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Archaeologists Discover Bronze Agent Musical Instrument Made of Human Bone

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 2:32am in

This is an interesting piece of archaeological news from Tuesday’s edition of the I for 1 September 2020. The article ‘Bronze Age people turned human thigh bone into musical instrument’ by Nina Massey reported that archaeologists from Bristol University had discovered the instrument buried with other fragments of bone and tusk and axes buried as grave goods with a man near Stonehenge. The article reads

Researchers have uncovered evidence of a Bronze Age tradition that saw human remains retained and curated as relics over several generations.

The findings indicate a tangible way of honouring and remembering individuals some 4,500 years ago, experts say.

Led by the University of Bristol and published in the journal Antiquity, the study used radio-carbon dating and CT scanning.

Lead author Dr Thomas Booth said: “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.

“After radiocarbon dating Bronze Age human remains alongside other material buried with them, we found many had been buried a significant time after the person had died, suggesting a tradition of retaining and curating human remains.”

He added: “People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy.

In one example from Wiltshire, a human thigh bone, crafted into a musical instrument was included as grave goods with the burial of a man found near Stonehenge.

The carved and polished artefact was found with other items including axes, a bone plate and a tusk. Radio-carbon dating of the thigh bone suggests it belonged to someone this person had known.

Professor Joanna Bruck, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s department of anthropology and archaeology, said: “Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display.”

Dr Booth said: “This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective.”

He is also quoted as saying, “Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

This is the first time I’ve read about human remains being turned into a musical instruments in ancient Britain, but I’m not surprised. There are many cultures all over the world that preserve the skulls of dead ancestors and enemies. They included the Mandan and other tribes in the US, some indigenous peoples of Papua New Guinea and the ancient Celts. There’s a carving from an ancient Celtic temple from southern Gaul of a monster, whose two front claws rest on severed heads. Around the statue are depressions carved into its base, possibly to hold the real thing. Nigel Barley in one of his books on death around the world notes that in the traditional culture of one of the Pacific peoples, the skeletons of dead relatives are handled and taken apart, so that their descendants can carry bits of it about of them as an act of respect and remembrance.

And there are also cultures that turn human remains into musical instruments. There’s the Chod ceremony in Tibetan Buddhism, in which the priests wear aprons made out of human skin and play drums made of human skulls and, I believe, flutes from bone. Something similar may well have been done here with this instrument.

The Stonehenge connection is interesting and possibly relevant. One of the theories about the standing stones is that they were originally put up as monuments to the ancestors in a process involving secondary burial. This followed the suggestion of a Madagascan archaeologist, who said that they reminded him of the practice among his people. There the remains are interred for a period after death while they decay. After a certain time, they’re taken out, prepared and then re-buried in another set of ceremonies during which a stone or a wooden pole is set up as a monument. It may well be that this instrument was created as part of such a burial rite.

The French are doing it so much better…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 5:00pm in

My piece yesterday bemoaned the arbitrary end of furlough and the complete lack of any clear-sighted direction for the economy. Indeed I now understand that the government’s ill thought out ‘kickstart’ scheme is in fact available only to those able to offer a minimum of 30 placements. No wonder Tesco is in favour and this... Read more

Ignore the Tory Flag-Waving: Labour and Socialism Represent Real Patriotism

It was announced this week that there are plans to set up two independent networks to rival the ‘woke, wet BBC’ as the Daily Mail decided to describe the state broadcaster. This has been described by left-wing bloggers like Zelo Street quite rightly as attempts to set up a kind of Fox News in the UK. And the name of one of these broadcasters shows you just what type of audience they want to appeal to: GB News. Two of its presenters have already been announced. They are Andrew Neil and Nigel Farage. It’s another example of the Conservatives and right Brexiteers laying the claim to be patriots defending Britain, its people and traditions. And it’s rubbish.

The Tories have been making this claim almost since they appeared in the 17th century, but the nationalism became particularly acute under Thatcher. She took over Churchill’s heroic view of British history and consciously modelled her style of government on Churchill’s. Or what she thought was Churchill’s. The result was headlines like one in the Sunday Telegraph defending the patriotic middle classes: ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British’. World War II and the Falklands were invoked at every opportunity. The Tory party election broadcast was a particularly blatant example. It started with World War II footage of Spitfires zooming about the skies while an excited voice told us that ‘We were born free’. It’s a line from the 18th century Swiss advocate of radical democracy, Rousseau. His Social Contract begins ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains.’ Obviously, you can see why the Tories didn’t want to include the last bit.

Thatcher passed legislation intended to make New Commonwealth immigration more difficult by revising British citizenship to restrict it only to those born here or who had been naturalised. Previously it had extended to anyone born in the British Empire. At the same time, the Tory press ran article after article attacking Black and Asian immigrants, warning of the dire threat of ‘unassimilable immigrants’. The riots of the early 80s were ascribed, not to Blacks protesting against real racism, but to the racism of the Black community itself. The Labour party was full of Commies and traitors supporting the IRA, a lie that BoJob repeated yesterday in an ad hominem attack on Keir Starmer. Britain was under threat, and only Maggie Thatcher, personifying the spirit of Boadicea and Winston Churchill, could save us.

In fact the reverse was true. We almost lost the Falklands War, despite all the propaganda, flag-waving and sabre-rattling, because of Thatcher’s defence cuts. The Argentinians waited until the British ship guarding the islands had sailed away. We only won thanks to American and Chilean support. Hence Thatcher’s friendship with the old Fascist butcher, General Pinochet.

At the same time, Thatcher was responsible for the destruction of British industry and its sale to foreign companies. She didn’t want the government to bail out ailing firms, and so they were allowed to go under. State-owned enterprises were sold to foreign companies, so that many of the railway companies are owned by the Dutch, French and Germans, while I think Bristol Water is owned by an Indonesian firm. This has not brought the investment Thatcher claimed. Instead, these foreign firms simply take the profits from British companies and concentrate on their own domestic operations.

At the same time, the deregulation of the financial sector, which was supposed to take over from manufacturing as the main motor of the British economy, resulted in capital flight. The Tories hate the free movement of people, except when they’re rich, but are very keen to make sure that the British rich can invest wherever they like around the world, even at the expense of British domestic industry. Hence Jacob Rees Mogg also has investments in a number of far eastern and Indonesian companies.

And the British Empire has actually also been a problem for British domestic industry. British capitalists took their money there to exploit cheap indigenous labour. Even now the City is geared more to oversees investment than domestic, with the result that British industry is starved of investment. Labour tried to solve that problem in the 1980s by advocating a domestic investment bank. That went out the window when they lost the 1987 election, and Kinnock and his successor Blair did a volte-face and turned instead to the financial sector with promises of ‘light touch’ regulation. Further reforms by Blair, continued by the Tories, have resulted the extremely rich taking their money abroad in tax havens like the Cayman Islands in order to avoid paying British tax. Yet the same billionaires still demand the British taxpayer to bail them out. We saw this a month ago when Beardie Richard Branson called on the government to bail out Virgin Airlines, despite the fact that he is resident in the Virgin Islands and his company is also registered abroad in order to dodge paying tax in Blighty.

The playwright and Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw called out the Tories on the fake patriotism nearly a century ago in his 1928 book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. He wrote

So far we have considered the growth of Capitalism as it occurs at home. But capital has no home, or rather it is at home everywhere. It is a quaint fact that though professed Socialists and Communists call themselves Internationalist, and carry a red flag which is the flag of workers of all nations, and though most capitalists are boastfully national, and wave the Union Jack on every possible occasion, yet when you come down from the cries and catchwords to the facts, you find that every practical measure advocated by British Socialists would have the effect of keeping British capital in Britain to be spent on improving the condition of their native country, whilst the British capitalists are sending British capital out of Britain to the ends of the earth by hundreds of millions every year. If, with all our spare money in their hands, they were compelled to spend it in the British Isles, or were patriotic or public-spirited or insular enough to do so without being compelled, they could at least call themselves patriots with some show of plausibility. Unfortunately we allow them to spend it where they please; and their only preference, as we have seen, is for the country in which it will yield them the largest income. Consequently, when they have begun at the wrong end at home, and have exhausted its possibilities, they do not move towards the right end until they have exhausted the possibilities of the wrong end abroad as well. (pp. 133-4).

Shaw was right. In terms of practical politics, the Socialists are the only real patriots. The flag-waving nationalism of Thatcher, BoJob and Farage is to distract you from the fact that they’re not.

Don’t be misled by patriotic rhetoric, the fake controversy about the Proms, the attacks on immigrants and names like GB News. The people who really believe in Britain and all its great people are on the left.

Right-wing Internet Radio Host Alex Belfield Attacks Esther McVile

I’ve put up a number of articles recently taking issue with Alex Belfield. Belfield is another right-wing radio host, with his own show, ‘Celebrity Radio’, marketing himself with the slogan ‘the Voice of Reason’. It’s a misnomer. He’s like just about all the other right-wing voices out there on mainstream Talk Radio, like Nick Ferrari, Julia Hartley-Brewer and the rest. Fiercely anti-immigration, his recent videos seem to be about demonising the desperate asylum seekers crossing the channel from France, wrongly claiming that the Labour MP was negligent in not doing anything about the exploited sweatshop workers of Leeds, when she had been protesting for years, and criticising Black Lives Matter for not protesting about the conditions of those workers rather than pulling down statues of slavers in Bristol. And now, of course, he’s joined the various chorus of voices denouncing the Beeb for planning not to play ‘Rule, Britannia’, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at Last Night of the Proms. Even though, as Zelo Street has shown today, no such decision was taken and the two will be sung as is traditional, subject to the restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/last-night-of-silly-season.html

Belfield is particularly bitter about show biz. He’s posted a number of videos attacking the industry for demanding government subsidies and bailouts, while its leading members and companies rake in millions. He’s also attacked a number of celebs personally for hypocritically affecting an attitude of social concern and engagement, while being horrible people in their private lives. Some of this seems to follow recent allegations about the conduct of people like Ellen Degeneres in America. Degeneres is a former comedian with her own chat show on American TV. She’s another, who, it is claimed, affects a left-wing demeanour, urging people to be kinder to each other, but in reality is on very friendly terms with leading American right-wing politicians, and has a highly exploitative, domineering attitude to her staff and contempt for those serving her. Now I don’t doubt that very many of the celebs right across the political spectrum, who affect to be nice, caring human beings are actually anything but in their private lives. That’s just human nature. Simple experience teaches that just because someone may have a set of political ideals or tastes in sport, culture etc doesn’t mean that they’re personally very pleasant.

Belfield seems to have a particular hatred for politicos with a background in the media, who are now trying to relaunch their careers as media celebrities. And I do agree with him on one of the targets for his ire: Esther McVey. A few weeks ago he put up a video attacking her as a ‘twirly’. Because the odious woman had put up a video about herself, in which she pretended to drive around in a car looking at places around Liverpool or wherever. The video was clearly fake, shot in a studio using green screen and with the moving background added using the magic of computer graphics.

I share Belfield’s loathing of McVey, but for completely opposite reasons. Belfield put up a piece a little while ago attacking benefit claimants as scroungers. It seemed to follow all the extremely biased and misleading articles about it in the press. Articles that according to stats, have convinced the British public that over a quarter of benefit claims are fraudulent when in reality fraudulent claims account for less than 1 per cent.

I despise McVey because she was part of the Department of Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith. This was when the Tories were going full speed ahead with their vicious, murderous sanctions regime, in which the Jobcentres find any excuse to throw claimants off benefits just to satisfy targets. I despise her, because she was one of the Department’s chiefs behind the Work Capability Tests, which have resulted in tens of thousands of seriously disabled people being judged ‘fit for work’ and thrown off the benefits they need to live, simply because of fraudulent science that assumes a high percentage of such claimants are malingerers. I despise her because she was part of Cameron’s government which inflicted austerity on the nation. The same austerity that has since been revealed as very much a political choice intended to hurt the poor while enriching the already bloated bank balances of the super-rich. I despise her because, thanks to the same policies, over 100,000 disabled people have died after her wretched system declared them to be ‘fit for work’. I despise her, and her former boss, IDS, because thanks to Tory policies, millions are in real food poverty, faced with a choice of starving themselves or going without heat or feeding their children. I despise her, because well over a quarter of a million are now having to use food banks rather than the welfare state to keep body and soul together.

I despise her, because she is the rich and entitled head of media production company. Her company was, I believe, responsible for various ‘poverty porn’ documentaries, like Benefits Street, which presented the issue of mass poverty as due to the personal faults of the unemployed themselves.

And so I completely agree with him in find her attempts to restart her career utterly, utterly contemptible.

Faced with McVey, whose opponents and critics dubbed ‘Esther McVile’, and altered her Wikipedia entry so that it read that she was minister in charge of culling the disabled, I find myself agreeing with one of the slogans of the villainous Torquemada from 2000 AD. Not that whole idea about galactic fascism and racial hatred, but the slogan in one of his rants:

Never Forgive.

Never Forget.

Never for Fun.

And yes, I do realise that the initial letters spell out ‘NF’ to show that Torquemada really is a ranting Fascist. But it seems an excellent attitude to have to the Tories, who really would like us all to forget how vile they are, and how they are killing the poor and disabled, as well as stoking up racial hatred against immigrants and the disabled, all to make their wealthy corporate donors richer and ordinary working Brits of all colours poorer.

And that attitude also extends to Belfield, because he is part of that Tory agenda. So it’s ironic that he’s attacked McVile. He’s right, though it makes him no better.

 

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/08/2020 - 6:15am in

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.

Hands off Lebanon: Macron’s Self-serving ‘New Pact’ Must Be Shunned

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 1:35am in

French President, Emmanuel Macron, is in no position to pontificate to Lebanon about the need for political and economic reforms. Just as thousands of Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut demanding “revenge” against the ruling classes, the French people have relentlessly been doing the same; both peoples have been met with police violence and arrests.

Following the August 4 blast which killed over 200 people and wounded thousands more, the irony was inescapable when Macron showed up in a bizarre display of “solidarity” on the streets of Beirut. Macron should have taken his roadshow to the streets of Paris, not Beirut, to reassure his own people, burdened by growing inequality, rising unemployment and socio-economic hardship.

However, the French show went on, but in the Middle East. It was a perfectly choreographed scene, engineered to be reminiscent of France’s bygone colonial grandeur. On August 6, Macron stood imperiously amidst the ruins of a massive Beirut explosion, promising aid, accountability and vowing to never abandon France’s former colony.

A young Lebanese woman approached the French President, tearfully imploring him “Mr. President, you’re on General Gouraud Street; he freed us from the Ottomans. Free us from the current authorities.”

It is unconvincing that all of this: the sudden visit, the pleas for help, the emotional crowd surrounding Macron, were all impromptu events to reflect Lebanon’s undying love and unconditional trust of France.

Macron could have easily assessed the damage caused by the devastating explosion at the Beirut port. If the thousands of images and endless video streams were insufficient to convey the unprecedented ruin created by the Hiroshima-like blast, satellite and aerial footage certainly would have.

But Macron did not come to Lebanon to offer sincere solidarity. He came, like a ‘good’ French politician would – to exploit the shock, panic and fear of a dumbstruck nation, while it is feeling betrayed by its own government, bewildered and alone.

“I will talk to all political forces to ask them for a new pact. I am here today to propose a new political pact to them,” Macron said.

Certainly, Lebanon is in urgent need of a new pact, but not one that is engineered by France. Indeed, France was never a source of stability in Lebanon. Even the end of formal French colonialism in 1946 did not truly liberate Lebanon from Paris’ toxic influence and constant meddling.

Alas, devastated Lebanon is now receptive to another bout of ‘disaster capitalism’:  the notion that a country must be on its knees as a prerequisite to foreign economic takeover, political and, if necessary, military intervention.

If the words of the woman who beseeched Macron to ‘liberate’ Lebanon from its current leadership were not scripted by some clever French writer, they would represent one of the saddest displays of Lebanon’s modern politics – this woman, representing a nation, calling on its former colonizer to subjugate it once more, in order to save it from itself.

This is the crux of ‘disaster capitalism’.

“In moments of crisis, people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure – whether the crisis is a financial meltdown or … a terrorist attack,” wrote the acclaimed Canadian author, Naomi Klein, in her seminal book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”.

The political fallout of the explosion – whatever its causes – were triggered perfectly from the perspective of those who want to ensure Lebanon never achieves its coveted moment of stability and sectarian harmony. Unprecedented in modern history, the country’s current economic crisis has dragged on interminably, while the ruling classes either seem to have no answers or are, largely, not keen on finding any.

On August 7, a United Nations-backed tribunal was scheduled to issue its final verdict regarding the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri. Hariri’s killing, also by a massive blast in Beirut on February 14, 2005, has torn the country apart and, somewhat, placed Lebanon at the hands of foreign entities.

Whether the now postponed verdict was going to further divide Lebanese society or help it achieve closure, is moot. The port explosion will surely renew the French-led Western mandate over the country.

On August 6, four former Lebanese prime ministers called for an ‘international investigation’ into the causes of the blast, hoping to win political leverage against their political opponents, setting the stage for another sectarian and political crisis.

Local forces are quickly scrambling to position themselves behind a winning political strategy. “We have no trust at all in this ruling gang,” leading Lebanese Druze politician, Walid Jumblatt, said. He, too, is demanding an international investigation.

Times of national crisis often lead to unity, however temporary, among various communities, since mass tragedies often harm all sectors of society. In Lebanon, however, unity remains elusive, as most political camps have allegiances that transcend the people and nation. People often hold onto their clans and sects due to their lack of trust in the central government. Politicians, instead, are beholden to regional and international powers – as in Macron’s France.

But France should not be the last lifeline for the Lebanese people, despite their desperation, anger and betrayal. France is currently involved in two of the ugliest and protracted conflicts in the Middle East and West Africa: Libya and Mali. Predictably, in both cases, Paris had also promised to be a force for good. While Libya has essentially been turned into a failed state, Mali persists under total French subjugation. It is no exaggeration to argue that France is currently involved in an active military occupation of Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Lebanon should be aware that its current tragedy is the perfect opportunity for its former colonial masters to stage a comeback, which would hardly save Lebanon and her people from their persisting calamity.

Macron’s bizarre and dangerous political act in the streets of Beirut should worry all Lebanese, at least those who truly care about their country.

Feature photo | French President Emmanuel Macron, center, visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug.6, 2020. Thibault Camus | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

The French will have to build a wall …

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 5:30pm in

If Brexit in fact is actually happening – and so far it seems it is – then unsurprisingly, its spirit is gradually dying of its own contradictions. Immigration is just one area when taking back control means actually relying on the co-operation of the er, French. True we already rely on French co-operation, but that... Read more

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 12:26am in

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

The Tory Attitude to Mass Starvation: Let Them Eat Cake

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 5:05am in

Mike’s put up this evening on his blog a piece wondering if the reason the Tories launched their ‘Help Out To Eat Out’ scheme to encourage people to start going out to restaurants again wasn’t because they wanted to restart the economy, but simply stuff their faces at public expense. He’s put up a couple of pieces about the Tory MPs Nadhim Zahawi and the abomination formerly in charge of the NHS, Jeremy Hunt, both talking about how they used to scheme to get a free lunch. There’s a meme about Zahawi stating just how much he’s raked in on expenses and for working for an oil company, in addition to his generous salary as an MP. But he doesn’t feel that such largesse should be awarded to the disabled, and voted for a £30 cut in their benefits.

Mike’s blogged about this issue before. The scheme was never going to tackle the real problem of starvation, or ‘food poverty’ in this country, because the people afflicted by it can’t afford to go to restaurants. Many of them can’t afford to buy food, which is why there’s been such a massive expansion in food banks.

But the middle classes, and the rich Tories who represent them, can.

This all reminds of the expenses scandal back in 2004, when large sections of parliament were caught claiming as much as they could get their hands on in expenses, far beyond what was being awarded in pay for the rest of us mere mortals. They had also voted to cut the salaries of their staff. That blew up in their faces when it was exposed by the Torygraph, which may well have been the last time that wretched newspaper ever did anything right.

And now they’re doing it again while millions starve.

It all reminds me of the famous reply Marie Antoinette supposedly gave to the news that the French peasantry were starving because they had no bread.

‘Well, let them eat cake’.

That’s come to symbolise the grotesque self-indulgence and absolute complacency of the French aristocracy, an attitude that led to the Revolution, the execution of the monarchy and the mass murder of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety.

This seems to be the modern, Tory British version. People don’t have food on the table, but blow them! Let them go to a restaurant instead, like the Tories and their rich friends from the Bullingdon Club and other centres of the self-indulgent, callous rich.

Was ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ really meant to help super-rich Tories get cheap meals at the taxpayer’s expense?

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