Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Surveillance Britain: Police Using Massively Inaccurate Facial Recognition Technology on Ordinary Brits

May 20, 2019

Here’s another piece of news that should further worry anyone concerned that Britain is slowly sliding down the tubes towards a surveillance state. The rozzers have launched a pilot scheme for a facial recognition system. They’re testing it out by photographing the fizzogs of ordinary British citizens walking down the streets. And it’s already resulted in one extremely dubious arrest. One man didn’t want to be photographed by the cops, and so he hid his face. The rozzers then pounced and fined him for ‘disorderly conduct’. This was filmed by the Beeb’s Politics Live. It’s completely disgraceful. The man had committed no crime, except to protect his own privacy against the state.

Mike in his article on this points out that there have been a couple of incidents where attempts to compile information on ordinary members of the public have resulted in disastrous mistakes, or deeply worrying infringements of personal freedom. For example, there were the innocent people, who suddenly found themselves with criminal records when their prospective employers started making background checks. Many of them were wrongly left without jobs because of this. And then there’s the DNA genetic database scandal, in which genetic material obtained from the public has been kept by the police, some of which was then illegally passed on for use in genetic research.

Mike also shows how this technology is also massively inaccurate. It had a failure rate of 96 per cent in eight trials in London between 2016 and 2018 according to the Independent. The software gave false positives, wrongly identifying innocent people as crims. It was also deployed twice in a shopping centre outside Stratford last year, where it had a failure rate of 100 per cent. This resulted in people being wrongly identified, including a 14 year old Black schoolboy, who was fingerprinted. The cops also stopped people for covering their faces and wearing hoods, and one man was fined for doing so in  Romford. The Independent found that shoppers were unaware their photos were being taken, despite the rozzers’ claim that the tests were overt, and campaigners have said that it’s being rolled out by stealth.

But despite its dangers and massive inaccuracy, the scheme is being defended by the Tories. Police Minister Nick Hurd has said that the technology offers ‘real opportunities’, said we are not a surveillance state, and that they have no intention of becoming one, and so the new technology must be used in a way that is sensitive to their impact on privacy, and proportionate.

To which Mike comments

Fail. It’s not sensitive to privacy and its use isn’t proportionate. But the Tories – and the police – won’t withdraw it, so we can only conclude that we do – indeed – live in a police surveillance state.

Police state Britain: Failed facial recognition pilot leads to fine for disorderly conduct. WTF?

This is precisely the type of information gathering that Privacy International and other campaigners were warning about in the ’90s. When DNA evidence first began to be collected, there were fears that it would be used to set up a national DNA database. In one incident, all the men in a small town where a rape had been committed were asked to supply samples of their DNA. There were concerns about what would happen to it afterwards, and that the material would be retained, even though the men were innocent. There were also fears that the collection of such samples would go from being simple requests to demands, and that anyone who refused, would automatically come under suspicion, even though they may be innocent.

It also reminds of the way the police also started compiling records in the 1980s of people they considered suspicious, as revealed in the Beeb documentary, Secret State. Perfectly innocent people suddenly had police files opened on them and their movements recorded for reasons that reflected the prejudices of the cops, rather than anything they’d done. Like being punks. One teenage girl was marked down as a potential suspect simply because she was pregnant and there was no father.

I am also not surprised by the massive failure rate of the technology at the moment. It seems par for the course that any and all information technology adopted by the state should be seriously flawed. Like all the computer systems supplied to local authorities in the 1990s by outsourcing companies like Crapita.

Black people are particularly at risk from these systems. The I newspaper a few weeks ago reported on the concerns about the massive under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the computer industry. Only four per cent of employees in one of the big American tech giants came from ethnic minorities. As a result, the pattern recognition system they developed misidentified Black people as gorillas. Which makes you wonder who programmed this wretched system. The Klan?

As for not becoming a surveillance society, privacy campaigners have warned repeatedly about the dangers of ‘function creep’. Once one innovation or strategy is adopted, other agencies will want to use it, and so it will expand. Also, other forms have surveillance have become normalised. There were serious concerns about the use of CCTV cameras when they first appeared. Alan Moore deliberately wrote them into his depiction of a Fascist Britain in the V for Vendetta comic. He thought at the time that this would really shock people. Niall Ferguson shared his fears. He was also alarmed at how ubiquitous CCTV cameras had become here after he returned from a visit to China. But he was also astonished at how his concerns were not shared by anyone else.

And with the campaign by the IT and automobile industries, I wonder how long it will be before we get the repressive police state and its robots described by the great SF writer Ray Bradbury in his short story, ‘The Pedestrian’. In this tale, a man is stopped by a robotic police car simply for taking a walk in the middle of the night.

It’s SF as the ‘literature of warning’. It’s not meant to be prophetic. But somehow that seems to be the future these technologies are leading to.

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Time Travel Tale of Scientists Warning of Ecological Collapse: Gregory Benford’s ‘Timescape’

May 10, 2019

Gregory Benford, Timescape (London: Victor Gollancz 1980).

Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, has asked me to do a review of Gregory Benford’s time machine book, Timescape. I read it a few years ago, having bought the 1996 edition, over a decade and a half after it was first published. It is just a bit dated now in its prediction of life in 1998, but still well-worth reading if you’re into physics and hard SF.

Benford, the ‘Galactic Centre’ Novels and Timescape

Gregory Benford is an American astronomer and hard SF writer. He’s probably best known for his ‘Galactic Centre’ series of novels. Set thousands of years in the future, this is about the last remnants of humanity battling for survival against a ruthless and almost overwhelmingly superior machine civilisation, the Mechs, at the centre of the Galaxy. Hard SF is the type of science fiction that tries as far as possible to keep to established scientific rules. Such as, for example, the inviolability of the rule of Relativity, so that there are no Faster Than Light drives taking humans to the stars in a matter of hours, days or months rather than years. But that doesn’t mean ruling out other scientific advances, like time travel. Several of the ‘Galactic Centre’ novels are set in an artificial environment within the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy, where careful engineering by alien creatures formed of pure magnetism have merged two Black Holes to form an artificial environment of warped space time, within which humans and organic aliens are able to seek sanctuary from the Mechs. The curvature of spacetime and stress cracks within it in this environment allow the inhabitants to travel backwards and forwards in time. One of the novels features the adventures of a modern human family, who are forced to flee forward in time as the Mechs invade, almost to the end of time itself.

Brief Synopsis

Timescape doesn’t go that far, and is very firmly set in the recent past, and near future according to the time it was written. It’s the tale of two scientists and their friends, Gordon Bernstein and his fellows at CalTech in 1963, and Gregory Markham, an American scientist and his friend Markham, at Cambridge Uni in 1998. Bernstein is a young graduate student, who detects strange signals from an experiment he and his fellows are running, signals that he gradually begins to realize cannot be explained as just random noise or the product of background radiation. In 1998 Markham and Renfrew are working on ways to generate tachyons, faster than light subatomic particles that will travel back in time through bombarding iridium with high energy particles. They hope that by creating such particles, they may be able to use them to send a warning to the past.

The Earth in this very near future is dying. The ecology is collapsing through a deadly bacteriological bloom that destroys vegetable and animal life. The result is global famine, poverty and social unrest, with food rationing and bands of hostile, violent beggars moving across England. Markham and Renfrew hope they can send a message to the past detailing how the disease can be fought and eradicated in order to save civilisation by preventing the catastrophe occurring in the first place.

Time Travelling Subatomic Particles from Space

The idea of using subatomic particles and quantum physics to contact the past is highly speculative, of course, but not unreasonable. Some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that information is able to move backwards through time, so that events in the future are able to determine the results of certain experiments, for example. There was also speculation in the 1990s that some subatomic particles reaching Earth from despite might be tachyons in origin. I can’t quite remember whether these were a type of neutrino or meson, but the theory was that they were produced by high energy events in space, such as supernovas. This produced tachyons, which traveled backwards in time until they decayed to become neutrinos or mesons or whatever, which were then able to be detected by scientists.

The Connecticutt College Professor’s Time Machine

Also in the 1990s came a plan by a Black professor at Connecticutt Community college to build a real, working time machine. This wouldn’t be able to transport people, just other subatomic particles back into the past. The idea was to create an Einstein-Rosen Condensate of iridium ions. An Einstein-Rosen Condensate is a strange state of matter where a plasma – an ionised gas is supercooled so that its component particles behave as a single particle. This plasma was to be whirled around in a chamber mimicking the spin of stars. Stars are so massive that as they spin, they pull the fabric of space time itself around after them. The effect has been observed around the Sun, providing confirmation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It has been suggested that this effect could be used in the case of extremely massive objects, like Black Holes, to travel back in time. You simply enter the region of space being dragged around by the Black Hole, and then travel in the opposite direction to the local movement of spacetime. This should make you go back in time, it is suggested, and so you should be able to leave that area of space some time in the past, before you entered it. The professors plan worked along similar lines. Electrons would be shot into the chamber in the opposite direction to the circulation of the condensate. This should allow them to travel back into the past. If the scientists running the experiment found a larger number of electrons in the condensate than normal or otherwise explained, before they had started shooting them into it, then it would mean that the electrons had traveled there from the future. Time travel, or at least that possibility of communication between past and future, would be possible.

This obviously got very many people very excited. H.G. Wells’ grandson, who directed the ’90s version of his grand-dad’s classic, The Time Machine, appeared in a documentary telling us that the age of time travel was almost upon us. The experiment was due to be run aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think it must have been cancelled when one exploded, thus grounding the fleet and finally endings its use.

Time and the Weird World of Quantum Physics

Benford warns in his acknowledgements that

Many scientific elements in this novel are true. Others are speculative, and thus may well prove false. My aim has been to illuminate some outstanding philosophical difficulties in physics. If the reader emerges with the conviction that time represents are fundamental riddle in modern physics, this book will have served its purpose.

Which must be one of the rare occasions when a scientist writes a book to show how mysterious and incomprehensible a scientific phenomenon is, rather than how it can be grasped and understood. This famously applies to quantum physics. As one prominent scientist said of this subject, you don’t understand it, you just get used it.

Science and Society in the ’60s and ’90s

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of physics in the book, though none of its so hard that only physics graduates, let alone the late Stephen Hawking, would be the only people that understand it. And the book does an excellent job of showing what it must have been like doing physics at an advanced level in the early 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Gordon Bernstein, the hero of the early years, is a New York Jew, whose girlfriend, Marjorie, is a Conservative gentile. As his investigations proceed, he first believes that the signals are messages from space before coming to understand they’re from the future instead. He faces scepticism and opposition from his colleagues and academic supervisors, and risks being failed and his academic career and research terminated. as he goes on and his theories become public, he suffers from the attentions of the press and a procession of cranks, who traipse through his office door offering their own weird theories. I think this is a common experience to many astronomers and cosmologists. I can remember reading a comment by one such scientist that hardly a week went by without him receiving in the mail letters from people explaining their ‘theory of the universe’. At the same time, Bernstein’s relationship with his girlfriend also comes under pressure. His family don’t approve, and would like him to marry a nice Jewish girl instead. There are also political disagreements. Penny and her friends fully support the Vietnam War, views that aren’t shared by the liberal Bernstein. But in a twist, it’s Penny who understands that the waiters at their favourite restaurant are gay, is comfortable with that fact.

Back in Blighty in 1998, Markham’s and Renfrew’s backgrounds are solidly middle class. This is still a world where women were expected to stay home and cook, and the aristocracy still wields power and influence. A society in which entitled public school boys shout their food and alcohol choices in the local pub in Latin. It’s a world in which Markham is an outsider, and resents the privilege and condescension of the upper class Brits among which he moves.

Timescape and ’70s Fears of the End of Civilisation

Like much near-future SF, the book’s now dated. 1998 is now twenty years ago, and fortunately civilisation has not collapsed. Not yet. The book was partly a product of the sense of crisis in the 1970s, when many people really did fear the end of civilisation through industrial and social unrest and ecological collapse. It was predicted that overpopulation would result in mass famine, while the resources would run out and the Earth itself become uninhabitable through massive pollution. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened. Not yet. But there is still a real danger of global civilisation collapsing through irreversible ecological damage from climate change and pollution, and algal blooms are poisoning the water in some parts of the world. Despite it’s age, the book thus remains acutely relevant.

Social Change and the Rise of Domestic Computers

In other respects, the book as a prediction of the future hasn’t worn quite as well. The advance of feminism in the 1980s and ’90s meant that traditional gender roles were breaking down as women sought careers outside the home. By 1998 there was the expectation that both partners in a relationship would be working, and the old domestic arrangement in which women looked after children and the home and were supported by their husbands was seen as anachronistic. At the same time, he also doesn’t predict the advances in information technology that has produced the home and personal computers or mobile phones. There is, however, a machine called the Sek, which is a type of answerphone and database, if I recall correctly.

Conclusion

These differences between the book’s expectation of what the ’90s would be like and the reality actually don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the story. Science Fiction tends not to be very good at predicting the future. If it was, then humanoid robots with a comparable level of intelligence and genuine consciousness, like Star Wars’ C3PO, would be in every home and we would already have colonies on the Moon, Mars and Earth orbit. We don’t have any of that. But we do have personal computers, the internet and mobile phones, as well as a variety of industrial machines, which weren’t predicted. Many SF novels still remain worth reading even though their predictions of the future, or the contemporary present in which they were set, are dated. These include such classics as those of H.G. Wells’, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and so on. What matters in the story and the writer’s ability to create a convincing, fascinating world, which Timescape does.

While some of its details are inaccurate, this is still a readable, gripping story with a solid base in plausible science, and whose warning about environmental decline is, horrendously, just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1980.

 

Radio 4 Programme Today on the Decline of Women in Computing

April 28, 2019

According to this week’s Radio Times, There’s a problem on Radio 4 today at 1.30 pm, ‘A Job for the Boys’ examining the decline of the number of women working in computing. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Women once made up 80 per cent of the computer industry, but now the figure is less than 20 per cent. Mary Ann Sieghart explores the reasons for this phenomenon and reveals it’s hidden and disturbing consequences. (p. 121).

Yesterday’s ‘Saturday Live’ programme at 9.00 am carried a piece on Dame Stephanie Shirley, a female tech pioneer who set up Britain’s first all-female software company in 1962. That programme’s been broadcast, but it may still be available on BBC iplayer.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part I

Part II

Daily Mail Labeled ‘Fake News’ by Microsoft News Software

January 23, 2019

Ho ho! Another fascinating story Mike put up today is a piece reporting that Microsoft Newsguard, a piece of plug-in software designed to warn users if the news website they’re looking at is unreliable, has flagged up the Daily Mail’s Mail Online as fake news. If you onto the Daily Mail while using the software, you get a message telling you that

“this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability” and “has been forced to pay damages in numerous high-profile cases”.

Mike quotes the Guardian on the software, which says that it is run by veterans of the news industry, who are trying to establish industry-standard benchmarks for judging how trustworthy news sites are. It employs experts to analyse sites to see if they meet certain journalistic standards. It makes all its judgments public and invites news outlets to respond to criticism and improve their standards.

So how bad is the Fail? Well, according to the site Tabloid Corrections, it’s pretty terrible. In fact, it’s worse even than the Scum. It was sanctioned 28 times by the press regulator, IPSO, last year, 2018. The Times was second with 18 sanctions. Behind the Times came the Scum, with 16, the Mirror with 10, the Express and Torygraph with 7, and the Star with 4. Still, the Fail has improved. In 2017 it violated journalistic rules 50 times.

Mike comments that this probably won’t affect the Daily Mail, as most people regard it more as a comic. They only read it to laugh at the nonsense inside. And, sadly, some probably read it only to ogle the scantily clad women in the very sexist newsroll on the right of its webpage. I’m not so sure about this. Years ago a friend of mine said that he thought the Mail was more dangerous than the Scum, because while the people who read the Scum treated it as a joke, those who read the Heil take it seriously. I think he’s partly right, but even this is far too optimistic. Yes, the Scum and the Mail are viewed with contempt by very many people, with more sophisticated tastes and attitudes to the news and journalism, at the same time I’m sure that their readers do take them absolutely seriously.

Mike also states that the Beeb’s Politics Live has also been discussing fake news, but hasn’t mentioned the Mail, concentrating instead on a piece about the UK parliament but which confuses it with the American political system.

Mike concludes

The issue is one that This Site has highlighted recently – that anyone claiming to quote facts about political issues must provide proof, usually in the form of references to their sources. Then readers can check those sources.

If there aren’t any references then you assume the claim isn’t true – and draw your own conclusions about the person or organisation making it.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/01/23/daily-mail-website-flagged-as-fake-news-by-microsoft-mobile-web-browser/

Mike’s piece is interesting not just because of what it says about the Heil, but about the rest of the UK media. The Heil is Britain’s worse paper for misreporting, but the second and third worse are the Murdoch papers the Times and the Scum. The Scum will be no surprise to anyone. But the Times prides itself on being Britain’s paper of record. This shows how vacuous and spurious that claim is. And I don’t regard its sister paper, the Sunday Times, as any better. Not after the repeated way it has libeled Labour party leaders and members, like Michael Foot and Mike himself. It’s not up there on the list, but it still slanders and smears decent people simply for the benefit of the Tories, big business, and in Mike’s case, for New Labour and the Israel lobby.

It will also be interesting to see if Private Eye reports this in their ‘Street of Shame’ column. It’s always reported the findings of press regulators, particularly when one of the most notorious rags has been claiming that it is the paragon of journalistic standards and has never made anything up or libeled anyone ever. And Private Eye is now casting its critical gaze over the alternative news sites. Last issue, for the 11-24 January 2019, it carried the article ‘Skwawk-boxed’, reporting that ‘Britain’s sole state-approved press regulator’, Impress, had made its eighth ruling against the Skwawkbox because it misrepresents or distorts the facts, and confuses fact with comment. It claims the regulator oversees 111 titles, but over the past two years has been called in to deal with 15 complaints. More than half of these have been against the same publication, and at least five have been upheld. This is against the Skwawkbox, which it describes as

‘the ultra-partisan Corbynite website run by Labour activist Steve Walker, which specializes in paranoid conspiracy theorizing and simultaneous attacks on the “MSM” for fake news.’

I dare say that this piece is correct, as far as it goes, and its criticism of the failure of journalistic standards in the Skwawkbox is probably correct. But I trust the Skwawkbox far more than I trust mainstream news. The MSM does present appallingly slanted news, including the Beeb, which it hypocritically maintains is objective, trustworthy fact. The massively biased coverage of Corbyn and the Labour party is a case in point. The media has smeared him and his supporters as Trotskyites, misogynists and anti-Semites, when the opposite is true. And there are organisations with very hidden agendas manipulating both the news and government policy. These are the various intelligence agencies, right-wing thinktanks, and industry groups trying to manipulate official policy to promote the neoliberal agenda of privatization, poor wages, destruction of the welfare state and workers’ rights and the invasion and exploitation of the Middle East under the pretense of combating terrorism. You can read about this over at Lobster, Counterpunch, and in the books of and website of Greg Palast and the now sadly departed William Blum and his Anti-Empire Report. Walker might have to tighten up his journalistic performance, but I don’t doubt that there’s more truth in what he writes than in the Fail or the rest of the mainstream media.

And he and the other left-wing news sites supporting Corbyn and genuine socialism in the Labour party clearly are frightening Private Eye along with the rest of the old media. Otherwise the Eye wouldn’t have published this, and another story attacking the excellent the Canary. The genuine left-wing news sites are catching up on the old media very quickly. It’ll be interesting to see if next fortnight’s Eye includes this story, as it did the piece on the Skwawkbox.

Tony Benn on ‘Spycatcher’ and the Wilson Smears

January 8, 2019

Tony Benn was a passionate defender of civil liberties and an advocate of expanding democracy further against the attempts of the establishment to limit it. He was therefore a critic of Britain’s intelligence agencies and their repeated attempts to destabilise and undermine the left. The publication of Peter Wright’s Spycatcher in the ’80s caused massive controversy, because of its description of the activities by them. Thatcher invoked the Official Secrets Act to suppress its publication in Britain, but it was freely available elsewhere in the world. In his 1988 book, Fighting Back, Benn discusses the book and its revelations about just what the CIA and MI5 were up to, including their smears against the former Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson.

Among the pieces Benn quotes and discusses was Wright’s statement that MI5 bugged and burgled their way across London on behalf of the state, while civil servants looked the other way;

that during the Suez crisis, MI6 planned to assassinate Nasser using nerve gas;

that James Angleton, the head of the CIA, wanted to expand their London station and infiltrate and absorb MI5 completely;

that the intelligence agencies had always taken information from peoples’ national insurance files, and were setting up a computer link to do the same;

and that Angleton believed that Wilson was a Soviet agent, based on an anonymous Soviet source. (Benn, Fighting Back, pp. 237-8).

He then goes on to quote Wright on how MI5 was plotting to smear Wilson from the end of the Heath government. Wright wrote

As events moved to their political climax in early 1974, with the election of the minority Labour Government, MI5 was sitting on information, which, if leaked, would undoubtedly have caused a political scandal of incalculable consequences. The news that the Prime Minister himself was being investigated would at the least have led to his resignation. The point was not lost on some MI5 officers.

Wright continued on page 369 of his wretched book

The plan was simple. In the run-up to the election which, given the level of instability in Parliament, must be due within a matter of months, MI5 would arrange for selective details of the intelligence about leading Labour Party figures, but especially Wilson, to be leaked to sympathetic pressmen. Using our contacts in the press and among union officials, word of the material contained in MI5 files, and the fact that Wilson was considered a security risk would be passed around. Soundings had already been taken, and up to thirty officers had given their approval to the scheme. Facsimile copies of some files were to be made and distributed to overseas newspapers, and the matter was to be raised in Parliament for maximum effect. It was a carbon copy of the Zinoviev letter, which had done so much to destroy the first Ramsay MacDonald Government in 1928. [sic] ‘We’ll have him out’ said one of them. ‘this time we’ll have him out.’ Shortly afterwards Wilson resigned. As we always used to say in the office ‘Politicians may come and go, but the security service goes on forever. (Both quotations in Benn, p. 238).

Benn then went on to say about these revelations that

If any of them are true MI5 officers were incited to break the law, have broken the law, did attempt, with CIA help, to destroy an elected government, and any responsible Prime Minister should have instructed the police to investigate, with a view to prosecution, and the Courts should have convicted and sentenced those found guilty. The charge which the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Law Officers, the Police, have to face is that they have all betrayed their public trust, and the judges who have upheld them are in clear breach of the Bill of Rights of 1689. For if ministers can arbitrarily suspend the law, and claim that issues of confidentiality, or national security, justify a ban on publication; and if the judges issue an injunction, there could be no limit to the suppression of any information which might embarrass any government. (Benn, p. 239).

The Wilson smears have again become relevant after the recent revelations from the Anonymous hacking group, which the government admitted following a question by Labour minister Chris Williamson, that the Tory government was funding a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, to publish anti-Putin propaganda on the internet as part of its programme, the Integrity Initiative. This propaganda included smearing European and American politicians and officials, who were held to be to close to Putin. And so they smeared Jeremy Corbyn, just as the press a little while ago also tried smearing him as a Czech spy. Investigation has shown that the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative uses staff from MI5 and the army’s internet counterintelligence units, to the point where journalists investigating it have described it as a British intelligence cut-out.

It is over forty years since Harold Wilson left office, but the British intelligence services are back up to their old tricks of smearing Labour leaders as Russian agents. Benn wanted legislation put in place to make the British secret state fully accountable to parliament. The British conspiracy magazine, Lobster, has making the same argument since its foundation in the 1980s.

Benn and Lobster are right. Our intelligence agencies are out of control, and a danger to democracy.

Shirley Williams on the Industrial Democracy

January 5, 2019

Before she left with other members of the Labour right to form the SDP, it seems that Shirley Williams did have some genuinely interesting views on socialist issues some would associated more with the Labour left. Like industrial democracy.

The ’70s were the decade of the Bullock Report, which recommended putting workers on the management boards of Britain’s major industries, and this was still an issue a couple of years later. In her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, Williams discusses some of the problems of industrial democracy. She acknowledges that the trade unions were divided on the issue and management positively feared it. She also recognized that there were problems about how it could be achieved, given the complexities of the representation of the different trade unions in British workplaces on management boards. But she supported its introduction in Britain’s businesses, and suggested that it would be made easier through the information and computer technology that was then also appearing. She wrote

Through the need for participation in the introduction of new technologies, management and unions are having to establish consultative machinery where none exists. Those firms who want to move ahead quickly will achieve trade union cooperation if they offer participation in exchange; otherwise they will face resistance and obstruction. The new technologies offer an opportunity to widen industrial democracy at the plant and office level, where it matters most. Whether joint consultation at that level leads on to participation in the boardroom is a matter that can be left to each company and its unions to decide.

More difficult is the question of how the workforce in each firm should be represented. In the Cabinet committee which drew up the 1979 White Paper on industrial democracy, there were differing views on whether workers should elect their representatives to plant and company committees or whether they should be nominated by the trade unions (the ‘single channel’). The issue is far from simple. In Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany most firms have only one trade union,, so there is no need to secure agreement among them before candidates for election can be put forward. In Britain, as many as twenty unions may represent the employees of large firms, and four or five unions in a firm are commonplace. In these circumstances, a straightforward election would be likely to lead all the representatives coming from the biggest unions, the rest being unrepresented.

But the nomination of a single list by agreement between the unions in a plant or firm offends the principle of democratic choice. The workers may object to one or more of the people selected to represent them, yet they would have no power to reject him or her other than by the rejecting the whole slate and jeopardizing participation itself. One way out of this dilemma would be for the unions in a multi-union plant to agree on constituencies representing each union on a weighted basis, with an election based on a secret ballot between candidates who were members of the appropriate union, some of whom might carry official endorsement.

Industrial democracy has not attracted consistent support from most trade unions, and the trade unions themselves are profoundly divided on the form it should take, many preferring a consultative structure to one statutory participation on the lines proposed in the Bullock Report. If the unions are divided, however, much of management feels threatened by the idea of industrial democracy. So for years there has been a stalemate on the subject, and government intervenes at their peril. Yet, if only beca8use there has to be effective consultation on technological change, the position cannot be left where it is. Indeed, in my view industrial democracy could usher in much better relations in industry, greater cooperation in improving the productivity of all factors of production and a better understanding of the need for voluntary incomes and prices policies to combat inflation. Many of Britain’s economic problems are rooted in institutional rigidities or, as in this case, institution conservatism. This one reform could bring in its wake a long-delayed rejuvenation. We should not be daunted by the difficulties, but rather invigorated by the possibilities.

Shirley Williams, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981) 139-40.

Some of the issues Williams talks about here are very dated. Inflation is no longer the critical issue it was in the ’70s. It’s now very low, and this has caused problems in its turn. Profits and management pay have risen immensely, but this is not reflected in the salaries of ordinary workers. Quite the opposite. Their pay is still below inflation, and the result is that many of the quarter of a million people using food banks are actually in work. Mike has also today posted up a piece about how parents are starving themselves in the week because there isn’t enough to feed both them and their children on their wages. And this is not a recent development. Mike has published a number of articles about this over the past few years since the Tories took power under Cameron.

And the new technology to which Williams looked forward also hasn’t been an entirely liberating force. Some businesses instead are using to restrict and spy on their workers. Private Eye in their ‘Street of Shame’ column printed a story about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, tried to fit the motion detectors used in call centres to monitor the movements of staff there to check to see if there hacks were leaving the desks. Other firms are fitting devices to their workers ankles to monitor their movements. And the spectre of Big Brother-style surveillance loomed even larger a month or so ago, when the I reported that a Swedish firm had developed an implantable chip that could be inserted into a firm’s staff.

British workers also don’t have the strong unions they enjoyed in the 1970s, which have left British workers vulnerable to low pay, the removal of employment rights and job insecurity.

However, Williams is right in that industrial democracy offers a genuine opportunity to empower working people, and benefit industry through proper cooperation between workers and management. It’s proper implementation won’t come from Williams and her fellows, who are now part of the Lib Dems, and who seem to have thoroughly forgotten it. It will only from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

Two of the Candidates for the Fifty Pound Note: Alan Turing and Thatcher

November 27, 2018

Mike today put up a piece about the two candidates the government is considering sticking on the back of the fifty pound note. They are Alan Turing, the wartime mathematical genius, who broke the enigma code and helped shorten the war. One of the machines Turing designed, or helped design to break the code was programmable, and Turing is respected as one of the founders of modern computing.

He was, however, gay at a time when it was very much against the law. He was convicted of gross indecency, and chemically castrated, which led to him taking his own life.

Thatcher, on the other hand, is the woman whose policies have inflicted nothing but misery on this planet for nearly forty years. She started the Tories’ and New Labour’s privatization programme, including that of the NHS, the destruction of the welfare state and deliberately made signing on for unemployment benefit as humiliating as possible, in order to deter the poor from doing so. She was also determined to break the unions, manufacturing a strike by the NUM through the gutting of British coalmining, purely to break the union that had brought down Heath’s government years before. And she used the police has her army to attack and beat the miners, aided by a complicit media, including the Beeb. These ran the footage of the strike at Orgreave colliery backwards to make it appear that the miners were attacking the police, while it was the other way round.

Exactly as the great peeps on Twitter, whose comments Mike quotes in his piece about it.

Ah, but Thatcher was a chemist! She worked for Walls, inventing the process that injects air into ice cream to make it appear that there’s more of it than there is.

Well, if the government wants to put scientists, and especially women scientists, on the fifty pound note, I’ve got a few suggestions of my own. Female scientists they could choose include:

Dorothy Hodgkin. She’s the woman who should have got the prize for discovering the structure of DNA, as Crick and Watson were looking completely in the wrong direction until they walked past the door of her lab, and heard her talking about her work. She lost the Nobel to them, but did get another prize for another great discovery she made. If she hasn’t been already, it’s the right time to have her commemorated on our folding stuff.

Jocelyn Bell Purnell. She was the astronomer, who discovered pulsars. These are tiny, dense stars at the end of their lives, which send out a radio signal. They spin very quickly, so that the signal sweeps across the sky, so that they appear as a regular beat. At first it was believed that they might be signals from an extraterrestrial civilization. Some astronomers also believe that, while they’re natural, space-traveling aliens could use them as lighthouses to navigate their way across the Galaxy.

Helen Sharman. She’s another chemist, though at Mars, rather than Walls. But she is know for being the first Brit into space when she joined the British-Russian space mission to Mir in the 1980s. Since then, she’s been something of a science educator, appearing at events to encourage children to take up science.

Caroline Herschel. She’s the brother of John Herschel, and daughter of William. She and her brother were astronomers in 18th century Bath, making telescopes and discovering new stars.

I’m sure there are many others. These are all astronomy and space related, because that’s the area I’m interested in and know most about. All of these ladies have a better claim to be on the Fifty pound note than Thatcher.

But if you want another bloke, how about Dr. Jacob Bronowski. He was another mathematician working during the War. He was also the presenter of the 1970s Beeb science blockbuster, The Ascent of Man. He was also a Fabian socialist with a hatred of war. In The Ascent of Man he makes his view of armed conflict very clear by saying: ‘War is theft by other means’. It’s parody of Clausewitz’s famous phrase ‘War is politics by other means’. Bronowski’s description of war is very true, especially now when we’ve seen that the humanitarian interventions in the Middle East have all been about conquering them in order to despoil their oil reserves, loot their state industries and stop any kind of Arab and Islamic support for Israel. And Iran appears to be next on the hit list.

However, I do like the suggestion of Raab C. Brexit that it should be the sage of Govan, Rab C. Nesbitt on the notes. Having his mug staring out at them might just put a few of the really filthy rich off when they get it out to pay for their bottle of Krug.

Remember, it was Nesbitt who predicted that there’d be a war between the Toffs and the Scum. The Toffs would win initially, because they’ve got the army. But the Scum would be the victors, because they have all the Rottweilers.

See also Mike’s article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/27/whose-face-do-you-want-on-the-back-of-the-50-note-alan-turing-or-margaret-thatcher/

More Musical Satire! May Sings ‘No Deal Brexit’ to the Tune of ‘Ice, Ice Baby’

November 23, 2018

This is another great little piece of comedy posted on YouTube by Joe.com.uk, back at the beginning of October, 2018. It shows May singing ‘No Deal Brexit’ and describing how useless her negotiations and preparations for leaving the EU are, all to the tune of Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’. Or rather, to the riff at the start of Queen’s and Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’, as this is what Vanilla Ice used, and then were successfully sued for plagiarism by the two above legends of rock. Which could be a kind of metaphor for Tweezer herself: completely lacking in inspiration and any real achievement, so has to steal the ideas of others. Like she has from Corbyn’s Labour party when they’ve got too popular in the polls for her comfort.

The lyrics run

Let’s get on with it
No Deal Brexit,
No Deal Brexit,
No Deal Brexit,
Alright, stop, collaborate and listen!
Brexit is back with a brand new edition
No deal is the latest sensation
because I made a mess of these negotiations
Should we be worried? I don’t know
But I’m stockpiling food
like there is no tomorrow!
The DUP control the new world order
Why can’t the EU see
There won’t be a hard border
Deadly at the negotiating table
Most definitely not weak and unstable
The Chequers plan was my last resort
But take reassurance from
the blue and gold passports!
People should listen
to the message that I send them
‘No Deal’ is better than a second referendum.
Single market access? We can’t solve it
Immigration though,
we can finally control it!
No Deal Brexit
No Deal Brexit.

Warning: This video contains footage of May ‘dad dancing’. It also contains images of her before her aides gave her a makeover to make her look less of harridan. But they couldn’t hide what’s in her soul, though. That still comes through very clearly. Also, when she bobs her head up and down in time to the beat, it reminds those of us of a certain age of the awesome, computer generated video jockey, Max Headroom, when he experienced a glitch on his show. There is a difference between them, though. Max had wit, charisma and sharp suits, all of which Tweezer completely lacks. She does have his massive ego though.

BBC 4 Looks Back at Tomorrow’s World

November 22, 2018

Tonight, Thursday 22nd November 2018 at 9.00 pm BBC 4 are looking back at the 1980’s BBC science show, Tomorrow’s World. The programme’s entitled Tomorrow’s World Live: for One Night Only, and the blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Dr. Hannah Fry joins former presenters Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford for a one-off live revival of the much-loved science and technology series, which ran from 1965 to 2003. They will be looking at the programme’s archive, discovering the latest in British inventions, testing new technologies in the studio and looking forward to the innovations that will shape our future. (p. 97).

The other short piece about the show by Mark Braxton, on page 95, says

To think the BBC’s flagship science show might have been called “To Be Announced”. Creator Glyn Jones only came up with the title the night before RT went to press back in July 1965. But then there was always something excitingly seat-of-the-pants about Tomorrow’s World.

The influential series ran for 38 years, fronted by a conveyor belt of hosts from the old-school (blazer-sporting Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter) and the smooth (Michael Rodd) to the long-running (Judith Hann, for 20 years).

It soon became known for things going awry on live TV – Baxter later gamely spoofed both himself and the programme on The Goodies (“This entire studio is held together with string.” Crash!). But the fact is that this was the first chance the public had to see new tech in action: the home computer, artificial grass, the digital watch, personal stereos and so on.

So in this one-off special, ex-Tomorrow people Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford take a fond look back and a peek into the future. though I won’t consider the project complete without Johnny Dankworth’s jaunty jazz theme and the show spelt out in cake, nails and fried egg.

The Radio Times also has an article on the show by James Burke, another of its presenters, on pages 18 to 21, which includes a list of the predictions the show got right and got wrong. I remember Burke presenting the Beeb’s coverage of the US space missions in the 1970s, like the Link-Up when US and Russian astronauts and cosmonauts docked in space for the first time, and then returned to Earth in each others’ craft, if I recall correctly. I was fascinated by it, despite being only eight at the time. Burke also presented the Beeb’s science blockbuster series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed.

And here’s the show’s titles and theme tune from the Revoxy Channel on YouTube.