Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

Radio 3 Programme Monday to Friday Next Week on Blade Runner

November 2, 2019

It’s November 2019, the time when Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, is set. Radio 3’s programme, The Essay is running a series of programmes next week entitled The Essay: The Year of Blade Runner, looking at the film and the issues it raised. The programmes are all on at 10.45 pm. The first installment, ‘Los Angeles, November 2019’, is on Monday, 4th November. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Ridley Scott’s 1982 Sci-fi classic film Blade Runner, based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is set in November 2019. Five writers reflect on the futuristic elements of the film and what it is to be human or a machine starting with Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum in London. He considers Ridley’s depiction of Los Angeles and its life beyond the screen as its influence bled into architecture and design.

There’s another little piece in a sidebar on the same page by Tom Goulding, that says

Like Kubrick’s vision of 2001, or 2015 as depicted in Back to the Future Part II, in November 2019 we have finally caught up with the future envisaged in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The classic sci-fi noir, an adaptation of of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is often touted as a benchmark of the genre. This week the Essay’s presenters offer their thoughts on the film’s grandiose themes, starting with how its dystopian versio of LA compares to cities of today. Let’s hope things have improved by the time we reach Blade Runner 2049.

Tuesday’s installment is entitled ‘The Year of Blade Runner 2: Sounds of the Future Past’. The Radio Times says

Frances Morgan, writer and researcher into electronic music, explores the sonic landscape of Blade Runner, with a Bafta-nominated score by Vangelis, and how the film shaped perceptions of how the future will sound.

Wednesday: ‘More Human than Human – Ken Hollings’

Writer Ken Hollings takes the film’s Voight Kampf test as he examines the ethical barriers between humans and machines.

Thursday: ‘Zhora and the Snake – Beth Singler’

Dr Beth Singler, junior research fellow in artificial intelligence at Homerton College, Cambridge, is inspired by Zhora the snake-charming replicant to ask what is real and fake when it comes to AI love.

Friday: ‘Fiery the Angels Fell – David Thomson’

Writer on Film David Thomas takes a look back at Ridley Scott’s rain-soaked mash-up of existential noir and artificial souls, released in 1982 and set in November 2019.

Blade Runner is definitely one of the classic, and most influential Science Fiction films, and it’ll be very interesting what they have to say about it.

And just to remind you how awesome the film was, here’s the opening titles from Guillermo St’s channel on YouTube.

Sci-Show Explains the Psychology of Alien Abductions

October 7, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a post stating that when it comes to alien abductions and entity encounters, I subscribe to the ‘psycho-social hypothesis’. Roughly stated, this considers that they are internal, psychological events which draw on the imagery of space and science fiction for their content.

This video from Sci-Show on YouTube uses the same explanation for the phenomenon. The presenter argues that it probably arises from some strange, apparently inexplicable experience. There are many of these, but one favourite of psychologists and researchers is sleep paralysis. This when someone wakes up from sleeping, but elements of the dream and sleep state still persist. They find themselves paralysed, often with feelings of dread and the sense that there is an invader in the room. Sometimes there are feelings of bliss. Looking back, they may misremember elements of the experience, drawing on others they’ve had. The presenter here takes care to state that those who claim to have abduction experiences are no less sane and able to cope with normal life than anybody else.

But they are more prone to misremember things. He goes on to argue this using an experiment in which two groups, one of people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and another, which wasn’t, were shown lists of words. They were shown lists of words and asked to remember them. Then they were shown another list of words. They were then asked to remember the words in the first list. The individuals, who believed they’d been abducted by aliens were significantly worse at remembering the words from the original list, confusing them with those in the second. It’s called a source attribution error. Psychologists believe that this is the same mechanism that explains alien abductions. People have a psychological experience, and then mix it up with things they have seen elsewhere, like a monster they saw in a movie. The presenter makes it very clear that this study is not definitive, as it’s very difficult to find groups of people, who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, who are willing to take part in psychological experiments.

This experiment is one of a number, which shows how fallible human memory is, particularly in the case of eyewitness accounts and especially if the witness is asked leading question. The presenter concludes with the statement that abduction experiences don’t have much to say about life out in space, but they do say much about life down here, in the human skull: consciousness.

Part of the problem with the abduction phenomenon is that many of the researchers do use untrustworthy techniques to try to recover what they believe is hidden or lost memories. One of these is regression hypnosis. This has been used by Bud Hopkins, Leo Sprinkle and a number of others. It was first used by Dr. Walter Benjamin on Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple, whose experience is the archetypal alien abduction. They were travelling back from a holiday in Canada, when they found themselves shadowed by a strange light, which then landed in a field. They got out to look, and then Barney screamed when he saw strange creatures in the craft. They then had an experience of missing time, getting home much later than they’d anticipated. Over the next few days they suffered from various strange psychological problems and sought help from Dr. Benjamin. Benjamin hypnotically regressed them, during which experience they remembered being taken aboard and medically examined by the aliens. Betty was shown a star map by the aliens, which supposedly showed the location of their home world. This was identified by a friend of Betty’s as Zeta Reticuli. Hence the belief in the abduction mythology that the hated and feared Greys come from this star.

With respect to the couple, sceptics have argued that this is likely to be a false memory. The aliens they described under hypnosis were very similar to an alien creature that had featured on an science fiction show a night or so before. Hypnotic regression is also certainly not a sure way to recover lost or suppressed memories. The FBI investigated the use of hypnosis back in the 1950s as a way of recovering useful details from witnesses. They abandoned it as far too unreliable. Hypnotic subjects were prone to confabulating – inventing details and memories – in response to questions from the hypnotist. Parts of the ufology milieu in 1990s, like the Magonians, were horrified at some of the tales of sadistic aliens and general hopelessness related and felt by abductees after they had been hypnotically regressed. They therefore banned its use. The Magonians went further, and savagely attacked the whole mythology of alien abductions and the culture that had grown up around it, and demanded it’s immediate stop. And with very good reason. But it seems that some UFO groups and abduction researchers are still using it.

I’m not saying the psycho-social hypothesis is a complete or the final explanation for alien encounters. There may be some accounts that are genuine experiences of encounters with paranormal entities. John Keel and Jacques Vallee in their books UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Passport to Magonia – showed how UFO encounter narratives were similar to traditional fairy lore. They weren’t UFO sceptics, however, but believed that the same phenomenon that had created fairies in the Middle Ages was now responsible for UFO experiences. It may be that UFO encounters, or some of them, are based on real encounters with such Ultraterrestrials, as Vallee calls them. But I believe that the psycho-social theory provides a sound explanation for the majority of alien encounter and abduction experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sargon on the Gay Rights Civil War between Lesbians and Trans Activists

October 4, 2019

Sargon of Akkad, real name Carl Benjamin, is a shabby individual. I’ve blogged about him several times before, not least because his recruitment to UKIP along with Mark ‘Nazi Pug’ Meecham and Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars infamy, effectively destroyed whatever electoral credibility that borderline Fascist party had. Sargon is very definitely a member of the extreme right. He’s islamophobic, anti-feminist and has been credibly accused of racism. He claims to represent the moderate left, but also defines himself as a ‘classical liberal’. Which means that he favours the complete privatisation of the economy, and the destruction of the welfare state. He’s notorious for sending a particularly noxious text to the Labour MP Jess Philips telling her ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’ when she was describing the threats of sexual assault and worse she receives.

But this time, surprisingly, he sounds like a reasonable human being.

In this video he comments on a letter sent last month to the Sunday Times, signed by 22 leading gay rights activists, including Simon Fanshawe, the co-founder of the gay rights organisation Stonewall. The letter condemns that that organisation for its support of trans activists and their denial of the biological basis of gender identity, which they feel is a dangerous threat to women’s rights. They are particularly concerned about the way their ideology – that gender identity is a mental construct – threatens to undermine women’s rights and voices in issues like FGM, pregnancy and abortion. Sargon agrees with them, noting that concepts like lesbianism and bisexuality are based on there being only two genders, which the trans activists deny. Sargon and the gays here object to people, who have been born men, claiming to have a right to speak for women on these issues. They also state that it is dangerous for trans activists to go into schools to encourage children to review their gender identity. Sargon also agrees with this, stating that half the time if ask children about what gender they identify with, they’ll answer with fire-engines and dinosaurs.

The lesbian activist Julie Bindel is also concerned about the violence and threats coming from trans activists. She states that there are no threats of violence coming from the terfs – an acronym standing for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. But there certainly are threats made by the trans activists. Such as slogans like ‘Punch a Terf’. Sargon also shows a video on the Mail Online page, in which Bindel walks down a road in which trans activists are holding a counter demonstration against a meeting by an anti-trans feminist group. The trans people are chanting ‘Trans rights are human rights’ and kicking at the windows of the building in which the meeting is being held. Bindel states that this being done to intimidate the women inside. She states that women are being threatened, and criticises the police around the building for not doing anything to protect the women inside.

So great is the conflict between gays, bisexuals and lesbians, particularly the latter, with the trans rights activists, that the letter to the Times talks of a split occurring in the LGBTQ group, with the formation of a splinter organisation, LGBQ.

Naturally the video also contains Sargon’s sneers about feminists and gay rights activists. He states that he finds their views ridiculous and laughs at them. In a dig at progressivism in general he replies to Bindels comment about women being intimidated that the police will do nothing against the trans activists, as trans people trump women as being a more oppressed group. Well, there’s that. But the way the cops moved Bindel on when she tried to stop and talk to some of the counterdemonstrators suggested that they were more worried that any action by them would turn it into a violent riot. Sargon does say, however, that although he laughs at the Terfs, they have a right to their views and to express them. And so he opposes their deplatforming and the way some organisations, like the Cooperative Bank, have refused to deal with Terf groups.

It’s a crazy situation when a near Fascist like Sargon actually starts to make sense and defends free speech and democracy. I think he’s right in that most people would see gender identity as based in biology, and it is dangerous for trans activists to try to encourage children to question their gender identity. And he’s right when he says that women faced with issues like FGM cannot escape them by claiming to be a different gender mentally.

There are caveats to his views, however. Some transpeople, like the trans vlogger Rose of Dawn, draws a distinction between the genuine transgendered and the gender radicals. Rose of Dawn is a transwoman herself, and has stated that trans people like her have invested a great deal financially and psychologically in their transition to the opposite gender. The gender radicals, however, consider gender to be simply a mental construct. They make little or no effort to change the physical markers of gender identity or their biological gender itself. They have created any number of different genders, some of which come close to, or are indistinguishable from parody. One of them is a ‘gender that identifies with space, stars and nebulae’. Most dangerously, these people consider that as gender is a mental construct, they wish to overturn the 2004 act that stipulates that diagnoses of gender dysphoria – the medical condition in which one’s mental gender does not match one’s biology – should only be made by medical professionals. Rose of Dawn is, unfortunately, like Sargon in that she is a person of the right. Nevertheless, she makes some excellent and interesting points.

The radical trans activists do seem to be a threat to women’s rights, although I would argue that some, hopefully the majority of transpeople identify so strongly with the gender to which they have transitioned, that they should be treated equally to born members of those genders. I also have a read accounts by trans activists, who have been physically assaulted by radical feminists, so I don’t believe that the violence and threats are all on one side. But there is a genuine issue here, and it’s a sad state when only the right is discussing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Review of Russian UFO Conspiracy Book Now Up At Magonia Blog

September 12, 2019

My review of Nick Redfern’s Flying Saucers from the Kremlin (Lisa Hagen Books 2019) is now up at Magonia Review of Books. Magonia was a small press UFO magazine, which ran from the 1980s to the early part of this century. It took the psycho-social view of the UFO phenomenon. This is a sceptical view which sees the UFO phenomenon as an internal experience generated by poorly understood psychological mechanism, whose imagery was drawn from folklore and Science Fiction. It took the name ‘Magonia’ from Jacques Vallee’s groundbreaking UFO book, Passport to Magonia. Vallee, a French-American astronomer and computer scientist, along with the American journalist and writer on the weird and Fortean, John Keel, took the view that UFOs weren’t real, mechanical spacecraft piloted by beings from other worlds, but were created by the same paranormal phenomenon behind encounters with fairies and other paranormal entities. The name ‘Magonia’ itself comes from a statement by a sceptical 7th-8th century Frankish bishop, that the peasants believed that storms were caused by men in flying ships, who came from a country called Magonia.

The magazine didn’t just discuss UFOs. It also covered other paranormal phenomena and subjects, such as witchcraft. It provided a very necessary sceptical corrective to the Satanism scare of the ’80s and ’90s. This was a moral panic generated by conspiracy theories, largely from the Christian right but also from some feminists, that Satanic groups were sexually abusing and ritually sacrificing children. The Fontaine Report, published by the British government over 20 years ago now, concluded that there was no organised Satanic conspiracy. This effectively ended a real witch-hunt, which had seen innocent men and women accused of terrible crimes through warped, uncorroborated testimony. It needs to be said, however, that sociologists, social workers and law enforcement authorities do recognise that there are evil or disturbed individuals responsible for horrific crimes, including the molestation of children, who are or consider themselves Satanists. But the idea of a multigenerational Satanic conspiracy is absolutely false. See Jeffrey S. Victor’s excellent Satanic Panic.

Nick Redfern is a British paranormal investigator now resident in Texas. In this book, subtitled ‘UFOs, Russian Meddling, Soviet Spies & Cold War Secrets’, he proposes that while the UFO phenomenon is real, the terrible Russkies have been manipulating it to destabilise America and her allies. This comes from the Russians attempting to interfere in the American presidential elections a few years ago. In fact, the book doesn’t actually show that the Russians have. Rather it shows that the FBI, Airforce Intelligence and CIA believed they were. Prominent figures in the UFO milieu were suspected of Russian sympathies, and investigated and question. George Adamski, the old fraud who claimed he’d met space people from Venus and Mars, was investigated because he was recorded making pro-Soviet statements. Apparently he believed that the space people were so much more advanced than us that they were Communists, and that in a coming conflict Russia would defeat the West. Over here, the founder and leader of the Aetherius Society, George King, who also channeled messages from benevolent space people on Venus and Mars, was also investigation by special branch. This is because one of the messages from Aetherius called on Britain to respond to peace overtures from the Russians. This was seized on by the Empire News, which, as its name suggests, was a right-wing British rag, that denounced King for having subversive, pro-Commie ideas and reported him to the rozzers. King willingly cooperated with the cops, and pointed out that his was a religious and occult, not political organisation. But he and his followers were still kept under surveillance because they, like many concerned people, joined the CND marches.

It’s at this point that Redfern repeats the Sunset Times slur about the late Labour leader, Michael Foot. Foot also joined these marches, and the former Soviet spy chief, Oleg Gordievsky, had declared that Foot was a KGB spy with the codename ‘Comrade Boot’. It’s malign rubbish. Redfern notes that Foot sued the Sunset Times for libel and won. But he prefers to believe Gordievsky, because Gordievsky was right about everything else. So say. Actually, Gordievsky himself was a self-confessed liar, and there’s absolutely no corroborating evidence at all. And rather than being pro-Soviet, Foot was so critical of the lack of freedom of conscience in the USSR that he alarmed many of his Labour colleagues, who were afraid he would harm diplomatic relations. The accusation just looks like more Tory/ IRD black propaganda against Labour.

Other people in the UFO milieu also had their collar felt. One investigator, who told the authorities that he had met a group of four men, who were very determined that he should give his talks a pro-Russian, pro-Communist slant, was interrogated by a strange in a bar on his own patriotism. The man claimed to be a fellow investigator with important information, and persuaded him to take a pill that left his drugged and disorientated. Redfern connects this the MK Ultra mind control projects under CIA direction at the time, which also used LSD and other drugs.

But if Redfern doesn’t quite show that the Russians are manipulating the phenomena through fake testimony and hoax encounters, he presents a very strong case that the Americans were doing so. During the Second World War, Neville Maskelyn, a British stage magician, worked with the armed forces on creating illusions to deceive the Axis forces. One of these was a tall, walking automaton to impersonate the Devil, which was used to terrify the Fascists in Sicily. Redfern notes the similarity between this robot, and the Flatwoods monster that later appeared in America. The Project Serpo documents, which supposedly show how a group of American squaddies had gone back to the Alien homeworld, were cooked up by one of the classic SF writers, who was also a CIA agent. And the scientist Paul Bennewitz was deliberately given fake testimony and disinformation about captured aliens and crashed saucers by members of the agency, which eventually sent the poor bloke mad. He was targeted because he was convinced the saucers and the aliens were kept on a nearby airforce base. The American military was worried that, although he wouldn’t find any evidence of aliens, he might dig up military secrets which would be useful to the Russians. And so they set about destroying him by telling him fake stories, which he wanted to hear. And obviously, there’s more.

It’s extremely interesting reading, but Redfern does follow the conventional attitude to Russian. The country was a threat under Communism, and is now, despite the fact that Communism has fallen. He is silent about the plentiful evidence for American destabilisation of foreign regimes right around the world during the Cold War. This included interference in elections and outright coups. The most notorious of these in South America were the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile by General Pinochet, and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. He also doesn’t mention recent allegations, backed up with very strong evidence, that the US under Hillary Clinton manufactured the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in 2012 to overthrow the ruling pro-Russian president and install another, who favoured America and the West.

If you want to read my review, it’s at

http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/09/ufology-meets-kremlinology.html

 

 

Tory Press Goes Full InfoWars as Sunday Times Compares Corbyn with Mugabe

September 11, 2019

What kind of drugs are the hacks at the Sunday Times on? Because whatever it is they’re doing, it’s not normal dope. Not from the stuff they’re writing. I’ve heard that very heavy, long term use of cannabis and amphetamines can cause psychosis. Heavy ketamine use can also cause paranoia. The pioneering psychologist John Lilley, who invented the sensory isolation tank and began the scientific attempt to communicate with dolphins was at one time shooting up ketamine every hour. His mind got so twisted on the drug, that he became convinced that there were solid state, computer civilisations out in space conspiring against us. In fact, he was so convinced, he was considering phoning up the president of the US. As this was the early ’70s, and the president was Richard Nixon, this could have been an extremely interesting, if possibly short, conversation. I can only conclude that the hacks in the Tory press, and very definitely the Sunday Times, are on some kind of terrible recreational chemicals from the rubbish they’ve written about Jeremy Corbyn.

Last weekend’s Sunday Times was a case in point. This carried an article by hack Sarah Baxter, in which she declared that

People are being as gullible about Corbyn getting a whiff of power as I was about Mugabe”.

Say whaaaat! As Zelo Street’s article about this latest slur against the Labour leader has pointed out, since Corbyn was elected head of the party in 2015 the right-wing press has been telling everyone that Corbyn was the reincarnation of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zhedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Erich Honecker, Nikita Khrushchev, Nicolai Ceaucescu, Josep Tito, and even Osama bin Laden.

The Sage of Crewe pointed out that Corbyn isn’t a Marxist, merely because the right-wing press says so. And that Marxism is not the same thing as the political system of the former Communist bloc, including China. The peeps on Twitter also weren’t impressed. The Zelo Street article contains a selection of comments from people sick and disgusted with Baxter’s noxious slur. Dane Harrison tweeted

Yeah fine. Why not, Jeremy Corbyn is Robert Mugabe. He’s also a Jihadi, an IRA operative, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Stalin and a Czech spy. Aren’t you embarrassed by the character assassination? Crazy idea, why don’t you rub two brain cells together and come up with a real critique?

Hindu Monkey said

Another morning. Another right wing paper casually comparing [Jeremy Corbyn] – a man who has fought his whole life for peace, with a mass murderer” and added that he f**king hated the media barons who run this beautiful country.

The tweeters noticed how the Times was trying to distract everyone from BoJob’s attack on democracy with the smear. Zelo Street commented

‘The “look over there” factor was also clear, with “The Times, there, running a column that positions Corbyn as a Mugabe figure whilst Boris Johnson ices out his cabinet, suspends Parliament and literally tries to break the law to force through his extreme agenda” and “The Times: Damn, Boris Johnson really triggered the libs by suspending Parliament … Also the Times: Just like Robert Mugabe, Jeremy Corbyn harbours contempt for our institutions of democracy”. Sarah Baxter’s deflection and propagandising duly busted.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/09/murdoch-goon-says-corbyn-is-now-mugabe.html

These ad hominem attacks on Corbyn remind me of the vicious racist smears the Republicans and their media flung at Obama when he was president. He was supposed to be a militant Muslim infiltrator, determined to bring down America from within and turn into an Islamic country ruled by sharia law. Or else he was a militant atheist. Or a Communist. Or a Nazi. It didn’t matter that all of the smears together are mutually contradictory, they were all flung at him.

He was also accused of being a viciously anti-White racist, who was going to murder more people than Mao and Pol Pot combined. And then there were the unhinged rants of Alex Jones of Infowars, the man who believes 9/11 was an inside job and thinks the evils of the world are caused by the globalist elite. Who are all Satanic socialist millionaires in touch with creatures from another dimension. Or something. Jones, before he was thrown off YouTube and other internet platforms, ranted that Obama was planning to seize control of the US and make himself its dictator. He was going to call a state of emergency, and then decent, law-abiding right-wing Americans would be herded into FEMA camps. This was when he wasn’t denouncing Obama as the Antichrist. Yup, he reckoned Obama was the Antichrist, because he smelt and there were always flies around him. Or so he claimed. Mind you, he also thought Hillary Clinton was a Satanic lesbian witch, possessed by demons, and possibly a cyborg.

Well, Obama has come and gone. He signally was not a Nazi, nor a militant atheist, Commie or militant Islamist. He has not killed tens of millions of White Christians, overthrown the government or declared a national emergency forcing people into FEMA camps. Neither has he turned America into a Muslim country under Islamic law. The separation of Church and state in the Constitution makes that, or should make it, an impossibility. And there’s absolutely no danger of it, either. Several local authorities have passed laws banning the establishment of sharia law, but this is a reaction by racist Republicans to a threat that doesn’t exist.

And just as Obama didn’t prove to be a murderous despot, so Corbyn won’t either.

But there does seem a tradition of hysterical paranoia directed at left-wing figures in the Sunset Times. Apart from that bilge about Mike and other decent people being Holocaust deniers, and the late Michael Foot being a KGB spy, way back during Bill Clinton’s presidency the paper’s hacks really believed in a paranoid conspiracy theory about the president. Along with a group of journos from the American Spectator, which I think must be the Speccie’s transatlantic cousin, these hacks formed the ‘Clinton Crazies’. There was a conspiracy theory going round that Clinton, when he was governor of Alabama, had been importing cocaine from South America using a secret airfield in that state. He was also supposed to be such an evil, malign character that 30 people connected to him had died in mysteriously circumstances, killed by their friend or employer. It was all rubbish. About 30 people connect with Clinton had died, but none of them had been assassinated on the orders of the President, as one former Clinton Crazy actually pointed out. Nevertheless, the hacks got themselves into such a state that one actually hid in his house with the blinds half-drawn, squinting through them waiting for the CIA assassination squad to turn up.

This comparison of Corbyn to Mugabe just seems to be more insane paranoia by the paper’s genuinely extreme right-wing hacks. And by comparing him to Mugabe, they’ve now moved into the realm of real tabloid hackery. It’s on a level with the bogus stories published by the Sunday Sport and the Weekly World News. The Weekly World News was infamous for running highly sensational, and obviously fake stories. My favourites were about an alien meeting Bill Clinton when he was campaigning for re-election, and promising his vote to him. And the headline, ‘Mom was Bigfoot, says beastie man.’ And the Sunday Sport also gained infamy when it claimed that a B 52 bomber had been found on the Moon. It then claimed in a later issue that it wasn’t there, and had probably been towed away by the Space Shuttle.

The smears against Corbyn are as fictitious as all these, and all the fake stories and accusations the American right-wing media hurled at Obama. There is one difference, however. All the highly unlikely stories in the Sunday Sport and Weekly World News were probably written just to entertain. Despite the fears of academic folklorists that people would believe them, and they’d contaminate the real urban folklore about UFOs, Bigfoot and the other weird beliefs they were studying, I suspect few people, if any, actually did.

The fake stories against Corbyn are more pernicious, as they’re clearly meant to be believed. Which means that the journalism in the Sunday Times and the rest of the British right-wing press is in a way actually worse. It’s far more like Alex Jones and Infowars, but pretending to be a reliable paper of record. And that’s no joke.

Boris Johnson’s Cure for Depression – Go Back to Work!

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his legion of deep thinkers ponder mental health.

Just as Johnson has ignorant views on foreign nations and their leaders, so, it should come as no surprise, that he also has stupid and ignorant views on depression and mental illness. Yesterday Mike put up another article, based on a piece by Poorna Bell in i News, about Johnson’s latest piece in the Torygraph, in which he informs that disgusting rag’s readers about his ideas for tackling this serious health problem. And it really isn’t anything worth considering. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. His views on its solution aren’t just ignorant, they’re actually dangerous.

BoJo believes that depression can not only be effectively tackled, the cure would also help the economy and save money, all at the same time. So what is this wonder cure? Simples. He wants the depressed to go back to work. Because it worked for Winston Churchill during his ‘Black Dog’ episodes. According to the sage of Henley on Thames, or wherever it is he’s MP, it was through work Churchill ‘pitchforked off’ his depression. He goes on to write that what is true for Churchill is also to a certain extent true for the rest of us – that we derive a large extent of our self-esteem from our work. He goes on to say that it is being engrossed in our daily tasks that we derive an all-important sense of satisfaction.

Mike shrewdly remarks that if hard work’s so good at curing depression, then why has Boris himself never tried it? He admits its a low blow to claim that the man, who would be PM is mentally ill, but his views are an offence against people, who really have been diagnosed with these problems. He therefore asks

As this man may soon be the UK’s prime minister, why has nobody demanded that he undergo a mental health check?

Boris Johnson’s comment about mental illness raises one revealing question

Bell, the writer of the original article on which Mike’s is based, also isn’t impressed. She lost her husband to depression, and makes the point that it isn’t that people with depression don’t want to work, it’s that they can’t.

We’ve heard this kind of nonsense before. When the Tories first got nearly nine years or so ago, they and a number of mental health charities were advocating this approach. Tom Pride, Johnny Void and a number of other left-wing blogs, including Mike, tore it to pieces. They especially attacked the directors of the mental health charities making these claims, pointing out that they really had no understanding of depression and other forms of mental illness before, and their personal connections to industry and right-wing think tanks.

It’s the advice given out by fit types, who have never suffered any form of anxiety or depression, and so have absolutely zero understanding of it. To them, it’s just feeling a bit down. But never mind, you can pull yourself out of it, if you want to! Those people usually tell you how they were left feeling very depressed once, but they were able to come out of it by putting their mind to it.

And they’re wrong.

Depression isn’t like feeling ‘a bit down’. It is, as one scientist, Lewis Wolpert, called it A Malignant Sadness, which was the title of the book he wrote about his experience with it after losing his mother. And you can’t pull yourself out of it. Those with it try, and fail, and the failure makes them feel worse. Or at least, that was my experience when I came down with it nearly three decades ago.

Johnson’s comments are also those of someone, who has never had to take a job he didn’t want or like in his life. As an Old Etonian, he could always rely on his wealth and connections to open doors for him, just like his fellow old school chum David Cameron was invited to work for the royal family. Johnson worked first as a journalist, then became editor of the Spectator, and finally a professional politician with an eye on the top job. I dare say all these jobs have their stresses and problems. But he has never been forced to take a menial, poorly paid job simply to put a roof over his head and/or food on the table. He has never been in a zero-hours or short-term contract, nor had to worry about any other kind of job precarity. And whatever else they were, his jobs weren’t boring.

When I had my breakdown, I was in an extremely boring job. I had nothing to distract me from the fears and anxieties I had at the time. And so, while I can’t claim the job caused the breakdown, it didn’t help and made my mental health worse.

And I’m sure I’m not alone by a very, very long chalk.

At the time I was working in an office, as very junior staff. And job hierarchy is very much part of the problem. Way back in the 1990s the Beeb’s flagship science programme, Horizon, covered the problem of stress. Using the civil service records going back to the First World War or so, they showed that while the people at the top of the civil service were also under pressure, it was the people at the bottom of the pile who suffered from stress-related illnesses. And the crucial reason why they did, and they’re seniors didn’t, was simply because their seniors were in a position of leadership. They had control, whereas the staff at the bottom didn’t. One former, high ranking civil servant said that when he joined, it was like the whole world was opening up to him.

Which exactly describes Johnson’s position and mentality.

He could always count on a very good position, even if it wasn’t one of leadership. As an Etonian, he immensely privileged and has access to a world of opportunity very much not granted to you and I. And it shows. He’s always enjoyed good mental health, even if that doesn’t hold true for commonsense, intelligence and simple common decency. He has never, ever in his life suffered the anxieties and stresses of the powerless, the people most likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

He doesn’t understand their predicament. Neither do his readers, or the rest of the Tory party and its degraded, mendacious press.

He isn’t interested in making genuinely sick people well. He’s only interested in finding ways to get people back into poorly paid, insecure work. Or if not that, then simply off the benefits the poor and sick need to survive.

And this means that if he gets in, we can expect the wretched workfare, benefit sanctions and work disability tests to continue. Because it’s all justified in getting people back to work, as that will cure them.

Except it doesn’t. Mike has put on his blog time and again case after case in which the DWP declared a severely ill person ‘fit to work’. And quite often they tried to justify this by saying that working ‘would bring positive benefits to their self-esteem’ or some other similar sniveling rubbish. Like the case where the DWP passed someone as fit to go back to work, who was being treated for cancer in the spine. This person was in no way fit to go back, but the assessor decided they should because ‘it would give them something to look forward to.’

Disgusting!

Boris is a menace to the disabled poor, as is his wretched party. Get them out, and a Labour party, led by Corbyn, in!

 

Book on What’s Really Needed for Artificial Intelligence: Emotion, Spirituality and Creativity

July 6, 2019

The Muse in the Machine: Computers and Creative Thought, by David Gelernter (London: Fourth Estate 1994).

I came across this book looking around one of Cheltenham’s secondhand bookshops yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I fully intend to. Although it was published nearly a quarter of a century ago, I think the issue it addresses is still very real, and one that isn’t acknowledged by many computer scientists. And it’s immensely provocative. Gelernter argues here that the brain is not like a computer, and by concentrating on rationality and logic, computer scientists aren’t developing genuine Artificial Intelligence – true minds – but simply faster calculating machines. What is needed instead is creativity and inspiration, and that can only come from emotion and spirituality.

The blurb for the book in the inside cover runs

Is Artificial Intelligence really getting any closer to understanding the workings of the brain? Or is it, despite generations of smarter, more logical reasoning machines and more refined philosophical theories, missing the point? Is the AI model, for all its apparent sophistication, simply too crude?

David Gelernter believes that it is. In this dazzling, powerfully persuasive new book he argues that conventional AI theory is fatally flawed, ignoring as it does the emotional elements in the human mind. AI can go on improving its creations as much as it likes, but as long as it insists upon seeing the mind as a machine, it will always been building machines and not minds.

It’s time to tackle a fundamental truth: feeling isn’t incidental to thought, a pleasant diversion or unwelcome distraction. It’s essential, a precondition and part of all our thinking. A mind that can’t be irrational can’t be rational; a machine that can’t feel can’t think.

Spirituality is not failed science, anymore than poetry is botched prose. Significant as recent developments have been, suggests Gelernter, the real renaissance is yet to come. The new science of the mind will involve art and theology as closely as it does technology, and will owe as much Wordsworth and Keats as to Papert and Minsky.

Bound to cause a furore in the field of Artificial Intelligence, the Muse in the Machine has far wider implications than this, and far great importance. It is a book which demands to be read by everyone who values human thought and its achievements. If it offers much to intrigue and to provoke in its daring, wide-ranging discussion of the mind and its workings, it provides much, too, to delight and move.

It’s probably no surprise that Gelernter believes that art, literature and spirituality/ theology should also be important components of genuine machine intelligence. Not only is he credited as an associate professor computer science at Yale University, but also a lover of philosophy and published poet, with an MA in Classical Hebrew Literature.

For all that the book and its thesis were – and no doubt still are – controversial, he has correctly identified a major problem. Other philosophers and scientists, both of computers and the human brain, have pointed out that the brain isn’t a computer. Rather, the computer is simply the latest metaphor for the brain. Before then, the metaphor was of an immense telephone exchange. And before that, in the 17th century, when modern neurology was only just beginning, it was as a series of fountains. I also understand that many neurologists now believe, following the ideas of the paranormal researcher Stan Gooch, that much of human thought and cognition actually occurs deeper in the more primitive sections of the brain, connected with emotion. And I can imagine many atheists distinctly unsettled by the idea that true rationality also requires a spiritual, religious and theological component. That’s enough to send Richard Dawkins completely up the wall!

It’s going to be an very interesting, provocative book, and one I shall look forward to reading. And I’ll definitely post about it when I have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ozzy Osbourne Tells Trump to Stop Using his Music

June 30, 2019

Here’s another great story from yesterday’s I, for 29th June 2019. According to the article ‘Trump warned off Osbourne songs’ on page 11, the dark god of Rock has told the Orange Generalissimo not to use his songs for his rallies or campaigns. The article runs

Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have ordered Donald Trump not to use the heavy metal star’s music for his political campaigns.

The US President, who is running for re-election in 2020, used Osbourne’s 1980 hit Crazy Train in a video mocking his Democrat rivals.

The clip,  posted to the president’s Twitter page on Thursday, opened with footage of the previous evening’s Democratic debate as the Black Sabbath front man’s song played.

Sharon Osbourne criticised Mr Trump’s use of the song and said he was now “forbidden” from using any of Ozzy’s music.

Rock and Roll!

I don’t think this necessarily comes from any deep aversion to the Republican Party on the Osbournes’ part. If I remember correctly, they stayed at the White House at Bush’s invitation when the soon-to-be butcher of Iraq was elected president. I think it may simply be a case of Osbourne wishing to be seen to be politically neutral, rather than allied with any single party. And I also think a good part of it is also a natural desire not to have his music associated with Trump because of the Cheeto President’s vicious racism and intolerance.

But it also seems very strange to me that the Republicans have decided they like Rock/Metal after the way they and the Moral Majority went after it in the 1980s. This was when the right-wing guardians of western, and specifically American morality started turning their ire on Role Playing Games and rock/pop music. The group Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons declared that the game was responsible for the suicide of a very troubled young man, and was corrupting kids all over America. Bored teenagers meeting in their parents’ living rooms to play table-top games as wizards, dwarves, orcs, elves, women warriors etc were being enticed into Satanism and the occult.

Ditto with Rock and Metal. The Organisation of Senators’ Wives were running around demanding the record companies put labels on their products to indicate if they had offensive lyrics. Black Sabbath were, I believed, sued by one mother, whose son had tragically taken his life. She claimed the lad had been prompted to do it from listening to the track ‘Suicide Solution’. In fact, as I’ve been told by Ozzy fans, the song is about someone considering suicide, who then rejects it. It is not a glamorisation, and the case was thrown out of court. Rock and Metal were also being blamed for rising crime, juvenile delinquency, and spreading sexual perversions and promiscuity amongst the young. And, of course, Satanism and the occult.

This was part of the Satanism scare in America and Europe at the time. There were supposedly multigenerational groups of Satanists responsible for the horrific abuse of children, including human sacrifice. The claims started with a series of books by people claiming to have survived such abuse, like Michelle Remembers. These launched a very real witch hunt, in which numerous children were taken into care on the flimsiest of evidence, and entirely innocent people were accused as their Satanic abusers. Again the evidence against these was often extremely tenuous to non-existent. It often consisted of little more than memories, which had been recovered under hypnosis by their psychiatrists. A British government report in the 1990s effectively put a stop to it over here, by concluding that such Satanic sects didn’t exist.

Rock and Heavy Metal was an obvious target for the scare, because so many bands used occult or Satanic imagery. This reached its nadir in an infamous edition of ITV’s The Cook Report, in which the investigative journalist asked Ozzy if he really was a Satanist. ‘I find it hard enough to conjure myself out of bed in the morning, let alone evil spirits’, said the great man. On the other side of the Pond, Dee Snyder, the front man of rockers Twisted Sister, was called in to give evidence about the influence of rock music on the young to a congressional inquiry. ‘Wasn’t he worried about the effect unsuitable music has on children?’, they asked him. ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, ‘and as a parent I’m very careful what my children listen to.’

Rock music 1. The overly censorious moral watch dogs zero.

Given this, and Rock and Metal’s strong association with excess and rebellion, it amazes me that the Republicans have tried to co-opt, because it seems to contradict everything the Religious Right stands for. I know they’re trying to reach out to the young, and many Rockers are politically right-wing, but there’s still a contradiction there.

But all this aside, it’s great that Ozzy and Sharon are standing up to Trump and his very real Fascism. Party on! Excellent!

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.