Captain God and the Mysterons

Where people seem to find me confusing is that I am perfectly happy to discuss irrational beliefs and bandy bizarrely unhelpful ideas without necessarily wishing to be identified as one who believes in them entirely as a systematised way of being in the world.

If I lived in some Central European centre of culture, hungover from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I should no doubt be described as a member of the ‘Intelligentsia’ – a recognised social class of educated but impoverished layabouts hanging around in cafes, discussing absurd propositions, growing their hair and painting one anothers’ women whilst imbibing barely legal substances.

Sadly, I don’t do any of that. I live in Boglington-on-Sea and possess a degree in Photography (BA. no Hons).

So, when my friend T. drops in for a cup of tea and to persuade me to accompany her to a meeting at which some peripatetic guru is proposing to speak on the subject of ‘The Light of Peace’, just when Mr Putin is committing the Russian Federation to a rather complicated war in Syria on the opposite side to the USA and the Iranian president is slagging-off his enemy, the despotic and absurd King of Saudi Arabia, at the United Nations over the deaths of some two hundred Iranian citizens in a stampede he may have inadvertently caused at the annual Hajj by ordering roads to be closed so that his tiresome swarm of nephews could visit the royal palace for tea, I despair, somewhat.

To be told that a golden sphere of Love has recently embraced the planet and will shortly bring about an age of Universal peace and brotherhood is not what I expect to hear, especially only two days short of the predicted appearance of the Fourth Blood Supermoon prefiguring the End of Days and The Rapture. Nevertheless, I politely express my pleasure at hearing the news. God moves, indeed, in mysterious ways – even at three o’clock in the morning, the improbable time at which, we are assured, citizens on our meridian will obtain the best view of the global earthquakes and huge waves, swallowing us all up.

My friend T’s belief system is irrational, absolute and unshakeable. My marriage ended, she assures me, because I am Libra and my ex-wife, who could be really annoying, was Gemini. Never mind that we managed to stick it for twenty years. Astrology works, because the Universe is full of electromagnetic fields that are affected by the movement of the constellations. If I have lost Hunzi’s ball – or, more usually, he has lost his own ball – on one of our regular walks through the exurban space that passes for our local park, then I only have to ask God and it will automatically be found. (I reply that God must have more important things to do than thrash about in the undergrowth looking for tennis balls.)*

My friend T is obviously barking. And yet I find myself thanking the Parking Angel for miraculously clearing a space for me right outside the bank…. I have in the bathroom a pack of Simple ‘Regenerate’ anti-aging facial wipes, enriched with Green Tea, which I smear on my face each morning in the hope of achieving immortality. I write tongue-in-cheek on this, muh bogl, regarding the daily prognostications of the popular astrologer Russell Grant and their occasionally startling relevance to my own affairs and intentions; indicating some degree of underlying faith in the knottiness of stringiness.

And, of course, it is a truism that (as Joni Mitchell noticed) we are made from stardust – carbon. Soot from the internal furnace of the sun is the chemical basis of life as we know it. It is no coincidence that the major monotheistic world religions originated in desert places and are derived from solar cults. Men naturally revered the sun because of its ‘power and glory’, because it is, literally, the Creator of everything (and its destroyer), because it brings light and both gives and takes away life. There is, then, a direct physical relationship between religious belief and human experience, an analogy that is impervious to scientific scepticism.

Much as the question needs to be asked, and is too often avoided, as to how the Genesis myth of the Creation so accurately depicts the birth of the Universe, albeit in allegorical terms within the comprehension of four-thousand-year-old tribespeople, so I feel do we need to ponder on ancient people’s apparently instinctive knowledge of our direct physical relationship with the processes by which living matter comes into being, and its application to our theosophical beliefs.

All the same, I am staying at home to watch a vital rugby match on TV, and to drink myself to sleep.

It is Saturday, and the nights are drawing in.

*For the third time in a month, the little dog has trotted down the riverbank into the water, carefully laid his ball on the surface and turned away to take a drink. He then seems puzzled to find we no longer have a ball to play with. I have applauded his use of the scientific method to replicate these experimental results, but I question the sanity of repeating the lessons of history with such consistently negative outcomes.

Postscriptum

While on the subject of belief:

Villagers in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have attacked police following the arrests of six men, allegedly for taking part in a mob of over 100 who dragged from his home and beat to death with bricks, 50-year-old farm labourer Mohamed Akhlak, and severely injured his son.

Mr Akhlaq was accused by Hindu temple officials of having kept beef in his fridge.

Samples of what his family say is mutton have been sent for analysis.

Presumably the same type of rigorous investigation is not to be applied to the mentality of the Hindu temple guardians.

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And here is the news…

On the Daily Express’ website today, the ‘Science’ page consists of the following scientific reports. I strongly suggest you read them now, while you still can:

‘Did cannibals kill and eat 1000 people in a Scottish cave?’

‘REVEALED: Two asteroids crashed into Earth’s ocean AT THE SAME TIME’

‘Scientists find key to eternal life with discovery of 3.5 million year old bacteria’

‘Is it FINALLY proof? Abducted woman draws star map of exact constellation of alien home’

‘SHOCK CLAIM: Large Hadron Collider magnetic field could pull asteroids towards Earth’

‘EXCLUSIVE: French MOD ‘contacted’ aliens during bizarre experiment, document reveals’

‘PICTURED: Does Pyramid found on Mars prove Martian civilization built on Red Planet?’

‘Two black holes on course to collide with force of 100 million supernovae explosion’

‘‘BLOOD MOON’: Now apocalyptical trumpet noise appears in the sky over Manchester’

‘Ice mountains of the dwarf planet: now NASA reveals jaw-dropping images of ‘Earth-like’ Pluto’

‘PICTURED: Huge new comet identified flying near sun just days before ‘blood moon’ event’

‘‘BLOOD MOON’: Watch 66-tonne meteor crash to Earth after huge bomb-like explosion’

‘’BLOOD MOON’: Extinction event asteroid threat CANNOT be ruled out, warns scientist’

‘ANTIBIOTIC APOCALYPSE: ’10 million more people will die each year if new drugs aren’t made’’

‘WATCH: Moment ‘shape-changing UFO appeared as man filmed Venus’’

‘So just how much sex do Brits get a week thanks to dating apps and Facebook?’

‘‘Murdered’ man’s grave discovered after tree he was hidden under ripped up in storm’

‘What will be found deep inside crater left by asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs?’

‘REVEALED: The prophesying computer that can predict when you will DIE’

‘PICTURED: ‘Evidence that UFO landed on Earth 1 million years ago’ being examined in Russia’

‘WATCH: As a “flying saucer” is caught on camera speeding past the Moon’

‘Is ‘BLOOD MOON’ apocalypse REALLY coming? Wildfires, earthquakes and red moon ‘signs’ of end’

‘Aliens could DESTROY Earth if they found us but scientists still want to make contact’

‘Good news for wine lovers: red wine pill STOPS dementia’

‘EXCLUSIVE: Asteroids in solar system ‘could REALLY be alien spacecraft’

‘EXCLUSIVE: There WAS life on Mars but ‘catastrophic’ event wiped it out, scientist says’

etcetera.

Personally, I find it funny that we can go around with a miniature computer in our pocket that can access virtually all the known knowledge on Earth and pinpoint our position on it with some exactitude and tell us where the nearest Thai restaurant is that has a table for four available, and call for a taxi; a tiny tablet on which we can watch hours of our favourite disaster movies, while enabling us to read tweets from the Pope and send amusing live images to our mates of Chinese people falling into sinkholes, yet we still tie lumps of cowhide onto our feet with string…

Good morning!

– Uncle Bogler

(In a bunker somewhere under Boglington-on-Sea)

PS Feelings of doom reinforced today, 25th, by selective quotes on D. Express.con from East European politicians fearing migrants will shortly force them to start WW3. Not even a mention of BLOOD MOON… Why did we ever let these maniacs into the EU? (The East European politicians, I mean…)

Postscriptum

5th October. World still here. Troubling number of flooding stories in news…

Comex Two: Penetrating the fog

For some reason I have not yet worked out, my Page entitled ‘Does No-one Now Remember Comex II?’, a piece I wrote over three years ago about a disastrous end to an optimistic adventure, has attracted 21 Views since yesterday.

Add to that, the three Views its follow-up piece ‘Comex Two: Of Time and Memory’ has also garnered, and two more for ‘Comex Two; Stately Home; Sigh’, a somewhat despairing companion piece commenting on the strange attraction of the two eponymous Pages when compared with the rest of my incredible output, and you have a total of 26 Views of Pages with the word Comex in the title, in a single day.

If I tell you that is more Views than all of my many entertaining and informative, contemporary Posts get in an average month, put together, you may understand my bewilderment.

I suppose it is about the time of year when the events referred to took place, 48 years ago. It’s not an especially propitious anniversary, 48, compared to, say, 50. Fifty years is indeed a long time in anyone’s memory, and the point of the three pieces I wrote is very much about how time blurs memory; and about how imperfect my knowledge was even at the time, and how the story flickers only dimly now at the edges of my imagination.

Traumatic events become distorted in the mind: as any lawyer will tell you, witnesses disagree violently over details. My whole life is like some weird movie whose entrails have got caught up in the projector mechanism and are spewing all over the floor. Most of my memories, I realise, are only memories of having remembered memories over a very long time, and have become divorced from the actual experience, as though I never really experienced them, or as though they never actually happened; more appositely, I suppose, as though they happened to someone else.

For we change. It’s one of those disprovable, ’97 per cent’  factoids, like ‘Humans are 97 per cent water’, or that ‘Humans and chimpanzees have 97 per cent DNA in common’, or that ’97 per cent of the Universe is missing’, that ‘Humans replace 97 per cent of their body cells every seven years’.

But we change.

I am undoubtedly not the same person, turning – as I hope to – 66 in two weeks’ time, that I was when I was 17. My 17-year-old self exists only in one photograph, of a moody-looking youth in a striped shirt, sitting outside a cafe in Venice, strumming a guitar. I have no other clues as to the continuing presence in my life of that beautiful-looking, yet curiously unattractive young man. Only the finest of silk threads connects us.

Yet later that year, he took part in and was a peripheral witness to the events I have described – as if I had only recently read his book about them, and have been trying to convey the fragmentary details as a cohesive narrative to some disinterested interlocutor who is busy texting his mates.

It is partly why there is, or ought to be, such disquiet over the prosecution of ancient crimes: the 94-year-old ex-Nazi death-camp employee gaoled last summer for four years for war crimes committed seven decades ago is only a representative symbol of something evil that was done then. He is not the same willing conspirator who collated the tragic remnants of the prematurely truncated lives of his barbaric masters’ multitudinous victims. His is a case of mistaken identity. That man has only a tenuous link with the past: yet the living simulacrum must face retribution. Closure is everything.

As old men, should we be forced to be responsible for the past crimes of those easily deluded youths who merely bore our names; and then we die, and who is to blame now?

We imagine that perturbations frozen in the flow of time can be replayed endlessly with the diamond stylus of memory through the loudspeaker of moral outrage. But styluses gather fluff, grooves wear out.

History holds individuals responsible, both for human triumphs and tragedies. Often, those are the opposite sides of a coin. Our admiration or disapprobation poses a profound moral question. The victims of history tend to be kings and queens, politicians and generals, scientists, inventors, religious and convicts; because we know most about them: written records serving as public memory.

Ordinary folk, such as you and I, live for a while in the generational memories of our children and grandchildren, our mementos and photographs, the sticks of furniture we sat and slept on and the items of the past we treasured disappearing shard by shard into the spoilheaps and dusty junkshops and non-recoverable media of an unanticipable future, unwinding our coiled fingerprints until the fog of time closes around us and we are gone.

Memory serves us only poorly. It merely perpetuates injustice and the folly of youth and then it becomes malleable history; plasticene mixed and muddily coloured by the expediencies of the present. It is best ignored, abandoned.

Knowing the frailty of memory, why do we insist on endlessly remembering? What good purpose is served by continually chewing over ancient battles, the perpetual reiteration of self-regarding sagas of tragedy and loss, of minor social coups and what we said to whom, or might have said if we’d had the presence of mind; the endless fascination with past misdeeds and the continuing shifting around of unreliable facts, rearranging the disordered living-rooms of the past?

Those who argue we learn from history are either history professors or absurd optimists. Nothing is ever learned, that cannot with the passing of time be unlearned, or changed to suit the present.

But I thank those of you who have troubled to add your Comments on my article, clarifying the story a little, penetrating the fog. To the one actual survivor of the crash I have now heard from, David, I apologise for everything I have certainly got wrong! A good journalist never lets facts get in the way.

After all, ‘I’ wasn’t there. It was someone else altogether.

House of Shadows: Defying the Poppy-day Fascists

It’s depressing. And it’s only going to get depressinger. (Rhymes wth Kissinger)

From the moment Jeremy Corbyn rose with a slightly stunned expression to embrace his opponents in the Labour leadership ballot as the runaway winner, he hasn’t been able to blow his nose without some Tory cunt accusing him on the slenderest of pretexts of being unpatriotic, a security risk – possibly even a traitor.

And one grinds one’s teeth at the stupidity of journalists who, mostly denied access to the normally affable Mr Corbyn, who detests journalists with a passion half the population reserves for Marmite soldiers, have been seizing on every pronouncement he has made in the three days since he was surprised to become party leader (having, as my prep-school headmaster Geoff Cornes once said to me, no leadership qualities whatsoever) and comparing and contrasting with anything the new members of his shadow cabinet have ever said or done.

The aim seems to be to demonstrate the internal contradictions (and hence, the chaos) of the new regime as if they actually mattered – which, of course, with the party in opposition for at least the next four years, a) they don’t, and b) they are in any case totally uninteresting. Corbyn has already flagged-up that his style of leadership will be to welcome dissent, and his views as leader will not in future be, as they were with Blair and Brown, official party policy, which will henceforth be dictated by the majority.

I have seen and heard grown journalists practically weeping with frustration as they try to get their coiffed heads around this simple idea, as it is so utterly alien to their upbringing in a world of adversarial politics and snappy soundbites.

But it is the attacks on Corbyn’s refusal to abandon his core beliefs that will, I expect, considerably shorten his leadership.

Take the Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames – a grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, our great war leader who sent tanks to quell a strike in Glasgow and the RAF to gas Kurdish separatists, decades before Saddam Hussein*. The hyperinflated Sir Nicholas, MP for Mid-Sussex, whose recent political initiatives have included a demand that train companies should be fined whenever their employees don’t show up for work, inconveniencing him as well as hoi polloi, has accused Corbyn of showing disrespectful (and possibly treasonous) behaviour.

How so?

Because Mr Corbyn attended a memorial service today at Westminster Abbey to honour The Few, that gallant mix of Czech and S. African and Polish and Canadian and American and British working-class sergeant-pilots and ground crew and a few public schoolboys who, 75 years ago, fought so tenaciously to discourage the Luftwaffe from putting up any more aircraft to defend the planned seaborne invasion of Britain, thus ensuring it never happened and Hitler accidentally invaded Russia instead. It was a pivotal moment in our island history, not to mention the Russians’, who took 20 million casualties, and made for a great speech.

And, according to Sir Nicholas, observing him through trusty Tory binoculars, albeit while standing respectfully to attention that ‘orrible little man Corbyn visibly failed to pay lip-service to the words of the National Anthem. Treason!

It is hard to describe the mixture of glee and dismay with which Corbyn’s election has been greeted in Toryland. Images of the treacherously unmoving lips fill the newspapers, while members of his newly appointed shadow cabinet are grilled on their reactions and most, to date, have cravenly agreed with the Moral Minority that he ought perhaps to have at least mouthed some lyrics to avoid upsetting the nation.

Had he done so, lip-readers would doubtless have been pressed into service to discover if he might not in fact have been silently warbling the words to the Internationale instead.

You can understand, given the vast service the Churchill and Soames families performed for the British Empire (including the rotten white supremacist regime in Rhodesia, where Soames’ father was the last Governor) and the continuous rain of awards and promotions and positions of rank they have had bestowed upon them, despite the presence in the family line of depressives and suicides and notorious alcoholics, why Sir Nicholas would regard Jeremy Corbyn as little better than a traitor – since it is patrician blimps like Sir Nicholas who have defined the long-outmoded British traditions of privilege and preference to which anyone in favour of working-class independence would seem like a traitor.

(Sir Nicholas might be horrified to discover how many socialist pacifists emerged from the Second World War, determined to make a better society. That’s why, like my grandfather, an officer who served in the airforce through both World Wars, they voted in droves to get rid of his illustrious grandfather in 1946. Clearly, it is an event seared on a grandson’s memory. He might also be horrified to hear I was obliged to parse Latin and Greek verbs at the same school as his father had been to… different generation, though.)

My God, what is the country coming to, when a declared republican fails to fully enunciate the quasi-religious, meretricious words of possibly the most tedious song ever written, in honour of a German-speaking king? (Can Jeremy even sing? Not everyone is confident that they can. He doesn’t look as though he does much singing.  Could TV choirmaster Gareth Malone be pressed into service, to get the whole shadow cabinet singing from the same hymn-sheet?)  Soames’ attitude – and that now of the platoon of harrumphing generals and admirals joining in – is not dissimilar to the disgraceful discourtesy displayed by Tories towards the tweed-hat-wearing Scot, Keir Hardy, founder of the Labour Party, back in the day. They are, to be frank, intolerable hypocrites.

O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all.

And, to add that historical resonance to this non-story, it has also been noticed with alarm that Jeremy was not wearing a suit, but a non-matching jacket and trousers…. His contempt for Our Island Story seemingly knows no bounds! (Actually, genuinely, I believe the Labour party will shortly wake up to the fact that they have elected a madman, but it’s quite entertaining nonetheless.)

That his former Parliamentary colleagues are, in a ratio of 9:1, also participating in this auto da fè is perhaps unusual, but not unexpected. They rely on their close relationship with the Conservative party’s and the Daily Mail’s and Roop Murdoch’s and Tony Blair’s view on this and that for their bread and butter, with caviar on top, and see it fast disappearing under the New Order.

Were we a proper Soviet republic, these turncoats and Jeremy-deniers would have been liquidated by now, and good riddance. As it is, the media continues in its confused fashion  to imagine these Blair recidivists are the real Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn is merely the leader of some horrible breakaway minority Communist fraction that has intruded into their worst nightmare and is busily filling a gunny sack with the Crown Jewels.

Wroo-ong.

Resignations from the Shadow Cabinet and pointed public refusals to serve under Corbyn by floppy Socialist poshboys like The Honourable Tristram Julian William Hunt, FRHistS (born, er, not long ago) – who hasn’t actually been asked – have dominated the headlines, along with the curious accusation that Corbyn has failed to include a single woman among the Top 5 cabinet posts – although he has appointed more than 50% of women to posts in his Shadow Cabinet, a record.

Clearly, he is an unreconstructed old sexist dinosaur, unlike trendy Dave Cameron, who retains the terrifying witch-woman, Teresa May, as Home Secretary; presumably because she could so easily arrange for him and his family to disappear into the gulag if he asked her to move, say, to Environment or Education or – God forbid – Women’s Rights.

The fact that Cameron has no other women in his cabinet – well, a few, you can tell by their beards (blame Shakespeare for that joke) is ignored. Amber Rudd? Ghastly creature. Nor does anyone suggest exactly whom else Corbyn could have appointed, and to which posts.

Let’s try. It won’t be easy.

There’s Jeremy, he was independently elected as leader on the first ballot by 60% of the party, only 15% of which voted for either of the two women candidates for the job. So he couldn’t influence his own post. Not really.

Then there’s Tom Watson, deputy leader, who was also independently elected (on the third ballot) by 50% of the party. That’s the Top Two posts, neither of which was in Corbyn’s gift. Then there’s Corbyn’s longtime pal John McDonnell, a colourless plebby type, who had to be made Shadow Chancellor if only because he’s the one with the MA in Political Theory and a track record of enjoying long, boring committee meetings.

To the SuperMarionated Andy Burnham, Thunderbirds’ Jeff Tracy lookalike, Jeremy owed one; and he was previously a real Secretary of State, and rather a good one, so he gets shadow Home Secretary, the most thankless post in Government, as the thankless Teresa May knows.

Hilary Benn’s dad, Wedgwood is a hero both to Corbyn and McDonnell. Hilary was also a Minister before, for International Development, and quite a good one. Besides, he has a girl’s name, as well as a lot of free Air Miles, so he makes shadow Foreign Secretary. It may once have been a ‘Great Office of State’ in Palmerston’s day, but is now merely a role for a bag-carrier for the US State Department.

And that’s the Top 5, and after that they’re mostly women – of whom Angela Eagle has been a Minister before, and she gets Business – rather important, as Business is sure to hate Jeremy – and some other important job in the House as well. (No, not Housewife… satirical twat. Ed. ) Defence, Health, Education, Chief Whip – are these not rather more meaningful jobs in the modern world than the Foreign Office or the Deputy Leadership? And all amply filled by women?

So where’s the beef, sheep?

As it is, Corbyn will be bending over, if not entirely backwards then in a similar direction, to keep as many of his party as possible onside, while uncomfortably reminding them they’ve all had a lovely time with their snouts in the gravy since Blair took the party on its corporate outing to Disneyland, and it’s time to get back to work.

Compromise could in fact be his undoing: it is clear, this is Britain’s Syriza moment – and up on TV’s Newsnight pops Yanis Varoufakis as if on cue, to endorse the New Old Labour experiment. (Is Yanis proposing to become an economic migrant to Britain? We should be told. He would add immeasurably to the life of the nation.)

The Poppy Question

But it has been the Poppy Question that has demonstrated most clearly that the trivial minutiae of the Jeremy Corbyn Story are going to play best in the cliche-ridden, soap-opera narrative of Westminster-watchers.

Asked innocently if he will be wearing a red or a white poppy for Armistice day, which is not for another eight weeks yet, Jeremy sensed a trap but took a little while to reply, he would probably wear a red one. (The white poppy is considered the badge of a cowardly traitor. Jeremy is a pacifist. He would like to scrap Trident, our £100 billion nuclear ‘shield’, but is relaxed that his shadow Defence spoke, Maria Eagle (yes, a woman) has voted in the past to keep it.)

He would probably rather not be wearing a poppy at all. I won’t be, I may even be brave and wear a badge saying Fuck  Poppies. Not because I am, as Jeremy has been accused of being as a result of his brief hesitation, unpatriotic and a traitor to the memory of the Fallen of two World Wars and Christ-knows how many squalid postcolonial entanglements since.

No, it’s because I refuse to be bullied into making hollow gestures by poppy-day fascists who have commandeered the occasion in recent years to promote their nauseating brand of commercialised patriotic humbug, forgetting quite how awful and disgusting war is and that the original purpose of the poppy was as a fundraiser for the British Legion, a charity supporting wounded ex-service personnel because the government who sent them to get wounded, wouldn’t.

Nowadays the poppy is a symbol of mourning for the loss of Britain’s ‘greatness’ and a grotesque militaristic cheer for ‘Our heroes’, who return with shattered lives from seeing action pointlessly at the behest of cretinous chauvinistic dimwits in flyblown desert shitholes and are treated as badly as ever by the Defence establishment.

Frankly, Red Nose Day has more meaning.

That also goes for the smooth-cheeked, overpaid baboons at the BBC; who, not to offend vindictive Tory hypocrites who might vote down the annual licence fee, kneejerkily force anyone appearing on TV, heedless of their shifting discomfort, to display a red poppy prominently throughout the weeks leading up to and for several days after 11th November.**

Yes, let’s remember the day in 1918 when the guns fell silent over ten million unnecessarily dead people who had been clawing each other to pieces for four years in six-feet-deep, blood-and gas-soaked, mud-filled trenches just to preserve a superannuated European elite and their lucrative but doomed C19th empires; a world that was already passing into History.

Except that its Jingoistic tropes are still preserved through the lies and scorn of the Tory press.

This morning, my cynicism has crystallised into a Thort. (This Post has taken three days to knock into shape and it’s all still rather overlarge and wobbly, a bit like Sir Christopher’s permanently outraged Tory jowls.)

The symbol of the poppy once reminded us appropriately and proportionally of the sufferings of the past: ”At the going down of the sun, we shall remember them’.

In the canon of modern-day chauvinism, however, the poppy throws forward instead to the sufferings politicians safe in their Westminster bubble expect to inflict on working people in the future. Fopr the sake of the country, you understand. The country most of which, they own.

Fuck them.

*I know, I’m being unfair. It’s what polemicists do.

**21st October, I have spotted my first on-screen poppy – ostentatiously large ones could be the fashion this year.

Postscriptum

While we’re discussing the refugee crisis, verse four of the National Anthem (it is a truth observed, that not even the most blimpish of generals and admirals and overstuffed Tory politicians and nervous-looking football players know all the words) might give our government pause for thought:

Not in this land alone
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore.
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world o’er.

Memo to Dave….

Robots: revitalising the slave trade

In an accidentally thought-provoking alignment of editorial strands in this morning’s edition of Today, we had the director of a charity supporting ‘survivors’ of child abuse commenting on the significance of broadcaster Paul Gambaccini’s unfortunate experience of being investigated by police on the basis of clearly manufactured accusations – and a scientist at Sheffield  university’s department of robotics discussing his latest project.

I actually became quite distressed by this latter item. A robot ‘child’ has been designed in the laboratory, according to the reporter unnervingly realistic; and the aim of the project is to give this machine a ‘sense of self’. We heard a child’s voice – electronically produced yet unmistakeably childlike – repeatedly referring to itself in abstract terms as ‘I’.

Whether it was a technological conjuring trick or a real step along the road to independence of thought in machines, I cannot say. The mere idea is enough to raise serious moral questions.

There are still scientists – not only American dentists – who believe that ‘lower orders’ of living creatures have no sense of self, and that that is what sets humans apart from, and above them. I have always argued that any biologically reproductive creature, even microscopic spiders and mites with evidently the tiniest of brains, that nevertheless demonstrates a reflexive ‘flight’ reaction or other self-protective strategy when becoming aware of an existential threat, can do so only if they possess a sense of self. Otherwise, how would they know ‘who’ was being threatened?

In this week in which BBC output is obsessed with the state of development of Artificial Intelligence in computers and machines, I am not certain anyone is thinking enough about what it would mean for a machine to become, not only ‘self-referential’ in the sense that it learns by feedback from its experiences; or ‘cognitive’, in the sense that it is aware in some sense of its surroundings and can be programmed to recognise objects and communicate with other machines and with humans, or ‘self-replicating’, in that part of its mechanical function enables it to manufacture other machines like itself, but actually for it to possess a ‘sense of self’; so that, in the famous Asimov laws, it can obey the Third Law and not allow itself to come to harm (provided in doing so, it does not conflict with the first two laws… etcetera!)

The moral question goes beyond equipping a machine with the ability to recognise when it is coming to harm, and to respond accordingly. The precaution makes obvious commercial sense when dealing with a valuable product. Independently functioning robots can already right themselves when they sense they are becoming unstable in motion and may fall over. But there is a huge difference between a gyroscopic stabilising mechanism and a higher cognitive function alert to a range of possible physical and emotional threats.

The question therefore must be: is there a distinction between having ‘a sense of self’ and having an actual self, of which one may have a sense? Is the one an artificial attribute, a ‘product feature’ if you like; while the other is a step along the road to creating a new life-form – a ‘product benefit’ (or otherwise)?

Instead of designing machines with sufficient cognitive abilities to perform useful functions, why are we trying to go so much further, to create machines so much ‘in our own image’, virtually replicant humans, if not for deep-seated psychological reasons? It appears that it is not enough for humans to make slaves of machines, without making the machines into humans.

Self-awareness is the one attribute of biological life-forms that allows us to feel emotions. Emotions are our responses to the different situations in which we find ourselves placed. They are an evolved development of the basic self-protective instincts shown by our little insect friends. The most primitive elements of our emotional landscape, I suppose, are happy/unhappy: since an emotional reaction of happiness or contentedness allows us to feel we need do nothing more to improve our situation, while an emotion of sadness or discomfort stimulates us to some ameliorative action or attitude. A feeling of ‘No action possible’ encourages us to sink into miserable apathy – depression being the normal response to feelings of disempowerment.

And this is as true for the dog curled up at my feet as I write, happy to be with me in the warm but impatient to go on his morning walk, as it is for me or you. From this basic pairing of happy/unhappy develop all other emotions such as fear, anger, complacency, love, loneliness, conflictedness, impatience, etcetera, as extensions of our need or ability to act, or not to act, for our own benefit. We need hardly extrapolate from this thought to take in Hamlet’s soliloquy.

The literary allusion that immediately sprang to mind when I heard the item on Today, however, was the fable of Pinocchio, the tragic puppet child who comes to life to gratify the desire for companionship of an old man and is ultimately consumed in the fire.

For, the Big Question that arises when you grant a machine the power of self-awareness is: what rights and protections do you then offer it, if any? Or are we to have certain types of machines that, like human slaves, might exist purely for our gratification, that allow us to have power over their emotions – as if emotions were simply a utility, to be commodified? As if machines are merely slaves to our whims and desires, regardless of (or possibly because of) what we impart to them of our own humanity and social status?

The idea of an ‘abusable child’ – whether sexually or in any other of the many ways we have learned to abuse one another emotionally and physically – depends for its success on the child being susceptible to the power of the adult. The purpose of abuse is not merely to gain the immediate gratification of the abuser’s desires, but more significantly to experience the emotional responses of the abused: the according of respect, the development of dependence, the granting of authority, the healing of the abuser’s own sense of wounded selfhood through the experiencing of emotions at one remove, that are otherwise distorted or entirely lacking in the abuser themself.

It could equally as well be the relationship an abuser develops with a horse, or a dog, a celebrity or a willing adult partner, as with a child; even, in some psychopathologies, with another part of themself. And so why not with a machine? Why not create a machine that returns emotion to its owner, while allowing itself to be kicked and beaten and starved and throttled and spied on, enslaved, bought-and-sold and even sexually abused for the customer’s gratification?

What are the limits to the uses to which we could put such machines? Are there any limits? Would such a machine, if sufficiently realistic, sufficiently submissive, compliant in all regards, pleading for its identity, its very survival, not provide an adequate and legal substitute for the non-acceptable abuse of other humans; thus performing the vital service of removing from us for once and all, all responsibility for being the ‘survivors’ of abuse; we, on whose emotional output abusers depend for their existence? Should the ‘abusable child’ perhaps be equipped to cry?

Well, my feeling on listening to the machine child who seems to know it exists was that this seemingly calm and rational professor of robotics is either an emotional idiot or a fool, a monster – or all three.

Beyond Pinocchio looms Mary Shelley’s patchwork creature; and beyond Frankenstein, Prometheus; and beyond Prometheus is the Biblical god who grants us ‘free will’; and beyond the Biblical god is the serpent of Genesis, who slyly gives us self-awareness but at a terrible cost.

Such myths are intended to make us think more than once before commodifying whatever it is that makes us human, merely in the interests of scientific experiment and eventual commercial gain; the slave trade in automata.

A big, fat Tory lie

Before the tears of joy have even dried on the ballot papers, Tory bruiser Michael Fallon has already come out with a Big Lie,  that Labour’s new leadership ‘will hurt working people’.

(For the benefit of strangers to the British political scene, the Labour party was founded 122 years ago in Bradford by James Keir Hardy and others to give trades unions – working people – a voice in Parliament. Forced to work from the age of seven, Hardy endured the most appalling poverty in childhood and witnessed a workmate plunge to his death from an unsafe platform. When he died, aged 58, while still the sitting MP for Merthyr Tydfil, no Tory politician had the grace or good manners to attend his funeral.

Under the current Tory government over a million people in Britain, many of them workers on poverty wages and zero-hours contracts, are dependent on free food banks for their families’ survival. In the past three years, almost three thousand disability benefit claimants who have been told by the government they no longer qualify for state support have died within six weeks of being pronounced fit enough to work, by a private French logistics company brought in to assess their state of health.

When it comes to hurting working people, Tories are experts.

Now read on…)

The Defence Secretary has demonstrated precisely my view, that all Tories are graceless, vindictive, pompous, hypocritical, bullying Victorian throwbacks, who will stop at no disgusting tactics to smear anyone interested in social justice; truly, the ‘nasty party’. (It is odd that the main thrust of their attacks on Corbyn to date have concerned his ‘backward-looking’ policies. The main ambition of the Conservative and Unionist Party is to preserve the 1707 Act of Union – and, one suspects, to restore the servant class and foxhunting as quickly as possible.)

Fallon, a sanctimonious Scottish Anglican creep, could not even allow Jeremy Corbyn five minutes to savour his unexpected victory in the election to the Labour leadership, or acknowledge his new position gracefully, before weighing-in with his usual brand of somewhat speculative propaganda. He has  something of a reputation for Big Lies, and clearly despises honest men: which, by universal acclamation, Corbyn genuinely is – one of the few in Parliament.

With grateful acknowledgement to Wikipedia, from whose entry on Fallon the following three paragraphs are lifted wholesale:

“During the run-up to the 2015 general election Fallon wrote an article in the Times saying that Ed Miliband had stabbed his brother in the back to become Labour leader and he would also stab the UK in the back to become prime minister. Fallon subsequently declined the opportunity to describe Miliband as a decent person and his comments embarrassed Conservative supporters.

(The Miliband brothers, sons of a respectable leftwing academic posthumously branded in the Tory press in 2014 as a ‘traitor’, ran against each other for the leadership on equal terms. No stabbing was involved. Ed resigned after Labour’s defeat in the 2015 General Election.)

“According to the Daily Telegraph, Fallon, Deputy Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, claimed for mortgage repayments on his Westminster flat in their entirety. MPs are only allowed to claim for interest charges.

“Between 2002 and 2004, Fallon regularly claimed £1,255 per month in capital repayments and interest, rather than the £700-£800 for the interest component alone. After his error was noticed by staff at the Commons Fees Office in September 2004, he asked: “Why has no one brought this to my attention before?””

Why, indeed.

The public-school-educated Fallon, 63, has never had a real job, becoming a party researcher on graduating MA from the University of St Andrews and gaining promotion in the Thatcher administration. Interestingly, he has several times been succeeded in office by another Tory expenses-eater, ‘Matt’ Hancock. As Defence Secretary he may have a task on his hands to explain the egregious persecution by the military of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, the outstanding Royal Marine (and family man) gaoled for life for the ‘murder’ of a mortally wounded enemy combatant in Afghanistan, a casualty whom it would have been too dangerous to evacuate, and who would certainly have been ‘martyred’ by his own side if left behind – following which it is now emerging that numerous failings both by the court and by Sgt Blackman’s superior officers may have been glossed-over in the rush to show that the British army has clean hands, as if any side in these squalid ‘wars’ started by politicians anxious to show their machismo can claim that.

But of course, the need for frequent, severe punishment is one of the fundamental tenets of Tory philosophy. That, and nauseating hypocrisy. Wikipedia, again:

“An Election Communication posted to his constituents states that Fallon “has taken a close interest in, family issues, voting against gay marriage and supporting parental responsibility. He works closely with local churches when moral matters come before Parliament.””

Other than his own, naturally.

Postscriptum

And the Cameron analysis of the new political horizon? Labour is now ‘a security risk’ to Britain.

So lock ’em up.

Je suis migrant

I’m an economic migrant.

Fifteen years ago I moved my family to a part of the country where you could still buy a house with some land for maybe a third of the price you’d pay around where we had previously been expensively renting a place that was, frankly, a bit of a shithole.

Because we couldn’t afford a more expensive house. And I wanted a better life for my kids, breathing fresh air, growing and making stuff they needed rather than just buying it in a shop; knowing where their food came from.

So we gave in our notice and packed all our stuff in a trailer, towed by our ancient Landrover, and moved like the dustbowl farmers of 1930s Americky to a green place three hours away, out in the remote Welsh hills; where we soon found we couldn’t make a living and the locals with their barbarian strange tongue curiously tolerated us. Migrants, we feel your pain.

That’s why I don’t care for the distinction political throwbacks like the heavy-set Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are making between ‘genuine refugees’ and ‘economic migrants’ – or for putting up fences (I once had to write a script for a promotional film for razor-wire…).

Where was little Viktor in 1956, when 200 thousand of his countrymen fled from the advancing Soviet army, and plucky Britain took in 27 thousand of them, despite no-one speaking a word of Hungarian, another outlandish tongue if ever there was one? Probably not even born, the selfish so-and-so. (I once got so drunk in Hungary, I ‘lost’ an entire 48 hours during which, apparently, I became a different person… but that’s another story.)

What in essence is the difference between someone who is running away from a well-founded fear of being tortured in some rat-infested dungeon, or accidentally evaporated by a Hellfire missile from a drone strike on his neighbour, or barrel-bombed with mustard gas; and another person who is running away from starvation, dust storms, lack of education and healthcare and maleficent governance, or from the threat of rape and murder by marauding gangster militias, warlords squabbling for decades over a few poxy diamond mines?

Legally, the difference is that one set of intolerable conditions from which any rational human being would desperately hope to escape is brought about by ‘war’ and the others are just, well, a bit inconvenient. Thus, persons of the first category are protected under international law, while the others are despised and spat upon and generally made to feel like shit. The exercise then becomes a numbers game: there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who might prefer to live in Sweden, than in Darfur. Obviously, they can’t all.

As the number of ‘migrants’ swilling around (and too often dying in) the Mediterranean basin increases exponentially, driven by war, famine and hopelessness, the inevitable culmination of generations of economic exploitation and brutal military adventurism by exuberant Northern polities, this idea that there are ‘good’ migrants and ‘bad’ migrants is being taken to extremes by Mr David Cameron, the Eton-educated Prime Minister of Great Britain, a smooth-faced Trustafarian and ex-PR department gopher, who has never in his privileged life had to experience the hard grind of threadbare existence.*

Mr Cameron has a fundamentally Pollyana-ish worldview, inculcated no doubt by his nanny on the nursery couch and in man-to-man chats with his prep-school headmaster, that people who do good things deserve to have good things, and the rest of us don’t. Good things to be rewarded inevitably include being poor but honest; working hard, being self-reliant, not getting into debt, going to church on Sundays, bunging a fiver in the collection plate,  helping old ladies across the street, voting Tory and not complaining when you fall off your bicycle, or catch cancer, but getting back up in the saddle and buggering on.

As the ‘friend’ of some deeply dodgy characters, Mr Cameron also has the most suspect judgement of any Prime Minister I can remember – and I go back as far as Winston Churchill. (Maybe Anthony Eden, who stupidly tried to invade Egypt.)

Which explains why, when he senses himself being backed into a corner by the rightwing media or by his mutinous backbenchers over any of the various unsound policy initiatives he delights in pre-announcing without having consulted anyone who actually knows anything about it, policies we suspect will never be carried through, but which provide good soundbites and headlines, he always hedges them about with caveats and conditional clauses and small-print getouts.

Thus, confronted by Mrs Merkel chiding him with Britain’s abject failure to do anything about the refugee crisis other than chuck money at it to make it go away, having just returned from yet another holiday he announces, apparently without consulting anyone who, etcetera, that Britain will not take in any refugees, in case they include people who are only economic migrants – and we have enough of those coming in legally from Romania already, thank you, the British people would never stand for it.

I imagine him in a previous life as a security guard: ‘Sorry, mate, can’t let you in, dressed like that! Let one in, and they’ll all want to come. It’s more than my jobsworth.’

Next morning, confronted over the toast and marmalade with the image of a three-year-old child washed up as a tiny corpse on a Turkish beach, wearing normal western kids’ clothing and not some terrorist hijab, observing a growing public clamour to smell the coffee that contrasts oddly with the attitude of his cabinet colleagues, who are of the opinion that the only way to stop these horrid people coming over is to end the five-year-old polygonal civil war, that no longer has a conceivable ending, he retrenches. We will take in refugees – but only on Mr Cameron’s special conditions.

The new plan, about which he has seemingly consulted no-one who, etcetera, is to take in twenty thousand refugees! To avoid screaming headlines in the fascist press, they are to be spread over the next five years, four thousand a year. And, of course, they will be hand-selected refugees, only the best ones, the ‘good’ ones. We can tell who they are because they are already living in refugee camps over the Turkish and Jordanian and Lebanese borders. (There are only about four million of them…)

There will be no ‘bad’ refugees, abstracted from the ‘swarm’ of migrants already escaped to Europe, the hundreds of thousands of undeserving, unwashed scum who, after appalling journeys by sea and land at the mercy of traffickers and corrupt policemen, are already camped in the railway stations and sleeping rough along the motorway verges and slumming it in the Calais ‘jungle’, upsetting  sensitive British truck drivers. We’ll let Mrs Merkel take those ones in.

No, the traditionally welcoming British people will rescue… the children of Syria!

Like the Kindertransport programme, that in 1939 just before the war broke out evacuated ten thousand Jewish children from Czechoslovakia, leaving their mummies and daddies to be exterminated in Treblinka, Britain will take in many Syrian children, especially orphans – but not their parents. (I am reminded of what happened after WW2, when Britain in collusion with children’s charity Barnardo’s transported its war orphans to Australia, to be violently abused in Catholic seminaries and exploited as virtual slave labour on remote cattle stations.)

Now, anyone who knows anything knows that children cost local authorities a great deal more to house and feed and educate than do their hardworking parents, who could (if the rules were changed – asylum-seekers are not allowed to work) get jobs and pay taxes and support their families, which is all they want to do. While children raised in Council care notoriously have far higher rates of academic failure, sexual exploitation, subsequent homelessness and criminal convictions; and besides, there is already a chronic shortage of foster-carers.

Nice one, Dave.

So is this typical Cameron initiative any better than just a crass headline-grabber? I mean, who can object to children? Besides, Home Office rules on immigration state that unaccompanied minors granted asylum visas in Britain have to be deported back to their country of origin when they reach the age of 18, so there are no long-term consequences for the nation in terms of cultural and ethnic racial dilution…. Win-win!

It’s cynical party-posturing, it’s horrible, morally repugnant, senseless, and it makes me ashamed to be Welsh. Er, British.

Er, an economic migrant.

 

*It is true, I freely acknowledge, that, unlike me, Mr Cameron has experienced what must be the scarcely bearable pain of losing a child. It is perhaps why it took the death of another child to alter his perception of who the refugees are. It does not detract from the expedient crassness and Protestant parsimony of his political decision-making.