Archive for the ‘Electricity’ Category

Abby Martin Exposes Israeli Racism and Fascism on Joe Rogan Show

August 18, 2017

This is a video from an Islamic website, though this is immaterial to the content of the video, which goes beyond religious or doctrinal differences. It’s a long, 25-minute extract from the Joe Rogan Show in which Rogan talks to Abby Martin. Martin’s a left-wing broadcaster and journalist, who was formerly with RT and is now with TeleSur. She talks about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, their brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, America’s support for Israel and the country’s deeply entrenched xenophobia and racist indoctrination as part of the compulsory military service.

It’s very strong, very disturbing material. She states very clearly that its a Jewish supremacist, White settler state. Palestinians in the occupied territories have no freedom whatsoever. They are subject to constant military checks and interference through a system of apartheid. They have no precious little in the way of provision of water and electricity. The water comes from large cisterns, in which Israeli soldiers will spray Skunk, which makes the water taste of excrement so that it becomes undrinkable for the next month. Even though the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, this is ignored. Israeli mobs will come and occupy Palestinian homes, forcing the true owners out. If a Palestinian blogs about it, he will be tried and sentenced according to the number of hits on his site.

At the same time, Israeli soldiers shoot to kill and maim with impunity. They have a policy of ‘shoot to wound’, which means shooting people in the crotch. A woman was hit in her vagina, and men have their penises targeted. She also describes how a man, who was just drunk, was casually shot dead by Israeli soldiers. As was an Arab woman, who was shot at an Israeli checkpoint, and bled to death in front of her son.

It isn’t just Arabs gentiles, who are seen as inferiors, who can be ill-treated at whim. Martin states that the Israelis also look down on Black African Jews as racially inferior as well.

And official support for these illegal settlements goes all the way to the White House. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is the entrepreneur behind the Kushner Fund, a scheme which supports the construction of homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. She also talks about support for Israel by Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a White Zionist, who admires Israel as a racial state.

She also contrasts the popular reaction to the shooting of unarmed civilians by the authorities in Israel and the US. In America when the cops shoot an unarmed Black person, there’ll be a popular protest against it. However, in Israel, when the squaddie Elor Azaria shot an unarmed Palestinian, and was tried for it because of public pressure, there were also public protests against his trial. Rogan and Martin show footage of one of these demonstrations, in which the massed crowd chants ‘Death to Arabs’. Realising how bad this looks, they then change the chants to cries of supports for the troops. They even have a band rapping in Hebrew.

Martin pays due tribute to the courage of the Israelis, who film and speak out against these atrocities. In Israel many people will talk about treating the Palestinians better, but the idea of opposing Zionism is simply unthinkable, as this is their country. It’s like Americans opposing America. And the term ‘Leftist’ is a form of abuse.

As for crowds like that she filmed, they’ll also shout ‘Death to videographers’, as they hate the people filming this. Her team with her weren’t treated too badly, as they were Israeli Jews, but she says that there were attacked by people, who did wear Fascist-style cloaks.

She also talks about the immense amount of aide given by the American government to Israel. It’s $30 billion. However, in many cases, this is America giving a present to itself. Before then, Israel was able to do its own arms dealing, and was purchasing weapons from India. The aide has been given on the condition that it should be used to purchase American armaments.

As for the reason for America backing Israel, Martin states she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t believe its due to the power of the Israel lobby in the US. She states it’s more of a partnership, in the same way that America supports Saudi Arabia. Although Rogan points out that the Saudis have oil. Martin states that it’s probably to do with America using Israel as a point of leverage in the Middle East.

She goes on to make the point that the foundations for the country were laid after the Middle East was divided up by the colonial powers – Britain and France – by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Jewish immigration to Israel, and support for the country was minimal until the Holocaust, when fear provided an instrument to increase support. The country was then partitioned by the UN, although she asks the rhetorical question of who gave them that power. She also states that it should have never been put in the Middle East, but should have been established somewhere like Australia, because of the immense amount of trouble it’s caused.

She says that several times in making her video, she thought she’d die. In Jerusalem she was asked if she was Arab. She also points out that the Zionists were also responsible for terrorist atrocities against Jewish communities in surrounding countries. These were false flag operations, which were blamed on the gentile communities, in order to create a climate of fear, which would inspire those Jewish communities to emigrate to Israel. And Israel itself grew through a number of massacres.

Rogan and Martin also discuss the role that national service plays in creating this massively xenophobic mindset. Rogan states that he knows people, who have joined the army in America, and its created a very strong bond between the service personnel, and a sense of separation, an ‘us and them’ attitude. He can only imagine the intense indoctrination that Israelis must undergo during their national service so that the hatred of Arabs becomes unquestionable.

As for the Arab settlements, she states that they are not as we’ve been told. She saw openly gay people, and the first time she filmed there she said there was weed in the air.

The interview concludes with Rogan asking her where her films can be seen. She says they’re at The Empire Files, and if you click on them, the various films she’s made about Israel will also be displayed.

This is very powerful stuff. It’s precisely what the Beeb and the other mainstream British broadcasters will not report, nor what the racists in the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement do not want severely normal people, Jewish and gentile, knowing about. Martin states in this video that the Israeli state and its supporters want this covered up, and do their level best to make sure it isn’t filmed.

Martin has called Israel a Jewish supremacist state. This is exactly what it is, with Judaism defined in racial terms. It’s comparable to the Christian clerical Fascist states which emerged in Europe prior to the Second World War, such as parts of the Fascist movement in Italy, where Fascist sympathisers in the Vatican saw Mussolini’s regime as a bulwark against materialism and Communism. As was Franco’s Spain, and the Slovak dictatorship of Monsignor Tizo, as well as elements of the Nazi party. It’s also similar to the viciously intolerant Islamist regimes in the Middle East, and the Hindu nationalist extremism of Modi’s BJP, as well as the militant atheism of the USSR and China. Shintoism also briefly became an intolerant, expansionist force during the Second World War. Israel isn’t unique by any means in its possession of a militantly intolerant nationalist ideology, which combines race with religion, or an official policy of anti-theism. But that does not mean that Israeli Jewish supremacism and Fascism should be ignored or excused.

As for the role national service plays in creating an intensely nationalistic, racial consciousness, political scientists have pointed to this as a major element in the construction of Fascism. Fascist and proto-Fascist ideologues admired the armed forces, not just from militarism and an admiration for military glory, but also because it offered an alternative and a tool against the expansion of socialism and democracy. The military was an ideal model, in their eyes, for society because it was hierarchical. At the same time, the uniform and common military identity and service under fire created a strong bond between men. This was valued as a way of stopping the development of working class consciousness and power.

And the bond of men under fire is very, very strong. The veteran BBC broadcaster on foreign affairs, Kate Adie, has said that it’s far stronger and ferocious than anything in the movies. So strong that it can’t really be shown on camera.

And the fundamental position of military service in Israel is comparable to that of Prussia. It was said of the Hohenzollern’s kingdom that ‘Prussia is not a country with an army. It was an army with a country’. The kingdom was held together through its army, which was well-funded, had a very high status, and wide-ranging powers over the civilian population. For example, under Frederick the Great army officers could compel civilians to carry their baggage and equipment.

Martin states that she doesn’t know if Richard Spencer of the Alt Right would like to impose universal conscription like Israel. Well, he may not, but that has historically been the demand of British Fascists and those on the Tory right. And in the 2010 election one of the policies of the BNP was that every Brit should possess a gun as part of his volkisch identity.

As for Palestinian Arabs tolerating homosexuality, Islam has been traditionally far more tolerant of gays than western culture. The Qu’ran condemns sodomy as a sin against which the Prophet Lut – the Biblical Lot in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament preached. But the laws against it were a dead letter in Egypt as early as the 12th century. One of the most admired Arab poets of the 9th century was gay, so that even today, Arab poets often use the masculine 3rd person pronoun – ‘he’ – for the beloved, even when they are talking about a woman.

This point is important, as supporters of Israel will try to defend it as one of the few places in the Middle East which is tolerant of gays. Pamela Geller, of the Atlas Shrugs blog, one of the leaders of the ‘counter-jihad’ movement, has made this claim on her site. As has Michael Koren, a Canadian anti-Muslim broadcaster with Rebel Media. This week, a documentary on BBC 1 followed a Scots gay man from a Roman Catholic background, who was considering converting to Judaism because of Israel’s tolerance for gays. The Beeb filmed him travelling to the country, and Tel Aviv, which has been described as ‘the gayest place on Earth’. But this tolerance for homosexuality was traditionally shared across the Middle East. It is only in recent decades that attitudes have changed for the worse.

Despite Netanyahu’s insistence that Jews everyone are automatically Israeli citizens, there are very many Jews, who are bitterly opposed to it both from secular and religious principles. many of the supporters of the BDS movement are Jews or of Jewish heritage, as are several of the Counterpunch writers, who are also opposed to Zionism and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. One of these writers stated in a recent article that he is against Israel because of the liberal Jewish values with which he was brought up. A recent study has found that an increasing number of young Jewish Americans are becoming indifferent or hostile to Israel, because of its maltreatment of the Palestinians. As the very Jewish Sam Seder and his Jewish co-host, Michael Brooks, pointed out on their programme, Majority Report, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, and other Zionist organisations and pressure groups, would have the world believe the opposite. It isn’t. Don’t believe their lies and smears. Instead, look at the exposures of Israeli racism and institutional brutality from anti-racist broadcasters like Abbie Martin, respected academics like Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe, Lobster’s John Newsinger, and bloggers like Tony Greenstein.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

Aide Who Walked Out on May Wants British Public to Stop Trolling Her

July 5, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Katie Perrior, who was one of the two aides, who walked out of May’s cabinet a week or so ago, appeared on Paul Ross’ show on Talk Radio to tell the country that we should all stop sending the PM nasty messages on Twitter.

She said: “We need to stop with the abuse, we need to stop trolling our politicians on Twitter”, and followed this with the comments that there is no money, people need to realise that” and “She [May] would be devastated right now.” She also said that “people need to get real” and allow Mrs May to do her job.”

Mike points out that there are perfectly good reasons why May is receiving abuse: she’s been the worst excuse for a Prime Minister we’ve ever suffered. He points out that she called a snap election, which she lost, and is now spending £1 billion of our money to keep herself in power through an alliance with the terrorist-linked bigots of the DUP. Mike also points out that her remark that there is no more money also undermines her credibility, but concurs that May should be left to do one job: clear out.

He concludes

The only way we can have any kind of “strong and stable” government – as Mrs May herself described it – is by holding another general election and electing a Labour government.

I really don’t have any sympathy with Perrior or her former mistress in No. 10. Despite May’s repeated statements that there is no ‘magic money tree’, there clearly is if it means securing an alliance that will shore up her tottering minority government.

It’s also a flat-out lie. The budget for the NHS has been cut disastrously, to the point where tens of NHS healthcare trusts are millions in debt, and just about ready for privatisation by a Tory government intent on destroying this most precious of British institutions. But in 1979 a report concluded that, contrary to Maggie Thatcher’s ideas about privatising the Health Service, the NHS provided excellent value for money and would easily be funded by expected changes in taxation.

The Tories have gone back to lying about ‘high spending Labour’ to justify their brutal, swingeing cuts, but the Labour party never overspent on the NHS, which was in budget when they left office. Unlike now, after Andrew Lansley, Jeremy Hunt, and their masters David Cameron and Theresa May. Furthermore, Labour actually spent less than previous Tory administrations.

Perrior and the rest of them are, of course, terrified of the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn getting into No. 10, and undoing the forty years of harm successive Thatcherite regimes have done to this country. Hence all the bleating about there being no money. But there is money available. Corbyn and Labour costed all their proposals, unlike May and the Tories. And the La Chat Francaise Philosophique over at Guy Debord’s Cat has pointed out that it actually costs money to cut taxes. All that needs to be done to fund the renationalisation of the NHS, stop benefit sanctions and renationalise part of the energy industry and the other proposals, is to start taxing the upper five per cent of the population again.

But this gives the Tories a fit of the vapours, as it means taxing the rich to support the poor, while everything the Tories do is the reverse: to impoverish the poor in order to give greater power and wealth to those, who already have more than enough of it.

I also don’t have any sympathy for the supposed personal distress this is causing to May herself. In fact I find this highly hypocritical.

Thatcherite welfare policy, since the days of Thatcher herself, is modelled very much on the principle of Less Eligibility, which was at the heart of the Liberal’s New Poor Law of 1833. Conditions on welfare are to be made so harsh, that it will deter everyone except the very needy from going on it. Hence if you sign on at the jobcentre, the clerk will belittle you and put immense amounts of pressure on you to get a job, even if it is unsuitable. And it works. I personally know people, who are unemployed and who have not signed on, because of the insulting, demeaning way jobcentre staff have treated them.

That’s if you are sufficiently lucky to qualify for benefit in the first place. The government, like the Thatcherite administrations before it, is committed to dismantling the welfare state. And this means making qualification for jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefit as difficult as possible. This means that Maximus, like Atos, regularly and fraudulently decides that severely disabled, and even terminally ill people, are capable of holding down a job. And unemployed people have been sanctioned for the flimsiest of reasons.

The result of this is misery, mass poverty and starvation.

I’ve mentioned enough times the number of deaths this has caused, the numbers forced to use food banks, and the millions who don’t know if they’ll be able to eat tomorrow. But psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have warned several times about the rise in mental illness caused by the distress those with such problems suffer in filling out the forms and going through the assessment process.

One very graphic illustration of the distress this has caused ordinary Brits is the case Mike put up on his blog a few years ago. This described how members of the public came to comfort a young man, who was left crying outside the jobcentre, when they turned his application for benefit down.

Where the cries of Perrior’s and her colleagues then about distress? There weren’t any. Indeed, the whole attitude of the Conservative party, and its vile organs like the Daily Heil is that those on welfare are scroungers and malingers, who should be demeaned and vilified at every turn.

So I have absolutely no sympathy with Perrior’s wails about how upsetting it is for her former employer to get such horrible Tweets. May is presiding over a malign political system, which sees humiliation and distress as legitimate tools for managing the hoi polloi.

The best thing May can do is to end the distress she’s causing the rest of us, and resign to make way for a Labour government.

Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

Cartoons of Cameron, Osborne, Peter Lilley, Milton Friedman and Paul Dacre

July 2, 2017

Hi, and welcome to another cartoon I drew a few years ago of the Conservatives and their supporters in the press and leading ideologues.

These are more or less straight drawings of five of the men responsible for the present nightmare that is Theresa May’s Britain. A Britain where a hundred thousand people are using food banks to stop themselves from starving. A Britain where a further seven million people live in households where they’re eating today, but don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow. This is the Britain where the NHS is being gradually privatised behind the public’s back, so that the Tories don’t lose the next election. A Britain where the majority of the public would like the railways and utility industries renationalised, but the Tories want to keep them in private hands so that they provide substandard services at high prices for the profits of their managers and shareholders.

This is a Britain where the press screams hatred at ‘foreigners’ – meaning not just recent immigrants and asylum-seekers, but also EU citizens, who came here to work, but also second- or third-generation Black and Asian British. A press that demonises and vilifies Muslims, no matter how often they march against terrorist monsters like those of ISIS and their ulema – the Islamic clergy – denounce hatred and mass murder.

Immigrants and foreign workers are net contributors to the British economy. They are less likely to be unemployed and rely on the welfare state, so that their taxes are supporting the rest of us. Many of them have come here to fill very specific jobs. But they are still reviled for taking jobs from Brits, and for being scrounging layabouts, preventing true, hardworking Brits from getting the benefits they need.

This is a press that also denigrates and vilifies the very poorest in society – the unemployed, the disabled, unmarried mothers and others on welfare, so that the Tories can have the support of the public when they cut benefits to these groups yet again.

This is a Britain were the majority of people in benefits are working, but they’re stuck in low-paid jobs, often part-time, or zero hours contracts. Many of them are on short-term contracts, which means that, while they have a job today, they may not in a few months time. Nevertheless, even though these people do still work hard, the Tories have decided that the jobcentres and outsourcing companies should also pester and harangue them to get off benefits, because it’s their fault they’ve got a low-paid job. And this is despite the fact that it has been nearly four decades of Thatcherite doctrines about maintaining a fluid labour market, and a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’ to keep wages down.

The Tories are a party that yell passionately and incessantly about how they are ‘patriotic’, while the others were the ‘coalition of chaos’, but who have done so much to break up the United Kingdom into its separate kingdoms and provinces. Cameron called the ‘Leave’ referendum, hoping it would draw the venom from the Tory right. England voted for Brexit, but the rest of the UK voted to Remain. With the result that there is a real constitutional crisis about whether the UK can leave the EU and still remain intact.

It also threatens to renew the Nationalist/Loyalist conflict in Northern Ireland. Part of the Ulster peace process was that there would be an open border with Eire. The majority of people in the Six Counties, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, wish to retain the open border. But if Britain does leave the EU, then there’s a possibility that border will have to be closed.

The Tories have also endangered the fragile peace in Ulster in other ways. Having lost their majority in parliament, they’ve gone into an alliance with the DUP, a group of highly sectarian Loyalists, who condemn evolution, abortion, homosexuality and bitterly hate Roman Catholics and Gaelic Irish. They’re the same people, who demand the right to march through Roman Catholic areas screaming hatred at the residents. A party, whose links with Loyalist terrorists are so strong they’ve been dubbed ‘the Loyalist Sinn Fein’.

This is the party, that tries to present itself as for ‘hard-working’ ordinary people, while its dominated by elite aristocratic, old Etonians toffs like David Cameron and George Osborne.

The Conservatives have also been trying to present themselves as female-friendly and pro-women, as shown by their selection of Theresa May to lead them. But the people worst hit by austerity have been women, who make up the majority of low-paid workers, particularly in the service industries, like care workers and nurses. Some of the latter are so poorly paid, they’ve had to use food banks. When asked about this, all that brilliant intellectual Theresa May could do was to mumble something about how there were ‘complex reasons’ for it. No, there’s a very simple reason: you’ve paid them starvation wages.

This is a Britain where, according to Oxford University, 30,000 people were killed by the Tories’ austerity policy – introduced by Dodgy Dave Cameron – in 2015 alone. A policy which has dictated that people on benefits should be thrown off them apparently at the whim of a jobcentre clerk, and that terminally ill or seriously injured citizens should have their benefits withdrawn, ’cause they’re ‘fit to work’. Such poor souls have included cancer patients in comas.

Here’s a selection of some of those responsible for this squalid carnage.

At the bottom left is David Cameron. Bottom centre is George Osborne, and on his right is Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail. This is the Tory rag that has done so much to spread hatred against immigrants, ethnic minorities, the EU, the working class, the trade unions and which has been consistently anti-feminist. This last has been quite bizarre, considering that it was a founded as the newspaper to be read by the wives of the city financiers, who read the Torygraph.

On the right, above Dacre and Osborne, is Peter Lilley, from a decades old issue of Private Eye.

Lilley’s there because of his role in destroying the welfare state and privatising the NHS. It was Lilley, who pranced across the stage at a Tory conference in the 1990s reciting a stupid song he’d written about having a little list, in imitation of The Mikado. This was a list of everyone he hated, including single mothers and other benefit scroungers.

Lilley was also responsible for the PFI scheme, in which the government goes into partnership with private contractors to build and run public services, such as bridges and hospitals. These schemes are always more expensive, and deliver poorer service than if the bridge, hospital or whatever had been constructed using purely public funds. Hospitals built under PFI are smaller, and have to be financed partly through the closure of existing hospitals. See George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, about the way Britain has been sold off to the big corporations. But governments like it, because the technicalities of these contracts means that the costs are kept off the public balance sheet, even though the British taxpayer is still paying for them. And at a much higher rate, and for much longer, than if they had been built through conventional state funding.

Lilley’s PFI was the basis for New Labour’s ‘third way’ nonsense about running the economy. It has also been a major plank in the ongoing Thatcherite project of selling off the NHS. A few years ago, Private Eye published an article showing that Lilley developed the scheme, because he wanted to open the NHS up to private investment. And now, nearly two decades and more on, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries are being run by private healthcare companies, and the majority of NHS operations are actually being commissioned from private healthcare providers. The Tories hotly deny that they are privatising the NHS, but Jeremy Hunt has written a book in which he stated that he loathed state medicine, and Theresa May has kept him on Health Secretary, despite the bankruptcy of an increasing number of NHS Trusts, this shows that the reality is very much the complete opposite of their loud denials.

And the person on the left of Lilley is the American economist, Milton Friedman. Friedman was one of the great, free market advocates in the Chicago school of economists, demanding that the welfare state should be rolled back and everything privatised. He was the inventor of Monetarism, which was roundly embraced by Enoch Powell and then Maggie Thatcher. This was to replace the Keynsianism that had formed the cornerstone of the post-War consensus, and which stated that state expenditure would stimulate the economy and so prevent recessions. One of the other world leaders, who embraced Monetarism as his country’s official economics policy was the Chilean Fascist dictator and friend of Thatcher, Augusto Pinochet. Friedman regularly used to take jaunts down to Chile to see how the old thug was implementing his policies. When Pinochet was not imprisoning, torturing and raping people, that is.

One of Friedman’s other brilliant ideas was that education too should be privatised. Instead of the government directly funding education, parents should be given vouchers, which they could spend either on a state education, or to pay the fees for their children to be educated privately. This idea was also adopted by Pinochet, and there’s a very good article over at Guy Debord Cat’s on how it’s wrecked the Chilean educational system. Just as New Labour’s and the Tories privatisation of British universities and the establishment of privately run ‘academies’ are destroying education in Britain. It was also Maggie Thatcher, who began the trend towards removing the payment of tuition fees by the state, and replacing the student grant with student loans. The result has been that young people are now graduating owing tens of thousands in debt.

Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, said that when he was studying economics at Uni in the 1970s, Monetarism was considered so daft by his lecturers that no-one actually bothered to defend it. He suggested in an article that it was adopted by the Tories for other reasons – that it gave them an excuse to privatise the utility industries, destroy the welfare state and privatise the NHS. Even so, eventually it became too glaringly obvious to too many people that Monetarism was a massive failure. Not least because Friedman himself said so. This sent the Daily Heil into something of a tizzy. So they devoted a two-page spread to the issue. On one side was the argument that it was a failure, while on the other one of the hacks was arguing that it was all fine.

In fact, it’s become very, very obvious to many economists and particularly young people that the neoliberalism promoted by the Tories, New Labour, Friedman and the other free market ideologues is absolute rubbish, and is doing nothing but press more and more people into grinding poverty while denying them affordable housing, proper wages, welfare support and state medicine. But the elites are still promoting it, even though these ideas should have been put in the grave years ago. It’s the reason why one American economist called neoliberalism and similar free market theories ‘Zombie Economics’ in his book on them.

May’s government looks increasingly precarious, and it may be that before too long there’ll be another general election. In which case, I urge everyone to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, as he’s promised to revive the welfare state, renationalise the NHS and parts of the energy industry, and the rail network.

They’re policies Britain desperately needs. Unlike the poverty, misery and death created by the above politicos.

Cartoon: Cameron, Clegg and the Tories as David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’

June 26, 2017

There isn’t much to say about this cartoon, except that it was based on the film poster for David Lynch’s disturbing flick, Eraserhead. This is about a man with one of the weirdest hairstyles in cinema attempting to look after a weird, mutant baby, whose head resembles an eraser, hence the film’s title. It’s set in a crumbling, dystopian world, whose audio backdrop is in industrial noise. It’s been described as a horror movie, although it’s not quite that, as well as surreal, which it certainly is.

I thought it was a suitable metaphor for the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, as they’ve certainly done their best to make Britain as decadent and dystopian as possible. This is a Britain in which austerity killed 30,000 people in 2015 alone, according to researchers at Oxford University. Over a hundred thousand people are now forced to use food banks to stop themselves from starving, where 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ households, where the family members don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow. Families where the mothers are starving themselves in order to feed and clothe their children.

And all the while more people are forced into poverty through wage freezes, and cuts to welfare benefits. A country in which the poor, the unemployed and the disabled are vilified simply for being poor.

It’s a Britain where the NHS and the schools and universities are being privatised for the profit of private healthcare companies and school management companies, and in which uni students will graduate owing something like £40,000 worth of student debt.

This is a Britain in which homelessness is on the rise. Except you won’t see it, because local councils are passing laws to clear the homeless off their streets, so the site of them begging doesn’t annoy or upset the richer residents.

It’s a country where public services, like the trains, are being starved of investment so that their share value remains artificially high, and the bosses can award themselves big bonuses.

It’s a country where the private energy companies also keep prices high for the same reason.

It’s a country, whose natural beauty is in danger of being plundered and despoiled, as the government despises clean, renewable energy sources, and removes environmental protection legislation for the benefit of fracking companies.

It’s a country that’s heading rapidly towards dictatorship and authoritarianism, as New Labour, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation setting up secret courts, in which the defendant may be tried behind closed doors, with vital evidence and the identity of his accuser also kept secret, if the government decides this is required for reasons of ‘national security’. Just like the judicial system in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

But to make sure you don’t realise that this country is becoming a crumbling dystopia, the media do nothing but lie about how evil the left is, and how wonderful everything is under the Tories, including the BBC. A media dominated by a very few newspaper magnates – Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Twins, Richard Desmond, Vere Harmsworth and a pair of Russian oligarchs.

So I drew David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith all in black and white with the same weird hairstyle as the film’s hero, played by Jack Nance, like the film’s poster.

This is the face of the Tory-Lib Dem government as it was a few years ago. But things haven’t changed since under Theresa May, who’s gone full steam ahead with all the old, wretch Tory policies.

Don’t have nightmares! Just vote for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour poverty, to end austerity and the predatory capitalism that sustains it.

More Tory Lies as May Claims that ‘Austerity Is Dead’

June 15, 2017

On Tuesday Mike put up a post commenting on May’s claim that she was going to end the austerity foisted on the country by Cameron, Osborne and Nick Clegg. The trio had claimed that cutting services, privatising the NHS, and dismantling the welfare state even more ruthlessly, were what was needed to pay off the debt Labour had incurred trying to prevent the global economy collapsing due to the bankster’s recklessness. The result has been wages cuts and a massive increase in poverty as the poor, the unemployed, the sick and the disabled were thrown off benefits for the flimsiest of reasons.

Instead of blaming the bankers for the economic crisis, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers went back to the using refrain of blaming ‘high spending’ Labour for ‘living beyond our means’.

As Mike points out in his post, cutting government investment is the one thing you don’t do during a recession. State investment stimulates the economy, which means that businesses start making money again, which generates more tax revenue.

This one of the arguments in support of welfare provision against unemployment. If unemployed workers have some kind of income during a recession, they can afford to spend some of it, thus generating more income for businesses and the state. It’s basic Keynsianism, and it works. Unlike the grotty free market economics embraced by the Tories. That has only succeeded in increasing the debt.

Now Theresa May has decided that austerity should be ended. Not because she has woken up at last to the fact that it isn’t working, and in fact is damaging the British economy. Or because she’s suddenly grown a conscience, and has realised the immense human cost of the Tories’ austerity policies in terms of tens of thousands of people, who have died in misery. Or the 7 million plus British people now living in ‘food-insecure’ households, who don’t know if they’re next meal is going to be their last.

No, it’s because the Tories lost their overall majority, thanks to a revived Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. Mike comments

And now, further cuts are being abandoned – not because austerity’s ends have been achieved, but because the Tories have realised they will forfeit votes if they continue.

Everybody in the UK, who isn’t filthy rich, should be furious. We should be marching on Tory MPs’ homes and offices with blazing torches and pitchforks, shouting “Burn the monsters!”

The last thing we should do is tolerate this latest cynical reaction to prevailing trends. Tories represent greed and power. The only reason they abandon their pursuit of greed is when it may harm their hold on power.

Mike isn’t the only one who’s furious at this cynical U-turn and the cavalier fashion in which the Tories have shrugged off their responsibility for destroying so many lives with a brutal, callous and entirely wrong economic and social policy. He concludes

Even now, on the BBC’s Daily Politics, Tories Michael Howard and Dominic Grieve are talking about the need to live within our means. The fact is that it is entirely possible, if Tories are stopped from siphoning off our money into their bank accounts.

The end of austerity is to be welcomed.

The end of the UK’s problems will only come when the Conservatives are banished from Parliament forever.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/13/austerity-is-dead-says-may-because-it-was-never-needed-we-should-be-enraged/

In fact, the I newspaper also reported on the same day that the Tories were revising their manifesto, and dropping the more unpopular policies, such as the ‘Dementia Tax’. This was accompanied with noises about how we lived in a democratic society, and the Tories were a democratic party, so they were responding to the demands of the electorate.

There were also statements designed to reassure Tory supporters that this time, May herself would be performing better in public. They claimed that she was now a more naturalistic speaker, and that ‘the Maybot is gone.’

I find all of this very difficult to believe. The Tories are inveterate liars, who lie constantly without compunction. You only have to look through Mike’s blog for the past week or so to find very long lists of May’s promises, which she has subsequently broken. Such as her promises to put workers on the boards of companies. The campaign of her predecessor, David Cameron, was one long series of lies. He and IDS, the minister for culling the disabled, claimed that they were going to ringfence spending on the NHS, campaigned against hospital closures by Blair’s New Labour, and tried to present the Tories as now being more left-wing and friendly to the poor. He also stuck a windmill on the roof of his house, and claimed that his would be ‘the greenest government ever’.

Once in power, the NHS was being cut and privatised, hospitals closed and given over to private management companies, conditionality for welfare benefits massively increased, and any semblance of environmentalism thrown out completely. The windmill went from his roof, and in came the privatisation of Britain’s forests, the repeal of various pieces of legislation protecting the environment, and the go-ahead given to fracking.

The fact that Howard and Grieve were talking about ‘living within our means’ – which is Tory-speak for not spending anything on the poor and state services, like the NHS and education, means that the Tories really don’t believe it.

And yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and Sajid Javid are calling for May’s proposed cap on energy bills to be scrapped and the party should return to its ‘free market roots’.

Mike quoted Labour’s shadow energy minister, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and concluded:

“If correct, this is potentially another stunning U-turn from a weak and wobbly Prime Minister,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“One in ten households are living in fuel poverty and customers are being overcharged a whopping £2 billion every year. Theresa May unequivocally guaranteed a price cap before the general election but now it appears she is preparing to row back on that promise. It now looks like this price cap was simply an election gimmick and that the Conservatives were never serious about taking action to keep energy bills down.

“Britain needs a serious and long term approach in order to bring energy costs down, not cheap gimmicks that may simply be thrown into the bin just a week after the General Election.”

She’s right; Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid are wrong. What do YOU think the Tories will do?

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/14/the-tory-energy-price-cap-pledge-was-a-lie-or-at-least-philip-hammond-wants-to-make-it-one/

I think it’s blatantly obvious what the Tories will do. They’re lying now about ending austerity, but perfectly serious about abandoning the energy bill cap. If they get in again, May will reintroduce all the policies she claimed she abandoned, and the Tories will once again chant the old Thatcherite chorus of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

There is. It’s Jeremy Corbyn. He’s this country’s hope to stop further NHS privatisation, welfare cuts, starvation and deaths.