Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Karl Wilhelm Nageli and Purposeful Mutation

November 11, 2018

I found this very interesting piece on the 19th century biologist, Karl Wilhelm Nageli, and August Weismann in Richard L. Gregory’s Mind In Science (London: Penguin 1981). The modern theory of evolution, NeoDarwinism, is essentially a mixture of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection mixed with Mendelian genetics. Roughly speaking, it views evolution as proceeding through random mutations. These supply the variations in species on which natural selection works, weeding out those varieties that don’t help the species to survive. Those that do, or at least don’t stop it surviving, are preserved and retained. Thus the little alterations in the characteristics of different species are created, which gradually accumulate over millennia and millions of years to produce new species of creature.

Darwin, however, didn’t know about heredity, which was introduced into his evolutionary theory by Weismann. He had developed the germ plasm theory, which was the precursor to the modern theory of DNA, famously discovered by Crick and Watson. Darwin also didn’t know about mutations either. He believed that heredity was a blending of the characteristics of the parents. I’ve got a feeling this was one of the arguments his opponents may have used against his theory, and that Darwin probably recognized the weakness of his theory there. At the time Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, I don’t think he was properly able to account for the emergence of novel characteristics in living creatures, on which natural selection acted.

It was Karl Wilhelm Nageli, who did this by introducing mutations into evolutionary theory, while rejecting Darwin’s idea of Natural Selection. Unlike evolutionary biologists after him, however, Nageli believed that these mutations had a purpose. It was the Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries, who introduced Mendelian genetics and the variation of characteristics into Darwinian evolutionary theory. Gregory explains it thus:

Neo-Darwinism adds to Darwinian Natural Selection a theory of heredity, which is itself derived from the, at the time (and perhaps still), controversial writings of the German biologist August Weismann (1834-1914). His papers (1868-76), translated into English as Studies in the Theory of Descent, (1882) proposed properties of a germ plasm which are similar to the fundamental doctrine of molecular biology, that information can only genetically pass from coded DNA to messenger RNA, and not the other way round. This genetic ‘diode’ rejects Lamarckian inheritance of individually acquired knowledge, or adaptive behavior. But we jump ahead, for Darwin had no knowledge of genes or mutations of genes.

The concept of evolution by mutational jumps is due to a Swiss botanist, Karl Wilhelm Nageli (1817). Nageli however rejected Darwin’s theory, for he supposed that there is a purpose in the direction of the jumps. He is heavily criticized for failing to appreciate the significance of Mendel’s work. He was shown the manuscript of Mendel’s paper describing his experiments on the breeding of giant and dwarf peas; his lack of interest is supposed to have prevented the work becoming known so that genetics was held up by some fifty years. Nageli’s concept of mutational jumps, but without built-in directional purpose, was developed by De Vries early in the present century.

Gregor Johan Mendel (1822-84) was an Augustinian monk. At the Abbey of St Thomas in Brunn, [Brno] he carried out his plant-breeding experiments, which depended on counting the proportions of tall and dwarf peas obtained by self-pollination. He found that the varieties did not converge to a medium-height pea plant, but that the tall and dwarf characteristics were maintained, and potentially present, in each variety. This was immensely important for Darwin’s theory, but unfortunately Darwin never came to hear of it.

The mutation theory was developed by the Dutch botanist Hugo De Vreis (1848-1935) who approached Mendel’s discovery by seeing that something like it was needed to give the variataion necessary for Natural Selection. He proposed that different characteristics might vary independently, and recombine in different ways. So was born the atomic-characteristic theory of inheritance, which later was embodied in gene and chromosome code structures – from which in turn developed modern molecular biology with the discovery by Francis Crick (b. 1916) and James Watson (b. 1928) of the structure of the long helical molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This, by replication, gives the physical basis of inheritance. Random change of the DNA structure give the variation necessary for Natural Selection. The drama of this discovery is superbly presented by Watson in The Double Helix (1968). (pp. 170-1).

Back in the 1980s, the astronomers Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe attacked Darwinian evolutionary theory in their book, Evolution from Space. In their previous book, Life Cloud, they had argued that life on Earth was seeded on Earth from space. While it’s an unorthodox theory, many scientists do believe that such panspermia, as it’s called, is a possibility. And the amino acids which form the basic building blocks of organic life has been found in meteorites, on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and in the nebulae, the clouds of dust and gas in space. What is far more controversial, and has been rejected by nearly all scientists, is their theory in Evolution from Space that the chance of organic life arising on Earth, and developing through Darwinian evolution, is so minute that evolution has to be directed by alien civilisations seeding space with the necessary genetic material.

In one passage in Evolution from Space, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe take the incidence of mutations in every generation, only a minority of which could be beneficial, and the combined length of time from the split, early in our evolutionary history, between the hominid lineage and the common ancestor of chimpanzees and gorillas 9 million years to argue that even this amount of time is insufficient to produce modern Homo Sapiens Sapiens, modern humanity. I’ve no doubt that this was immensely controversial and has been widely criticized and dismissed. It’s been taken up again more recently by the Intelligent Design people. And it wasn’t the weirdest of Hoyle’s and Wickramasinghe’s ideas. I think they also believed that the civilisations seeding this genetic material were computers in parallel universes. But if they are right after all, and random mutation can’t account for the development of the vast variety of living creatures we see around us, then it may be that it proceeds through purposeful mutations after all.

Going back to Nageli, even if his own theory of evolution has been discarded except for the idea of mutational jumps, I would far, far rather believe that evolution and the mutations necessary for it were shaped and guided by a loving creator, than are simply the result of blind chance as describes by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Blind Watchmaker.

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Private Eye on the Software Which Creates Fake News Videos

October 27, 2018

The few fortnights, Private Eye has carried a series of articles warning about the dangerous possibilities opened up by new software. in their issue for 5th-18th October 2018 they ran the article below, about new software that allows the user to create fake video footage of a person doing or saying something they never did. It runs

Deep fakes – videos which have been digitally manipulated to present convincing footage of people doing and saying things they never really did or said – have been one of the recurring tech worries of 2018. Now the first commercial offering has sprung up to monetise their production.

For around 30 pounds per ten seconds of video, the DeepFakes website promises to produce a faked video based simply on the input you wish the face/voice to be taken from, and the output you wish it to be applied to. No questions are asked as to what the videos contain or what you might use the output for – there is simply a small disclaimer at the foot of the web page which reads: “Please do not misuse it”. Perish the thought…

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently launched a project called Deep Angel, which uses machine learning to automatically remove any element from any uploaded photograph. Techniques that would have taken weeks of work under Stalin, and more recently at least a bit of skill with Photoshop, are now available to anyone in seconds. Progress indeed. (p. 16).

As the article says, people and tyrannical regimes, like Stalin in the Soviet Union, have been producing fake photographs and film footage for over a century now. During the Boer War, the British shot a propaganda film supposedly in South Africa, but actually in Hampstead Heath in London. And Cassetteboi has been editing videos of the rich and famous to make them look stupid in a series of hilarious videos for several years now.

But the development of such powerful software now makes this much easier, difficult to disprove and therefore extremely dangerous. Does anyone not believe that this technology is going to be used by criminals, tyrants and fanatics? And I can see viciously aggressive groups like the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, which already has no qualms about smearing its victims with false accusations, and the rest of the Zionist lobby with the backing of the Israeli state using it to smear Corbyn and his supporters.

Private Eye Covers Shows Blairites’ Real Policy towards Traditional Labour Members

September 18, 2018

This is the cover of a very old Private Eye for Friday, 2nd October 1998. The caption reads ‘Blair Calls For Unity’, and has Blair saying in the speech bubble ‘There’s a leftie – chuck him out!’

This was the time when Blair was trying to modernize the Labour party by removing Clause 4, the part of its constitution formulated by the Fabians and other socialists, which committed the party to the nationalization of the means of production and distribution. In short, socialism. Blair instead was determined to turn it into another Thatcherite party committed to privatization, including that of the NHS, welfare cuts, and job insecurity. Its traditional working class base were to be ignored and the party instead was to concentrate on winning swing voters, who might otherwise vote Tory. He attempted to win over the Tory press, including the Murdoch papers. Despite owing the start of his career to union sponsorship, he was determined to limit their power even further, and threatened to cut the party’s ties with them unless they submitted to his dictates. His ‘Government Of All the Talents’ – GOATs – included former Tory ministers like Chris Patten. Tories, who crossed the floor and defected to New Labour were parachuted into safe seats as the expense of sitting MPs and the wishes of the local constituency party. Blair adopted failed or discarded Tory policies, including the Peter Lilley’s Private Finance Initiative and the advice of Anderson Consulting. This was satirized by a computer programme that made anagrams from politicians’ names. Anthony Blair came out as ‘I am Tory Plan B’.

The direction in which Blair wanted the party to move was clearly shown by him inviting Margaret Thatcher to 10 Downing Street to visit the day after he was elected. And she thoroughly approved of him, declaring that New Labour was her greatest legacy.

Blair and New Labour were also staunch supporters of Israel. It was money from Zionist Jewish businessmen, raised by Lord Levy, whom Blair had met at a gathering at the Israeli embassy, that allowed him to be financially independent from the trade unions.

Now all that is being threatened by Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Which is why Blairite apparatchiks and MPs have done their level best to purge the party of them by smearing them as Trotskyite and Stalinist infiltrators and anti-Semites. The charges are ludicrous, hypocritical and offensive. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t far left: they’re traditional Labour, supporting a mixed economy. And far from being anti-Semites, the vast majority of those accused are decent, anti-racist people, including self-respecting Jews and dedicated campaigners against anti-Semitism. People like Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Mike over at Vox Political, Martin Odoni and many, many others. Many of the Jews smeared as anti-Semites are Holocaust survivors or the children of Holocaust survivors, but this is never reported in the media. Except when the person supposedly attacked is a good Blairite or member of the Israel lobby.

The cover was made in jest when it came out, though it had an element of truth even then. Now it’s even more true. Blair has left the party leadership, but his supporters in Progress and similar groups are determined to cling on to power by carrying out a purge of Corbyn and his traditional Labour supporters.

Just as Blair himself emerged to urge Blairite MPs and Labour members to leave and join his proposed ‘Centrist’ party.

Going Into Hospital Tomorrow for Myeloma Treatment

June 18, 2018

This is to let you know that tomorrow I will be going into hospital for about 3 weeks for intensive treatment for myeloma. This is a kind of blood cancer, in which the bone marrow produces toxins called paraproteins. These can cause anaemia, and damage the bones and the kidney, as well as leading to loss of calcium. I was diagnosed with it September-October last year after a routine blood test by the doctor revealed I was slightly anaemic. She referred me to the haematology department of Bristol’s BRI, who commenced treating me.

This is usually done for 6-8 months using a variety of drugs, which are different from those regularly used to treat cancer, and which don’t have some of their side effects, like hair loss. This meant going to the hospital once a week for an injection of the anti-cancer drug, and taking a variety of drugs, including an antiviral, to control the side effects. Most of these were pills, though one of the drugs was an anti-coagulant, which had to be taken twice a day by injection.

After this drug treatment has reduced the paraproteins as far as possible, they then take you into hospital for intensive treatment using the conventional cancer drug. This damages the immune system. In order to get it back up and running, they take stem cells from your own blood, store them, and then give them back to you. This consolidates the effect of the previous cancer treatment, and adds more time to the period of remission before the myeloma returns. I’ve already had my stem cells collected, which took a whole day connected to something similar to a dialysis machine. I’m due to be given the drug, and then the stem cells this week. I’m then due to spend the next several weeks in isolation at the BRI to protect me from disease while my immune system is still weak, and so that they can monitor me and make sure that the stem cells are properly taking hold.

I’ve received excellent care from the staff at Bristol’s various hospitals, not only the BRI, but also the hospitals in Southmead and Whitchurch. You are allowed to bring books and DVDs into hospital, as well as use laptops. I shall be taking a laptop into hospital with me, and hope to continue blogging while I’m there, if I can. If I can’t, for some reason, this is why.

I was in hospital being given a phosphate infusion as part of the anti-myeloma treatment the Sunday last year, when the CAA, the Sunday Times and the other right-wing papers libelled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, which infuriated me at a time when I could well have done without it.

I also understand that a number of other people have also been diagnosed with myeloma after random, routine blood tests. I’d therefore advise people to make sure that they have these done, even though they can appear to be an inconvenience. It could save them from more serious health problems later on.

Books ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’ and ‘Crimes of Empire’ Published with Lulu

May 11, 2018

This week I’ve working on publishing my books For A Workers’ Chamber and Crimes of Empire with the print on demand publishers, Lulu. This has now been done, and the books are now available, if anybody wants them.

For A Workers’ Chamber is my book arguing that as parliament is dominated by millionaires and company directors, to be really representative working people need their own parliamentary chamber within it. My blurb for it runs as follows

The book argues that working people need their own separate chamber in parliament to balance the domination of millionaire MPs holding directorships. It uses Marx’s analysis of the state as an instrument of class domination, and examines schemes for working people’s political autonomy from the Chartists, through anarchism, syndicalism, Fascism and the system of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia, as well as the corporative management system adopted in post-War Europe. This set up negotiations between government, management and unions to settle industrial disputes and manage the economy.

It’s ISBN is 9780244386061.

Crimes of Empire is the book Florence suggested I write all that time ago, about how America and the West has overthrown generally liberal, socialist regimes, and replaced with them Fascist dictatorships when they have been an obstacle to western corporate or political interests.

The blurb for this runs

The book discusses the current wars fought by the West in the Middle East, and shows that these are not being fought for humanitarian reasons, but are part of a long history of American coups and political interference since World War II. These have been to overthrow regimes that have blocked or resisted American corporate or political interests. This policy is behind the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, the invasions and attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, and conflicts with Russia and Iran.

It’s ISBN is 978-0-244-08662-6.

Lulu are at http://www.lulu.com/

These are the print versions of the books. For a Workers’ Chamber is £4.50 and Crimes of Empire £10.00. The prices are exclusive of tax. I am planning to make e-book versions of them, which should bring the price down further for people who want to read them on computer or Kindle.

Tory Vice-Chair Admits to Hacking Labour Opponent

April 10, 2018

Kemi Badenoch, the vice-chair of the Tory party, managed to put her foot in it in an interview with the Daily Mail at the weekend. The ‘rising star’ of the Tory party was asked in an interview what was the ‘naughtiest thing’ she had done. Unlike Theresa May, who said that this was running through a cornfield while she was small, Badenoch actually owned up to something far more serious: hacking.

She stated that she’d hacked into the website of her Labour party opponent, and altered the content so that it said nice things about the Tories.

Hacking is, of course, illegal. According to Mike’s article on the issue, it may carry a penalty of a year in prison. The Tories have been scurrying to defend Badenoch, saying that she only guessed the password. Which is immaterial. It doesn’t matter if she guessed it or not, she still hacked into someone else’s website. They also claimed it was simply a case of ‘youthful exuberance’. Which it may well have been, but as she was 28 at the time, she should have known better. Besides, youthful exuberance isn’t a defence either. I’m sure some of the thugs terrorising our capital would just love to get away with their crimes by pleading that their stabbings are just a case of ‘youthful exuberance’.

There’s also a more serious issue at stake here beyond the cavalier attitude to computer privacy by Badenoch herself. She holds an important position in a party, which has shown itself all too willing in the past to give individual’s confidential information away to corporate interests. Last week, Facebook was caught datamining 50 million users in order to pass this information on to politicians so that they could target individuals. It’s therefore fair to ask the question whether Badenoch is a fit and proper person to be trusted with issues like internet privacy and security, and how seriously the Tory party itself takes them, when they have given away personal data in the past, and their vice-chair has no qualms about hacking rivals’ websites.

Cyborgisation and Mass Technological Mind Control

March 25, 2018

One of the big stories this week has been the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s datamining of the personal details of people on Facebook, in order to target them for electoral propaganda. Not only have they been doing it in America, but they’ve also been contracted by other governments around the world, including the Tories in Britain, as well as Kenya, and Israel, who wanted to interfere in elections in Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis. But reading Alex Constantine’s Psychic Dictatorship in the USA (Portland, Oregon: Feral House 1995) the other night I found a couple of chapters discussing CIA and Russian experiments in technological mind control. These were based on implanting electrodes in the human brain, which could then be operated remotely through a computer, which would effectively turn the person operated upon into a meat puppet. Constantine writes

The CIA’s experiments in radio control of the brain are based on the development of the EEG in the 1920s. In 1934 Drs. Chafee and Light published a pivotal monograph, “A Method for Remote Control of Electrical Stimulation of the Nervous System”. Work along the same lines allowed Dr. Jose Delgado of Cordoba, Spain, to climb into a bull-ring and, with the push of a button, trigger an electrode in the head of a charging bull and stop the beast in its tracks.

Further groundbreaking advances were made by L.L. Vasiliev, the famed Russian physiologist and doyan of parapsychology, in “Critical Evaluation of the Hypnogenic Method” . The article detailed the experiments of Dr. I.F. Tomashevsky in remote radio control of the brain, “at a distance of one or more rooms and under conditions where the participant would not know or suspect that she would be experimented with … One such experiment was carried out in a park at a distance,” Vasiliev reported, and “a post-hypnotic mental suggestion to go to sleep was complied with within a minute.”

By 1956 Curtiss Shafer, an electrical engineer for the Norden-Ketay Corporation could explore the possibilities at the National Electronics Conference in Chicago. “The ultimate achievement of biocontrol may be man himself,” Shafer said. “The controlled subjects would never be permitted to think of themselves as individuals. A few months after birth, a surgeon would equip each child with a socket mounted under the scalp and electrodes reaching selected areas of brain tissue.” In this psycho-Arcadia, “sensory perceptions and muscular activity could be either modified or completely controlled by bioelectric signals radiating from state-controlled transmitters”. (pp. 2-3). Constantine goes on to describe the various experiments in mind control and the sadistic scientists involved in them. Several involved using microwaves to beam auditory signals to people, and their possible use as a tool to manipulate assassins. One of these was supposedly Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Robert Kennedy. He then goes on to describe the development of the technology of brain implants to control humans, and the connection to research into creating human-machine hybrids – cyborgs – a few pages later. He writes

The development of remote mind-reading machines in secret academic enclaves picked up again with ARPA backing in the early 1970s. Scientists mapped the brain, gigahertzed the nervous system and gauged biohazards at MIT, NYU, and UCLA. NASA launched its programme. A story on the ARPA brain effort appeared, not in the corporate press, but in the National Enquirer for June 22, 1976. ‘The Pentagon did not exactly deny the story. Robert L. Gilliat, an assistant general counsel for the Department of Defence, replied meekly: “The so-called ‘brain-wave’ machine is not capable of reading brain waves of anyone other than a willing participant in the laboratory’s efforts to develop that particular device.” Presumably, the brain of an unwilling subject was impenetrable to microwaves.

In 1972 an ARPA report in Congress announced, after Helms, that “the long-sought goal (is) direct and intimate coupling between man and the computer.” Four years later ARPA reported that thought-wave research had gone beyond to communication to enhance memory by downloading information into the brain. Based on these capabilities, the post-PANDORA team set out to upgrade the interpretation of neural signals, and broaden the program to invent realistic tasks of “military significance”.

‘This side of the electronic battlefield, the experiments contributed to medicine the “transmitter-reinforce”, a device that transmits data on a patient’s health. Ford:

The transmitter-reinforce utilizes space age technology to send accurate readings on the patient’s condition to a computer, which digests the data. The computer can monitor many patients simultaneously. If a patient needs a dose of aversion treatment, the computer acts as controller, delivering a tone signal or shock.

The original, clandestine purpose of the “reinforcer” was not lost on authoritarian types in the psychiatric wings. Rowan:

One study suggested that radio transmitter receivers should be implanted into the brains of patients to broadcast information to a computer which would monitor and control the patients’ behaviour.

Other “constructive” uses of CIA/PANDORA telemetric brain implants were championed by criminologists. In 1972, Drs. Barton Ingraham and Gerald Smith advocated the implantation of brain transmitters to monitor and manipulate the minds of probationers. “The technique of telemetric control of human beings offers the possibility of regulating behaviour with precision on a subconscious level,” the authors enthused in a 1972 Issues in Criminology article.

Surveillance expert Joseph Meyer of the DoD carried the idea a step further, proposing that electromagnetic mind control devices “surround the criminal with a kind of externalised conscience, an electronic substitute for social conditioning, group pressure and inner motivation.” The ideal subject for testing the implants was “the poor and uneducated urban dweller (who) is fundamentally unnecessary to the economy,” Meyer said.

Military doctors with hard-right political views were naturally drawn to electronic mind control as the final solution to the “useless eaters” quandary. One Air Force doctor went so far as to recommend, in the New England Journal of Medicine, that if a criminal’s brain waves did not test “normal” after five years, he should be put to death.

Dr. Louis Jolyon West, formerly a CIA brainwashing specialist and LSD experimenter, proposed establishing a computerised system of employing space technology to monitor and control the violence-prone. … This sort of Orwellian thinking led opponents of West to fear the prospect that computer data on young children could be used as justification for implanting them for state control.

The nagging ethical considerations prompted a report on future applications and possible abuses. Scientists as Lockheed and Stanford Research Institute prepared the report, which postulated the rise of “a technocratic elite” with dominion over intelligence and identification systems to monitor whole countries. Wars would be waged by robots.

Technological advances anticipated by the authors include computer operated artificial organs, biocybernetic device to provide “social conversation, entertainment, companionship and even physical gratification,” and a “machine-animal symbiont,” an animal or human monitor that transmits its perceptions to a central authority. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the report recommended the formation of an oversight panel of artificial intelligence specialists to uphold ethical standards. (pp. 16-17).

This is clearly the classic stuff of the paranoid, conspiracy fringe, the kind of material that informs Alex Jones’ Infowars net programme and the X-Files. However, the information in Constantine’s book is meticulously documented, and the CIA’s experiments in mind control have been discussed elsewhere, such as in the conspiracy magazine, Lobster. The suggestion that the technology could used to strip whole populations of their humanity and individuality clearly bring us close to Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen, while the use of computer technology to control the brains of criminals recalls the limiter in Blake’s 7. This was a computer device implanted into the brain of one of the heroes, Gan, to rob him of his ability to kill after he slew a Federation trooper. And Pat Mills portrayed the use of this technology in an episode of Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, when the Terminators electronically monitoring the thoughts of the citizens of Termight pick up a dream of the heroine’s father, in which he fights against the future Earth’s evil Grand Master, Torquemada. The man is arrested shortly after. This episode is obviously inspired by a similar passage in Orwell’s 1984, but it does show the sinister uses this technology could be put to.

And there have been numerous stories in the papers over the past few months that scientists are coming closer, or have discovered ways of reading the human mind electronically. Mostly this is connected to the development of artificial limbs, and the creation of methods by which amputees or people, who have lost the use of their limbs, can move artificial arms or operate other machines, to give them more independence and movement. No-one would object to the development of this technology to benefit the physically handicapped. But this chapter also shows it can also be used for far more sinister purposes. And the comments quoted from various far-right military officers and doctors shows how they viewed the poor: as suitable victims for experimentation, who otherwise have no social or economic value.

Another Crisis in the Outsourcing Industry: Capita Now in Trouble

February 1, 2018

Yesterday, Mike reported on his blog that the outsourcing giant, Capita, was now in trouble. Its share price has apparently halved, knocking £1.1 billion of its stock market value. It has axed its scheme to issue £500 million in dividends to its shareholders. Instead, it intends to raise £700 million, partly by selling off parts of the company, which it needs to balance the books. There are also fears that it will make part of its 67,000 strong workforce redundant as well as concerns for the firm’s pension fund.

Mike in his article notes that the company was responsible for assessing the infamous fitness for work tests, for which the government has imposed hidden targets. One of these is that 80 per cent of reconsidered cases should be turned down. Mike therefore comments that if the crisis means that some of these assessors get a taste of what they inflicted on benefit claimants, this would be a case of poetic justice. He also wonders what the firm was doing when it devised the scheme to issue those massive dividends to its shareholders. Did they believe that the government’s magic money tree would continue to allow them to give heaps of money to their rich shareholders? He also asks other searching questions, such as whether it was deliberately underbidding to get government contracts, and then using the money to help finance those projects it had already won.

Mike concludes

So: First Carillion collapsed. Now both Interserve (remember them?) and Capita are in trouble.

Who’s next? And what will happen to public services while the Tories dither over this crisis?

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/31/in-the-crap-ita-government-contractor-responsible-for-benefit-assessments-is-in-deep-financial-doo-doo/

Capita, or as Private Eye dubbed it, ‘Crapita’, has a long history of incompetence behind it. Way back in the 1990s it seemed that hardly a fortnight went by without Capita turning up in the pages of the satirical magazine. And the story was nearly always the same. The outsourcing company won a government or local authority contract to set up an IT system or run IT services. The project would then go over time and over budget, and would be massively flawed. And then a few weeks or months later, the company would be given a contract somewhere, and do exactly the same thing there.

You’re left wondering how Crapita kept winning those contracts, when it was so manifestly unfit to carry them out. Who did it have on its board? Or was there a deliberate policy by Major’s government to support outsourcing, no matter how inefficient and incompetent they were, because it was private enterprise and so preferred and supported for purely ideological reasons?

In any case, what seems to have placed the company in a very precarious financial situation is the usual tactics of big companies in this stage of capitalism: award massive dividends to the shareholders. This usually goes along with starving the rest of the company of investment, which seems to have been done to. And granting massive, and massively unsustainable pay awards to senior management. There’s no mention of that in Mike’s article, but I don’t doubt that this was done too. I’ve got the impression that it’s just about standard practice across a huge swathe of industry.

This is a financial strategy that has driven far more than one company to the wall. I also wonder if the executives weren’t also trying deliberately to create a debt, so that they could dodge corporation tax for five years. This is one of the tricks Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack describe in their book on contemporary British poverty, Breadline Britain.

Over the years the outsourcing policy has been in operation, there’s been one crisis after another. The outsourcing companies have repeatedly shown themselves to be incompetent, not just in the case of capita, but also notoriously with G4S and the scandals over the violence and brutality it meted out towards asylum seekers in the detention centres it ran. And, of course, when a whole load of prisoners escaped on their way to court. Or jail.

Private industry has repeatedly shown that it is incompetent to do the work of the state sector. These firms have the disadvantage of having to make a profit for their shareholders, as well as the demands of their management for multi-million pound pay packets. The only way they can afford this is by cutting wages to their workers, and spending as little as possible on the service they are meant to be providing. The result of this has been a series of financial collapses. Carillion was the first. Now Capita and Interserve, another outsourcing company, is in similar trouble.

The only sensible recourse should be to cancel these companies’ contracts, and take everything back in-house. But this won’t be done. I think there’s a problem in that the state sector has been so decimated by the past four decades of Thatcherism, that it no longer has the capacity to run these services itself. There’s also the additional problem that too many politicians and media magnates have connections to these companies, or to firms in a similar position hoping for government contracts. Acknowledging that outsourcing was a failure would damage the interests of these politicos and press barons. There’s also the challenge of actually facing up to the fact that a central plank of Thatcherite dogma – that private enterprise is always more efficient than the state – is absolutely, undeniably wrong. Anybody who makes this point is denounced as a Communist in screaming headlines. You only have to look at the way the Tory press has vilified Jeremy Corbyn for daring to want to renationalise the NHS, the electricity net and the railways. His policies are very far from the total nationalisation demanded by Communists and Trotskyites, but you wouldn’t know it from the frothing abuse hurled in his direction by the Tories and Blairites.

There’s also another problem with calling an end to the outsourcing scam. PFI contracts and outsourcing allow some of the costs to be written off the official government accounts sheet. They’re still there, and we have to keep paying them, but they’re not included in the official figures. It’s why Mussolini used a similar scam when he was Duce of Fascist Italy. Any government that restores these projects to the way they were handled before risks putting millions back the official figures. And if that’s the Labour party, you can imagine the Tories making their usual hackneyed and untrue comments about ‘high-spending Labour’, and then re-iterating the spurious arguments for austerity.

I’ve no doubt that the government will do what it can to shore up the current mess the outsourcing companies are in. But the collapse of Carillion and now the severe financial troubles faced by Capita and Interserve show that outsourcing does not work. And given these companies’ highly checkered history, they should never have been given governments to begin with.

And it bears out exactly the description the author of Zombie Economics used for them in the very title of his book. Outsourcing, and the rest of the Thatcherite economic strategy of privatisation, wage restraint, low taxation and declining welfare are ‘zombie economics’ as they don’t work, but haven’t yet been put it into the grave.

It’s high time they were, and Thatcherite free trade capitalism was abandoned as the failure it so glaringly is.

Thanks to Trump, We’re Now Two Minutes From Midnight

January 27, 2018

This is the Doomsday Clock set up by the Organisation of Atomic Scientists, to show graphically how close the world is to nuclear omnicide. It used to be five minutes to midnight, and I remember the New Cold War of the 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan nearly started a nuclear conflict. As did a computer malfunction over on the Soviet side. The only way we served that is because of an heroic Red Army officer, who insisted on visual confirmation because he correctly didn’t trust machines. The man was reduced to a nervous wreck afterwards, but he’s a hero. He saved the world.

Now we’ve moved closer to full-scale nuclear war. The scientists blame Trump, his stupid remarks on Twitter, and his sparring and provocation of Kim Jong-Un.

The man’s a menace. For the safety of all humanity, and our beautiful planet, he has to go. Now.

The Painter of Cyberspace: The Art of Jurgen Ziewe

January 20, 2018

Earlier this week there was a piece in the press announcing that the Turner Prize Committee had decided to go public early about which artworks and artist they were considering. I have strong feeling, like many people, about the Turner Prize. Many of the works seem simply designed to shock, with nothing more substantial underneath. Those that aren’t, are simply banal. It’s highbrow kitsch, which says nothing while claiming that it actually does. And I think modern fine art has reached a dead end. it’s anti-art, which constantly raves about Duchamps’ urinal nailed to a piece of canvas. Duchamps did it to make the point that whatever the artist claimed to be art, was art. It’s over a century old, and the joke’s well past it’s sell-by date. It was always an adolescent, childish prank anyway. To some of these art experts, it’s a hallowed artistic statement that must not be blasphemed in any way. You remember those Chinese guys, who were arrested when they jumped up and down on Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’? The same two were planning to urinate in Duchamps’ urinal. Which I feel is in keeping with the piece itself, but the mere thought horrified the keepers of official art.

The real artistic boundaries are being pushed, in my opinion, not by the fine artists, or at least, not by those fine artists currently pushed by the very small clique that defines what ‘official’ art is, like Nicholas Serota. Rather, they’re being pushed by commercial artists and film makers, often inspired by the worlds of Fantasy and SF, using computer graphics. One of the foremost of these, in my opinion, is the German artist Jurgen Ziewe. Ziewe lives over here, and has an English wife. And we are fortunate to have such a talented artist. I do wonder what will happen to other talented EU migrants like him after Brexit, who can’t stay in this country because they aren’t married. We’re going to lose a lot of very talented people.

Ziewe uses computer graphics, including Virtual models of humans and objects, and fractals, to create prismatic, Virtual, interior worlds full of robots, strange creatures, synthetic humans, fairies, wizards, witches, priestesses and temples. He started out making cards showing dolphins under cosmic skies. He’s a very spiritual guy, in a New Age-y sense, and his work is inspired by concepts from Theosophy and C.G. Jung. Here’s some of the picture from Nigel Suckling’s book about his art, New Territories: The Computer Visions of Jurgen Ziewe (Paper Tiger, 1997).

The Fairy Queen

Picnic In Cyberspace

Journey of a Virtual Traveller

Apart from Ziewe, other artists working in film and television have also been using the concepts of computer graphics. One of the features of the BBC TV version of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that most impressed me in the late ’70s or early 1980s were the, ahem, computer graphics for the pieces of information provided by the Book. In fact, they were hand drawn, because the computers at the time simply weren’t up to the task of creating pictures that detailed. But the art produced as ‘computer graphics’, was superb, and those, who watched the show were deeply impressed. As an example, here’s a piece from YouTube of the Book describing Vogon poetry.

Further examples can be seen in pop videos. Like this one from the American electro-pop band, Information Society, which uses scrolling alphanumerics to suggest passage through cyberspace in a computer game, made for their track, ‘The Prize’.

Other artistic explorations of medically or cybernetically enhanced vision can be seen in the films Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick and the last of trilogy, entitled simply Riddick. Richard Riddick, the anti-hero in these movies, is a violent criminal, a murderer, who somehow ends up doing the right thing. While in slam for his crimes, he paid the prison doctor 20 menthol cigarettes to have his eyes surgically altered, ‘polished’, so that he could see in the dark. In these flicks, we so bits of the action through his eyes. The scene in Pitch Black, where he sees the predatory aliens pouring out of their underground lairs after the marooned crew of a crashed colony spacecraft, is awesomely beautiful. This is the trailer for the movie.

And this is the trailer for The Chronicles of Riddick.

In this movie, the Necromongers use visioners, cybernetically adapted humans, to seek and visually examine areas that are difficult or impossible for normal human eyes to see clearly. And the brief scenes, in which the audience is shown what they see, are also stunning.

But this is low, commercial art, and so unlikely to find any praise by the High Art people, no matter how popular it is, or how technically sophisticated and visually inspired. The best comment on this kind of artistic snobbery comes from the American SF/Fantasy artist and book illustrator, Bob Eggleton.

Being a commercial artist is itself a kind of pigeonhole in the art world, but it is not a label that troubles him. ‘Commercialism for the sake of commercialism is not a sin. What I hate is commercialism packaged as fine art. That’s what Abstract Expressionism about, you’re buying into a trend much of the time. There’s nothing wrong with any kind of art, provided the artist believes in what they’re doing.’

From Nigel Suckling, with introduction by Gregory Benford, Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton (Paper Tiger, 1995) page 83.

And the YBAs, such as Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and Chris Offili, were very commercial, as was Salvador Dali long before them. This was pointed out on a programme on the great surrealist on Radio 4 several years ago by Malcolm MacLaren, the genius – well, he obviously thought he was – behind the Sex Pistols.

And here’s Eggleton’s picture of Great Cthulhu, painted for Weird Tales magazine, for all the Lovecraft fans out there.

I realised I’ve digressed a little way from the central topic of this post, the fantastic computer art of Jurgen Ziewe. But these are related issues, showing the way computers, robots, space and high technology – the stuff of Science Fiction – is pushing artistic boundaries in ways that the official fine art of Conceptualism really isn’t doing. I’m also exploring a few ideas here for a much longer article, or series of articles, I intend to do on this sometime.