Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Moshe Machover, Israeli Anti-Zionist, Speaking at Labour Against the Witchhunt Meeting

March 2, 2019

This is another excellent video from the public meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt on the 29th January last year, 2019. LAW was founded to stand up for people, who had been unfairly targeted by the right in the Labour party for expulsion, chiefly, but not exclusively, on bogus charges of anti-Semitism. Although one young woman was suspended or expelled because – gasp! Shock! Horror! – She was a fan of the Foo Fighters! LAW’s chair is Jackie Walker, a Black, Jewish anti-racist activist, who was falsely accused of anti-Semitism. Here she introduces Professor Moshe Machover, a very well respected Israeli mathematician and a staunch critic of Zionism. Here he tells the story of how he was also smeared, expelled and re-admitted for ‘supporting another party/not supporting another party’.

Walker states that many people were uplifted when the NEC were forced to go back on their knee-jerk response and reinstate him. This happened because they were at the Labour party conference and the offending article that many have spoken about that Moshe wrote, which touched on some of the issues that Ken [Loach?] spoke about, was in a paper on the side. And Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, came out, took a photo of them, smiled, and said something like ‘Well, we’ll have you now.’ Within hours Machover had been fingered. What is extraordinary is that in two years, 18 months, more people have been suspended and still do not know what the allegations against them are. It is extraordinary that at times, given that, Labour’s disciplinary unit can respond so quickly. She then hands over the Mike to Prof Machover.

Machover’s rather elderly, so he apologises for speaking from a sitting position. He states he wants to make a few technical points. It is not only about false allegations of anti-Semitism. There are two things that are combined, and in his case they were combined. The allegations of anti-Semitism are the most despicable, they are a form of character assassination. But they can only suspend you for it. They did not use that allegation to expel him. There is a more draconian rule that was used him against him and many other people, which has zilch to do with allegations of anti-Semitism. It is the infamous Rule 2.14.4b in the Labour party rule book. This allows the bureaucrats not to suspend, but to expel automatically. The procedure shares with the allegation of anti-Semitism the absence of natural justice. There is no due process. This is about who the accuser, the prosecution and the judge are. They are the same people: the committee that is expelling you or adjudicating in your suspension. They are the judges and the prosecution. You cannot cross-examine the witnesses. You cannot know who is accusing you. This applies to both cases. The draconian rule that allows automatic expulsion, or prevent you joining the party. Some of this would be just, if it was accompanied by due procedure, natural justice. For example, if you demand people vote for a rival candidate to a Labour candidate in an election. That would be a just case for expulsion. If someone is caught with a bloody knife over a corpse, they still have a trial. They’re not sent to prison automatically. Unlike this rule.

And some of the ground for automatic expulsion are absolutely absurd, a bureaucrat’s dream. This is membership or support for a political organisation not affiliated to the Labour party. But they do not define what a political organisation is. It could be Refuge. It could be Momentum [which was not at the time affiliated to the Labour party]. it could be anything. And what does ‘support’ mean? In Machover’s case, it was comical. Membership is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ thing. But what does ‘support’ mean? They accused him of supporting a rival organisation. Why did they pick on this organisation? They did not call for voting against Labour. On the contrary, they encouraged people to vote for Labour candidates. What does support me? It’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ issue. He supports some things, but not others. He says he did not respond to that part of the question when the bureaucrats wrote to him about it, because he didn’t really give him any definition of what support meant. When he was expelled, the evidence against him was the article he had published in the weekly journal of the CPGB [Communist Party of Great Britain]. This is something a lot of people do. Jeremy Corbyn has published many articles in the Morning Star, a lot of Labour leaders have published articles in journals inimical to the Labour Party. When they grudgingly reinstated him they said that they construed his reply as evidence that he did not support this organisation. He did not admit or deny support, but they arbitrarily decided that first he did, then he didn’t. That shows the arbitrariness of the whole procedure.

Coming to the accusations of anti-Semitism, it is true, as Walker said, that the accusations started when Corbyn became a candidate. That was a shift of gear in a campaign that started a few years previously, which had little to do with the Labour party, Britain, or specifically Jeremy Corbyn. It is a campaign orchestrated by the Israeli government, specifically by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs led by the cabinet minister Gilad Erdan. This was a response to Israeli’s declining reputation and falling support internationally,  among the left but also among liberal opinion, and particularly among the young, including young Jewish people. And so they decided to fight against it by accusing people who were against Israel and its crimes, and against the Zionist project of colonisation, branding them as anti-Semites. And the bastards fight dirty. You don’t need to go further than look at the al-Jazeera expose. He recommends that if you haven’t watched the four part series, you should, as he found it personally entertaining in a macabre way, but also import to see how the whole thing works.  He then goes to make the following points:

The campaign against Corbyn by the right, including the Labour right, which still holds very important bureaucratic positions, latched onto it and used it as a cudgel against Corbyn. This was a confluence of those who believed in Israel almost like a religion, who were prepared to eat alive anyone who dared to make even the most justified criticism of Israel. This coincided with the people on the right, both inside and outside the Labour party, who care zilch about Israel, Palestinians and anti-Semitism. They just want to use anti-Semitism as a weapon against Jeremy Corbyn personally. This is combined with a characteristic of the elite, not just in this country, but generally in the international community, in what used to be called ‘the free world’. This is led by the United States, which is led by, you know who. And Israel is playing a very important role for the US, not only as their regional watchdog, but as their supplier globally of the hardware and software of mass repression, such as the drones used not just for reconaissance but also assassination. Israel is the United State’s rottweiler, which is at the head of the international community. And so if that rottweiler pisses on your shoe, you don’t kick it, but say ‘Good dog! Good dog!’

He then ends his talk with a remark about Momentum. Many branches of Momentum mobilised to pass resolutions in his defence and in the defence of other victims. But where are Momentum’s national leaders? John Lansman, Momentum’s leader, is on record as saying ‘You mustn’t mention Zionism.’ But you can’t open an Israeli paper without Zionism being discussed – ‘Is it consonant with Zionism, is it not consonant with Zionism?’ Zionism is the ideology of Israel. It is not possible to mention Israel without mentioning Zionism, like Communism was the ideology of the old Soviet Union. What stops the central leadership of Momentum from saying a word about this. He thinks they should raise this question.

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Novara Media Claims Belief that Israeli State Behind Labour Anti-Semitism Smears ‘Conspiracy Theory’

February 28, 2019

I’m a fan of Novara media and its editor in chief, Ash Sarkar. She’s young, bright and with a very incisive grasp of politics and a firm supporter of the left-wing policies we need to put this country back on its feet, empower ordinary people, and fight real racism. I think the company generally supports Corbyn and the Labour party. But I was immensely disappointed earlier this week by a video in which Sarkar talked to James Butler and Kehinde Andrews, a professor of Black Studies at one of the universities in a piece entitled ‘The Blair Rich Project’. The video’s on YouTube, and is 1 hour and 24 minutes long. I tried watching it, but gave up after about 20 minutes when James Butler declared that the belief that Israel was involved in the anti-Semitism accusations was only held by a minority of Labour supporters, who were themselves anti-Semitic.

This is the establishment narrative, although I dare say that Butler thinks he was countering it by stressing that the people, who hold this belief are only a tiny minority. But the people, who believe that the Israeli state is involved in these smears are absolutely right. The anti-Semitism accusations are part of Israeli hasbara, civilian propaganda. The point has been made again and again by activists and journalists like Tony Greenstein, Glenn Greenwald, Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada. Who was earlier this week in a discussion about this with The Real News alternative news network. The Real News is based in Boston, America. Al-Jazeera, the Arab news agency, and it’s subsidiary channel, AJ+, has unsurprisingly exposed Israeli involved in British, and now American domestic politics. Those making these revelations aren’t anti-Semites either. Greenstein’s Jewish, as is, I think, Greenwald, who writes for the Intercept.

But for some reason Novara Media are ignoring all this. Butler blithely seemed to accept unquestioningly that the Israeli state wasn’t involved, and that the people, who believed it were ‘conspiracy theorists’. Well, genuine conspiracies exist. And Israeli hasbara and state-directed smears of Corbyn are one of them.

But I do wonder why Butler, and his boss, Sarkar, don’t believe this. it might be that, like so many of the British media, they simply have a blind spot about the secret state. Or else they believe that, as anti-racists, they should reject any accusations about a plot by an ethnic minority, even when that plot is real, and the perpetrators don’t represent all of their ethnic group. The Israeli state and lobby claim that they represent all Jews, but they clearly don’t. Not even close, as Jews like Greenstein and Walker, who have been accused of anti-Semitism and self-hatred would attest. Perhaps it’s simply the mainstream academic disdain for parapolitics and conspiracy theories, which are seen only as the province of the stupid, paranoid and hateful.

Or perhaps Butler and Novara are afraid that if they give credence to the idea that the Israeli state is behind these vile smears, they’ll be accused of anti-Semitism in turn, and that the station’s financiers and advertisers will pull out, causing it to go under. It’s a small station, and so is very vulnerable financially.

It could be either or both of the above. Or any number of other explanations. But I’m disappointed that they haven’t realised what is really going on behind these smears, and who is directing and ultimately responsible for them.

Whistleblowers Claim that Trump Transferring Nuclear Secrets to Saudi Arabia

February 21, 2019

If this is true, then it’s frightening. It’s another step closer to midnight for the nuclear clock.

In this video from the David Pakman Show, posted yesterday, 20th February 2019, Pakman and his producer, Patrick, report that whistleblowers have gone to the House Oversight Committee, which oversees the ethical conduct of the American government, with evidence that Trump has been transferring nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia. This has been going on as recently as last week. And it’s not simply hearsay either. They have named the corporations allegedly involved, one of which is IP3. If true, Trump’s actions are possibly illegal. Under the Atomic Act, the president must have the consent of Congress before passing on information which could lead to the construction of a nuclear weapon to a foreign power.

Pakman states that this might make sense of some of the other contacts the Trump administration has had with the Saudis. For example, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had made numerous trips there, which may also be connected. Also Michael Flynn, Trump’s former security adviser, now convicted, also made frequent trips there, some of which were not declared, and some of them were in connection with IP3, one of the companies involved in the deal.

Pakman and Patrick also discuss the hypocrisy of the Trump administration in this. Trump accused Hillary Clinton of similarly doing a deal with a foreign power passing on uranium in a quid-pro-quo deal, which was utterly unfounded. They also point out that Trump withdrew from the nuclear treaty with Iran because the Iranian government was a viciously repressive Islamic monarchy which despised its own people. But this is also true of Saudi Arabia.

Trump is already suspected of doing some kind of secret deal with Putin and the Russians. But the House Democrats are trying to expand this to cover other countries as well. Pakman speculates that they may soon need yet another special investigator to look into these allegations.

You have to wonder how corrupt Trump can actually get. At the last count, there were 17 separate legal investigations into him. In terms of sheer corruption he makes Richard Nixon look clean, although so far he hasn’t been personally responsible for as much death and suffering across the globe.

Pakman and his producer aren’t quite right when they describe Iran as a monarchy. It isn’t. It’s a theocracy. The absolute head of state is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. However, it does have a democratic component in an elected presidency, even if the law severely restricts the choice of candidate largely to observant Muslims, if not actual members of the ulema, the Islamic clergy.

However, Iran is in some respects more liberal than the Saudis. In Saudi Arabia, any religion other than Wahhabi Islam is illegal. In Iran, the Dhimmis, meaning those monotheist faiths tolerated by Islam since the Prophet Muhammed – Judaism, Christianity and the ancient religion of Iran, Zoroastrianism – are tolerated. Six seats are reserved for them in the majlis, the Iranian parliament. There has been another crackdown and mass arrests of political dissidents recently, and the regime is extremely repressive. Trade unions are banned, and the conditions in the workers’ camps in the oil industry have been compared to concentration camps. But nevertheless, I got the impression that Iran has a greater degree of personal freedom than Saudi Arabia.

There was justifiable alarm at the possibility that Iran may acquire nuclear weapons a few years ago because their last president, Ahmedinejad, was a millennialist. He believed that the end of the world was nigh, and that the Muslim equivalent of the final war between good and evil, similar to Christian End Times belief, was imminent. Just as others have been similarly alarmed at the Christian millennialism of past Republican American presidents, including Ronald Reagan and George ‘Dubya’ Bush, who also believed that the end of the world was coming, and they had to arm America for final battle with the Antichrist.

I haven’t heard any suggestion that the Saudis are also millennialists waiting for the final battle with the as-Salihi al-Dajjal, the figure in Islam corresponding to the Antichrist in Christianity. But5 they are a brutal, genocidal regime. We’ve seen how the Saudis are deliberately targeting and slaughtering civilians in Yemen, including women and children, simply for being Shi’a. And Shi’a Muslims in Saudi Arabia living in villages without running water or electricity, and are forbidden to practice their religion or possess their holy books. And a few years ago, one of the chief Saudi religious authorities – I don’t know whether it was the Sharif of Mecca or the Grand Mufti – declared that the Shi’a were heretics, who were ‘worthy of death’.

There is considerable evidence that the Saudis were behind 9/11, and that the responsibility for the atrocity reached right up to the highest levels. And the current king’s intelligence chief also supported, armed and funded al-Qaeda terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Daesh before they turned on the Saudis themselves, and urged the faithful there to rise up and overthrow the monarchy.

I am as concerned about the acquisition of nuclear technology by Saudi Arabia as I am about its development by Iran. In fact more so, as I think the Iranians were genuine when they said they wanted to develop nuclear power, rather than nuclear weaponry. And if they were to develop nuclear weapons, then it might be simply to protect themselves from American and Saudi attack and invasion.

I am also reminded here of another country that illegally developed nuclear weapons in the Middle East: Israel. They weren’t, and still aren’t, supposed to have them. But the world has turned a blind eye, and the whistleblower there, Mordechai Vanunu, was arrested and has spent something like 17 years in jail. Presumably you’re a horrible anti-Semite if you raise concerns about the Israelis’ possession of a nuclear capability.

Trump should not be passing on nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia. If this is true, then this threatens further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, and increases the possibility of an atomic conflict. A horrendous possibility, that could lead to the absolute destruction of all life on our already imperiled, beautiful world.

Get this madman and the other Republican maniacs out of the White House!

YouTube Video for Book ‘Crimes of Empire’

February 20, 2019

This is the YouTube video I’ve just posted up on my channel for my book, Crimes of Empire, which I’ve published with Lulu. This book describes how what the media have told us about the West’s military and foreign policy interventions around the world are not part of a general campaign of freeing the world’s peoples from evil and murderous dictators and terrorist regimes, but have been done simply to protect western commercial and geopolitical interests. Here’s the blurb for it I’ve put up on the YouTube page for it.

This is a video for another book I’ve written, Crimes of Empire, which details how many of the foreign interventions the West has carried out since 9/11 have definitely not been to give the peoples of the world democracy and freedom, but very firmly to support American and British economic and geopolitical interests.

This includes the seizure of Iraqi oil reserves and state industries, the very carefully orchestrated Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, the overthrow of Jacob Arbenz’s government in Guatemala because he threatened to nationalise the plantations of the American United Fruit Company and so on.

The book draws on works by the former Guardian journalist Greg Palast, and William Blum, a long time critic of American imperialism, as well as the new, alternative media on YouTube and the internet. Like The Young Turks, Jimmy Dore Show, Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Report, Democracy Now, Novara Media, and the British conspiracy magazine, Lobster.

I also talk about how we also destroyed Libya to overthrow Colonel Gaddafy. Like Saddam Hussein, he was a brutal dictator, but this was not why he was overthrown. And the result has been that half the country is now occupied by Islamists, who have brought back slavery. In contrast to Gaddafy, who was anti-racist.

And America and Britain have toppled regimes across the world, like Arbenz’s, under the guise of protecting the free world from Communism. But many of them, like Arbenz’s, were simply democratic socialist, or left-liberal.

I mention some of the books I’ve drawn on, such as Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, which I’ve reviewed on this blog, and the late William Blum’s Freeing the World to Death and Democracy: America’s Deadliest Export, as well as his Anti-Empire Report on the net. I’ve also said that some of it is drawn from RT, which I know is owned by the Russian government, but useful in providing an alternative view, though I state that it, and the mainstream media, should be viewed skeptically. I also recommend the British conspiracy magazine, Lobster, which I make very clear is about real conspiracies by covert groups and the world’s intelligence agencies, rather than stupid and poisonous conspiracy theories about the world being run by the Jews or reptoid aliens.

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.

Scientists Told to Halt Development of War Robots

February 15, 2019

This week’s been an interesting one for robot news. Yesterday, or a few days ago, there was a piece about the creation of a robot that could draw and paint thanks to facial recognition software. The robot’s art has been sold commercially. This follows an artistic group in France that has also developed an art robot. I’ll see if I can fish that story out, as it sounds like one of the conceits of 2000AD is becoming science fact. The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic told its readers that all its strips were the work of robots, so that the credits for the strips read ‘Script Robot X’, and ‘Art Robot Y’. Of course it was all created by humans, just as it really wasn’t edited by a green alien from Betelgeuse called Tharg. But it was part of the fun.

Killer robots aren’t, however. Despite the fact that they’ve been in Science Fiction for a very long time, autonomous military machines really are a very ominous threat to humanity. In today’s I for 15th February 2019 there was a report by Tom Bawden on page 11 about human rights campaigners telling the scientists at an American symposium on the technology that these machines should be preemptively banned. The article, ‘Scientists warned over ‘killer robots’ in future wars’, runs

Killer robots pose a threat to humanity and should be pre-emptively banned under an international treaty, the world’s biggest gathering of scientists was told yesterday.

Lethal, autonomous weapons – military robots that can engage and kill targets without human control – do not yet exist.

But rapid advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence mean they are well on their way to becoming a reality, delegates attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s symposium on the technology were told in Washington DC.

A poll conducted in 26 countries found that 54 per cent of Briton’s – and 61 per cent of respondents overall – opposed the development of killer robots that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

“Killer robots should be banned in a similar way to anti-personnel landmines,” said Mary Wareham, of the arms division at the campaign group Human Rights Watch, who also co-ordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

“The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots,” she added. “Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons. Bold, political leadership is needed for a new treaty to pre-emptively ban these weapons systems”.

The article was accompanied by a picture of one of the robots from the film Terminator Genisys, with a caption stating that it was perhaps unsurprising that most Britons oppose the development of such robots, but they wouldn’t look quite like those in the film.

I’ve put up several pieces before about military robots and the threat they pose to humanity, including a piece from the popular science magazine, Focus, published sometime in the 1990s, if I recall. Around about that time one state or company announced that it intended to develop such machines, and was immediately met with condemnation by scientists and campaigners. Their concern is that such machines don’t have the human quality of compassion. Once released, they could go on to kill indiscriminately, killing both civilians and soldiers. The scientists were also concerned that if truly intelligent killing machines are developed, then they could have the potential to turn on us and begin wiping us out or enslaving us. This was one of the threats to humanity’s future in the book Our Final Minute by the British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. When I saw him speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science about his book a few years ago, one of the audience said that perhaps it would be a good thing if humanity was overthrown by the robots, because they could be better for the environment. Well, they could, I suppose, but it’s still not something I’d like to see happen.

Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at the University of Reading, is also very worried about the development of such machines. In his 1990’s book, March of the Machines, he describes how, as far back as the 1950s, the Americans developed an autonomous military vehicle, consisting of a jeep adapted with a machine gun. He also discussed how one of the robots currently at the university could also be turned into a lethal killing machine. This is firefighting robot. It has a fire extinguisher, and instruments to detect fire. When it sees one, it rushes towards it and puts it out using the extinguisher. Warwick states, however, that if you replaced the extinguisher with a gun, gave it a neural net and then trained the machine to shoot people with blue eyes, say, then the machine would do just that until it ran out of power.

This comes at the end of the book. But it’s introduction is also chilling. It foresees a future, around 2050, when the machines really will have taken over. Those humans that have not been exterminated by the robots are kept as slaves, to work in those parts of the world that are still inaccessible or inhospitable to the robots, and to hunt down and kill the very few surviving humans that remain free. Pretty much like the far future envisioned by the SF writer Gregory Benford in his ‘Galactic Centre’ series novels.

Warwick was, however, very serious about the threat posed by these robots. I can remember seeing him also speak in Cheltenham, and one of the audience asked whether he still believed that this was a real threat that could occur about that time. He said he did, but that the he’d lowered the time at which it could become a real possibility.

Warwick has also said that one reason why he began to explore cyborgisation – the cybernetic enhancement of humans with robotic technology – was because he was so depressed with the threat robots cast over our future. Augmenting ourselves with high technology was a way we could compete with them, something Benford also explores in his novels through an alien race that has pursued just such a course. This, however, poses its own risks of loss of humanity, as depicted in Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen.

This article sounds like something from Science Fiction, and I don’t think that at the moment robots are anywhere near as sophisticated to pose an existential threat to humanity right now. But killer robots are being developed, and very serious robotic scientists and engineers are very worried about them. Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are right. This technology needs to be halted now. Before it becomes a reality.

‘I’ Newspaper on Scientist Building Artificial Arms from Lego

February 13, 2019

Last weekend’s I newspaper for Saturday, 9th February 2019, carried a profile of David Aguilar, a disabled Andorran scientist, who has been building artificial arms out of Lego since he was a small boy. The article by David Woode, ran

Hand Solo?

A university student who was born without a forearm due to a rare genetic condition has created a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego. David Aguilar, who built three other models before his current one, said “I wanted to see myself in the mirror like I see other guys with two hands.

Is this his first bionic arm?

No. David, 19, began experimenting with artificial limbs as a child. he said his father bought him a lego Titanic set aged five and the colourful bricks became one of his favourite toys. David made his first artificial arm, albeit with limited movement, aged nine. ‘As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different, but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams,’ he said.

How does it work?

David uses Lego pieces given to him by a friend. Last year he built a red-and-yellow, fully functional robotic arm, it’s fitted with an electric motor and he can bend it at the joint and flex a grabber attached at the end. His latest prototypes are marked MK followed by the number – a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armour suits.

Could this spawn an army of Iron men and Iron Women?

The rookie inventor from the small principality of Andorra is studying bioengineering at the Universität Internacional de Catalunya in Spain. His post-graduation dream is to design affordable robotic limbs for those in need. He said “I would try to give them a prosthetic arm, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right”.

There’s a lot of research going on into artificial limbs, some of it very inspiring. The robotics unit at the University of the West of England has formed a private company to build artificial hands for children. They’ve produced one with the consent of Hollywood shaped like the hand of the Marvel superhero, Iron Man. I think they were also planning to produce one based on C3PO in collaboration with Disney, if I recall correctly. Aguilar’s clearly a very skilled engineer, and his own experience of disability undoubtedly gives him real, personal insight into what disabled people need in artificial limbs and how they can be best designed for them. I wonder what his work will be like after he’s graduated and, hopefully, begun working on them at a higher level. It should be really good.

In the meantime, I’d really have loved to be able to make a proper, working robotic arm out of Lego, Meccano or any other construction kit when I was child as well as knowing how he does it now.

‘I’ Newspaper: NASA Planning Permanent Return to the Moon

February 12, 2019

Before the deep political stuff, a piece of space news. According to yesterday’s I for 11th February 2019, NASA is planning to go back to the Moon and found permanently manned bases. The article by Clark Mindock, ‘NASA wants to station humans on the Moon’ on page 23 ran

NASA is planning to send astronauts to the Moon again, but this time it wants to keep them there.

The US space agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, called yesterday for “the best and brightest of American industry to help design and develop human lunar landers”, in response to what he said was a clear mandate from President Donald Trump and Congress to once again get astronauts out of Earth’s orbit.

In a post detailing Nasa’s lofty goals – to return astronauts to the Moon, and one day send them to Mars for the first time in human history – Mr Bridenstine said that the US was playing for keeps this time.

“I am thrilled to be talking once more about landing humans on the Moon,” he wrote on the Ozy website.

“To some, saying that we are returning to the Moon implies that we will be doing the same as we did 50 years ago. I want to be clear – that is not our vision.

“We are going to the Moon with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than we ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay.”

Mr Bridenstine said that the ambitious plans would begin later this week, with partners from private industry and elsewhere invited to NASA headquarters in Washington DC to discuss the next generation of lunar landers.

So far, Nasa has already co-operated with nine companies to send cargo tot he Moon, with the ultimate goal being to develop landers that can take astronauts back there.

As a space fan, all I can say is that it’s about time. Way back in the 1970s and 1980s space experts and commenters, like Sir Patrick Moore, the presenter of the Sky At Night, were predicting that we’d have bases on the Moon and elsewhere in solar system by now. But that was before space budgets were drastically cut and NASA instead concentrated on the Space Shuttle. This was supposed to open space up to just about anybody who could afford the cost of a ticket and was in reasonable health. Its crews experienced 3Gs at lift-off, but this was considered to be so low that a 70-year old man could tolerate it. Unfortunately the Shuttle was massively overengineered and the Challenger disaster put the programme on hold while its causes were investigated and corrected. Even then its use remained risky, as we saw a few years ago when one disintegrated during re-entry over America and the programme was subsequently cancelled.

There were plans in the 1990s for a private, commercial return to the Moon, according to Focus Magazine, but that didn’t seem to get anywhere.

My guess is that NASA is finally getting round to putting a permanent human presence on the Moon not just because Trump fancies going back to the glory days of the Cold War space race, but because the EU and the Chinese are also planning the serious exploration of the Moon. A little while ago ESA – the European Space Agency – announced they were planning to put people on the Moon, while last week the Chinese successfully landed a probe on the Moon’s far side. The Chinese are putting such effort into their space programme that the quantum physicist and SF writer, Stephen Baxter, predicted back in the 1990s that the first person on Mars would probably be Chinese sometime in the next decade. Under Reagan, one of the big aerospace conglomerations and think tanks published a report arguing that America needed to develop its space technologies and industries, and move out onto the High Frontier, in order to secure its place as world leader. It’s likely that this is the same thinking behind this announcement by NASA.

As for exploring the next generation of lunar landers, I wonder if they’ll be able to use any data or blueprints remaining from the original lunar modules that landed Armstrong, Aldrin and co all those years ago. After the Apollo programme was cancelled, the massive Saturn 5 rockets were broken up, with the exception of those on display at the Kennedy Space Centre, and the plans destroyed. This has outraged many space scientists like John S. Lewis, the author of Mining the Sky, who compared it to the destruction of Chung He’s fleet by the Chinese eunuchs in the 14th century. Chung He was a Chinese admiral, who led a fleet of ships on an exploratory mission to the outside world, going as far as the Bight of Benin in West Africa. However, when he returned the eunuchs at the imperial court had his fleet destroyed and further exploration banned because they feared that opening the country up to foreign contact would have a destabilizing effect on its society. The result of this was that the country remained isolated and stagnated until it fell prey to foreign colonialism in the 19th century, most famously through the Opium Wars.

Hopefully NASA’s announcement will mark the beginning of a new, serious wave of interplanetary exploration which aims to put people on the Moon and other planets, as space scientists, engineers and SF fans and writers have been dreaming about and working towards since before the great German director Fritz Lang made his epic movie Die Frau im Mond (‘The Woman in the Moon’) about a German moon landing back in the 1920s.

‘I’ Newspaper: Scots Spaceport Company Has Rocket Ready for Launch in 2021

February 8, 2019

Excellent space news, if today’s I for 8th February 2019 is to be believed. According to the paper, Orbex, the company that’s building a spaceport to launch satellites in the Scottish highlands, has a rocket and intend making its first launch in 2021. The article by Lucinda Cameron, entitled ‘Rocket Revealed for Scottish Spaceport’ on page 13, runs

A spaceflight company has unveiled a new rocket as it opened its headquarters and rocket design facility in the Highlands.

Orbex, which is involved in plans to create a spaceport in Sutherland, said its new base in Forres, Moray, will create more than 130 jobs.

At the opening yesterday the company unveiled its Prime rocket, which is designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit.

Made from a specially formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite, it includes what the company said is the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine.

It is designed to work with biopropane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions.

The Prime rocket will make its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, when it will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Lt, which manufactures small satellites.

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said the new rocket design facility “firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities.”

If all goes ahead as planned, then this is brilliant! Brilliant! As we used to say when I was at school. Britain developed a number of superb space rockets over the years, including the sounding rocket Skua used in high atmosphere research. The first and last time this country launched a satellite into orbit using a domestically developed rocket, it was way back in 1973 with Black Arrow. This was launched from Woomera in Australia, and carried the satellite, Prospero. After that, the politicians and civil servants decided that producing and developing rockets for space research was too expensive, and cancelled the programme. It was decided that instead we’d use American rockets. Which put us at a disadvantage, as it meant that we were dependent on the Americans and whether they had space available in their launch vehicles. Meanwhile, the French pressed ahead with their rocket development programme, and produced the superb Ariane, which is the launcher used by ESA, the European Space Agency, from its launch site in Kourou in South America.

After 46 years, Britain could once again be sending home-produced spacecraft back into the High Frontier.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

And now, as Monty Python once said, for something completely different. At least from politics. I found these two videos from the artist Xelasoma on YouTube, in which he discusses six masters of fantasy art and how they have influenced him. They are Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe, and Rodney Matthews in video 1, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Philippe Druillet and Ian Miller in video 2.

Roger Dean will be remembered by fans of ’70’s prog rock for his amazing album covers for the bands Yes and Asia. Woodroffe and Matthews are also artists, who’ve produced record covers as well as book illustrations. Moebius and Druillet are two of the geniuses in modern French SF comics. Moebius was one of the ‘Humanoides Associes’ behind the French SF comic, Metal Hurlant. Among his numerous other works was Arzach, a comic, whose hero flew across a strange fantastic landscape atop a strange, pterodactyl creature. As Xelasoma himself points out here, it’s a completely visual strip. There’s no language at all. It was also Moebius who designed the spacesuits for Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Xelasoma describes how, after he left art school, Moebius spent some time in Mexico with a relative. This was his mother, who’d married a Mexican, and the empty, desert landscape south of the border is a clear influence on the alien environments he drew in his strips. Xelasoma also considers him a master of perspective for the way he frequent draws scenes as viewed looking down from above. And one of the pictures illustrating this is of a figure in an alien planet looking down a cliff at a sculpture of rock legend Jimi Hendricks carved into the opposite cliff face. Druillet, Xelasoma feels, is somewhat like Moebius, but with a harder edge, drawing vast, aggressive machines and armies of fierce alien warriors. He’s also known for his soaring cityscapes of vast tower blocks reaching far up into the sky, which also influenced Ridley Scott’s portrayal of the Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. The last artist featured, Ian Miller, first encountered in the pages of the British Role-Playing Game magazine, Warhammer. His style is much more angular, deeply hatched and very detailed. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize several of the pictures Xelasoma chooses to represent his work as depictions of some of the weird, sinister gods from the Cthulhu mythos. They include not only Cthulhu himself, but also of the half-human, amphibious, batrachian inhabitants of the decaying port in the short story, The shadow Out of Innsmouth.

What Xelasoma admires about all these artists is that they don’t follow the conventions of modern western art established by the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance. They alter and distort the human form and that of other objects and creatures. He describes Dean’s landscapes as organic. Patrick Woodroffe and Matthews also create strange, alien creatures and landscapes, and with the creatures Matthews depicts also very different from standard human anatomy. Many of the creatures, machines and spaceships in Matthews’ art are based on insects, and appropriately enough one of the bands whose cover he painted was Tiger Moth. This featured two insects dancing on a leaf. Another picture, The Hop, shows an insect band playing while other bugs trip the light fantastic in the grass, surrounded by items like used cigarettes. His humanoid figures are tall, stick thin, with long, thin, angular faces and immense, slanted eyes. Xelasoma admires the way Matthews can take a train or a deer, and turn them in something uniquely his, as he shows here. He states that he first encountered Dean’s and Woodroffe’s art in the art books his mother had, such as Woodroffe’s Mythopoiekon. He also identifies somewhat with Woodroffe, as neither of them studied at art school. Woodroffe was a French teacher, while for Xelasoma art was far too personal for him to submit to formal training.

Xelasoma points out that these artists were creating their unique visions before the advent of computers using the traditional artist materials of paint and brush, and before courses in SF, Fantasy and concept art were taught at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, he finds their work far more interesting and inspiring than modern SF and Fantasy art, which may be more anatomically accurate, but which, too him, seems very ‘samey’. He complains that it doesn’t make him hallucinate, which the above artists do. Well, I hope he doesn’t mean that literally, as that could be very worrying. But I know what he means in that Dean, Woodroffe, Matthews, Moebius, Druillet and Miller create strange, fantastic worlds that have a striking intensity to them. They seem to be complete worlds, either in the far past or future, or parallel realities altogether, but with their own internal logic drawing you into them.

Discussing their influence on him, he is critical of artists that simply copy the work of others, changing a few details but otherwise keeping to and appropriating the other artists’ own unique visions, some times trying to justify this by saying that their work is a ‘hommage’ to the others. Xelasoma is well aware that his own work is very different to the artists he talks about here, and that many of his viewers won’t be able to see their influence. But he goes on to describe how they have influenced him at the general level of form or composition, while he himself has been careful to develop his own unique style.

Dean, Woodroffe and Matthews have produced books of their work, published by Paper Tiger. Matthews and Miller also have their own websites, for those wishing to see more of their work. Moebius passed away a couple of years ago, but was the subject of a BBC4 documentary. There’s also a documentary about Roger Dean on YouTube, presented by that grumpy old Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. Xelasoma believes in their fantastic depictions of landscapes and animal and human forms makes them as important and worth inclusion in museums and galleries as Graeco-Roman and Renaissance art. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would maintain that in their way, they are far more significant than many contemporary artists that have been promoted as ‘official’ art. Xelasoma’s documentary really shows only a few pieces from these artists’ works, and the bulk of these videos are about the particular impact they have on him. But nevertheless it’s a good introduction to their work, and explanation why they should be taken seriously as artists beyond their origins in popular culture.

Part I

Part II