EDITORIAL: Ars Notoria is a stone in the water …

… and we are going to make a splash!


It is fun to throw a stone into a pond and watch the ripples; to post an article on the Internet and then to see echoes of it later on – usually without any attribution. People find out about the subjects that interest them through the prosthetic omniscience that the web offers and they reconstitute what they find into something else, adding something of their own – let’s call the result knowledge.

Occasionally, someone might lift your whole article and republish it under another name. This happened to me once after I wrote a speculative article on Dyson Spheres and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – without knowing much about either subject.

SETI had carried out a search for Dyson Spheres in the 80s. They only found 14 candidates and SETI thought they could rule out all of them but two. That amazed me. Really? Did that mean they had actually discovered two Dyson Spheres?

The academics I worked with were angry about the Internet. They thought it was a disreputable mess.

If you typed ‘Dyson Sphere’ into Google two weeks later, you would have found my article right at the top of all searches, but published by The Daily Galaxy and without my byline.  My own post appeared three links below. The article was republished on many sites. Here’s an extract:

Dyson’s thought experiment suggested that in our search for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that Instead of radio signals we should look for spheres, which are artificial mega structures that enclose the orbit of a star, fabricated from the material of that solar system. The Dyson sphere is the marker of what Kardashev calls a Type 2 civilization, which is capable of using up all the energy produced by a star. A Type three civilization uses up all the energy produced by a galaxy.

I was blogging for the Guardian and punching above my weight. This was my party trick: I would go to my friends and colleagues, Tony, Paul and Mark, and tell them that I had just written an article. Within a few minutes we would check. Almost invariably a link to the article appeared on the first page of Google, even when using a broad search term.

This spooked me. It made me feel uncertain about the value of what I was doing. I did not like it. Why?

Useful stuff and the popular guff rose to the top. The well referenced, quality entries stayed in the background.

Well, I had worked as a consultant to different universities in Mexico in the second half of the 90s helping them with setting up their computer language labs so that they could save money on teachers. The academics I worked with were angry about the new born Internet. They thought it was a disreputable mess.

The rector of one university told me that his organisation was part of a project to link up into the World Wide Web mark 2.0.

Version 2.0 of the Web would be carefully controlled by governments, local town councils, companies, NGOs, technical institutes, universities, libraries and schools. It would retrieve reliable, quality information on Dyson Spheres, not a short article written by a lover of science fiction novels.

The philistines had usurped the librarians. In 1989 my wife was studying hard for an Msc in Information and Library science at UCL. One of the courses included exercises on how to use Boolean logic when carrying out searches on online library databases.

The Internet sure put the kibosh on that. They closed down the library school at UCL a long time ago.

AskSam in 1987

A friend gave me a copy of a textbase called AskSam – few remember it now. With AskSam, you didn’t need to organise information for retrieval, you just had to add tags and the searches themselves organised the information.

When Google appeared it seemed to me that it worked like AskSam. The information wasn’t structured for retrieval with the help of experts in information science. Useful stuff and the popular guff rose to the top. The well referenced, quality entries stayed in the background.

So, I packed away my blogs and went off to Facebook and I am not all that happy with Facebook

Librarians were online from the beginning, living in the interstices, and ignored.

Google Scholar and other academic search engines came along and the situation improved – a little. Then people started using the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number and our librarians were back in business.

I had the chutzpah to give one of my last talks at my previous employer on the subject of DOI. It was broadcast system wide and I called it DOI: The Librarians’ Revenge.

After the experience of having my (plagiarised) article go viral in 2008 and after seeing my posts shoot straight up to the top of Google between 2008 and 2009, I decided to stop.

Imagine some poor soul wanting to find out about Dyson Spheres and getting my article instead. What I was doing was a betrayal of the idea of knowledge as illumination, a betrayal of the librarians I support and, in one case, love.

I blogged for the Guardian until I got up their nose.

That was the same time I had a very unpleasant experience with The Guardian.

I wrote an article in defense of Jacob Zuma (who actually did deserve more respect than he got) and the editors dropped me. Yes, my political line didn’t fit theirs, yes my writing was awful and yes, unfortunately, I was a rather hectoring presence. All the same, the snub hurt.

So, I packed away my blogs and went off to Facebook and I am not all that happy with Facebook either. At Facebook they outsource the moderation. At Facebook they employ moderators from all over the world and pay them as little as possible.

Try and share an article you have written more than eight times in different Facebook groups and these tired moderators sitting in a room somewhere far away will put you on the naughty step. But you can’t avoid Facebook. It’s like the telephone; we use it to stay in touch, don’t we?

The old Ars Notoria, packed away in 2009

Ars Notoria was one of the blogs I packed away in 2010, together with my own blog, Xuitlacoche, and while I was in the Middle East it was too dangerous to think of starting it again.

But if I did start it again then it would be different. We would be more of a collective. I had learned from my mistakes. The quality would be better. More people would be involved. We would be political, but also cultural and artistic. After all, my father, Tony Hall was an editor of many magazines, I picked up a lot from him. I had the experience of starting and running a magazine for a cultural institute in Mexico in the 80s. We had a reasonable print run of 7,000.

If the quality isn’t good enough, it is better to stay invisible.

So six months before I was due to leave the Middle East I set up the Ars Notoria magazine. It was at the start of the Covid pandemic and five excellent people came on board right away: Yogesh Patel, Paul Halas, James Tweedie and Emil Blake. Generously, Dan Pearce agreed that we could serialise his graphic novel, Depression in Ars Notoria. Together we got the magazine going.

My idea is that the magazine would be invisible at first, but gradually build up a presence; so that by the time I came back to the UK we would have quite a body of work behind us and, as a result, we would start to turn up in web searches.

The top articles on Ars Notoria are getting up to 3,000 shares

If the quality isn’t good enough, it is better to stay invisible, I thought. This time the articles, poems, art, photography and stories would have to have more quality and substance. This time we would not publish anything speculative on Dyson Spheres.

Here are some of our more recent published articles on Ars Notoria. The top articles on Ars Notoria are getting up to 3,000 shares:

In any case, the name of the magazine will certainly help forestall any embarrassment. In response to the accusation:

You really are a notorious arse!

We can always reply:

You were warned, weren’t you? 

It is one year and one month since we started Ars Notoria, though the original Ars Notoria was started in 2008. A year ago I estimated we would be ready to put the magazine onto a more professional footing by the end of July 2021. Thanks to all our work, it looks like we are on course to do just that.

Just to whinge a little: it would be nice to have someone back us so that we can promote Ars Notoria properly and pay writers, poets and artists the minimum wage. It would be nice if we were more gender and age balanced, it would be nice if someone could define what exactly ‘Humane Socialism’ is. It would be good to get a professional magazine layout designer on board. All of that would be very welcome.

Editorial, July 2020

In July we began the month with a powerful argument against Rebecca Long-Bailey’s dismissal by Richard House published by Paul Halas. It had a large number of other signatories. The article was widely read and then republished elsewhere.

There is no question, but that it was read by key figures in the Labour Party who simply ignored it. In Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent this is the basic tactic of the liberal democrats and right of centre social democrats. The suspicion is that Kier Starmer is just that. A right of centre social democrat. Dr. Richard House ended by saying:

We have countless Jewish friends and loved ones, and we abhor and condemn anti-Semitism in all its manifestations. But for the sake of democracy, social justice and free speech, the use and deployment of faux anti-Semitism accusations must and will be called out by all fair-minded people – and that includes calling out those who – lazily or calculatingly – deploy the ‘conspiracy theory’ trope in order to close down or silence any critical thinking about the behaviour of the political State of Israel. It also includes relentlessly calling out those who, for whatever motivation, falsely conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of the behaviour of the political State of Israel.

On the subject of Israel Philip Hall and Naeem Ali Jundyeh republished an excoriating article, ‘Stand up to Apartheid Israel, you Lily-livered Soft Leftists’ that they had previously published in the Morning Star together. The article argued that the Israeli state is indeed an Apartheid state and if the article was not used to expel Philip Hall from the Labour Party then it was simply because, we sense, the Labour Party did not want to bring attention to the article by doing so. Among other things Philip Hall and Naeem Ali Jundyeh noted:

But Israel, thanks to the guilty conscience of the anti-semitic European ruling class, and the strategic oil interests of the US — where Israel behaves as the US’s proxy in the region — continues to receive qualified support from the large Western states. Israel gets this support despite the fact that Israel has clearly created its own horrific apartheid state, with Palestinians given the choice of emigration and refugee status (4.5 million) or living in the enormous ghettos that Israel has created for them in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Looking for more trouble, Philip Hall also put the achievement of Roger Bannister into the context of the end of empire and questioned its legitimacy as a symbol of British pride:

In an empire built on the muscle and sweat and physical prowess of the exploited and downtrodden, a relaxed amateur from Oxford breaks the record? Clearly he was superior. An example had been manufactured to help justify a vestigial white colonialism.

Who are the people who run the mile faster than anyone now? They are people from the highlands of Africa, where Europe’s colonies were.

In 1954 the British were not busy timing the running speeds of Kenyan runners, they were busy farming Kenya for coffee and tea and tobacco and hunting down the Mao Mao, offering 20 shillings for the severed hand of a nationalist Kenyan rebel.

Dan Pearce’s honest account of middle age male Depression continued to serve as the spine of Ars Notoria. It is true that this does reflect the demographic of people publishing and reading Ars Notoria at the moment. We will be making an effort to diversify Ars Notoria over the next months. Dan Pearce’s comic is beautifully drawn and powerfully written. Fellow creative in the comics industry, Paul Halas, considers Dan Pearce’s Depression to be a masterpiece. However, clearly Depression has yet to find the broader reading public it deserves. Please share it far and wide.

Bryan Greetham, the leading academic and a pioneer of Smart Thinking, currently writing a book on the origins of the Holocaust, wrote an article explaining the origins of fascism. As usual, his clearly structured, logical ideas clarified the issue for many of us. It is not that the working class has fascist inclinations, Bryan Greetham pointed out. Fascism finds its natural home with small business men and women and the lower middle class:

The radical right appealed to all those social groups (teachers, civil servants, army officers, small businessmen, shopkeepers, artisans, agricultural workers, etc.,) whose economic status and privileges were threatened by the two historical forces unleashed by the industrial revolution.


At the end of the First World War, the heirs of the modern world appeared to be liberalism and socialism. One or the other would dominate modern politics, thereby threatening the social and economic position of these lower middle class groups. In such a society, as one writer put it, these groups felt psychologically homeless: they were strangers in their own country. Their traditional values seemed to be under threat.

Dr Greetham followed up his article with another one explaining the links between fascism and conspiracy theory. He suggests that conspiracy theories are a way to manipulate public perception in the favour of the a ‘particular’ class, the ruling class:

Like all forms of nationalism, the political problem comes first and the conspiracy theory is created to promote and protect the interests of a particular class or group by attracting the support of the working class, who might have little economic reason to embrace it…

Dominic Tweedie, the head of the Communist University in South Africa, meanwhile, republished some of the letters of Paul Robeson with a commentary. Over time, and especially as a result of Black Lives Matter, the figure of Robeson has come to the fore again after the US establishment tried to erase his example from the records of history:

Paul Robeson was a superstar in the USA in the 1930’s and 40’s despite the fact that he was African American. In 1915 he was twice an All American football star and while playing for the NFL got his law degree summa cum laude. Robeson was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance putting on songs and shows. In his career he recorded almost 300 songs.

The Chilean academic and head of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in the UK, Francisco Dominguez, wrote another article published by James Tweedie lauding the success of Cuba in creating an egalitarian society, a society where black lives actually do matter and praised Cuba’s role in extending its struggle to Africa where Cubans fought and died alongside Africans fighting against the Portuguese colonialists and Apartheid South African troops:

Many Black men and women since 1959, have had access to the highest levels of politics, science, education, technology and social life in general. A former British MP struck a powerful chord when he said this truth: Cuba is the only country on earth where the daughter of a sugar cane cutter, could become a medical doctor. Yet some racist social and cultural attitudes persist, but they pale into insignificance compared to advanced countries, such as the U.S. or the U.K. The current Cuban government led by Miguel Diaz-Canel has launched a comprehensive government programme, called Aponte Commission, after José Antonio Aponte, leader of the 1812 slave rebellion, to combat it. Unlike ‘civilized’ countries where statues for slave traffickers and racist generals have been erected.

And, there is the role socialist Cuba has played in Africa, where its manifestations of solidarity have, on more than one occasion risked the very existence of the revolution itself, such as in Angola both in 1975 and 1987 when Fidel, at the request of the MPLA pro-independence movement requested military assistance, of which he sent sufficient to defeat both Western powers intervention and apartheid South African elite troops.

Dr. Francisco Dominguez also wrote an article published by James Tweedie arguing that the gold wrongfully confiscated from Venezuela by the British Judge Nigel Teareat at the instigation of the reactionary US government currently in power, be returned:

The spurious grounds on which Teare’s verdict is based are essentially that Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) of the UK, “whatever the basis for the recognition”, has “unequivocally recognised Mr Guaidó as President of Venezuela.” Thus the UK Court rules in favour of Mr Guaidó because HMG recognised him as ‘interim president’ because in turn he invoked Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution.

But Justice Teare’s verdict is based on a fabricated interpretation of Article 233 used by Guaidó to declare the Presidency “vacant.”

The Irish political analyst, Eugene McCartan republished an article in Ars Notoria on how Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party have joined hands in government only to offer the Irish people more of the same neo-liberal economics:

But the policies will be the same: to give priority to the interests of the market and big business, both national and transnational; tax cuts for the wealthy and professional classes; deeper involvement in EU military strategies and adventurism, and Shannon Airport still used as a staging post for US and NATO wars of aggression.

There will be a further erosion of workers’ rights, while precarious employment and zero-hour contracts will remain central factors in the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, mainly young people and women.

On the cultural side the writer Paul Halas provided an entertaining analysis of the politics and political influence of British sitcoms and discussed how they are probably used to influence British public opinion:

Television at its best stimulates the grey matter, but the reality is that for the most part it has the opposite effect: it is a heavy sedative. And nowhere is that more true than in situation comedy, the shows we all grew up with and clustered around the box at the same time every week to devour. I thought I’d take a closer look at some of them.

Paul Halas concludes:

Is it fair to single sitcoms out in a medium that as a whole appears to be increasingly hell-bent on reducing our brains to a pottage-like mush? Perhaps not, but their overall effect is to facilitate an uncritical acceptance of the nation’s status quo; whether that is by design or just a by-product of having timid, acquiescent programme commissioners I couldn’t possibly say. But one thing is sure: the vast majority of situation comedies act as the TV’s audience’s comfort blanket.

Adam Lickley wrote a sparkling story of his trip to see the Dalai Lama and of its ups and downs – literally and figuratively:

Tibet Charity is located at the bottom of a terrifyingly steep hill, which I nicknamed Devil’s Hill, for its unforgiving length, its steepness and its unholy curvature. As promised in the advert, McLeodganj was indeed nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and the view from my apartment was quite spectacular. 

 Commenting, briefly, on the merits of Tibetan butter tea:

I can assure you, Tibetan tea is not for the faint of heart. The unlikely ingredients are tea, yak butter, salt and hot water. And yes, it tastes as foul as it sounds, perhaps even more. I did recognise the kindness of the gesture, but how welcome would an espresso coffee have been at 7 am?

Things didn’t go quite as well as Adam Lickley would have hoped:

There was chattering all around from every language imaginable, but that just quickly turned the thoughts in my brain into some kind of rare undrinkable soup. It wasn’t long before my attention turned from the lecture to the numbness seeping into my entire body and the pain in my coccyx. All of a sudden the idea of merely surviving this physical torment for an hour, seemed like an epic victory. The end of the hour struck and I skulked off, sheepishly…

Adam Likeley, a former professional dancer, also wrote for our series with the titles beginning: ‘So you want to be a…’ He gave realistic advice to all aspiring dancers on how difficult it is, how competitive and just how much sacrifice is required to succeed.

Imran Khimje wrote about tennis – just to prove that we include sport in our coverage. He argues that lower ranked tennis players should be paid a living wage as professional sportsmen and women. Imran Khimji writes:

Next time you think of a tennis player think of World Number 114 Chris O’Connell who had to sell clothes and clean boats to keep his tennis dream alive. Despite winning 82 matches on tour last year, O’Connell’s take home pay was only $16,000, one hundred times less than Djokovic’s. Tennis should wrong foot this inequality.

Paul Halas continued the series with ‘So you want to be a comic strip writer? And James Tweedie with ‘So you want to be a journalist.’ On the whole Paul Halas was a little more upbeat about his chosen profession than James Tweedie, former International Editor of the Morning Star who began his article by saying:

So you wanna be a journo, and why not? Well, here are a few good reasons to let the dream die.

Sober advice from Paul Halas:

It was through getting outrageously drunk with an American science fiction novelist that I was given an introduction to the Swedish Disney editors. Work on the skills, work on the contacts, and work on getting that stroke of luck. And it’ s best not to get outrageously drunk when one’s writing. It only seems a work of genius at the time.

In July Yogesh Patel (MBE) our poetry editor, published a poem by the prize winning poet and member of the Royal Society of Literature, Fiona Sampson. We also published a poem by the passionate outsider poet Keith Woodhouse.

Editorial: June 2020

Welcome to the monthly editorial and welcome to Ars Notoria. Strangely enough, the editorial for June 2020 will be published before the editorial for May 2020, but that is the arsy-varsy, topsy-turvy world of online publishing these days. We are up and running at a minimal cost and it has been barely seven weeks since we launched our little collective on May 5th. This is a cause for celebration. We need to keep it up.

We began June with a serious academic article by Dr. Peter Stanfield describing how the wealth of Great Britain continues to concentrate into the hands of a few. Peter points out the establishment of the NHS was the only serious attempt in British history to redistribute some of that surplus and shows that even the funding of NHS is being squeezed. Peter points out that the estimated costs of COVID furlough scheme at 15 billion pounds could easily be paid off by the super-rich in Britain who have benefited massively from government policies in the past.

Peter’s article was followed immediately by an impressive overview from Emil Blake where he takes a look at British politics since the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn. Emil puts Jeremy Corbyn’s failure down to: Corbyn’s failure to convince the British people to vote for him and his own party to support him, right wing demagoguery and press power, and the British character. Emil quotes George Orwell to make his point:

 ‘As Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘world-view’. Nor is this because they are ‘practical’, as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One only has to look at their methods of town planning and water supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis, and a system, of weights and measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency.’

Paul Halas wrote three well-argued articles berating Keir Starmer and the centrist and right wing of the Labour Party  both for their back-stabbing and ignoring important issues like global warming. Paul explained how Jeremy Corbyn reinvigorated the left and inspired him. Paul also included two fascinating biographical / autobiographical pieces on comics and animation. He discussed the debt he owes to Donald Duck. Vivien Halas wrote an important piece on the cultural impact of the work in animation of Halas and Batchelor.

Going through the spine of Ars Notoria is the uncompleted graphic novel by Dan Pearce called Depression. The novel is funny and salutary and partly autobiographical. I think anyone who has suffered from severe depression will appreciate this comic, even those of us who just occasionally just feel awfully down in the mouth. There is catharsis in seeing something you can recognise, that you see in life, that hasn’t appeared before in print. I am eking out the publication of Depression in the hope that Dan will finish it before we run out of episodes to publish.

Andy Hall generously pitched in with the star article. He gave us the story of his meeting with Muhammed Ali, the greatest of all time, and the pictures that got taken at that meeting, not all by Andy. The Observer sports writer Kevin Mitchell is in the story, Don King too, and at one point Will Smith, playing Ali makes an appearance.

Yogesh Patel, our deeply valued resident poet, brought us two other very important poets in the last couple of weeks, equal to his own stature: Steve O’ Brien and George Szirtes. At a time when Black Lives Matter Yogesh published his own poem ‘Binary’ which I strongly recommend you read.

A few of the articles were about Black Lives Matter and Des Willie, perhaps the country’s top stills photographer, described the ordinary attrition he faces as a black Briton. I think the universal response to his article was to identify with him and to either recognise the situation he faced or understand how grindingly disheartening it must be to have to regularly deal with such low level racism.

Phil Hall looked at the question of how traditional socialist ideas may or may not be part of the solution to racial inequality. He also wrote a proactive piece focusing on Bob Dylan’s politics where he concludes that despite Dylan’s suspect politics he is still the greatest songwriter who ever lived.

James Tweedie educated us about the situation in Gauyana concluding:

‘The PPP/C, the movement that led Gauyana to independence in the 1950s and 60s, won the election fair and square. The Washington-based Organisation of American States said yesterday GECOM already has “a result based on the valid votes cast” and “this election has gone on long enough.” Yet both hesitate to act decisively and end this crisis that threatens to return their country to the bad old days.’

In another article James also pointed out the hypocrisy of the Democrats in attacking Trump on the question of Black Lives Matter.

Richard House brought a lot of teachers to Ars Notoria with his article criticising OFSTED, an organisation that is a blunt instrument that has harmed many schools. The article soon found an echo and was picked up and promoted by other educational websites.

In June the irrepressible Imran Khimji joined us with a joyful article about how premier league players like Rahim Sterling, how football and sport in general, seem to be coming out as a force for good in the context of Black Lives Matter. Imran’s previous article was on the impact of COVID-19 on the football transfer market.

Finally, we had a beautiful, dense, musical poem by Anandi Sharan which Yogesh said that even he would publish, called Giving and Receiving. It was a romantically, ecological poem full of love and resignation. Ols Halas, the Circus Chef, shared one of his wild and free recipes with us: Breakfast Toad in the Hole.  Peter Field wrote a convincingly desperate article on the problem of climate change. Both capitalists and socialists are to blame while the poor suffer and it is almost to late to do anything about it.

Ars Notoria has a new drop down menu at the side with the names of all its contributors. When you click their names you get their articles. So far we have 6 editors, 20 contributors and 73 articles. We have built this up since May 5th. Occasionally articles are getting picked up by the search engines right away. Paul Halas’s article on Keir Starmer was immediately ranked high on Google.

Tous pour un, un pour tous!

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