Posts Tagged ‘Trains’

‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

November 25, 2020

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.

‘I’ Report of Successful Test of Virgin Hyperloop Maglev Train

November 13, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science/technology news. Tuesday’s I, for 10th November 2020, carried a piece by Rhiannon Williams, ‘New tube: Hyperloop carries first passengers in 100 mph test run’, which reported that Virgin Hyperloop had successfully tested their proposed maglev transport system. This is a type of magnetically levitated train running in a sealed tunnel from which the air has been removed so that there is no atmospheric resistance. The article ran

Two passengers have become the first to use Hyperloop, a technology which claims to be the future of ultra-fast ground transport.

The demonstration took place on a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas on Sunday.

Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and Sara Luchlan, the company’s head of passenger experience, climbed into a Virgin Hyperloop pod before it entered an airlock inside an enclosed vacuum tube.

Footage showed the pod taking about 15 seconds to complete the journey as the air inside the tube was removed, accelerating the pod to 100 mph before it slowed to a halt.

The futuristic system is intended eventually to allow journeys of up to 670 mph using electric propulsion, and magnetic levitation in a tube, which is in near-vacuum conditions.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial bullet train, which also uses magnetic levitation, is capable of top speeds of 3000 mph, meaning it could end up being considered slow by the Hyperloop’s theoretical future standards. The fastest speed achieved by a maglev train was 375 mph on a test run in Japan.

Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 and builds on a proposal by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The technology could allow passengers to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which are 45 miles apart, in just four minutes, the company’s previous chief executive, Rob Lloyd, told the BBC in 2018.

Ms Luchlan described the experience as “exhilarating”. It had, she added, been smooth, and “not at all like a rollercoaster”.

The business hopes to seat up to 23 passengers in a pod and make its technology “a reality in years, not decades”. Jay Walder, the current chief executive, said: “I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?’ With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

Hyperloop is a new mode of long-distance transportation that uses electromagnetic levitation and propulsion to glide a vehicle at airline speeds through a low-pressure tube.

Electromagnetic coils along the tube are supplied with an alternating current, causing them to rapidly switch polarity. Permanent magnets beneath the pod are attracted then repelled, creating forward motion and magnetic levitation.

It then shows a diagram of various other high speed vehicles with the proposed Hyperloop system for comparison. These are

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

Well, colour me sceptical about all this. The ‘Virgin’ part of the company’s name makes me wonder if it’s part of Beardie Branson’s empire of tat. In which case, we’re justified in wondering if it this will ever, ever actually be put into operation. After all, Branson has been telling the good peeps, who’ve bought tickets for his Virgin Galactic journeys into space that everything’s nearly complete, and they’ll be going into space next year, for the past 25 years or so. I don’t believe that his proposed Spaceship 1 or whatever it’s called will ever fly, and that the whole business is being run as a loss so he can avoid paying tax legally. I don’t know how much it would cost to set up a full scale Hyperloop line running between two real towns between several stops within a single city like a subway, but I’d imagine it’d cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. I think it’s too expensive for any government, whether national or local authority, to afford, at least in the present economic situation.

And on a more humorous level, it also reminds me of the rapid transit system in the 2000 AD ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. This was set in a far future in which humanity cowered underground, ruled over by the Terminators. They were a kind of futuristic medieval crusading order, dedicated to the extermination of all intelligent alien life, led by their ruthless leader, Torquemada. Earth was now called Termight, and humanity lived in vast underground cities linked by rapid transit tunnels. A system similar to the Hyperloop, the Overground, ran across Termight’s devastated surface. Termight’s surface had been devastated, not by aliens, but by strange creatures from Earth’s future, which had appeared during the construction of a system of artificial Black and White Holes linking Earth to the rest of the galaxy. These creatures included the Gooney Bird, a giant predatory bird that looked like it had evolved from the Concorde plane, which swept down from its nest in an abandoned city to attack the Overground trains and feed them to its young.

From: Nemesis the Warlock: Volume One, by Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Jesus Redondo (Hachette Partworks Ltd: 2017)

The Hyperloop’s too close to the fictional Overground system for comfort. Will the company’s insurance cover attacks by giant rampaging carnivorous mechanical birds? The comparison’s particularly close as Termight’s surface is a desert waste, and the system was tested out in the Nevada desert.

I realise that ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ is Science Fiction, and that even with its successful test run on Tuesday, it’ll be years before the hyperloop system ever becomes a reality, but I think it might be wise to avoid it if it ever does. After all, you wouldn’t want to be on it when the metal claws and beak start tearing through the tunnel.

UK Police Targeting Non-Violent Protest Groups as Terrorists

January 11, 2020

Mike this morning has put up a piece about the police in the south-east of England placing Extinction Rebellion on a list of extremist organisations and ideologies, which should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent programme. This comes from the Guardian, which states that the environmental activist group is included in a 12 page document, Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism along with Islamism and neo-Nazism. This is, of course, of concern because Extinction Rebellion are actually non-violent, unlike Nazis and Islamists. I think they’re included because of their tactics of direct action. They deliberately try to stop and block traffic. This is an immense pain, and I don’t blame the commuters, who tried to pull one of them off a train they’d stopped to give him a beating, although I don’t approve of them wanting to beat him up. But Extinction Rebellion not violent, and don’t deserve to be treated as terrorists.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/10/terrorism-police-listed-extinction-rebellion-as-extremist-why-does-boris-johnson-get-off-the-hook/

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t alone. There is a chapter in The Violence of Austerity by Rizwaan Sabir, ‘Policing Anti-Austerity through the ‘War on Terror’, on the way anti-austerity activists are viewed almost as terrorist groups by an increasingly militarised police. Sabir tells how he obtained copies of the City of London’s police’s ‘Terrorism/extremism communique’ and similar documents through a Freedom of Information request after the communique had appeared on the net in 2011. These documents included UK Uncut, Occupy London and a number of other, peaceful groups, alongside al-Qaeda and the Columbian rebel group, FARC. One of the terrorist attacks the police believed were being planned was a ‘yoga and mediation flashmob’ by the group, Wake Up London.

When queried, the City of London Police claimed that the document’s title was a mistake and that they did not intend Occupy London to be included as a terrorist organisation. Sabir finds this unconvincing, as the information would have to have been collected by Special Branch and the Counter-Terrorism Department, and they’d done this seven times before. It was less of a mistake than a habit. Furthermore, the City of London police had a project to counter ‘hostile reconnaissance’, Servator. This refers to ‘criminals’, including extreme protest groups, organised crime and terrorists’. He also describes how the police used unlawful terror tactics to harass and intimidate protesters and journalists at Climate Camp’s 2008 protest against a power station in Kent.

He concludes that the use of coercive tactics used against activists and campaigners as counter-terrorism measures is neither new nor unique. The police see such activists as terrorists, and so feel justified in using violence and coercion against them. And the blurring of the boundaries between peaceful activism and terrorism leads the public to become indifferent to the criminalisation of protesters and the militarisation of the police. He concludes

Such policing practices undermine the UK’s purported commitment to human rights processes and its claim that it upholds principles of liberal democracy.

But you can’t really expect otherwise from the Tories.

Mates Jacob Publishes His Dossier of Tory Islamophobia

November 22, 2019

Last Friday, Zelo Street put up a very informative piece about Mates Jacob’s decision to publish his dossier about the rampant islamophobia in the Tory party. Mates Jacob is the internet personality, who published details of the racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia he found on Twitter and other internet groups for supporters of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. And it was a very nasty, seething mass of bigotry and hate he uncovered. They demanded the usual stop to immigration before moving on to deportation and even assault and murder against Blacks and Asians, and particularly against Muslim politicians like Sadiq Khan.

Zelo Street reports that Mates Jacob had refrained from publishing his dossier on islamophobia in the wider Tory party in the hope that chairman James Cleverly would do something about it. Well, Cleverly and they had their chance, and they blew it. This is going to be another inquiry the Tories will hold after the election. So Mates Jacob has published it. And Zelo Street has in its turn blogged about a selection of Tory politicos in the dossier, and their vile views. They are:

Councillor Roger Taylor of Calderdale council,

Councillor Beverley Dunlop of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council,

Councillor Christopher Newbury of Wiltshire council,

Councillor Danny Scott of Blackpool council,

Councillor Vera Walters of Walsall council,

Councillor Duane Farr of Bournemouth Council,

Councillor Alistair Redman of Argyle and Brute council,

Councillor Malcolm Griffiths of Redcar and Cleve Council,

Councillor Paul Marks of Kettering council,

Councillor Nick Colbert of South Somerset council.

They have been caught expressing such delightful opinions, like wondering why the anti-racist journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is still in Britain, demanding an inquiry into Muslim rape gangs targeting White girls; worrying about Marseilles becoming Europe’s first Muslim majority city, describing Muslims as ‘barbarians’ and wondering why anyone has a problem with PEGIDA; stating that Muslims have been terrorising and seeking to dominate everyone who isn’t of their faith for over a thousand years through imperialist, colonialist wars; demanding a halt to immigration from Africa and describing famine as a natural method of depopulation; admiring the way the BNP doesn’t shy away from tackling issues others wouldn’t due to political correctness;  promoting a video from Paul Joseph Watson entitled ‘The Islamic State of Sweden’; describing the Afghan boy who attacked and injured four people on a train in Germany as ‘chopping them up’ and remarking sarcastically that it must have something to do with Brexit; and claiming that voter fraud was massive, when it’s so small it’s insignificant, and that it’s all down to women in hijabs handing over ballot papers to imams.

Now it’s true that Islam has expanded through imperialist wars, as has Christianity. But this is only part of the religion’s history, just as it is only part of Christianity’s.  And it doesn’t reflect the attitudes of all Muslims, many of whom are the victims of horrendous persecution, like the Rohingya in Burma and the Uyghurs in China.

The sage of Crewe concludes his piece by pointing out that these are only ten of many more in the Tory party, who hold similar views, and that Cleverly hasn’t done anything about them. He states

‘There is only one major political party that is institutionally racist. And it is the Conservative Party.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/tory-islamophobia-laid-bare.html

Well, there’s also the Brexit party and the remnants of what used to be UKIP, but it’s a fair point. The Tories have no business smearing Corbyn and Labour as anti-Semites, when there is so much more hatred and bigotry in their ranks. And they aren’t going to do anything about it, because as we’ve seen from the Hostile Environment policy and the Windrush deportations, and indeed from the contents of papers like the Mail and Depress, they use racism to promote themselves.

 

Cartoon: Cameron, Clegg and the Tories as David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’

June 26, 2017

There isn’t much to say about this cartoon, except that it was based on the film poster for David Lynch’s disturbing flick, Eraserhead. This is about a man with one of the weirdest hairstyles in cinema attempting to look after a weird, mutant baby, whose head resembles an eraser, hence the film’s title. It’s set in a crumbling, dystopian world, whose audio backdrop is in industrial noise. It’s been described as a horror movie, although it’s not quite that, as well as surreal, which it certainly is.

I thought it was a suitable metaphor for the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, as they’ve certainly done their best to make Britain as decadent and dystopian as possible. This is a Britain in which austerity killed 30,000 people in 2015 alone, according to researchers at Oxford University. Over a hundred thousand people are now forced to use food banks to stop themselves from starving, where 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ households, where the family members don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow. Families where the mothers are starving themselves in order to feed and clothe their children.

And all the while more people are forced into poverty through wage freezes, and cuts to welfare benefits. A country in which the poor, the unemployed and the disabled are vilified simply for being poor.

It’s a Britain where the NHS and the schools and universities are being privatised for the profit of private healthcare companies and school management companies, and in which uni students will graduate owing something like £40,000 worth of student debt.

This is a Britain in which homelessness is on the rise. Except you won’t see it, because local councils are passing laws to clear the homeless off their streets, so the site of them begging doesn’t annoy or upset the richer residents.

It’s a country where public services, like the trains, are being starved of investment so that their share value remains artificially high, and the bosses can award themselves big bonuses.

It’s a country where the private energy companies also keep prices high for the same reason.

It’s a country, whose natural beauty is in danger of being plundered and despoiled, as the government despises clean, renewable energy sources, and removes environmental protection legislation for the benefit of fracking companies.

It’s a country that’s heading rapidly towards dictatorship and authoritarianism, as New Labour, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation setting up secret courts, in which the defendant may be tried behind closed doors, with vital evidence and the identity of his accuser also kept secret, if the government decides this is required for reasons of ‘national security’. Just like the judicial system in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

But to make sure you don’t realise that this country is becoming a crumbling dystopia, the media do nothing but lie about how evil the left is, and how wonderful everything is under the Tories, including the BBC. A media dominated by a very few newspaper magnates – Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Twins, Richard Desmond, Vere Harmsworth and a pair of Russian oligarchs.

So I drew David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith all in black and white with the same weird hairstyle as the film’s hero, played by Jack Nance, like the film’s poster.

This is the face of the Tory-Lib Dem government as it was a few years ago. But things haven’t changed since under Theresa May, who’s gone full steam ahead with all the old, wretch Tory policies.

Don’t have nightmares! Just vote for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour poverty, to end austerity and the predatory capitalism that sustains it.

Soviet Space Art and Music

April 19, 2017

This is another fascinating space video I found on YouTube. Russia had a very strong space culture, possibly because it was the one area where they were undoubtedly in front of the Americans and the rest of the world for so long, arguably right up to the Moon landings. At one point there was a regular spot on Soviet television, where schoolchildren spoke to the cosmonauts on board the Salyut space stations.

The paintings in the video come from a magazine called Tekhnika-Molodezhi, which I think translates into English as ‘Technical Youth’. It shows how the Soviets imagined a future in which the Soviet Union, and by implication, the rest of the Communist bloc, were conquering space, landing on the Moon and colonising Mars. Back on Earth, they were pioneering new forms of transport technology, including giant walking robots, trains powered by magnetic levitation and futuristic cars. Many of these illustrations seem to have come from the 1950s. This was an optimistic decade for the Soviet Union. Stalin was dead, and Khrushchev had pledged himself to destroying the old b*stard’s ‘cult of personality’ in his 1953 Secret Speech. Living standards were rising, and consumer products were being developed and becoming more widespread. Something like an ‘affluent society’ was developing in the Soviet Union. At one point it looked like the Soviet Union was going to realise its potential and overtake the West as the most developed, progressive economy, a prospect that terrified the Americans. For more information on this, see the book Red Plenty.

The music’s electronica from 1984, according to the website. It’s interesting looking through some of the videos on the site, which also show that Russia produced some very interesting electronic/ synthesizer ‘pop’ music. The impression we always had when I was at school was that in popular music, the Russians were way behind us in the West. It’s fair to say that the Soviet authorities did distrust ‘decadent’ western music – Boney M’s ‘Ra-Ra Rasputin’ was banned because it was all about the Mad Monk, who was a non-person to the Soviet censor and official history. But it also shows that there was also a thriving youth musical culture as well, something I only found about at College.

Branson Denies Corbyn Forced to Sit in Corridor on His Train

August 25, 2016

Mike also put up a couple of posts this week about another controversy to hit Jeremy Corbyn. A few months ago the Labour leader released a video of him sitting in the corridor while travelling by Virgin Trains, Richard Branson’s rail franchise. Now Beardie Branson has released footage apparently showing Corbyn walking past empty seats. Of course the right-wing media has leapt on this, as Mike says, as it appears to show Corbyn is lying.

But Mike in his first article asks his readers who they’re prepared to believe – Branson, or Corbyn and the people he was travelling with? Since the video was released, other passengers have come forward confirming Corbyn’s story that the train was indeed ‘ram-packed’. Mike also points out that the video shows Corbyn walking past reserved seats, and that it is known that the train company upgraded other people to first class, after they realised he and his companions were on the floor.

He also makes the point that Branson has every reason to dispute the Labour leader’s account. Corbyn has said that he wants to renationalise the train network. Branson would lose out if this occurred, quite apart from the fact that his section of the rail network has not improved to the extent that is actually required. See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/who-do-you-believe-about-corbyns-train-trip-the-profit-making-rail-company-or-the-politician-set-on-re-nationalisation/

In a further article, Mike quotes Steve Walker, who knows this area of the law better than him, to point out that Beardie Branson and the Beeb may have broken the Data Protection Act by showing the footage. There is nothing in the law which allows such footage to be used by a company to defend its reputation, and by putting it on YouTube and then giving to the Beeb, both Branson and the Beeb may have broken the law, and specifically the provision against using footage that specifically shows one individual.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/did-virgin-trains-break-the-law-by-releasing-cctv-footage-of-jeremy-corbyn/

Yesterday the ‘I’ joined in the right-wing attack on Corbyn, running the headline ‘Corbyn’s Train Seat Campaign Derails’ on the front page, with a photo of Corbyn walking past apparently empty seats. Here’s the photo.

Corbyn Train Pic

If this is supposed to show that Corbyn was lying, it has not done so. All the seats in the picture are reserved, as can be seen from the paper tags fixed to them.

And regardless of whether Corbyn was right about this specific journey, he is right in calling for the trains to be renationalised. The train service is now more expensive in public subsidies, and more efficient than it was in the last days of British Rail. I’ve been on train journeys, where I’ve been forced, with others, to sit in the corridor because the train is literally jam-packed. And there are frequent delays. On the rail network stretching from the south-west of England up to Scotland, for example, there are a frequent delays of anything from a few minutes to well over an hour regularly. Privatisation hasn’t, and isn’t working. Even Olga Maitland, the very Tory peer, wrote a piece in the Mail a few years ago recommending that the trains should be renationalised.

Site for the Renationalisation of British Rail

March 17, 2016

I found the following advert on the back page of Private Eye’s issue for the first fortnight in May last year (2015).

Bring Back BR pic

I tried out the website, and yes, as I write Bring Back British Rail is still going at the web address, bringbackbritishrail.org. If you go there, you’ll find a petition, which you can sign requesting the government to renationalise and unify the railway. I’ve signed it, because I’m heartily fed up with the many times I’ve spent waiting for delayed trains. During the 1970’s and ’80s, British Rail was frequently the butt of jokes on comedy programmes like the Two Ronnies. The nationalised rail service had a reputation for running late, poor service and quite appalling food. Its privatisation under John Major was supposed to sort all that out.

In fact the opposite happened. The service has continued to deteriorate. It is still marred by delays and poor maintenance. Moreover, the actually cost to the public has increased. The British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the privatised rail companies that it did under British Rail. I can also remember talking to a disgusted railway instructor about 20 years ago, who was appalled at how the service had declined. He maintained that in the last days of British Rail, when the service was managed under the slogan Operating For Quality the railways were more efficient than at any time since they were nationalised. That achievement was wiped out after it was privatised.

He was also disgusted with the evasions and stonewalling given to the victims and the families of the victims of several major rail disasters. He stated that under British Rail, when accidents like these occurred, the company admitted responsibility, then set to work to correct the errors and failures that had produced them. After privatisation, the network was split into at least five major train operators, as well as a separate company that owned the track. And each one was passing the buck to the other after these disasters, so that it had been five years after one very serious accident, and the responsibility for the crash had still not been settled, let alone compensation for the injured and bereaved.

He was as disgusted as you or I.

So, I signed the petition. If you have a similar design to reverse this particular failure of John Major’s time at Number Ten, please feel free to go to the above site and add your name.

I think the food on sale at railway stations has improved, though. But it’s the only thing that has.

Spitting Image on Maggie Thatcher’s Victorian Values

February 14, 2016

Okay, in my last piece I put up a section from Maggie Thatcher’s own book, The Downing Street Years, showing that her ‘Victorian values’ meant that principle of less eligibility, under which people have been thrown onto the street and left to starve and take their own lives in order to stop them becoming dependant on welfare.

Many people recognised this at the time. It even formed the basis for some of the satire in the 1990s puppet TV show, Spitting Image, which regularly lampooned the Leaderene, along the Royal Family, the president of the US, and just about everyone else amongst the Great and the Good. I found this mickey take of Thatcher’s Victorian values, presented as a spoof ad for the Victorian Britain Theme Park, in the Spitting Image book, Thatcha! The Real Maggie Memoirs (London: Mandarin Paperbacks 1993).

Victorian Britain Spitting Image

If you can’t read it, the piccie says:

Visit the largest theme park in Europe.
The Victorian Britain Experience
Located all over Britain now!

We’ve recreated a period of history you thought was gone for ever!

Yes, no details have been overlooked to give you the feeling that the clock has been turned back a hundred years. Find out what wages were like in 1850, travel on the very trains used by the Victorians! Visit the same hospitals! Catch tuberculosis!

It’s so convincing you’ll think it’s really happening!

As you walk around the Victorian Britain Experience you will chance upon the sort of melodrama you might have seen in any 19th Century slum. Father is sacked by the wicked factory boss for going on strike. His poor family are evicted from their dwelling as mother is forced to go from door to door singing ‘Who will buy these overpriced dusters?’ and father scrapes together a living delivering pizzas on a moped, er I mean carthorse – oh well you get the idea … I mean there’s rubbish everywhere, the drains smell, all the roads are caving in, the lifts never work – I mean it’s a bloody third world country.

The Victorian Britain Experience

NB Please note that it has not been possible to recreate every single detail of Victorian Britain exactly. We have not been able to show what it would be like to live in a major world power with a massive trade surplus and booming manufacturing industry.

It’s as accurate a depiction of post-Thatcherite Britain as it was when it was written, to take the mick out of Thatcher’s own squalid little tome.

As for Britain becoming a third world country, this is what the Thatcherite authors of Britannia Unchained want – for Britons to work the same long hours for low pay as the peoples in the Developing World. All while they get rich, of course.