Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Arthur C. Clarke Book on the Terraforming of Mars

March 18, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke – The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – The Illustrated History of Man’s Colonization of Mars (London: Victor Gollancz 1994).

A little while ago I put up a number of articles on the possible terraforming of various planets in our solar system. The prime candidate at the moment would be Mars, but people have also suggested ways to terraform Venus and the Moon. I’ve managed to dig out from my bookshelves a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, The Snows of Olympus, which I bought way back in the 1990s. Clarke’s been called ‘The Space Prophet’ because of his article published in a radio hobbyists’ magazine shortly after the War predicting geostationary communications satellites. He has jokingly said in an article ‘How I Lost a Million Dollars in My Spare Time’ that he should have patented the concept, and so made himself a billionaire because of its immense value to the telecommunications industry. This book is no less prophetic in that it uses computer simulations to depict the gradual greening of the Red Planet over a thousand year period from the next few centuries to c. 3000.

The book has a prologue, in which Clarke gives the text of a speech he gave to future Martian colonists as part of the Planetary Society’s ‘Visions of Mars Project’. Launched by the late and much-missed astronomer and space visionary, Carl Sagan, this was a project to send the future colonists the gift of a collection of SF short stories about Mars aboard two probes due to land there. There’s then a short introduction in which Clarke lays out the aims of the book. The first chapter, ‘Prelude to Mars’, discusses the history of the exploration of the Red Planet by terrestrial astronomers and writers, such as Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet, and the controversy surrounding the supposed ‘face’ on Mars, made by Richard Hoagland and others.

Chapter 2 – ‘The Curtain Rises’ – is on the probes sent to explore Mars, such as the Mariner probes and discussion between himself, Sagan, Ray Bradbury and the JPL’s Bruce Murray at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the probes and their findings. He goes on to discuss Viking probes and the debate about American and Russian cooperative ventures in space research. This last ended for a time because of international tensions created by the Solidarity crisis in Poland.

Chapter 3 – ‘Going There’, describes the problems and suggested methods for reaching Mars, establishing crewed bases there, including various types of rocket from the conventional chemical to nuclear-thermal and atomic; solar sails and space elevators, George Bush seniors’ intention to launch a crewed mission to Mars by 2019, and the tasks that would immediately face the astronauts landing there.

Chapter 4- ‘Virtual Explorations’ is on the use of computers and VR to explore and map Mars, and particularly the Vistapro programme used in the generation of many of the images in the book.

Chapter 5 is on the artistic and computer depictions of Olympus Mons, the planet’s highest mountain and the gradual reclamation of its surface by vegetation, beginning with lichens, during the long centuries of terraforming. This culminates in the emergence of liquid water and creation of a sea surrounding the mountain.

Chapter 6 does the same for Eos Chasma, the ‘Chasm of the Dawn’, in the Valles Marineris.

Chapter 7 shows the same process as it would affect the Noctes Labyrinthes – the Labyrinth of Night. This forecasts the growth of forests in this part of Mars, beginning with pines but later including deciduous trees.

Chapter 8 – ‘The Longest Spring’ discusses the various methods that could be used to terraform Mars, such as coating the ice caps with carbon from Mars’ moon, Phobos, the use of orbiting mirrors to melt them, raising its temperature by turning Phobos into a miniature sun for about 40 days using ‘muon resonance’ – a form of nuclear reaction, and bombarding the planet with comets to cover it with water, and ‘Von Neumann’ machines that would gradually terraform the planet automatically.

‘Disneymars’ looks forward to a museum display and audiovisual presentation that would show the colonists what their planet would look like in the future as the terraforming progresses.

Chapter 9 – ‘Concerning Ends and Means’ discusses the moral dimension of terraforming, the immense historical importance of exploration and the need to continue this exploration to the Red Planet in order to preserve human civilisation and progress.

There are two appendices. The first is an extract from a speech, The Mars Project: Journeys beyond the Cold War, by US senator and WWII hero, Spark Matsunaga. The second, ‘So You’re Going to Mars’, is fictional advice given by the immigration authorities to people moving from Earth to Mars.

The quality of the computer graphics is mixed. Many of them, which were without doubt absolutely astonishing for the time, now look rather crude and dated as the technology has improved. Others, however, still stand up very well even today. The quality of the computer simulations of the terraforming process can be seen from this image below of what Eos Chasma might look like in 2500 AD.

There are also plenty of illustrations of Mars, rendered using more traditional artistic methods such as painting, including photos of Percival Lowell’s own drawings of what he believed was the planet’s network of canals.

Although the computer tools may have been superseded and improved in the decades since the book’s publication, I think the science, and the social issues Clarke discusses, are still solidly relevant and contemporary. Certainly there is now a popular movement to send humans to the Red Planet at some point in the coming decades, and prospective future colonists have even come forward to volunteer a few years ago. There is, however, a greater awareness of the medical dangers from radiation and microgravity that would affect – and possibly destroy – a mission to Mars. The dream, however, is still there, as shown by the success of the film The Martian a few years ago.

Trump Passes Law Allowing Gene Testing by Bosses

March 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Genetic Discrimination:
Education, Employment and Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

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

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sebastian Gorka – Another Fascist in Trump’s Cabinet

March 1, 2017

Trump’s cabinet is notorious for the number of anti-Semites, Fascists and Nazis in it, like Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart, and Richard Spencer, the founder of the Alt Right. And now here’s another one, Sebastian Gorka. Gorka’s Trump’s Deputy Assistant. In this video from the David Pakman show, Pakman and his producer, Louis, talk about the links between Gorka and the Hungarian ant-Semitic extreme right, and how he worn in public the medallions and decorations of Hungary’s anti-Semitic dictators and extreme nationalist parties. He has, for example, worn a pin associated with Admiral Horthy’s regime. Horthy was the dictator of Hungary from 1922 onwards, who was officially listed as a collaborator with the Nazis by the US government. He also defended the use of the Arpad Flag, the emblem of the Arrow Cross Party, the anti-Semitic extreme nationalist party that governed Hungary during the period of the Third Reich. From 2002 to 2007 Gorka was active in Hungarian extreme rightwing politics. He appeared and collaborated with anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, and was part of the movement to organise another extreme Right-wing party, which has the goal of putting Christianity back into Hungary’s constitution. He also wrote for an extreme rightwing newspaper, Magyar Demokrita, which the US government has officially listed as anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying. He also worked for the Hungarian National Committee, whose 2004 yearbook contained the following call to purge Hungary of its Jews:

We need to get the Jews out. In fact, we need to take back our country from them. We need to take back our stolen fortunes. After all, these upstarts are sucking on our blood and are getting rich off our blood. This is vile, obscene stuff, which could easily have come from Goebbels himself or Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer. Gorka has also said that it’s right that foreign leaders should be afraid of Trump.

Pakman and Louis remark on how it is strange that Trump denies being an anti-Semite, has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted to Judaism to marry her husband, but nevertheless surrounds himself with these Fascists. Pakman states that it’s probably because Trump holds many anti-Semitic images and stereotypes about Jews, but doesn’t think that he actually hates them. These beliefs still enable him to stand next to one on a political platform. Pakman and Louis also consider that Trump’s slogan, ‘American first’, also may play a part in making him comfortable with the presence and cooperation of anti-Semites and Nazis. The slogan ‘America first’ comes from the country’s isolationist stance between the First and Second World Wars, when the country did not want to enter the war against Fascism in Europe or allow in European refugees.

Pakman finally concludes this piece by observing that, despite announcing that he is a ‘proud American’, Gorka’s another one of the pesky immigrants to the US. He was born in London of Hungarian parentage. But as he’s White, Trump’s administration likes him.

In actual fact, there’s been a section of the Republican party that has included racists and outright Nazis for a very long time. They’ve been around ever since the US – and Britain – recruited former Nazis, included members of the SS and Gestapo – to use against the spread of Communism during the Cold War. ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone has a couple of chapters on this in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, which should show very strongly that the old newt fancier is no kind of anti-Semite. America has supported a long, bloody list of Fascist dictators abroad since the Second World War, such as General Pinochet in Chile, and the various Fascist regimes and death squads in Guatemala, Panama and Nicaragua. The World Anti-Communist League includes American ultra-Conservatives as well as Fascists and Nazis from across the world. And in the 1980s Reagan also supported Ukrainian nationalists and Nazi collaborators in his campaign against the USSR.

Links between the Republican party and international Fascism are therefore nothing new. What is new here is that they’re now obvious and blatant, whereas before they were all hidden from the voting public to a greater or lesser extent. It was monstrous that these thugs and torturers should ever have been a part of American politics or supported by US foreign policy. But their appearance as a formal part of Trump’s cabinet is deeply ominous, as it shows the normalisation of such Fascism as part of American politics. If this continues, and openly Fascist politicians and aides are given posts and public offices, you have to wonder how long it will be before American democracy itself is undermined and replaced by a racist, right-wing dictatorship.

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counterpunch on the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair

February 25, 2017

Tony Blair emerged from under whatever plush, money-stuffed rock he’s been hiding under since he left power last week to deliver a speech to encourage Brits to remain in the EU. This, however, wasn’t the real point of his reappearance back into British politics. Mike in his piece about the speech stated that Blair’s real intention is simply to undermine Corbyn. Corbyn is trying to heal the rifts created by the Brexit vote. Blair, however, wishes to keep them open. He wants to undermine Corbyn, because the Labour leader represents a return to genuine, traditional Labour politics, while Blair simply wants it to carry on being a pale blue version of the Tories.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/17/blairs-dog-whistle-rallying-call-for-remain-is-another-bid-to-split-labour/

Mike’s right, of course. Blair’s entire electoral strategy was based on embracing Thatcherism and Neoliberalism, imposing even more strict limits on the unions and their ability to defend their members, and privatising the post office, the education system and massively expanding the Tory privatisation of the NHS. This was all done to appease the City, the right-wing press and gaining votes from swing voters in marginal constituencies.

Blair’s old ally, Peter Mandelson, also came out of the woodwork to support his former boss. On the Andrew Marr show on Sunday Mandelson announced that Labour needed unity and ‘sureness of touch’ to win elections. Mike pointed out that the division in the Labour party, which was succeeding in turning some people away from it, as he knew from his own experiences interviewing people on their doorsteps, had been created by Mandelson and the other Blairites. They’re not interested in Labour winning elections. They just want Corbyn out, and so are prepared to do anything to achieve this, including scuppering Labour’s chances of winning elections. Mike concluded that Mandelson was therefore ‘an enemy of the people’. It’s a strong phrase, but it accurately describes the New Labour attitude of tolerating and encouraging even more privatisation and welfare cuts, with the horrific suffering and death they’re causing to the poor, in order to make themselves electable to the rich.

See:http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/19/mandelsons-mixed-message-on-brexit-is-designed-to-confuse-not-help/ and http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/21/enemy-of-the-people-peter-mandelson/

Mike also noted that Labour MPs seemed to be less than enthusiastic about Blair’s return, with some making very lukewarm comments about it. The shadow Brexit minister, Jenny Chapman, made the point that it would be a mistake to argue in favour of remaining in Europe, as this would cut no ice with voters outside London.

Mike in his comments about Blair’s reception states that Labour MPs are aware that Blair is trying to keep the party divided and is a menace to the party’s chances of winning an election. Hence the frost reception the former PM got when he made his speech.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/17/labour-mps-turn-on-tony-blair-shock-horror/

The American radical magazine, Counterpunch, was also highly critical about Blair’s return. Their columnist, John Wight, points out very clearly that much of the current political climate, which has encouraged and facilitated the rise of the extreme right, is a direct result of the corrupt policies pursued by Blair in Britain and Clinton in America. Blair’s support for the Iraq invasion has been one of the causes of the massive carnage and destabilisation, not just of that nation, but of the entire Middle East. And the rise of the far right at home has been fuelled by their destruction of traditional working class politics in the Democrats and the Labour party in order to bolster the power of the business elites. He writes

Just when you thought it was safe to venture out, Frankenstein returns – at least its political equivalent in the shape of Tony Blair, Britain’s former prime minister and poster child for the venality, corruption, and opportunism of Western liberalism in our time.

Blair’s decision to intervene in the ongoing political crisis that has engulfed the UK over Brexit can only be described as offensive. His call to arms, urging the British people to “rise up against Brexit”, which he issued from that renowned fortress of people power, Bloomberg headquarters in the City of London, will only harden support for it given the fact that Blair’s time in office only helped pave the way for it.

The man is a deluded fool if he really thinks that he has the credibility or clout to make any such intervention in frontline politics anything other than a car crash. With the anniversary of the start of the 2003 war in Iraq upon us next month, bringing with it the memory of the role that Blair played in the deaths of up to one million people, along with the destabilization of the region and an explosion of terrorism that has wrought so much carnage in the years since, the only place that Blair should be giving any speech nowadays is from the dock at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where his presence is long overdue.

Tony Blair, along with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, exemplifies everything rotten and depraved about liberal democracy. Whether it be their attachment to the interests of Wall Street and City of London, the abandonment of the poor and working class in the interests of the politics of identity, the worshipping at the altar of the free market and neoliberalism, not forgetting the slavish devotion to Western imperialism under the rubric of democracy and human rights – these people have turned the world upside down and enriched themselves and their cronies beyond measure in the process.

And concludes

Not until the political establishments in both the UK and US finally accept their responsibility for the rejection of everything they represent will there be an end to the political and social polarization that is the new normal in both countries. In this respect they remain stuck in the past, holding onto a belief in the verities of the free market, in NATO and Western exceptionalism. In this regard they are akin to those Japanese soldiers who failed to emerge from the jungles and foxholes in which they served during World War II until over a decade after the war ended.

Returning to Tony Blair, this is a man who not satisfied with helping to set the world on fire thereafter swanned off into a sunset of unparalleled riches and wealth, the wages of sin he’s received in return for services rendered to the some of the most corrupt and unsavoury governments, corporations, and causes in existence. His every public appearance and utterance is an insult to the millions of men, women, and children in Iraq who were slaughtered as a result of the brutal and illegal imperialist war he unleashed in conjunction with Washington in 2003.

It reminds us that their cry for justice from the grave is one that is yet to be heard.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/21/firestarter-the-unwelcome-return-of-tony-blair/

Putin and Trump, and Bill Clinton’s Interference in Russian Elections for Yeltsin

February 14, 2017

There’s increasing concern and speculation that Putin really does have some kind of ‘dirty’ dossier on Trump, featuring some rather unsavory things that the Orange Generalissimo may have done with prostitutes during business trips there.

But America also has a very long and deeply unpleasant history of interfering in the elections of independent states around the world. At its most extreme this takes the form of coups, but the US has also exerted its influence through more subtle means, like the financing of opposition candidates and parties, covert propaganda, threats to withhold aid and so on.

William Blum has a entire chapter on the US ‘Perverting Democracy’ in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. And it includes a very, very long list of mostly developing nations, whose democratic processes the US government has attempted to suborn.

But one of the nations whose elections the Americans tried to influence was rather more important on the world state. In 1996 Bill Clinton and his team intervened in the Russian elections to secure the victory of neoliberal privatisers and booze-sozzled corrupt drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Blum writes

For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Although the Americans were working independently, President Clinton’s political guru, Dick Morris, acted as their middleman to the administration, and Clinton himself told Yeltsin in May that he wanted to “make sure everything the United States did would have a positive impact” on the Russians electoral campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the final goal line. The American’s scripted a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in April to allow the Russian to “stand up to the West”, to match what the Russian Communist party-Yeltsin’s main opponent-was insisting they would do if they won.

The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing etc., urged more systematic domination of the state-owned media, and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. With a virtual media blackout against them, the Communists were extremely hard pressed to respond to the attacks or to shout the Russian equivalent of “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is impossible to measure the value of the American consultants’ contribution to the Yeltsin campaign, for there’s no knowing which of their tactics the Russians would have employed anyhow if left to their own devices, how well they would have applied them, or how things would have turned out. But we do know that before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favoured by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent. “Democracy” declared Time magazine, “triumphed”. (pp. 230-1).

Putin is a murderous thug, who has had journalists and members of the opposition beaten and killed. And the Communist party was responsible for horrific repression. Gorbachev’s reforms, if allowed to continue, may have created something positive, and established Communist Russia as a true ‘workers’ state’, where working people had real power, both in elections and over their boss and his decisions at work. But he was overthrown by the hardliners before he could complete it.

As for Yeltsin, his rushed privatisation of anything that wasn’t nailed down resulted in economic meltdown. Millions of ordinary Russians found themselves thrown out of work, in a country that did not have any unemployment benefit schemes, because the state had always provided work. So too did massive inflation wipe out ordinary Russians’ pensions and savings. It’s partly as a reaction to that chaos that Putin was elected. He’s a thug and a strongman, but he offers his people stability and prosperity.

It’s grossly hypocritical for American politicos to whine about Putin interfering in their democratic process, when America has been doing just that all over the world, including Russia, since World War Two. The latest victim of American interference was Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution, far from being a spontaneous display of democracy, was carefully orchestrated by various American state NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.

So as far as this issue is concerned, I’m sure that there are now many people in Russia and abroad who feel this way: ‘Payback’s a b*tch’.

American State Censored TV Programme on American Nerve Gas Atrocity in Laos

February 13, 2017

I’ve blogged before about the way the Thames TV documentary, Death On the Rock, about the killing of an IRA terror squad by the SAS in Gibraltar, angered Maggie Thatcher so much that she destroyed Thames. The documentary presented evidence that the British army knew about the group’s movements, and could have picked them up peacefully at any time. They deliberately chose not to. The shootings were therefore a targeted assassination, with the SAS acting as a South American-style death squad.

This was, of course, too much for Maggie. She had Thames’ broadcasting licence removed, and they were replaced by Carlton. This is something to remember the next time John Humphries or anyone else at the Beeb tells you that she never interfered with the state broadcaster, and that this only began under Blair. I’m not arguing that Tory Tony didn’t interfere or throw his weight around with the Beeb. And there’s plenty of evidence that Maggie also had programme censored. She had the documentary, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, produced by Panorama, censored because it argued that the Conservatives had been infiltrated by card carrying neo-Nazis, just like the Labour party had been infiltrated by Militant. Perhaps in Humphries’ case, the Conservatives didn’t interfere with the news coverage, because they didn’t need to. It already reflected their own bias.

Such censorship isn’t confined to Britain. It also happened in America. William Blum, a very long time critic of US foreign policy, has a section describing the censorship of a documentary on American television in 1998 in his book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (London: Zed Books 2014). The company aroused the ire of the political, economic and media elite because it dared to tell the truth about a US gas attack in Laos that resulted in the deaths of civilians and American servicemen. He writes

In September 1970, American forces in Laos, acting under “Operation Tailwind”, used aerosolized Sarin nerve agent (referred to also as CBU-15 or GB) to prepare their entry in an attack upon a Laotian village base camp, with the object of killing a number of American military defectors who were reported to be there. The operation succeeded in killing in excess of 100 people, military and civilian, including at least two Americans. How many died before the attack from the gas and how many from the attack itself is not known.

Sarin, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s, can kill within minutes after inhalation of its vapor. A tiny drop of it on the skin will do the same; it may even penetrate ordinary clothing. It works by inhibiting an enzyme needed to control muscle movements. Without the enzyme, the body has no means of stopping the activation of muscles, and any physical horror is possible.

When the invading Americans were making their getaway, they were confronted by a superior force of North Vietnamese and communist Pathet Lao soldiers. The Americans called for help from the air. Very shortly, US planes were overhead dropping canisters of sarin upon the enemy. As the canisters exploded, a wet fog enveloped the enemy soldiers, who dropped to the ground, vomiting and convulsing. Some of the gas spread towards the Americans, not all of whom were adequately protected. Some began vomiting violently. Today, one of them suffers from creeping paralysis, which his doctor diagnoses as nerve-gas damage.

This story was reported on June 7, 1998, on the TV programme “NewsStand: CNN & Time”, and featured the testimony of Admiral Thomas Moorer, who had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1970,, as well as lesser military personnel, both on and off camera, who corroborated the incidents described above.

Then all hell broke loose. This was a story too much in conflict-painfully so-with American schoolbooks, Readers Digest, the flag, apple pie and mom. It was damage-control time. The big guns were called out-Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Green Beret veterans, the journalistic elite, the Pentagon itself. The story was wrong, absurd, slanderous, they cried. CNN retracted, Moorer retracted, the show’s producers were fired…lawsuits all over the place.

Like the dissidents who became “non-persons” under Stalin, Operation Tailwind is now officially a “non-event”.

Notwithstanding this, the program’s producers, April Oliver and Jack Smith, put together a 78 page document supporting their side of the story, with actual testimony by military personnel confirming the use of the nerve agent. (pp. 139-141).

This is truly Orwellian. Orwell, of course, based 1984 on Stalin’s Russia, and the way party functionaries rewrote history to suit the needs of the party and Stalin. The most famous example of this was the way the regime turned Trotsky from a hero and co-author of the Revolution with Lenin, to its arch-enemy and betrayer.

This incident shows how the American military-industrial complex and its puppets and paid shills in the media are quite prepared to do the same, and vilify and expel anyone who commits the same cardinal crime of exposing state lies and atrocities.

Cockburn and Sinclair in their book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, describe the way the American military and media have managed news reporting to support the Iraq invasion, up to and including the killing of journalists. Now the situation seems ready to get worse under Fuhrer Trump. But this would have been under Bill Clinton’s presidency. And Blum’s book shows that the corruption goes back further than that, right back to the Second World War.

It really makes you start to wonder how free the American press and media is, or if it ever was.

Dennis Skinner Calls Trump a Fascist

February 3, 2017

Here’s a bit of real, Old Labour Socialism coming through. In this clip, the veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, the ‘Beast of Bolsover’, invites the Foreign Secretary to go back with him to the time when he was hiding under the stairs as Britain was being bombed by two Fascist dictators, Mussolini and Hitler. Now May is walking hand in hand with another Fascist, Donald Trump. He calls on the Foreign Secretary to condemn Trump’s visit and states that the Orange Dictator isn’t fit to walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela.

There’s another clip of this speech, which shows BoJo rising up to respond to Skinner, saying that he is mistaken about Mussolini bombing Britain, but he hears his criticism. He then tries to answer it by saying that the government rejects the recommendation to cancel Trump’s visit, and instead will work to get the best deal for British citizens.

I left that out because, quite honestly, it’s more infuriating Tory lies. May and the Conservatives made the same claim about working to get the best deal for Britain with Brexit. And what they’ve actually managed to get is quite the opposite: a very bad deal for Britain, which has left millions of people worried about their jobs and how they’ll manage with the expected rise in prices now we’re outside the EU tariff wall.

And Mike this week put up a piece, which made it very plain that what limited criticism the Tories have made about Trump was motivated by their desire to defend a Muslim Tory MP from being stopped if he goes to America.

In fact, it seems to me that vast parts of the Tory party and press are solidly behind the ban. The Daily Mail, the Express and the Torygraph have for years attacked non-White immigration. I remember a number of articles from these papers in the 1980s where they talked about the growth of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants. As for the Scum, way back in the 1990s when the Sun was very loudly trying to tell the world that it was somehow non- or even anti-racist, Private Eye reminded its readers that the paper had been convicted something like 19 or 21 times by the Press Complaints Commission of racism. In one of the most repellent of the cases, the Scum ran a cartoon showing pigs marching in protest with banners. The caption read, ‘Even now the pigs are complaining about being compared to Arabs’. Or if not those precise words, then something very similar.

The party that was appealing for illegal immigrants to hand themselves in so they could be deported, amongst other anti-immigrant policies is not going to condemn Trump for his hardline stance against Muslim immigration. However much David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith may have tried to present the Tory party as now entirely anti-racist and comfortable with multiculturalism.

Governor of the State of Washington Condemns Trump’s Muslim Ban

January 30, 2017

I found this video on YouTube yesterday of the Governor of the state of Washington condemning Trump’s Muslim ban for its cruelty, its unconstitutional racism, the economic damage it is threatening to inflict on his state, and the chaos it has created at Seattle International Airport.

The governor states clearly that it has caused problems in the state’s premier airport, as it has been imposed without clear instructions how it is precisely to be implemented. It is cruel, as it affects people coming to the US as refugees. Many of these have relatives already in the US, ready to welcome them to their new country. He talks of one gentleman, who was hoping to join his wife in the US. He was not stopped when he boarded a flight to the US in Germany. But now that he has landed, he cannot cross the six feet which would take him to his wife’s embrace.

The governor also attacks the ban as constitutional, in that it puts Muslims at the bottom of the pile and other religions on top. He states that America has not passed such legislation in 200 years. He also draws parallels between the Muslim ban and Japanese internment. The governor lives on the island of Bainbridge, which is where the American government interned many Japanese Americans during World War II, based on nothing more than fear and demagoguery. Now, 75 years later, that fear and demagoguery has returned.

He also states that the local economy in Washington is being harmed, as Muslims are afraid to go abroad in case they are refused entry when they try to return. Many of these, he points out, are businesspeople and physicians, people who will benefit and contribute to the economy. And this is unacceptable.

He also talks about his attempts to contact the Trump administration and the Attorney General to register his opposition to the ban and attempts to overturn it.

This is a powerful speech from a leading American local politico. The man is clearly, and very rightly, angered at the damage the ban is inflicting on the state’s economy, the efficiency of its airport, and the huge harm and cruelty it is doing to innocents, whose only crime is their religion.

His anger is mirrored by hundreds of thousands across America and Britain. There are demonstrations planned in major cities across the UK today. After the rise of the Alt-Right and other Fascist groups, people are beginning the fightback against Trump’s racist policies. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they’re overthrown, along with the wretched demagogue that created them.