“Breaking through” against Terrorism?: The Government’s Counter-Narrative and a Matter of Transparency

International Relations, Media & Communications, National politics, Society & Culture

Last week I received, among the usual array of unsolicited online communications, something from a researcher from the London-based social communications company, Breakthrough Media. The pro forma email said that BM (my abbreviation, not theirs) was casting a new online TV series and were on the lookout for people aged over 50 (that’s me!) to be in the show…apparently they were particularly interested in folk in that demographic “who love to chat, have a laugh and would like to know how to Email, Skype, Facebook, Online Shop, Online Bank, or use the Internet” (capitalisation all hers!).

The message went on to say that they were “also looking for tech savvy friends, family members, or colleagues, who could team up with the Over 50 candidates to be their teaching buddy, during filming” (in August). What they specifically wanted from me was leads on “great potential candidates” for the program. Now, taken on face value, this all sounded innocent, admirable even, very community minded.

Elizabeth House: BM’s ‘anonymous’ London location
I had never heard of “Breakthrough Media”…just another of the new media start-ups in the ever mushrooming world of social networking I supposed, and usually I ignore such online pitches. But somewhat intrigued I decided to try to find out a bit about them. Their website would be a good place to start, I thought❈. It was however unsurprisingly jargon-laden and disappointingly short on substance…the website’s description of what BM was about, went “we design and build award-winning campaigns that tackle some of the world’s toughest social issues, helping our clients counter misinformation, prevent violent extremism, promote democracy and protect the environment”. Full of jargony generalities such as “our strategic thinking and our creativity are joined-up and informed by real-time audience engagement…(and) inspiring positive social change” (www.breakthroughmedia.org). In its job advertisements the company describes itself thus: “Breakthrough is a communications agency and production company. We specialise in conflict resolution, society building and countering violent extremism”. Again, the message resonates with progressive, international goals and desirable outcomes.

I turned to other, independent, commentators and observers of Breakthrough Media…frankly there wasn’t much on the web about the media company, but one fairly thorough dissection of BM’s role and its background was contained in a 2016 report by The Guardian on Britain’s RICU (the Research Information and Communications Unit) [‘Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war’, The Guardian, 03-May-2016, (Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans & Mona Mahmood)]. RICU was created in 2007 as an arm of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OCST) and funded by the Home Office. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue defines RICU’s function as “coordinating government-wide communication activities to counter the appeal of violent extremism while promoting stronger grass-roots inter-community relations [www.counter-extremism.com]. RICU’s work is a key part of Westminster’s anti-radicalisation program, ‘Prevent’.

The relationship between RICU and Breakthrough Media
Where does BM fit into the picture of RICU and its fight against extreme fundamentalism, terrorism and ISIS? The two have a contractual arrangement: RICU pays BM to produce digital materials, films, Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles, YouTube clips, and the like, which promote the UK government’s anti-terrorism policies. The propaganda, emanating from BM on behalf of the Home Office (BM unsurprisingly prefers the term “strategic communications”) is aimed at Muslim communities, the desired outcome being “a reconciled British Muslim identity”. As The Guardian report revealed, BM’s stratagem is to “influence online conversations by being embedded within target communities via a network of moderate organisations that are supportive of its [sic] goals”.

An uncomfortable and problematic relationship?
BM is well remunerated by OCST for its counter-terrorism work (earning a reported £11.8M during 2012-2016), but its role as a conduit for RICU has some disquieting aspects. BM’s contacts with Islamic communities, either directly or through its PR team Horizon Public Relations, is not transparent. BM represents its work to the public without disclosure of its connection to the British government. At least one former government minister has conceded (to The Guardian) that deception in the dissemination of the messages could damage trust between the government and Muslim citizens. Other outspoken critics of this practice include human rights lawyer Imran Khan and the vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations Frances Webber who saw it as giving an appearance that Muslim groups had been co-opted to a government agenda [‘Revealed: UK’s covert propaganda bid to stop Muslims joining Isis’, The Guardian, 03-May-2016, (Ian Cobain et al)].

Advocacy groups and critics of the Home Office policy have complained that RICU/OCST uses the Muslim Civil Society Organisations (MCSO) as mouthpieces for their government counter-narratives, irrespective of whether the MSCO are aware of it or not [‘The Home Office is Creating Mistrust within Muslim Civil Society’, (CAGE, 16-May-2016), www.cage.ngo

The Guardian also showed how RICU (as the paymasters) have an editing role in the finished work of Breakthrough…RICU’s head Richard Chalk is an occasional visitor to BM’s Lambeth office – Chalk can be found at times sitting in the edit suites and monitoring the BM productions. One source of the newspaper indicated whilst Breakthrough projects are not strictly scripted by RICU, they’ll “make it clear that they want a particular form of words to be used at a particular point in a film”⚀.

RICU and BM are also linked in a veil of secrecy in regard to the media, as The Guardian discovered. Neither parties allow their staff to talk to the newspapers about their roles in counter-terrorism. BM cited reasons of ‘confidentiality’ and ‘NFP’ to the The Guardian for its reticence. The paper’s investigative team did unearth the fact that even some of the freelancers employed by Breakthrough to do RICU’s clandestine bidding were unaware of BM’s (covert) connection with the British government.

Given the scale of the threat posed, the majority of Britons would have few qualms about the Home Office using its agencies to engage in “industrial scale propaganda” in a bid to counter ISIS’s propaganda machine and its success in poisoning the minds of some young Muslim Britons [B Hayes & A Qureshi, ‘Going global: the UK’s government’s “CVE” agenda, counter-radicalisation and covert propaganda’, (Open Democracy UK, 04-May-2016), www.opendemocracy.net]. BM have undeniably produced some good work in getting the message across, but where it becomes ethically questionable is when contractors like Breakthrough Media and co-opted NGOs present their counter propaganda whilst in the guise of being “independent, community-based campaigns”, when the reality is that the information they are disseminating to schools, university ‘freshers’ and the like is backed (and guided in most cases) by the government.
______________________________________________________________
❈ a number of the links on the website menu were broken at the time I accessed it…that internet know-how training they were talking about might have come in handy in the BM IT department!
OCST itself was the successor to IRD (Information Research Department), a top-secret body set up by Britain’s Foreign Office in 1948, during the early dawn of the Cold War, and wound up the same year Elvis died (1977).The Independent has drawn attention to IRD’s questionable record during its existence of disseminating anti-Communist propaganda routinely exaggerating stories of Soviet atrocities and anti-British plots, S Lucas, ‘REAR WINDOW : COLD WAR :The British Ministry of Propaganda’, The Independent, 26-Feb-1995, www.theindependent.co.uk
The Guardian also disclosed that BM’s founding directors have pre-existing links to the governing Conservative Party

Prototype of the Modern Supermarket: King Kullen

Regional History, Retailing history, Society & Culture

The big players in US supermarkets in 2017 are names like Kroger, Costco and Safeway❈ but long before Costco, Safeway and Walmart existed and whilst Kroger was still a cash-and-carry grocer, there was King Kullen.

Founder of King Kullen
The entrepreneur behind the King Kullen story was Michael J Cullen – Cullen was an ex-employee of the Kroger Company (and before that he had worked for the famous Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, better known simply as A & P Tea). The manner by which Cullen came to start up his own supermarket chain is a classic story of turning rejection into a virtue. Cullen was managing a number of small Kroger stores in the late 1920s and identified a raft of improvements to the way Kroger did business that he believed, if implemented, would increase the company’s revenue tenfold. Cullen wrote to the Vice President of Kroger with his suggestions for a new, revolutionary type of dry goods/grocery store. In his letter Cullen envisaged “monstrous stores, size of same to be about forty feet wide and hundred and thirty to a hundred and sixty feet deep…located one to three blocks from the high rent district with plenty of parking space, and same to be operated as a semi-self-service store – twenty percent service and eighty percent self-service”, low prices and cash sales[1].

Kroger’s VP, whether through indifference, complacency or sheer lack of business nous, did not reply to his branch manager’s suggestions. Cullen, rebuffed but confident in the efficacy of his own store model, resigned from Kroger and set about realising the kind of new revolutionary grocery store he had envisaged. Settling his family in Long Island, Cullen found a vacant warehouse in Jamaica (Queens) with 6,000 square feet of space, which he chose as the optimal retail location. Cullen’s new store, which he dubbed “King Kullen”, opened its doors for business in August 1930[2].

King Kullen, Queens
Billing itself as the “World’s Greatest Price Wrecker”, King Kullen was an instant success in New York with its formula of high volume and low cost…KK’s slogan was “Pile it high, sell it low!” Customers were willing to travel up to 30 miles to the Queens store to cash in on the bargains[3]. The American Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Identified the contribution of King Kullen as “serv(ing) as a catalyst for a new age in food retailing” and the Long Island-based grocery company is widely thought to be the first example of the modern supermarket. King Kullen’s reputation as the prototype form of supermarket (or at the very least a strong candidate for being so) rests in part on the endorsement given it by the Smithsonian Institute…FMI in 1980 with funding from the Heinz Corporation) initiated research by the Smithsonian which concluded that King Kullen met its five-point criteria for a supermarket, viz. it provided separate departments for produce; it offered self-service; it offered discount pricing; it conducted chain marketing; and it dealt in high volume quantities[4].

Under Cullen’s leadership the supermarket chain grew exponentially…8 stores by 1932 (each new store bigger than the preceding one), 17 stores by 1936 with annual sales of $6 (this despite a climate of economic depression)[5]. To match the “belt-tightening” days of the Depression and deliver the lowest possible prices, Cullen took a “no frills” approach to his King Kullen stores – facilities were simple, service was minimal. Unexpectedly though, just as he was about to expand King Kullen nationally and into franchising, Cullen died suddenly in 1936, aged only 52 [6].

Cullen’s wife and children continued King Kullen after his death. In 1961 it was listed as a public company however the family retained a controlling interest. King Kullen, after going through a static period, not changing with the times, was revamped and modernised from 1969, growing the business to a total of 55 New York stores by 1983[7].

King Kullen eventually diversified into bakeries, delicatessens, florists, pharmacies and health products, in addition to its staple of produce lines. Today it maintains a modest but healthy market position in New York, operating a chain of supermarkets (around 35 in total) in the Long Island area, concentrated in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌
❈ Walmart in groceries and food sales are the overall dominant competitor in the market but its retail outlets tend to be hypermarkets rather than supermarkets

[1] ‘About King Kullen Supermarkets’, (King Kullen: America’s First Supermarket), www.kingkullen.com
[2] ‘King Kullen’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[3] ‘King Kullen Grocery Co., Inc. History’, (Funding Universe), www.fundinguniverse.com
[4] D Simionis [Ed], Inventors and Inventions, (2008);
Funding Universe, op.cit.
[5] King Kullen: America’s First Supermarket, loc.cit.
[6] ‘Michael J Cullen’, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[7] Funding Universe, op.cit.

A Revolutionary Retailer: Piggly Wiggly, Keedoozle and Foodelectric – Antecedents of the Modern Supermarket

Regional History, Retailing history, Society & Culture

In an episode of the 2012 series of The Hairy Bikers the English BMW-riding celebrity chefs from “Oop North” do a road trip through the gastronomical delights of America’s Mississippi River Valley. Whilst the two girth-challenged biker-chefs are in Memphis, Tennessee, to check out the local speciality of soul stew and fried chicken, they make a visit to a Piggly Wiggly store, or at least to a replica of the famous original store encapsulated in a local museum, formerly the pink palatial mansion (pictured above) of Piggly Wiggly’s founder.

Piggly Wiggly (established 1916) and its 1930s successor Keedoozle were the brainchild of businessman Clarence Saunders – these stores were thought to represent the first forays into self-service grocery retailing. Prior to Saunders’ innovation, grocery store customers (in a typical corner store) would line up with their grocery lists, the clerk would take their lists in turn and scoot around the store collecting the orders whilst the customers waited. When completed, the clerk would bag all their items, and then go on to the next customer. Saunders’ revolutionary self-serve idea was: customers enter the store through a turnstile, collect a shopping basket which they’d cart round the shelves selecting the items they want and then proceed to the checkout.

Piggly Wiggly’s foundation store ca 1916
For 100% self-service to work, the store’s layout of merchandise had to be completely rearranged. As Ashley Ross put it, “the products had to do the tempting”, the store owner had to draw the shopper’s attention to the merchandise. Candy and impulse items were strategically placed at the checkout where they would be easily noticed[1]. All items in the Piggly Wiggly (PW) store were price-marked for the shopper’s convenience, the clerks no longer required to do the fetching were freed up to keep the shelves stocked with dry goods and to assist customers. Another innovation, the shop attendants were issued with uniforms, as was the use of refrigerated cases[2]. Because PW operated on a high volume/low profit margin, lower costs were passed on to the customers. By drawing customers away from speciality retail stores the prices could be further lowered. PW Saunders’ self-serving store was the “supermarket franchise model” of the future, and as John Stanton (professor of the history of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University, Pennysylvania) noted, the PW merchandise model was basically “the origin of branding”[3].

Copycats of the self-serve template
Saunders’ self-service stores were an immediate success…by 1922 there were 1,200 stores across 29 US states, 10 years later this number had ballooned out to 2,660 stores[4]. PW’s financial bonanza (over $180m turnover by 1932) spawned numerous imitators in the US retail industry – Handy Andy, Helpy Selfy, Mick-or-Mack, Jitney Jungle – all operating under Saunders’ patent system earning him royalties[5]. Another of the rival chains won no commendations for subtlety or originality in calling its derivative store idea, Hoggly Woogly!

‘Sole Owner of My Name’
Saunders’ substantial wealth derived from PW received a blow when the company’s share price on the New York Stock Exchange bottomed out after a bear raid by market speculators. Consequently Saunders lost $3 million and was forced into bankruptcy in the 1920s❈, ending his involvement with the company. The ‘Piggly Wiggly’ brand still operates with over 600 stores in 17 states, but it has no connection with Saunders’ family or descendants. In 1928 Saunders started up a new grocery chain which he called the Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Stores…the business initially flourished, accumulating 675 stores⚀. However with the onset of the Great Depression it also went into bankruptcy in 1930[6].

Keedoozle vending machines 1948 (Source: Francis Miller/Life)
Keedoozle 1.0 and 2.0
The indefatigable Saunders was soon at it again, devising a new take on his idea of a revolutionary grocery enterprise. In 1937 this materialised with Keedoozle – the prototype of an automated store. The name apparently a contraction of “key-does-all”✾…it worked like this, upon entering the store customers received a key which they used to access the merchandise. The complicated sounding process involved taking the items and a ticker tape from glass-enclosed cases (resembling vending machines) to the cashier who inserted the tape into a “translator machine” which had a two-fold action: it triggered electrical impulses which transported the goods down a conveyor belt, and at the same time adding up the customer’s bill. The added benefit for the customer, apart from convenience and speed, Saunders claimed would be 10-15% cheaper prices than Keedoozle’s competitors[7].

In practice though, things didn’t go to plan. The electrical circuits couldn’t cope with the traffic during peak hours, there were breakdowns (unreliable machinery, high maintenance costs)…and delays (compounded by a tardy conveyor belt system). Customers regularly got someone else’s orders. In all Saunders had three attempts at getting the automated service right. In 1948 he came up with (another) new, ‘improved’ version of Keedoozle…again the re-launch was accompanied by Saunders’ penchant for extravagant claims[8]. Alas, this venture also met the same fate of the earlier projects, eventual bankruptcy.

Foodelectric
All of the grocery store projects that Saunders launched went pear-shaped in the end. One last hurray for the grocery pioneer was meant to be his Foodelectric concept. As heralded by Saunders, Foodelectric would take retail automation to another level – the customer would “act as her own cashier”, doing the collecting and wrapping of the purchases herself. According to Saunders, it would “cut overhead expenses and enable a small staff to handle a tremendous volume”. Saunders’ new innovation with Foodelectric was the “shopping brain”, a portable primitive computer which allows the shopper to select and despatch the items, whilst registering the prices on the computer window[9].

C Saunders, visionary grocer
Unfortunately Saunders died in 1953 before he could open the first Foodelectric store. The track records of Piggly Wiggly, Sole Owner Stores and especially Keedoozle were not stellar success stories in the world of retail grocery, the notion of triple-bankruptcy does not connote good business acumen. But Saunders was a visionary thinker-outside-the-box, his concepts and novelties in the field were decades ahead of their time…the Memphis grocer is remembered today for pioneering a nascent sales model of self-service which paved the way for the development of the modern supermarket.

PostScript: Piggly Wiggly or Alpha Beta?
PW’s and Saunders’ claim to being the originator of American self-serve stores could be contested by Alpha Beta a Southern Californian grocery chain which opened its doors in 1914 (two years before PW). Alpha Beta also experimented with self-service – goods in its stores were arranged alphabetically (hence the company’s name). Alpha Beta merged with American Stores in 1961 and by 1973 it could boast to having over 200 supermarkets in California (unlike PW though, AB remained a regional, Californian phenomena). After a further merger with Lucky Stores in 1988 the “Alpha Beta” brand name ceased to exist[10].

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
❈ also lost by Saunders due to his financial woes was the Georgian marble “pink palace” mansion, today the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and Planetarium which the Hairy Bikers visited on their American South culinary quest
⚀ Saunders established his own professional (American) football team to promote the new grocery venture, predictably the team was called the “Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Tigers”
✾ Saunders seems to contradict this explanation of the name’s origin in the ‘Life’ magazine article cited below

[1] A Ross, ‘The Surprising Way a Supermarket Changed the World’, Time, 09-Sep-2016, www.time.com
[2] B Saar, ” ‘Keedoozle’ evolving into swiping”, (The Hawk Eye), 03-Aug-2003, http://sparky.thehawkeye.com
[3] Ross, loc.cit.
[4] ‘Piggly Wiggly’, Wikipedia, http://wikipedia.org
[5] PH Nystrom, Economics of Retailing (1930), cited in ibid.
[6] ‘Clarence Saunders (Grocer)’, Wikipedia, http://wikipedia.org
[7] B Cosgrove, ‘We Hardly Knew Ye: Remembering America’s First Automated Grocery Keedoozle’, Time, 25-Aug-2014, www.time.com
[8] “In five years”, he boldly (and unwisely) asserted in 1948, “there will be a thousand Keedoozles throughout the U.S. selling $5 billion worth of goods” (in reality there was only ever three (Memphis) built between 1937 and 1949!), ‘Saunders is sure Keedoozle will build his third fortune’, Life, 3-Jan-1949; Cosgrove, ibid.
[9] Life, loc.cit.
[10] ‘A Quick History of the Supermarket’, Groceteria.com Exploring supermarket history, www.groceteria.com

Port Chicago 1944 – A Black and White Situation: The Naval Disaster

Military history, Racial politics, Regional History, Society & Culture

Progressive advocates and activists for a more just and equal society in the US view the Port Chicago❈ naval disaster and mutiny in July 1944 as a crucible for the cause of civil rights. African-American seamen, the majority still in their teens, revolted against the entrenched discriminatory practices they encountered in the Navy during WWII, and although vilified and punished by White authority at the time, their stand was to be a key factor in the eventual decision to abolish segregation in the US armed forces[1].

Devastation on the PC pier after the explosion
The catalyst for the subsequent ‘mutiny’ (as the Navy and White society generally characterised it – see also the follow up blog) was a catastrophic series of explosions whilst two naval carrier vessels were being loaded at the naval dock with ammunition for transportation to the Pacific theatre of war. The mega-blast killed 320 sailors and civilians (the bulk of the sailors were African-Americans), plus a further 390 personnel were injured❧. It was the worst home front disaster of WWII (the cost included nearly $9.9m worth of damage to dock, ships and buildings). The fireball engulfing the Port could be viewed from miles away, triggering a quake felt as far away as Boulder City, Nevada. Such was the force of the explosion that one 300lb chunk of steel was ‘cannonballed’ a distance of 1.5 miles, landing in the main street of the Port township[2].

The disproportionate toll of African-American enlisted men in the disaster was the result of the Navy assigning them to the most menial, labouring jobs as stevedores, basically “pack mules” loading the munitions. The Navy made casual racist assumptions about their ‘limited’ vocational capacity, despite the fact that at the Navy boot camp the black sailors had each completed specific training for one or other of the naval rating occupations[3].

Navy double standards
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Navy treated of the two groups of seamen involved markedly differently – the White officers and sailors were given a 30-day “survivor’s leave”, whereas all the Black sailors (despite being severely shaken and traumatised by the incident) were denied the leave – despite it being standard procedure in such instances. This proved a very sore point for the African-Americans at Port Chicago. African-American seamen enlisted in the US Navy, aside from motives of patriotism, for the promise of recognition as full American citizens – a chance to escape the South’s Jim Crow segregation policies or the North’s institutionalised “second citizenship”[4]. Unfortunately what they found, and Port Chicago was no exception to elsewhere in the military, was that they were still segregated and marginalised, despite the fact they were serving in the defence of their country.

Adding insult to injury: Compensation for African-American victims watered down
That the loss of Black lives in the Port Chicago catastrophe was of diminished importance in American society at the time was even more starkly underlined in the subject of restitution. The Navy asked for $5,000 to be paid to each of the families of the 203 dead African-American sailors. Extraordinarily, after a vigorous and forthright protest from Mississippi Democrat representative, John Rankin (a White Supremacist sympathiser) that the sum be reduced to $2,000, Congress caved in to his pressure and awarded the families $3,000 each[5] … a brazenly unequivocal acknowledgement from the authorities that Black lives in America at the time were not worth as much as White ones!

The Naval Board of Inquiry
The Inquiry into the explosion would give the surviving Black seamen (and the victims’ families) more cause for grievance. The report never established the cause of the disaster❖, but implied that an error by the enlisted men may have led to the explosions. As for the white officers and the base commander, they were all absolved of any blame for what happened[6]. The Naval Board effectively ‘white-washed’ the whole episode, choosing not to cast a critical eye over the glaring pre-conditions that contributed to the disaster. Both training and safety was lax at Port Chicago Naval Magazine. Deeply significantly, the Black assigned stevedores were not given instruction in ammunition loading. Training deficiencies were in fact common at Port Chicago – the White loading officers themselves had only minimal training in supervising enlisted personnel and in handling munitions. As well, the Port’s commander Captain Merrill Kinne himself had no training in the loading of munitions and very little experience in handling them[7].

Diagram of pier & the two cargo carriers prior to the explosion
Sowing the seeds of catastrophe
Safety requirements were not observed and unsafe practices abounded: there was a complacency about the maintenance of key operational equipment; safety regulations were not widely distributed for the staff to familiarise themselves with. The practice at Port Chicago was to force the stevedores, working around-the-clock, to load the explosive cargos[8] at a pace that would imperil safety – the rate was set at 10 short tons per hatch every hour (higher than commercial stevedores✾). Facility commander Kinne encouraged a climate of competitiveness between the different crews (which they called ‘divisions’) by keeping a tally of each crew’s hourly tonnage on a chalkboard … leading to the junior officers surreptitiously laying bets on which crew would win the “speed loading contests”[9].

PostScript: Was the explosion a nuclear detonation?
In the early 1980s investigative journalist Peter Vogel postulated the hypothesis that the explosion at Port Chicago was likely to have been a nuclear one. Vogel noted the continued secrecy surrounding the naval base site and pointed to the specific characteristics of the fireball (as described by eyewitness accounts) – a “brilliant flash of white” and the mushrooming effect of the explosion’s dispersion (ie, a Wilson condensation cloud). Vogel also asserted that the force of the actual blast was greater than the reported 1,780 tons of high explosives on board the two Liberty carriers (E.A. Bryan and Quinault)[10].

Whilst Vogel’s theory would hold obvious appeal for conspiracy theorists, it has been not gained traction among historians. Its detractors, especially nuclear historians Badash and Hewlett, point to Vogel’s lack of hard evidence to support his claim, and his inability to explain why the US Government would want to detonate a nuclear device on populated home soil. Badash and Hewlett have noted in particular the absence of any residual radioactivity and resultant harm to the local community – which suggests that only conventional weaponry was involved[11].

______________________________________________________________________
❈ the town of Port Chicago, now called Concord, is located about 30 miles north of San Francisco on the Sacramento River
❧ toll for Black Navy servicemen: 203 dead, 233 injured – representing 15% of all African-American casualties for the entire war
❖ it was a bad time for the Navy, PR wise. Just two months prior to the Port Chicago disaster, another calamitous explosion at West Loch (Pearl Harbour) resulted in the death of 163 seamen and hundreds injured … and like Port Chicago the disaster remained unexplained
✾ the quota set on the main base at Mare Island for instance was only 8.7

[1] President Truman’s 1948 Executive order officially desegregating the American armed forced, United States of America Congressional Record (106th Congress), Vol 146-Part 4 (April 3, 2000 to April 25, 2000)
[2] 430 miles to the south, ‘Port Chicago Mutiny (1944)’, www.blackpast.org; ‘Port Chicago disaster’, Wikipedia, http://Wikipedia.en.m.wikipedia.org; ‘A Chronology of African American Military Service. From WWI through WWII.’ (U.S. Army, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. History), www.redstone.army.mil/history/integrate/chron36.htm
[3] RL Allen, The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History, (1989)
[4] ibid.
[5] M Moorehead, ‘The Port a Chicago Mutiny’, (Workers World), Feb 1995, www.hartford-hwp.com
[6] Allen, op.cit.
[7] ibid.
[8] The White officers used wilful deception to gain acquiescence, lying to the Black loaders as to the inherent dangers of the work – telling them the ammunition was not live which was catastrophically wrong, I Thompson, ‘Mare Island mutiny court-martial changed Navy racial policies, Daily Republic (Solano County), 23-Feb-2014, www.dailyrepublic.com
[9] Allen, loc.cit.
[10] Vogel, P (1982). THE LAST WAVE FROM PORT CHICAGO. The Black Scholar, 13(2/3), 30-47. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41066881
[11] L Badash & RG Hewlett, cited in ‘Port Chicago disaster’, Wikipedia, op.cit.

Port Chicago 1944 – A Black and White Situation: The Naval Mutiny and its Ramifications

Military history, Racial politics, Retailing history, Society & Culture

San Francisco Bay
On 17th July 1944 a catastrophically massive explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California resulted in the loss of 320 lives, the majority African-American sailors. Less than four weeks after the worst wartime disaster on American home soil, the Navy, without regard for the sensitivity of the situation, instructed the surviving Black sailors to resume loading munitions onto the USS Sangay standing at the dock. 258 of them refused, contending that the conditions at the dock being still unsafe, and commenced a work stoppage. Threatened with court-martial (and a possible death penalty) 208 of the sailors eventually backed down. The navy authorities subsequently took punitive measures against these seamen (forfeiture of pay, pension entitlements curtailed) and they were eventually returned to service elsewhere[1].

The remaining 50 were charged by the Navy with mutiny. The defence counsel and the African-American men themselves denied this charge all through the proceedings, arguing that at no time were they attempting to seize control from the frontline commanders or overthrow the authority of the Navy (as argued by the prosecution team), but were refusing to work in what was clearly an unsafe environment, a protest against their being used as “guinea pigs”[2]. As Robert Allen explained, the mutiny charge was levelled against the defendants because the rightful description of what they were doing, striking against deleterious working conditions, only applied to the civilian sphere[3].

The trial of the “Port Chicago 50”
A court-martial was arraigned to be held on the Navy’s administrative facility at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. The conduct of the trial was a travesty of equality before the law for the African-American servicemen involved … the accused black sailors were ridiculed as ‘primitive’ in their intellectual abilities, and “unreliable, emotional, lack(ing) capacity to understand or remember orders or instructions” (as the official ‘Finding of Facts’ stated[4]. The court hearings disintegrated into a shambles at times, eg, the judge fell asleep during the testimonies. After a six-week trial and a deliberation of only 60 minutes, a verdict was reached with unseemly haste – all 50 of the accused were found guilty of mutiny. The 50 convicted seamen were sentenced to between eight and 15 years imprisonment with hard labour as well as being on the receiving end of dishonourable discharges from the Navy[5].

Treasure Island court-martial site
One keen observer who attended the day-to-day court proceedings was NAACP❈’s Thurgood Marshall (later to become the first African-American judge of the US Supreme Court). Marshall was publicly critical of the trial, announcing: “This is not 50 men on trial for mutiny. This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy towards Negros. Negroes in the Navy don’t mind loading ammunition. They just want to know why they are the only ones doing the loading!”[6]. In 1945 the NAACP produced a pamphlet entitled ‘Mutiny? The Real Story of How the Navy Branded 50 Fear-shocked Sailors as Mutineers’. Marshall and the NAACP focussed the issue very squarely on the racial dimension … the treatment of the convicted men was symptomatic of a broader pattern of discrimination by the Navy against African-Americans – by mid-1943 there were 100,000 Black men serving in the Navy, but not a single Black officer among them[7]. Marshall organised an appeal on behalf of the 50 prisoners, however in June 1945 the original verdict was reaffirmed by the naval authorities.

Aftermath and consequences of the mutiny trial
The Port Chicago mutiny had an immediate punitive outcome for the 50 Black sailors who were prosecuted, but in the long run it was a Pyrrhic victory for scientific (sic) racists and White supremacists (covert and overt) both inside and outside the military. The whole episode served to raise national consciousness about practices of racial discrimination within the US military forces. And it was to prove a catalyst and inspiration for the postwar Civil Rights movement[8]. For the Navy the ramifications of Port Chicago made itself felt in short time. By the end of the World War the Navy had, in piecemeal fashion, initiated its own reforms of discriminatory practices, anticipating President Truman’s official decreeing of desegregation of the American armed forces – which did not come into law until 1948. With the world war over the Navy found it untenable to justify the continuing incarceration of the Port Chicago 50 … in January 1946 all of the men were released and assigned to other details overseas. Significantly though, none received pardons for their ‘crimes’, the convictions remained on the books[9].

A dangerous job for White servicemen!
The Port Chicago episode – a closed book reopened?
As Erika Doss has noted, “for decades the full story of the Port Chicago disaster of July 1944 was declared “classified” information and rendered virtually absent from historical narratives of the “good war”[10]. The egregious treatment of African-American seamen remained an inconvenient chapter in America’s war history, one best forgotten (Port Chicago’s subsequent name change seems intended to support this objective of burying the thorny facts of the episode).

By the 1990s the whole shameful business had started to become more openly addressed … in 1994 a memorial to the Port Chicago 50 was created on the former base’s site. But in the same year these good intentions were turned on their head by a fresh Navy inquiry which found (unbelievably) that race was not a factor in the 1944 court case – a finding that would not be out-of-place in the annals of the “Flat Earth Society”!

A number of the convicted African-Americans then still alive agitated for a just resolution, a reversal of the wrongs perpetrated against them. One of “the 50”, Freddie Meeks was talked into requesting a pardon which was finally granted in 1999 by President Clinton[11]. However five others including Joe Small refused to request the same, steadfastly insisting that as they had committed no criminal act, they was no question of seeking a pardon.

PostScript: High hopes for justice with Obama
The continued denial of justice for the Port Chicago 50 led it to become a cause célèbre in the US. This remains the case in 2017 despite the fact that all of the convicted African-American sailors are now dead. Their relatives were among those calling on the Black president, Barack Obama, to exonerate “the 50” and overturn their verdicts. Disappointingly, Obama’s outgoing powers of presidential pardon, recently enacted, did not include any of the Port Chicago 50 in its number – though this was more to do with the Obama administration’s inability to find a legal mechanism to make this a reality, rather than any lack of will on the part of the president[12].

﹌﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹋﹌﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹌﹋﹋﹌﹋﹌﹌
❈ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

[1] ‘Port Chicago mutiny’, Wikipedia, http://en.m.wikipedia.org
[2] Joe Small, one of the survivors of the disaster and labelled as a ‘ringleader’ by the Navy, summed up the position taken by the 50 defendants,
“(we) weren’t trying to shirk work. But to go back to work under the same conditions, with no improvements, no change, the same group of officers…we thought there was a better alternative”, E Doss, “Commemorating the Port Chicago Naval Magazine Disaster of 1944: Remembering the Racial Injustices of the ‘Good War’ in Contemporary America’, American Studies Journal, Number 59 (2015), www.asjournal.org
[3] B Bergman, “War, ‘mutiny’ and civil rights: Remembering Port Chicago”, Berkeley News, 10-Jul-2014, www.berkeley.edu
[4] A Gustafson, ‘The Port Chicago Disaster: Race and the Navy in World War II’, (Turnstile Tours), 29-Aug-2014, www.turnstiletours.com
[5] Bergman, loc.cit.
[6] Marshall, quoted in NA Hamilton, ‘Rebels and Renegades: A Chronology of Social and Political Dissent in the United States’, (2002)
[7] Doss, loc.cit.
[8] ibid.
[9] US Secretary of the Navy James V Forrestal and Admiral Ernest King, working together, were instrumental in getting the wheels of integration in the Navy going forward, S Sundin, ‘Port Chicago – Desegregation of the US Navy’, (Sarah’s Blog), 28-Jul-2014, www.sarahsundin.com
[10] Doss, op.cit.
[11] C Nolte, ‘Clinton Pardons Wartime ‘Mutineer’ / Port Chicago black sailor of 50 in infamous case’, (SFGate), 24-Dec-1999, wwwsfgate.com
[12] ‘Full list: Obama pardons these 78 people, shortens 153 prisoners’ sentences’, (Pix 11), 19-Dec-2016, www.pix11.com

John Clarke, A Satirist for All (Australian) Seasons: To Daggdom and Beyond

Biographical, Cinema, Media & Communications, Performing arts, Popular Culture, Society & Culture, Sport

John Clarke: Trail-blazing Parodist, Lodestar, Daggstar

John Morrison Clarke died, most unexpectedly, in the Victorian wilderness a day-and-a-half ago. An ordinary looking man with an ordinary (unremarkable and yet distinctive) voice, but an ‘Everyman’ with a towering gift for communicating parody and travesty!

John Clarke, born and raised in Palmerston North, New Zealand, but domicile in Melbourne, Australia, for the last 40 years, was a uniquely talented satirist, TV comedian, comic writer and actor. The word ‘genius’ gets carelessly tossed around way too much these days, but in appraising the oeuvre of Mr John Clarke it finds a true home.

Whilst in New Zealand Clarke developed and refined the character of Fred Dagg, a stereotypical, blunt-speaking farmer from the North Island, with long straggly hair and perpetually clad in a black singlet and gumboots. Fred Dagg got Clark’s idiosyncratic brand of humour into the spotlight of New Zealand television. By 1977 Clark had outgrown both NZ and (so it seemed) Fred Dagg and moved to the bigger canvas of Australia❈. Clarke wasn’t quite done with Fred Dagg – in Australia Fred resurfaced as a real estate ‘expert’ with his guide for would-be home buyers providing the “good oil” on avoiding the pitfalls inherent in the spiel of property agents – as the following “bullshit-busting” sampler of his trenchant wit testifies:

A “cottage” is a caravan with the wheels taken off.

“Genuine reason for selling” means the house is for sale.

“Rarely can we offer” means the house is for sale.

“Superbly presented delightful charmer” doesn’t mean anything really, but it’s probably still for sale.

“Privacy, taste, charm, space, freedom, quiet, away from it all location in much sought-after cul-de-sac situation” means that it’s not only built down a hole, it’s built at the very far end of the hole.

“A panoramic, breathtaking, or magnificent view” is an indication that the house has windows, and if the view is “unique”, there’s probably only one window.

Fred Dagg AKA John Clarke was no admirer of the realty and property game and the proclivity of estate agents to be “fast and loose with the truth”, and he gave us the following memorable job description of what they really do:

“The function of the agent basically is to add to the price of the article without actually producing anything”.

(and how to recognise a real estate agent)
“If you’ve got gold teeth and laugh-lines around your pockets, you’re through to the semis without dropping a set”.

There was so much to the creative output of Clarke comma J, and so much variety too … screenplays, film acting, radio, stage work, television, songs, books. Clarke’s art didn’t fit into any one particular mould, he was, to use Martin Luther’s expression, an “irregular planet”, always inventing, moving on and reinventing, exploring something new that had piqued his interest.

My personal favourite John Clarke nugget of gold is the Complete Book of Australian Verse⌖. These are a series of recordings in which Clarke audaciously and imaginatively reinvented the “Canon of Great British Poets”, relocating it to regional and outback Australia. Clarke ‘discovered’ the existence of an Aussie poet “laureate-hood” comprising “dinky-di” Australian poetry ‘greats’ with names like ‘Shagger’ Tennyson, ‘Stumpy’ Byron V.C, ‘Gavin’ Milton and “Fifteen Bobsworth” Longfellow⊛.

Clarke’s sublime riff on these fictional masters of Australian poetry is incisively, deeply humorous, and both wise and pretentious-sounding at the same time! Absurdly funny stuff, especially when uttered in John’s wonderful flat, disinterested, monotone voice (“he was sentenced to three years jail for insulting a lobster in a Sydney restaurant”) … Clarke’s clinical dissection of Leader of the Opposition John Howard, to paraphrase playwright Simon Gray, “made me laugh so much that I was prepared to overlook its cruelty” – the poem entreating the future PM to change his vocation:

‘To a Howard’ by Rabbi Burns
Wee, sleekit, cowerin, tim’rous beastie,
I know tha’s probably doing thy bestie,
…………………….
Thou’ll try wi’ th’ gunnery up at the range,
Thou’ll no have much truible, thou’ve dun it afore,
Thou’s an expert for a’ that; look, ‘Wanted: Small Bore’.

With ‘A Child’s Christmas in Warrnambool’ Clarke produces a poetic tour de force by turning Dylan Thomas’ classic winter-scene ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ on it’s head, transforming it into a children’s nostalgic celebration of Australian summers past:

“The smell of insect repellant and eucalyptus and the distant constant bang of the flywire door”/”the fridge of imperishable memory”/”the wide brown bee-humming trout-fit sheep-rich two-horse country”/”some middle-order nephew skipping down the vowel-flattening pitch and putting the ball into the tent-flaps on the first bounce of puberty”.

The Complete Verse‘s eclectic compilation includes a coruscating if excruciating piece by “Sylvia Blath” which is both riotously funny and disturbingly harrowing at the same time. Clarke weaves into the poem Sylvia’s harangue of her dead father who “danced upon my cradle, as I Annexed the Sedatenland” and ends with an unexpected and wicked twist (a crossed-line channelling of Germaine Greer!!!): “Daddy Daddy I’m through, Hello? Germaine … I can hardly hear you, This is a very bad line.”

Since the 1990s Clarke had been an on-screen constant feature with his famous series of mock political interviews (“two-handers” with Bryan Dawe as the straight-man ‘innocently’ asking questions which were fodder for Clarke’s witty retorts) … the one-liners just rolling off Clarke’s golden and acerbic tongue, skewing high-profile politicians left, right and centre:

(pricking at the bluster of an overbearing state premier)
“I’m not interested in doing the most intelligent thing … I’m JEFF KENNETT!

Prime Minister Hawke’s robust and over-enthusiastic response to the question of how fit he was after a recent op:
(so fit that)
“I’m a danger to shipping!”

Clarke was a wordsmith that other satirists and comic writers in Australasia must have looked at with a mixture of admiration and envy … he simply had such a razor-sharp, punchy, economical and hilarious way with words.

And there was much more to John Clarke’s stellar CV – such as his ‘invention’ of the ‘sport’ of farnarkeling for The Gillies Report, and not to forget the manifold brilliant riffs on finance, business, the economy, the public service and the environment (“the front fell off (and) we towed the ship outside the environment”). Clarke was a trail-blazer in television comedy … his “on the money” take on the crazy, shambolic world of Olympics bureaucracy The Games was a template for other later projects which explored the thorny terrain of corporations and officialdom (such as Utopia) and it informed the BBC’s contribution to the 2012 London Olympics campaign.

John Clarke’s sudden, most untimely death leaves a Sydney Opera House-sized hole in Australian and New Zealand satire – and I shall never forget that voice – as with Billy Bragg’s, so distinctive, and as with Joe (Dragnet) Friday’s, so deadpan matter-of-fact … or his trademark mischievous grin and the sparkle in the eyes.

⚜⚜⚜
Vale John Clarke … thank you for entertaining and delighting us for so long and enriching the lives of so many people all the way from Palmerston North to Perth. John’s song lyrics were wrong in one respect … there are countless people in the two Trans-Tasman countries that he lived and worked in who do know “how lucky” they were to have him, albeit for too short a time✥.

╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼╾╼
❈ his unusual accent didn’t really fit the clipped English speech pattern of “Nu Zillunders” anyway
⌖ the success of which was followed up by the Even More Complete Book of Australian Verse
⊛ other Oz poet-luminaries include b.b.hummings, TS (Tabby Serious) Eliot, Ewen Coleridge, Ted Lear and many more
✥ one of the incomparable Fred Dagg’s best-known songs was entitled ‘We don’t know how lucky we are’

Modern Genetic Science: A New Pathway to a Eugenic World?

Futurism, Racial politics, Science and society, Society & Culture

Today hardly anyone advocates the ideology and practice of eugenics, not openly anyway and certainly not using the prejudicial language of the past. Which is not to say that the notion of eugenics is a buried and long-forgotten relic❈. The vocabulary of human biology and biotechnology these days is about human gene editing, genetic engineering, genetic modification, genetic enhancement, germline gene experimentation, gene therapy, the human genome, sociobiology, reprogenetics, a Brave New World of molecular cloning, “saviour siblings”, “donor eggs” and “designer babies”.

DNA
The scientists and technocrats who enthuse about scientific progress and future technology and in particular genetic engineering[1], tend to be “gung-ho” about the desirability of genetic intervention in human life which they see as an inevitable process◙. To them it equates with and even defines progress – the curative and preventative promise of medical genetics is for breakthroughs in a host of life-threatening diseases.

Designing a better baby?
For many geneticists and parents, the latent capabilities of human genetic engineering (HGE) is an enticing prospect, a chance for the realisation of new medical therapies to prevent and treat the multitude of diseases that plague contemporary society[2]. Put in these terms, something akin to a “motherhood statement”, few would at least in principle find grounds for objection. Naturally the vast majority of parents wish for a better future for their offspring and descendants, so leaving affordability aside for a moment, using biotechnology to eliminate the risks of genetic disease would appear to have broad community if not quite universal support. But as shown below, when you take a step beyond the fixing of genetic disorders and try to use that advanced science to augment your children’s physical or intellectual attributes it opens up a myriad of complex and perplexing dilemmas, both ethical and medical.

A world of environmental, manufacturing and agricultural panaceas
Aside from the controversial question of genetic manipulation there is already a range of successful genetic applications in society. There is the environmental role – genetically engineered bacterium can and is used to clean up oil spills (and for creating insulin to treat diabetics). Genetic science can reduce the human footprint on the environment. With the population of the globe predicted to rise by 2.4 billion in the next 34 yearsΔ, its advocates argue that biotechnology and genetic engineering can help address the inevitable and critical world food shortage … growing new crops and effecting pest control of existing food sources[3].

Pre-natal counselling and screening of foetal abnormalities
Pre-natal screening for embryo defects like Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 (Edward’s disease) and spina bifida, has a seductive lure for parental planners, these are already commonplace procedures for mothers in advanced societies. Human geneticists trumpet this as a boon to parental choice, allowing the family to produce a baby free of life-threatening and restricting conditions. Preimplantation genetic screening takes this a step further.

imageThe snowballing effect of genetic screening
IVF technology enables the screening of embryos for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease or Tay-Sachs disease … many view this as the start of a continuum which could usher in an “era of designer babies”[4]. The market in this area has created a consumer-driven demand for “eugenic services”. IVF testing for mitochondrial DHA has been exponential … in 2011 there were 580,000 medical genetic tests in Australia, a 280% jump on the 2006 figure![5]. Currently we test for Down syndrome and similar defects, next might be Parkinson’s disease, beyond that? If given the green light there is potentially no end in sight … will they test with a view to eradicating autism? Down the track it might be dwarfism, even homosexuality?[6]. This may sound alarmist to some, but unchecked, it is plausible that gene tampering could ultimately infiltrate these areas.

This is the perspective of many detractors of genetic testing who question what the limits are and even if there are any limits to the relentless juggernaut of genetic research and experimentation. Some opponents of screening for genetic defects have described its ultimate purpose as “race cleansing”, echoing the fanatical purification goals of the discredited eugenics movements of the past. Human geneticists for their part proffer the reassurance that HGE has built-in safeguards that prevent excesses from occurring, that the entire process is highly regulated and intensely scrutinised to precisely stop it going too far[7]. Opponents refute this, highlighting the dangers and uncertainties of risky human experimentation … unpredictable effects of gene transfer, the effects of gene insertion on other genes, the chance of off-target mutations (unintentional edits to genomes such as occurred in recent Chinese CRISPR-Cas9 experiments on the genome), and other unknowns, all not properly understood at this time[8].

Genetic enhancement and the danger of a perfectibility fixation
Genetic engineering to detect embryonic abnormalities and erase them is widely accepted in the West, genetic enhancement (practiced as a matter of course in agriculture) for humans remains a much harder sell. Genetically modifying your future child to prevent, say, a detected autoimmune disease, is one thing, but screening with the purpose of altering your child’s appearance, eye colour, etc, making him or her taller, more intelligent, more athletic, etc. … the imperative of achieving a Stepford Wives world of perfectibility could take over. This would propel medical genetics into a whole different realm, a techno-eugenic future fraught with menace and worrying ethical implications[9].

The ethical or moral dimension
Ethical or moral objectors to HGE seem to divide along religious and non-religious lines. Many professing a religious faith argue that the practice runs counter to the “will of God”, whilst those of a secular disposition might view it as “tinkering with nature”. The genetic engineering detractors argue that humans are inviolable, endowed with individual rights, and that such interventions are unnatural and trample all over those rights[10]. Some academics with an interest in science ethics however dispute the merit of the ‘naturalness’ argument[11].

Geneticists and biotechnologists would characterise a call for a blanket ban on human genetic experimentation as a conservative, “knee-jerk” reaction which seeks to close off the door to scientific inquiry and medical advancement, but the obverse, an open slather, unchecked approach to genetic intervention seems an imprudent one, given the unknown consequences of gene editing and of venturing too deeply into a genetic minefield that is almost certainly irreversible.

imageConcerns with non-therapeutic abuse in genetics has a wide ambit: another peripheral issue pointing to likely future genetic manipulation lies in the realm of sport, an area already plagued by the increasingly widespread use of steroids for performance enhancement. The development of gene therapy has elevated the disturbing likelihood of gene doping – inserting or modifying DNA for the purpose of enhancing the performance of athletes. Gene doping is still in an experimental phase but is particularly concerning both to doctors and to Olympic administrators because it is hard to detect and it’s nature is unpredictable and potentially dangerous[12].

imageWhilst the possibility of misuse and harm of gene editing technology is a barrier for many, others opposing genetic manipulation from a humanist viewpoint and have called out the human genetics industry for discriminating against and undermining the dignity of the disabled and the mentally ill. Opponents say that there is a common element at the core of both eugenics and human genetic engineering – the devaluing of (some) human life. Contemporary geneticists, they say, start from the same philosophical standpoint as the old-style eugenicists: a view of the disabled and other “genetically challenged” people that is essentially negative and pessimistic, conveying the idea that they are extraneous and to be done away with. Many critics see these advocates of HGE as intolerant of those with genetic impairment, refusing to accept the disabled in particular for how they are (which is part of the diversity of the human condition)[13]. These detractors believe that the normalisation of human genetic modification would lead to an erosion of respect for the disabled.

A fundamental shift in the parent/child relationship?
Another objection to human gene policy revolves around its perceived adverse effect on the traditional bond between child and parent. Brendan Foht, from a conservative perspective, has hypothesised that in a situation where parents decide to dip into the gene pool to create the kind of offspring they want, the child becomes a product of his or her parents’ desires and wishes … their acceptance of and love for the child is provisional upon the child stacking up to that ‘wish-list’. This, Foht points out, upturns the optimal relationship in which the child is the beneficiary of his or her parents’ unconditional love[14].

Some opposed to the genetic engineering of humans have emphasised the absence of consent by future descendants, ie, the ethical issues raised by “altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent” (Francis Collins, US National Institute of Health). This objection has been dismissed as a nonsense by John Harris who contends that parents “have literally no choice but to make decisions for future people without considering their consent”, this happens every day, without it life would not function properly [15].

Proponents of HGE have made attempts to salvage the reputation of the new eugenics, eg, Nicholas Agar’s concept of Liberal eugenics which leaves the decision to the consumer (ie, the parents) rather than to public health authorities, thus avoiding (argues Agar) the repugnant consequences of past eugenics practices. But as Robert Sparrow has noted, any emphasis “on pre-determined genetics of future persons leads to assumptions about the relative worth of different life plans”[16].

The politics and economics of HME
Some opponents of HGE have focussed on the political and economic element: their argument runs, if genetic engineering was given free rein to intervene into the human sphere, the result would be free market eugenics, so that access to genetic modification or enhancement would come down to the ability to pay and inequalities within society would exacerbate. The fear is that in this scenario the elites of society would have a monopoly of both biological and financial control[17].

imageThe thorny issue of genetic engineering of humans, especially with its uncomfortable link with the pernicious effects of the eugenics movement of last century, remains a highly controversial one. Scientific advancements in biotechnology has created a receptive market for genetic screening for defective embryos, but the genetic enhancement of humans, with its Frankenstein-ish overtones, remains a bridge too far for most people in western democracies✥.

PostScript: Genetic Enhancement – Ask an expert
In December 2015 Washington DC hosted the ‘International Summit on Human Gene Editing’ in which scientists, bioethicists and other stakeholders from the US, the UK and China debated issues around the use of the human gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. The summit’s committee adopted a “precautionary principle” re the technology and resolved to avoid any unknown, unintended consequences. It acknowledged the value of CRISPR gene editing research as an aiding the knowledge of basic biology but advocated a cautious approach in its utilisation. It called for more research to be completed on the technology before any more ambitious applications were considered[18]. To date 40 countries have rejected human germline modification using gametes (genetically altered embryos)[19].

﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌﹌
❈ which is not to say that there is no one today who advocates eugenics, eg, some elements of contemporary society couch their ideology in terms like ‘humanitarian’ eugenics, see ‘Future Generations’ (www.eugenics.net) which reproduces the work of pro-eugenics scientists such as Richard Lynn and Philippe Rushton. Similar sentiments are also apparent in the published work of Helmuth Nyborg
◙ this is at the core of the transhumanism philosophy, the belief that “the human species in its current form does not represent the end of (it’s) development”, and posits that continuous, radical change in science and technology will lead to that future (‘What is Transhumanism?’, www.whatistranshumanism.org)
Δ according to a 2015 United Nations DESA report
cloning in particular remains the greatest taboo in medical genetics. A recent Pew study in the US found that the overwhelming number of its respondents oppose brain chip implants; surveys and polls in various western countries over the last 25 to 30 years have echoed this rejection of human cloning, G O Schaefer, ‘The future of Genetic Engineering is not in the West’, The Conversation, 2-Aug-2016, www.theconversation.com

[1] the science of altering living things by changing the information encoded in their DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), ‘Genetic Engineering’, (A Guide to the Future by Christopher Barnett), www.explainigthefuture.com
[2] human germline editing will decrease and even eliminate many serious genetic diseases, reducing human suffering worldwide, (Emeritus Prof. Harris), J Harris, ‘Pro: Research on Gene Editing in Humans must continue’, in ‘Pro and Con: Should Gene Editing be Performed on Human Embryos?’, National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com
[3] D Koepsell, ‘The Ethics of Genetic Engineering’ (A position paper from the Center for Inquiry, Office of Public Policy, Washington D.C.) August 2007, www.centerforinquiry.net
[4] F Nelson, ‘The return of eugenics’, The Spectator, 02-Apr-2016, www.thespectator.com.au
[5] S Saulter, ‘Trusting the Future? Ethics of Human Genetic Modification’ (Op-Ed), 6-May-2014, Live Science, www.livescience.com; R Gebelhoff, ‘What’s the difference between genetic engineering and eugenics?’, Washington Post, 22-Feb-2016, www.washingtonpost.com
[6] it is a matter of trust, their argument runs, Saulter, loc.cit. Proponents place much faith in the new, cutting edge gene-editing technology, CRIPR-Cas9, which is reputed to have a lower error rate than other technologies
[7] ‘Q & A about Techno-eugenics’, (HG Alert), www.hgalert.org; B P Foht, ‘The Case against HG Editing’, Nation Review, 4-Dec-2015, www.nationreview.com
[8] M Darnovsky, ‘Con: Do Not Open the Door to Editing Genes in Future Humans’ in ‘Pro and Con’, op.cit.; HG Alert, loc.cit.
[9] Moreover opponents of HGE see such modifications as unnecessary, C J Epstein, ‘Is medical genetics the new eugenics?’, Genetics in Medicine, (2003) 5, www.nature.com. A 36-nation survey by D C Wertz in the 1990s found that both patients and health care professionals held a pessimistic view of the disabled, D C Wertz, ‘Eugenics is alive and well: a survey of genetic professionals around the world’, Sci Context, 1998 Aut-Wint. 11(3-4), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
[10] HG Alert, loc.cit.
[11] Prof. Harris contends that what is ‘natural’ is not inherently good, diseases for example are natural with millions dying prematurely from them. Gene editing therapies, he says, could prevent these illnesses and deaths, Harris, op.cit.
[12] L A Pray, ‘Sport, Gene Doping, and WADA’, Scitable Mobile, (2008), www.nature.com; T Franks, ‘Gene doping: Sport’s biggest battle?’, BBC News, 12-Jan-2014, www.bbc.com
[13] HG Alert, loc.cit.
[14] Foht, op.cit.
[15] Harris, loc.cit.
[16] R Sparrow, ‘Liberalism and eugenics’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 89(3) 2011, www.philpapers.org
[17] David Koepsell has speculated that a monopolisation of power and wealth on the mechanisms of genetics could eventuate in a science fiction-esque future in which the human race is divided into two species, comprising ‘super-humans’ and ‘sub-humans’, Koepsell, op.cit.
[18] it concluded that editing the human germline would be ‘irresponsible’ without resolving the safety and efficacy issues, and without obtaining a “broad social consensus” on the technology’s use, T Lewis, ‘Hundreds of scientists just met in DC and had heated discussions about whether or not they should alter genes in human babies’, Business Insider Australia, 5-Dec-2015, www.businessinsider.com.au
[19] Darnovsky, loc.cit.