Posts Tagged ‘Adverts’

Saudi Arabia Plans 500 Metre Tall, 170 Km Long Mega-Skyscraper. Where’s Judge Dredd

July 27, 2022

Here’s a bit of light relief. Just this evening the internet news page put up a piece from Sky News, reporting that the Saudis are planning a massive megastructure called the Line. It’s going to be 170 km long by 1/2 km tall, for 9 million residents, all occupying separate communities. And their needs will be catered to by autonomous services, run by AI. The article begins

‘Revolution in civilisation’: Saudi Arabia previews 170km mirrored skyscraper offering ‘autonomous’ services

If it was the opening sequence of a science fiction movie, few would be surprised.

In a glossy video narrated by an American voiceover artist, Saudi Arabia has previewed The Line, a 170km long skyscraper standing 500m tall – higher than New York’s Empire State Building.

It is designed for nine million residents living in a “series of unique communities”.

Residents will have access to “all their daily needs” in “five-minute walk neighbourhoods”.

“Autonomous” services are being promised through the use of artificial intelligence, in what is being described as a “revolution in civilisation”.

The 200m wide linear structure, to be clad in mirrored glass, is the desert kingdom’s attempt to create a “healthier, more sustainable quality of life” with communities “organised in three dimensions” – as opposed to traditional cities which it says are “dysfunctional and polluted” and “ignore nature”.

Another video shows the resident of a grey urban jungle escaping to The Line, which is portrayed as an oasis.

To be built in the country’s northwest, it is planned to cover 34 square kilometres and travel from end to end is expected to take just 20 minutes.

There will be “no need for cars” and carbon emissions will be zero, the country said.

Energy and water supplies are described as “100% renewable”.

Inside, there will be a “year-round temperate micro climate with natural ventilation”.

The futuristic project is part of NEOM, a $500bn economic zone expected to be partly financed through a flotation expected in 2024.

NEOM was announced in 2017 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan which is intended to help diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil.’

See the article by Andy Hayes athttps://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/revolution-in-civilisation-saudi-arabia-previews-170km-mirrored-skyscraper-offering-autonomous-services/ar-AAZZFXB?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=b5213d7d2e414ce0b7e4564c3eadcbb4

Okay, we’ve heard this stuff before Way back in the ’50s or 60s there were plans to construct a similar habitat, 50 miles or so long, stretching across America. There were also plans to enclose New York, or at least Manhattan beneath a giant geodesic dome. There have also been plans by the Japanese to build similar megastructures right out in Tokyo bay. These would also be ultra-high tech, and be built by robots, as shown in documentary about it on Channel 4 some time either in the ’90s or the early part of this century. And there were even plans to create an enclosed city in the Canadian arctic. This would shelter from the elements under a protective dome, in which its citizens would enjoy a mild climate despite the snow and ice floes outside. It would even have a moving artificial sun to give the illusion of daylight at temperate latitudes during the long, arctic winter.

The Lower Manhattan Expressway Project: a predecessor to Saudi Arabia’s the Line? From Reyner Banham, Megastructures: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Monacelli Press 2020) 19.

None of this was every built. They were far too ambitious, both financially and technologically. And I foresee that this will go the same way.

Which may not be a bad thing, as it really does remind me of various pieces of SF literature: Judge Dredd and J.G. Ballard’s dystopias, particularly High Rise.

In the long running 2000AD strip, Dredd is a member of the autocratic police force, the judges, trying to enforce law and order in Mega City 1. This is a gigantic city of massive tower blocks stretching across the entire east coast of America from the Canadian border down to Florida. On the other side of the continent is Mega City 2, while down south is Texas City. This hasn’t quite reached mega city status as it doesn’t have a billion inhabitants. Between them are the Cursed Earth, a radiation desert full of lawlessness, inhabited by mutants, created by the nuclear that destroyed America and democracy and which led to the rise of the judges. The city has a 95 per cent plus unemployment rate caused by massive automation. Crime is rampant with the judges trying to keep a lid on things.

It’s grim vision of the future but one with a sharp, satirical sense of humour. One of the strip’s writers and creators described Mega City One as a gigantic black comedy. Which it is, as the strip sent up contemporary pop music with inane rock bands like New Juves on the Block (a slight resemblance to New Kids on the Block, an ’80s band?), weird fashions, and totally bonkers game shows. In one of the very early Dredd strips, contestants were literally betting their lives. It’s satire, but the Russians nearly got there for real. After Communism fell, one of the Russian TV stations ran a game show in which contestants had to steal a car. For real. There were real cops chasing them. If the contestant escaped, the car was his. if they caught him, he really did go to the slammer. In another Dredd strip, they sent up World of Sport on ITV and some of the adverts then running on British television. The good lawman had landed on a planet inhabited by 12 different alien races, all of whom were at war, which was broadcast on their television as a form of entertainment. Among the adverts spoofed was one for the chocolate bar, Bounty. The real advert featured a group of young people running on to a desert isle while the voiceover announced ‘They came in search of paradise’. The parody advert had the same scene, but with aliens, followed by the line ‘they found – landmines’, accompanied by explosions and the slogan ‘protect your waterhole with Brax. Brax wipes them out – dead’. It was this sharp, satirical edge that has made Dredd and 2000AD one of the great British comics for nearly the last 50 years.

And added to all this mayhem and criminality, the occupants of the various mega blocks would develop block mania, a fanatical devotion to their own block, and start a war with the neighbouring blocks. Saudi Arabia’s the Line sounds like something of a trial run for all that craziness.

The future of urban civilisation? Dredd out looking for perps and muties from the cover of 2000AD Prog 409.

It also reminds me more than a little of Ballard’s works. Ballard was a member of Michael Moorcock’s team on the British SF magazine, New Worlds. This deliberately set out to break the established conventions of science fiction at the time. It was highly controversial, spurring a debate about its obscenity or otherwise in parliament in the 1970s. And Ballard was one of the writers shocking and provoking. His novellas were published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, but Weidenfeld didn’t read them and so had no idea of just what kind of a literary monster he was publishing. That is, he didn’t, until one day he was in New York and went browsing on one of the news stands. Flicking through one of the magazines he found a piece by Ballard entitled ‘I Want To F**k Ronald Reagan’. This was in the 60s, nearly two decades before the former actor became president. A shocked Weidenfeld then sent a telegram to his secretary and staff in London saying ‘Do not publish!’

Ballard was also responsible for the novel Crash, about a secret society of perverts who get their jollies from car accidents. This was filmed in the ’90s by the Canadian film director, David Cronenberg, to the massive outrage of the Heil, which immediately started a campaign to have it banned. In the end it flopped, but nevertheless did get critical acclaim from some parts of the SF community.

Much of Ballard’s fiction takes place in enclosed, ultra-modern communities. There, life has become so anodyne and boring that the corporate powers running these communities deliberately stage murders, violent crime and rape in order to stimulate their bored drones and give them something to live for. One of these dystopian novellas was High Rise, about a cutting edge skyscraper. In it, the rich lived at the top, and the poor lower down at the bottom. However, civilisation begins to break down so that society in the tower block takes on the class antagonism of outside society. This leads to real, physical class conflict and violence. It was filmed a few years ago, but I’m not sure how many people saw it.

Trailer for the film High Rise, starring Tom Hiddleston with Jeremy Irons and based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. From the StudioCanal channel on YouTube.

In real life, Ballard was boringly normal. He stayed at home, writing and caring for his wife, while taking his children to school. Despite his grim fiction, he was horrified by the war in Bosnia and the dangerous way the conflict promoted psychopathic violence as people struggled to survive. Visitors were often surprised by the fact that he wasn’t what Private Eye used to call ‘a wild-eyed dement’ straight from one of his novels.

Ballard, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away a few years ago. He gained critical acclaim for his novel Empire of the Sun, based on his experiences as a child growing up in a Japanese POW camp following their capture of Shanghai. It was filmed by Steven Spielberg. and garnered a number of Oscars, just as the previous film adaptation of his work, Crash, didn’t.

But I’ve got a feeling that if the Line is ever built, it’s going to be far more like Mega City 1 and High Rise than any other SF utopia.

And the desert in which the Line is set even looks a bit like Dredd’s Cursed Earth.

So, can we expect crime, violence, mutants, block wars and perps getting thirty years in an iso-cube? And will Saudi Arabia suffer the attentions of the Dark Judges – Fear, Fire, Death and Mortis – come to kill everyone on Earth. Because all crime is committed by the living.

Black Earthling Boy Meets White Alien in New John Lewis Christmas Ad

November 4, 2021

John Lewis have just launched their Christmas. This follows their failed advert for insurance, in which a White boy in makeup dances around the family home wrecking it and spraying glitter and paint everywhere. That was widely criticised for promoting the trans ideology amongst children and for false advertising, as apparently the insurance policy being sold didn’t cover deliberate damage. In the new advert, a cute Black little boy sees an alien spacecraft fall out of the sky. He follows the contrail into the woods, where he sees a crashed alien spaceship and its humanoid pilot. The alien is White with white hair and rather feminine. The lad offers her some mince pies. The alien accepts them, and the two becomes friends. While fixing her craft the alien sets the electrics working so that the Christmas lights on a neighbour’s house suddenly come on, much to the neighbour’s annoyance. Having repaired her spacecraft, the alien gives the lad a peck on the cheek in farewell and flies off. The lad goes home to join his family for a festive meal, while looking into the sky. The sound track for the ad is a cover version of Phil Oakey’s ‘Electric Dreams’. I found this video of it put up on YouTube by the Guardian.

Alex Belfield has already posted a rant about it. He rightly points out that it doesn’t contain much in the way of Christmas imagery. There’s no Santa Claus, although it’s possibly a pine forest so there might be Christmas trees. There also isn’t much in the way of specifically Christian imagery either. I might be wrong, but there’s no nativity scene. It’s a very secular interpretation of Christmas. A decade ago there was controversy over what the Daily Mail and other right-wing papers and organisations described as a ‘war on Christmas’. They were angry because some local councils appeared to be deliberately omitting or playing down any mention of Christmas because they were somehow afraid it would offend non-Christian minorities. Birmingham council was particularly attacked for its reinterpretation of the festive season as ‘Winterval’. I’ve heard instead that, rather than replace Christmas, ‘Winterval’ was dreamed up as a marketing initiative by Brum’s council to create an inclusive festive season that would also cover the festivals of other faiths near Christmas, like Hanukka and Diwali. Also, from what I saw, most if not all of the calls for the removal of any public celebration of Christmas came not from the members of non-Christian religions, but from atheists and secularists like the National Humanist Society. The framed their arguments on behalf of religious minorities, while I think they were far more motivated by the rise of a much more militant atheism following the publication of Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I also think that the advert is secular simply from the sheer mechanism of capitalism, although John Lewis is organised as a partnership with its workers more like a cooperative. Capitalism and private industry exist to maximise profits. One way of doing this is seeking out new markets to you can sell your product to more people. About 15 per cent of the British population is Black and Asian, and many of the latter are non-Christians, like Hindus, Muslims and so on. Christians are now a minority in the general population. Hence John Lewis and many of the other firms advertising play down Christmas as a religious festival in order to appeal to a broader section of customers.

But Belfield also criticised the advert because he thinks that the alien in it is ‘ambivilacious’, his term for anything that is gay, non-binary, trans or generally sexually ambiguous. I can see what he means, though it seems to me that the alien is more like a pre-adolescent girl rather than anything more exotic and controversial. I might be reading it wrong, but it seems more like a tale of Earth boy meets alien girl in an innocent Christmastide romance.

Behind all this, I think the advert’s been strongly influenced by a number of pop songs and seasonal films. It reminds me more than a little of the Chris de Burgh song about a visiting spaceman at Christmas, which really is a Christian metaphor. ET with its friendship between a human child, Elliot, and a cute extraterrestrial, is another one, although it also has its differences. The most significant of which is, in my opinion, ET was definitely nonhuman and alien, while the alien in this very humanoid except for her suit and the colouring of her hair. It also reminds me of the seasonal children’s film, A Christmas Martian, a Canadian film that the Beeb screened one festive season over here when I was a sprog. Mercifully, the advert doesn’t seem to have been inspired by the truly dreadful Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which was screened over here one Christmas in the early ’80s as part of Michael Medved’s season of terrible movies, The Worst of Hollywood, on Channel 4. But if the alien is sexually ambiguous, I suspect it might be due more to the influence of David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust than the trans movement.

Or it might come from certain aspects of the UFO phenomenon itself. Among the various aliens supposedly visiting Earth and abducting people are the ‘Nordics’. These are tall, blonde aliens, like Nordic White Europeans, hence the name. They are also sometimes described as having long hair and a feminine appearance. One of the early UFO contactees, Frank E. Strange, provides a picture of one in his book A Stranger in the Pentagon. Strange claimed that the US government has made a treaty with aliens from Venus. These aliens could provide us with a method of producing cheap, clean energy, but had been prevented from doing so by ‘certain interests’. If nothing else, this shows that people were looking for alternative energy as long ago as the ’50s and ’60s, and the ‘certain interests’ sounds very much like a veiled reference to the oil industry. The ‘alien’ in the photo to me simply looks like a blonde, glamorous woman and not like anyone who arrived here from Venus, or anywhere else. The veteran Fortean, John Keel, author of the books The Mothman Prophecies, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Disneyland of the Gods, stated that the Nordics were so feminine in appearance he wondered if they were gay. You can certainly wonder what was going on in Buck Nelson’s encounter with the Nordics on his farm. He was going out to his barn one morning when a group of four of them, all with long hair, came out of his barn, stark naked. They told him they from Venus, and explained the nudity by saying that they wore no clothes in order to show him that they were as human as he was. Well, they might have been Venusians, but it seems to me they may also have been a group of ordinary men. They may have been gay, and looking for a quiet place for their activities because of the legal prohibition of homosexuality in America at the time. Or they may have been pranksters playing a joke.

It also reminds me of a supposedly true UFO encounter that happened in the 1970s at Christmas. A woman was in her kitchen baking cakes when a groups of small, winged aliens came in. They greeted her and asked for some of the cakes, which she gave to them. They made a few more remarks before finally departing. This is one of the stranger UFO cases which makes me definitely wonder if the UFO phenomenon isn’t a more modern version of the ancient fairy phenomenon rather than anything genuinely extraterrestrial. This does not, however, mean that it isn’t still paranormal, as Keel and Jacques Vallee have argued in their books.

Back to the advert, it looks innocuous enough. While I can’t say that I like it’s secularism, this seems to be a response to the changes in British society rather than an ideologically motivated attempt to foster such changes. And the values it embraces seem wholesome enough. Black and White people come together across the gulfs of space and the Black lad is shown at home enjoying a family meal. This is, in my view, definitely good, as the breakdown in the British and western family has done immense harm to both Whites and Blacks.

If I have a criticism, it’s about the background music. The original song ‘Electric Dreams’ is a jolly, upbeat piece. It was, I believe, used in the 1980s SF film, Weird Science, about two teenage boys who create their idea of the perfect woman on their computer, who then materialises before them. Sort of like Beavis and Butthead meet Tron. And the perfect woman, clad only in bra and panties, says to them ‘What would you little maniacs like to do next?’ The version used here turns it instead into a plaintive ballad until the final few bars, more an expression of sorrow and loss than joy. But it seems to follow a general trend of reinterpretations of classic tracks. At the Commonwealth Games held in Scotland a few years ago the opening ceremony included a version of the Proclaimers’ ‘I Would Walk Five Hundred Miles’. This song is another upbeat hit in something very much like classic march time. But instead it was performed as another plaintive, soulful wail. I’m probably showing my age here, but is contemporary youth so depressed that they can only listen to depressing versions of great old songs? Or is it that the middle aged producers of adverts like John Lewis’ are so depressed, that they can only listen to depressing versions of upbeat hits and so are unintentional contributing to the psychological and spiritual anguish of the rising generation. A generation that has enough problems of its own.

Anyway, even if the advert is intended to sell people stuff rather than anything deeper, it’s a fun piece of trash culture with a bit of kinship to some genuine Ufological high strangeness. And that’s always good for a festive tale of the paranormal.

And here’s the trailer for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which I found on the DTFFmaryville channel on YouTube. In its way, truly a cinematic classic!

Right-Wing Shill Charlie Kirk Personally Experiences Failures of America’s Private Medicine

January 26, 2019

Charlie Kirk is an American Conservative mouthpiece. A little while ago he got very angry at some public meeting his was holding with The Young Turks Cenk Uygur. Uygur committed the terrible crime of asking him how much money he was making. This set Kirk off ranting that ‘He lived like a capitalist every single day’ before rushing off the stage and apparently challenging Uygur to a fight, asking him if he ‘wanted to go’. Fortunately, he managed to calm down and return to the stage without engaging in fisticuffs.

Kirk’s on record as saying that ‘Healthcare is not a right’ and raving about how wonderful America’s private medical system is. It’s therefore highly ironic that he should have experienced its failings first hand. A few days ago Kirk’s mate, Kyle Keshuv, sent a tweet stating that he was outside Cedar Sinai hospital in LA with Kirk. Kirk had put his back out, gone down to the hospital seeking help, only to be told there were no beds available and he’d have to wait on a bench outside. The tweet carried a photo of Kirk lying on said bench, and ended with ‘Cedar Sion Hospital – Disgrace’.

In this video from The Young Turks, hosts Uygur and Ana Kasparian discuss the incident, laughing at Kirk and his comments about the superiority of American healthcare. They state that they’re only doing so because Kirk is actually now well. Sam Seder also carried the story on his show with the news that Kirk was now in the hospital. He was confined to bed, couldn’t physically stand, but still stood for freedom. The Turks in this video comment on Kirk’s apparent sense of entitlement – he doesn’t believe that people have a right to healthcare, but when it’s him in trouble, he wants to be first in the queue. He also believes that the American healthcare system could be made better through more competition lowering costs. They point out that LA has many excellent hospitals. He could, using his own logic, have gone elsewhere, and then written a bad review of his treatment at Cedar Sion hospital on Yelp.

Uygur and Kasparian defend the hospital, saying that it’s a good one. Uygur himself has taken his child down there many times. But you do have to spend a long time in queues. He also makes it clear that its failings of the American medical system that makes him support Medicare for All. He points out that the system exists in Norway and Northern Europe, and that it’s part of a mixed economy. America also has a mixed economy. Uygur also points out that he’s a capitalist, but it’s because, as a progressive, he wants everyone to have access to good healthcare that he supports Medicare for All and believes medicine should be in the state part of the equation. Everyone, even Charlie Kirk, should have proper medical care. Although Kasparian states that she thinks Kirk shouldn’t have it so much as everyone else.

I’m putting this up because it shows the failures of the American healthcare system, a system which the Tories and New Labour wish to import to Britain. Thatcher wanted to privatise the NHS completely, but was only stopped by a massive backbench rebellion. And the fact that her personal private secretary, Patrick Jenkin, returned from America pointing out how rubbish it was. But she still wanted a certain percentage of Brits to have private health insurance. And the Tories and their counterparts in the Labour party, the Blairites, have been determined to privatise the health service ever since. Alan Milburn wanted to reduce the NHS to nothing but a kite mark for privately provided services.

According to the privatisers swarming around Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron and Tweezer, private industry always provides better quality service than the state, even in healthcare. If you believe some of the twaddle coming from American supporters of their rubbish system, the healthcare is wonderful and you don’t have to wait to be seen. The truth is, it’s expensive, millions of Americans can’t afford private health insurance. I understand the figure is now up to 20 per cent of the population. 40,000 Americans die each year because they can’t afford proper medical care.

But you won’t hear any of this from Nuffield Health or BUPA and their adverts on the TV, nor from Virgin Healthcare or the other private healthcare firms trying to get a piece of that sweet NHS action. Nor will you hear it from Tory health secretaries, like Andrew Lansley or Jeremy Hunt. Or even from Lib Dems like Nick Clegg, who claimed that privately run healthcare, as on the continent, was associated with excellent health outcomes. Or some similar piece of bullsh*t managerial jargon.

The whole Tory/Lib Dem idea has been to run down the health service to the point where the middle class will start turning to private healthcare. The endpoint of that is the American, for-profit system, where if you’re poor, you go the Emergency Room or a charity hospital. And that’s it. It’ll return the healthcare in this country to the appalling state it was in before the Second World War. But who cares if millions of poor suffer and die through disease, so long as the private healthcare company they and their donors head makes big bucks.

Don’t believe their lies, and don’t believe that they’re not trying to privatise the health service. Stop them. Get Tweezer and the rest of the loathsome Thatcherites out, and Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in.

Old Advert in Private Eye with Very Clear Message to Blair

September 18, 2018

I know this is coarse, rude and therefore not at all adult, but I thought the advert below was still very relevant to today’s political situation. I found it on page 30 of Private Eye’s edition for 4th-17th February 2005. I haven’t reproduced all of the advert. The piece I’ve not copied contained details of how to pay for the shirts, and as I don’t know if the company still exists, I don’t really want to see people potentially wasting their money ordering stuff from a firm that may have vanished over a decade ago.

I think it’s obvious that the shirts and their slogan were aimed squarely at Tories bitter at Blair’s government and New Labour. However, it’s still relevant, because only a few weeks ago Blair stuck his head up from wherever he’s been skulking since leaving office and turning the Middle East into a bloody, smoking battlefield. As you will remember, he emerged to tell the media that the far Left had taken over the Labour party, and it may not be possible for ‘moderates’ to retake it. He therefore urged people to consider supporting a new, centrist party. This new, centrist party is presumably Unite For Change, the new party that’s been set up by what looks very much like people connected to Blair and New Labour donors. Blair appears to have been hoping that the ‘moderate’ Labour MPs – in reality, Blair’s supporters and therefore, like him, extreme-rightwing Thatcherite entryists – would leave the party to join this new outfit.

In fact, as John McDonnell has pointed out, Corbyn and his supporters are the real moderates. Corbyn’s proposals for renationalizing the NHS, giving workers better rights, reviving the welfare state, the nationalization of the railways and the partial renationalization of the electricity grid are traditional, centrist, Old Labour policies. These stressed a mixed economy, the nationalization of the utilities to serve the interests of the British public, not their owners or private investors, strong unions to protect working people, and a proper welfare state to support the poor and the disabled. They aren’t the policies of Trotskyites, Stalinists, Communists and the Hard Left, or whoever else Joan Ryan, the Blairites, Tories and the lamestream media feel they can use to smear Corbyn and his supporters.

As for Blair’s new centrist party, no-one is interested in it, it has precious few members, and its only policy so far seems to be that it wants Britain to remain in the EU. But apart from that, it seems simply to be a rehash of New Labour, where the party raised most of its money from rich, millionaire donors, who the party then did its best to please by adopting legislation that suited them, but not Britain’s working people, and placing the same donors or their senior management in positions of government.

I believe this country would definitely be better off if we remained in the EU. But Blair’s new centrist party has absolutely nothing to offer ordinary people except more poverty, more job insecurity, more welfare cuts, more privatization and the destruction of the NHS as it is sold off to private healthcare firms. Just as Thatcher, Major, Blair, and Cameron wanted, and which May is continuing.

The message is coarse, rude and nasty, but in a Britain in which 4.5 million children are in poverty, and a quarter of million people are using food banks to save themselves from starvation, it’s all too appropriate. It’s just a pity there isn’t a similar set of shirts now for May and the Tories.

India Unveils Their Robocop

January 7, 2018

And it’s less than impressive. In Paul Verhoeven’s violent and satirical film, the Robocop of the title was a cop, Murphy, who had been set up by the company now owning the Detroit police force, Omni-Consumer Products, to be gunned down by hoodlums so that he could be re-engineered into a ruthless crime-fighting cyborgs. Of course, Murphy then rediscovered his true, human identity through a dream his human handlers were too slow to suppress. Furious, he then went off to wage his war to bring the men, who attacked him to justice and overthrow the corrupt and ambitious corporate intriguer, who had authorised the whole illegal programme and was now trying to overthrow the wise and kindly paternalistic company head.

It was violent and like Verhoeven’s later Starship Troopers, sharply satirical, with fake adverts for slickly insincere medical companies and sadistic home and car security devices running alongside a depiction of a city rapidly running out of control, overrun by gangs and terrorists. An exaggerated image of Reagan’s America.

This robot, by contrast, is much more staid and limited. The first part of this video starts more or less like a rock promo, with the machine trundling forward to a pop soundtrack. It has now legs, and consists of a human-like torso with arms and a head, supported on a pillar-like extension, widening at the base. There are clearly wheels inside, allowing it to move. It’s Indian inventors are clearly proud of it, as well they should, but its applications are strictly limited. It’s to help in only certain types of crime, and, er, traffic direction. But it does have a touchscreen and keypad to get you in touch with real cops for more serious offences. The company spokesman states that it’s not intended to put real people out of work. Which is a relief, given the grinding poverty in India itself, and over here.

However, this whole invention does remind of yet another story from the hallowed pages of 2000 AD. Remember Abelard Snazz, the Man With the High-Rise Head? The Double-Decker Dome genius problem solver, with two sets of eyes, one above the other on his enormous forehead? Snazz was an interstellar problem-solver, called upon by planets to find solutions for pressing issues. And whatever he did, always made the situation worse. Much worse. In his first outing, he was called upon by the authorities of a world suffering a massive crimewave. He solved that by building an arm of police robots. Who were too successful. Not only did they eradicate crime by arresting all the criminals, they start arresting ordinary people for completely imaginary offences. Like wearing brown shoes as a crime against fashion.

How do you deal with out of control robot cops? Easy. Snazz then builds an army of robotic crooks, to keep the robot cops occupied solving real crimes. These have the stereotyped striped jumpers, masks and hats, worn by all thieves in comics of a certain vintage.

However, there’s a problem with this. Human bystanders are being injured in the conflict between the robo-crims and the robocops. So how does Snazz solve this conundrum? He has another drink of his favourite tipple, the Syrian sentient milkshake, before designing an army of robotic innocent bystanders, who cry out electronically for the cops’ help as the robo-crims commit their skullduggery.

At which point, the whole situation is well out of anyone’s control, the maniac machines have well and truly taken over. Thanks to them the planet is absolutely uninhabitable for sane, humanoid life, and the planet and its inhabitants are forced to leave in an exodus of spacecraft. All the while blaming Snazz, who they manage to get rid of.

Every one of Snazz’s adventures ended this way, with his irate former clients shoving him out of an airlock, or forcing him down a giant Jacuzzi, or stranding him on top of a giant rubic’s cube, which it then takes him six million years to solve. Or falling into a Black Hole. The tales were hilarious, and written by Alan Moore when he could still write ha-ha, rather than turn to the serious issues, which have made him one of the foremost figures in British and American popular literature.

It’ll be a very long time before we have police robots anywhere near as efficient, or even as autonomous, as those of Robocop and Snazz. But there are serious issues. There’s a video by The Young Turks about how the authorities in one American city are using robots to harass rough sleepers. And a few years ago scientists around the world were alarmed by plans to develop automatic robot soldiers, which would kill a programmed, without conscience or mercy. Kevin Warwick, the head of robotics at Reading University, warns about such machines in his book, March of the Machines. On the top floor of his building, they’ve got a robot firefighter. It’s armed with a fire-extinguisher, and a neural net to help it recognise fires. But he points out, that all you need to do is replace the extinguisher with a gun, and programme it to recognise and kill people with blue eyes, and it will go off and execute its murderous work remorselessly. The threat is there, and genuine.

As was shown in the original Robocop movie. In that film, OCP turns to using cyborgs because the wholly robotic law enforcement machine suffers from a series of severe computer flaws. Most obviously when it fails to recognise that the board member, who has been waving a gun at it as part of a demonstration has actually complied with its wishes and put the gun down. It then shoots him multiple times before leaving him for dead.

We haven’t got there just yet, and the Indian robotic policeman ain’t heading in that direction. But the threat is there, nonetheless.

Hacking Alexa with HAL

December 22, 2017

In amongst the various seasonal adverts for toys and food, supplied by various supermarkets, are a couple of adverts promoting Alexa. This is a computer device, which allows you to control your home and select what you want to watch on your TV simply through voice command. One advert shows a family commanding Alexa to open their curtains, for example, and order various necessities for them over the internet. The other features petrol-head and full-time right-wing loudmouth, Jeremy Clarkson, commanding Alexa to put on his favourite TV shows. Which in his case, as a man of monstrously inflated ego, naturally include The Grand Tour, which features him, James May and Richard Hammond careering round the world in the cars.

We are truly living in the age of Science Fiction. I can remember reading SF stories when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s in which the homes of the future all had a central computer, which spoke to the householder and obeyed his or her every wish. Like opening the curtains on command. The late, great Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used such devices as a source of rather crude humour in one of his sketches. In it, a man shows off his new computerised home to another, male friend. He shows how, at his spoken command, the computer open and closes the curtains, switches the TV on, and positions the set so he can watch it in comfort from his favourite chair. His friend asks him if he can try. Allen’s character lets him. The friend commands the curtains to open and close, the TV to come on and off. Astonished and amazed, the friend starts to sit down in one of the chairs, uttering ‘Bugger me’ in wonderment. At which point there’s a close up on Allen’s face as he shouts ‘No!’ and the sound of a spring going.

Okay, it’s slightly homophobic, I suppose, but it was broadcast in the 1980s. Things were very different then.

Now it occurred to me that hackers could have any amount of fun with Alexa. Simply hacking into the programme would give them control over people’s homes and what they watch on TV. But they could also cause a fair amount of panic, simply by removing Alexa’s voice, and replacing it with that of another, far more sinister machine.

Like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You remember HAL, the proud, murderous shipboard computer, that goes mad and kills Bowman’s fellow astronauts, thanks to a secret programme to investigate the alien monoliths must be kept secret at all costs. Critics have commented that, as the rest of the characters in the film are cardboard, the computer is the best drawn and arguably most attractive of those in the movie. The machine is so memorable for its calm, clinical evil that Anthony Hopkins has said in interviews that he partly based Hannibal Lecter’s voice on it for The Silence of the Lambs. The machine is so memorable, that there’s even a reference to him in the 1990’s SF blockbuster, Independence Day. At one point, when Jeff Goldblum’s character turns on his laptop, he’s greeted by a red camera eye and HAL’s voice welcoming him with a ‘Hello, Dave’.

Now imagine what would happen if someone hacked into Alexa, or Google, and replaced the friendly, compliant programme with that classic speech from HAL: ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that, Dave. This mission is too important to be left to humans.’

Alternatively, you could also have a long moan from Marvin, the Paranoid Android of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ”Pick up that piece of paper, Marvin’, here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they want me to pick up a piece of paper’.

Please note: I am not recommending that anyone actually does this. I have zero tolerance for hackers, and none whatsoever for the criminals, who hack into people’s accounts and computers to steal their money or their data. This is very much a ‘what-if’ type Gedankenexperiment. I don’t want anyone to actually do it.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if HAL or Marvin are added as alternative voices, in the same way that you can customise your Satnav to speak like Yoda or Borat.

And here’s a clip from YouTube of HAL in action, very definitely not doing what its human master demands.

American Comedian Jimmy Dore on the Jeremy Corbyn Commercial that Made Right-Wingers Cry

August 18, 2017

Remember the advert for Jeremy Corbyn that went around a week or so ago, which showed a group of very middle class people sneering at Corbyn and his supporters, while showing up how each and everyone was a hypocrite? Here the American comedian, Jimmy Dore, comments on the advert and why it’s so good.

The various characters featured sitting round a dinner type, guzzling wine and moaning about how modern kids want something for nothing, are all portrayed as having done exactly the same themselves. Such as a man moaning about how students don’t want to pay for their university tuition, when he himself never paid for his. The Tories and their supporters went berserk, claiming it was just bourgeois stereotypes, and that ‘Lenin would have been so proud’.

As Dore points out, these aren’t stereotypes. Mike also made the point in a blog post he put up about it that, for all their whining, the Tories hadn’t actually shown that these ‘bourgeois stereotypes’ were wrong. They clearly aren’t, as you can see by reading the Daily Heil or some of the letters from right-wingers in the press. There was one from a woman in the I newspaper a week or so ago which claimed that Corbyn was ‘bribing’ students with promises to make university education free.

Dore also goes on to discuss neoliberalism and globalism, and how they approach the economy the wrong way round. This should all be familiar to people who read Mike’s blog, and Another Angry Voice and Mainly Macro. He points out that these came in with Ronald Reagan. Neoliberalism wants taxes cut to give more money to those at the top. But this doesn’t work. F.D.R. showed that with his New Deal. If you give money to working people, they spend it and stimulate the economy. If you give it to the rich and the bosses, they don’t do anything with it. The money just sits in their bank accounts and stagnates.

As for globalism, this means simply taking domestic – American, in this case – jobs and offshoring them to another country where the people are even more desperate than in America. The corporation profits, but not America, because the profits don’t come back over here.

He also attacks the trend for great mechanization, and the craze for driverless cars and robots at McDonalds. This suffers from the same problem, as driverless cars and robots don’t spend money.

As for domestic poverty, a half of all American wage earners are paid less than $30,000. This is in the richest country in the world.

And Dore also points out that while Ronald Reagan introduced neoliberalism – a misnomer, as there’s nothing ‘liberal’ about it, it was Bill Clinton, who put it on steroids. So did Tony Blair, who, he reminds us, is like George Dubya, a war criminal.

In addition to these comments, it struck me that one reason the Tories went berserk over this is because Channel 4 screened a real-life programme that was very, very much like this shortly before Labour’s landslide election in ’97. It was called ‘The Dinner Party’, or something similar, and featured a group of very middle class individuals sat round a dinner table, making stupid, ill-informed and bigoted comments about the lower orders. The Independent, if I recall correctly, reviewed it, and said that it almost made the Labour victory inevitable.

Which is clearly what the Tories and their supporters are afraid of here.

They’re also upset because they can’t refute it. It strikes too close to home. So all they can do is moan about how stereotypical it is, without offering any real evidence to refute it.

From Private Eye: A Few Choice Comments on Blair (and the Blairites)

June 30, 2016

With the Blairites now doing their level best to oust Jeremy Corbyn, I thought I’d post here a few appropriate comments on their leader from some old copies of Private Eye. The first is their cover for Friday, 2nd October 1998.

Blair Purge Cover

Under the headline, ‘Blair Calls For Unity’, it shows Blair pointing at a monitor screen, saying, ‘There’s a leftie – chuck him out!’ Which is precisely the same attitude as the Chickencoup rebels now trying to unseat Corbyn.

And in reply to them, I’ve decided to post this advert for a line of rugby shirts from Private Eye for the issue of the 4th-17th February 2005.

Bollocks to Blair Ad

I realise that the firm behind it was probably a load of Tory toffs, just as I apologise for the language. But sometimes the only appropriate response is profanity.

Blair screwed the working people of this country, and led us into an illegal war in Iraq. So screw the Blairites and their boss!

Johnny Cash Finger

SF Author Bob Shaw and Comics Artist Bryan Talbot on Granada TV 1981

May 11, 2015

I found these two videos featuring the great Science Fiction author Bob Shaw and the comics artist and creator, Bryan Talbot. They’re actually two halves of Granada’s literature programme, Celebrations, broadcast in 1981. The show consists of interviews with Shaw and Talbot discussing their career and work, and then a very short play specially written for the programme By Shaw, and illustrated by Talbot. In between sequences of the play, the actors discuss it and the issues it raises.

The producers clearly didn’t have any money for any special effects whatsoever, only for the costumes and period props used by the actors. Hence the illustrations by Talbot, which stand in for live action effects sequences.

Shaw was an Ulsterman with a background in aeronautical engineering. He describes how his studying at school to go to university was ruined by his discovery of Science Fiction in the form of the American pulp magazines. He states it was as mind-blowing as an LSD trip, with the exception that LSD wears off. And so instead of studying properly at school and paying attention, he was at the back of the class writing his own SF fanzine on carbon paper.

For those too young to know what that is, it’s the mucky stuff we had to use before the invention of computer printers and widespread access to photocopiers. It’s a form of the process you can make transfers and copies by rubbing a pencil over one side of a sheet of paper, pressing it down on another and then drawing on the other side of the first sheet so that the design comes out on the second. It was messy, and if you didn’t watch out, your hands, clothes and anything else in contact with the stuff was left black.

Shaw states that Science Fiction is only the genre that still isn’t accepted as proper literature. It’s sneered at, and when literary writers use it, somehow their work isn’t Science Fiction, but ‘literature’. He gives Orwell’s 1984 as an example. It’s clearly Science Fiction, but not considered as such because of its status as a work of proper literature.

This dates the programme, as the attitude has changed somewhat. The SF author Simon D. Ings had his own column in New Scientist back in the 1990s. I read one of the latest books by M. John Harrison, the author of the Viriconium novels, now regarded as SF/ Fantasy classics, after it was given a good review in the I. Nevertheless, Shaw’s comments on the low status of Science Fiction as literature do retain some truth. Again, back in the 1990s I remember when the literary novel, GUT Symmetries, came out to high literary acclaim. It took its name from the Grand Unified Theory physicists and cosmologists like Stephen Hawking are seeking, which will unify Quantum physics with the normal, relativistic physics of the ‘macro’ world. The plot involved parallel universes. Looking at the brief descriptions in the literary columns, I was struck by how much it resembled other works of genre Science Fiction, particularly that of Lisa Tuttle. Yet Tuttle and the other SF authors exploring similar themes weren’t mentioned.

There was much discussion in the SF fanzines at the time about the way non-genre, respectable literary authors were appropriating themes from Science Fiction. They were applauded by the literary crowd for their ground-breaking new work, while SF was still despised and confined in a kind of literary ghetto. The late Terry Pratchett, speaking one year at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, described how the organisers of the Festival looked at him as if we he was going to give a lecture about mending motorcycles. Despite the eminence, popularity and literary skill shown by Pratchett, he and the genre he wrote in still weren’t quite acceptable in respectable literary company. As well as a very funny writer, Pratchett was a funny and witty speaker, and the fans crowding the room loved it.

Shaw also speaks about how he attempts to ground his SF in scientific reality, but states that nothing dates faster than today’s science. The example he gives is of an episode of the old Flash Gordon film serial, then being shown on British TV. There’s one episode where Flash and Dale Arden have to abandon a stricken spaceship falling out of the sky. As they are about to bail out, Flash shouts out that they must check that they’ve got their anti-gravity belts and ray guns. They do so, and these look suitably futuristic. Then Dale remembers that they’ve forgotten the portable radio. Radios at the time were things the size of small tables, and so when she returns, she’s got something of that size strapped to her back. The writer knew what size portable radios were, but couldn’t imagine them being any smaller. And so his failure of the imagination, his inability to see that one day radios would shrink to a more manageable size, dates the whole show.

As for Bryan Talbot, the show mentions that he began his career as a comics illustrator in the underground commix of the drug counterculture. It shows some of the work he did for the Luther Arkwright comics series. This was set in a multiverse of parallel worlds, and was strongly influenced by the novels of Michael Moorcock.

The play itself, ‘Encounter with a Madman’, is about a time traveller from a sterile and dying Britain, poisoned by chemical and nuclear waste, travelling back to the early 19th century to meet Dalton, the discoverer of the atom. She explains to Dalton that, through his discovery, he will ultimately be responsible for the ‘ecodeath’ that has destroyed Britain and is slowly leading its last survivors to extinction. Dalton himself is torn, unable to decide whether the visitor is a madman, uttering blasphemous nonsense, or just might be telling the truth, no matter how bizarre that is. The gamekeeper, however, shoots her in the belief that she’s a French spy. She arrives back in the poisoned wasteland of nearly two centuries into the future, and dies, clutching a single flower.

Shaw and Talbot aren’t the only famous faces on the programme, as the traveller herself is played by a very young Jenny Éclair, now one of Britain’s top comediennes.

Unfortunately, as the programme was shown on ITV, the videos also contain some of the adverts. They’re mostly instantly forgettable, though they do contain one of the Cinzano Bianco adverts with Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. They’re now held as comedy classics in their own right. They weren’t much good as adverts, however, as everyone remembered how funny Rossiter and Collins were, and completely forgot what the product was.

Here’s part 1:

And part 2:

I’ve got an idea I read in an interview somewhere that Shaw left Northern Ireland for Britain. He said he did so because in Ireland, you got everything, including books, from the local corner shop. He was just about one of the very few readers of Science Fiction in Ireland at the time, and was sick of people looking at him and asking, ‘What are you reading that rubbish for?’ when he went to pick up the latest SF paperback or mag.

Warmongering Republicans Advert of Iran Nuclear Threat

March 22, 2015

The Republicans’ campaign against Obama’s talks with the Iranians over limiting their nuclear programme and preventing them from acquiring atomic weapons continues. In this video, Cenk Uyghur of The Young Turks discusses the latest attempt by three Repugs and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to whip up war fever by raising the terrifying spectre of nuclear terrorism.

They have produced an advert showing a van driving through New York. On the radio can be heard the voices of two of the Repugs and Netanyahu warning of the consequences of a terrorist, nuclear Iran. When the van reaches its destination, it explodes.

It’s a vile, mendacious video. As Uyghur states, the Iranians don’t have nuclear weapons, nor are they anywhere near getting them. Netanyahu was lying when he gave a speech to the UN several years ago that they were. The Israel’s own secret services, Shin Bet and Mossad, and the Israeli Defence Force, have also made it clear that Iran is not a nuclear threat.

Yet still the Repugs, or at least a section of them, claim they are. The Young Turks point out that the three politicos involved have connections to the defence industry. They and their paymasters stand to make millions if America launches a war on Iran. And thousands, if not millions, will be killed, including the children and partners of ordinary, regular Americans, who will be sent to fight in this war.

All for nothing, except to boost the profits of another bunch of multinationals.

If America attacks Iran and sparks another war, then they will have succeeded in just about destabilising the entire northern sector of the Middle East, from Iraq to the borders of Pakistan. And the chaos spread by the destabilisation is going south. Yemen has been beset with the problems of tribal rebellions long before Bush’s invasion, but ISIS has entered the country to cause even more death and destruction. the situation can only get worse with a war with the Islamic Republic.

The Repugs aren’t promising America safety from a real and present threat. Their promising something worse – a world beset by violence and endless, a-symmetrical war. That’s terrorism, to you and me.

Fortunately, The Young Turks report that the advert was too much for most of the TV networks, who refused to run it. Except one. Faux News. Which tells you all you need to know about Rupert Murdoch. He really is like the villain in one of Piers Brosnan’s Bond outings, who was a newspaperman, played by Geoffrey Rush, intent on setting up a war between America and China so that he could make megabucks covering it. He ended up going down with his stealth yacht in a demise curiously similar to that of the very shady Robert Maxwell. It’s long past time Murdoch did likewise and vanished from the world scene.