agriculture

Anton Petrov’s Tribute to Veteran Cosmonaut and Space Artist, Alexei Leonov

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/10/2019 - 5:03am in

Last Friday, 11th October 2019, Alexei Leonov passed away, aged 85. Born on 30th May 1934, Leonov was one of the first Russian cosmonauts and the first man to walk in space. His obituary in yesterday’s I, written by Nataliya Vasilyeva, ran

Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago – and who nearly did not make it back into his space capsule – has died in Moscow aged 85.

Leonov, described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No 11, was an icon both in his country as well as in the US. He was such a legend that the late science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Leonov staked his place in space history on 18 March 1965, when he became the first person to walk in space. Secured by a tether, he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule. “I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” he recalled later. “I was mesmerised by the stars. They were everywhere – up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”

Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-racking, according to details that only became public decades later. His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to release oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch. Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first American spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.

Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family. 

The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even in space, and took coloured pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975.

That mission was the first between the Soviet Union and the US, carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international co-operation aboard the current international Space Station.

Nasa offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death. “His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible”, it said in a statement.

“One of the finest people I have ever known,” the Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”

Russian space fans have been laying flowers at his monument on the memorial alley in Moscow that honours Russia’s cosmonauts. Leonov, who will be buried today at a military memorial cemetery outside the Russian capital, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. 

Anton Petrov put up his own personal tribute to the great cosmonaut on YouTube yesterday, 15th October 2019, at his vlog, What Da Math. Petrov posts about astronomy and space, and his video yesterday placed Leonov in his context as one of a series of great Soviet science popularisers before Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan. Petrov shows the stunning paintings done by Leonov with his friend, the science artist Andrei Sokolov. He describes how Leonov’s spacesuit expanded so that he couldn’t enter the capsule, and was forced to let some of the oxygen out. As a result, he nearly lost consciousness. This showed both the Russians and Americans that spacesuits had to be built differently. He also describes how Leonov, during his 12 minutes in space, was profoundly struck by the profound silence. It was so deep he could hear his heart pumping, the blood coursing through his veins, even the sound of his muscles moving over each other.

Petrov states that the Russian cosmonauts did not enjoy the same celebrity status as their American counterparts, who could live off book signings. Many had to support their families with other work. In Leonov’s case, it was painting. He illustrated a number of books, some with his friend Sokolov. These are paintings Petrov uses for the visuals in his video. He considers these books the equivalent to works by modern science educators like Carl Sagan. They were meant to encourage, inspire and educate. Sokolov’s and Leonov’s art was not just beautiful, but very accurate scientifically and included some SF elements. Some of these elements were borrowed by other science fiction writers. the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is somewhat similar to one of Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings. This became a joke between the two, with Leonov creating a miniature version for the great American director to keep. Kubrick also borrowed many of the ideas for the movie from the Russian film director, Pavel Kushentsev. An extremely talented cameraman, Kushentsev made films about the first Moon landing, the first space station and the first man in space decades and years before they became reality. And all of his movies were scientifically accurate. Some of his movies are on YouTube, and Petrov gives the links at his site there for this video.

Petrov explains that he is talking about these men because their era has ended with Leonov’s death. Leonov was the last of the five astronauts on the Voskhod programme, and so all the men who inspired youngsters with amazing paintings and film are now gone. He considers it unfortunate that some of their experiences in the last days of their lives were not very happy. They did not live to see the future they depicted, and their paintings were not appreciated by the modern generation. Kushentsev said before his death,

Popular science is dying, because there is no money. No demand. Nobody wants to educate. Everyone just wants to make money everywhere possible. But one mustn’t live like this. This is how animals live. Men have reached the level of animals – all they want to do is eat and sleep. There is no understand that this humanity has passed a certain phase of evolution. We must understand the direction of this evolution. For this, we need culture, we need knowledge. 

Petrov believes Kushentsev’s criticism of modern Russian society also applies more broadly to the modern generation in the West, to all of us as well. We are all doing what he said we shouldn’t – just living for the money, to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, according to Petrov, nothing has changed in the 20 years since his death. But there are people out there in the world working to change this, to produce culture, to inspire and share knowledge. But sometimes the world crushes them, simply because it can. But Petrov says that, like those Soviet men before him, despite not being a famous astronaut or talented artist, or even someone who has very good diction, he will continue doing his part of sealing the hope for humanity, continue the work of these great men and inspire new generations to do things, believe in science and create a better world. Because as Leonov once said,

the Earth was small, light blue and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word ’round’ meant until I saw the Earth from space. 

Petrov concludes ‘Goodbye, comrade, and thank you for all the paintings.

This is the first of two videos about Russian art from that era of space exploration. I’ll post the other up shortly.

I don’t feel quite as pessimistic as Kushentsev. Brian Cox, who’s now taken Sagan’s place as the chief space broadcaster on British television, has attracted record audiences for his stage presentation about science and the universe. There is a massive interest among the public in space and space exploration. At the same time, there are a number of really great science vlogs and channels on YouTube. Petrov’s is one, but I also recommend John Michael Godier and the Science and Futurism channel, presented by Isaac Arthur.

Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings, they are of a universe of rich, vibrant colour. Spacesuited figures explores strange, new worlds, tending vast machines. They stand in front of planetary landers somewhat resembling the American lunar module. Or crawl across the landscape in rovers, gazing at horizons above which hang alien, often multiple, suns. The best space art shows worlds you’d like to visit, to see realised. These paintings have this effect. It’s a pity that on the blurb for this video over at YouTube, Petrov says that these paintings come from old postcards, which are difficult to come by. It’s a pity, as they still have the power to provoke wonder and inspire.

I’m not sure Leonov himself was quite so pessimistic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main space museum was closed, and many of its exhibits sold off. Before it finally closed its doors to the public, they held a rave in it. I think Leonov was in attendance, sitting at the back with his wife. Someone asked him what he thought of it all. The old space traveler replied that they had found graffiti on the walls on Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘the young man’s world’. It is indeed, and may cosmonauts, space pioneers, scientists and artists like Leonov, Sokolov, Kushentsev and Kubrick continue to inspire the young men and women of the future to take their strides in the High Frontier.

Elderly Rabbi Arrested at Extinction Rebellion Protest

Yesterday’s I, for Tuesday, 15th October 2019, carried an article by Jennifer Logan reporting that an elderly rabbi had been arrested by the rozzers after praying at an Extinction Rebellion protest in London. The article ran

A rabbi who was arrested after kneeling and praying in the middle of a road during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London said yesterday that he was “standing up for his grandchildren.”

Police have now arrested 1,405 people in connection with the protests, which will continue tomorrow when activists are understood to be planning to block roads outside MI5 on what will be the seventh day of direct action over the global climate crisis.

Jeffrey Newman, the Rabbi Emeritus of Finchley Reform Synagogue in north London, was protesting alongside about 30 Jewish activists. He was arrested near the Bank of England as hundreds of people descended upon the financial centre for a second week of protests.

The 77-year-old, who was wearing a white yarmulka branded with the black Extinction Rebellion logo, said: “I see it as my religious and moral duty to stand up for what I believe in, and what I care about, for my grandchildren.

“I haven’t tried to involve the synagogue, because if you are asking for permission, you might not get it. I think it’s much more important to do what I’m doing.”

After last week’s protests, which blockaded Parliament and targeted City Airport, protesters are now focusing on the City of London over financial backing for fossil fuels. They claim that trillions of pounds are flowing through financial markets to invest in fossil fuels which damage the climate.

Extinction Rebellion said dozens of activists were due to appear in court this week, including trials connected with previous action in April.

I have to say that Extinction Rebellion aren’t exactly my favourite protest group, because their demonstrations seem to inconvenience the general public more than the politicians and the big corporations behind the fossil fuel industries and global warming. But they have a very, very good cause. Meteorologists, ecologists, along with other scientists and broadcasters like Sir David Attenborough have been warning for decades that unless something is done, our beautiful world may very well die and humanity along with it. When I was studying for my doctorate in Archaeology at Bristol Uni, one of the postgraduate seminars in the department was by an archaeologist on the impact of climate change on human cultures throughout history. He was particularly concerned about drought and desertification, which certainly has catastrophically affected human civilisations around the world. One of the most dramatic examples was the abandonment of the Amerindian pueblo cities in the Canyon de Chelly in the American southwest around the 12th century AD. The pueblo cultures had created an extensive irrigation to supply water to their crops in the southwestern desert. However, in the 12th century that part of America entered an extremely dry period during which the available water dried up. Civilisation was not destroyed, as the Amerindian peoples themselves survived by retreating to more fertile areas. Nevertheless, it resulted in those pueblos, which had survived for centuries, being abandoned.

And now we face a similar crisis in the 21st century, thanks in part to global warming and an increasingly intense demand for water. Back in the 1990s one edition of the Financial Times predicted that climate change and competition for water resources would be the major force for war in the 21st century. In West Africa one of the reasons for the conflict in the north of Nigeria, for example, between Christians and Muslims is the desertification of the traditional grazing territory of nomadic pastoralists. These are mainly Muslim, who have been forced to move south onto land belonging to mainly Christian peoples in order to feed their flocks. The result has been ethnic and religious conflict. But it’s important to realise that the roots of this conflict are primarily ecological. It is not simply about religion. Examples of desertification and global dry periods in the past have been used by the Right to argue that the current climate crisis really isn’t as acute as scientists have claimed. It’s just the world’s natural climatic cycle repeating itself. This certainly wasn’t the view of the archaeologist giving that talk at uni, who warned that there was only a finite amount of water and urged us all to use it sparingly.

It was interesting to read the good rabbi’s concern for the planet and his grandchildren. People of all faiths are now worried about climate change. One of the priests at our local church preached a very long sermon on Sunday, no doubt partly inspired by the coming Extinction Rebellion protests, on the need to save the planet. I’ve no doubt that the involvement of practising Jews in this protest, and others, will cause something of a problem for some of the propaganda used to attack Green groups. Because there was a very strong ecological aspect to Nazism, the Right tries to close off sympathy for Green politics as a whole by smearing it as a form of Nazism, even when it’s blatantly clear that they aren’t. But the IHRC definition of anti-Semitism states that it is anti-Semitic to describe a Jew as a Nazi. Which is going to make it rather difficult for the organisations and rags that follow this line to claim that Jewish Greens are somehow supporting Nazism for getting involved in protests like this.

But it seems the cops are becoming very heavy-handed in their treatment of protesters. Mike over on his blog condemned the arrest of a 91/2 year old gentleman on another climate protest. This spirited old chap used the same explanation for his actions as Rabbi Newman: he was worried for the future of his grandchildren. Or great-grandchildren. He was arrested because he was caught protesting outside the Cabinet Office, and so frightened that doughty defender of British freedom, Boris Johnson. Yeah, our current excuse for a Prime Minister, who seems to fancy himself as the heir to Julius Caesar, Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill, was ‘frit’ – to use Thatcher’s word – of a 91 or 92 year old gent. Mike concluded of this gentleman’s arrest

Conclusion: John was committing an offence against nobody but Boris Johnson. A Boris Johnson government is an offence against the very environment in which we live.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/92-year-old-man-arrested-while-supporting-extinction-rebellion-because-the-tories-dont-like-it/

As ever, Mike is correct. In a subsequent article he showed that the Tories are far more likely than Labour to vote for policies that actively harm the planet. BoJo himself ‘was also among 10 ministers who received donations or gifts from oil companies, airports, petrostates, climate sceptics or thinktanks identified as spreading information against climate action.’ Mike’s article was based on a Guardian piece, that developed a scoreboard for the parties’ and individual politicians’ voting record. The Tories on average scored 17. Labour scored 90, and Jeremy Corbyn 92. Mike’s conclusion:

if you want a government that acts against climate change and to protect the environment for you, your children and future generations, you need to vote LABOUR.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/12/worried-about-climate-change-then-dont-vote-tory/

And we have to stop the cops being used as BoJo’s private police force, so that no more decent people, including senior citizens and members of the clergy of this country’s diverse religious communities, are picked up because they dare to frighten BoJob and his wretched corporate backers.

Right Kind of Green: Agroecology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/10/2019 - 5:41am in

Colin Todhunter The globalised industrial food system that transnational agri-food conglomerates promote is failing to feed the world. It is responsible for some of the planet’s most pressing political, social and environmental crises. Whether it involves the undermining or destruction of what were once largely self-sufficient agrarian economies in Africa or the devastating impacts of soy cultivation in Argentina, localised, traditional …

Pesticides in the Dock: Ecological Apocalypse but Business as Usual

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/09/2019 - 3:16am in

It is worrying to think that, globally, sales of synthetic chemicals are to double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment if governments continue to fail to rein in the plastics, pesticides and cosmetics industries. The second Global Chemicals Outlook (2019) says the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020.

UK Govt. Ignore Pesticides as Cause of Increased Disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/09/2019 - 12:27am in

Colin Todhunter The information below and the quotes were taken from the 12-page report that accompanied Rosemary Mason’s recent open letter to the Chief Medical Officer to England, Sally Davies. It can be accessed here. Campaigner and environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has written an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer of England, Sally Davies. …

More Lies and Disinformation about Roswell: Crash Hoaxed with Victims of Nazi and Japanese Human Experiments

There’s some very nasty lies – at least, I sincerely hope they’re lies – being put about by someone about the notorious Roswell UFO crash. This was the incident in 1947 when a UFO supposedly crashed on Mac Brazell’s ranch in Roswell, New Mexico. The US army came to investigate and collect the debris. The USAF then released a statement by Major Quantanilla that they had recovered a ‘flying disc’. This story was then changed the next day, or a few days later, to a tale that they had in fact recovered a weather balloon, with Quantanilla shown holding up its foil remains. That, more or less, is what is known for sure. However, local people continued to believe very strongly that an alien space vehicle had crashed near their town. In 1980 Charles Berlitz and another researcher published a book claiming that this was the true. This was followed by even more books claiming that not only had a UFO crashed, but alien bodies had been recovered and removed to Wright-Patterson AFB for analysis and dissection. There was also one alien survivor, who was also taken by the Air Force. This in turn spawned the infamous Alien autopsy hoax video created by pop producer Ray Santilli and shown around the world. Which in turn inspired the British SF comedy, Alien Autopsy, starring those lovable funsters Ant and Dec, now appearing on Britain’s Got Talent.

Since then there have been a number of theories and highly dubious claims about what really happened at Roswell. And one of these stories is extremely nasty, and, in my view, grossly offensive. It’s that the crash was a deliberate fake, using children or handicapped adults, who had been experimented upon by Nazi, Japanese, Russian and American scientists, as part of a Cold War plot.

Annie Jacobsen and the Joe Rogan Experience

A few days ago I discovered this video from the Joe Rogan Experience, put up on YouTube on 18th May 2019. In it, Rogan, the host, talks to the journo Annie Jacobsen, about the claims in her new book that American scientists working for the military surgically altered children to look like aliens as part of a Cold War campaign of disinformation against the Soviets. The Russians had supposedly tried to fake a UFO encounter using children mutilated by the Nazis, and the Americans were experimenting to see how the Russians did it.

Rogan’s sceptical about the whole tale. He states that he knows people in the armed forces, and they will spin stories to get people going. And I share Rogan’s scepticism. This seems to be simply the latest version of a series of claims that the crash was faked using children operated upon by the Nazis, Japanese and Russians.

Redfern’s Account of the Russian Hoax Landing

A few days ago the Magonia website published my review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin: UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets. In it, Redfern discusses similar claims made by Jacobsen in an earlier book, published in 2011, Area 51. Based on information supplied by an anonymous informant, she claims that the Roswell Crash was a failed attempt to fake a UFO landing by the-then dictator of the USSR, Joe Stalin. The flying saucer was based on the tailless aircraft designed by the Nazi aeroengineers, the Horten brothers. The aliens were really children surgically altered by the Nazi doctor and war criminal, Josef Mengele. The mysterious hieroglyphs seen on some of the saucer remains was really Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet. Jacobsen doesn’t name her source, but another investigator, Tony Bragaglia, claims that he was Alfred O’Donnell, an elite engineer from EG&G, the leading designer and contractor of federal classified facilities in the US. Redfern then states that he was told practically the same story from a former employee of Area 51, which he published in his 2010 book, The NASA Conspiracies. This source claimed that physically altered people had been flown from Russia to the US aboard a bizarre-looking aircraft in order to convince Americans that their country was being invaded by aliens.

Redfern and Japanese Human Experiments at Roswell

In an earlier version of this tale, also published by Redfern five years earlier, the object that crashed at Roswell was a massive balloon based on Japanese technology, which carried a manned glider. This contained a pilot, and a group of handicapped Japanese. Suffering from diseases such as dwarfism and progeria – rapid aging – they had been brought to the US from the Japanese Unit 731, the infamous Japanese military unit responsible for experiments on humans. These experiments were every bit as sick and horrific as Mengele’s and the Nazis’. A little while ago one of the Horror blogs reviewed a film someone had made about the Unit’s atrocities in Japanese-occupied China and Mongolia during the Second World War. The film claimed to be recreations of real experiments. From reading the review, I decided it was definitely one to miss. Apparently the victims of the Roswell and similar crashes were being used as guinea pigs to assess the effects of exposure to high altitude and radiation.

Redfern’s book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: the Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story (Paraview Pocket Books 2005), was reviewed by Magonia in issue 89, August 2005. Their review concluded that it wasn’t a story that should be accepted or rejected out of hand, but was worth the attention of properly qualified reporters and investigators, and would gain in stature if someone, particularly outside Ufology, would come forward to corroborate it. Or if a whistleblower also came forward, and they brought with them evidence and documentation.

The Magonia article notes that there were unethical experiments conducted by the American state, like the MKUltra drug experiments and the infamous Tuskeegee syphilis experiments on Black sharecroppers. They also mention here the scandal of the British state sending ‘orphaned’ children to be used as slave labour in Canada and Australia. However these conspiracies are backed up by genuine evidence and documentation. But there’s none here. Only people walking up to Redfern at UFO conferences. Magonia says of this

Assuming that these people exist and are who they say they are, then the fact the people on two continents approach Redfern with more or less similar stories suggests either that rumours along these lines have been around for some time and are being ussed as the basis of stories, that the stories are to some degree at least true, or that Redfern is being set up by someone or other. 

My guess is that they’re either just rumours, which people are turning into stories, or that Redfern and Jacobsen have been set up.

The Problem of Age and Memory

In the above interview, Rogan does ask Jacobsen if the people telling her these tales weren’t lying. She replies that her informant was a 95 year-old man, who broke down crying in front of his wife of 65 years, because he was so ridden with guilt at his complicity in the atrocity. She asks him in turn how this could happen if the story wasn’t true.

The problem with this is the same that Magonia also pointed out affected the testimony of other witnesses to the supposed Roswell crash, people who believed they’d seen alien bodies. They were very elderly, sometimes quite frail, and the family of one man said that his mind and memory were prone to deceive him. It’s quite possible that this has happened here and that the whole story is a confabulation by a man, who is clearly upset and disturbed about something in his career, but whose mind has constructed a false story about why. On the other hand, it could also very well be that this entire story is simply malign twaddle dreamed up by someone. It could be the government trying to hide a genuine mystery, or it could simply be private citizens laughing at the gullibility of the public, who have somehow pulled this bloke into their fantasies.

The Weekly World News and the Nazi Saucer Myth

These tales also seem to resemble and draw on a version of the Nazi saucer myth published in the Weekly World News on 27th January 1981. The Weekly World News was an American supermarket tabloid newspaper, and gave us such brilliant investigative reports such as ‘Mom was bigfoot, says beastie man’. This reported the claim of Olav Meyer, a German geologist living in Seville, Spain, that the UFOs were developed by the Nazis, but not actually used because Hitler preferred the V2. The article claimed that this had been corroborated by another journalist and investigator, Christof Friedrich, of Toronto. According to Friedrich, the Germans were working on flying saucers, but were unable to develop them because of a shortage of raw materials. Friedrich also said that he had learned from Major Donald Keyhoe that the Americans had seen troops into Germany to recover the saucer scientists, but that they had escaped to Russia instead. Both Meyer and Friedrich cited a book, published in the 1950s by Rudolph Lazar, which supposedly showed the Nazis were developing flying saucers.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1O8DAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lazar’s book is notorious. Although the WWN article claims that Lazar was a scientist, he was really a former German army officer. His book was about supposed German super weapons developed during the War, which included flying saucers. It’s one of the major sources for the Nazi saucer myth, which returned once again to haunt Ufology back in the 1990s. Apart from ordinary people, who have been taken by this rubbish, the myth seems to be pushed by Nazis trying to create some kind of spurious glamour about the Third Reich. As it developed, the Nazi saucer squadron was supposed to have escaped the allies, establishing a secret base out in the Canadian arctic. They then moved down to Antarctica, which is why the Americans also have a base down there. The video UFO Secrets of the Third Reich, produced by Royal Atlantis Films in the 1990s, also claimed that they were built following instructions channelled through a medium from an alien civilisation around the star Aldebaran. The Nazi saucer myth also formed the basis for the SF comedy, The Iron Sky, in which a female American president, who resembles Sarah Palin, starts a war with a Nazi colony on the Moon. Magonia published a series of articles attacking the Nazi saucer myth. Kevin McClure, a long-time investigator of the paranormal, also published a very well researched piece very effectively demolishing it.

I find the Nazi saucer myth vile and distasteful, if not dangerous for the way it seeks to promote and glamorize the Nazis. And the stories of maimed and disfigured people used to impersonate aliens seems to me to be a kind of blasphemy against the real victims of Nazi and Japanese experimentation.

I have no idea whether these stories are some kind of government/ state disinformation campaign, or simply private hoaxers. But I don’t doubt for a single minute that they’re lies that should be discarded. Until someone involved comes forward bringing real evidence and supporting documents, at least.

Magonia on Right-Wing Tories and UFOs

Going through a stack of old copies of the small press UFO magazine, Magonia, yesterday evening I came across a couple of articles, which mentioned the bizarre attitudes of two right-wing Tory MPs. One of these was a humorous piece about the Eurosceptic politico Teddy Taylor, who was beating his drum against the EU because they wanted to set up a commission to study UFOs. The article was in Magonia 48 for January 1994, titled ‘Watch the skies – and your wallets’ and ran

According to newspaper reports, Eurosceptic Tory MP Teddy Taylor has been looking into a potentially profitable new gravy-train for clued-up ufologists. In a Parliamentary question to Trade and Industry Secretary Michael Heseltine about “unidentified flying objects and aliens in the asteroid belt”, and their “implications for public policy” he has been trying to shake loose information on a ‘fact-finding tour’ (i.e. publically funded bunfight) about UFOs by Euro MPs. Taylor fumes: “These MEPs have been swanning around Europe asking people if they’ve seen one. They’ve come to the staggering conclusion that aliens might exist, but that you can’t be certain.” Amazingly, it appears the European parliament is considering setting up a Euro UFO Observation Centre as an official European Institution. “This may sound fun, but it makes me angry. My constituents have lost jobs because of the EC’s incompetence and nuttery.”

It makes us angry too – if the EC (sorry, EU) is throwing money at UFOs, why is none of it coming our way? We are investigating. You have not heard the last of this. Brussels, be warned!

The second is more serious, and comes from a review of Nick Redfern’s On the Trail of the Saucer Spies: UFOs and Government Surveillance (Anomalist Books 2006) In Magonia 92, June 2006, p. 18. Redfern’s book also claims that various extreme right-wing groups have tried to infiltrate Ufology. This comes from an anonymous individual, who claims that he was a member of Special Branch tasked with combating such infiltration. This is highly debatable, as the extreme right-wing group involved was APEN, which was a hoax perpetrated by a student at Cambridge University. The supposed whistleblower also doesn’t mention real instances of right-wing infiltration, like a conference on conspiracies set up in the 1990s that gave a platform to anti-Semites and Nazis like Eustace Mullins, or how some of them also joined the ‘Witness Support Group’. This was supposed to be a group to support people, who had witnessed UFOs or been abducted by aliens. Its newsletter, Rapport, contained some extremely nasty anti-immigrant ravings by a member of the BNP, who put all his hate into sub-Kiplingesque poetry. The group ended in tragedy when one its members committed suicide after some moron told them they were under CIA surveillance.

But the Magonians also pointed out in the review that one of the leaders of the big British UFO organisation, BUFORA, Patrick Wall, also had very extreme right-wing views and deeply unsavoury connections.

And if we are going on about the far right connections of ufology, then what about BUFORA’s one time President Patrick Wall, often regarded as the most racist and reactionary of all post-War Tory MPs. Wall was associated with a shadowy ‘anti-communist’ movement, the World Anti-Communist League, said to be financed by Saudi Arabia and Taiwan (then under the dictatorship of Chiang Kai Shek), and involved in channelling funds to all sorts of extreme right organisations, and used to channel money for the CIA to help set up the Provisional IRA.

With friends like that, who needs to do any infiltrating?

Actually, if Teddy Taylor was worried about politicians with weird views about UFOs wasting public money, he needn’t have gone as far as the EU. One was much closer to home in the shape of the Earl of Clancarty, otherwise known as Brinsley Le Poer Trench. Trench was a market gardener, who inherited a place in the House of Lords as he was a cousin of an Anglo-Irish lord. He was very racist, anti-immigrant, and a supporter of Ian Smith’s Whites-only government in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He also believed in UFOs, ancient astronauts and that the Earth was hollow and inhabited by subterranean civilisations. In 1979 he organised a debate in the House on UFOs, in which he also asked questions about what the government knew about alien bases in the asteroid belt. Uncovered Editions published the documents from the debate as a book in the 1990s. Trench’s debate was notorious at the time, and one of the countercultural presses published a piece about it, calling it ‘a most visionary and loony debate’.

Finally, why the EU was certainly flawed, membership in it is far preferable to the chaos and economic destruction that’s going to hit this country if the Eurosceptics like Taylor get their way. MEPs spending public money to ask people if they’ve seen alien spacecraft is a small price to pay for jobs, proper funding for industry, access to the single market and working migrants and students bringing their skills and hard work to this country.

Robert Mugabe, the Butcher of Zimbabwe, Dies

on Friday the media reported the death of Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had been the leader of one of the country’s two opposition, nationalist movements against White colonial rule. There’s seems to have been more than a little optimism over his taking over the mantle of government. Ian Smith, the country’s previous president, had been so opposed to Black majority rule that he had unilaterally declared the country independent of Britain. Nevertheless, he declared that Mugabe was the best man for the job. As a symbol of the country’s new, African identity, the country’s name was changed from Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, the infamous 19th century British imperialist, to Zimbabwe. This is a massive fort, dating from at least the 12th century, whose size and construction so astonished western archaeologists that it was considered the work of outsiders – the Chinese or the Arabs – before it was firmly demonstrated that it was indeed the work of the indigenous peoples, probably the Shona.

These new hopes were to be tragically and horrifically disappointed. Mugabe soon demonstrated that he was a brutal thug, determined to use violence and mass murder to hang on to power. He and the other members of his wretched party looted the country of millions, enriching themselves while they forced the mass of its people into abject poverty and starvation. Mugabe was a member, I believe, of the Shona, historically one of the weakest and most persecuted peoples in that part of Africa. Mugabe was determined to reverse this, and began his reign by attacking and butchering the Ndebele. Zimbabwean soldiers entered Ndebele villages to beat and murder their inhabitants. And it wasn’t just the Ndebele. He soon moved on to other groups and peoples. The thug’s approach to campaigning was simple. During his elections he sent his thugs into villages to break the arms of the local people. They then told them that if the didn’t vote for Mugabe, they’d come back and break their other arms.  In the early part of this century he moved on to attacking White farmers. There appears to have been some agreement with the British government during the negotiations for Black majority rule that Britain would pay a sum to the Zimbabwean government, which would then be used to buy White-owned farms, which would then be handed over to Blacks. Mugabe claimed this money had not been paid, and moved his troops in. The farms were invaded, their owners brutally dispossessed. As with the Ndebele, those who resisted were savagely beaten and killed.

This came at a time when race relations in this country were also fragile. I think it was about the same there was a general election, and once again immigration was an extremely contentious issue. Black groups, such as Operation Black Vote, were also campaigning for a greater number of Black and Asian MPs. I think part of the rise in racism at the time may well have been due these racial issues in Britain coinciding with genuine, anti-White political persecution in Zimbabwe. For those, who really fear and hate Blacks and Asians, the organised attack on the country’s White minority by its government may well have confirmed their deepest fears.

There may also have been something to Mugabe’s accusation that the money to purchase the farms properly had not been paid. When I was working as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum, a fellow volunteer asked me if I knew what going on at the National Archives. He’d been there in order to study a parliamentary paper from the 1980s about the negotiations for the handover to Black rule. However, he was told it was unavailable, and wondered whether it was being deliberately kept out of circulation for some very dubious reason.

Not that this makes Mugabe any better. As Mugabe filled agriculture and industry with his thugs and butchers, the country’s economy collapsed. Inflation reached the exorbitant levels of Weimar Germany. Previously, Zimbabwe had been one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was actually an exporter of food, and called the continent’s breadbasket. Under Mugabe, this catastrophically collapsed. There was starvation and famine, except for Mugabe and his obscenely rich gang. Zimbabweans began fleeing over the border into South Africa as illegal immigrants simply to survive.

Mugabe fought off several challenges to his leadership, including by Musaveni, before eventually conceding some kind of power sharing agreement. I think he officially retired as President a few years ago. This was cautiously welcomed, as even though Mugabe himself was gone, his successors were still members of his party, who had been willingly complicit in his crimes against humanity.

Reflecting on the old thug’s death on the breakfast news, I heard John Simpson describing how fiercely intelligent Mugabe was. He excelled in embarrassing and humiliating reports by turning the questions against them. Simpson said that every action he did was clearly well thought out in advance. I can actually believe it. Contrary to what many people actually believe, intelligence and education doesn’t necessarily make anyone more moral.

As for Mugabe himself, his death reminded me of a passage from one Tom Sharpe’s books, Riotous Assembly. Published in 1971, this was savage satire of South African police force. One of the characters in it is Constabel Els, a brutal thug, who prides himself on having killed two Blacks with the same bullet. At the book’s climax, Els is himself nearly killed preparing the scaffold for the execution of an Anglican bishop he and his superiors have framed for the murder of a Black cook. The gibbet collapses, taking with it part of the jail, and freeing the Black prisoners. Believing Els to be dead, they dance and sing:

Els is dead, Els is dead,

He’s gone to the Devil where his soul belongs.

Raper of our women. Killer of our men,

We won’t see the swine again!

I think that probably describes how many feel the way about the passing of this old brute.

There is no Planet ‘B’, so we’d better save this one (and how we do it)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/09/2019 - 11:18pm in

Climate protester holding sign with the slogan "We don't have time"Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

While climate chaos continues to make the news, from hurricanes and fires in the Amazon to melting ice in Greenland, politicians, journalists and others are still killing us softly with the vocabulary of economic orthodoxy. John Sauven, an economist and director of Greenpeace, claimed that we will leave our children with a ‘planet sized debt’ if government fails to act now to address climate change. As he quite rightly points out, in the face of the climate emergency government is still acting as if we’ve got plenty of time, but the reality is that if we don’t act now the future cost to our children will not be the financial one he claims; it will be their survival that is at stake.

Everywhere you look, whether it’s spending on public and social infrastructure or saving the planet, in the eyes of politicians, journalists and institutions it all boils down to whether we can afford it and how it will be paid for. Journalists who challenge fiscal stimulus whichever Chancellor is offering it, do so in terms of concerns about ‘damaging the public purse’ and ‘breaking fiscal rules’. Or the suggestion that paying for public services is limited by how fiscally prudent the Chancellor has been or how much he might be able to borrow on fickle international markets.

It is astonishing that planetary and human well-being is reduced to financial costs rather than our very survival. As the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Cristiana Paşca Palmer, noted at the end of last week, without action to stabilise the climate and protect ecosystems, we risk moving towards a tipping point of no return. As she said, we don’t just need to transform the way in which we consume and produce but ‘we need to put biodiversity and natural capital at the centre of the economic paradigm’. Who argues, given the seriousness of the situation, that we need to think about financial affordability? The more important question is what do we do to save ourselves and the planet which sustains us?

However, while Brexit dominates the political show in the UK, commitment to action by politicians around the world seems, as Greta Thunberg recently noted, limited to rhetoric and fine promises but very little else. And time is ticking.

The consequences of climate change which the media brings to us on an almost daily basis and the apocalyptic scenes of flattened buildings in the Bahamas and burning rain forest combined with the increasing scientific evidence put before us should surely emphasise the dire nature of the challenges we face.

The acceleration of the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheet has caused the average global sea level to rise by more than a millimetre, this year alone. The ice sheet stores huge amounts of water, which if melted would raise sea levels by up to 7m. But even small increases could threaten the lives of millions of people living in low-lying areas like Bangladesh and coastal cities around the world like New York and ones with large tidal rivers like London. As glaciers melt, water flows into the oceans and raises sea levels, which in turn brings storm surges and catastrophic flooding on coastal seaboards across the world.

In hotter climes, Hurricane Dorian has battered the Bahamas this week causing devastation, structural damage, flooding and deaths. It was a category 5 storm, the strongest ever to hit the islands, which then slowly moved northwards to pound Florida with strong winds and heavy rain as it progressed up the east coast. As the seas warm due to climate change, it fuels stronger and stronger hurricanes which in turn suck up more moisture which then finally falls as torrential rain.

A double whammy of destruction.

Agriculture also contributes to the greenhouse effect and climate change and is likely to challenge food security in the future. In a report published this week, the European Environment Agency noted that as heatwaves are revealing the vulnerable nature of agriculture in relation to climate change, crop yields and livestock productivity are already being affected across Europe. This phenomenon is being repeated across the planet.  In a world where more than 10% of people already don’t have enough to eat and yet where sufficient food is produced to feed the current world population, climate change will increasingly contribute to future food insecurity as a result of reduced food production and increasing prices.

As soil erosion and degradation increases, and water becomes scarcer, which in turn combines with extreme weather events, the impact of climate change on populations around the world will result in rising hunger and threatens mass migration. It is a sobering thought.

Since agriculture and food production are already in themselves a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and as more intensive food and meat production have become the norm, then it is clear that we face some pretty stiff challenges for the future. The European Environment agency points out that the potential benefits to some farmers of global warming will be outweighed by the losses.

As humans, we need to grasp the fact that what affects one part of nature as a result of living beyond its means will have knock-on effects elsewhere and this is playing itself out with destructive consequences. Nature is indifferent to humanity and yet we stand before it, ignoring the facts with astonishing hubris.  Earth is the only planet we’ve got, so we should worry less about the public finances and more about ensuring a future for our children – follow the link to find out why.

In other news this week, in his spending review, the Chancellor promised the UK a ‘decade of renewal’ as he set out his plans for spending on education, the NHS, social care, policing, the military and tackling climate change as well as increased funding for local government. The Chancellor said in the House that he was turning the page on the age of austerity, but the reality is that its consequences will continue for some time yet and are painfully in evidence wherever you look. You can’t repair the damage of a decade in one fell swoop just by throwing money at it. The Institute of Public Policy Research commented that ‘The public shouldn’t be taken in by today’s spending review. It does not reverse a decade of austerity and chronic underinvestment in our society and economy’

It is risible that after 10 years of cruel austerity, the Conservatives want to convince us that their financial prudence has paid off which has given them headroom to spend. Without wishing to knock a fiscal stimulus, which is definitely a good thing, the fact that it is couched in terms of household budget economic orthodoxy is disappointing and suggests that the brakes could as easily come on as go off should the government decide to. The question to ask is whether austerity is really over or just on pause? The prospect of a coming election might explain the giveaway and the electorate well knows politicians’ promises don’t always translate into reality.  As the IPPR and many commentators have noted, however welcome this stimulus is one should also question how much it can achieve after 10 years of cuts. The damage it has done to the fabric of society is profound and it is more likely to be a case of trying to play catch-up and will not address the structural and human consequences of 10 years of austerity.

For example, as GIMMS has covered previously, the adult social care system is in a state of collapse. Local authorities have been increasingly firefighting to deliver their statutory obligations which include social care. Worse, the proposal to collect a 2% council tax precept to raise a measly £500m will further depress local communities already suffering the consequences of government cuts, the effects of low wages and insecure employment. It will be a tax burden that local communities can ill afford and overall will do little to create the ‘decade of renewal’ the Chancellor is promising.

Also, this week the BBC Panorama programme asked whether we have reached a crisis point in education funding. Following staff and pupils at a primary school in Great Yarmouth, it gave an insight into the many challenges faced by head teachers across the country in trying to balance their books – from having to take the difficult decision to let teaching assistants go and cutting after school services for pupils whose parents have to work.

A survey carried out by the National Governance Association in 2018 revealed that almost half of schools covered by the survey were providing additional services for families in need, including washing school uniforms, meals outside of term time, food banks and emergency loans. The Chief Executive of the NGA said that ‘School staff have an increased burden of providing welfare services because of chronic underfunding in other areas and particularly cuts to local authority services.’ The leader of the Association of School and College Leaders stated that schools were becoming ‘a fourth emergency service providing clothing, food and pastoral care.’

In a rich country, this is a shameful and totally unnecessary state of affairs. The government, through its austerity policies, has failed a generation of children whose deprivation will likely follow them into adulthood. A well-functioning and cooperative society depends on having well-educated and healthy citizens. Instead of nurturing children to give them the best start possible, the government has perversely done exactly the reverse and the societal cost both today and in the future will be substantial.

And meanwhile with no mention by the Chancellor of welfare, the disastrous reforms and cuts to spending on benefits which are causing serious and indeed life-threatening hardship to many indicates that unless they can serve the government’s electoral agenda, those without power and influence can be disregarded as irrelevant. And let’s not forget the effects of such cuts on the economy. Spending always equals income to someone whether that’s by the government or the private sector and if both are cut then the economy and citizens become the casualty.

A few weeks ago, GIMMS asked what makes a good society?  In the FT this week, in a new series entitled The Corbyn Revolution’, the headline drew attention to the Labour Party’s plans to rewrite the rules of the UK economy which will ‘represent a fundamental redistribution of income and power’. These fighting words are getting the Establishment very hot under the collar since they represent a challenge to the status quo out of which they have done very nicely!

Labour is proposing higher taxes on the rich, nationalisation of rail, water, mail and energy companies. The mission is, as the FT puts it, ‘to shift power from capital to labour, wresting control from shareholders, landlords and other vested interests and putting it in the hands of workers, consumers and tenants.’

Aside from the plan to introduce a Universal Basic Income which GIMMS has covered in previous blogs two issues stand out in these plans by the Labour party which need to be examined more carefully. Firstly, the proposal to bring in a ‘right to buy’ scheme to help tenants buy their homes at a reasonable price. In a reversal of Margaret Thatcher’s policy of selling off council homes in the 80s the scheme it is claimed would help to tackle the proliferation of buy to let and the problem of landlords who fail to maintain their properties adequately. It would also allow for properties to be purchased below the market price.

Whilst clearly the crisis in housing and the problem of bad landlords needs to be addressed, surely the solutions to both these problems are elsewhere? Stringent legislation is needed to ensure that landlords are properly regulated and cannot abuse tenants both on rents and the quality of accommodation. More social housing needs to be built to deal with the crisis which pushes tenants into the private rental sector in the first place because there is no choice. The party has already committed to a radical programme for building a million genuinely affordable new homes in England over 10 years most of which will be for social rent. If Labour truly wants to deal with a decades’ old problem which successive governments have failed to grapple with adequately, then government as the legislator and the keeper of the public purse has a role to play in stricter regulation, implementing a house building programme and bringing the million or so empty homes into productive use.

The second issue is Labour’s plans for ‘inclusive ownership funds’ which would require every company with more than 250 employees, which equates to half Britain’s workforce, to transfer 1% of their shares each year into an ‘Inclusive Ownership Fund owned by its employees.  The shares would be held collectively and entitle the fund to ‘voting rights and decision-making powers in the company – as well as entitling every worker to dividend payments’ (capped at £500 per employee – circa £41.00 a month) with the balance being paid to the government to pay for public services and welfare.  It would, according to James Meadway give a ‘much-needed boost to workers’ earnings.’

It is clear that after decades of reshaping power and wealth towards capital, it is time to reverse the inequalities that lie at the heart of the current economic paradigm. A reordering of both towards labour is vital in achieving that objective. But would an Inclusive Ownership Fund actually achieve this? How would, for example a 1% equity share lend significant voting rights and we need to ask the question whether such a share which would still rely on the market to deliver would make a real difference to working people’s lives?

Rather than offering shareholdings in private companies, why not be bold? Give all people a stake in the economy and greater control over their lives through a government funded Job Guarantee, at a genuine living wage, with benefits and unionisation of roles which currently go unpaid and unrecognised. Labour must seek to genuinely shift the balance of power back towards labour, delivering a just mechanism for ensuring price stability across the economy.  A Left national government with the keys to the public purse as the monopoly currency issuer, is the price setter and legislator and as such it has enormous power that it can wield in favour of working people and our ecology.

One would also have to take issue with the idea that the balance would be paid to government to pay for public services and welfare. With modern monetary realities in mind the government, as currency issuer, can create the money it needs to fund public services and welfare which includes pensions. It doesn’t need to rely on funding from the private sector to do so any more than it does from general taxation or even borrowing on the international markets. The only spending constraint that any such government might face would be resources whether that is labour or other physical resources needed to deliver public services and infrastructure.

Labour needs to be bold. The crisis facing our climate and the working classes is demanding it.  Call out the corporate welfare that arises from a financial sector that manages the faux government ‘debt’ for private pensions. Rein in the casino financial speculation that seeks to privatise its gains and socialise its losses.  In government, Labour would wield the power to set the agenda and create the framework to deliver it. Why not consider abolishing the asset inflating, polluting private pensions sector and replacing it with a guaranteed living state pension?

We must ask ourselves how Inclusive Ownership in corporations that deliver our crucial public services would improve the outcomes for service users? Would an equity share in Southern Health have saved the lives the hundreds of patients with mental illness and learning disabilities that have died in their care in recent years? Or the prisoners who’ve ended their lives while in custody at G4S facilities? Would a 10% equity share have offered sufficient clout to Carillion staff or teaching staff at Academies to protect the equitable education of our nation’s greatest asset… our children? Would the shareholding staff at housebuilding giants be better able to afford a decent home on their wages and salaries?

Labour could choose to be bold, deciding what we allow to be within the scope of the ‘economy’ to genuinely resolve the crisis facing health and social care sectors. Perhaps offer medical staff who work for private providers tax incentives to return to the NHS rather than a shareholding in the private healthcare firms they’ve abandoned the NHS for?  How about abolishing the parasitical private health sector completely? Rather than handing out tax incentives to those who opt for private medical insurance. Nationalise education, health and social care, prisons, rail and water ensure the essential infrastructure in in place to provide our nation with the stability in needs to support future generations, delivering Inclusive Ownership of common goods would be a fight worth winning and educating its electorate for.

It is to be regretted that Labour has yet to embrace modern monetary realities and still looks to the rich and large corporations who’ve hidden their wealth in the Cayman Islands to fund its programme for change and this along with its adherence to fiscal credibility rules could constrain their political agenda. Given the urgency of dealing with the catastrophe of climate change and delivering a fairer, more equitable society, a little bit of window dressing will not cut the mustard.

The country needs politicians who are prepared to embrace modern monetary realities and think boldly. Yes, to a fundamental redistribution of income and power to address the injustices of the last 40 years, that is a given, but it would be best achieved by rejecting a model which has been part of the problem.

 

 

Upcoming events:

GIMMS Labour Fringe Event

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Brighton, BN2 1RL

September 23 @ 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm – book your free ticket here

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London, N1 9FB

September 24 @ 6:30 pm – 21:00 pm – book your free ticket here

GIMMS Talk and Social – Leeds

Headingley Enterprise & Arts Centre, Bennett Road
Leeds, LS6 3HN

September 28 @ 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm – book your free ticket here

 

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The post There is no Planet ‘B’, so we’d better save this one (and how we do it) appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

GMOs: Magic Seeds and Broken Promises

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/09/2019 - 10:00am in

Colin Todhunter Political posturing aligned with commercial interests means that truth is becoming a casualty in the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops in India. The industry narrative surrounding Bt cotton is that it has been a great success. The current Modi-led administration is parroting this claim and argues its success must be replicated by …

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