Archive for November, 2015

Hoverbikes to Appear in 2017?

November 30, 2015

This is another fascinating piece of technology news from Youtube. It’s on the hoverbike that’s been produced by the Aerofex company, and which may be on the market in 2017. According to the video it has two rotors, can fly up to ten feet off the ground and stay in the air for an hour and a quarter. The downside is that if you want one, it’s going to cost $85,000. Here’s the video.

It reminds me very much of the Piasecki ZV-8- Airgeep, which was designed for use by the American army. A model kit of this was produced in the 1990s by Glencoe Models, of Northboro, Massachusetts. According to the background information given with the kit,

The Piasecki ZV-8_ or 59L VTOL Airgeep was designed for the army to increase mobility by combining the versatility of an all-terrain ground vehicle with the benefits of a small helicopter. The first flight was on October 12, 1958. Some of its capabilities were to include the ability to fly at speeds up to 150 miles per hour, and to fly unhindered over water or mountains. Actual top speed was closer to 70 miles per hour with a maximum cruising range of 75 miles. General dimensions were 24 ft. 6 in. long and 9 ft. wide. Having a very low profile and a significant amount of speed combined with its ability to fly low along the ground would have made it an elusive target.

Power for the Airgeep comes from two flat opposed six cylinder Lycoming engines. Rated at 180 horsepower each, the 0-360-A2A piston engines are housed in the fuselage and turn the two large propellers via drive shafts. To aid in stability the front propeller turns clockwise and the rear turns counter-clockwise. Directional vane below the props control side to side and forward-reverse motions.

Protection from minor contact with immovable objects is taken care of by the large inflatable bumpers at both ends. The perimeter of the duct area is also shielded to protect the crew in case of detachment of one of the propeller blades.

Today the Piasecki ZV-8_ or 59L Airgeep resides at the United States Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Piasecki Airgeep

Airborne bikes have appeared in a number of SF movies since the appearance of the Speeders in the Star Wars films. By far the best known are probably the Speeder bikes used by the imperial storm troopers in the third of the original movies, Return of the Jedi. Similar vehicles also appear in the third Riddick film, simple called after its hero, Riddick, where they’re ridden by a posse of interplanetary bounty hunters sent to catch or kill him. Unlike the Star Wars Speeder bikes, the ‘hogs’ used in Riddick seem to be propelled not by some kind of anti-gravity field, but by something more like a downward-facing jet.

It’ll also be interesting to see if this does actually go into production. Some of us can still remember the one-man helicopter that was due to come on the market for about the same amount of money. One even appeared in one of the Spy Kids films, as I recall. In practice, however, that scheme was a failure. They never managed to get it stable, and its press release got into the ‘Funny Old World’ column in Private Eye. The machine went on sale, but as it was lethally unfit to fly, purchasers were legally forbidden to try doing so, on the grounds they’d kill themselves. And that was the end of that dream of single-person flight.

If these pics are to be believe, though, it looks like they’ve solved that problem. I hope it comes out. Like most people, I could never afford one, but it looks a cool way to travel.

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The I: ‘Private Hospitals ‘Put Patients at Risk’

November 30, 2015

I just found this article in today’s ‘I’ newspaper for 30th November 2015, reporting the findings of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest that poor standards at smaller private hospitals are a risk to patients’ health. The article by Paul Gallagher states

‘NHS patients sent for treatment at smaller private hospitals are being put at risk because of unsafe staffing and facilities, according to a report by an anti-privatisation think-tank.

Nurses without specialist training, high levels of agency staff on post-operative wards and hygiene weaknesses were also among the patient safety risk identified by the Centre for Health and Public Interest (CHPI).

Analysis of 15 Care Quality Commission (CQC) investigations into hospitals from each of England’s six main private hospital chains found serious problems even in hospitals rate “good” by the regulator. Care UK’s Barlborough NYHS Treatment Centre in Chesterfield was given an overall rating of “good” and a rating of “good” specifically for surgery. Yet in the previous 12 months there had been four “never events”, defined as “serious, largely preventable, patient safety incidents that should not occur”.

Dr Howard Freeman, of the NHS Partners Network, said: “The overwhelming majority of NHS care delivered by independent sector hospitals is safe”.’

I dare say the treatment at most private hospitals is safe, but that does not mean that it is necessarily particularly high or of the same quality as that supplied by the NHS. In America, there is a very high incidence of iatrogenic disease. In the case of surgery, this is built into the system through the profit motive. Doctors and surgeons get paid if they treat. Therefore, they will offer or suggest treatment, even if its unnecessary. Way back in the 1980s Panorama did an edition on medicine in America, at the time when Maggie was considering its privatisation, and revealed the very high rates of unnecessary operations in the Land of the Free. This adds further evidence to corroborate existing information on the detrimental effects of private healthcare, no matter what Bliar and Cameron have told and are telling everyone.

The Young Turks’ Suggestion for Proper Response to ISIS Terror Attack on Paris

November 30, 2015

This is yet another video from The Young Turks I thought well worth reblogging. It’s their main anchor, Cenk Uygur, giving his suggestions for how America and the world should respond to ISIS massacre of innocent civilians in Paris. Uygur notes that countries across the world have condemned the terror attacks, including Iran and Hamas. He states that we should respond with great wrath and justice against the perpetrators of this atrocity. But we have to be smart as well as wrathful.

He states that while many people, including himself, believed the invasion of Afghanistan was the appropriate response to 9/11, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t. We invaded the wrong country, destabilised it, and lost about 5,000 men and women in the process. We can’t invade it again, because we invaded it the first time, and that didn’t work out.

We also can’t invade Syria. The country is a mess of fighting factions. Who would America be fighting against? Assad and the Islamists, at the same time? It looks like it. So invading that country is also out of the question.

Bombing also isn’t an option. America and her allies have dropped hundreds of bombs on Iraq, and that has not stopped ISIS. Instead, the killing of innocent civilians has only strengthened them.

At the same time, we should not ignore the terror attack and do nothing, abandoning the victims of ISIS’ brutality in the Middle East, and concentrating on the terror attacks that will continue to happen at home.

Uygur’s solution is to use special forces in tactical raids against their leaders. He notes the success of SEAL Team 6 in killing bin Laden, and the way American special forces were also able to assassinate and abduct leading terrorists in Somalia, from whom the West got valuable information. He makes clear that this has to be done as part of an international coalition, including the Saudis and Jordanians. And he also makes very clear that this won’t be able. It’ll be difficult, and we’ll lost a lot of people. He states there are no rainbows with this option. But it is, in his opinion, the appropriate response to the terror, one which uses brains and wrath.

Uygur’s background is Turkish Muslim, although he’s an atheist. He’s therefore got a better understanding of Middle Eastern politics and society than many of the politicos now sounding off. I’m not saying his suggestion is correct, or the only correct one, but he’s right about the toxic and counterproductive effects of bombing and further invasion of these nations. And he is also, absolutely right about the need to build a global coalition against ISIS. Without it, ISIS will continue to claim, spuriously, that they are protecting Muslims against attack by the evil West. We cannot allow them to do that.

Corbyn and most of the British public are opposed to bombing Syria, despite Cameron’s and the government’s eagerness to send the planes in. This video confirms that in contrast to our leaders, Corbyn and the British public are right. Whatever we do, we need a better policy than bombing innocents, as Cameron wants. This will simply fuel radicalisation both in the Middle East, and of marginalised British Muslims over here.

Boris Gets His Own Glossy Fan Mag

November 30, 2015

More proof of Boris Johnson’s vaulting political ambitions, or at least, his galloping megalomania.

Looking through the Cheltenham branch of W.H. Smith a few weeks ago, I found on the magazine racks a glossy brochure devoted to Boris. Simply titled Boris Johnson, it was very much like the type of glossy specials brought out to celebrate a royal event, like the queen’s coronation, the jubilee, or a royal wedding. It also reminded me of some of the material that came out during Thatcher’s reign. Despite its highly offensive and distasteful subject matter to anyone on the Left, and to a few genuinely caring Tories, for that matter, there was a point to it. Most of these came out when Thatcher celebrated 13 years in power. She was at that point the longest serving British prime minister, and the first woman to hold the office. In those respects she deserved to be commemorated. Or at least, she had as much right to be as every other holder of the office.

Boris, on the other hand, is still some way away from that lofty post. He’s been editor of magazine, The Spectator, though so was the fictional Jim Hacker of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister fame. And part of what made Hacker funny was that essentially he was a nondescript, junior MP, who was given a political office – the Minister for Administrative Affairs – who imagined himself as something far greater and grander. Like Winston Churchill. His voice took on the Great Warleader’s inflections and tones when he started to imagine the glorious political future stretching ahead of him, and the country under his benign leadership.

Which makes you wonder somewhat about Boris. Does he also stand in his office, posing as Churchill, trying to capture the great man’s tones and mannerisms in his office while no-one’s looking, conjuring up before his inner eye a magnificent future in which Maximus and UNUM have saved the government millions by killing off all the disabled through starvation, and the poor and proles are properly confined to their own ghettos and know their place?

The first part of that grim scenario is unlikely. Johnson has gained much of his popularity through posing as a loveable, bumbling oaf. He makes mistakes, but he means well, and it’s all a good laugh, so why not vote for him? In actual fact, while I’ve no doubt some of his accident prone persona is genuine, it strikes me as exaggerated and played up to get public sympathy. And people who know Johnson say he is a steely political operator with a vicious temper, quite different from the amiable fool that appears on Have I Got News For You.

The second part of that scenario, on the other hand, is all too plausible. It seems very clear that Johnson covets the role of PM, and would like to unseat, or at least, succeed Cameron in that role. And like the rest of the Tories, he has an absolute contempt for the poor and working and lower middle classes. It’s indicative of the contempt he feels for the people of London that he decided he couldn’t afford to pay the firemen a proper wage, but could buy three water cannons.

Cheltenham is also on the edge of the Cotswolds, and the magazines looks like it was designed to appear to the Cotswold set of very wealthy that live outside the town, reading magazines like Cotswold Life. Cheltenham itself is rather different, and has a large underclass, very like other towns such as Bath, where the very rich and the poor live practically cheek by jowl.

It also reminds me of the jokes about Adolf Hitler in Red Dwarf, when a set of photographs mutate so they can use them as a time machine. One of the photos is of Hitler, who Kryten recognises as he was featured in one of Rimmer’s specialist magazines: Fascist Dictator Monthly. The Fuehrer was Mr October. It also reminds me of the fan magazine devoted to the evil Torquemada, the genocidally racist grandmaster of Termight – Earth, thousands of years in the future – in 2000 AD’s ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. As Torquemada was the absolute, totalitarian ruler of this nightmarish future Earth, he also had his fan magazine, with the slogan ‘Let’s talk Torquey’, and fan conventions. The last seemed partly modelled on the comics convictions that have been going since at least the ’70s. Johnson is far too clever to give in to the urge to make racist rants like Torquemada. He merely fronts TV series on the splendours of ancient Rome and appears as a genial guest on popular satirical quizzes.

But this is evidence of his megalomania, his driving ambition and his need for popular acclaim, as well as the popular votes, nonetheless. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Left Book Club: The Tory MP

November 29, 2015

Looking through one of the second-hand bookshops in Cheltenham a few weeks ago, I found a set of books in their ‘politics’ section published by the Left Book Club in the 30s and 40s. Amongst them were titles like ‘Production for the People’ and ‘Empire, Your Empire’. This last was definitely in favour of the British Empire, in contrast to the views of some Labour MPs, such as one Benn, who believed that Africans should be given back their countries as quickly as possible. This particular volume wanted Britain to retain her Empire, but for its administration to be made more humane, with the welfare of its peoples given much higher priority. It was critical of the way many countries suffered from starvation and malnutrition under the-then present administrations.

The book that particularly caught my eye was a sociological study of the social origins and class allegiances of Conservative members of parliament. It was called simply, The Tory MP. Essentially it told you at great length, and it great detail, what you probably know already: that Tory MPs come from the aristocracy and business classes and represent those classes against the poor and working class. There’s is a very pithy quote at the front from Benjamin Disraeli, one of the great founders of the modern Tory party in the 19th century, to the Marxist Socialist, Hyndeman. Hyndeman had told Disraeli that Socialism, or at least, his Socialist party, stood for the workers and was trying to get the best for them. Disraeli told him bluntly that the upper and middle classes would resist this with all the strength they had until the workers were utterly routed.

So much for Disraelian ‘one nation’ Toryism.

Cameron has been telling everyone he’s a ‘one nation’ Tory to try and present his party of blood-thirsty bigots, public school bullies and general bourgeois thugs and cut-throats as somehow being ‘caring Conservatives’, when all the evidence overwhelmingly points to the opposite. They have an absolute indifference to the poverty they’ve created. In fact, they positively seem to revel in the misery of the poor, the unemployed and the working class. Their ‘caring’ extends only to the rich and powerful.

The book extensively documents the aristocratic and business links of the Tory MPs of its time – which members came from which aristocratic families, whose family owned what business, and so on. And, almost needless to say, the same people, or type of people, dominated the civil service and colonial administration. As well as the armed forces. I didn’t buy it, as it was extremely dated. I am, however, tempted to splash out on it, as even if it was published eighty years or so ago, my guess is that little has changed over the last three-quarters of a century. My guess is that the same families are still firmly in power in the ranks of the Tory party, and pretty much the same firms, even if they have changed, merged and amalgamated with others in the intervening decades.

I think there actually should be rather more research like this. In the 1980s there was a lot of talk about ending class conflict, largely because of Thatcher’s victory and her immense popularity with certain sections of the working class. The result of that was Blairite ‘New Labour’, that stated, in Peter Mandelson’s words, that they were immensely relaxed about being rich. New Labour came to power by adopting the Tories policies and trying to appeal to middle class voters. In doing so, they abandoned and marginalised their traditional base, and opened the way for ATOS, UNUM and the other corporations to begin their campaign of fear against the long term sick and disabled. There many working class people at the time, who swallowed Thatcher’s line about being working class, because her father owned a shop, despite the fact that she personally hated the working class with a vengeance.

Whatever Cameron says, the Tories have never represented the working class, and books like The Tory MP, and Owen Davies’ book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, show it.

The Young Turks: New Poll Shows Muslims in Muslim Countries Hate ISIS

November 29, 2015

This is another great video from the Young Turks, which should be viewed by anyone, who feels they might be taken in by some of the hate now being directed towards perfectly decent Muslims – the majority – after the Paris terror attacks. By which I mean Sun readers, for example.

A Pew poll surveyed popular opinion in 11 Muslim majority countries. This shows that Muslims in most of those countries overwhelmingly despise ISIS. There are wide variations, however. In Lebanon, for example, the whole of the country hates Daesh, while in Pakistan, only 26 hate them, with 62 per cent in favour. The organisation states that those countries were there is little hatred of ISIS, tend to be furthest away from them, and have their own polarising issues over Islamic militancy. As the Turks point out, these countries have not suffered the ravages that other nations have from ISIS’ hands.

One of the panel, Jimmy Dore, states that this refutes a statistic Richard Dawkins was quoting about 25 per cent of Muslims supporting ISIS. Dawkins has gone from being science writer, eager to promote a view of evolution with a very heavy emphasis on Darwin, to atheist polemicist and now to a bitterly anti-Islamic writer and broadcaster. The statistics he touted seems to be that produced by the Sun. Mike attacked it in Vox Political when it came out in the week for the inaccuracies and ambiguities in it, and others have done the same. It’s also become one of the most complained about, if not the most complained about piece in the Sun.

The Turks also state that the Syrian refugees now let into America aren’t terrorists. They don’t have a fundamentalist view of the religion, and are trying to get away from ISIS. Another member of the panel, Francesca Fiorentini, states that there should be a celebration of ordinary neighbourhood Muslims to show that we are all together around the world opposed to ISIS and its terror.

Demonstrations against Bombing Syria by Stop the War Coalition

November 28, 2015

According to the Huffington Post, there was a mass protest today in London, in streets near to Downing Street, protesting against the possible bombing of Syria.

The article begins

Thousands of people gathered in London on Saturday to protest against plans for Britain to join air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Parliament is expected to vote on the issue next week after Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday urged action on Syria saying: “The threats to our interests and to our people are such that we cannot afford to stand aside and not to act.”

The protest was organised by the Stop The War Coalition protest movement, which is also holding a string of other demonstrations around Britain.

In a statement the group said: “The proposed vote in parliament on bombing Syria by British forces is likely to take place within the next week.

“Yet this bombing will not stop terror attacks.”

The articles at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/11/28/thousands-protest-against-syria_n_8670402.html. As well as further information, there are pics of the protest and tweeted messages from some of the protesters.

I wish them well, and am convinced they’re right. Bombing Syria won’t make Britain safer. It’ll probably make us a bigger target, as the bombing radicalises the local population that ISIS haven’t yet been able to reach through their indoctrination.

I am not confident that these protests will have any effect, however. A decade ago there were a million people on the streets in Britain marching in the protest against Bliar’s plans to invade Iraq. Yet this had absolutely no effect whatsoever. Teflon Tony showed what he really thought of public opinion, took no notice and invaded anyway.

The result has been over a decade of war, bloody civil war and ethnic and religious violence in Iraq, and the emergence of ISIS to replace al-Qaeda and the Taliban as the new Islamist threat.

Bombing and invasion don’t work, but we still haven’t learned that lesson, it seems.

As for Cameron, I’m not surprised he’s bloodthirsty. When George Orwell finally gave in, stopped protesting, and went to work with the British government in preparing for the coming war with Nazi Germany, he observed that part of him was enjoying it. I don’t think he was entirely happy with that part of his personality, but he observed that the middle classes are brought up for war, and so are excited and enthusiastic about it.

Much of public school education is based around great historic war leaders, like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Cameron is probably even now thinking of himself as the next Winston Churchill, receiving the thanks of a dutifully grateful nations in return for saving them from their darkest hour. Is that seems like a bit of far-fetched hyperbole, so is all the rubbish the Coalition has spouted from day one about how terrible the national debt is. They’ve talked about it endlessly as though Britain is experiencing a bigger crisis than the recession following the original Wall Street crash, or the Second World War. It’s nowhere near that level, but that’s been the way its been described, and the way they’ve sold their austerity programme to the electorate. Despite the fact, again, that it’s nothing like the austerity our parents and grandparents experienced in the late ’40s and ’50s to pay for the NHS.

This austerity, by contrast, is all about privatising the NHS and the welfare state to boost the profits of the rich by impoverishing everyone else. And my guess is that Cameron’s also hoping that in the wake of the Paris bombing there’ll be a wave of nationalist sentiment that will increase his support, just like Thatcher’s popularity was boosted by the Falklands victory. That bloody, needless war was over in quite a short period of time. This one looks set to drag for many more years yet.

The cycle of violence has to stop, and stop now. We have to hit and punish ISIS, but that doesn’t mean we have to bomb Syria.

ISIS: Islamists without Islam

November 28, 2015

This is another pic I found over on Tumblr. It’s from the site 1000 Natural Shocks. Be aware if you do go there that it also carries – ahem – ‘adult content’, and is really only for over 18s.

This isn’t one of those pics.

ISIS No Quran

So much for the deep piety of those ghazis for Islam.

Scientists Mutate Flatworms without Altering Genes

November 28, 2015

This is another very interesting piece I found on Tumblr. Biologists at Tufts University have managed to make one species of flatworm grow the brains and heads of other species without altering its genetic makeup. This suggests that the body plan of living creatures may be partly determined by the bioelectric fields and synapses, and develop according to epigenetic processes. These are the biological processes that affect the shape of living being which aren’t caused by that creature’s genes.

Flatworm EvolutionPic

It’s a fascinating addition to modern evolutionary theory, which takes it beyond the simple Neo-Darwinian synthesis formulated at the beginning of the 20th century by Theodososius Dobzhansky and Fisher, amongst others. This stated that evolution worked through the appearance of mutations in living creatures’ genetic codes, which provided the raw material for the operation of Darwin’s natural selection. If the mutations proved beneficial, then the creature thrived and had more offspring, and the genes spread through the rest of that creature’s population. If the mutations were harmful, then the creature died, taking with it the faulty genes. Gradually these mutations, selected by the environment, mounted up until a new species emerged, descended from its predecessor.

This complicates the situation. There’s a theory that Lamarck based his theory that evolution was driven through inherited characteristics partly on misunderstood observations of epigenetic alterations in the animals he studied. Some of the changes can be quite dramatic. For example, some species of animal have been known to develop additions to the digestive system according to changes in diet. John Maynard Smith, one of the leaders and founders of modern Neo-Darwinian biology, also speculated in a small book published on evolution in the 1990s that the forms of living creatures may also be partly determined by the changes in the developing embryo in the very first stages of life. I’ve been told that there’s a heretical view of the development of living organisms held by a few university biologists, which states that these changes are largely responsible for the shape of the organism, with the creature’s genes determining only minor differences.

This experiment adds more information to the debate, and seems to support the indications that epigenetics – non-genetic processes – could play a stronger role in shaping living things than previously considered.

PC Peach’s Arrest Report

November 28, 2015

I found this little bit over on Tumblr. It’s the arrest report for PC Peach. As you can see, PC Peach is a police dog, and this got his two handlers into trouble.

The dog caught a villain, and the two policemen with it duly filled out the appropriate paperwork, putting down that the arrest was made by Peach. Their superiors told them that their reports only weren’t adequate, and that they needed Peach’s report as well as the arresting officer. I’ve got a feeling they tried to tell their commanders that Peach was a dog, but they didn’t believe them.

So they produced the report below on behalf of PC Peach, and got reprimanded. It seems the higher ranks of the police force don’t have a sense of humour, even when the cops do.

Pc Peach Report