Rome

Outcry over Firms Microchipping Workers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/11/2018 - 11:30pm in

I found this very ominous story in today’s I, for the 12th November 2018. It seems some firms are inserting microchips into their employees, and employers’ groups and trade unions have rightly come together to condemn it. The article reads

Both the employers and trade unions representative bodies have expressed alarm at reports that UK firms are considering implanting staff with microchips for security. UK firm BioTeq says it has already fitted 150 implants while Swedish firm Biohax has claimed it is in discussions with several UK firms. (p.2).

This is deeply sinister stuff, straight out of the X-Files. Never mind the bonkers conspiracy theories about aliens inserting implants into our bodies to control us, ordinary human capitalism is beginning to do that. From the article it seems that the chips are simply there to make sure employees are who they say they are, but this is nevertheless a real totalitarian move. As it stands, employees in some companies are very closely monitored. Private Eye printed a story a few months ago about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, wished to have motion sensors attached to their hacks desks to make sure they weren’t moving around too much. They had to abandoned this intrusive and hare-brained scheme because it was resented so much by the hacks. Nevertheless, if this goes ahead uncontested, I can see more firms adopting the practice, right up to the government. After all, what better way to cut down on crime, identity theft and illegal immigration than have everyone implanted with a microchip containing all their biographical and biometric details. Blair’s government was, after all, considering passing legislation to establish compulsory electronic identity cards carrying biometric information. And I’ve no doubt other, deeply authoritarian regimes around the world would be all too enthusiastic about adopting the policy.

It also reminds me of the one part of the millennialist beliefs held by Fundamentalist Christians about the End Times and the one world global superstate they’re afraid of. In this myth, which has been around since the 1970s, once the global Satanic dictatorship is established with the Antichrist as its head, it will order barcodes to be marked on everyone’s hands and forehead. Those who don’t have the barcodes will be unable to buy or sell. It’s how they believed the prophecy in the Book of Revelation in the Bible that the Antichrist would have everyone marked with the number 666 on their hands and foreheads would come true in the modern world.

I really don’t believe in the religious right’s millennialist fears. One interpretation of the Book of Revelation is that it’s a coded description of the persecution the early church was experiencing under the Roman Emperor Nero. Both the Romans and Jews used various number codes, in which letters of the alphabet had certain numerical values. These could be used in ordinary secular ways, as well as in number mysticism, in which people tried to discern a deeper meaning in religious or mystical texts through adding up the numerical value of particular words. 666 corresponds to ‘Neron’, a form of Nero. He’s also believed to have been the person described in the Book of Revelation as ‘the great beast’, because as a young prince, before he got into power, he and his cronies thought it was jolly japes for him to go round Rome dressed as a beast and attack people. I think this is probably the right way to interpret that part of the Bible, rather than seeing it as a literal prediction of an imminent end of the world.

But even so, when faced with reports that the firms are trying to implant their workers with microchips, and Blair and authoritarian politicians after him would like to make it compulsory for us all to carry biometric electronic identity cards, I do wonder if the Fundamentalists have a point.

Oscar Romero, El Salvador’s Martyr against Fascism

I noticed in an article in the I newspaper a couple of weeks ago that the current Pope, Francis, has canonized two saints recently. One of these was Oscar Romero, an archbishop of El Salvador, who was martyred in 1980s by gunmen for the Fascist government. The entry for him in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, ed. John Bowker, (Oxford: OUP 1997) runs

Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917-80), Christian archbishop of El Salvador, assassinated in 1980. He studied theology in Rome, 1937-43, became a parish priest and bishop of Santiago de Maria in 1974. Thought to be a conservative bishop (not least because of his support of Opus Dei), he was appointed archbishop in Feb. 1977, in the expectation that he would not disturb the political status quo. Three weeks later, the Jesuit Rutilio Grande, together with two others was gunned down in his jeep. The even was, for Romero, a conversion. He began a ministry of outspoken commitment to those who had no voice of their own. Paul VI gave him encouragement, but the accession of John Paul II, with its cult of the pope and movement away from the vision of Vatican II, led to an increasing campaign against Romero in Rome. The details of this are disputed. It appears that John Paul asked him not to deal with specifics but to talk only of general principles; Romero tried to explain that specific murders in El Salvador were not adequately dealt with by stating general principles. The Vatican response was to appoint an apostolic administrator to oversee his work, but Romero was killed before this could be put into effect. He returned from his last visit to Rome to the slogan painted on walls, ‘Be a patriot, kill a priest.’ He was killed as he said mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence Hospital where he lived. (p. 823).

Pope Francis has supported a range of broadly left-wing initiatives, like refusing to condemn Gays and making the Church more supportive of the global poor. Mike and I went to an Anglican church school, and we were told about the martyrdom of Romero as part of the way totalitarian regimes, Fascist and Communist, were persecuting Christians. The Fascist regimes in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala were given considerable support by Reagan’s government, including his statement that the Contras in Nicaragua were ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And elements of the Tory party under Thatcher were very friendly towards the Central and South American dictators. The Libertarians of the Freedom Association had one of the leaders of one of El Salvadorean dictator Rios Montt’s death squads come over as their guest of honour at one of their annual dinners. This was when Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, was a member.

These Fascist regimes have been supported by Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and promoted to their peoples as protecting and supporting Christianity and religion generally against godless Communism. The Communist bloc has indeed ferociously persecuted Christians and other peoples of faith, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Taoists. But as the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero shows, and those of many other Christian clergy, monks, nuns and laypeople by the Fascist regimes in Latin America show, these regimes don’t automatically respect religious beliefs. They tolerate religion only in so far as it agrees with their political ideas. The moment people of faith speak out against poverty, injustice and oppression, they will kill them as readily as they will murder, maim and torture anyone else.

Pope Francis’ canonization of Romero is a great, praiseworthy act, which I hope will be applauded by all Christians concerned with preserving human rights, freedom, and dignity from persecution and oppression.

A Few Sharp Quotes about Thatcher and the Tories

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/10/2018 - 12:15am in

I also found a couple of sharp quotations about the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the same issue of Focus, which had a comment from Martial. Martial said that man loved malice, but only against the fortunate and proud, not the unfortunate. It’s completely the opposite case with the Tories, who are only too full of malice towards the unfortunate. Here are the quotes printed in the magazines against Maggie.

She sounded like the Book of Revelations read out over a railway public address system by a headmistress of a certain age wearing calico knickers.

Clive James.

She only went to Venice because someone told her she could walk down the middle of the street.

Neil Kinnock.

A semi-house trained polecat

Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit.

And on Ronald Reagan:

A masterpiece of the embalmer’s art.

Gore Vidal.

And there are many others about the Tories. I think it might have been Roy Hattersley, who said that there wasn’t a British tradition Thatcher hadn’t struck with her handbag, and described her as a ‘bargain-basement Boadicea. And it was also him, or someone else from the Labour party who described being attacked in parliament by Douglas Hurd as like being savaged by a dead sheep.

And a friend of mine, who used to be a member of the Tory party, was fond of the quote, ‘The Tory party is an organized hypocrisy’.

Out of Hospital for Myeloma Treatment

Way back on the 18th of last month I posted that I was going into hospital for 2 1/2 weeks for the intensive dose therapy for myeloma. Myeloma is a type of blood cancer, which causes anaemia, loss of calcium, and attacks the bones and kidneys. Since about a decade ago it’s been treated with a number of drugs, which avoid the side-effect of traditional chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with the disease last September.

However, after that phase of the course of treatment has finished, they then call you in for a more intense course of treatment to drive the disease further back into remission. Your own stem cells are removed, ready to be returned to you to jump start your own immune system. You are also called into hospital and put in isolation. In Bristol’s BRI you are given your own room. You have a piccline inserted running from your bicep to almost to your heart, through which they administer the drugs. They then give you a dose of malophan, the drug that they originally used to treat the disease.  The next day, they also give you back your own stem cells, and a few days later they also give you back the platelets they removed.

Throughout the whole period you are carefully monitored, given drugs, both in pill form and in infusions to deal with the effects of the cancer treatment. The doctors see you every day to see how you’re coping. If you have problems eating, you may also a nutritionist, while a physiotherapist will also visit to advise you on gentle exercises if you are weak.

I shudder to think how much all this would cost under the private insurance system in America, which the Tories  and New Labour so much admire, even while they’re prating about how much they ‘treasure’ the NHS.

They released me yesterday, and it’s good to be home. The treatment has, however, left me as weak as the proverbial kitten, with a sore mouth, and diarrhoea. I’ve been prescribed and given mouthwashes and drugs for some of these effects. The booklets for the treatment state that it may be 2/3 months, or even 5-6 months, before you make a complete recovery. So don’t expect very much energetic blogging!

I cannot fault the treatment given by the medical and the ancillary staff. They were professional, friendly, courteous and reassuring. I found the treatment very difficult, but they were at pains to say, ‘This is not the ‘new you’. You will recover.’ And it can be very interesting talking to the ancillary staff, some of whom were non-White immigrants, and hearing their stories and perspectives. The NHS certainly has benefit from the skills and dedication brought to it by its medical professionals and ancillary staff from across the world, whether Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, or eastern Europe. And the health service is suffering because many of these are being forced to return home, or look elsewhere for work, because of Tweezer and Brexit.

I’m afraid I haven’t been blogging very much while in hospital, despite my best intentions. Their wifi system simply wouldn’t let me. The hospital wifi system was insecure, so that anyone geographically near me could see my passwords if I went to a site that require them. So the system simply refused to let me on after I posted up those couple of pieces to the blog about George Galloway winning his libel battle against the Torygraph, and New Labour’s desperate policy to stop NHS hospitals owning and operating their own MRI scanners, as opposed to leasing them from private firms. So I spent my time in bed trying to read an SF novel by the awesome Paul McAuley, and re-reading a few old copies of Private Eye and Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket. This last is a collection of James’ old TV reviews from the 1970s from the Observer. James started out as a radical socialist, and then move right, eventually ending up in the Torygraph. An intellectual, with a tendency to show off, he nevertheless took trash culture very seriously, at a time when many intellectuals did dismiss television. One of the jokes about it used to be ‘Why is television a medium? Because it’s neither rare nor well done’. Which is true of a lot, but not all. And James stated that heartfelt trash culture was worth far more than bad high art, like Michael Tippet’s A Child Of Our Time. The ’70s were also the  decade of the Vietnam War and the horrors of the CIA coup in Chile, George Kissinger’s support of genocidal, murderous dictators across the world as part of the campaign against Communism, Watergate, and TV dramas about the Holocaust, all of which he reviewed, along with Star Trek, Dr. Who, Miss World, the World Disco-Dancing Championships, the footie and the athletics. Quite apart from more highbrow productions of Shakespeare, intense dramas, and the horrors of the classic BBC series, I, Claudius, set under the deprave reign of Caligula.

He also reviewed an interview with the old Fascist, Oswald Mosley. Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, and a series of successive Fascist movements after the Second World War. He was very definitely persona non grata for many years, until he partly rehabilitated himself with the publication of his autobiography, My Life.  He then got a job doing book reviews for the Telegraph. Mosley was a fan of Mussolini and then Adolf Hitler. When Mussolini was overshadowed by Hitler as the great Fascist dictator, Mosley changed the name of the BUF to the ‘British Union of Fascists and National Socialists’. He corresponded very amicably with the Nazis, although claimed during the War that in the event of an invasion of Britain he would not serve as this country’s Quisling, the traitor leader of Norway. And in the interview the old thug constantly denied being an anti-Semite, claiming that the attacks and violence were instead all the fault of the Jews. All the while making it clear that he still identified them with the ‘money power’, which was secretly ruling from behind the scenes. James said of him that he didn’t so much proclaim anti-Semitism as embody it. There’s much to blog about in James’ TV criticism from this period. I especially want to do a piece about this interview with Mosley to show the difference between real anti-Semites, and those decent people, who have been smeared as such by the Israel lobby, New Labour and the Tory press. People like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, mike, my brother, Tony Greenstein and so many, many others. Absolutely none of whom are in any way, shape or form anything like the real Nazis and anti-Semites, like Mosley or the characters now crawling out into public view from the Alt-Right and Libertarians.

I spent part of yesterday evening trying to answer the various comments that had built up on this blog over the past few weeks. I really appreciate all the messages of support and encouragements to get well and get blogging soon! It was really great and encouraging to read. I feel fortunate that I have people like you all following my blog.

I’m still quite ill at the moment, but I hope to pick up and carry on blogging as far as I can. And I hope you all are enjoying good health, and haven’t suffered too much from the heat these past weeks. With luck, it shouldn’t be too long before it’s business as usual. I hope.

 

 

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/06/2018 - 3:39am in

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

New Series Next Tuesday on African Civilisations

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/05/2018 - 12:13am in

Next Tuesday, 29th May 2018, at 10.00 pm there’s a new series beginning on BBC4 entitled Africa’s Great Civilisations. It’s a six part series, with the first part on ‘origins’. The blurb for it on page 77 of the Radio Times reads

Henry Louis Gates jnr. takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. he takes in the city of Great Zimbabwe, the pyramids of Meroe and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia.

The little piece about it on page 75 by Gill Crawford also gives the following description of the show:

Celebrated African-American literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents this wide-ranging, grand-scale six-part history of the African continent, originally shown by the PBS network in the US.

In this first episode, we start in the heart of Ethiopia, where the story of humanity began. And while we now that many African peoples migrated away from the continent to create other societies, others stayed to form great civilisations in Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria, culminating in the Queen of Meroe who stood up to the might of the Roman Empire.

It’s a fest of splendours, and Gates is an eloquent guide.

There have been a number of series on African history over the years. Back in the 1980s the Black African historian, Dr. Ali Mazrui, and the White Afro-centrist historian, Basil Davidson, both presented series on Africa. Eight years ago in 2010 the Black art historian, Gus Casely-Hayford also presented a splendid four-part series on BBC 4, The Lost Kingdoms of Africa, on the continent’s pre-colonial civilisations. I also seem to recall a BBC4 programme, which I thought was presented by Aminatta Forna, but I might be wrong, on the great Islamic civilisation of medieval Timbuktu.

Africa has been the centre of some very advanced civilisations, such as Benin and its superb bronzes, Nubia and the Swahili of what is now Tanganyika. The Swahilis built their cities from coral, and covered them with a limewash made by burning the same material.

Ancient Meroe, however, remains a mystery. It was a literate civilisation, using Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they left inscriptions on their monuments, like their pyramids. However, their language is unrelated to any spoken today, and no parallel texts in known languages, like the Rosetta Stone for ancient Egyptian, have been found. So although we can read their tests, we’ve no idea what they mean. Who knows what wealth of information is in there? It’s all very frustrating. Grrr!