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‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 10:43pm in

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

Carl Vernon: MPs Feast While Children Starve

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 9:33pm in

The Tories really do seem determined to turn as much of the British public away from them as possible through their obstinate refusal to give free school meals to hungry children during the school holidays. Of course they’ve started making up excuses. They’re claiming that the vouchers given for the meals are being spent on drugs and in brothels. This seems to be something that they’ve just pulled out of their rears. There’s no evidence for it, and the organisations and people dealing with Britain’s drug problem haven’t every encountered any drug dealer who has taken food as payment for their wretched wares.

I know from experience that drug addicts will rob homes and premises for food. My mother used to run a elderly people’s club in south Bristol. It was set up by the local council to give the elderly of that area a meal out and allow them to meet other people, play games and exercise themselves for a few hours. One day they found they’d been broken into, but what had been stolen was mostly food. They contacted the police, who came round and took a few details. The cops believed that the people responsible were drug addicts and had had experience of similar cases in the past. As for food vouchers being used in brothels, Cynthia Paine, the notorious ‘Madame Cyn’ of Personal Services infamy, accepted payment in luncheon vouchers from her clients. But she was very much at the top end of prostitution servicing MPs and the like. Or so she claimed. I’ve never heard of any house of ill repute accepting food vouchers. But this seems to show the fantasy land in which the Tories making these excuses seem to live.

They’re also trying to deflect blame away from themselves. They’re being abused as ‘scum’ by an outraged public, and this is all the fault of Angela Rayner for calling one of nastier Tory MPs the term when he was speaking to defend the government’s odious policy. Of course, it’s unparliamentary language and Rayner should apologise. But I don’t think the British public need any encouragement from Rayner to abuse the Tories, who voted against giving children free meals. To state the blindingly obvious, people are very protective of children. It’s why there’s such loathing and hatred of child abuse. The Tories’ policy harms children, and so people are naturally enraged.

And besides, the Tories have previous when it comes to abuse. Like Boris Johnson and his highly racist description of Black Africans and newspaper article describing women, who wear the burka as looking like ninjas and letter boxes. After he wrote that, the number of racist assaults on Muslims increased, including assaults on women wearing the burka. Labour MPs also received more than their fair share of abuse. Margaret Hodge infamously called Jeremy Corbyn ‘a f***king anti-Semite’ in the House of Commons. Black MPs seem to be particularly targeted for vilification. the majority of insults and threats sent to female MPs actually go to Diane Abbott, while there was massive abuse of Dawn Butler after she was stopped by the cops for driving while Black. The whines and wails from the Tories about insults and abuse is just gross hypocrisy in this matter.

Mike and others have pointed out just how much the Tories supporting this policy are paid. Tories like Boris Johnson are making tens of thousands from their MPs salaries and from other work, as well as corporate and private political donations. This is very much the obscenely rich deciding that the poor should starve. And to add insult to injury, MPs also enjoy subsidised food in parliament’s restaurants and bars.

This short video comes from Carl Vernon’s channel on YouTube. Vernon shares the general public disgust at the Tories’ decision. He states that we don’t live in a socialist country, and people do have a responsibility to feed their children. Absolutely, but people have pointed out before, those forced to use food banks and charity to feed their children do feel this responsibility like every one else. They’re just prevent from acting on it by decades of Tory and New Labour policies that have kept wages below the level on which many people can afford to feed and clothe themselves and their families and heat their homes. Quite apart from the destruction of the welfare state, so that hundreds of thousands of people, who should receive benefits, aren’t.

Vernon points out that MPs’ meals in parliament are subsidized, so they eat very well at cheap prices. He shows this with examples from parliament’s own menus. Here’s the video.

The British public, local councils and businesses have shown immense generosity stepped in to feed these children. And in return some Tory MPs have responded with contempt and insults. One of those complaining about insults from the other side of the chamber is north Devon MP Selaine Saxby. When local businesses stepped in to feed the children the Tory government wouldn’t, she announced on Facebook

 “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further Government support”. 

So much for Tory support for the hospitality and other industries struggling due to the Coronavirus emergency and the lockdown! But there, as Mike, Zelo Street and a multitude of other peeps are pointing out, the Tories don’t care about anyone except themselves personally. Only when it directly affects them do they feel any remorse or pangs of conscience.

This is a national disgrace. Last night the BBC news announced that ours is the only country, which isn’t feeding its children.

We stand shamed and humiliated on the world stage. This is an outrage. But as Zelo Street has also posted, it also shows that Nye Bevan, the architect of the welfare state, was right. Bevan stated that he had always had a burning hatred for the Tories because of the way they condemned decent people to semi-starvation. And so he called them

‘lower than vermin’.

And they’re proving him right once again.

And they have the audacity to complain that people are calling them ‘scum’!

See also:

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/selaine-saxby-another-tory-idiot.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/ben-bradley-stop-digging.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/drugs-for-food-tory-has-his-bluff-called.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/angela-rayner-attack-er-hello-tories.html

The Expenses of the 300+ MPs Who Voted Against Free School Meals for Children – Dorset Eye

Ben Bradley’s meltdown: Mansfield MP tries to justify starving hungry children – digs own political grave instead

Conservatives complain about #ToryScum label – but refuse to apologise for behaviour that fits it

Did £150k-salaried Boris Johnson oppose #FreeSchoolMeals because he has to buy food for his own kids?

BBC Documentary on Artist’s Fightback Against Fascist Appropriation of Pepe the Frog

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 4:21am in

Next Monday, 26th October 2020, BBC’s Storyville documentary follows artist Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, as he tries to wrest his image back from the Alt Right. The programme’s on BBC 4 at 10.00 pm, and is entitled ‘Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man’ The blurb for the programme on page 75 of this coming week’s Radio Times runs

Pepe, a cartoon frog drawn in a deliberately crude and garish style, has become a symbol of the “alt-right”; its use is shorthand for a social media poster proudly announcing themselves to be a troll at best and a full neo-Nazi at worst.

But the little green guy was originally part of a harmless cartoon strip drawn by illustrator Matt Furie and, rather than conceding that sometimes artists lose control of their creations, he’s fought back. We watch as Furie takes on both anonymous troublemakers and the big beasts of the American right-wing media – the big problem being that, arguably, if you engage with them at all, you’ve already lost.

Another blurb on page 77 says

The story of how a cute cartoon character morphed into an international hate symbol after being hijacked by the “alt-right”. This film in the Storyville strand follows Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, as he fights tooth and nail to wrest back his amiable amphibian from the dark forces that appropriated him.

The Pepe meme as a symbol of the Alt Right must have been around for at least a decade now, and it’s been scrawled by noxious extreme rightists all over the place, from the internet to real objects. It also seems to be connected to the slogan, ‘Free Kekistan’, which is also mouthed by the Alt Right and their supporters. I think one of the issues raised against Sargon of Gasbag, Paul Joseph Watson and Count Dankula when they tried to join UKIP was that a crowd of people, claiming to be their supporters, got drunk and started waving Pepe the Frog flags and shouting ‘Free Kekistan’.

I realise that Furie’s got an uphill battle on his hands to win back ownership of his creation from the trolls, racists and Nazis. There have been countless other creators, writers and artists, who’ve similarly lost control of theirs over the years. The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta is a case in point. Unfortunately, after the film the rights don’t belong to the strip’s creator, the legendary Alan Moore. Rather they belong to the film company, which is very much the kind of exploitative global corporation Moore despises. It’s because of this and similar issues over creators’ rights that has left Moore very bitter about aspects of the comics industry. However, the meaning of the Guy Fawkes mask as an image has remained the same, and has been very much used as such by protestors demonstrating against forces and ideologies like global capitalism, racism and official persecution and injustice. It isn’t as though it’s meaning has been co-opted and perverted by those forces.

This could be a very interesting programme indeed. And no matter how difficult it is, I wish Furie all the best in his struggle to get Pepe back from the trolls and Fascists.

.

Basic income trial shows ‘poignant’ stories

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 4:49pm in

A three-year-long project documenting the impact of a small basic income trial in the United States is entering its final stages before release. The goal of the project was to “explore what people do with extra unconditional cash.”

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

Lawless Tories Pass Legislation Allowing Security Forces to Commit Crimes

This is very ominous. It’s another attack on the security of British citizens from potential persecution and tyranny from their own government. On Wednesday, 6th October 2020, Mike put up a piece on his blog reporting that Boris Johnson and his cronies have passed legislation that permits MI5, the National Crime Agency and other organisations using undercover agents and informants to commit crimes. They do, however, have to show that the offences are ‘necessary and proportionate’, but won’t say which crimes are authorised for fear of revealing the identities of their spies to the criminals and terrorists they are attempting to infiltrate and monitor. Mike also points out that there’s the danger of ‘mission creep’, that the scope of the crimes the undercover cops and agents are permitted to commit will expand as the security forces decide that this is required by their activities.

The new law was opposed by both Labour and Tory MPs, criticising the lack of safeguards in it which they described as ‘very vague and very broad’. In fact, only 182 Tory MPs voted for it. Keir Starmer once again showed his Blairite utter lack of backbone, and ordered the party to abstain. Only 20 Labour MPs voted against it. This means that it would have failed if Labour had had any principles and opposed it. Unsurprisingly, the Labour MPs who voted against it included the ‘far left’ MPs Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Ian Lavery, whose tweet explaining his reasons for doing so Mike also gives in his piece. Lavery said

I voted against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill tonight. This was the correct course of action. I simply could not support legislation that would allow #spycops to murder, torture and use sexual violence without fear of any legal accountability.

Mike’s article also includes numerous other tweets from ordinary Brits condemning the new law and the Labour party and its leader for not opposing it, except for Corbyn and the other 19 courageous and principled MPs. Carole Hawkins, for example, tweeted

Mass kidnappings, torture & assassinations all without any comeback now the rule of law in 3rd world, nonentity Torydom. Every so called “British value” disappeared on the 5/10/20.

And Elaine Dyson said

#StarmerOut The Labour party & the public deserve better. During the COVID-19 crisis & with Brexit just a couple of months away, we need a strong opposition against the Tory gov. Labour must stop whipping its MPs to abstain on bills that leave sh*tstains on human rights.

Mike comments

There is only one reasonable response to legislation that authorises government agents to commit crimes – especially extreme crimes such as those contemplated here, and that is opposition.

But opposition is not in Keir Starmer’s vocabulary.

Let’s have a leadership challenge. He has to go.

And if he isn’t ousted this time, let’s have another challenge, and another, until he is. He has turned Labour into a travesty.

This is a real threat to the safety of ordinary citizens, and another step towards despotism and arbitrary government. This is very much the issue which made Robin Ramsay set up the conspiracies/ parapolitics magazine Lobster in the early 1980s. There is plentiful evidence that the western security forces are out of control, and are responsible for serious crimes against people and their governments. The late William Blum, a fierce, indefatiguable critic of the American empire and its intelligence agencies, has published any number of books exposing and discussing the way they have conspired to overthrow foreign governments and assassinate their leaders. One of these has two chapters simply listing the countries, whose governments the US has overthrown and in whose democratic elections it has interfered. One of the most notorious is the CIA coup of the mid-70s that overthrew the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, by the Fascist dictator General Pinochet.

Britain’s own security forces have also shown themselves no strangers to such activities. In the 1950s we conspired to overthrow the last, democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil industry, the majority of which was owned by us. We’ve since engaged in rigging elections and other covert activities in other countries around the world. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, British security forces colluded secretly with loyalist paramilitaries in the assassination of Republicans. The IRD, a state propaganda department set up to counter Soviet propaganda, also smeared left-wing Labour MPs such as Tony Benn as supporters of the IRA. All this and worse is described by the entirely respectable, mainstream historian Rory Cormac in his book Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy.

Such lawbreaking and criminality is the reason that there is a significant conspiracist subculture in America and Britain. Following the assassination of JFK and the shock of Watergate, many Americans don’t trust their government. This distrust mostly takes the form of paranoid, bizarre, and in my view utterly false and dangerous stories about the government forming secret pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli to experiment on humans in exchange for alien technology. But some of this distrust is justified. In the 1970s, for example, the CIA plotted to stage a bomb attack in Miami. This would be blamed on Cuba, and provide the pretext for an invasion to oust Castro and his communist government. Fortunately this was never put into practice, but this, and similar entirely historical, factual plots, mean that Americans are justified in being wary and suspicious of their secret state and intelligence agencies.

And so should we.

We’ve already taken several significant steps towards authoritarian rule. One of the most significant of these was the passages of legislation by Blair and then David Cameron setting up secret courts. This allows suspects to be tried in secret, with the press and public excluded, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security. The law also allows evidence to be withheld from the defendant and his lawyers for the same reason, in case it reveals the identities of agents and informants. As I’ve said numerous times before, this is very much the kind of perverted justice system that Kafka described in his novels The Castle and The Trial, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

The idea that the state, or high-ranking individuals within it, are engaged in a conspiracy against their own people has now become something of a staple in American cinema and television. There was Nine Days of the Condor in the 1970s, in which Dustin Hoffman plays a secret agent, whose co-workers are killed by another covert organisation while he’s out getting lunch, and then the X-Files in the 1990s. Not to mention Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, both of which feature rogue Federation officers conspiring to lead some kind of attack on the Federation itself.

Back down to Earth, the 1990’s British police drama, Between the Lines, also tackled the issue of rogue undercover agents. Between the Lines starred Neil Pearson and Siobhan Redmond as members of a unit set up to investigate offences committed by police officers. This included issues that are still, unfortunately, very much relevant, such as the shooting of unarmed suspects by mistake by armed police. One episode had the team investigating a secret agent, who had infiltrated a neo-Nazi organisation. This man was responsible for a series of assaults, raising the question that he had actually gone native and become part of the group he was supposed to bring down. This was at least 25 years ago, and it depicts exactly the kind of thing that could and no doubt has happened. Except that the Tory legislation means that the individuals responsible for such crimes, or at least some of them, will be exempt from prosecution under the new laws.

As for the claims that there will somehow be safeguards to prevent abuse, I’m reminded of the Charter of Verona, issued by Mussolini’s Fascists towards the end of Fascist rule in Italy. By then the majority of Italy had been occupied by the Allies. Mussolini himself was the puppet head of a rump Fascist state in northern Italy, the infamous Salo Republic. The Duce attempted to regain some popularity for himself and his movement by taking a leftward turn, promising the workers’ a place in industrial management. The Charter declared that no individual would be held for more than seven days without charge or trial. Which sounds far more liberal than previous Fascist rule. The reality, however, was that the Salo Republic was propped up by the Nazis, while brutal deaths squads like the Deci Mas roamed the countryside killing anti-Fascists.

Britain isn’t a Fascist state by any means at the moment. But legislation like this paves the way for the emergence of a genuine authoritarian regime. It is an active threat to the lives and security of ordinary Brits, and Starmer had no business whatsoever supporting it.

Streaming Diary

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:54am in

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Film


This is not the languidity burdened by sameness and doom which we’ve grown accustomed to in the stuffy, unaired bedrooms of quar. Instead, The Portuguese Woman is a mesmerizing historic wormhole into a plein air future: the wind rushes in from a window, dresses ruffle and drag, the sun filters across a maid’s quarters to lift its bleakness.

‘Life and Limb’: Foresters on the front line of climate change in Vanuatu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am in

The documentary follows Vanuatu's foresters


Foresters in Vanuatu. Source: Facebook page of Vanuatu Department of Forest.

One of the films being screened at the ongoing 2020 Eugene Environmental Film Festival is ‘Life and Limb’ which features the work of foresters in Vanuatu.

The Eugene Environmental Film Festival highlights initiatives around the world that share  “a deep connection and responsibility to protect the environment and work in solidarity with others in the struggle toward environmental justice.” This year the festival is free and all films are screened online.

Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation of 80 islands. It is extremely vulnerable to climate change, in particular the threat posed by rising sea levels to coastal communities.

One of the environmental protection initiatives that the Vanuatu government has recently launched aims to make an inventory of forest lands on 12 major islands. This was last done 30 years ago.

Ginny Stein, a veteran Australian journalist and filmmaker, documented this work. Stein has been helping Vanuatu’s Department of Forestry as a volunteer and consultant.

Global Voices emailed Stein and asked what inspired her to document the work of the foresters:

After a long career as a foreign correspondent and film maker, I moved to Vanuatu to work as a volunteer in communications at the Department of Forestry.

The National Forest Inventory kicked off while I was there. I thought it was a great chance to teach foresters about the power of media in raising public awareness about what they do. I was fortunate to get a chance to work with them, to talk about filming using phones and tablets, before they departed for the field.

She added how her team decided to make a documentary:

They started sending me short video clips which I would turn into social media videos and post on the forestry Facebook page. At the same time, I had the chance to meet up with them in the field, on a number of islands where I would film with them. Over the course of six months, I realised we had enough material to make a documentary, which is how ‘Life and Limb’ came together.

The documentary follows a team of foresters who are part of the government project to make an inventory of the forest lands and offers a glimpse into their battle against climate change. It also shows the importance of the forest in Vanuatu culture and how logging for several decades has gravely affected the ecological balance in the country’s small islands.

It also narrated the impact of the rise in cash-crop demand on Vanuatu’s agricultural and forest lands.

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For the past year I have worked with the Forestry Department of Vanuatu to help protect one of this South Pacific Island's most unique and valuable resources….its forests. Foresters became camera operators as they began the first stocktake of the island's forests in more than 30 years. The proof of everyone's efforts…a documentary "Life and Limb" will be launched next week at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila. For the past few weeks, we have all watched from here in horror as Australia's forests have burned. Vanuatu, a small pacific island on the front lines of climate change, is one of a number of island countries that has chipped in to help Australian firefighters. This documentary is about Vanuatu's forests, but it highlights the value of forests to people's lives the world over. Tankio tumas olgeta blong Vanuatu and all who helped make it. #forestartist #forestmapping #forests #conservation #lifeandlimb #climateemergency #wildlife #wildseas #kauri #nabunga #forestry #climatechange #climate #sustainability #theworld #camera #documentary

A post shared by VanuatuForestryDepartment (@vanuatuforestrydepartment) on Jan 6, 2020 at 7:49pm PST

Stein explained some of the challenges faced by the foresters:

For the teams, the biggest challenge was getting to where they had to go, by boat, truck, or foot. And the weather. They were reliant on the support of communities. For me, connecting with them was the greatest challenge. And data is really expensive in Vanuatu.

The film was screened in Vanuatu in January 2020. Stein shared the feedback of the audience:

Showing the film the first time and watching the reaction of foresters was priceless. There was lots of joy and pride in what they had done. And a thrill of seeing themselves on the big screen. Taking it into communities was very rewarding. At Hog Harbour in Santo, people watched it at an outdoor screening. There was laughter and joy at seeing ni-Vanuatu working for their country. People really loved the music as well. I was lucky that Vanuatu's Cultural Centre gave me access to some of their archived music and that the Soul Harvest Choir also allowed me to use some music I recorded with them.

Finally, Stein’s message to the international community:

My message is please watch “Life and Limb”, and please support those on the frontlines of climate change who are working hard knowing there are great challenges coming their way. You can do that by taking action yourself, wherever you are. By learning more about climate change, and calling on your representatives to start taking action now.

The whole film can be watched by visiting the website of the Eugene Environmental Film Festival. Watch the film’s trailer here:

Lenin’s Decree on Workers’ Control in the Russian Revolution

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) also contains the text of Lenin’s decree establishing workers’ control in businesses throughout the Russian empire. This ran

  1. In the interests of a systematic regulation of national economy, Worker’s Control is introduced in all industrial, commercial, agricultural (and similar) enterprises which are hiring people to work for them in their shops or which are giving them work to take home. This control is to extend over the production, storing, buying and selling of raw materials and finished products as well as over the finances of any enterprises.
  2. The workers will exercise this control through their elected organisations such as factory and shop committees, soviets of elders, etc. The office employees and the technical personnel are also to have representation in these committees.
  3. Every large city, province and industrial area is to have its own Soviet of Workers’ Control, which, being an organ of the S(oviet) of W(orkers’), S(oldiers’)and P(easants’) D(eputies), must be composed of representatives of trade unions, factory, shop and other workers’ committees and workers’ cooperatives.
  4. ….
  5. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to supervise production fix the minimum of output, and determine the cost of production.
  6. The organs of Workers’ Control have the right to control all the business correspondence of an enterprise. Owners of enterprises are legally responsible for all correspondence kept secret. Commercial secrets are abolished. the owners have to show to the organs of Workers’ Control all their books and statements for the current year and for the past years.
  7. The rulings of the organs of Workers’ Control are binding on the owners of enterprises and can be annulled only by decisions of the higher organs of Workers’ Control. (pp. 69-70).

Daniels’ explains that this idea had the support of most of the Russian workers at the time, some of whom were already putting it into practise by force. Sergei Eisenstein shows workers taking over the factories and throwing the bosses out the gates in wheelbarrows in his classic piece of Communist propaganda, October. Lenin initially supported, but later overturned it and restored the authority of the factory management despite Bolshevik opposition. The reason for it is that it simply didn’t work. Lenin genuinely believed that poorly educated workers would have no trouble running a business, but commonsense simply tells you it isn’t true.

However, workers’ control is an inspiring idea. It continued in Yugoslavia as part of their self-management system, and there are ways in which it certainly could be made to work. One obvious way is to train the worker managers up to a level where they can make informed decisions before they start. Another is through the unions providing them with expert advisers on their behalf. These are just ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure that the people who have really tried it in practice through running cooperatives and have served as trade union officials and shop stewards in negotiations with management have better from their own experience.

We desperately need an element of workers’ control and industrial democracy, if not a full-blown representative chamber for working people in parliament. Working people have seen their rights at worker devastated through forty years of Thatcherism. One of the reasons the Tories have been able to enforce their wages freezes, introduce job precarity, zero hours contracts and the gig economy is that they’ve also destroyed the unions through grossly restrictive legislation. And they’re set to make it worse after Brexit, when they will get rid of all the minimum rights workers’ have under the EU’s Social Charter. Which they’ve been wanting to do for nearly forty years, again since Thatcher.

You don’t have to be as radical as Lenin and the Bolsheviks. But we do need a return of strong trade unions, workers’ representation in the boardroom and a Labour Party that actually stands up for working people.

Images of the North African Slave Trade in White Europeans and a Quote from Hitler

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 10:07pm in

I’ve put up several posts already critising Sasha Johnson for her quote stating that Blacks will enslave Whites, for which she was thrown off Twitter. Johnson seems to see herself as a British Black Panther, and so has demanded a Black militia to defend Blacks from the police, and an all-Black party. Which roughly follows the Panthers’ programme and activism.But she’s pushed this even further, following the pattern of the activist style of politics that Conservative historian Noel Sullivan views as the real origin of Fascism into overt racism with that Tweet.

But from the middle ages to the 19th century Arabs from north Africa captured and enslaved White Europeans. This only ended in the 19th century with the French invasion of Algiers. The slave raiding increased with the rise of the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. Mediterranean Europe was particularly affected. Whole communities were attacked and carried off in France and Italy, but it also extended to Britain and Ireland and even as far afield as Iceland. I found this contemporary drawing of White European slaves being landed by the captors at Algiers c. 1700 in The History of the World, Vol 2: The Last Five Hundred Years, Esmond Wright, general editor, (W.H. Smith 1984), page 265.

The same page also carried this picture of Mulay Ismail, who ruled Morocco from 1672-1727. Morocco was another north African state which relied for its economy on slave raiding.

It’ll surprise no-one that Adolf Hitler also celebrated the conquest and enslavement of those he considered inferior races in Mein Kampf. He wrote

For the development of the higher culture it was necessary that men of lower civilisation should have existed, for none but they could be a substitute for the technical instrument without which higher development was inconceivable. In its beginnings human culture depended less on the tamed beast and more on employment of inferior human material.

it was not until the conquered races had been enslaved that a like fate fell on the animal world; the contrary was not the case, as many would like to believe. For it was the slave which first drew the plough, and after him the horse. None but pacifist fools can look on this as yet another token of human depravity; other must see clearly that this development was bound to happen in order to arrive at a state of things in which those apostles are able to loose their foolish talk on the world.

Human progress is like ascending an endless ladder; a man cannot climb higher unless he has first mounted the lowest rung. Thus the Aryan had to follow the road leading him to realization, and not the one which exists n the dreams of modern pacifists.

Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (London: The Paternoster Library 1933), page 122.

These show that not only is Sasha Johnson ignorant of the White slave trade, or just doesn’t care, she also shows the same attitude towards those she considers racially inferior and an enemy as Hitler. Only the colours have been swapped. It is, in my view, fair to call her a Nazi. And her supporters, including the members of her Black militia and prospective members of her proposed Blacks only party are also Nazis.

Now I think that she’s probably just young, stupid and got carried away. But she still deserves to be treated like any other Nazi until she grows up and sees sense. After all, to many people before the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler was a joke. There’s a line in the Bernardo Bertolucci film The Conformist, about a young man who joins the Italian Fascist party after he shoots the paedophile, who tried to attack him, that’s very pertinent. ‘When I was in Munish, there was a man ranting in the beerhalls. We all used to laugh at him. That man was Adolf Hitler’.

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