Posts Tagged ‘Computer Games’

The Empire File’s Abby Martin on Trump’s Advisor, Steve Bannon

March 22, 2017

In this video from Telesur’s The Empire Files, Abby Martin discusses the repugnant rise on Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart and pillar of the Alt Right now serving as the chief advisor in Trump’s cabinet. She describes how Bannon began his career as an officer in the US navy. An ardent militarist with a love for war and staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan, Bannon was nevertheless disappointed at not seeing active combat as the conflict he was hoping for with Iran did not materialise. He left the navy to work in the US financial industry for Goldman Sachs, before leaving them to form his own investment house. He got the job with Goldman Sachs after personally meeting the first head. After selling his investment company two years later, he began making right-wing documentary films. These are apocalyptic dystopias of a collapsing America under assault from armies of criminals. But they weren’t successful beyond the restricted circles of the Tea Party. So in 2004 he moved to working for an internet company, IGE, or Internet Gaming Entertainment. This made its money from paying people to mine the Virtual resources in internet game such as World of Warcraft to sell to the games’ players. Bannon managed to convince Goldman Sachs to plough $60 million into this fantasy world. However, IGE was run by some ‘highly problematic’ people. Its founder, Marc Collins-Rector, was wanted for child rape, and eventually all three of the company heads were sued for the abuse of underage boys. Eventually IGE itself collapsed, sued in a class action by games.

A new company, Affinity Media, rose from the remains of IGE. Bannon overthrew the head of this company and replaced him with himself. He then left it a few years later to work for Breitbart.

The film also discusses his abusive second marriage to Mary Louise Bacard, whom he married after she became pregnant. Bannon postponed marrying her until only three days before she gave birth, stating that he wasn’t going to marry her unless the children were normal. Fortunately, amniocentesis scans showed they were. He did not pay much attention to his two newborn daughters and refused to pay child maintenance. Less than a year into the marriage, a domestic argument broke out between Bannon and Bacard, which ended with Bannon becoming violent and trying to strangle her. The police had to be called, and Bannon was charged with domestic misdemeanour, battery and witness intimidation. The trial broke down, however, as Bacard did not appear in court. Bacard divorced him, and later revealed that Bannon and his lawyers had threatened to ruin her life if she pursued the charges against him. After the divorce, Bacard also had the terms of Bannon’s visitation rights to their children changed after she caught him hitting one of the 17 month old babies. She also said that he argued with her in front of them and that she did not feel safe.

It is not just his wife he has abused. He has also been charged with the coarse verbal abuse of female employees.

Martin also goes into Bannon’s opportunist support for Conservative and reactionary political movements, which he thought he could promote as vehicles for his own views, such as the Tea Party and then Sarah Palin, about whom he made a documentary. Curiously, this does not include an interview with Palin herself.

Bannon became friends with Andrew Breitbart, the news agency’s founder, because of their shared love of reactionary media. Breitbart even admiringly referred to Bannon as ‘the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party’, referring to the Nazi propagandist who directed Triumph of the Will, about the Nuremberg rally and an equally celebratory account of the Munich Olympics. Breitbart was a protégé of Matt Drudge, the creator of the Drudge Report, who converted the style and approach of Conservative talk radio, in which subjects were discussed in a manner unsuitable for television, to the internet. Drudge took other media stories, but manipulated their headlines and contents to fit its bias against the progressive Left, women, the working class and ethnic minorities. Along with Bannon, Drudge also picked up and promoted the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. She notes that while Jones is viewed as an internet ‘sideshow’, he has an audience of millions that hang on his every word. Bannon was brought into Breitbart to encourage outside investment into it. But the company was itself experiencing severe problems. These stems from it being blacklisted after it manipulated footage of a female government employee to make it appear that she was advocating violence against Whites. After Breitbart’s death, Bannon took over the leadership of that company too. He then set up the Government Accountability Institute, which issues spurious reports alleging government conspiracies. These include the allegation that protest movements are secretly funded by the government. Among the millionaires supporting Breitbart is Robert Mercer, the investment banker who ran anti-Muslim ads attacking the Ground Zero Mosque and advocating the death penalty, and who has one of the largest private collections of machine guns. Other donors included the billionaire Koch brothers. Martin notes how the Institute acted to allow these millionaires to launder money, which could be invested in Breitbart. The money donated to the IGA was then used to pay the wages of Breitbart employees, which is illegal.

Ex-employees have stated that Bannon has a tight, dictatorial control of the company and expects both journalists and guests to follow his editorial line. Among those, who have been published in his organisation are the anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller, Michael O’Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security advisor, and the bigot and paedophile enabler, Milo Yiannopolis. She shows how the site manipulates and aggregates news stories to attack Blacks and Muslims. Following the rise of massive anti-Muslim feeling in Europe, Breitbart has focused on promoting and playing on this fear. Breitbart’s audience is mainly angry White men, and the organisation’s audience figures shot up from 8 million to 18 million after the election of Donald Trump.

Martin discusses how Bannon has also attacked traditional Conservativism, stating that he wants to destroy the traditional Republican party as well as everything left of it. He is a populist, but only defends and promotes the White working class. He rejects ‘globalism’ in favour of economic nationalism. She states how this has been used by extreme right-wing regimes since Nazi Germany to divert attention away from capitalism as the cause of systemic economic crises. Bannon is happy to describe himself as an economic nationalist, but vigorously rejects the accusation that he is a White Nationalist, despite his attacks on non-White immigrants as a threat to Judeo-Christian civilisation, particularly Muslims. His views on Islamic immigration are even more extreme than Trump’s. If he was in charge of government, then not a single Muslim would be allowed into America. He has made documentaries showing American border towns as under siege from immigrants. Unlike Trump, he also does not want legal, well-educated and productive immigrants to stay in the country. There exists a tape, which shows him arguing against Trump on this point, when Trump protested about an Indian man, who was deported back to his homeland, where he set up a successful company employing thousands of people. Breitbart also runs stories portraying Black Americans as violent criminals and welfare scroungers. Bannon also claims that the Alt Right’s appeal to racism is entirely coincidental. He looks back to the 1950s as a golden age, whose stability and prosperity has been destroyed by the decline of Judeo-Christian civilisation. She notes that he does identify correctly some of the current problems, such as the increasing lack of upward mobility and the poverty caused by neoliberalism, and also points out that the 1950s were definitely not an era of prosperity for Black Americans and others, who were exploited and brutalised. In his view, the civil rights and other protest movements of 50s and 60s destroyed the working class and small businesses, and allowed big business and big government to collude against working Americans. She states that in his hatred of the civil rights and other movements, he attacks the very people, who have been hurt the most by globalisation. The video includes a clip from one of his wretched documentaries in which he criticises ‘White guilt’ for encouraging the belief that ‘everyone should have a house’. She then moves on to discuss another of his tawdry epics, in which he attacks the Occupy Wall Street movement. He tries to portray organic popular protest movements as vehicles for Communists, Democrats or George Soros, and attacks millennials for supposedly undermining American culture and values with the vapidity and materialism of popular culture. He even goes as far as to blame this for the rise of ISIS.

Martin makes the point that Bannon’s message was extremely effective during the 2016 election campaign, because it addressed issues that the Democrats did not want to confront. She credits Bannon with formulating the most extreme elements of Trump’s Muslim ban and his harsh hostility to the media, as well as showing how Trump’s proposal to publish a list of crimes committed by immigrants is also strongly similar to Breitbart’s strategy. She also points out that Bannon’s militarism may, as a Chinese army officer observed, make Bannon’s prediction that in five to ten years America and the Chinese will be at war a reality. Bannon has said several times that Islam and China are expanding because they believe the Judeo-Christian West is in retreat. And Trump has also appointed more generals to his cabinet than previous administrations.

Martin concludes the piece by stating that Bannon’s rise shows how corrupt and illegitimate the system is, and that the Democrats, who wish to fight the same wars and are in debt and the pockets of their own corporate donors, are unable to fight him. He can only be fought by a united, multicultural progressive movement on the streets.

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Frontiers Magazine on Robot Weapons

October 23, 2016

The popular science magazine, Frontiers, way back in October 1998 ran an article on robots. This included two pages on the ‘Soldiers of Tomorrow’, military robots then under development. This included drones. These are now extremely well-known, if not notorious, for the threat they pose to privacy and freedom. The article notes that they were developed from the unmanned planes used for target practice. They were first used in the 1960s to fly reconnaissance missions in Vietnam after the US air force suffered several losses from surface to air missiles. Drones were also used during the Cold War to spy on the Soviet Union, though instead of beaming the pictures back to their operators, they had to eject them physically. They were further developed by the Israelis, who used them to spy on their Arab neighbours during their many wars. Their next development was during the Gulf War, when they broadcast back to their operators real-time images of the battlefields they were surveying.

Apart from drones, the article also covered a number of other war machines under development. This included remotely operated ground vehicles like SARGE, and the Mobility Module and remotely controlled buggy shown below.

robot-army-cars

SARGE was a scout vehicle adapted from a Yamaha four-wheel drive all-terrain jeep. Like the drones, it was remotely controlled by a human operator. The top photo of the two above showed the Mobility Module mounted aboard another army vehicle, which contained a number of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition sensors. Below it is a missile launcher fixed to another remote-control buggy. The article also carried a photo of a Rockwell Hellfire missile being launched from another of this type of adapted vehicle.

robot-army-car-missile

Next to this was a photo of the operator in his equipment, who controlled the Tele-Operated Vehicle, or TOV, as the developers were calling such machines.

robot-army-car-operator

Another of the machines described in the article was the Telepresent Rapid Aiming System, a robot gun designed by Graham Hawkes and Precision Remotes of California as a sentry robot. As the article itself notes, it’s similar to the tunnel machine guns used by the Space Marines in the film Aliens. It could either be operated by remote control, or made fully automatic and configured to shoot live ammunition. At the time the article was written it had already been tested by a number of different law enforcement agencies.

The only vaguely humanoid robot was the Robart III, shown below.

robot-solider

This machine was able to track a target automatically using its video vision, and possessed laser guidance to allow it to be operated remotely. In demonstrations it carried a pneumatic dart gun, capable of firing tranquillizer darts at intruders. In combat situations this would be replaced with a machine gun. It was designed to be used as a mechanical security guard.

The article also stated that miniature crawling robots were also under development. These would be used to creep up on enemy positions, sending back to their operators video images of their progress. If such machines were mass-produced, their price could fall to about £10. This would mean that it would be easily affordable to saturate an area with them. (pp. 56-7).

The article describes the state of development of these machines as it was nearly 20 years ago. Drones are now so widespread, that they’ve become a nuisance. I’ve seen them in sale in some of the shops in Cheltenham for anything from £36 to near enough £400. Apart from the military, they’re being used by building surveyors and archaeologists.

And while robots like the above might excite enthusiasts for military hardware, there are very serious issues with them. The Young Turks, Secular Talk and Jimmy Dore have pointed out on their shows that Bush and Obama have violated the American constitution by using drones to assassinate terrorists, even when they are resident in friendly or at least non-hostile countries. Despite all the talk by the American army about ‘surgical strikes’, these weapons in fact are anything but precise instruments that can kill terrorists while sparing civilians. The three programmes cited, along with no doubt many other shows and critics, have stated that most of the victims of drone attacks are civilians and the families of terrorists. The drones may be used to home in on mobile signals, so that the person killed has been someone using their phone, rather than the terrorists themselves. Others have been worried about the way the operation of these weapons through remote control have distanced their human operators, and by extension the wider public, from the bloody reality of warfare.

Way back in the first Gulf War, one of the French radical philosophers in his book, The Gulf War Never Happened, argued that the extensive use of remotely controlled missiles during the war, and the images from them that were used in news coverage at the time, meant that for many people the Gulf War was less than real. It occurred in Virtual Reality, like a simulation in cyberspace. Recent criticism of the military use of drones as killing machines by whistleblowers have borne out these fears. One, who was also an instructor on the drone programme, described the casual indifference to killing, including killing children, of the drone pilots. They referred to their actions as ‘mowing the lawn’, and their child victims as ‘fun-sized terrorists’, justifying their deaths by arguing that as the children of terrorists, they would have grown up to be terrorists themselves. Thus they claimed to have prevented further acts of terrorism through their murder. And they did seem to regard the operation of the drones almost as a video game. The instructor describes how he threw one trainee off the controls after he indulged in more, unnecessary bloodshed, telling him, ‘This is not a computer game!’

And behind this is the threat that such machines will gain their independence to wipe out or enslave humanity. This is the real scenario behind Dr Kevin Warwick’s book, March of the Machines, which predicts that by mid-century robots will have killed the majority of humanity and enslaved the rest. A number of leading scientists have called for a halt on the development of robot soldiers. About 15 or twenty years ago there was a mass outcry from scientists and political activists after one government announced it was going to develop fully autonomous robot soldiers.

I’m a fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, which is about a group of robot soldiers, who now fight to ‘increase the peace’, using their lethal skills to rid the galaxy of criminals and tyrants and protect the innocent. The robots depicted in the strip are fully conscious, intelligent machines, with individual personalities and their own moral codes. The Frontiers article notes elsewhere that we’re a long way from developing such sophisticated AI, stating that he did not believe he would see it in his lifetime. On the other hand, Pat Mills, the strips’ writer and creator, says in the introduction to one of the collected volumes of the strips on the ‘Volgan War’, that there is a Russian robot, ‘Johnny 5’, that looks very much like Mechquake, the stupid, psychopathic robot bulldozer that appeared in the strip and its predecessor, ‘Robusters’. None of the machines under development therefore have the humanity and moral engagement of Hammerstein, Ro-Jaws, Mongrol, Steelhorn, Happy Shrapnel/ Tubalcain, Deadlok or even Joe Pineapples. The real robotic killing machines now being developed and used by the military represent a real threat to political liberty, the dehumanisation of warfare, and the continuing safety of the human race.

Comics and Political Satire: Diceman’s ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’

October 13, 2016

diceman-reagan-cover

I’ve written a several pieces about comics and political satire and comment. The 1960s counterculture produced underground comics, which dealt with taboo subjects. These included sex, and issues of sexual orientation, such as homosexuality, as well as explicit political commentary and satire. These continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. Over here, adult strips with a strong political content included Crisis, many of the Knockabout stable of comics, and Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man. Mainstream comics, such as 2000 AD, also contained elements of satire and political comment, particularly in the strips created and written by veteran recidivist and script droid Pat Mills.

Way back in the 1980s, 2000 AD also launched a spin-off, aimed at the RPG crowd. This followed adventure game books, like the Wizard of Firetop Mountain, in which the reader also played the central character in the adventure, and their decisions reading the book/game determined how it ended for them. 2000 AD’s Diceman was similar, but the games were in comic strip form, rather than simple, unillustrated text. Most of the games were straightforward strips using 2000 AD characters like Slaine, Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper. There was also the ‘Diceman’ strip of the title, which was about a 1930s occult private eye in America, hunting down weirdness and assorted monsters and human villains assisted by his own occult monster, Astragal, the demon of the dice. The strip was set amongst the grim tenements of Depression era New York, though it could go further afield into Nazi Germany, and so also had more than a little similarity to the Indian Jones films then playing in cinemas. It was based on the writings and life of Charles Hoy Fort, the writer and researcher of the bizarre and weird, such as falls of frogs and other strange events. Fort was the inspiration for the magazine The Fortean Times, which continued Fort’s work of documenting the bizarre and the scientifically ‘damned’. The Fortean inspiration behind Diceman probably came from the fact that many of those involved in the British comics scene, like the late Steve Moore, were also contributors to the FT.

Most of the strips seem to have been written by Pat Mills, and the readership seems to have been somewhat more mature than that of the parent magazine, 2000 AD. So in a couple of them, Pat Mills let rip and dealt explicitly with two of the politicos then running amok on the world stage. These were Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Illustrated by the great underground comic artist, Hunt Emerson, these were ‘Maggie Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game’, and ‘You Are Ronald Reagan’. I found the issue with the latter yesterday looking through a pile of old magazines. Published in issue 5 of the magazine in 1986, the game had the reader take over the brain of the American president and journey back in time to avert an impending nuclear war. During the game you were faced with such tasks as deciding whether to send the troops into Nicaragua, negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, researching your family tree to boost your popularity with the American electorate, and trying to prevent a full scale nuclear war with Russia. While also trying to sort out what to do about Britain and Maggie’s plea to turn it into America’s 51st State. The reader also had to successfully maintain the illusion that they were indeed the real Ronald Reagan. If they didn’t, they were fried in the electric chair as a Commie infiltrator. Along with Maggie and various aides, one of the whom looked like an American eagle, was Reagan’s buddy, Bonzo the Superchimp, named after Reagan’s co-star in the film Bedtime for Bonzo.

Some idea of the style – both visual and narrative – of the strip can be seen in the sample page below.

diceman-reagan-1

The strip mostly has a light touch, even when Reagan fails to avert World War 3 and civilisation is ended in a nuclear holocaust. But it dealt with extremely serious issues. For example, nearly all of the options for solving the crisis in Nicaragua involved military force to a greater or lesser extent, and all of them would result in misery for the people of that nation. Which were illustrated with the same depiction of starving peasants and crying children for all of the choices. As with many of Mills’ strips, it was based on solid research, with some of the books consulted listed at the end of the strip, along with the terrifying real incidents where the world had come close to nuclear war through mistakes and stupidity.

The strip was also similar to some of the computer games then being created for the new generation of home computers, like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Some of these also had a satirical slant, including one called The Tebbitt. This followed the Tolkienesque adventure game format, but you played a politician running around Whitehall trying to solve political issues. Hence the title, in which the name of one of Thatcher’s cabinet thugs, Norman Tebbitt, was substituted for The Hobbit.

Sadly, Diceman didn’t last long. There are still underground comic strips and graphic novels with a strong political content. Counterpunch a few weeks ago carried an article about one attacking the current situation in America. And two years ago Mills announced another graphic novel containing an anthology of strips to counter the establishment propaganda about the First World War. Role-Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons and various others based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos are still played, despite being overtaken by video and computer games. And Judge Dredd and 2000 AD and its other characters, like Slaine and the A.B.C. Warriors have survived into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, so have the Conservatives, Neoliberal economics, a political cult based around Reagan and Thatcher as visionary politicians, for whom it is tantamount to horrible blasphemy to criticise. And Obama and the Conservatives in this country also seem to want to pitch the world into another nuclear confrontation with Russia, this time over the Middle East.

Perhaps it’s time for a few more politically orientated satirical strips. Maybe one in which you play David Cameron, and have to avoid destroying the economy, making millions homeless and starving, and trying not to break up the UK while fighting the EU. All the while breaking trade unions, protecting the rich and powerful, and keeping the population as poor and desperate as possible. With the option of doing it all again as Theresa May.