Posts Tagged ‘Universities’

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.

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‘I’ Newspaper on Scientist Building Artificial Arms from Lego

February 13, 2019

Last weekend’s I newspaper for Saturday, 9th February 2019, carried a profile of David Aguilar, a disabled Andorran scientist, who has been building artificial arms out of Lego since he was a small boy. The article by David Woode, ran

Hand Solo?

A university student who was born without a forearm due to a rare genetic condition has created a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego. David Aguilar, who built three other models before his current one, said “I wanted to see myself in the mirror like I see other guys with two hands.

Is this his first bionic arm?

No. David, 19, began experimenting with artificial limbs as a child. he said his father bought him a lego Titanic set aged five and the colourful bricks became one of his favourite toys. David made his first artificial arm, albeit with limited movement, aged nine. ‘As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different, but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams,’ he said.

How does it work?

David uses Lego pieces given to him by a friend. Last year he built a red-and-yellow, fully functional robotic arm, it’s fitted with an electric motor and he can bend it at the joint and flex a grabber attached at the end. His latest prototypes are marked MK followed by the number – a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armour suits.

Could this spawn an army of Iron men and Iron Women?

The rookie inventor from the small principality of Andorra is studying bioengineering at the Universität Internacional de Catalunya in Spain. His post-graduation dream is to design affordable robotic limbs for those in need. He said “I would try to give them a prosthetic arm, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right”.

There’s a lot of research going on into artificial limbs, some of it very inspiring. The robotics unit at the University of the West of England has formed a private company to build artificial hands for children. They’ve produced one with the consent of Hollywood shaped like the hand of the Marvel superhero, Iron Man. I think they were also planning to produce one based on C3PO in collaboration with Disney, if I recall correctly. Aguilar’s clearly a very skilled engineer, and his own experience of disability undoubtedly gives him real, personal insight into what disabled people need in artificial limbs and how they can be best designed for them. I wonder what his work will be like after he’s graduated and, hopefully, begun working on them at a higher level. It should be really good.

In the meantime, I’d really have loved to be able to make a proper, working robotic arm out of Lego, Meccano or any other construction kit when I was child as well as knowing how he does it now.

Netanyahu Rages as Eire Passes Pro-BDS Legislation

February 10, 2019

Last week the Israel lobby was on the warpath again. We had the Blairites and Likud sycophants in the Labour demanding that Jenny Formby show them what’s being done to root out all the anti-Semites they claim are in the party, the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion, and the recidivist liars and Fascist shills the Jewish Chronicle hysterically proclaiming that there was a culture of anti-Semitism within Labour. And Rachel Riley, Frances Barber and their army of trolls tried attacking Mike and Owen Jones as anti-Semites, and got their rear ends royally handed to them. And Wes Streeting decided that he could combat Jew hatred by falsely accusing a 70-year old woman of it and doxing her.

This video below from the Middle East Monitor might explain why some of that rage and fear suddenly erupted. The Dail – the Irish parliament – a fortnight ago passed legislation banning Israeli exports from the Occupied Territories. And predictably Netanyahu was not amused, and accused the Emerald Isle of anti-Semitism.

The video’s just under two minutes long, and begins with footage from the Irish parliament of Fianna Fail senator Niall Collins saying, ‘We need to do the right thing here and that is what that legislation simply sets out to do. The video explains that the Irish parliament has passed a bill banning the import of Israeli settlement goods. Senator Collins asks, ‘Why should we turn a blind eye to blatant and flagrant breaches and abuses of international law?’ This video goes to say that the legislation

‘would make Ireland the first EU country to take such a bold action against the Israeli occupation despite attempts by the US and Israel to thwart it. The bill was backed by all of Ireland’s opposition parties and was voted in with an overwhelming majority of 78-45.’

The video then shows Frances Black, an Independent senator, explaining that ‘The Occupied Territories bill is a modest piece of legislation that stands up for basic human rights and international law.’ It then moves to Senator Collins, who says, “It simply isn’t good enough condemning the ongoing expansion of settlements across the West Bank’.

It then goes back to scenes inside the Dail, and explains that ‘after the vote Israel reprimanded the Irish ambassador, and quotes the office of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Which ranted

‘Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Irish parliament, which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.’

It then goes back to a speech by Senator Collins, in which he very effectively rebuts these accusations by Netanyahu’s minions. He says,

‘This outrage and offence which has been built up by Israel that we’re somehow anti-Semitic. We’re not! We recognize the state of Israel and we will trade with them but they are on the off-side line in terms of the Occupied Territories.’

The video goes on to say that ‘the move is seen as a great victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.’ It quotes a tweet from Senator Black, who said ‘Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history, Onwards!’ The backdrop to the tweet shows a group of Irish and Palestinian adults and children, a Palestinian man wearing the distinctive keffiyeh, while the kids have the tricolor on the cheeks in facepaint.

The law very obviously isn’t anti-Semitic. It’s not against Jews nor Israel as a whole. It’s only against Israeli goods produced in occupied Palestine. Now I’m sure there are anti-Semites along with other varieties of racist in Ireland, and the country, like just about every other western nation including America and the nascent Jewish colony in Palestine also had a Fascist movement. This was Owen O’Duffy and his Blue Shirts. They fought in the Spanish Civil War but seem to have vanished after that. I’ve certainly not heard of them surviving into the Second World War. I doubt most people in Ireland and elsewhere have even heard of them. They’re only claim to fame is that the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, was briefly a member c. 1919 before giving up on them. Most people when they think of Irish nationalism are far more likely to think of the various Irish independence movements and associated militant groups, like the Fenians and later the IRA and other Republican terrorist organisations in Ulster. They one thing the majority of folk won’t associate with Irish nationalism or national identity is Nazism and anti-Semitism.

However, the Irish, it seems to me, do take state terrorism and Fascism in other nations very seriously. Way back in the early ’80s, when Reagan was backing the Contras in Nicaragua and other Fascist butchers in Latin America, there were mass protests when he decided to pay a state visit to Ireland. I think it was during his birthday, as the news showed footage of him being given a present by someone in full Irish patriotic dress, who told him that it came from Irish-Americans everywhere. Well, I wonder, as I always under that Irish-Americans in New York were traditionally the backbone of the Democrats. And Reagan was definitely not welcomed by a large part of the Irish population. There were boycotts and demonstrations at the airport and at Trinity College in Dublin, as I recall. The explanation the Beeb gave was that Ireland was closely involved with the Roman Catholic charities working in Latin America. And therefore they weren’t going to be impressed by Reagan and these Fascist regimes’ death squads torturing and murdering the very people they were trying to help. I got the impression from reading some of the pieces written by Irish contributors to the radical American magazine and website, Counterpunch, that left-wing Irish people see themselves and their country as anti-imperialist, and this piece of BDS legislation strikes me very firmly as within that tradition.

Economically, I’m not sure how much damage this will do. Ireland’s a small country with a small population. I think it might be around 4-6 million. But culturally the country is a very big hitter. There’s a large Irish diaspora spread across the globe, particularly in Australia and America, where it’s very politically important. Irish music and literature are enjoyed everywhere. Classic Irish bands include the Dubliners, Planxty, Clannad and the Chieftains, and you can’t get away from the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’, which is played every year at Christmas along with Slade’s ‘So Here It Is, Merry Christmas’. The Dail’s vote to pass this legislation could be immensely influential simply because of the country’s immense cultural cachet.

And that’s what Netanyahu and his thugs are afraid of. Because once one EU country passes legislation banning goods from Occupied Palestine, others may follow suit. It’s why the Israeli state and its minions over here have been trying their level best to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because he supports the Palestinians and genuinely condemns further Zionist expansion and human rights abuses.

The Israeli state is running scared. Thanks to the BDS movement, 1/3 of Israeli businesses in the West Bank have been forced to close. Young Jewish Americans are increasingly turning away from Israel. Many are repulsed by its treatment of the Palestinians. Others simply think that it’s ridiculous for them to be expected automatically to support a country they were not born in and have no intention of moving to, when the indigenous inhabitants of that country are being forced out. It’s why the Likudniks are increasingly looking to Evangelical Christian Zionists for support in America instead of the country’s Jews.

Now that Ireland has banned Israeli goods from occupied Palestine, it’ll be interesting to see how many other countries start to debate doing the same. And you can bet the angry smears of Corbyn and his supporters will get even louder and more shrill over here on this side of the Irish Sea, as the Israel lobby fears that under him, Britain will be next.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

And now, as Monty Python once said, for something completely different. At least from politics. I found these two videos from the artist Xelasoma on YouTube, in which he discusses six masters of fantasy art and how they have influenced him. They are Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe, and Rodney Matthews in video 1, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Philippe Druillet and Ian Miller in video 2.

Roger Dean will be remembered by fans of ’70’s prog rock for his amazing album covers for the bands Yes and Asia. Woodroffe and Matthews are also artists, who’ve produced record covers as well as book illustrations. Moebius and Druillet are two of the geniuses in modern French SF comics. Moebius was one of the ‘Humanoides Associes’ behind the French SF comic, Metal Hurlant. Among his numerous other works was Arzach, a comic, whose hero flew across a strange fantastic landscape atop a strange, pterodactyl creature. As Xelasoma himself points out here, it’s a completely visual strip. There’s no language at all. It was also Moebius who designed the spacesuits for Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Xelasoma describes how, after he left art school, Moebius spent some time in Mexico with a relative. This was his mother, who’d married a Mexican, and the empty, desert landscape south of the border is a clear influence on the alien environments he drew in his strips. Xelasoma also considers him a master of perspective for the way he frequent draws scenes as viewed looking down from above. And one of the pictures illustrating this is of a figure in an alien planet looking down a cliff at a sculpture of rock legend Jimi Hendricks carved into the opposite cliff face. Druillet, Xelasoma feels, is somewhat like Moebius, but with a harder edge, drawing vast, aggressive machines and armies of fierce alien warriors. He’s also known for his soaring cityscapes of vast tower blocks reaching far up into the sky, which also influenced Ridley Scott’s portrayal of the Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. The last artist featured, Ian Miller, first encountered in the pages of the British Role-Playing Game magazine, Warhammer. His style is much more angular, deeply hatched and very detailed. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize several of the pictures Xelasoma chooses to represent his work as depictions of some of the weird, sinister gods from the Cthulhu mythos. They include not only Cthulhu himself, but also of the half-human, amphibious, batrachian inhabitants of the decaying port in the short story, The shadow Out of Innsmouth.

What Xelasoma admires about all these artists is that they don’t follow the conventions of modern western art established by the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance. They alter and distort the human form and that of other objects and creatures. He describes Dean’s landscapes as organic. Patrick Woodroffe and Matthews also create strange, alien creatures and landscapes, and with the creatures Matthews depicts also very different from standard human anatomy. Many of the creatures, machines and spaceships in Matthews’ art are based on insects, and appropriately enough one of the bands whose cover he painted was Tiger Moth. This featured two insects dancing on a leaf. Another picture, The Hop, shows an insect band playing while other bugs trip the light fantastic in the grass, surrounded by items like used cigarettes. His humanoid figures are tall, stick thin, with long, thin, angular faces and immense, slanted eyes. Xelasoma admires the way Matthews can take a train or a deer, and turn them in something uniquely his, as he shows here. He states that he first encountered Dean’s and Woodroffe’s art in the art books his mother had, such as Woodroffe’s Mythopoiekon. He also identifies somewhat with Woodroffe, as neither of them studied at art school. Woodroffe was a French teacher, while for Xelasoma art was far too personal for him to submit to formal training.

Xelasoma points out that these artists were creating their unique visions before the advent of computers using the traditional artist materials of paint and brush, and before courses in SF, Fantasy and concept art were taught at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, he finds their work far more interesting and inspiring than modern SF and Fantasy art, which may be more anatomically accurate, but which, too him, seems very ‘samey’. He complains that it doesn’t make him hallucinate, which the above artists do. Well, I hope he doesn’t mean that literally, as that could be very worrying. But I know what he means in that Dean, Woodroffe, Matthews, Moebius, Druillet and Miller create strange, fantastic worlds that have a striking intensity to them. They seem to be complete worlds, either in the far past or future, or parallel realities altogether, but with their own internal logic drawing you into them.

Discussing their influence on him, he is critical of artists that simply copy the work of others, changing a few details but otherwise keeping to and appropriating the other artists’ own unique visions, some times trying to justify this by saying that their work is a ‘hommage’ to the others. Xelasoma is well aware that his own work is very different to the artists he talks about here, and that many of his viewers won’t be able to see their influence. But he goes on to describe how they have influenced him at the general level of form or composition, while he himself has been careful to develop his own unique style.

Dean, Woodroffe and Matthews have produced books of their work, published by Paper Tiger. Matthews and Miller also have their own websites, for those wishing to see more of their work. Moebius passed away a couple of years ago, but was the subject of a BBC4 documentary. There’s also a documentary about Roger Dean on YouTube, presented by that grumpy old Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. Xelasoma believes in their fantastic depictions of landscapes and animal and human forms makes them as important and worth inclusion in museums and galleries as Graeco-Roman and Renaissance art. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would maintain that in their way, they are far more significant than many contemporary artists that have been promoted as ‘official’ art. Xelasoma’s documentary really shows only a few pieces from these artists’ works, and the bulk of these videos are about the particular impact they have on him. But nevertheless it’s a good introduction to their work, and explanation why they should be taken seriously as artists beyond their origins in popular culture.

Part I

Part II

Alt Right Hack Milo Yiannopolis Heads Off to America, No-One in UK Bothered

January 20, 2019

Here’s another piece of cheering news for those on the Left. Milo Yiannopolis, a leading figure in the Alt Right, has declared that he’s leaving these shores and applying for asylum in America. Why? because he’s a gay man, and does not feel safe in an Islamized Britain. Or at least this is what he’s told the American right-wing Front Page magazine. According to Zelo Street’s article about this world-shattering event, Yiannopolis went on

“In 2015, I wrote the column that secured my place in the pantheon of Right-wing hate figures: ‘I’m A Gay Man And Mass Muslim Immigration Terrifies Me.’ Shortly afterwards, I left London, disturbed by the state of my capital city and hoping that with a megaphone in America I could sound the alarm about European Islamization”.

Like the rest of us, Zelo Street doesn’t remotely accept his claim that Britain has been Islamized, saying that they blinked and missed it. They also call bullsh*t on his tale that he left Blighty for America to warn them about the threat of Islam. The truth was that Yiannopolis was hired by Steve Bannon for the extreme right-wing news organization, Breitbart. They also pour scorn on his claim that he’s a member of any pantheon, on the grounds that he simply isn’t important enough to be one. And this same reason applies to his other claim, that despite being married to an American, he’s applying for asylum because, as a gay man, so many people want him dead. And so he goes on about friends of his having been assaulted by Bangladeshis in public parks simply for letting their dogs void their bowels. In east London, he says, you can’t buy booze after a certain time because it will cause the Muslim minority to start a letter writing campaign against anyone selling alcohol. A Muslim minority, he says, who are disproportionately unemployed and living in affordable housing paid for by the taxpayer. He also claims that

“Muslims with extreme, hateful views about gays and horrible opinions about women would be an irritant and not a menace but for the fact that they are routinely insulated from criticism by a politically-correct media elite that scoffs whenever you mention the appalling social problems that spring up, as night follows day, whenever the area hits a certain percentage of Islamic residents”.

Zelo Street is skeptical about these claims as well, noting that he gives no corroborating proof of Bangladeshi Muslims attacking people, nor that there are any Muslim letter-writing campaigns against shops selling alcohol. The commenters on this piece are also highly skeptical about Islam being the sole reason his unnamed friends have been met with anger because of their dogs. Many people get angry when dogs foul the pavement or public parks, not just Muslims. They also have met with zero problems while buying alcohol from Muslim owned shops. A couple of comments say that if Yiannopolis can’t buy booze after a certain time, it’s because of Lloyd George and the licensing laws than angry Muslims. Also, some of those shopkeeper rightly want to go to bed at 11 O’clock. As for living at taxpayer’s expense in ‘affordable housing’, well, no, they’re not. Affordable housing is not social housing.

Yiannopolis also rants about shariah courts and parallel justice systems, which also don’t exist. He also says that he looks forward to Tommy Robinson, formerly of the EDL and Pegida UK, and his ‘army of brave lads to topple the government and close the border themselves’. Zelo Streets says of this statement that it makes grifters heroic. Which is absolutely true. Robinson, unfortunately, has very many fans and followers, but they’re hardly so many that they’re a threat to democracy by organizing a coup or close the border on their own. And Robinson himself is a grifter. According to a recent hang-out between Kevin Logan and Mike Stuchbery, Robinson is raking in about 900,000 pounds a year in donations from his followers, and his house in Luton reflects that. He is not a poor soldier battling valiantly with limited funds against the well-funded hordes of Islam. The Zelo Street article concludes that Yiannopolis’ piece is a ‘crock of crap’, and that Yiannopolis himself wants a drip-feed of money, if only to pay the lawyer for his asylum claim.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/milo-yiannopoulos-leaving-uk-for-good.html

In fact, Zelo Street is entirely correct in calling Yiannopolis’ article a pile of ordure. I doubt very much if it is militant, intolerant Muslims forcing him to live to leave London and Blighty. The real reason is that Yiannopolis is spectacularly broke. A week or so ago he released a video on the Net from Australia laughing at the fact that he was not 2 million pounds or dollars in debt, as people were claiming but four million.

Well, if he is broke, it’s all his own fault. For a moment it did look as if he was going to be a major figure politically, until he spectacularly managed to torpedo his career with some very disturbing remarks he made on the Joe Rogan Experience, an internet news discussion show.

Yiannopolis is a half-Jewish gay man, whose husband is Black. There’s nothing wrong with that, but he uses his identity as a shield to deny accusations of prejudice when he makes racist, bigoted comments about Blacks, gays and women and feminism. He can’t be prejudiced, the line runs, because he’s gay and attracted to Black men. He’s just telling the truth, which Liberals are determined to silence through accusations of racism and homophobia. As a controversialist for the Alt Right, he was becoming increasingly popular. The other year he launched a tour of American college campuses entitled his ‘Dangerous Faggot’ tour. Obviously and unsurprisingly, this was also met with protests from college feminists and anti-racist protesters. He was so popular that he was offered a very lucrative book deal by the right-wing imprint of Simon and Schuster.

This collapsed with the rest of his career as a political pundit, after he made comments justifying, or appearing to justify, paedophilia on the Joe Rogan show. Milo said that he had been molested when he was 14 by a Roman Catholic priest. However, the priest, who he refused to name, was not the instigator of the relationship. He claimed instead that it had been him, as he was desperate to provoke outrage through relationships with older, adult men. He then went on to claim that such relationships with older men helped gay boys come to terms with their sexuality.

Rogan and his co-host were, like the rest of us, not impressed. They called it was it was: child-abuse. Or at least that’s what it was over in America. They didn’t know about Britain. Well, we can reassure them on that point. It’s called paedophilia over here, where it is also illegal. Yiannopolis also claimed that he had been on boat parties in Hollywood where ‘young boys, very young boys’ were there as prostitutes. He would not, however, say how young, nor who the Hollywood personalities using them were. Commenting on this part of the interview, Kevin Logan stated that it made him feel cold wondering how young these boys were, if Yiannopolis himself was 13 or 14 when he was molested by the priest.

This stopped Yiannopolis’ burgeoning career cold. Simon and Schuster withdrew their promise to publish his book. He had been invited to attend C-SPAN, the big American Conservative gathering. This was also withdrawn. He also found himself sacked from Breitbart, although he claims that he resigned. Apparently several of the staff objected to working with him, and said that they’d leave if he didn’t.

Yiannopolis then made a public apology, stating that he now realized that he was the victim of child abuse. He also denied that his comments support the abuse of children, claiming that gays use the word ‘boy’ to describe other gay men, and he was sorry for not being more careful about using the word to a heterosexual audience, who would not grasp its meaning within gay culture. Kevin Logan, commenting on this part of is apology, stated that Yiannopolis wasn’t telling the truth, as he had clearly talked about ‘boys’, meaning precisely ‘boys’, not adult men.

Yiannopolis had also gone to Australia this winter to do a speaking tour there. This too, however, was a failure, as no-one turned up. And so it seems very much to me that Yiannopolis is leaving the country, not because he’s afraid of homophobic Muslims, but because he’s dead broke and thinks that he might be able to salvage something of his career amongst the American Far Right.

Sweary male feminist and anti-racist vlogger, Kevin Logan, made this video about the collapse of Yiannopolis’ career, which includes clips from the Joe Rogan video.

In another video, Logan says that he was keen to ask Yiannopolis if he had ever acted on his conviction that sex with underage boys was beneficial. Because if he had, then he should just go to the nearest police station and hand himself in. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons he’s really leaving London. Other people have also found out about his vile comments, and don’t want him around. Logan himself doesn’t have much sympathy for Yiannopolis’ treatment after he made his vile remarks on the Joe Rogan show either, despite Yiannopolis recognition that he was a victim of child abuse. This was for the simple reason that Yiannopolis had himself made it abundantly clear that he didn’t care about his opponents’ feelings either, even when they were a woman, who had been raped.

And Yiannopolis is another person, who has exploited his fans and followers for his own greed. When he was touring America, he announced he was setting up a fund to provide money for young white men to go to university, and appealed for donations. It was part of his attack on ‘political correctness’ and affirmative action to get more underprivileged Blacks in higher education. Except that it wasn’t. Yiannopolis didn’t set up a separate account, and all the donations went directly to his normal bank account. To date there have been no disbursements. It all looks very much like it was just another money-making scam.

Yiannopolis’ departure across the Atlantic is not that of a persecuted gay man fleeing Muslim persecution in a Britain overrun and dominated by militant Islam. It’s simply a far right propagandist going to try to get rich again after wrecking his career with vile and disgusting comments about the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Zelo Street is right that few people here know about him, or care that he’s going. And given his squalid views and behavior, this country has lost zilch from his departure.

John Quiggin on the Absolute Failure of Trickle-Down Economics

January 8, 2019

John Quiggin is an economics professor at the university of Queensland Down Under. His 2010 book, Zombie Economics, is a very thorough demolition of the economic theories that have formed the current dogma since the election of Thatcher and Reagan in 1979 and 1980.

One of the theories he refutes is ‘trickle-down’ economics. This is theory that if you act to give more wealth to the rich through tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, this wealth will trickle down to benefit those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It was one of the central planks of Thatcherism. And even in the 1980s, it’s effectiveness was highly dubious. I remember watching a documentary about it on the Beeb, which illustrated the theory with a pyramid of champagne glasses. When the glasses at the top of the pyramid were filled to overflowing, the champagne flowed down to the glasses lower down. So, Thatcher and her cronies claimed, their programme of free market economics would benefit everyone in society by enriching those at the top, from whom it would trickle down to the rest of us. If I remember correctly, the programme itself argued this wasn’t happening. And it hasn’t since. on pages 155 to 157 Quggin shows how the policy has not worked in America, and in fact the poor are massively poorer off. He writes

The experience of the United States during the decades of market liberalism, from the 1970s until the Global Financial Crisis, gives little support for the trickle-down view. The gross domestic product of the United States grew solidly in this period, if not as rapidly as during the Keynesian postwar boom. More relevantly to the trickle-down hypothesis , the incomes and wealth of the richest Americans grew spectacularly. Incomes at the fifth percentile of the income distribution doubled and those for the top 0.1 per cent quadrupled.

By contrast, the gains to households in the middle of the income distribution have been much more modest. As shown in figure 4.2, real median household income rose from forty-five thousand dollars to just over fifty thousand dollars between 1973 (the last year of the long postwar expansion) and 2008. The annual rate of increase was 0.4 per cent.

For those at the bottom of the income distribution, there have been no gains at all. Real incomes for the lower half of the distribution have stagnated. The same picture emerges if we look at wages. Median real earning for full-time year-round male workers have not grown since 1974. For males with high school education or less, real wages have actually declined. According to estimates made by the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual earnings of twenty-five to twenty-nine-year-old high school graduates, expressed in 2005 values, fell from #30,900 in 1970 to $25,90 in 2000, and have stagnated since then.

Since 2000, median household incomes have actually fallen, the first time in modern history that such a decline has taken place over a full business cycle. One result can be seen by looking at the proportion of households living below the poverty line. The poverty rate declined steadily during the postwar Keynsian era. It has remained essentially static since 1970, falling in booms, but rising again in recessions.

Unlike most developed countries, the United States has a poverty line fixed in terms of absolute consumption levels and based on an assessment of a poverty-line food budget undertaken in 1963. The proportion of Americans below this fixed poverty line fell from 25 per cent in the late 1950s to 11 percent in 1974. Since then it has fluctuated, reaching 13.2 percent in 2008, a level that is certain to rise further as a result of the financial crisis and recession now taking place. Since the poverty line has remained unchanged, this means that the real incomes accruing to the poorest ten percent of Americans have fallen over the last thirty years.

These outcomes are reflected in measures of the numbers of Americans who lack access to the basics of life: food, shelter, and adequate medical care.

In 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics quoted by the Food Research Action Center, 49.1 million Americans live in households classified as “food insecure”, meaning that they lacked access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. Slightly more than 17 million people (17.3 million) lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security”, which means that one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This number had doubled since 2000 and has almost certainly increased further as a result of the recession.

The number of people without health insurance rose steadily over the period of market liberalism, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, reaching a peak of 46 million, or 15 percent of the population. Among the insured, an increasing proportion was reliant on government programs. The traditional model of employment-based private health insurance, which was developed as part of the New Deal, and covered most of the population during the Keynesian era, was eroded to the point of collapse.

Homelessness is almost entirely a phenomenon of the era of market liberalism. During the decade of full employment, homelessness was confined to a tiny population of transients, mostly older males with mental health and substance abuse problems. By contrast, in 2007, 1.6 million people spent time in homeless shelters, and about 40 percent of the homeless population were families with children.

The experience of the United States in the era of market liberalism was as thorough a refutation of the trickle-down hypothesis as can reasonably be imagined. The well off have become better off, and the rich have become super-rich. Despite impressive technological progress, those in the middle of the income distributions struggled to stay in place, and those at the bottom became worse-off in crucial respects.

(My emphasis).

Bernie Sanders in his book described just how severe the crisis in private American medical care was. It almost collapsed completely in certain states because a very large number of patients are simply unable to afford medical treatment.

And the same situation prevails here in Britain, with increasing poverty here in Britain. Millions of households now live below the poverty line, a quarter of million people need food banks to keep body and soul together, including working people with families. As Mike pointed out in a piece last week, parents are now starving themselves in order to fee their children.

The NHS is also in crisis, though for different but related reasons to those in the US. It’s in crisis because of massive funding cuts by the Tories over the last decade, and the determination of both Tory and New Labour administrations to privatise it by stealth. The introduction of private enterprise into the NHS actually raises costs, not diminishes them. It’s for the simple reason that private firms have to make a profit to pass on to their shareholders. Plus private firms also have bureaucracies of their own, which in some instances can take up 44 per cent of the firm’s income.

And added to this there is a massive increase in homelessness. But don’t worry! Yesterday, the I newspaper published a piece from the Economist telling millennials to cheer up, because in the future they’ll be able to afford their own home. Which sounds very much like simple propaganda for the current economic orthodoxy, rather than a realistic, credible prediction.

Free market capitalism has failed, despite what the press and media is trying to tell us. The Conservatives responsible for its adoption should be thrown out of government, and the Blairites who introduced it into Labour should be forced out of the positions of power they seek to monopolise. If not expelled altogether as Thatcherite entryists.

We need a genuine, socialist Labour government to clean this mess up. A government which must be led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The Schoolboy Sexism and Snobbery of Toby Young

January 5, 2019

Leafing through an old copy of Private Eye, for 1st – 14th April 2011, I found an article in their ‘Street of Shame’ column about Spectator columnist Toby Young and his friend and ally, Harry Phibbs. Young was then trying to set up his free school in Hammersmith and Fulham, where Phibbs was a councilor. To show the strong relationship between them and just how extreme and noxious their right-wing views were, the magazine published and commented on a letter written by Young to Phibbs when he was a sixth form student nearly 30 years previously. The article, ‘Tory Boys’, ran

Spectator columnist Toby Young has no doughtier ally in his campaign to set up a west London Free School than the booming-voiced freelance hack Harry Phibbs, Hammersmith and Fulham’s council’s “cabinet member for community engagement”.

Phibbs represents the ward in which the school will be sited, and threw his considerable weight behind the council’s decision to sell off a building occupied by voluntary groups so Toby could have it. Phibbs’s current partner, Caroline Ffiske, sits on the school’s steering committee.

But the relationship between these two likely lads goes back much further. The Eye has somehow obtained a fan-letter sent to Harry Phibbs 29 years ago, when as a noisy Tory schoolboy he was attracting media attention. The author, a sixth-former at William Ellis School in north London, professed himself “very amused” by an Eye report of Phibbs’s antics.

“Here is a brief history of my political career [sic],” wrote Toby Young (for it was he). “having been a victim of a bohemian upbringing, and living in a small, socialist community in Devon surrounded by feminists and hippies of every (unspeakable) description. I decided to set up a provocative organization which I suitably named ‘Combat Communism’.”

After several paragraphs recounting how he’d tried to disrupt a protest by CND (“this band of idiots”), Toby made his pitch. “Recently I started up a political group called ‘the Young Apostles’, and we hold regular meetings where topics such as disarmament, feminism, culture, education, the media, the constitution and international finance are discussed. I originally banned females from taking part, partly because I don’t believe them equipped with the ability to discuss things and partly because I don’t know any bright females. Much to my horror some local saggy-titted feminists (Greenham Gremlins) found out about this discussion group and its high membership standards, and picketed the first meeting. Naturally they weren’t prepared to listen to my arguments about the genetic character traits of women and just ranted and raved… so I was forced to enlist the services of the local constabulary in order to dispose of them.

“Anyway, to get to the point, I was wondering whether you (and perhaps one or two of your brighter friends) would be interested in attending any of these meetings. I can promise that no members of the (un)fair sex will halt you on your way in Currently we have the sons of several ’eminent’ men among our ranks… Our next meeting is on Sunday 6 March at 2pm (whisky and cigars provided).” Using the courtesy title deriving from his dad’s peerage, he signed himself: “Yours sincerely, Honourable Toby D.M. Young.” Who’d have guessed that three decades later this comical duo would be collaborating to set up a co-ed school? (p. 5).

Okay, a lot of children and young people have obnoxious views, which they later grow out of. And Young wrote the letter back in the early 1980s, when attitudes towards gender and feminism were rather different. The women protesting against American nuclear weapons at Greenham Common were vilified in the right-wing press, and by Auberon Waugh, one of the columnists in Private Eye. I can remember Waugh appearing on the late Terry Wogan’s chat show one evening to sneer at them. It was at that time there was a comedy on BBC 2, Comrade Dad, starring George Cole, set in a future Communist Britain. This not only satirized the Soviet Union, but also the supposed far-left politics of Labour politicians like Ken Livingstone and the GLC in London. Just as women performed traditionally masculine jobs, like engineers and construction workers in the USSR, so they were shown doing such jobs in the Britain of the time. The lead character, played by Cole, was a firm believer in this system, and in line with avoiding sexist speech used to refer to everyone as ‘persons’. Women were ‘female persons’. Even so, Young’s view were horrendously reactionary at the time. As for Waugh, his humour largely consisted of writing outrageously opinionated right-wing pieces against groups like the Greenham women, teachers, and everyone else who offended his Thatcherite sensibilities in order to upset the left. Looking back at him, he could probably be described as a kind of privileged literary troll.

Regarding Young’s claim that he didn’t know any intelligent females, that can probably be explained by him being too opinionated and stupid to recognize the intelligence of the young women around him. On the other hand, he probably attended a boys’ school, in which case he may not have known many girls. It’s also possible that the girls and women with brains recognized immediately how stupid Young was, and took care to avoid him.

Young has, however, continued to have extreme right-wing views, and indeed has made a career out of it. I think he was the author of the book, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People was based. He last notable appearance in the news was a few years ago, when the Tories made him the official responsible for looking after the interests of students at university. Private Eye, amongst others, revealed that Young had been one of those attending a eugenics conference at University College London along with others on the far right. These included people, who believed that Blacks were intellectually inferior to Whites, and out and out Nazis. In this company, his remark in the letter that his youthful study group also discussed international finance could sound sinister, like a coded reference to the stupid and murderous conspiracy theory about the world being run by Jewish bankers. I doubt that is how he meant it at the time, but undoubtedly that is how it would be presented if Young was a member of the Labour left rather than extreme right-wing Tory.

I don’t know how Young got on with his plans to found the free school, and he probably has changed his views on women. But otherwise he seems to have remained extremely right-wing and bigoted. He definitely doesn’t support or defend the interests of people from lower income backgrounds, regardless of their gender. And indeed he, like the other hacks on the Spectator and in the right-wing press genuinely, are fiercely opposed to them.

Bakunin: Democracy without Economic Equality Is Worthless

December 27, 2018

More anarchism now, this time from the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin violently criticized and rejected democracy because he passionately believed and argued that without economic equality for the workers, it would simply preserve the power of the exploiting classes, including the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital and industry. These would continue legislating for themselves against the workers.

Bakunin wrote

The child endowed with the greatest talents, but born into a poor family, a family of workers living from day to day on their hard labour, is doomed to an ignorance which, instead of developing his own natural talents, kills them all: he will become the worker, the unskilled labourer, forced to be the bourgeoisie’s man-servant and field-worker. The child of bourgeois parents, on the other hand, the child of the rich, however, stupid by nature, will receive both the upbringing and the education necessary to develop his scanty talents as much as possible. He will become the exploiter of labour, the master, the property-owner, the legislator, the governor-a gentleman. However stupid he may be, he will make laws on behalf of the people and against them, and he will rule over the popular masses.

In a democratic state, it will be said, the people will choose only the good men. But how will they recognize them? They have neither the education necessary for judging the good and the bad, nor the spare time necessary for learning the differences among those who run for election. These men, moreover, live in a society different from their own; they doff their hat to Their Majesty the sovereign people only at election-time, and once elected they turn their backs. Moreover, however excellent they may be as members of their family and their society, they will always be bad for the people, because, belonging to the privileged and exploiting class, they will quite naturally wish to preserve those privileges which constitute the very basis of their social existence and condemn the people to eternal slavery.

But why haven’t the people been sending men of their own, men of the people, to the legislative assemblies and the government? First, because men of the people, who have to live by their physical labour, do not have the time to devote themselves exclusively to politics. [Second, b]eing unable to do so, being more often ignorant of the political and economic questions which are discussed in these lofty regions, they will nearly always be the dupes of lawyers and bourgeois politicians. Also, [third] it is usually enough for these men of the people to enter the government for them to become members of the bourgeoisie in their turn, sometimes hating and scorning the people from whom they came more than do the natural-born members of the bourgeoisie.

So you see that political equality, even in the most democratic states, is an illusion. It is the same with juridical equality, equality before the law. The bourgeoisie make the law for themselves, and they practice it against the people. The State, and the law which expresses it, exist only to perpetuate the slavery of the people for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

Moreover, you know, if you wish to file suit when you find your interests, your honour, or your rights wronged, you must first prove that you are able to pay the costs, that is, that you can lay aside an impossible sum; and if you cannot do so, they you cannot file the suit. But do the people, the majority of the workers, have the resources to put on deposit in a court of law? Most of the time, no. Hence the rich man will be able to attack you and insult you with impunity. There is no justice at all for the people.

Political equality will be an illusion so long as economic and social equality do not exist, so long as any minority can become rich, property-owning, and capitalist through inheritance. Do you know the true definitions of hereditary property? It is the hereditary ability to exploit the collective labour of the people and to enslave the masses.

In Robert M. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-71 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985) pp. 50-1.

Bakunin’s stance is extreme, obviously, and the educational opportunities open to working people has changed immensely since the late 19th century when he wrote this. The school leaving age in Britain has gradually been extended until it’s 18, and nearly half of all school leavers now go on to university to obtain degrees. But nevertheless, his criticism still remains valid.

The majority of politicians and members of parliament come from the middle and upper classes. There was a book published a few years ago that estimated that 75 per cent of MPs have senior management positions or sit on the boards of companies, so that the majority of them are millionaires. As a result, legislation passed by them has benefited industry at the expense of working people, so that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor poorer. They have attacked employees’ rights at work, introduced the gig economy, which has trapped people in insecure, irregularly paid work without benefits like annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave. At the same time the benefits system has been attacked to create a demoralized, cowed workforce ready to accept any job than starve without state support, due to benefit sanctions and delays in payment. And then there’s the infamous workfare, which is nothing less than the abuse of the benefits system to supply industry and particularly the big supermarkets with subsidized cheap labour for exploitation.

This situation has partly come about because New Labour abandoned economic justice for working people and took over the Neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher. The result was that even when the Tories were ousted with the 1997 election, elements of Thatcherism continued under Blair and Brown. And the Neocons have admitted that while they were in favour of exporting democracy to Iraq, they wanted that new freedom to be strictly limited so that only parties promoting free trade and economic individualism would be elected.

In the US the situation has got worse. Due to political sponsorship and donations from big business, politicians in congress notoriously do not represent their constituents but their corporate donors. Only 19-25 per cent of American voters feel the government works for them, and a study by Harvard University concluded that the country was not so much a democracy as a corporate oligarchy.

Democracy would thus benefit the ruling classes, and provide the illusion of freedom for everyone else.

This has to be reversed. Corporate money and power has to be taken out of politics and ordinary working men and women put in, with an agenda to empower this country’s ordinary people instead of reassuring lies, like the Tories.

It’s why we need Corbyn in government, and the Tories, Lib-Dems and New Labour out.

Book on How to Resist and Campaign for Change

November 4, 2018

Matthew Bolton, How To Resist: Turn Protest to Power (London: Bloomsbury 2017)

About this time last week, hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets marching to demand a second referendum on Brexit. It was the biggest demonstration since 2 million or so people marched against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. And as Mike commented in his blog post about it, as likely to do as much good. Blair and his corrupt gang ignored the manifest will of the people, and went ahead anyway, determined to prosecute a war whose real reasons were western imperialism and multinational corporate greed. The march failed to stop the war and the chaos it caused is still ongoing. Just as last week’s march will also fail to prevent the Tories doing whatever they want.

It’s a disgusting situation, and this book is addressed to everyone who’s fed up with it. The author, Matthew Bolton, is an organizer with the campaigning group Citizens UK and their Living Wage campaign. And the book is addressed to people, who have been on the march, and are sick and tired of being ignored. Right at the very beginning of the book, he writes

This book is for people who are angry with the way things are and want to do something about it; for people who are frustrated with the system, or worried about the direction the country is going in. For people who are upset about a particular issue, or want a greater say in the changes happening in their neighbourhood. They’ve posted their opinions on social media and they’ve shouted at something they’ve seen on the news. They’ve been on the big march and they’ve been to the ballot box, but what more can be done? This is for people who want to make a change, but they’re not sure how. (p.1)

A few pages later he describes the dangers to democracy and the increasing sense of powerlessness people now feel when decisions are taken out of their hands by politicians.

What’s at stake here is more important than simply helping people who care about particular issues to run effective campaigns. It’s about democracy. In the past, people who wanted to make a difference, and believed in change fought for democracy with sweat, blood and courage. The Chartists, the Suffragettes and other endured prison and faced death in their struggle for the chance to have a say in the governance of the country. They organized and campaigned to force the ruling elites to open up our political system to influence by the majority of the people. It is a great misunderstanding to think that they were fighting for the chance to put a cross in a box once every few years. They were fighting – week in, week out – for power. Fighting for more people to have more influence.

Over time, we have become confused. Now we have the vote, we have mistaken politics for Parliament and have come to see democracy as something to watch on television or follow on Twitter, like spectators at a football game – or worse, to switch off from it completely, losing trust in politicians, losing trust in the media, losing trust in the system. Democracy doesn’t just mean ‘to vote’, it means people power. It means embedding political action into our day-to-day lives, in our communities and workplaces. It is a vision of a society where power is distributed amongst the people, not concentrated in the hands of the few. It’s not an end state, but a constant struggle for people to fight for a seat around the decision-making table.

But it doesn’t feel like we are at the table. It feels like we are on the menu. Power is being concentrated in the hands of an increasingly small circle of people. We have a revolving door of Cabinet ministers becoming bankers, becoming newspaper editors, becoming chief executives. We have been lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that our democratic system would create a better future for us all. But it doesn’t look that way. By lunchtime on the first Wednesday in January, after just two-and-a-half days’ work, FTSE 100 bosses will have earned more than the average person will earn that entire year. The generation now in their twenties will be the first in modern times to be worse off than their parents. What we want for ourselves and our children – a decent job, a home, a health service, a community – is under threat. (pp. 4-5).

He then discusses how the political terrain has shifted immensely recently, with people demanding change, giving as examples the vote to Leave in the Brexit referendum and the election of Jeremy Corbyn. But he also makes the point that you need a strategy and that winning campaigns are very well planned and organized. And he gives two examples: Rosa Parks and Abdul Durrant. While the action that sparked off the bus boycott that began the Civil Rights movement in earnest was presented as spontaneous in Dr. Who, in reality it was very carefully planned. The Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been planning a boycott for a year before she refused to give up her seat. They had already tried this with three other Black passengers, but had failed to light the fuse of public indignation. This time, they found the right person with Rosa. Durrant was a leader in the East London Communities Organisation, part of Citizens UK, who worked nights as a cleaner in HSBC in Canary Wharf. He led a campaign to get better pay for workers like him, and then organized a media and mass protest to get it.

As for Bolton himself, he comes from a working/ middle class family. His father’s family were working class, his mother’s solidly middle class. He attended Cambridge university, but went to the state primary in his part of London. The local area was very rough, and his mother wanted him privately educated, and he was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a private school in Dulwich. He says that it was at this time that the stark difference between conditions in south London and the bubble of privilege in Dulwich began to grate on him. He was mugged twice in his neighbourhood, once at the point of a knife, punched several times in the face, and violently carjacked. After private secondary school, he went to sixth form at a state school that also had its fair share of problems. He describes how some of his friends from private school went on to work with a family friend in the City, which he describes as a conveyor belt to a decent university and a great career. Others had to avoid gang trouble on their way home, looked after their young siblings in the evening because their mother was working nights, scrimped and saved to pay the gas meter, and then tried to do their homework. He continues

It wasn’t just the unfairness that made me angry: it was the fact that as a society we say success is determined by how clever you are and how hard you work. If you fail, it’s your fault. That convenient lie made me angry then and it makes me angry now. (p. 21).

The book describes the strategy he has devised over years of campaigning to affect change. It starts off by identifying the issue you are particularly angry about – it could be anything – and identifying the people in authority who may be able to do something about it. He rejects the idea that powerlessness is somehow noble, and recommends instead that protestors concentrate on developing their power, as well as appealing to those that already have it to help them through their self-interest. The book also talks about the correct strategy to adopt in meetings and talks with those in authority and so on. It is all about mobilizing popular protest for peaceful change. After the introduction, pieces of which I’ve quoted above, it has the following chapters:

1. If You Want Change, You Need Power

2. Appreciating Self-Interest

3. Practical Tools to Build Power

4. Turning Problems Into Issues

5. The Action is in the Reaction

6. Practical Tools to Build a Campaign

7. Unusual Allies and Creative Tactics

8. Finding the Time.

9. The Iron Rule.

I’m afraid I didn’t finish reading the book, and have no experience of campaigning myself, so I can’t really judge how useful and applicable it is. But just reading it, it seems to be a very useful guide with sensible, badly needed advice for people wanting to mount effective campaigns on the issues that matter to them. And Bolton is absolutely right about the rising, obscene inequalities in our society and the crisis of democracy that has developed through the emergence of a corrupt, self-interest and interlinked media-political-banking complex.

Video of Three Military Robots

October 23, 2018

This is another video I round on robots that are currently under development on YouTube, put up by the channel Inventions World. Of the three, one is Russian and the other two are American.

The first robot is shown is the Russian, Fyodor, now being developed by Rogozin. It’s anthropomorphic, and is shown firing two guns simultaneously from its hands on a shooting range, driving a car and performing a variety of very human-style exercises, like press-ups. The company says that it was taught to fire guns to give it instant decision-making skills. And how to drive a car to make it autonomous. Although it can move and act on its own, it can also mirror the movements of a human operator wearing a mechanical suit. The company states that people shouldn’t be alarmed, as they are building AI, not the Terminator.

The next is CART, a tracked robot which looks like nothing so much as a gun and other equipment, possibly sensors, on top of a tank’s chassis and caterpillar tracks. It seems to be one of a series of such robots, designed for the American Marine corps. The explanatory text on the screen is flashed up a little too quickly to read everything, but it seems intended to provide support for the human troopers by providing extra power and also carrying their equipment for them. Among the other, similar robots which appear is a much smaller unit about the size of a human foot, seen trundling about.

The final robot is another designed by Boston Dynamics, which has already built a man-like robot and a series of very dog-like, four-legged robots, if I remember correctly. This machine is roughly humanoid. Very roughly. It has four limbs, roughly corresponding to arms and legs. Except the legs end in wheels and the arms in rubber grips, or end effectors. Instead of a head, it has a square box and the limbs look like they’ve been put on backwards. It’s shown picking up a crate in a say which reminds me of a human doing it backward, bending over to pick it up behind him. But if his legs were also put on back to front. It’s also shown spinning around, leaping into the area and scooting across the test area with one wheel on the ground and another going up a ramp.

Actually, what the Fyodor robot brings to my mind isn’t so much Schwarzenegger and the Terminator movies, but Hammerstein and his military robots from 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ strip. The operation of the machine by a human wearing a special suite also reminds me of a story in the ‘Hulk’ comic strip waaaay back in the 1970s. In this story, the Hulk’s alter ego, Banner, found himself inside a secret military base in which robots very similar to Fyodor were being developed. They were also controlled by human operators. Masquerading as the base’s psychiatrist, Banner meets one squaddie, who comes in for a session. The man is a robot operator, and tells Banner how he feels dehumanized through operating the robot. Banner’s appalled and decides to sabotage the robots to prevent further psychological damage. He’s discovered, of course, threatened or attacked, made angry, and the Hulk and mayhem inevitably follow.

That story is very definitely a product of the ’70s and the period of liberal self-doubt and criticism following the Vietnam War, Nixon and possibly the CIA’s murky actions around the world, like the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. The Hulk always was something of a countercultural hero. He was born when Banner, a nuclear scientist, got caught with the full force of the gamma radiation coming off a nuclear test saving Rick, a teenager, who had strayed into the test zone. Rick was an alienated, nihilistic youth, who seems to have been modelled on James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Banner pulls him out of his car, and throws him into the safety trench, but gets caught by the explosion before he himself could get in. Banner himself was very much a square. He was one of the scientists running the nuclear tests, and his girlfriend was the daughter of the army commander in charge of them. But the Hulk was very firmly in the sights of the commander, and the strip was based around Banner trying to run away from him while finding a cure for his new condition. Thus the Hulk would find himself fighting a series of running battles against the army, complete with tanks. The Ang Lee film of the Hulk that came out in the 1990s was a flop, and it did take liberties with the Hulk’s origin, as big screen adaptations often do with their source material. But it did get right the antagonism between the great green one and the army. The battles between the two reminded me very much of their depictions in the strip. The battle between the Hulk and his father, who now had the power to take on the properties of whatever he was in contact with was also staged and shot very much like similar fights also appeared in the comic, so that watching the film I felt once again a bit like I had when I was a boy reading it.

As for the CART and related robots, they remind me of the tracked robot the army sends in to defuse bombs. And research on autonomous killing vehicles like them were begun a very long time ago. The Germans in the Second World War developed small robots, remotely operated which also moved on caterpillar tracks. These carried bombs, and the operators were supposed to send them against Allied troops, who would then be killed when they exploded. Also, according to the robotics scientist Kevin Warwick of Reading University, the Americans developed an automatic killer robot consisting of a jeep with a machine gun in the 1950s. See his book, March of the Machines.

Despite the Russians’ assurances that they aren’t building the Terminator, Warwick is genuinely afraid that the robots will eventually take over and subjugate humanity. And he’s not alone. When one company a few years ago somewhere said that they were considering making war robots, there was an outcry from scientists around the world very much concerned about the immense dangers of such machines.

Hammerstein and his metallic mates in ‘ABC Warriors’ have personalities and a conscience, with the exception of two: Blackblood and Mekquake. These robots have none of the intelligence and humanity of their fictional counterparts. And without them, the fears of the opponents of such machines are entirely justified. Critics have made the point that humans are needed on the battle to make ethical decisions that robots can’t or find difficult. Like not killing civilians, although you wouldn’t guess that from the horrific atrocities committed by real, biological flesh and blood troopers.

The robots shown here are very impressive technologically, but I’d rather have their fictional counterparts created by Mills and O’Neill. They were fighting machines, but they had a higher purpose behind their violence and havoc:

Increase the peace!