A litany of blunders and oversights in “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes”

Jess Reid, “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

An investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico near the US state of Louisiana in April 2010, that killed 11 workers and created a massive environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, this documentary manages to be fairly well researched yet easy for its target general public audience to follow. Concentrating on the major errors behind the oil rig explosion, starting with aspects of the culture of BP that emphasised the pressure of time and budget over-runs over safety issues, to mistakes and fateful decisions made by engineers on the oil rig, to underestimating the enormous size of the oil spill and the lack of proper plans to cap the well and to clean up the oil spill, the film draws out what it considers to be the major blunders behind the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and explains how they contributed to the accident. A number of experts including former US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu who served in the first Obama administration add their perspectives to each of the issues raised. Their points are illustrated with fairly simple technical animations and archived film of the explosion and the environmental and economic disaster it caused.

Although very detailed, the film does not do enough to show how the various mistakes it identifies are linked and reflect a corporate culture in the oil industry obsessed with making profits and taking unnecessary risks, especially in a highly risky and dangerous activity such as deep-water oil drilling. In such an industry, the pressure on keeping within time and budget limits can encourage people to take short cuts, to overlook or compromise on safety issues, to conform rather than speak out or express misgivings, and downplay problems or the scale of problems when they occur. Disaster and contingency planning is given short shrift and when a disaster does occur, the corporation resorts to a quick technical fix to disperse the problem to make itself look good for the government, the media, the public and (most of all) its shareholders and investors.

The film fails to pound the US government for its weak regulation of the oil industry and its revolving door personnel policy in which oil industry executives take up positions in the US Department of Energy, loosen regulations on their former employers and then later return to the industry with a change of government. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the film comes near its end when the government fails to punish BP in proportion to the scale of the explosion and the damage it caused to marine environments and the livelihoods of communities and the industries around the Gulf that rely on viable marine environments and ecosystems there. The consequences of the oil rig disaster and of the use of Corexit dispersant to disperse the oil spill on the health of the people who worked on the rig and in the affected environments were and still are considerable. The experts interviewed in the film agree that many of the mistakes and blunders identified have not been properly dealt with and could lead to another major deep-water oil rig explosion.

The film serves as a good introduction to a major human-made disaster that is still generating long-term environmental, economic and human costs in the Gulf. Viewers wanting more information will need to do their own research but at least they will have a handy foundation to work from.

A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper: a snapshot of discrimination against Dalit people in India

Amudhan R P, “A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper” (2003)

Known as “manual scavenging”, manually cleaning public and private toilets, open drains and streets of human excrement is still being done by thousands of men and women across India. Much of this work is traditionally done by people from the Dalit (untouchable) communities that are at the bottom of the caste social system. Dalit women sweep and clean dry waste in streets, collect it in cane or metal vessels, and carry these vessels on their heads to dispose of the shit at central disposal points in their communities. Men and women clean faeces from public and private toilets, gutters and drains, and men usually clean sewers and septic tanks.

This video, scripted and filmed by Amudhan R P, follows Mariyammal, a sanitary worker with the Madurai Municipal Corporation as she cleans a street near a temple in Madurai. Mariyammal describes her daily routine to Amudhan as she goes about her work – her employer does not give her proper protective clothing or equipment like a mask, gloves or appropriate footwear so she goes barefoot to avoid soiling her shoes – and vents her anger and frustration about the work she has to do, the lack of proper equipment she is given to do her job, and the discrimination she is forced to put up with from the people around her because she is a Dalit and a sanitary worker.

Featuring close-up shots, and with a jerky style due to Amudhan having to carry the camera on his shoulder, the film can be very confronting for viewers as they see the amount of back-breaking work Mariyammal must do every early morning: scattering ash or sanitary powder over piles of faeces, and sweeping the shit into her vessel with scoops she must obtain or buy herself. She makes three trips to a central disposal area in Madurai. She tells Amudhan that she herself is in bad health (in the opening credits, the film notes that sanitary workers are at risk for asthma, malaria and cancer from their work) but despite requesting a transfer to other work, her employer refuses to move her. She cannot give up working despite her meagre pay and demeaning job as she is a widow with a large family of boys (some of whom must work as labourers) and a huge debt with high interest to pay moneylenders after taking a loan to pay for a son’s wedding. Amudhan passes no judgement on how Mariyammal does her work or on her frustration but patiently asks questions and absorbs some of the anger she vents. Mariyammal turns out to be a feisty lady especially when she takes a break and orders morning tea for herself from a tea vendor. She is not afraid to boss local children for shitting in the street she has to clean and local people appear to tiptoe gingerly past her as she strolls through the streets like a queen.

Since the film was made, it has won awards at film festivals in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi and was even shown at a film festival in China. The street where Mariyammal worked was shut down and Mariyammal was shifted to different work. The working conditions of other Madurai sanitary workers have improved somewhat with better equipment given them as well. Providing the poor people of Madurai and elsewhere in India with better living and working conditions that might include better public sanitation infrastructure – when one sees the dreadful public toilets in Madurai, one understands why poor people prefer to poop in back lanes and alleys – and which turn the faeces into a useful asset such as fertiliser or fuel, seems to be beyond the scope of government at local, regional and national level though: the legislation to provide proper public and private sanitation, making manual scavenging unnecessary, may exist but enforcement is something else altogether.

Mren Cathedral and the Last World War of Antiquity: a building’s connection to the end of an era and the beginning of another

Garrett Ryan, “Mren Cathedral and the Last World War of Antiquity” (2018)

Part of a series about ten Roman / Byzantine-era buildings built in the territory of modern Turkey, this video initially focuses on Mren Cathedral, a 7th-century Armenian church in the abandoned site of Mren, once a town in the region of Kars in far north-eastern Turkey, and in particular on a stone at the cathedral’s entrance celebrating the return of the True Cross of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (reigned 610 – 641 CE). This stone not only establishes the age of Mren Cathedral – it was built during the 630s CE – but also tells us something about the involvement of Armenia as a state in the long border wars between the Roman Empire and its Byzantine imperial successor on the one hand and the Persians (whether Parthians or Sassanids) over several hundreds of years to the 630s CE. The stone and its inscription become the basis for an interesting story told by Ryan in voiceover narration of the war between the Byzantine Empire (which Ryan calls “Roman”) under Heraclius and the Sassanid Empire under Khosrau II (reigned 590 – 626 CE): as the title of the video bluntly states, this war was the last major war fought by two imperial powers of the Classical World just before the eruption of Arab armies inspired by Islam out of the Arabian Peninsula in the same decade that Mren Cathedral was built in Armenia.

Ryan sets the scene by explaining the role Armenia played as a buffer state between the Romans / Byzantines and the Parthians / Sassanids since Classical times. Both superpowers wooed and bribed Armenian princes and rulers to their side and the western and eastern borders of Armenia seem to have changed quite frequently over the centuries. Some time in 590 CE, in a fortress town in Armenia, the young Khosrau II, newly acceded to the Sassanid throne but usurped by rebels, sought refuge with the Byzantine commander; the Byzantines agree to help him regain his throne in Persia. For a decade afterwards, the Byzantines and Sassanids were on friendly terms and respected one another’s territories but with the assassination of Byzantine Emperor Maurice Tiberius in 602 CE, Khosrau II seized the opportunity to overrun Byzantine territories in Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt. The Byzantines under Emperor Phocas were unable to stop Khosrau II’s forces as their own armies were tied up battling Avars and Slavs coming into their European territories. Among the booty that the Persians captured in their conquests was the True Cross of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, reputedly the cross on which Jesus Christ died.

In 610 CE, Heraclius became Byzantine Emperor and spent the next decade rebuilding his treasury and army. In 622 CE, he set out to reconquer the territories lost to the Sassanids with the help of the Khazars (Turkic-speaking tribes who would later establish their kingdom on the northern shores of the Caspian Sea and convert to Judaism) and of Armenian and Georgian princes. Basing his army in Armenia itself, Heraclius achieved a series of stunning successes against three Persian field armies and entered Persia itself. Finally in 626 CE, at the Battle of Nineveh, Heraclius smashed Khosrau II’s army and Khosrau II ended up being executed by his own nobles.

As a result of Heraclius’s victory against Persia, the Sassanids gave up all the territories conquered by Khosrau II and Heraclius was able to return the True Cross to its Jerusalem home. On his way to Jerusalem from Persia, Heraclius passed through Armenia and one of the Armenian princes who had accompanied Heraclius on his campaigns in western Asia commissioned the Mren Cathedral to be built with the commemoration of the Byzantine Emperor’s restoration of the True Cross.

Ryan does not say very much about the fortunes of Mren Cathedral or of Armenia itself after Heraclius’s victory over the Sassanians, except to observe that with the passing of time and the shifting of trade routes through Armenia, the town of Mren became insignificant and was eventually abandoned. The few photos of the cathedral shown in the video, which is otherwise illustrated with colourful maps showing the campaigns of Heraclius and Khosrau II, show the building to be in a parlous state, neglected by the Turkish government. Grant might have said something about post-Ottoman Turkish government attitudes (especially those of the current government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan) toward the Armenians and their buildings and monuments in eastern Turkey but then I guess he’d never be allowed back in Turkey.

The video concludes by observing that, while Mren Cathedral was being built in Armenia, Arab armies began conquering the Arabian Peninsula and spread into western Asia (claiming Syria) and thence into Persia, destroying what remained of Sassanian power. Under the Umayyads and Abbasids, and then later under the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, Islam would come to threaten the Byzantine Empire’s eastern territories just as the Zoroastrian Sassanians had done before them. Although Ryan does not say so, Heraclius’s victory over Khosrau II and Khosrau II’s execution surely created a vacuum within Sassanian politics that could be exploited by a new dynasty or by foreigners. Just as the World Wars of the West in the 20th century restructured Europe and changed the course and nature of Western civilisation, so too did the Last World War of Antiquity as Ryan calls it ended up changing civilisation in the Middle East and Persia – and would change the course of the Byzantine Empire in its later centuries.

The video is very entertaining if rather rushed in its narration with facts being thrown at viewers continuously right up to the end. Viewers may need to see it at least twice to absorb all the riveting information about Mren Cathedral’s connection to one of the most significant wars in the history of the world, one that would close off the Classical Era of Greek and Roman civilisation, and lead to the Mediaeval Era of Byzantine and early Islamic civilisation. There were some things though, that stayed the same: among them, Armenia would continue to be a buffer state between the Byzantines (and later the Ottomans) and the Persians, on whom the Armenians would end up relying for protection and much of their culture.

A Historical Tour of Hagia Sophia: a visually sumptuous guide and introduction to a famous building and Byzantine civilisation

Garrett Ryan, “A Historical Tour of Hagia Sophia” (Told in Stone, 2020 / 2021)

Even as a short film, this video tour of Hagia Sophia / Aya Sofya, the most famous site in Istanbul (the former Constantinople before 1453) and the pinnacle of Byzantine imperial civilisation as a place of religious worship, political life and artistic achievement, is a visually sumptuous affair. As usual with Dr Ryan’s short videos for his Told in Stone Youtube channel, he gives running commentary on the building’s history and the reason for its construction, and points out the most important parts of the building, its mosaics and the figures they portray, and the messages those mosaics may convey which demonstrate aspects of Byzantine belief and values.

As viewers might expect, Dr Ryan’s voiceover narration, while speedy, starts with a general survey of the building’s importance to the Byzantine Empire and the context in which Hagia Sophia was first conceived by Emperor Justinian I. The building replaced a church, itself a replacement for the original Hagia Sophia built in 360 CE, when that church was destroyed during the Nika revolts that started in the Hippodrome and quickly spread to the rest of Constantinople, burning or destroying most of the city and leaving 30,000 dead in the space of a week in early January, 532 CE. The building was completed in 537 CE.

From there, the video focuses on particular aspects of Hagia Sophia’s architecture. The building complex features a massive dome built on four spherical triangular pendentives (construction devices that allow a circular dome to be built over a square room) which curve into and support the dome, and spread its weight down into the rest of the building. Other features of interest are the exonarthex which houses the sarcophagus of Empress Irene; the narthex; the Vestibule of Warriors; the Imperial Gate which features a mosaic of Emperor Leo VI doing penance before Christ for marrying more than three times in his quest for a male heir; the galleries where the Empress and her court sat to observe Masses and participate in public life; and the Tomb of Henricus Dandolo, a Venetian doge who led the Fourth Crusade (which never went near the Holy Land but instead concentrated on pillaging Constantinople). Mosaics of interest include those of Empress Zoe (reigned 1028 – 1050 CE) and her third husband Constantine IX (reigned 1042 – 1050 CE) whose face appears to have been changed at least once, perhaps to replace the face of one of Zoe’s former husbands: this juicy piece of information is one of many that Ryan spices his commentary with in his usual disingenuously neutral tone.

Brimming with photos and film of Hagia Sophia’s interiors, all done from as many angles as possible, this video is incredibly immersive and viewers can feel something of the long, deep and rich history of the building complex, its architecture, paintings and mosaics. At the same time, details such as the mosaics of the penitent Leo VI and Constantine IX with his cosmetic surgery, and the graffiti left behind by a fellow called Halfdan, most likely a member of the Varangian bodyguard corps employed by Byzantine Emperors after Swedish Varangians began appearing in Constantinople, help to bring a very human and humorous dimension to Hagia Sophia’s long history.

There are some references to Hagia Sophia’s history after Constantinople’s downfall in 1453 when Mehmet II entered the building and declared it a mosque. After hundreds of years doing sterling duty, the mosque was declared a museum by Turkish President Kemal Ataturk in 1935. Beginning in the early 1990s, parts of Hagia Sophia were repurposed for use in Muslim religious worship and after the new millennium began, there came increasing calls for the building to be reconverted into a mosque. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Hagia Sophia a mosque in 2018.

The video serves as a good introduction to Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine civilisation it represents for tourists and students of classical Greek and Roman history. Those wanting more detail or information about Hagia Sophia’s post-Byzantine history will be disappointed with the sketchy details provided in the video and need to investigate other Youtube videos on the building complex.

Treachery by US Army Generals in World War II: how incompetence and bad decisions led to US defeat and Japanese occupation of the Philippines

Carlton Meyer, “Treachery by US Army Generals in World War II” (Tales of the American Empire, 1 October 2021)

While many people know that Japan dealt the British Empire its worst defeat in Singapore in February 1942, not many know that a few months afterwards in May 1942, Japan also defeated the United States in the Philippines after a five-month campaign (it began on 8 December 1941, just after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii) that led to 23,000 US soldiers and 100,000 Filipino soldiers dead or captured. Those captured ended up being shipped off to Japan in infamous “hell ships” (where they were crammed into cargo holds with little air, ventilation, food or water) to work as slave labour in factories or mines for as long as three years. Much of the blame for the disastrous US defeat can be laid upon the US Army generals in charge of the combined US / Filipino forces for their incompetent – and at times inexplicable – decisions that allowed much smaller Japanese forces to attack and lay waste US airfields and destroy valuable US aircraft and ships.

In this episode of his “Tales of the American Empire” series, Carlton Meyer concentrates on three examples of incompetent actions by US Army generals in the Philippines. In the early months of Japanese invasion of the Philippines after December 1941, General Douglas MacArthur withdrew US forces to Bataan Peninsula, allowing the Japanese to seize Manila which forced the colonial US government to retreat to the island of Corregidor. MacArthur’s withdrawal included the abandonment of Fort Wint on Grande Island at the entrance of Subic Bay. Japanese forces bombed Corregidor and after a long siege, starved and still waiting for reinforcements, US defenders surrendered to Japan. While Macarthur, Filipino leader Manuel Quezon and other high-ranking military officers and diplomats escaped capture and left the Philippines, others were not so lucky: at least 17 US Army generals became POWs.

One of the these officers was William F Sharp, in charge of the Visayan-Mandanao Force. Believing that Japan would execute US soldiers and other Americans captured in Corregidor, Sharp surrendered to the Japanese though many Americans and Filipinos under his command refused to give up and became guerrilla fighters. Another officer, Jonathan M Wainwright, had also surrendered in the belief that his action would minimise casualties and save hostages from being executed.

The actions of Wainwright and Sharp, to whom Wainwright transferred his command of all US and Filipino troops (at least until the Japanese insisted that all US and Filipino troops had to surrender, forcing Wainwright to pressure Sharp to surrender also), might be seen as being under duress, both generals perhaps not aware that the Japanese were not planning to execute their Corregidor hostages. The actions of MacArthur though, in following a pre-war plan to compel his troops to retreat to Bataan Peninsula, enabling the Japanese to capture Manila and Luzon Island and to cut off supplies to the Americans, beg for explanations as do also the actions of US President Franklin D Roosevelt in failing to send appropriate reinforcements to US forces in the Philippines. Why did MacArthur defer to a plan and not go on the attack against Japanese invaders? What do MacArthur’s failures and Washington’s disregard for US troops in the Philippines – never mind the Filipinos – say about US attitudes towards Japan, the Philippines and East Asia / Southeast Asia generally that might still be relevant to current US attitudes towards East Asia and China in particular?

Unfortunately Meyer’s narration, sticking to the chronology of the details of the US retreat to Bataan Peninsula and the actions of MacArthur, Wainwright and Sharp, does not dig into the motivations or reasoning of these men for making decisions that do not reflect well on their competence or ability as military leaders. What Meyer does though is tell a very well researched and detailed account of American error and Japanese determination and zeal, with plenty of archived film and photographs to flesh out the story.

The Bombing of Pompeii, 1943: detailed sketch of darkest episode in ancient Roman city’s history

Garrett Ryan, “The Bombing of Pompeii, 1943” (Told in Stone, 25 September 2021)

Not too many popular histories and documentaries on Pompeii and Herculaneum mention that over August and September in 1943 the Allied forces (primarily UK and Canada) dropped about 170 bombs over the archaeological site of Pompeii. Garrett Ryan’s short video gives a quick blow-by-blow sketch of what happened, starting with the reason why the bombing campaign was begun: US, UK and Canadian troops landed at Salerno near Naples, beginning in September 1943, but encountered resistance and counter-attacks from German forces along the coast so Allied bombing missions to cut German supply lines began dropping thousands of bombs. The archaeological site of Pompeii was close to railway yards and important transport links leading to Naples so bombs that were supposed to hit those sites landed in Pompeii instead.

Every part of the Pompeii site was bombed and a number of important historical locations in the site including the amphitheatre arena; the House of Sallust (an important Roman mansion) which held a life-sized fresco detailing the myth of the hunter Actaeon, punished by being turned into a deer and torn apart by his hounds for accidentally seeing the goddess Diana bathing in a pool; the House of the Faun which contains the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great defeating Persian shah Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331BCE; and the House of Trebius Valens, a modest building with significant graffiti on its walls that were destroyed by the bombing. The Antiquarium Museum, which housed thousands of artefacts from the sites and casts of victims of the Mt Vesuvius volcanic eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 CE, was also bombed and lost nearly 1,400 artefacts as a result. The Museum was restored but many items in its collection remain shattered.

After World War II, many of the destroyed buildings and locations in Pompeii were rebuilt or restored but much damage caused by the bombing is permanent and there are still unexploded bombs at the site.

Ryan passes no judgement on the Allied forces who bombed the Pompeii site. Some online digging by Yours Truly turned up information that the Allies believed that German forces were hiding in the site and storing ammunition there, and even the Allied Military Command fell for this belief. This is confirmed by another, much more detailed video presentation by Dr Ardle MacMahon in July 2021 about the Allied bombing of Pompeii. Both videos agree that British and Canadian forces were responsible for the most of the bombing. Contrary to most current popular opinion about differences between American and British cultures – in which Americans are seen as boorish and ignorant and British as refined and cultured – the British seem to have been much more viciously gung-ho about destroying other people’s cultures and heritage during World War II, as evidenced by the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 by UK-led forces.

Even in a short video as this, the visual presentation which features archived photographs of pre-WWII Pompeii and informative maps is stunning. Ryan’s rapid-fire voice-over narration packs in fact after fact after fact and the video needs a couple of viewings to be fully savoured. Possibly much more could have been said about the fragile nature of the Pompeii site: Mt Vesuvius is still an ever-present threat to the site’s survival as are also mass tourism and the continuing economic woes of Italy itself and the impact they make on the country’s ability to fund archaeological research and restoration projects.

On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today): a vision and path for capitalist societies towards Communism

Paul Cockshott, “On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today)” (25 June 2021)

In response to a request, UK computer scientist / Marxist economist Paul Cockshott produced a slideshow presentation on what he believes a new Communist program (that is, one that transforms a society from capitalism to Communism) should involve. His presentation is structured chronologically, starting with the founding documents of Communism written by Karl Marx in 1848, and moving through the experience and failure of liberal democratic parliamentary systems and Soviet-style Communism to the current global environmental crisis created by neoliberal political / economic ideologies. Cockshott then alights on why Communism is needed and what its goals are: because the capitalist classes are organised internationally, working classes must also be organised internationally; because the control of science and technologies is in the hands of the capitalists, they are able to use such knowledge and tools to reshape the world according to their own narrow vision with the result that socio-economic inequalities are rising, working classes are becoming more impoverished and global ecosystems are suffering.

Cockshott is careful to distinguish among different groups of “socialists” such as reactionary socialists who use the language and tools of socialism against Communism (examples being the National Socialists of Germany in the mid 20th century); bourgeois socialists who demand a cradle-to-grave welfare-net socialism (that benefits them and which they can deny to working classes if the latter don’t vote the way they are expected to) while retaining capitalist structures and institutions; and classical social democrats who want some Communist measures to patch the loopholes of capitalist structures and existing constitutional systems. From there, Cockshott outlines a vision of Communist economy and society in which digital technologies can be used to restructure resource allocation, production and distribution of goods and services, and how these are accessed by the public according to its needs. Money as it is currently used, the debt-based systems that generate and circulate money and the global financial structures based on those systems will be abolished.

Cockshott then explains how modern States arose and how current political systems are structured to protect the interests of the wealthy and the classes that support them. He goes on to outline what changes are needed for political systems and their institutions to represent working classes and serve their interests. These changes are far-ranging and include changes to the judicial and legal systems, the educational systems from elementary education upwards, and the armed forces and security forces including the police. Cockshott advocates for land nationalisation and economic rents to be paid to local communities. Essential infrastructure and the creation and circulation of money, credit or their fungible equivalents should be centralised under public control.

The presentation ends very abruptly which I find a pity as Cockshott provides no explanation as to how such changes can be brought about and moreover can be sustained in the face of a vicious backlash by capitalist classes and their allies, some of whom will claim to be “socialist”, even “Communist”. As the long history of Western social democracy and its erosion and corruption by neoliberalism, and the failure of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union illustrate, those tasked with maintaining socialist and Communist systems and institutions can easily become a new wealthy class identifying with those they are supposed to combat. State-controlled infrastructures can be privatised, their assets sold off and the people working within them made unemployed. The constant struggle of Communist and socialist governments and systems in nations like China, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela to rediscover their original goals and visions, relearn hard lessons and remake themselves where necessary surely serves as a warning to us all.

How medicine and nursing became the accomplices of genocide in “Caring Corrupted: The Killing Nurses of The Third Reich”

James Bailey, “Caring Corrupted: The Killing Nurses of The Third Reich” (2017)

A grim and horrifying film, all the more so for its clinical, matter-of-fact tone driven mainly by interviews of researchers and Holocaust survivors, “Caring Corrupted …” explores and explains in much detail the role of the medical and nursing professions in killing physically and mentally handicapped adults and children in Nazi Germany (1933 – 1945) and participated in the Holocaust. The film uses voice-over narration and interviews to give a detailed chronological narrative in which a context of military defeat, political and economic chaos, and government inability to deal with the Great Depression and pay outstanding war debts to the Allied victors resulted in the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists to power in Germany in 1933 and their subsequent control of German society and culture with widespread propaganda resulting in the mass brainwashing of people, and of medical professionals in particular.

Chillingly the film details the Western political / cultural context of the early 20th century, built on Western imperialist policies seeking to justify the genocide and enslavement of peoples in Africa and Asia in order to steal their lands and resources, in which prevailing political, economic and scientific ideas and ideologies combined in birthing scientific racism and eugenics. The film shows that the ideology of racial hygiene to justify selective breeding of humans and getting rid of people deemed racially or genetically inferior was widespread in Western societies from the 19th century onwards well into the 1970s, not just in Germany; indeed, much of the inspiration for pursuing racial hygiene policies in Nazi Germany came from the United States. The nature of German society in the late 19th / early 20th centuries with its emphasis on hierarchy, junior doctors and nurses deferring to more senior doctors and nurses, and women deferring to men provides another aspect to the context.

The film’s chronological narrative follows the development of involuntary euthanasia programs (known as Aktion T4 programs) for handicapped people and children in hospitals, and the ways in which doctors and nurses participated in those programs – the nurses often holding children while the children were overdosed with sedatives by other nurses on the orders of doctors or senior nurses – and how those euthanasia programs developed into larger institutional programs that herded Jewish, gypsy and other groups deemed racially inferior into concentration camps and systematically killed them with the participation of medical and nursing personnel, many of whom had previously worked in the euthanasia programs. In a number of concentration camps in Germany and Poland, horrific and sadistic medical experiments were carried out on inmates: all these experiments were overseen by Dr Josef Mengele and suggested either by him or other physicians. In all these experiments, doctors and nurses were involved in carrying out tasks that amounted to torture, mutilation and murder. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II in May 1945, a number of doctors and nurses were tried and convicted for war crimes and crimes of genocide but many of the institutions they worked in and carried out the euthanasia programs still continue as working hospitals.

Unfortunately many of the root causes and the political / economic / cultural context in which the euthanasia programs leading to the Holocaust arose still exist in societies around the world. As the film concludes, the factors that turned Germany, one of the most culturally advanced nations in the world in the early 20th century, still exist in most nations: they are often factors rooted in human psychology and especially in human social psychology.

The film has become more relevant in the current COVID-19 pandemic era as medical and nursing professionals, particularly those working in hospitals, come under pressure from governments to administer injections of experimental drugs with often severe side effects (including death) and short-lived benefits, and to deny patients more appropriate and safer (but less profitable for large pharmaceutical firms) treatments. General practitioners in many countries are also under pressure to administer jabs of purported vaccines to patients or face the threat of losing their licences to practise medicine. Widespread government propaganda about COVID-19 and its supposed threat to public health to justify lockdowns and abolishing civil liberties, and at the same time discriminate against people refusing injections of COVID-19 vaccines, eerily echoes the Nazi propaganda that demonised Jewish people, gypsies, Slavs and others considered racially inferior and unfit.

It is no longer just enough to learn about the Holocaust and the roles that the medical and nursing professions played in it; we must also learn how we can easily be manipulated and brainwashed by governments and corporations into hate and following their agendas.

AUKUS and the danger of war: a persuasive if simplistic argument on the stupidity of the AUKUS pact

Paul Cockshott, “AUKUS and the danger of war” (23 September 2021)

After a Twitter exchange on whether the US was in a fit state militarily to challenge China, and in the wake of the AUKUS naval and defence pact formed by the US, the UK and Australia – it should have been called USUKA but AUKUS flows more mellifluously than “you-suck-ah” – in September 2021, with the pact’s first initiative being to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy (and those submarines to be purportedly built in Adelaide, compelling Australia to break its current contract with France to build 12 diesel submarines), Scottish computer scientist / economist Paul Cockshott created a slideshow explaining how the AUKUS alliance endangers Australia and the US in the event of a war with China in the western Pacific Ocean region. The slideshow demonstrates how dependent Australia will be on the UK and the US in obtaining highly enriched nuclear fuel to power the submarines (and the proliferation risks involved, since enriched nuclear fuel can be used to make bombs) as Australia lacks the know-how and the infrastructure (including nuclear plants) needed to enrich the fuel. From there Cockshott looks at why, after 70 years, Britain has suddenly decided to sell Australia its nuclear technology and expertise, and concludes from examining speeches made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP (and Johnson’s predecessor as Prime Minister) Theresa May that the reason for Australia having nuclear-powered submarines, as they are designed for attack and not defence purposes, is that they ultimately will be part of a US-led naval blockade of China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan based on Western assumptions that China will invade Taiwan – even though over the past 70 years China has respected Taiwan’s physical, political and economic integrity to the extent that China’s hi-tech industries depend on Taiwan for its semiconductors and other raw materials, and tourists, business people and others regularly travel from one country to the other quite freely.

After reaching this conclusion as to the purpose of AUKUS, Cockshott spends the rest of his presentation examining the most likely course of a war between China and AUKUS, and makes his case that a Western blockade of China would be extremely risky and hazardous to AUKUS forces. China would quickly establish air and sea dominance over Taiwan’s territory (including airspace and maritime territory) and US support would be limited to the kind of hurried airlift “rescues” of US citizens seen recently in Kabul when the puppet Ghani government there collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s peaceful victory in Afghanistan. A possible US attack on China itself, on the assumption that US forces can break through Chinese air and sea defences, is shown to be nigh impossible due to the severe decline in US military capabilities and the advanced age of US bomber planes since 1945. An economic blockade based either on blocking trade routes in Southeast Asia or on sanctions on nations trading with China would disrupt economies all over the world – and encourage even more integration of the Eurasian continent in China’s Belt Road Initiative to circumvent a blockade or sanctions. Cockshott looks at the shipbuilding capabilities of the combatants and finds that China’s shipbuilding capabilities far outstrip those of the US. South Korea would most likely declare neutrality in the war but in the event that Seoul is compelled to side with AUKUS, South Korea would be exposed to attack from North Korea and China.

The result is that the economies of the AUKUS members and any others participating in the war against China will be severely damaged, so much so that their societies and politics will become unstable and the very polities themselves liable to break up. They will lose cultural prestige as well and the very concept of Western liberal democracy – itself hazy and contradictory with its emphasis on free markets unhindered by government oversight and regulation – will be discredited. While China and its allies will also suffer economic damage, they will be in a better position to recover through China’s BRI.

While Cockshott’s presentation is well set out if a bit slow and repetitive, it does appear simplistic to the point where the figures and facts he pulls out look cherry-picked. In a real war, China would have Russian support which could include Russia cutting off natural gas supplies to the UK. An economic blockade initiated by China or Russia of the UK and any European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China could strain relations among them and among other things encourage the British public to turn against London, especially as (with the phasing out of the use of older fossil fuel technologies like coal-dependent technologies) Europe is becoming more and more dependent on importing Russian natural gas. The Taiwanese people themselves, as opposed to their government, might prefer Beijing’s domination to the extent that their forces might pledge to fight on the Chinese side. Australia itself will be a target for attacks and economic blockades and sanctions from China, Russia and their allies, and Australians themselves would have to choose whether remaining part of AUKUS or any alliance with the US is worth risking their future for.

At the same time Cockshott’s presentation is silent on China’s submarine capabilities against future combined AUKUS submarine attacks. One could argue though that there are many ways to fight “hot” wars and not all of them have to be purely military, let alone match one nation’s sub-set of military weapons against another’s exact equivalent. For China, the war AUKUS will wage against it will be a defensive war and defence calls for different strategies and the necessary tactics and hardware those require: the problem is how varied and how deep China’s defensive capabilities are, and if they can withstand the offensive strategies and capabilities of the AUKUS alliance. Cockshott’s presentation suggests that China will have more flexibility and more strategies, tactics and weapons (especially soft non-military weapons) at hand than the AUKUS alliance will.

The issue that remains is why Australian political and defence elites were so stupid and idiotic to sleepwalk into a pact that robs Australia of any sovereignty over its land, sea and air territory, and ultimately puts their own survival in doubt.

The litany of lies, cover-ups, blunders and shortcuts that led to two air crash tragedies in “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes”

Nick Gillan-Smith, “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

A crisp and succinct documentary, going into just enough detail (but not too much so) to satisfy the general public target audience, this investigation of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX passenger jet crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 respectively breezes through the list of blunders, errors and cover-ups that all but doomed the flights of two jets resulting in the combined total of 346 deaths and severely dented the reputations of Boeing as a reliable aircraft manufacturer and of the US aviation industry generally. The documentary begins its litany back, way back, into the 1960s when Boeing unveiled its 737 models which immediately became the company’s favoured workhorses, being sold to airlines all over the world for decades. In the first decade of the 2000s, rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus brought out a new, more fuel-efficient model which put pressure on Boeing to come up with a competitive counterpart. This set off a series of actions, combined with pressure on Boeing employees, to tinker with adding new, heavier and longer engines onto the current 737 model rather than design and engineer a new plane from scratch which would have required at least a decade and more to complete. Adding the new engines to the 737 model entailed other changes, not least the addition of new anti-stalling Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation Systems (MCAS) software to help keep the plane’s balance during flight. This would have required pilots already familiar with flying the 737 model to undertake more flight simulation training (which airlines would have had to pay for) and the updating of flight manuals.

Each “mistake” – the term really encompasses the various cock-ups, short-cuts and “sssh, don’t tell” cover-ups – is explained through a mix of interviews with aviation experts and a pilot, and how it contributed to the catastrophes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The Airbus innovation caught Boeing by surprise and the US company was under pressure from managers and shareholders to come up with a product that was also fuel-efficient as soon as it could. Pressure was put on employees and contractors with the result that short-cuts were taken and the issue of safety became secondary to the pursuit of cost-cutting and quick profits. Testing more or less fell by the wayside. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed Boeing to conduct its own safety testing and inspections and to approve the results of such tests. Boeing told the FAA that pilots would not need extra training and failed to include mention of the MCAS in its flight manuals.

On top of all this, when the Indonesian accident occurred, Boeing immediately blamed pilot error for the tragedy. As Lion Air did not have a great record for safety, Boeing’s explanation seemed plausible enough, at least until the Ethiopian Airlines jet fell out of the sky in March 2019. The recovery of that plane’s flight recorder tapes soon led to the revelation that the Ethiopian flight crew had the exact same problem as the Lion Air pilots did in controlling the plane and trying to stop it from nose-diving. As Ethiopian Airlines had an excellent reputation for flight safety, pilot error could no longer be blamed.

Lion Air does not get off lightly either in that the airline is revealed as not having or keeping records of problems with individual jets: the Lion Air 737 MAX jet was shown to have had a nosediving problem on a short trip just before its final journey. In this case though, the flight crew were lucky that an off-duty captain was travelling as a passenger and was able to assist with controlling the plane. Though the flight crew reported the problem, for some reason this issue was not relayed to the next flight crew who had to fly the plane the next day.

Though the documentary wraps up fairly quickly (and superficially) by noting that Boeing was forced to ground all 737 MAX jets and that US Congress committee inquiries were held – hilariously, Congressional meetings are called “parliamentary” meetings – with the result that Boeing was fined heavy amounts and now faces lawsuits from families of crash victims, it fails to show how several of the problems identified are inter-related and demonstrate that a culture of excellence and prioritising safety no longer exists at Boeing. The change of organisational culture from one based on careful design and meticulous research, a high standard of engineering excellence and regard for flight crew and passenger safety to one obsessed with profit and cutting costs to the extent of passing work to non-union factory labour or outsourcing work to lower-paid engineers in Third World nations is not covered; many of the short-cuts and cover-ups, and in some cases even outright conflicts of interest (and with the FAA turning a blind eye to such corruption) have their origins in the gradual Wall Street takeover of Boeing, exemplified by Boeing HQ’s shift from Seattle, where much of the engineering and manufacturing work was being done, to Chicago (home of neoliberal economics) some time in the late 1990s. Unfortunately it seems to me that Boeing is not alone among US corporations to fall prey to the neoliberal cult of worshipping Profit Uber Alles and damning everything else – even safety measures – that cuts into making profits for corporate banker shareholders.