineering by alien creatures formed of pure magnetism have merged two Black Holes to form an artificial environment of warped space time, within which humans and organic aliens are able to seek sanctuary from the Mechs. The curvature of spacetime and stress cracks within it in this environment allow the inhabitants to travel backwards and forwards in time. One of the novels features the adventures of a modern human family, who are forced to flee forward in time as the Mechs invade, almost to the end of time itself.

Brief Synopsis

Timescape doesn’t go that far, and is very firmly set in the recent past, and near future according to the time it was written. It’s the tale of two scientists and their friends, Gordon Bernstein and his fellows at CalTech in 1963, and Gregory Markham, an American scientist and his friend Markham, at Cambridge Uni in 1998. Bernstein is a young graduate student, who detects strange signals from an experiment he and his fellows are running, signals that he gradually begins to realize cannot be explained as just random noise or the product of background radiation. In 1998 Markham and Renfrew are working on ways to generate tachyons, faster than light subatomic particles that will travel back in time through bombarding iridium with high energy particles. They hope that by creating such particles, they may be able to use them to send a warning to the past.

The Earth in this very near future is dying. The ecology is collapsing through a deadly bacteriological bloom that destroys vegetable and animal life. The result is global famine, poverty and social unrest, with food rationing and bands of hostile, violent beggars moving across England. Markham and Renfrew hope they can send a message to the past detailing how the disease can be fought and eradicated in order to save civilisation by preventing the catastrophe occurring in the first place.

Time Travelling Subatomic Particles from Space

The idea of using subatomic particles and quantum physics to contact the past is highly speculative, of course, but not unreasonable. Some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that information is able to move backwards through time, so that events in the future are able to determine the results of certain experiments, for example. There was also speculation in the 1990s that some subatomic particles reaching Earth from despite might be tachyons in origin. I can’t quite remember whether these were a type of neutrino or meson, but the theory was that they were produced by high energy events in space, such as supernovas. This produced tachyons, which traveled backwards in time until they decayed to become neutrinos or mesons or whatever, which were then able to be detected by scientists.

The Connecticutt College Professor’s Time Machine

Also in the 1990s came a plan by a Black professor at Connecticutt Community college to build a real, working time machine. This wouldn’t be able to transport people, just other subatomic particles back into the past. The idea was to create an Einstein-Rosen Condensate of iridium ions. An Einstein-Rosen Condensate is a strange state of matter where a plasma – an ionised gas is supercooled so that its component particles behave as a single particle. This plasma was to be whirled around in a chamber mimicking the spin of stars. Stars are so massive that as they spin, they pull the fabric of space time itself around after them. The effect has been observed around the Sun, providing confirmation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It has been suggested that this effect could be used in the case of extremely massive objects, like Black Holes, to travel back in time. You simply enter the region of space being dragged around by the Black Hole, and then travel in the opposite direction to the local movement of spacetime. This should make you go back in time, it is suggested, and so you should be able to leave that area of space some time in the past, before you entered it. The professors plan worked along similar lines. Electrons would be shot into the chamber in the opposite direction to the circulation of the condensate. This should allow them to travel back into the past. If the scientists running the experiment found a larger number of electrons in the condensate than normal or otherwise explained, before they had started shooting them into it, then it would mean that the electrons had traveled there from the future. Time travel, or at least that possibility of communication between past and future, would be possible.

This obviously got very many people very excited. H.G. Wells’ grandson, who directed the ’90s version of his grand-dad’s classic, The Time Machine, appeared in a documentary telling us that the age of time travel was almost upon us. The experiment was due to be run aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think it must have been cancelled when one exploded, thus grounding the fleet and finally endings its use.

Time and the Weird World of Quantum Physics

Benford warns in his acknowledgements that

Many scientific elements in this novel are true. Others are speculative, and thus may well prove false. My aim has been to illuminate some outstanding philosophical difficulties in physics. If the reader emerges with the conviction that time represents are fundamental riddle in modern physics, this book will have served its purpose.

Which must be one of the rare occasions when a scientist writes a book to show how mysterious and incomprehensible a scientific phenomenon is, rather than how it can be grasped and understood. This famously applies to quantum physics. As one prominent scientist said of this subject, you don’t understand it, you just get used it.

Science and Society in the ’60s and ’90s

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of physics in the book, though none of its so hard that only physics graduates, let alone the late Stephen Hawking, would be the only people that understand it. And the book does an excellent job of showing what it must have been like doing physics at an advanced level in the early 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Gordon Bernstein, the hero of the early years, is a New York Jew, whose girlfriend, Marjorie, is a Conservative gentile. As his investigations proceed, he first believes that the signals are messages from space before coming to understand they’re from the future instead. He faces scepticism and opposition from his colleagues and academic supervisors, and risks being failed and his academic career and research terminated. as he goes on and his theories become public, he suffers from the attentions of the press and a procession of cranks, who traipse through his office door offering their own weird theories. I think this is a common experience to many astronomers and cosmologists. I can remember reading a comment by one such scientist that hardly a week went by without him receiving in the mail letters from people explaining their ‘theory of the universe’. At the same time, Bernstein’s relationship with his girlfriend also comes under pressure. His family don’t approve, and would like him to marry a nice Jewish girl instead. There are also political disagreements. Penny and her friends fully support the Vietnam War, views that aren’t shared by the liberal Bernstein. But in a twist, it’s Penny who understands that the waiters at their favourite restaurant are gay, is comfortable with that fact.

Back in Blighty in 1998, Markham’s and Renfrew’s backgrounds are solidly middle class. This is still a world where women were expected to stay home and cook, and the aristocracy still wields power and influence. A society in which entitled public school boys shout their food and alcohol choices in the local pub in Latin. It’s a world in which Markham is an outsider, and resents the privilege and condescension of the upper class Brits among which he moves.

Timescape and ’70s Fears of the End of Civilisation

Like much near-future SF, the book’s now dated. 1998 is now twenty years ago, and fortunately civilisation has not collapsed. Not yet. The book was partly a product of the sense of crisis in the 1970s, when many people really did fear the end of civilisation through industrial and social unrest and ecological collapse. It was predicted that overpopulation would result in mass famine, while the resources would run out and the Earth itself become uninhabitable through massive pollution. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened. Not yet. But there is still a real danger of global civilisation collapsing through irreversible ecological damage from climate change and pollution, and algal blooms are poisoning the water in some parts of the world. Despite it’s age, the book thus remains acutely relevant.

Social Change and the Rise of Domestic Computers

In other respects, the book as a prediction of the future hasn’t worn quite as well. The advance of feminism in the 1980s and ’90s meant that traditional gender roles were breaking down as women sought careers outside the home. By 1998 there was the expectation that both partners in a relationship would be working, and the old domestic arrangement in which women looked after children and the home and were supported by their husbands was seen as anachronistic. At the same time, he also doesn’t predict the advances in information technology that has produced the home and personal computers or mobile phones. There is, however, a machine called the Sek, which is a type of answerphone and database, if I recall correctly.

Conclusion

These differences between the book’s expectation of what the ’90s would be like and the reality actually don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the story. Science Fiction tends not to be very good at predicting the future. If it was, then humanoid robots with a comparable level of intelligence and genuine consciousness, like Star Wars’ C3PO, would be in every home and we would already have colonies on the Moon, Mars and Earth orbit. We don’t have any of that. But we do have personal computers, the internet and mobile phones, as well as a variety of industrial machines, which weren’t predicted. Many SF novels still remain worth reading even though their predictions of the future, or the contemporary present in which they were set, are dated. These include such classics as those of H.G. Wells’, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and so on. What matters in the story and the writer’s ability to create a convincing, fascinating world, which Timescape does.

While some of its details are inaccurate, this is still a readable, gripping story with a solid base in plausible science, and whose warning about environmental decline is, horrendously, just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1980.

 

JudeoNazism: Jewish Scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s Term for Israeli Fascism

October 23, 2018

In an article attacking the decision of the Green members of Brighton and Hove’s council to adopt the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, Tony Greenstein quoted a number of senior Israeli figures – Naftali Bennett, the minister for education, Avigdor Liberman, Netanyahu’s wretched defence minister, to show how they matched Nazi pronouncements against the Jews. In so doing, they conformed to what the Israeli Orthodox religious scholar, Yeshayahu Leibowitz termed ‘Judeonazism’. Greenstein wrote

In an interview with The Times of Israel it was reported that Israel’s Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, had stated that ‘he would instruct the IDF to shoot and kill any Palestinians who cross into the country from Gaza’. When questioned as to whether or not that would also apply to children Bennett responded ‘“They are not children — they are terrorists. We are fooling ourselves. I see the photos.” Bennett says IDF should shoot to kill Gazans who cross border [8.10.18]

The statement of Bennett, who is the leader of HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home), a religious settlers’ party, is that of a Nazi. It is reminiscent of Himmler’s speech to Nazi leaders in the Polish city of Posnan on October 6th 1943 when he explained why the killings had to include Jewish children: “I did not assume to have the right to exterminate the men… and have the avengers personified in the children to become adults for our children and grandchildren.”[Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, p.259]

Palestinian children to Bennett are no different from Jewish children to Himmler. To both they represent the devil in child form. That was why Israeli polymath and orthodox religious scholar, Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz described the settlers as Judeo-Nazis. Naftali Bennett is a prime example of a Judeo-Nazi. He subscribes to a racial philosophy of Jewish supremacism no different from Nazi ideology.

But under the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ can be anti-Semitic even though Israelis regularly make such comparisons themselves. For example even Deputy Chief of Staff General Yair Golan at a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration two years ago caused a storm when he stated that

‘If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then – 70, 80 and 90 years ago – and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016. IDF Deputy Chief Likens ‘Revolting Trends’ in Israeli Society to pre-Holocaust Germany.

Another member of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman remarked that he would like nothing more than to see the drowning of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea. Again the label Judeo Nazi would be apt. His Deputy as Defence Minister, Rabbi Eli Dahan is also no slouch. In a radio interview he explained that to him Palestinians ‘“are like animals, they aren’t human.” and that “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile [non-Jew] , even if he is a homosexual,”

To understand the full import of the above it is important to recognize that for Orthodox Jews being gay is an abomination which merits the death penalty, but even a gay Jew has a ‘much higher soul’ than a non-Jew. These are just some of the people who inhabit the present Israeli cabinet. Yet to call them what they are, Judeo-Nazis is anti-Semitic under the shabby, incoherent and contradictory collection of words that goes under the title of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2018/10/brighton-and-hoves-green-councillors.html

Greenstein’s article contains links to a piece in the liberal Israeli paper, Haaretz, describing just how Netanyahu’s administration and the Israel it has created conforms to Professor Leibowitz’s concept, and to the Wikipedia entry on him.

Leibowitz was professor of biochemistry, organic chemistry and neurophysiology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, as well as a prolific writer on Jewish and Western philosophy. He also passionately believed in the separation of religion from state. In a 1968 essay, ‘The Territories’, he predicted a chilling future for Israel as a totalitarian, colonialist surveillance state. According to Wikipedia, he wrote

The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Forces, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshayahu_Leibowitz

While the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism forbids comparing Jews to Nazis as anti-Semitic, the comparisons are there, as Greenstein has pointed out many times. And Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu’s domestic opponents, have regularly accused each other and the Israeli premier of being Nazis.

The I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism also forbids holding Israel to higher standards than other countries. This again is intended to prevent or stifle criticism of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians. But as far back as 1905 H.G. Wells attacked Jewish racism alongside that of the English, the Germans and the Italians in his book, A Modern Utopia. The book is a quasi-science fictional description of Wells’ ideas about what would constitute the ideal state. Wells himself believed passionately in a global, world government, in which all the races of humanity would share a common language and culture, and would live, work, study and move around the globe freely in peace and harmony. The chapter ‘Race in a Modern Utopia’ is one long diatribe against racism and racial prejudice which still remains acutely relevant. It is marred only by the fact that Wells was a eugenicist, who did believe that the undeserving poor and ‘inferior’ races should be prevented from breeding. In practice, however, he felt that even those races considered inferior at the time, Australian Aborigines and the Khoisan peoples of South Africa, would still contain skilled individuals, who would be allowed to have children and contribute to this new, global civilization.

About the growing European racism in his time, he wrote

And just now, the world is in a sort of delirium about race and the racial struggle. The Briton forgetting his Defoe, the Jew forgetting the very word proselyte, the German forgetting his anthropometric variations and the Italian forgetting everything, are obsessed by the singular purity of their blood, and the danger of contamination the mere continuance of other races involves. True to the law that all human aggregation involves the spirit of opposition to whatever is external to the aggregation, extraordinary intensifications of racial definition are going on; the vileness, the inhumanity, the incompatibility of alien races is being steadily exaggerated. The natural tendency of every human being towards a stupid conceit in himself and his kind, a stupid depreciation of all unlikeness, is traded upon by this bastard science. With the weakening of national references, and with the pause before reconstruction in religious belief, these new arbitrary and unsubstantial race prejudices become daily more formidable. They are shaping policies and modifying laws, and they will certainly be responsible for a larger proportion of the wars, hardships and cruelties the immediate future holds in store for our earth. (pp. 118-9, my emphasis).

Wells’ predictions have horrifically been born out. In Africa, just a few years after Wells wrote this, the Germans embarked on a deliberate campaign to exterminate the Herrero in Africa. Then there were the Armenian massacres by the Turks, which convinced Hitler that he could murder the Jews without consequence from the other nations. And even after the War, Mosley was drawing on respected scientists to show that certain races were inferior, and therefore Blacks and other peoples should not be allowed to mix and intermarry with White Britons.

And across the world, including Israel, Fascism is rising again. Including Israel, which is quite prepared to support the Fascistic regimes in Poland and Hungary with their venomous hatred of Jews, Muslims, immigrants and Roma. Dr. Who last Sunday remined us of the courage and achievement of Rosa Parks in challenging racial oppression. And H.G. Wells, one of the ancestors of the series through his The Time Machine, still remains acutely relevant in his denunciation of racism today.

And as Wells, Prof. Leibowitz and Tony Greenstein, amongst others, have shown, Jewish Fascism exists alongside its gentile forms, and all have to be fought and combated.

Vox Political: London Tories Considering Breaking Away and Forming New Party

April 6, 2018

If this is true, then it shows that the Tory party is in a very dire situation, no matter what their cheerleaders in the media are trying to get us all to swallow. Mike has put up on his blog a piece reporting an article stating that the Conservative party in London is so afraid of being absolutely wiped out at the council elections in May, that they’re considering breaking away to form a separate party with its own name and programme.

I’m not entirely convinced, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. A decade or so ago, at the height of Blair’s administration, one of the Tory journos wrote a piece in the Daily Mail about a similar eventuality. He also believed that the Tory party was in danger of dying out completely, and so recommended that they should become ‘the English Nationalists’. This was obviously when the SNP were riding high north of the border as support grew in Scotland for devolution, and the Welsh were also gaining their own, rather more limited measure of autonomy. It was about the same time that there were demands for an all-English assembly to debate matters affecting only England. It was an anti-Labour measure, as the Tories had rather more MPs than Labour in England, and hoped to gain a great measure of power by stopping Labour MPs from elsewhere in Britain voting on English matters. The Tories were clearly trying to whip up English nationalism in order to gain votes. Just like they’ve always whipped up xenophobia and hate against those they consider outsiders, like Blacks, Asians, Jews, immigrants, the poor and disabled. I never really took the suggestion that the Tories would reform themselves as a differently party seriously, but I’ve been told by others that it was seriously considered. It’s supposed to be described in the book, True Blue, which talks about how under Cameron they fought back from near collapse.

London’s a world city, with a large Black and Asian, and immigrant population. Brexit, and the return of racism under the Tories, threatens these people. And the Grenfell fire tragedy and the Tories’ refusal to honour the promises they made about fire-proofing buildings and putting those left homeless into proper accommodation, shows the absolute contempt they have for some of the poorest members of our society. Who happen to be Black, Asian or immigrants.

And this is apart from the growing inequalities of wealth in Britain generally, which is becoming particularly acute in the nation’s capital. Ordinary people are being priced out of London as more and more property is bought up by the rich upper and middle classes. It’s either gentrified, or else ‘landbanked’. Which means that it’s kept purely as a property investment by rich, often foreign investors, who make sure that it remains unoccupied. And I’ve no doubt people do still remember the ‘poor doors’ in one apartment block. These were a separate entrance put in so that the rich people living there wouldn’t have to rub shoulders entering the building with the hoi polloi. This, readers of H.G. Wells’ science fiction, will be aware is like the origin of the split between the eloi and the subterranean, cannibal morlocks in The Time Machine. Wells based it on how the upper classes in his time wanted to force the working class underground, to tend the machines safely away from their sight. Trained as a biologist, Wells projected the split far into humanity’s evolutionary future. And the result was not only an SF classic, but a criticism of the class attitudes and contempt for the working class in Victorian society.

Whether the Tories in London are planning to form a new party or not, I hope they are wiped out in the May elections. For forty years they have done nothing but try to privatise the health service piecemeal, deliberately running it down for the benefit of private healthcare companies. They’ve privatised the utilities to foreign investors, who have not given customers the service that they were promised. All again for corporate profit. And they’ve carried on New Labour’s project of benefit sanctions and the work capability test, all to make it increasingly difficult for the poor and disabled to get the state aid they need. This was in line with Tory policy under Thatcher, and followed the advice of the private health care insurers, like Unum, who were advising Peter Lilley and the Tories. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people now have a choice between eating and paying the bills, and tens of thousands of disabled folk have died after being found ‘fit for work’.

The sooner the Tories suffer a devastating electoral defeat, the better. And I hope it’s truly catastrophic.

H.G. Wells’ Visionary Political SF Back in Print

January 7, 2017

Looking along the Science Fiction shelves in Waterstones in Bristol last week, I found a large selection of H.G. Wells’ books are now being republished. These include not only well-known favourites like The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, First Men in the Moon and The Island of Dr Moreau, but also two of his explicitly political SF novels, When the Sleeper Wakes and A Modern Utopia. When the Sleeper Wakes is about a merchant banker or stockbroker, who falls asleep and wakes up centuries in the future to find that his activities have created a nightmare capitalist dystopia. A Modern Utopia is about a group of travellers from our world, who enter an alternative reality in which the Earth is ruled by a single world government, everyone speaks the same language and there is complete racial and sexual equality. On the negative side, it also shows Wells’ disdain for democracy, as political power is held by four ‘samurai’, unelected guardians with absolute power.

I haven’t bought them, and so don’t know what they’re like. However, it’s clear that they are vehicles for Wells’ socialist views, like his The Shape of Things to Come.

TYT on Trump’s Real Contempt and Exploitation of America’s Veterans

February 2, 2016

I’ve written two pieces already today attacking Trump. I thought I’d go for the hat trick. Trump was holding a special event four days ago on the 28th of January, specially for America’s veterans. Like the rest of the Republican party, Trump is enthusiastically pro-veteran. Or he is, so long as it suits him. Otherwise, he doesn’t want to know and is actively hostile to them. And his loud support for them really appears to be nothing but a very cynical fundraiser.

In this piece, Cenk Uygur talks about how, in 1991 and 2004, Trump tried to get the food stands run by wounded veterans cleared out of Wall Street or wherever it was in New York they were located. The stands have been there, by law, for over a hundred years. They were first allowed there to give wounded soldiers the opportunity to make a living. So they’re something of a grand old Noo Yawk tradition, and a small thing in themselves to give back to people, who have given limb, if not life, for their country.

But Trump couldn’t stand that. The food stalls lowered the tone of the area and threatened to put respectable businesspeople off. And so, while claiming that he fully supported the old troopers’ rights to make a living selling food, he wanted them moved from the area. This is all very much like Victorian England, where the respectable middle and upper classes really didn’t want to see their streets cluttered with proles, artisans, tradesmen and servants. There were designs for London with whole subterranean streets laid out, where the working and lower middle classes were to be sent to move and toil like the Morlocks from Wells’ The Time Machine, while their social superiors took the air in the boulevards above. Pittville in Cheltenham was laid out according to such notions of social snobbery by the bigoted and reactionary Francis Close. It was to be an exclusively middle and upper class suburb. The main streets, wide and spacious, were for the exclusive use of the respectable classes. Behind the houses was a warren of narrower streets for the tradesmen and others from the Great Unwashed, so they could come and go without being seen or heard.

While it seems that Trump has changed his attitude to America’s squaddies, if you look at the donation form it just appears to be a cynical scam to finance his election campaign. The online form for donating to his campaign for wounded soldiers goes to the Trump Foundation. It doesn’t go to the squaddies themselves, or their organisations.

This seems to encapsulate just about the cynically manipulative attitude to the damaged servicemen and women of the Republican party as a whole. Under George Dubya, the Republicans closed down whole programmes of state aid for soldiers with physical and mental injuries inflicted during their tours of duty. And they’re still doing it. I reblogged a list I found a few days ago of the various state aid programmes they’d forced to shut down. They’re all for US veterans, and ‘support the troops’ when it comes to getting people to vote for them, and start another war. But when it comes to the veterans themselves, they don’t want to know.

It reminds me of some lines from Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads, about the contempt Britain had for its squaddies. Until they were called on to fight.

‘Well it’s Tommy this, and Tommy that,
And ‘throw him out, the brute’,
But it’s the thin red line of heroes
When the drums begin to beat.’

Or something like that. Either way, Trump and the Republicans have the same brutal cynicism towards America’s soldiers. They, and the public, who really care about their husbands, sons, wives and daughters in the military, should repay the compliment and turn their backs on him and them.

The Time Machines: Wells’ SF Warning about Tory Social Cleansing

November 1, 2015

Time Machine Cover

I’ve been reading H.G. Wells’ classic tale, The Time Machine, and was struck how the central message of the novel is now as acutely relevant as it was when the tale was originally published back in 1894. As you probably know, the story is about a scientist, who invents a time machine. Demonstrating it to his friends one evening, he travels 800,000 years into the future. There he finds human civilisation in ruins, and humanity itself has diverged into two separate species: the Eloi, who are beautiful, and live an indolent existence of contentment on the surface, and the Morlocks, a monstrous, subterranean race, tending the machines their ancestors had built underground. They provide the Eloi with their shoes and clothing. This is not out of altruism, or trade, but simply because the Morlocks are cannibals and the Eloi their food animals.

Wells had a degree in biology, and the Eloi and Morlocks were based on his ideas of the endpoints of human evolution according to current evolutionary theory at the time. The Eloi – short, nearly hairless, with little difference between the two genders, were inspired and informed by Victorian ideas of racial senescence. This forecast that over the millennia, humanity would lose much of its physical and mental powers, and the differences between the genders would dwindle, until humanity resembled something like them. Wells deliberately set his novel 800,000 years into the future as that was the time it was believed it would take for humanity to form separate evolutionary branches. The Eloi, as their name suggests, were the descendants of the human aristocracy. Freed from the need for labour, they lived in health and beauty, unchallenged by any dangers, until they atrophied and stagnated.

The Morlocks, on the other hand, were also short, but with hair down their backs. They had large eye and pale skin due to adaptation to their environment. They were also apelike, and Wells described them at one point as ‘like a human spider’. They were the descendants of the working class, who had been forced underground to work for their aristocratic and middle class masters. The brutal pressures of surviving in this environment had resulted in natural selection forcing them too to take on their degenerate, subhuman form.

Wells makes it very clear in his book that was extrapolating their evolution from current trends in his own time. He writes

‘At first, proceeding from the problems of our own age, it seemed as clear as dayligh6t to me that the gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer was the key to the whole position. No doubt it will seem grotesque enough to you – and wildly incredible! – and yet even now there are existing circumstances to point that way. There is a tendency to utilise underground space for the less ornamental purposes of civilisation; there is the Metropolitan Railway in London, for instance, there are noew electric railways, there are subways there are underground workrooms and restaurants, and they increase and multiply. Evidently, I thought, this tendency had increased till Industry had gradually lost its birthright in the sky. I mean that it had gone deeper and deeper into larger and ever larger underground factories, spending a still-increasing amount of its time therein, till, in the end – ! Even now, does not an East End worker live in such artificial conditions as practically to be cut off from the natural surface of the Earth?

‘Again, the exclusive tendency of the richer people – due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor – is already leading to the closing in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land. About London, for instance, perhaps half the prettier country is shut in against the intrusion. And this same widening gulf – which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich – will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along lines of social stratification, less and less frequent. So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour.’

This is not such an incredible piece of forecasting, when you consider some of the plans made in the Victorian period for London’s built environment. About a year or so there was a series on BBC 4 on British architecture that never became a reality. In the Victorian period this included various tunnels under London designed for the working class, so that they should be kept out of the way and out of sight of their social superiors above ground. All you have to do is imagine what would have happened if these had been built, like the underground workers’ city in Fritz Lang’s film, Metropolis, and suddenly Wells’ forecast seems not SF, but chillingly plausible.

The Time Machine has been filmed twice. The first was George Pal’s 1960 version, and then later by Wells’ great-grandson in the 1990s. In both versions, the origins of the Morlocks were changed. In the George Pal version the Morlocks are descended from those, who have retreated into the underground shelters to escape a nuclear war. In the 1997 version, the Morlocks are also descended from those, who have fled underground, but this time to escape the destruction caused by a mining accident that has broken up the Moon. Wells’ grandson stated he had changed it because the novel’s forecasts about social stratification was no longer relevant.

But it is relevant, now more than ever. Johnny Void in his blog has extensively covered issues of homelessness, social exclusion and the social cleansing of London, as local authorities clear the working and lower middle classes out of their homes in order to provide luxury housing for the rich. Readers of his blog will remember the ‘poor doors’ campaign against a block of flats in London, which had separate entrances for the poor and the rich the development was really aimed at.

This is exactly the process of social divergence Wells described, now returned despite the bland optimism and denials of previous decades. We’re just waiting for the invention of a time machine, so we can bring back a Morlock to eat Boris Johnson.