Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Antisocial Media on the Ugly Story of Katie Hopkins

August 13, 2017

Antisocial Media is a vlogger, who makes videos laying into the far right and its various denizens. In this long video – it’s an hour and four minutes long – he presents the unlovely story of Katie Hopkins. Hopkins is the professional troll and Sun writer, who in 2015 wrote that she didn’t care about the thousands of dead migrants killed attempting to cross the Med into Europe, but wanted them deterred with gunboats. She then compared them to ‘cockroaches’. She has also applauded Trump’s avowed policy of banning Muslim emigration to the US. She has also made other statements aimed at working up hate and vilifying Muslims, such as blaming them as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Islamists and complaining that Muslims don’t do enough to distance themselves from the terrorists. She has also sneered at the Scots, fat people and written a long piece defended the footballer Adam Johnson after he was convicted of grooming and having underage sex with a 15 year old girl. Oh yes, and she also sneers at her own sex, women, for being too weak and pathetic. Because she didn’t like the Pussy Marchers at the Women’s March in Washington against Trump. And then she has appeared talking to Dave ‘Alt Right’ Rubin, of the Rubin Report, who tells her that he hasn’t seen anything racist or anti-Semitic in her material.

The clip begins with The Apprentice, the show that launched her on her path to infamy. Antisocial Media has a particular animus against the show, because not only has it launched her, but it also has Karen Brady as one of Alan Sugar’s little helpers. Yes, Karen Brady, who was elevated to the House of Lords, where she voted for tax cuts, which hurt the poor the most. Plus, The Apprentice is presented in the US by Trump. He also thinks that Alan Sugar looks like an angry testicle. Well, it’s a point of view, I suppose.
Hopkins was not a winner, but fell on her sword as she couldn’t guarantee to Sugar that she would take up the post with him if it was offered.

There then follows a clip with Sugar amazing everyone, when he appears on Breakfast TV to say he felt sorry for her. For all of five minutes. This was because there was an aftershow rap party, but she had made no friends on the programme and so no-one was talking to her.

Then there’s a clip of her appearing on Philip Schofield’s show, where she talks about how she doesn’t like very working class names like Charmaine or Bradley, because they show the child comes from a certain type of background characterized by bad behavior. Basically, she’s afraid they’re too chavvy. Opposing her is a woman, Anna-May Mangan, the daughter of an Irish immigrant, and a working-class mother. She makes the point that she was also isolated at school, because some parents didn’t want their children playing with an Irish girl. However, her daughter and working class friends have gone on to university, and despite having names like Kylie that Hopkins sneers at, have qualified as doctors and lawyers. Schofield then reads out a list of high achieving Americans, including doctors, sports people and musicians, who have the names Hopkins detests.

Antisocial Media then points out that you can see the direction of Hopkins’ future career there, as she deliberately takes up a position that she knows will be inflammatory and unpopular. However, despite the fact that the show is only watched by the elderly, housewives and the unemployed, the segment was immediately picked up and circulated on social media.

That led to Hopkins getting a job at the Sun, and, in 2015, making those vile comments about migrants. This part of the film includes a clip from Russell Brand taking her apart for this. Brand rightly points out that when she called them ‘cockroaches’, she was using exactly the same language as Heinrich Himmler, the head of SS, when he described Jews as ‘rats’ and ‘vermin’.

Also not impressed by this terminology was Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye. He interviewed Hopkins, who tried lying her way out of it. No, she wasn’t being malicious when she described them as ‘cockroaches’. She was admiring their fortitude and endurance, as we were all told that in the event of a nuclear war only cockroaches would survive. This is plainly bullsh*t of the highest order, and Hislop rightly calls her out on it. He simply goes on to read out the other hateful stuff she wrote about them.

She also gets short shrift from the comedian Josie Long, who also makes the point that describing these people as ‘cockroaches’ and saying ‘we need a final solution’ is very much the same language that the Nazis used of the Jews, and is very definitely not a joke.

Russell Brand also argues that there’s no point in hating Hopkins herself, as she’s just the product of the hatred and racism in a section of British and society and media. Or in his graphic phrase, ‘the pus oozing from the pimple’. Quite so. Antisocial Media then discusses how her comments led to a petition calling on her to be banned. He makes the point that this has allowed her to position herself as someone standing up for free speech, saying what can’t be said because of political and media bias. He argues instead that pressure should have been placed on the Sun’s editor and publishers, so that they should have to think very carefully before they give a job to someone like her, or publish their comments. And Josie Long points out that it isn’t enough to ignore her. She’s tried to that long enough already, and Hopkins is still here, along with Nigel Farage and other creatures of the extreme right.

Hopkins also tried defending her comments about Trump’s Muslim ban on Andrew Neil’s politics programme. She got shredded there too. Neil pointed out several times that she was accusing him of saying things he never had. When she then talked about how we had lost control of our cities to aggressive migrants, particularly Muslims, Neil pointed out that while insulting behavior was unpleasant, they hadn’t lost control as she said. He asked her to name one city where this had occurred. Hopkins couldn’t, and so started challenging him to join her in going round such a city to show what would happen. Neil said he’d quite like to, but they couldn’t if she wouldn’t tell them which area it would be. She then very obviously changed the subject to her joy that her child’s school still has a Nativity play, which Neil also pointed out. As for the Muslim community not condemning the acts of terror committed in their name, Neil rightly points out that they’ve done so. There have been marches by them against the terrorists.

Too right. There have any number of Muslim clerics, who have condemned the Islamists and terrorism across the Middle East. In India something like 200 of them signed a document condemning them. But this is too few of them, according to Hopkins.

One of Hopkins’ supporters is Paul Joseph Watson, of Infowars fame. Watson, pontificating about Muslim terrorism, declared that there were no cases of terrorists shouting ‘Katie Hopkins’ instead of ‘Allahu Akbar!’. Except there were. A group of White racists had daubed on a mosque somewhere the message ‘***** Leave’ and ‘We need a final solution’.

And her bigoted racist comments have garnered her support from the real Nazis. One of those who supported one of her statements on Twitter signed himself ‘Antijuden SS’. ‘Juden’ is the German word for ‘Jews’. Hopkins took the comment down, but it was up there for a year before she did so.

Then there’s the clip of her going on America television to attack fat people. She claimed fat people were unhappy, and so put on and then lost 50 pounds in order to shame them, make the point that they shouldn’t make excuses for themselves, and could lose weight without having a chef or personal trainer. Antisocial Media says he sort-of agrees with her, in a way, but still thinks she’s wrong because she’s obviously not going to encourage anyone to lose weight when she so obviously hates them.

As for Adam Johnson, Antisocial Media rips into her long screed in support of the footballer by stating that he was indeed grooming the girl, and that by blaming her, and claiming she seduced him, she was blaming the victim. And yes, legally you can make a judgement concerning what is the proper age of consent.

Antisocial media also states that, thanks to the Scots dying before the age of sixty, because they’re too lazy to work till the age of retirement, Hopkins has now gained the same notoriety as Alt-Right troll Milo Yiannopolis over in the US. Hopkins made the comment on the same day, but just before, a terrible helicopter crash, which made her comments appear even more offensive than they were. Now, like Yiannopolis, she’s guaranteed to produce a crowd of protesters whenever or wherever she appears.

As for her appearance with Dave Rubin, when he states that Hopkins has, in his opinion, never said anything racist or anti-Semitic, the video shows this to be completely untrue by putting up a selection of some of the disgusting things she’s said about Blacks and Muslims. She also talks about how Britain is succumbing to Islam, because of the rise of Muslim mayor in many British cities, such as the mayor of London. She also talks about the global schemes of George Soros.

You can here something like a wolf howling at this point. I think it’s been put in because it’s ‘dog whistle’ politics. It’s a racist statement, that’s coded so that only people aware of this type of racist language recognize it. Soros is very much a bete noir of the Far Right. He’s also a Hungarian Jew. This is why the Fascists running Hungary are putting up posters attacking him on bus stops all over their country and in the media. Soros funds various democracy and open society groups and institutes in Hungary, which is clearly a threat to the anti-Semites now goose-stepping around the corridors of power.

This also shows how selective the accusations of anti-Semitism may be the Zionists are. Soros is very anti-Zionist. He despises them because of the way Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in Hungary, betrayed his people to the Nazis. He allowed the Nazis to deport them in the hope that the Nazis would allow some of the survivors to go to Israel. So Soros doesn’t support Israel, and won’t give money to Zionist organisations.

This has sent Netanyahu and the Israeli government berserk, and they have been only too glad to give their support to the Hungarian stormtroopers in their demonization of Soros. For further information on this, see the article on Tony Greenstein’s blog at http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/israel-supports-viktor-orban-and.html.

As for Katie Hopkin’s appearance with Dave Rubin, it’s telling that amongst some of the stars of the Alt Right he gives prominence too is Millennial Woes. Millennial Woes is someone, who can only be described as a racist and a Nazi. He hates coloured immigrants, has said that they should be gunned down by warships, and also recommends the reintroduction of slavery. He is definitely not someone any decent person would want to share their views, or be associated with politically.

I dare say Katie Hopkins will be around for years to come. Because she is a troll, who gets off on being hated, she’s an unperson on Mike’s blog. He won’t mention her unless he really has to, and then he uses a suitable pseudonym or circumlocution.

On the other hand, Josie Long is right. She isn’t going away. I signed a petition on Change.org to get rid of her after her vile comments about a ‘final solution’. But I think Antisocial Media has a point when he says that the people, who really need to feel the heat are the editor and publishers of the Sun. But frankly, considering the Scum’s long history of appearing before organisations like the Press Complaints’ Commission for racism, and the apparently cavalier way Murdoch regards libel, I don’t think there’s much chance of them heeding the opinions of the British public on this issue.

Democrat Lawmakers Wish to Strip Trump of His Power to Launch Nuclear Missiles

August 13, 2017

At last, after the mindless, terrifying posturing of Trump and Kim Jong In, there’s a bit of common sense in this latest nuclear crisis. A group of Democrat politicos, including Mark Lew, are demanding a change in legislation that would strip the American president of his current power to launch a nuclear attack without Congress’ authorization. This piece of legislation is currently backed by 50,000 signatures from the American public. A previous version of the law was signed by 500,000 people.

In this clip from The Ring of the Fire, the front man not only welcomes this piece of legislation, which would restrain Trump as someone too dangerously unstable to have this power, but asks why it was never passed before. All the past presidents, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and George Dubya, had the power to launch a nuclear missile somewhere without having to seek Congress’ approval. This means that they could destroy a region anywhere, and leave it uninhabitable for 30 years. The presenter makes the point that no-one should power.

He’s absolutely right. The British comics writer and creator, Pat Mills, made a similar point back in an edition of Diceman, a comic whose strips were all Role-Playing Games. In one of these, the reader played Ronald Reagan, who had to go back in time to undo the series of events which were about to start a nuclear war with the former Soviet Union. Mills wrote in the notes to the game a piece detailing how little operational machinery there was in place to check a president’s decision to launch a nuclear attack, or halt hostilities once they had began. These procedures were so few that, if America had been on the brink of a nuclear to the point where the president had gone aboard Airforce 1 to escape an attack on the White House, his chance of contacting the Russian premier to negotiate a peace and pull back from Armageddon would depend literally on a three mile length of wire dangling from the aircraft as an emergency aerial.

And this was under Reagan, whose rhetoric and conduct towards the USSR and Communism was especially belligerent. He nearly started a nuclear holocaust himself with that stupid joke he made at a Republican rally. He stood in front of the cheering crowd, and declared that ‘Congressed has passed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. Bombing begins in five minutes’. A little while later, the Observer reported under the headline, ‘Nearly the Last Laugh of All’, that after Reagan made that stupid joke, one of the Soviet nuclear bases in Siberia went on red alert for half an hour before standing down.

We can’t have the power to start a nuclear war, and turn this planet into a lifeless cinder, unilaterally held by the President, without a comprehensive system of check. It shouldn’t be held by Reagan, Barack Obama or Clinton, let alone a pratt like Trump.

I have a feeling that the system may have been set up the way it has been for swiftness of response. If Russia had fired nuclear missiles at America, the president could have launched a rapid counterattack in the precious last few minutes the country still existed, instead of seeking Congressional approval.
But the Americans discussing abandoning their ‘no strike first’ policy, removing this power from the presidency is a small price to pay for increased global security.

It’s also similar to a proposal in Britain to strip the Prime Minister of the right to start a war without the consent of parliament. This is precisely what Blair and his cronies did when they joined Bush in the invasion of Iraq. Looking through Waterstone’s shelves the other month, I saw a book by a British general arguing against the proposal, on the grounds that it would hinder Britain’s ability to wage war.

A fair reply to this argument would be ‘Good.’

The Iraq invasion was an illegal act of aggression, launched on a tissue of lies that Saddam Hussein was planning another attack, and had weapons of mass destruction. He wasn’t and didn’t. The result has been the destruction of one of the richest, most secular nations in the Middle East, the devastation of its priceless antiquities, and millions dead, wounded and displaced not only in Iraq itself but across the Middle East.

It plunged the country into a vicious, sectarian civil war, in which the American occupying forces gave material aid and sanction to Shia death squads, while the mercenaries employed by the West ran completely out of control. These private military contractors were responsible for prostitution to murder, sometimes just killing ordinary Iraqis and Arabs just for kicks.

There is a very strong case for hauling Blair, Bush and the other warmongers up before the Hague as war criminals. This has been tried by British, Canadian and Greek lawyers, but American pressure on the Hague War Crimes Tribunal put a stop to it. And a few weeks ago a British court also ruled that Blair could not be indicted as the war criminal he is.

Considering the horror Blair unleashed through his decision to go to war, against the wishes of over a million ordinary Brits, who marched against it – Christian, Muslim, atheist, whatever, then it’s only too right that the Prime Minister should have to call parliament before they declare war.

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.

A Pro-Jewish and Pro-Palestinian Attack on Zionism and Its Crimes

July 29, 2017

Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 1, Alan Hart (Kent: World Focus Publishing 2005).

I said a few weeks ago in a post about one of the stories carried by the great Tony Greenstein on his blog that Zionism had been responsible for so many crimes against ordinary Jews around the world, that there was enough material for somebody to write a book about it. Well, someone had, and that person was Alan Hart. Hart was a reporter for both the BBC and ITV. The potted biography on the back cover states that he

has a unique experience of the Arab-Israeli conflict in both its regional and global aspects as a foreign correspondent for ITN and the BBC’s Panorama; as, on the human level, a confidant of leaders on both sides of the conflict, and as a participant at leadership level in the secret diplomacy of the search for peace. And his own observations are informed by his empathy with both sides: with the unspeakable but real fear of the Jews, Holocaust II: and with the anger and humiliation of the Arabs and Moslems everywhere.

Hart admits in the book that he is a gentile, but describes with pride how he had the confidence of both Yasser Arafat and Golda Meir, who even described him as ‘a dear friend’.

The blurb on the front flap of the dust jacket states

Can a Clash of Civilisations, Judeo-Christian v Islamic, be averted?

It all depends, the Author of this book, believes, on what Churchill once called “the struggle for the soul of the Jewish people.”

The Zionism of this book’s title is Jewish nationalism, the creating and sustaining force of the modern state of Israel. And this Zionism, political Zionism, is not be confused with the spiritual Zionism of Judaism.

Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews was chosen by the author as the title for this book because, in seven words, it reflects two terrifying truths of our time.

The first is that more than half a century on from the obscenity of the Nazi Holocaust anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe and America, where most of the world’s Jews live as citizens of many nations and as spiritual Zionists – looking upon Jerusalem as the centre of their religion and spiritual capital.

The second, a great and tragic irony, is that the behavior of political Zionism’s child, Israel, where only a minority of the world’s Jews live giving substance to Jewish nationalism in action, is the prime cause of the re-awakening of the sleeping giant of anti-Semitism.

The story this book has to tell – thrilling, chilling but ultimately inspirational – is a must read for all who wish to understand why, really, the countdown to Armageddon is on. And how it can be stopped.

Like very many other critics of Zionism, including Jewish and Israeli academics such as Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe, to the Jewish and non-Jewish victims of the anti-Semitic slurs and suspensions in Labour party this year, Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein and Mike over at Vox Political, Hart is outraged at the bullying and intimidation of decent, non-racist people, by the Zionists, who use false accusations of anti-Semitism to silence their critics. Hart raises this very point in the first paragraph of his acknowledgements. He writes

A letter to my literary agent described the manuscript for this book as “awesome… driven by passion, commitment and profound learning”. The letter concluded: “There is no question it deserves to be published.” The writer was a major UK publisher who, like others of his fraternity, was too frightened to publish this book out of fear of offending Zionism and being falsely accused of anti-Semitism. Since the obscenity of the Nazi holocaust, the false charge of anti-Semitism is the blackmail card Zionism has played, brilliantly, to prevent informed and honest debate about who must do what if there is to be a peaceful resolution of the Palestine problem, which is the prerequisite for averting a clash of civilisations, Judeo-Christian v Islamic.

He then writes about the possible optimistic outcome of this struggle to get the truth out to the public indicated by the result of a debate inspired by his book’s title, on the motion ‘Zionism is today the real enemy of the Jews’, was held by the London debating society, Intelligence Squared, at the Royal Geographical Society. The motion was carried, a result which Hart declared was ‘pregnant with hope for the future’. He continues

Why so? Because the silence of mainstream diaspora Jews on the matter of the Zionist state’s behavior had been broken.

However, he soon found out that he and the others fighting for truth on this issue would have a very long way to go before achieving their goal.

But it soon became clear to me that this pregnancy is going to be a very long and difficult one. After the historic IS debate I decided to delay publication of this book to give my publisher and I quality time to reach out to Jewish groups and organisations, as sensitively as we knew how, to prepare the ground for the Great Debate this book was written to provoke and promote. We learned that most Jews, because of the past, are so fearful of the future – unspeakably terrified – not just frightened – that they are frozen in silence, unable more than unwilling to criticize Israel. In my book, I have tried my best to take account of, and speak to, this fear.

This passage therefore shows just how immensely courageous Jewish critics of Zionism, like Finkelstein, Pappe, Greenstein and Walker are, in defying this fear. And it also shows just as clearly how utterly wretched and despicable those would try to silence Israel’s critics by denouncing them as anti-Semites, when they are nothing of the sort, and constantly trying to invoke fears of a renewed holocaust. These are the tactics used by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement.

Hart duly credits the authors, whose work he has used, and in particular a group of eight Jewish and Israeli writers. He quotes the Israeli writer, Yehoshafat Harkabi, the author of the book Hachraot Goraliot, published in English as Israel’s Fateful Hour. Harkabi wrote that

What we need in Israel is not a united front behind a wrong policy (continuing Israeli occupation of Arab land seized in 1967) but searching self-criticism and a careful examination of our goals and means, so that we can differentiate between realistic vision and adventurist fantasy. We need clear, rational and, above all, long-term, comprehensive political thinking… Jews in the West, particularly in the United States, should participate in this debate. They should not be squeamish and discouraged by the fear that the arguments they air may help their enemies and those of Israel. The choice facing them, as well as Israel, is not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. Criticising Israeli policies may be harmfully divisive, but refraining from criticism and allowing Israel to maintain its wrong policy is incomparably worse. If the state of Israel comes to grief (God forbid), it will not be because of a lack of weaponry or money, but because of skewed political thinking and because Jews who understood the situation did not exert themselves to convince Israelis to change that thinking. Harkabi explicitly stated that Jews around the world would be judged according to Israel’s actions, and that this would provoke an anti-Semitic reaction.

As for the threat of Armageddon, he describes an interview he had with Golda Meir, who stated explicitly that if Israel was ever defeated on the battlefield, it would be prepared to take the entire region and the whole world down with it. (p.xii). He also states on the same page that the Zionists have deceived Jews and gentiles across the world into falsely believing that Israel’s existence has been in jeopardy, when that has never been the case. And he also discusses the powerful influence of the American Evangelical Christian right, and in particular a chilling speech by its leader, Pastor Hagee, which supports Zionism in the hope of bringing about the Apocalypse and Christ’s return to Earth. (p. xiii).

The book is a history of Zionism and the state of Israel from its origins to Eisenhower’s 1957 confrontation with Nasser, with chapters on the Balfour declaration and ‘Zionist terrorism and ethnic cleansing’. Some of the events and documents will be familiar to readers of this blog from articles in Lobster, Tony Greenstein’s blog, the works of Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe, and the material submitted by the Jewish supporters of Livingstone and the other maligned souls in the Labour party, Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat and Mike. This includes explicit statements by the Zionist founding leadership that they were colonisers; the disgusting message by the Stern Gang offering to ally themselves with Nazi Germany in exchange for sending expelled German Jews to Israel; further statements by leading Zionists supporting the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population and the way the Israeli state used the massacre at Deir Yassin and the threat of the further violence to terrorise the Arabs into fleeing their homes.

Tony Greenstein has shown again and again in his blog that Zionists will ally with real, murderous anti-Semites, just as the Stern Gang wished, when it serves their purposes. And they can be completely indifferent, even hostile to attempts to save Jewish lives if this means allowing them to remain in their native lands, or moving somewhere else in the diaspora. On page 135 Hart describes how Morris Ernst, one of the wartime leaders of the Jewish community deeply involved in attempts to rescue eastern European Jews, approached president Roosevelt with a plan to increase the number of Jewish migrants to America and Britain. He stated that, after negotiating with them, the British authorities were prepared to let 150,000 more Jewish refugees into the country. The one provision was that American must allow the same number to enter their country. Ernst looked forward to saving a further 200,000, perhaps even 300,000 Jewish lives.

But he was to be severely disappointed. Under pressure from the Zionist and official Jewish organizations in America, Roosevelt had given in and decided against the plan. Jewish refugees from the Third Reich were to be sent to Palestine, not allowed into America. Ernst then went round his friends in the Jewish community to persuade them, and received a very frosty, even hostile reception.

Ernst was shocked and, without mentioning what Roosevelt had said, he approached his influential Jewish friends to try to get their support for a worldwide programme of rescue. As he described it himself in his own book, this was the response he got. ” I was thrown out of parlours of friends or mine who very frankly said, ‘Morris this is treason. You are undermining the Zionist movement.'” He also said that he found, everywhere, ” a deep, genuine, often fanatically emotional vested interest in putting over the Palestinian (Zionist) movement” in men “who are little concerned about human blood if it is not their own. (p. 136).

Hart goes on to explain that America’s Jews were assimilated and prosperous. They were afraid that the arrival of embittered, poverty-stricken and radical eastern European Jews would provoke an anti-Semitic reaction which would threaten their own comfortable position. (p. 36).

Hart also notes that many Jews today are increasingly considering the possibility of disassociating themselves from Israel. He cites the controversy that greeted a statement by a London rabbi, David Goldberg, in 2002, when he said that it may be time for Judaism and Israel to go their separate ways.

This incident perhaps explains why Netanyahu, Likud, and the other parties in his noxious coalition have passed legislation declaring all Jews, wherever they are, to be citizens of Israel. Except for those, who dare to criticize the country, no matter how mildly. They won’t be let anywhere near the country. It also provides a bit of background to the recent finding that the more American Jews, even those on heritage trips to Israel, funded by the Israeli government, find out about the Zionist state, the more they hate it. This includes even Jews, who have suffered real anti-Semitism. As, incidentally, have many of the Jews the Zionist lobby labelled as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews over here. It helps to explain the number of Jews, who support the Palestinians in the BDS movement. Clearly, a number of Jews, not just those in the anti-Zionist Naturei Karta, have been disillusioned or critical of Israel for a very long time. Certainly since the 1980s, when a number of Israeli authors first uncovered and published the evidence of Israel’s horrific crimes against the Palestinian people. And the movement is growing.

It’s because of this that there’s a bi-partisan movement in Congress to criminalise as anti-Semitic protests against Israel and the BDS movement. According to RT’s report, the proposed legislation will include a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, real anti-Semites and neo-Nazis, including some of the denizens of the Alt-Right in Trump’s own administration, are allowed to continue spouting their own hate, including holocaust denial, because free speech is protected under the Constitution. Well, it is, so long as it doesn’t threaten Israel and by extension, western power in the Middle East.

The book is a savage indictment of Zionism and its supporters in America and Europe, including the leading politicians in Britain and elsewhere, that promoted the country as a means of advancing their own global, imperial interests. And it shows that Zionism is not only dangerous for provoking anti-Semitism, but also that Zionists – both Jewish and gentile – will also use anti-Semitism as a weapon to ensure further Jewish emigration. The Zionists have shown that they can be just as ruthless and persecutory towards ordinary, diaspora Jews, as towards the Palestinians and other Arabs.

This is a book that desperately needs to be read by more people, if a genuine, just peace is to be established in the Middle East. And it is also extremely useful in combating the lies, slander and bullying of the Israeli lobby in British politics, including the Labour party.

American Historian Nancy Maclean on James McGill Buchanan and the Libertarian Attack on Democracy

July 27, 2017

This is another very interesting clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report. He talks by phone to Nancy Maclean, the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, who explains the origins of Libertarianism in the thought of James McGill Buchanan and the threat this now poses to American democracy through the Koch brothers. Buchanan was one of the founders of Public Choice Economics. This exists in both left- and right-wing versions, and in Buchanan’s case, it’s extremely right-wing. Buchanan took an attitude towards the American constitution similar to Calhoun, one of the figures in early American political history, who was strongly opposed by Madison. Calhoun divided society into ‘makers’ and ‘takers’. The ‘makers’ were the rich, while the ‘takers’ were the poor. Buchanan expanded on this distinction to found the Virginia School of Political Economy. This considered that no constitution in the world, including the American, adequately protected property rights. As Maclean herself points out, this is a ridiculous statement when applied to America, whose constitution protects private property to a higher degree than those of other nations. Buchanan then became political active trying to change this.

Central to the Virginia’s school’s thinking was the doctrine that it was immoral to tax the rich to benefit the poor. Buchanan, and the other Libertarians around him, were firmly opposed to progressive taxation and the embryonic American welfare state. It is this opposition to progressive economic and social policies that has strongly influenced the Republican party’s current attempts to destroy Obamacare.

This led to the foundation of the Montpellerin Group, a think tank which was one of the founding organizations of Libertarianism in the 1970s. Its members included von Hayek, von Mises, and the founder of Monetarism, Milton Friedman, as well as Charles Koch. They also realized that they would be a minority, and so looked for ways to assist non-democratic regimes so seize power, like General Pinochet in Chile.

The Kochs are oil billionaires, who have been major figures in the Libertarian party, and have given lavishly to a number of extreme right-wing organisations in America working to destroy the American welfare state and undermine the Constitution. Two of these are the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but Maclean states that there 15 of these in all. Maclean states that the Libertarians present themselves as Madisonians, determined to return the Constitution to its original form and protect it against the progressives and liberals they feel have hijacked and corrupted it. She points out instead that their views are those of Calhoun, rather than Madison. Madison and the other Founding Fathers were extremely Conservative themselves, and determined to protect private property as much as possible. She acknowledges that the Constitution as it is, with its four veto clauses, is a Conservative document. But Madison was a determined opponent of Calhoun, and stated that if Calhoun was successful, it would be the end of freedom in America.

I’ve put up several pieces from Reichwing Watch over the past few days, showing that Libertarianism, far from being a form of Anarchism, as its supporters claim, is actually a form of extreme right-wing politics similar to, and increasingly declaring itself to be, at least according to spokesmen like That Guy T a form of Fascism. This adds a little information to show that it has always been Fascistic. Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat has pointed out that Pinochet and his regime was Monetarist, strongly influenced by von Mises, and that Milton Friedman frequently visited the country to see how the thug was implementing his economic policies. This shows that the connections between Pinochet and the Chicago school weren’t coincidental. Friedman and his cohorts didn’t visit Chile, because Pinochet just happened to be a Monetarist and wanted their assistance. They visited Chile because they had rejected democratic government and were actively assisting Pinochet to achieve power in order to help the rich exploit and brutalise the poor.

And this isn’t an issue that’s just confined to America. Libertarianism has also been a very strong influence on the Tory party since the days of Maggie Thatcher. She was deeply impressed by von Hayek, and turned up at a political meeting in the ’70s with his book, The Road to Serfdom. A young man had been speaking before her, recommending a more middle of the road policy in line with the post-War consensus. Instead Thatcher slapped von Hayek’s wretched screed on the table and announced, ‘This is what we all believe now.’ There was always a section of the Tory party that despised the welfare state, and they have become the dominant section of the party since Thatcher. It was Thatcher, who talked explicitly of dismantling the welfare state, including the NHS, which she wished to privatize. It is these policies, that are still being carried through nearly forty years later.

And these ideological links and the threat they pose to the NHS are likely to become fixed through the free trade agreements that the Tories are desperate to conclude with Donald Trump. The break up of the welfare state and the gradual privatization of the NHS is being done partly for the benefit of American private healthcare and state outsourcing companies. Private Eye revealed that the work capability tests were introduced by Peter Lilley and the Tories through the influence of the American insurance fraudster, Unum, an influence that continued when Tony Blair and New Labour came into power in 1997. The magazine also revealed that Blair was being lobbied by a number of American firms, including Wackenhut, which, amongst other things, runs private prisons. Any deal the Tories make with Trump’s administration is likely to cement the privatization of the remains of the NHS and the wider state sector into international law.

If we wish to defend the NHS and what’s left of the welfare state, and create a better, fairer society, we need to make sure such privatization does not become enshrined in any trade treaties, either with America or the European Union, and combat Libertarianism and its attack on the poor and weak as the underlying ideological cause.

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.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

More Hypocrisy from the Tories and the Daily Mail as They Accuse Labour of Bigotry and Intolerance

July 8, 2017

The Conservatives and Daily Heil are back to the old tricks of accusing the Labour party and its supporters, particularly those in Momentum for Jeremy Corbyn, of intolerance, vandalism and intimidation. Sheryll Murray, the Tory MP for South East Cornwall, whined in an article in the Fail about her treatment by Labour supporters. She claimed that

“I’ve had swastikas carved into posters, social media posts like ‘burn the witch’ and ‘stab the C’, people putting Labour Party posters on my home, photographing them and pushing them through my letterbox. Someone even urinated on my office door.”

Dominic Sandbrook, one of the rag’s journos, then went on to opine that “The fact is the overwhelming majority of the abuse, bullying and intimidation comes from the Left.”

Tory MP Nadine ‘Mad Nad’ Dorries put up a photograph of one of these vandalised posters with the accusation that it was done by Momentum supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, along with her judgement that Britain was heading back to the 1930s.

As Mike has pointed out on his blog about the article, citing Tom Clarke, the Angry Yorkshireman, neither Murray, Dorries nor Sandbrook has absolutely any evidence that this was done by Labour supporters. It’s just another unfounded accusation to smear the Labour party.

And Murray herself also has form when it comes to intolerance. At one of her rallies, she stated that she’s glad there are food banks in Cornwall. When a section of the crowd, not unreasonably, shows its anger, she first tries to wave it off by saying, ‘Let’s ignore these, shall we?’ As Mike also asks rhetorically, what does she mean when she refers to the protesters as ‘these’? When they continue, she threatens to call the police.

Mike concludes

This Writer reckons the Tories are on the back foot, and this is a desperate attempt to regain credibility with the public.

It must not succeed.

So, if you see a Tory trying to defame the Left in this manner, don’t let it pass; challenge it.

We’ll see how long their feigned indignance lasts when they’re made to produce evidence – or shut up.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/06/tories-accuse-the-left-of-intolerance-and-bigotry-without-evidence-pot-kettle-black/

There are a number of issues underlying the petulant shrieks of intolerance by the Tories, some going back to patrician attitudes to the working classes that predate democratic politics.

Firstly, as Mike and the Angry Yorkshireman point out, there’s absolutely no evidence linking any of this to the Labour party. Indeed, some of it is just as likely to come from the Lib Dems or indeed just from people of no fixed political opinions, who are fed with the Tories. In rural areas like parts of the south west, the main rivals to the Conservatives aren’t Labour but the Liberal Democrats, and I’ve heard from former Conservative local politicians that the real hatred isn’t between Labour and the Conservatives, between the Tories and Lib Dems.

Secondly, the Tories’ attitudes in many ways is simply a display of the old, upper class suspicion of the working class. Way back in the early 19th century the upper classes hated and feared the Labouring poor as prone to rioting, and potentially subversive and disloyal. The only way to keep the unwashed masses in line was through outright repression and stern policing. This attitude vanished, or at least was seriously weakened when the great unwashed turned up at the Great Exhibition. And instead of wanting to burn the place down, showed themselves orderly, responsible and interested. But this latest accusation from the Fail with its petit bourgeois readership shows that the old hatred and fear of the working class as a seething mass of social disorder, yobbishness and violence, still remains.

Thirdly, it shows just out of touch ‘Nads’ Dorries, Murray and Sandbrook are. If people are lashing out at Tory MPs and their propaganda, it’s because they’ve been driven to it by grinding poverty and an administration that ignores everyone except the richest quarter of the population. Many areas of rural Britain, including Cornwall, have high unemployment. There’s also a problem of getting housing, which is often well out of the price range of locals thanks to wealthy people from outside the area buying it as second homes. I’ve a friend from Cornwall, who was particularly angry about this nearly a decade ago. I can remember him getting up to tackle a group of ‘upcountry’ people about it in a pub, when he overheard them talking about how cheap property was down there.

Then there are the national problems of acute poverty, caused by stagnating wages and cuts to basic welfare support. People want and deserve proper unemployment and disability benefits, and very definitely not to be forced to support themselves through charity and food banks.

And then there’s the whole issue of the privatisation of the NHS. A few months ago I wrote another pamphlet about that, in addition to the one, whose contents I put up here a week or so ago. While writing this, and documenting the way a long line of right-wing governments have been aiming to privatise the NHS since Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s, I felt so furious that I really couldn’t face any kind of Tory propaganda. I felt so bitterly angry at the way the health service is being run down, in order to soften it up for privatisation and purchase by largely American private healthcare companies.

Given all this, the British public has an absolutely right to be angry, and while I don’t approve of people urinating in anyone’s letter box, I honestly can’t blame them for vandalising the posters. In Bristol popular anger against the Tories could be seen just before the general election in a piece of graffiti scrawled outside the Eye Hospital near the BRI. It read: Donate Tory Blood – It’s Worth More!

Nads’, Murray’s and Sandbrook’s sneering about ‘left-wing intolerance’ shows the complacency and complete indifference to suffering of the Tory middle and upper classes. They’re very comfortably off, thank you very much, and the Tories are serving them very well. So they have no idea, and indeed react with absolute horror at the very idea that part of the masses hates them with a passion, because they have no understanding, or sympathy, with the real poverty and deprivation many people are struggling with. We’re back indeed in the territory of Matthew Freud’s comments about how the poor should be more flexible than the rich, as they have less to lose.

There’s also an element of the old Tory landlord class, who expect their workers to put up and tug their forelock to the master, no matter how badly they were treated. A few years ago one of the BBC history programmes covered the Highland Clearances, the period in the late 18th and 19th centuries when the Scots aristocracy enclosed and forced their tenant farmers off their land so they could devote it to sheep rearing. The image of the wild, romantic Scots countryside actually post-dates this process. Before then the countryside north of the border was filled with rural communities – townships – and their people. It only became a wilderness when these people were forcibly evicted and their crofts and other homes pulled down.

And to add insult to injury, those workers, who managed to keep their jobs were expected to tug their forelocks and sing the praises of their masters. The programme mentioned how one ‘improving’ landlord, who was actually English, or half-English, got very upset when he decided to have a statue put up of himself. He expected his workers to pay for it, and was furious when many of them were less than enthusiastic.

It’s the same attitude here. The Tories still expect absolute feudal loyalty and subservience. When this is not forthcoming, and anger is shown instead, their own selfish indifference to the plight of the lower orders comes out, and they start screaming about how it’s all so unreasonable, intolerant, and, by implication, disobedient.

And lastly, it’s also massively hypocritical. The Tories have absolutely no business accusing anyone of intolerance, and especially not the Daily Heil. Not when sections of the party is still bitterly racist, with Mail and the Tory party championing even more stringent state censorship and surveillance of what we may read and post online, or say on the phone or other forms of social media. Not when they’ve created the legal infrastructure for secret courts, where you can be tried without trial, with having your lawyer see vital evidence against you, or even know who your accuser is, if the government decides this would all be against ‘national security’. Just like Stalin’s Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy!

And the Tories certainly have no problem with violence and intolerance when it directed against the left. I remember how the Scum put up an approving story during the Miner’s Strike, about how an old lady struck the then head of the NUM, Arthur Scargill, with a tin of tomatoes she’d thrown. This old dear was praised for her pluck and daring at the evil Commie, who was destroying the mining industry and forcing all good, right-thinking Thatcherite miners out of the pits. Yet when the reverse occurs, and someone throws eggs at the Tories, they start frothing and screaming at their intolerance.

And if we’re talking about the Right’s intolerance during the Miner’s Strike, then how about the way Thatcher used military-style policing, including unprovoked charges, against the miners. This was done officially, and covered up by a complicit media, including the Beeb. Violence, and the savage beating of protesters, ain’t intolerance when it’s done by the Tory forces of law and order.

Dorries, Murray and Sandbrook show themselves with this article, to be intolerant hypocrites themselves. They’re all too happy to see people ground into the most extremes of poverty and misery, but panic when some few show their dissent by tearing down their propaganda.

Counterpunch on the Dangers of the Driverless Car

July 1, 2017

Ralph Nader in an article posted on Tuesday’s Counterpunch took to task the current hype about driverless cars following a day long conference on them at Washington University’s law school.

Driverless cars are being promoted because sales are cars are expected to flatten out due to car-sharing, or even fall as the younger generation are less inclined to buy them. Rather than actually investing in public transport, the car industry is promoting driverless automobiles as a way of stimulating sales again.

Nader is rightly sceptical about how well such vehicles will perform in the real world. There are 250 million motor vehicles in the US. This means that real driving conditions are way more complicated than the simple routes on which these vehicles are developed and tested. And while the car industry claims that they will be safer than human-driven vehicles, the reality is most people won’t want a car that they can’t control, whose guiding computer can malfunction or which could be hacked into, whether by the manufacturers or others. Along with such vehicles come increased pressure from the manufacturers for less protective regulation for their drivers, passengers and the general American public.

As for developing a driverless car, which can be taken over by its human occupant in an emergency, researchers at MIT have already shown that this won’t work. Instead of producing driverless cars, we’d be better of concentrating on creating vehicles that are safer, more efficient and less harmful to the environment.

He concludes

The driverless car is bursting forth without a legal, ethical and priorities framework. Already asking for public subsidies, companies can drain much-needed funds for available mass transit services and the industry’s own vehicle safety upgrades in favor of a technological will-o’-the-wisp.

He also links to a report by Harvey Rosenfeld into the dangers posed by driverless cars. It’s quite long – 36 pages. This makes it very clear, however, that driverless cars are disastrous. They’re literally a car crash waiting to happen. The report also claims that much of promotion of such vehicles comes from the insurance. Although driverless cars are likely to be much less safe than ordinary cars, the claims that they will be less liable to accidents will allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums for those driving ordinary vehicles.

Driverless cars have been under development since the 1980s, but I can’t see them becoming a viable reality any time soon. Last year the industry proudly announced two types of driverless car, one of which was called the Tesla, after the great Serbian physicist and inventor of Alternative Current. These were withdrawn after accidents in which people were killed.

I have to say, I don’t know anybody who wants one. The various pieces I’ve read about them say that for their owners, using them will actually be quite boring. This is despite the claims that people will be able to read, work or relax instead of driving. But you can do all of that anyway by simply travelling by bus, rail or tube.

Then there’s the threat of unemployment. Two-thirds of all jobs are expected to be lost to automation in the next decade. There are about 40,000 truckers in Britain. That’s 40,000 people, who may lose their jobs if driverless lorries are every produced. And they have been trying to develop them. I can remember Clarkson nearly bursting with excitement while riding in one during an episode of Top Gear a few years ago.

My guess is that the reasons behind their development is far more sinister, and almost certainly connected to the military. For years the military has been trying to develop autonomous, robotic weaponry. I’ve blogged about some of the war robots that have been created and which were featured a few years ago in the popular science magazine, Frontiers. These included various types of jeep, which had been altered so that they carried guns. Such machines have been under development for a very long time. Kevin Warwick, a robotics scientist at Reading University, describes how the US army created a robotic jeep equipped with a machine gun way back in the 1950s. This looks like another step along the way to producing the type of autonomous war robots, which Warwick and some other robotics scientists fear may pose a very real threat to the human race as they become more advanced and their intelligence greater. We are creating war machines very close to the Daleks of Dr. Who or The Terminator franchise.

It also seems to me that the navigation software and computer hardware needed for driverless cars will also find a major general applications in other types of robot. Despite claims by some neuroscientists that the human brain is a load of inefficient ‘kluge’ created by blind evolutionary forces that select for survival, rather than particular skill, cyberneticists have found it very difficult in practice to replicate the way living things, from insects all the way up to humans, actually navigate their way around the world.

Think about the way robots have to work their way around objects. They have to estimate exactly how far away the obstacle is, then work out a path around it, all done using maths. A human, meanwhile, rather than estimating how many steps it takes to the object, and then planning a path of some many steps, precisely laid out, are needed to walk around it, simply does it.

An example of how difficult robots actually find such navigation in practise was given by Warwick when he appeared at the Cheltenham Festival of Science over a decade ago. There’s been a kind of robot Olympics held in Reading. The various competing teams had tried to produce robots that could navigate their own way around the town. Warwick’s team had created a robot with an infrared detector, which would simply follow the light source planted on the back of the human running in front of it. Which to me sounds very much like cheating.

All went swimmingly, until suddenly the robot veered off the road and started shooting off somewhere else entirely, before it collided with something, fell over and stopped. Warwick and his team wondered what happened until it finally occurred to them that the robot had fixed on that big, infrared light source in the sky, the Sun, and ran off trying to pursue that.

This was a decade or so ago. I’ve no doubt that things have improved since, but I doubt that they’ve improved quite so much that driverless cars, or completely autonomous robots, are going to be appearing in the next few years.

And until they do, I shall be very suspicious of the hype.