Posts Tagged ‘Cars’

£70 Bn Black Hole in Tory Spending Pledges

November 28, 2019

Despite all the Tory bluster, as Mike has pointed out Labour’s spending plans are properly costed and have the support of 163 leading economists. They have sent a letter to the Independent stating their support, saying

It seems clear to us that the Labour party has not only understood the deep problems we face, but has devised serious proposals for dealing with them.

We believe it deserves to form the next government.

Labour spending plans are backed by leading economists

The Tories, however, have always claimed that they are the party of proper fiscal responsibility, who truly understand economics. In contrast to profligate, spendthrift Labour, they can be trusted with wise, frugal expenditure.

So how do their manifesto pledges stand up?

Not well. According to an article in Tuesday’s I, they’ve got a black hole to the tune of £ 70 bn in theirs.

The article by Hugo Gye reads

The Conservatives face a £70bn black hole in their spending plans after making a string of manifesto promises without explaining how to pay for them.

Boris Johnson has pledged to build dozens of hospitals, create a new rail network and set up a hi-tech “gigafactory” to make electric cars. He is also promising national insurance cuts, a new system of social care and relief for indebted students. None of his policies is costed in the party manifesto revealed on Sunday. They add up to £52.2bn in added capital investment, and an extra £20.6bn on the annual bill for day-to-day spending, according to figures calculated by I.

The Conservative manifesto proposed a rise in day-to-day spending of £2.9 bn as well as £3.6bn in tax cuts. But it also contained a number of policies with no price tag attached.

The biggest is Northern Powerhouse Rail, a new network linking Liverpool to Hull via Manchester and Leeds, which will cost £39 bhn. Other promised capital projects not costed by the manifesto include building 40 new hospitals and the construction of a gigafactory to make eco-friendly vehicles.

Tory sources said future investment plans would be funded by a £100 bn pot of capital expenditure, only £22 bn of which has so far been allocated to specific projects. The shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said, “With no evidence behind any of their figures, it looks like the Conservatives’ fake news approach applies to their manifesto too.”

The deputy Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, added: “Boris Johnson’s relationship with numbers has all the hallmarks of his relationship with the truth – nonexistent.”

That’s precisely how it seems to me.

The fact that these pledges are not costed suggests very strongly to me that, like his promise to build 40 new hospitals, they’re lies. The Tories have no intention of honouring them. They’re only interested in slashing welfare spending and privatising the NHS and anything else they can get their hands on for the benefit of their rich corporate donors, Donald Trump and the American private healthcare industry, and the hedge funds. And they are going to wreck this country to do so.

Don’t be fooled by them. Labour really stands for restoring the welfare state, public infrastructure and the NHS. And it’s all properly costed.

They are the party of economic sense. Not the loony, lying Tories.

Prof Simon on the Technology of Blade Runner that Exists Today

November 7, 2019

This is another fascinating video from Professor Simon Holland. As I said in an earlier blog piece, November 2019 is the date Ridley Scott’s SF classic Blade Runner is set, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Prof Simon here examines some of the technology that has now been developed, which is similar to that of the movie. This includes robots, flying cars and ‘a polaroid which allows you to see round corners’.

He begins with robots, stating that most of them have been developed by the pornography industry. These are the Real Dolls, androids which have been designed to look like real women. There’s a few photographs of these, shown with their owners or manufacturers. Mercifully, both have their clothes on. But some have also been developed by the military, and these, Prof Simon says, comparing them to Blade Runner’s replicants, are scarier. The robots shown at this point are the humanoid – roughly – and quadrupedal machines developed by the American firm, Boston Dynamics. A gun-toting humanoid robot shows its shooting skills in a range out in the deserts. Despite being repeatedly struck and pushed over by a man with a hockey stick, the robot manages to hit its target. When the pistol it’s using runs out of ammo, they throw it a rifle, which it catches with both hands and then proceeds to use. Another humanoid robot is shown carefully walking along a stony path simulating rough terrain, while one is also shown trying to pick up a box while another man with a hockey stick knocks the box away and tries to knock the robot over.  The quadrupedal robots include the Big Dog machine and related robots, which got their name because they look somewhat like headless mechanical dogs. Big Dog was designed for carrying equipment, and one is shown with four saddlebags walking around trying not to be forced over. Two lines of similar machines are shown pulling a truck.

The ‘polaroid that sees round corners’ is also shown, and it appears to be a mobile app. He also shows photographs of a number of flying cars that have been developed. As for the taxis on demand that appear in the movie, he quips that he’ll just call Uber.

But he also raises the important point about why our expectations of the future are inaccurate. He argues that it’s because we’ve forgotten how very different the world was back in the 1960s when the book was written. This is shown through another set of photographs of the fashion of the period, though I think they come more from the 1970s. Certain the pic of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Saturday Night Fever does. He goes on to point out how we have technology that was unknown when he was growing up – computers are everywhere and cursive handwriting a thing of the past. We evolve into the future, rather than making quantum leaps into it. He also cheerfully observes that he shares a Blade Runner obsession with his younger, near-lookalike, Adam Savage.

At the end of the video he examines an interesting photo he’s been sent by a viewer. This is a photo of the Earth from space, with a mark that looks like a UFO. But it isn’t. Unlike today’s digital cameras, those used by the astronauts used photosensitive film, which could get marked and spoiled by dust. This is what’s happened to the photo here.

Prof Simon is a genial, entertaining host, and it’s fascinating that some of the technology featured in Blade Runner is being developed. Scientists and engineers have been working on the flying cars since the 1990s, and one of the tech firms has said that they intend to put them into service as flying taxis next year. This seems unlikely. Critics have pointed out that the noise generated by their engines would be colossal, making their use very unpopular. Living in a city in which they were in general operation would be like living in an airport. The SF artist and book illustrator, Jim Burns, also comments on one of his paintings, which show such cars in use, that there are prohibitive safety aspects. What about accidents? Nobody would like to be around when it starts raining bits of aircar and body parts.

The robots we’ve developed are different from Blade Runner’s replicants, which are artificial, genetically engineered creatures, and therefore biological rather than simply technological. We’re nowhere near creating anything that complex. The military robots instead remind me of the machines from Robocop and the ABC Warrior from the ’90s movie, Judge Dredd, in which Megacity 1’s toughest lawman was played by Sylvester Stallone, as well as the robots in Chappie, which came out a few years ago. Despite the very impressive sophistication of these machines, however, they mercifully aren’t as intelligent as humans. This means we don’t have to worry about the world of 2000 AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ or the Terminator movies becoming reality quite yet. But even so, watching these machines walk, move and shoot is disturbing, demonstrating their lethal potential and efficiency as fighting machines. Looking at them, I think the fears many scientists and members of the lay public have about them as a potential threat to the human race are justified.

3D Imaging Technology Inspired by Star Wars’ Holochess

November 5, 2019

This is awesome. This video from What the Future on the CNET channel on YouTube discusses Voxon Photonics VXI device. As the video’s host, talking to the company’s CEO, Gavin Smith, explains, this is a that uses a volumetric display to create three dimensional images. However, the device isn’t holographic, like its fictional inspiration in Star Wars, nor does it use Virtual Reality. Smith explains that it uses a very rapidly moving screen on which the image is built up in layers like a 3D printer. The screen moves too rapidly for the eye to follow it, and so the layers all blur into one image. At the moment, the device has a transparent cover to stop people reaching into the image. However, this isn’t necessary and the screen isn’t moving fast enough to do any harm.

The device debuted at the Tokyo Fair in 2018, and has found a number of applications. It comes with various devices that can rotate or otherwise manipulate the image. It’s been used for gaming, medical imagining, education at universities and schools, cars and video conferencing. However, the machine currently retails at $9,800 so they recognise it’s not a consumer device just yet. However, it’s price compares with that of other technologies when they first appeared.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, Smith and his company would like it to feature in the context that inspired it. They’d like it to appear in the Millennium Falcon at Disneyworld as a working holochess table, and they’ve devised a version that would make it possible. This uses a helical spinning screen rather than the type of screen the device normally uses.

This is absolutely amazing. When I was growing up, the SF predicted that we’d have 3D TV, but this definitely hasn’t happened so far. But with this device, we could be well on the way. As Max Headroom said when he briefly reappeared to do the channel ident for Channel 4,, ‘The future is now!’

Trump Post-Brexit Trade Deal Will Bring Hardly Any Real Benefits

August 14, 2019

This is very revealing. According to the BBC World Service, a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and America would only increase the economy by 0.1%. And that would be 15 years from now.

As the Skwawkbox and Mike over at Vox Political have both pointed out, this means that the Tories will have sold Trump and the American companies backing him our NHS, workers’ rights, and environmental and consumer protections for hardly anything. In fact, Mike points out that even the 0.1% growth may not happen, as the economy is already faltering, and so any gains made later may be swallowed up by the losses that are occurring now.

This is despite yesterday’s Times enthusiastically hyping Trump’s offer of a trade deal with America. Zelo Street effectively ripped that piece of propaganda apart by pointing out that we would only get the deal if we became America’s poodle, a point that was also made by one of the columnists in today’s I. The Sage of Crewe also refuted what Trump’s negotiator, John Bolton, and the Times clearly thought would be an attractive demonstration of the deal’s benefits. Bolton stated that it would be easy to make such deals quickly for manufacturing and industry, but that service sector would take a bit longer. Nevertheless, next year could see cheap American cars coming into Britain. The Sage of Crewe pointed out the other side of the coin: British cars would be undercut by cheap American imports.

I can remember when something similar happened to the motorcycle industry with the Japanese way back in the 1990s. This was when the Japanese economy started contracting and there wasn’t quite so much a market for their bikes. Their solution was to start exporting cheap bikes to Britain, which would undercut our own, domestically made machines. Even those produced by Japanese manufacturers over here. As you might expect, British bike manufacturers, including the management of Japanese companies over here, were extremely upset and started arranging meetings about what they could do about this threat to British industry and jobs. I’d be interested to hear if British car firms are planning something similar to combat the similar threat John Bolton is making to them. But guessing from the glowing way the Times was pushing Trump’s grotty trade deal, I doubt we’d read of one in that Murdoch rag.

But the Americans would wait until after Brexit before requiring us to fall in line with their policy over Iran and the involvement of the Chinese firm Huawei in the 5G network.

Put simply, this deal would make us into America’s poodle. We’d have our industries and agriculture picked off by the Americans for their benefit, as the Zelo Street article also points out. He also states that Bolton is lying through his teeth about Congress easily passing such a deal. Congress’ Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has said that it won’t pass any deal unless the Good Friday Agreement is honoured.

The Zelo Street article concludes by stating that BoJob loves to say that Britain is a vassal state of the EU, but doesn’t mention how this deal would make us a vassal state of America by the back door.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/08/us-trade-deal-if-well-be-their-poodle.html

And Mike and the Skwawkbox point out how the BBC hid the news that Trump’s deal would bring hardly any benefits to Britain by putting on the World Service. This is the Beeb’s service for the rest of the world, not Britain. Presumably the people actually affected by it don’t count. Mike concludes in his turn that its shows once again that the Beeb is the Tories’ propaganda arm, and wonders if Ofcom are aware of it?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/14/boris-johnson-would-sell-out-our-nhs-and-our-rights-to-trumps-us-for-practically-nothing/

I’m not surprised by any of this. The Americans were less than altruistic in the deals they made for their entry into the Second World War. They drove a very hard bargain with us after the War. They and the Russians both wanted the dismemberment of the British Empire so that their goods could be allowed into our former colonies. It was also thanks to their demands for payment that Newfoundland became a province of Canada. Before then it was another British colony. However, we had to give it, or sell it to the Canadians in order to raise the money to pay the Americans.

I’ve also met former members of the aircraft industry, who were also very bitter at the way America had demanded cutting edge technical information from this sector after the War. The Americans’ breaking of the sound barrier by the X-1 rocket plane, flown by Chuck Yeager, was a tremendous achievement. But it was solidly based on British research, some of which was, in its turn, based on captured German material. But the British project had to be closed down and its results and information handed over to the Americans as part of their price for coming to our aid.

Counterpunch and some of the American left-wing news sites on YouTube have also pointed out that the lend-lease arrangements under the Marshal Plan also weren’t altruistic. This was the American economic scheme to build Europe and the rest of the free world up after the War using economic aid. But there were also strings attached, which meant that the aid went chiefly to American companies.

You can conclude from this that the American state and capitalism drives a very hard bargain, and that such deals are very one-sided. As many left-wing sites have argued over and over again in their discussion of the ‘Special Relationship’. Which actually means far less to the Americans than it does to us. That was shown very clearly by Clinton’s reaction to German unification. This made Germany the strongest economy in Europe, and Clinton showed, as Beeb newsman John Sargeant managed to get the Prime Minister to acknowledge, that Germany was now America’s most important partner in Europe, not Britain.

And I’m also not surprised at the Tories and Murdoch ardently supporting this sell-out of our country. The Tories admire American capitalism and its lack of worker protection and welfare state. I can remember previous episodes where the Americans were promising a better economic deal if we abandoned Europe and joined them. And the Tories cheering such schemes nearly always owned businesses in America. And in fact, as far back as 1925 the Tories, or a section of them, were forming plans for the political reunion of Britain and the US.

And that shows exactly what Johnson and the Tories are like. Now and in the past, and I’ve no doubt in the future, they are willing to sell out British industry, the welfare state, our precious NHS and workers, all in return for the victory of unfettered capitalism and their squalid economic gain.

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’ Newspaper: Rail Franchise System Not Working and Needs to be Changed

February 27, 2019

I found this report in the I newspaper on our country’s failing rail network. The article states that a recent report has found that the current system of rail franchising doesn’t work and cannot continue as it is. The article, ‘Rail franchising ‘no longer delivers clear benefits’, on page 4 of today’s paper, 27th February 2019, by Neil Lancefield runs

Britain’s rail franchise system no longer delivers clear benefits and cannot continue in its current form, according to the man leading an official review of the network.

Keith Williams told industry leaders that operators were not adapting to changing consumer demands.

The contracting out of passenger services has drawn heavy criticism, with some contracts failing and customer complaints rising. The rail industry has said it accepts that the status quo cannot continue.

Mr Williams was appointed by the Government last year to lead its “root-and-branch” Rail Review. Speaking in London, he said: “I have heard a great deal about the franchising model… driving growth in passengers and benefits to services.

“But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, while many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace. Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers.”

Mr Williams said the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to franchising did not work for every part of the UK and every passenger. Delivering the annual Bradshaw Address, named in honour of George Bradshaw, the author of Victorian railway guides, he added: “I believe for the railway to be successful it needs to put passengers at its heart.”

His comments came as MPs warned that rail passengers faced “another difficult year”, with further timetable alterations and more engineering works.

Okay, this isn’t a condemnation of rail privatisation, but of the way the franchise system, in which they are given to private operators, is managed. The attitude seems to be that if this was fixed, then everything would work perfectly. As Williams says, he has heard a great deal about how franchising has driven growth in passengers and benefited service.

This is absolute rubbish. I’ve seen no evidence that privatisation has been behind the growth in passengers or brought any benefits whatsoever. You could speculate that any growth in passenger numbers may be due to a variety of factors, like the increasing cost of running a car, difficulties finding a parking space, traffic congestion and delays and other factors such as the ban on drink driving. As for the benefits of privatisation, the British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the rail network than it did when it was all under state ownership as British Rail. And the service is actually worse. It was almost 20 years ago, when I remember talking about it to a rail engineer. It was bad then, and is now even poorer. We have seen one train company after another fail, and have to be taken back into public management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and that section of the rail network is almost inevitably given to another wretched private rail company. Services are being axed, as in so much of the service industries, in order to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

It is not the franchise system that is failing, but privatisation. There is a growing movement to see the railways renationalised, and even Tories like the wretched Lady Olga Maitland have backed it at times. Labour have pledged to it, and this is one of the party’s policies that is immensely popular. But this is too much for the corporate establishment, which clearly wants to try and preserve this part of Thatcher’s grotty legacy – though the railway was actually privatised by John Major – as long as it can.

Rail privatisation, like the rest of Thatcherism, is a dismal, utter failure. Get rid of it, get rid of the Tories and renationalise them. And get Corbyn into No.10.

 

Private Eye on the Real Reason James Dyson Is Moving His Business to Singapore

February 8, 2019

A week or so ago I put up a number of posts reporting and commenting on the outrage James Dyson caused when he announced that he was moving his company’s HQ to Singapore.

Dyson has been given a great deal of support from this country, and in the West Country he was regarded, or at least presented by the local media as a local hero. But he’s done this before. A few years ago he demanded that Bath give him more land to expand his business. They refused, so he decided instead to expand in the Far East. He needn’t have done so. If there was no room at Bath, he could have happily gone to other south-western towns. He already has plants in Malmesbury and Bristol, for example. Or gone further afield, like Wales or the north, which would also have been glad to have him. But he didn’t.

It was especially hypocritical as Dyson was telling everyone within earshot a few years ago that we should have joined the Euro. Then he decided he was backing Brexit. Now it appears that he has gone to Singapore partly because they’ve signed a trade agreement with the EU, which would make it easier for him to export his goods to them from there rather than Blighty.

Private Eye has run two pieces on Dyson in this fortnight’s edition for 8th-21st February 2019. And they make it very clearly that he’s going for the same reasons every exploitative multinational is heading abroad due to neoliberalism: to take advantages of countries with low tax rates, where workers can be hired and fired almost at will. The first article, ‘Bye-Bye Suckers!’ on page 7, runs

So Sir James Dyson’s relentless bullishness about post-Brexit Britain was so much hot air. The man who will now move his HQ to Singapore evidently has little real faith that Brexit will unleash the potential he has long claimed.

Th benefits of Singapore are likely to go beyond the proximity to his Asian empire that Dyson claims. By moving east it will also be easier to reduce workers’ rights. As Dyson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr last year: “This is controversial, but since I don’t know what orders I’m going to get next month or next year, industry, manufacturing industry’s very volatile. Not being able to flex your workforce is another big reason why you wouldn’t start a manufacturing business or expand a manufacturing business.” Elsewhere, he agreed bluntly, it was easier to hire and fire.”

This is not the most generous response to what the UK has given Dyson. Since 2012 his group has sucked up around 100m pounds in tax credits, ie discounts on its corporation tax bill. IN 2011 the then chancellor George Osborne brought in a special tax break for buyers of “energy efficient hand-dryers”, which meant…Dyson airlades.

There’s more information in the Eye’s ‘In the City’ column, entitled ‘Singapore fling’ on page 41. This runs

What is it that so attracts billionaire inventor, entrepreneur and avid Brexiteer Sir James Dyson to Singapore? Last month he announced that his privately owned Dyson group was switching legal residence to the Far East city state for “commercial reasons” and “future-proofing”. This followed the decision to produce the Dyson electric car in Singapore from 2020.

The Dyson party line is that the imminent move is nothing to do with Brexit or tax – it will still pay UK tax on UK operations – but all to do with Singapore being a lot closer to China, its main market, than Wiltshire. Who knew? Dyson’s 2bn pound move from hairdryers and bagless vacuum cleaners into cars is his biggest gamble.

So what does Singapore have over a “no deal” Brexit Britain – which Dyson welcomed? What about:

* A recent free trade agreement with the EU, to go with ones with China and the United States, plus the Singapore Freeport;

* International companies who headquarter themselves in Singapore can see corporation tax (currently 17 per cent, compared with 19 per cent in the UK) fall to 10 or 5 per cent or even zero, thanks to lengthy tax breaks and generous incentives, especially for those who create jobs;

* No tax on dividends – the Dyson family could have paid 38 per cent on the 86m pound dividends for 2017 (down from 111m) from the parent Weybourne Group;

* No capital gains tax on a future sale or inheritance tax (IHT) (Dyson is 71);

* Less stringent corporate disclosure and governance requirements for private companies (a Dyson moan);

* Finally, no risk from a Corbyn government targeting the rich.

Dyson moved control offshore once before – to Malta in 2009 – then returned in 2013. He has also legitimately taken advantage of film tax schemes and IHT-efficient investments in agricultural land. Still, Singapore tax and access attractions clearly played no role in the move east by this latter-day Stanford Raffles, who assured Leave voters that no deal with the EU was no problem because “they’ll come to us”. Now it seems Dyson has decided to go to them.

Elon Musk’s Launch of Sports Car into Space, and Fear Factory’s Version of ‘Cars’

February 10, 2018

And now for something a bit lighter.

This week, Elon Musk’s Space-X company launched a sports car into space, complete with a dummy pilot. This was supposedly inspired by David Bowie’s Starman, and Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. You probably saw the pictures in the paper.

What it reminded me most strongly of, however, was the video for Fear Factory’s version of the Gary Numan hit, Cars. Fear Factory are an American Heavy Metal/Industrial band, and Numan himself appears in the video as a driver of a car in space.

The video includes scenes of the band driving through a futuristic network of brightly tunnels, while alphanumerics scroll down the screen, which is clearly inspired by The Matrix trilogy. Then Numan himself drives at speed through a city. He’s also driving a car in space and collides with a satellite. This is then followed by the scenes of a crash, and the lead singer walking towards an upturned car from which a woman and the firemen are fleeing. It ends with a shot of the other wrecked car in space floating away.

And in between the lead singer inserts one of the band’s CDs into the car’s player, and there’s a creepy kid in the back, who looks just like he came out of Village of the Damned.

Take a look at the video, and see the similarities between it and Musk’s venture. He really should have had this on his playlist, as well as Bowie and Iggy Pop.

Alex Jones: People Are Having Sex with their Cars

January 15, 2018

More madness from the ever fertile imagination of Alex Jones. In this clip from The Majority Report, host Sam Seder and friends comment on a clip from Jones’ InfoWars show, in which the conspiracy theorist rants about how there is a movement encouraging people to have sex with cars.

He starts off by talking about sex robots, before going on to claim that people are having sex and marrying their dogs and cats, and are having sex with cars. He then claims that if you identify as blind, and pour ‘Draino’ into your eyes to blind yourself, the governments of the US, Britain and Canada will pay you money to support yourself as you were mentally ill. He then goes on to say that he fancies buying one of these sex robots just to torch it. We need, he says, to form a human union and defy the elites, who are controlling us. They want to make normal sex biologically impossible, in order to absorb us into the Matrix. People have been brainwashed into this by Hollywood.

Seder and his crew make the point that they have no doubt that some men will insert their penises into whatever they can find. His female co-host states that when she was working on Death and Taxes there was indeed a man arrested for having sex with his car. She was part of a jailhouse protest to get him released. There’s a lot of joking about what the chants were ‘Ha-ha, ho-ho, let the carf***er go!’ But there’s hardly a movement for people to have sex with their vehicles.

They also speculate that Jones himself has personally bought one of these sex robots, and this whole segment is him trying to explain it away in case anybody else has seen it and come to the conclusion that Jones is a pervert.

Okay, there are people out there building sex robots. One of these appeared a little while ago on Philip Schofield’s show on ITV. There was even a Spanish brothel stocked exclusively with robots, which closed down after three works. One of the sentient robots on the Channel 4 SF series, Humans, which was based on the Swedish TV series, ‘Real Humans’, was one of the machines in an all robot brothel. Which incidentally escapes and goes on the run after killing one of the customers. I think Ray Kurzweil has also predicted that in a very few years people will be having sex with robots. One of the underground comics in America is Wet Satin, whose female creator writes stories based on women’s sexual fantasies. One of illustrations from the comic, at least as it appears in Dez Skinn’s survey of comics across the world, has a woman in the tender embrace of C-3PO. This surprised me, as I’d assumed that R2D2’s best mate was a little too camp to be an object of sexual desire for women. But obviously not. And Tanith Lee wrote an SF story about a woman, who has a romance with a robot, The Silver Metal Lover, way back in the 1970s.

But sex robots are just a progression from blow-up dolls, and while they are being developed, there’s no movement for people to marry them or outlaw normal human reproduction in favour of everyone having sex with machines. At the moment, the sex robots are pretty crude. They’re not really sentient machines, like all the other robots being developed at the moment. The type of mechanical people, with whom you could have a proper relationship, like C-3PO are a very long way off. Most people, I guess, won’t find them attractive, and will regard anyone with the money to buy them with the same contempt they regard those men, who buy inflatable women.

And yes, there are people, who have sex with their cars. Jones waxes somewhat graphic about this, talking about ‘fully lubed-up tailpipes’ and claiming that normal peeps, who won’t have sex with robots or cars, will be attacked as prejudiced or homophobic. Way back in the 1990s Channel 4 screened a documentary late one evening about people, who were sexually attracted to cars. I stayed up to watch part of it, as I’ve got a strong tolerance for weirdness. But this was too weird and creepy even for me, and I turned it off and went to bed, feeling somewhat soiled. I have a feeling it comes from a peculiar mental disorder, in which people attribute human features and characteristics onto inanimate objects. This goes much further than simply giving your car a name, or referring to it as ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is more like the mad German woman, who married the Berlin Wall a few years ago. This story got a few laughs on Have I Got News For You. And then there was J.G. Ballard’s infamous novel, Crash, filmed by David Cronenberg, which is all about a secret society of perverts, who get off on car crashes. The film was highly praised by the British small press SF magazine, The Edge, but sent the Daily Mail into a frothing rage, and they organised a campaign against it. It flopped massively over here, taking only a few tens of thousands of pounds before it was banned.

So while there are mentally ill perverts and transgressive writers, like Ballard, who explore cars and sexuality, like the sex robots there is absolutely no movement to normalise this. I can’t imagine a time when anyone, who has sex with an automobile or similar inanimate object won’t be regarded as a pervert, or simply a person with severe mental health problems. No-one’s going to accuse anyone of being unfairly prejudiced or ‘homophobic’ towards people with this kind of prejudice. And incidentally, that comment from Jones shows his prejudice against gay rights by equating homophobia and homosexuality with what are actually forms of mental illness.

As for people pouring drain cleaner into their eyes deliberately to blind themselves, this shows Jones’ anti-welfare outlook. He clearly thinks that such people should not receive state aid after damaging themselves. But these people do need help, most pressingly before they actually decide to harm themselves. I’ve known people, who suffered from very severe depression and were prone to self-harm. It’s not something they’d voluntarily do, if they could avoid, but brought about by a mental condition that they’d far rather not have. Jones is therefore severely misrepresenting them if he thinks that those, who do suffer self-harm, willingly and cheerfully go about it. Again, it also shows Jones’ own prejudices. He thinks someone, who blinds themselves with drain cleaner, would do it for the same reasons some people identify with the opposite biological gender. Er, no, Alex. There’s a difference between self-harm, and transgenderism, regardless what some of the Republicans say about male to female transpeople being ‘castration fetishists’.

Jones is clearly wrong in just about everything he says here about there being a secret conspiracy to normalise and promote these sexual practices. He doesn’t have anything really profound to say about the prospect of robot prostitution or sex robots. But it is clear that he has a very vivid, lurid imagination.

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.