Posts Tagged ‘Computers’

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Channel 4 Programme Next Week on Scientist’s Transformation into Cyborg to Combat Motor Neurone Disease

August 18, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times for 22-28 August 2020, next Wednesday, 26th August 2020, Channel 4 is screening a programme about the robotics scientist Peter Scott-Morgan, who is undergoing a series of operations to transform himself into a cyborg. This is to help him fight off Motor Neurone Disease, the degenerative condition from which Stephen Hawking suffered.

The programme’s titled Peter: the Human Cyborg, and the blurb for it on page 83 of the Radio Times runs

The story of scientist Peter Scott-Morgan as he is turned into a cyborg in an attempt to overcome the motor neurone disease that will otherwise kill him. With unprecedented access to Peter ad an international group off doctors, scientists, engineers and designers, the programme follows 18 months off one of the most audacious transitions ever undertaken, employing radical surgery, artificially intelligent computes and robotics technology.

The additional piece about the programme by David Butcher on page 80 goes as follows

This is one of those programmes that sets out to do one thing but achieves something very different – and better. In theory, it is the story of how robotics expert Peter Scott-Morgan, who has motor neurone disease, tackles his condition using technology. Her wants to be a human guinea pig; to be part-man, part-machine.

He gets a special wheelchair that can enable him to stand. He gets a speech synthesiser to clone his voice. He wants an avatar version of his face, a brain-computer interface, and so on. All of this is interesting. “Who would have thought that trying to cheat death was a full-time job?” Peter jokes.

But more powerful is simply the portrait of someone going through a sad, inexorable decline. The scene where Peter goes for a laryngectomy and speaks what he knows will be his last words is heart-breaking. As a viewer, you’re left desperate to take nothing for granted.

The programme’s on at 9.00 pm in the evening. The Radio Times also has a feature about Scott-Morgan and his transformation, in which it gives more details and the man himself answers questions, ‘The Man Who Cheated Death’, on pp.15-17.

This looks like a fascinating and moving programme, and I wish Mr Scott-Morgan all the very best in keeping himself alive and healthy through all his operations and augmentations. I think part of the admiration given to Stephen Hawking was that he had also fought the disease, and was able to carry on a highly productive scientific career through the engineering and IT specialists behind his wheelchair and his characteristic computer voice. Scott-Morgan himself comes across as immensely positive, optimistic and with a strong love of life despite his terrible disease. The article quotes him as saying ‘I have love. I have fun. I have hope. I have purpose.’ I hope this continues, and that the innovations that will hopefully provide him with a few more years and a better quality of life than he would otherwise have also soon become available to other, more ordinary people.

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

June 24, 2020

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.

Adam Savage Hitches Rickshaw to Four-Legged Spot Robot

June 21, 2020

This is another video which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I’m putting it up simply because it’s fun. In it, Adam Savage, the engineer and Science Fiction fan behind Mythbusters, builds a joint for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot so he can hitch a rickshaw he built for himself to it. Boston Dynamics have developed a series of robots, some of which are humanoid and bipedal. They produced another quadrupedal robot, Big Dog, as a carrier for the American army. However, the programme was cancelled because the robot’s electric motors produced too much noise for it to be used in combat, as this would have alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ approach.

Savage says of the rickshaw he built, that it was originally going to be very brightly coloured after the Indian vehicles. When he came to build it, it became darker, and much more European so that it had a Steampunk look. Steampunk is the type of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had really developed the kind of technology in the early SF of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and had space and time travel and computers. One of the founding books of this genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is set in a Britain where Lord Byron has led a revolution and is now the head of government and Charles Babbage’s pioneering early mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title, has been built.

The Spot robot itself is semi-autonomous. As Savage has shown in previous videos, it can be operated by remote control. However, it recognises and avoids obstacles, and so it’s impossible to steer it into a brick wall. It will just stop, or try to go round it. When Savage and two other engineers and technicians are testing how it performs with the rickshaw attached, the robot comes to a halt on a slope. This is because it doesn’t realise that it needs to put in more power to pull the rickshaw up it, and so the two technicians work on its software so that it can correctly assess the force it needs and perform accordingly.

The robot and rickshaw together really do look like something out of Steampunk SF, or the 19th century SF art of the French author, Jacques Robida. Or even a scene from the Star Wars’ galaxy, which similarly mixes high technology – spaceships, robots and landspeeders with very low-tech forms of transport like animals. The fact that this is reality in 2020 shows that we are living in an age of SF.

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Weird Science: Plants as Interplanetary Communication Devices

January 9, 2020

Science Fiction has been described as the literature of ideas, and one of the most bizarre ideas is that grass is an artificial computing device. This strange notion appears in Clifford Simak’s 1965 novel, All Flesh Is Grass. This is about a small American town that finds itself completely enclosed beneath a forcefield. The town is on a nexus linking our world and its counterpart in a parallel universe. Investigating the force field and the strange disappearance years earlier of a mentally handicapped lad, the hero finds himself transported to this alternative Earth, where he meets the missing boy, now grown up. He also encounters a group of mysterious travellers from yet another universe, who have come to the world simply to listen to music and dance. Returning to our Earth, he finds that the force field has been put around the town by intelligent extradimensional aliens. There is a series of alternative Earths, who have come together to form some kind of interdimensional federation. These wise, enlightened beings wish to help humanity. They are skilled physicians, and show their good intentions by healing the town’s sick free of charge. It’s revealed that grass is some kind of intelligently engineered device, which was used by an alien race for information storage thousands of years ago.

As with many of the stranger ideas in literature, whether Science Fiction or not, you wonder where the idea came from. Some clue is perhaps given in the 1973 Erich Von Daniken book In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible. Beginning on page 192, the world’s most notorious author on ancient astronauts discusses how two American scientists suggested that plants could be extraterrestrial communication devices. He writes

So far all attempts to capture signals from the cosmos with the aid of electromagnetic waves have failed. Dr George Lawrence of the Ecola Institute in San Bernardino, California, hit on a fantastic new way to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences. Lawrence wondered if plants connected to an electronic control system would be suitable for communication with the universe. It is known that plants possess electrodynamic properties, indeed their capacity to assimilate tests and react in a binary way like a computer is sensational. Lawrence closely observed the semiconductive and general electromotive capacities of plants. He asked himself the following questions as part of his programme:

  1. Can plants be integrated with electronic apparatuses in such a way that they yield usable data?
  2. Can plants be trained to react to specific objects or events?
  3. Is the assumption that plants have the capacity for exception perception provable?
  4. Which of the 350,000 kinds of plants is most suited for the test. (p. 192)

Von Daniken then goes on to describe how plants respond to electric stimulation, and how Dr Clyde Backster, an expert in lie detectors, observed similar responses in 1969 during experiments in which he believed his test plants responded telepathically, at first to himself lighting a match, and then to a bucket of shrimps being plunged into boiling water. This response became known, apparently, as the Backster effect. Von Daniken continues

Dr Lawrence next tried to use plants for electromagnetic contact with the cosmos. A series of experiments, christened Project Cyclops, was organised over a distance of seven miles in the Mojave Desert, near Las Vegas. On 29 October 1971 at the same fraction of a second the measuring sets attached to the plants registered heightened curves which were transferred to the tape by an amplifier. What was going on? Was something underground stimulating the plants? Were there torrents of lava, earthquakes, magnetic influences? New sets were made, the plants were protected in lead boxes and Faradaic cages. The result was the same! Observed over a long period of time, curves and notes showed a certain synchronicity. The plants seemed to be communicating. Plants cannot think: they can only react. Every conceivable kind of magnetic wavelength was tried. At the moment of the different reactions, nothing could be heard. Could the process be connected with the fixed stars, with quasars or radiation? A new series of experiments clearly showed that the cause came from the cosmos. Radioastronomers with their gigantic antenna could pick up nothing, but plants showed violent reactions. Obviously a wavelength that functioned biologically was involved. This brought the experimenters into a territory whose existence has been suspected, but which is not measurable so far – telepathy. A biological contact took place in a way unexplained to date, but during the detour via the cells it became measurable. Dr George Lawrence said on the subject:

Obviously biological interstellar communication is nothing new. We have only 215 astronomic observatories in the world, but about a million of the biological type, although we call them by other names such as churches, temples and mosques. A biological system (mankind) communicates (prays) to a far distant higher being. Biological understanding is also the order of the day in the animal kingdom; we have only to think of dogs and cats which find their way home again by instinct. A fascinating feature of the experiments in the desert is the realisation that these biological contacts with the cosmos are connected with the speed of light.

The suspicion is growing stronger that the plants are called up by someone in the constellation Epsilon Bootes at a hundred times the speed of light. That is also why radioastronomers could not register the transmissions. Why use a big drum when a kettledrum is available? Perhaps we have investigated interstellar contacts with the wrong instruments, the wrong wavelengths and the wrong spectrum until now. (p.194-5).

This is clearly very fringe science, if not actually pseudoscience of the type likely to get Richard Dawkins grinding his teeth. It also merges into a kind of New Age pantheism, in which the cosmos itself may be some kind of God or supreme intelligence. It’s all very different from what I was taught in secondary school that grass was a monocotolydon. That means, it only has one leaf. I also note that the experiments started in 1971, some six years after Simak published his novel. But scientists and novelists were discussing plant intelligence from the 1950s onwards, including the idea that they could feel pain. It’s now been found that plants do communicate biochemically, and there was an article in the papers last week stating that they do feel pain. Perhaps Lawrence’s ideas, or ideas similar to them, were being discussed several years before Lawrence conducted his experiments, and influenced Simak when he wrote his book.

Charlie Brooker Latest Celeb To Push Anti-Semitism Smears on Have I Got News For You

December 23, 2019

Well, the election’s over and Boris in power with a massive majority. John McDonnell has resigned and Jeremy Corbyn is hanging on to oversee things until the party elects a new leader. But the Beeb still knows where its priorities lie: pushing the anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn and his party as hard as they can. And once again the vehicle for it was former satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You.

This time the mugs making the smears were the guest host, Charlie Brooker, and comedian Phil Wang. Reading off an autocue, Brooker made a joke about Labour denying the Holocaust. He quoted someone saying the party was ‘in denial’ before quipping, ‘Well, at least it wasn’t about the Holocaust!’ Laugh? I thought I’d never start. Later on Wang made a joke about Jeremy Corbyn defending Nazis. Which isn’t funny either. The Beeb can’t claim the jokes are satirical, because they don’t parody reality. Corbyn isn’t an anti-Semite and has never defended Nazis. Quite the opposite. Nazis don’t get themselves arrested protesting against apartheid in South Africa. They supported White rule there. They also don’t protest against the lack of content for Jews on television, or the redevelopment of Jewish cemeteries. Nor do they attend meetings addressed by Holocaust survivors. This last point was lost when the Conservative press and Jewish establishment collectively lost their minds at Corbyn nodding in agreement when a Holocaust survivor said that the Israelis were treating the Palestinians like the Nazis had treated him. How dare he! Anti-Semite! But Nazis don’t give any attention to Holocaust survivors, because they try to pretend it either didn’t happen or was far smaller than claimed.

Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani tweeted footage of Brooker’s joke, commenting

As minorities face rising abuse and violence every day the BBC producing this stuff is deeply disturbing. Perhaps the licence fee isn’t worth it after all.

Very true. Boris’ victory has emboldened racists, and the media seems to be joining in with ITV misrepresenting Stormzy’s remark about racism in Britain.

Simon Maginn commented

Imagine being Charlie Brooker.
Successful, feted, admired as a fierce and uncompromising critic of lies and bullshit.
Then he goes on some crappy BBC ‘comedy’ show and delivers a Labour Holocaust-denial ‘gag’ and BOOM! he’s just another dumbo cog in the dumbo BBC smear machine.

Brooker is popular and has received massive critical acclaim. This is for his harsh, scathing attack on poor television in books like Dawn of the Dumb, and for Screenwipe. This last was his TV series in which he made vicious comments about various programmes while screaming at the screen and miming masturbation. He then moved to creating thought-provoking Science Fiction television with his series, Black Mirror. This was a series of tales showing the chilling possibilities in computer technology and our media saturated culture. It was greeted with critical acclaim. But Brooker seems to have thrown that away by making a stupid joke about Corbyn and anti-Semitism. But as Mike says, perhaps that’s a contractual obligation of people fronting the show by the Beeb.

Tom London also criticised it, making the point that he was Jewish and that these jokes are damaging Britain’s Jews

I am Jewish
There is NO proper evidence that Corbyn is an antisemite because he is not one
The people who pushed the incessant, relentless propaganda that he is have
Undermined democracy
Done huge damage to relations between minorities
Harmed Jewish community.

Ah, but that doesn’t matter to the Beeb. They’re the establishment, and all they care about is protecting the existing neoliberal order from attack from people like Corbyn’s Labour party. Left-wing Jews like Tom don’t count. Because they’re the wrong kind of Jews.

Mike also makes the point that while some may like the right-wing propaganda HIGNFY is spewing forth, others don’t, and it may not be long before the programme’s axed. Artdecolady tweeted

HIGNFY is really unfunny now, and I think it might be because I always thought they were on my side, but it’s now clear they’re not. Charlie Brooker made a really pathetic joke about the Holocaust and the Labour Party. To think I used to like him.

Sometimes it’s funny, but I’ve also gone off it. It used to be hilarious when it started back in the 1990s. Perhaps it’s simply because the novelty’s worn off. But there’s something more to it. I gave up watching it completely a few years ago because of the constant propaganda. The attacks on Corbyn are just part of this, but it was also pushing the lie that the Maidan Revolution that ushered in pro-Western government in Ukraine was a popular uprising, rather than a coup backed by America and the country’s own domestic Nazis. It was organised by Victoria Nuland of the US state department and the National Endowment for Democracy, which is the independent organisation to which the American state has outsourced this kind of operations after the CIA caused too many scandals with their activities. But ordinary peeps in the West can’t know this, and you’re an evil conspiracy theorist if you do.

The Scots comedian Frankie Boyle was very critical of Have I Got News For You. He saw it very much as part of the political establishment akin to similar shows in some of corrupt Balkan states. In an interview with Richard Osman at the Edinburgh television festival the other year, Boyle recalled how he had been in Romania watching a show like HIGNFY on TV. Politics there, at least at the time, was very corrupt and the media and television programmes rigged to present a pro-government line. The supposedly satirical show was no different. A government minister was in the front row as the comedian went along, and there was a piece of banter between the two. Everything was very chummy, and showed that the show wasn’t in the least opposed to the government. Rather the opposite, in fact. When Boyle remarked on this, he guide and translator said, ‘But it’s like programmes in your country!’

‘No, it isn’t!’ replied Boyle. Which was answered by

‘Yes, it is! Have I Got News For You!’

The show’s been running for nearly 30 years. Perhaps it’s had its day and should be cancelled before it outstays its welcome.

But Mike concludes that if it is, then this will only provide Boris with a pretext to privatise and abolish the Beeb.

Worst of all is the probability that Boris Johnson will use this as part of his excuse to axe the BBC’s status as the UK’s public service broadcaster and remove the requirement to pay the licence fee.

Still, the BBC did its best to ensure the Tories won the general election, knowing that this would be on the cards.

The Corporation’s bosses really are like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Charlie Brooker becomes next celeb to end his career with a ‘joke’ about Labour and anti-Semitism

They did, but my guess is that they won’t care, because the top managers and the people in the news department responsible for this are no doubt counting on getting new jobs with the private broadcasters that will replace it. 

Why Do People Ignore the Suffering of the Disabled and Unemployed?

December 19, 2019

It’s just a few days into the new reign of Boris Johnson, and already he’s hitting those on the benefit, including and particularly the poor and unemployed. Mike put up a piece a few days ago listing all the reforms Labour would have brought in, which would have ended this. And it began with a heartfelt cry of despair by Mrs. Mike.

“Basically now we are all buggered.

“No hope left for me as I’m disabled and they’ve messed me about so much already.

“I don’t see any compassion for people like myself and all the others like me out there – and to all the ones who have already taken their lives because of cuts cuts cuts cuts n more cuts.

“I’m so disappointed in people in general because of all the hatred towards different groups of people.

“And it’s now going to get worse. Thanks a bunch.”

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/17/faced-with-five-more-years-of-tory-persecution-disabled-people-are-losing-hope/

Mrs. Mike is not alone. I know some readers on this blog with health issues were afraid that the Tories would win before the election result, and what it would mean for them. And this feeling is likely to be shared by the disabled, long-term sick and unemployed generally. So why have people ignored them, and voted for a government which actively persecuted them?

I don’t quite have all the answers, but here’s some ideas I have. Firstly, I think most people are unaware of the problems those hit by New Labour’s and the Tory’s welfare reforms have in making ends meet. And they almost certainly don’t know how biased and humiliating the ‘fitness for work’ tests and the Jobcentre can be.  Unless they’ve actually been in an interview with a disabled person, and see it all happen for themselves, or personally experienced it, it has no meaning for them. The newspaper reports are just that. Something that’s in the paper. And it’s out of their minds as soon as they turn the page.

And the Tories and Tory press have been very good at framing the narrative in Orwellian terms to hide and distort the truth. Left-wing bloggers and advocacy groups have pointed out that, thanks to papers like the Heil, the general public now believes that 27 per cent of welfare claims are fraudulent. The reality is that it’s only 0.7 per cent.  And if you talk to people, there’s always someone they know, who’s managed to work the system. Sometimes it’s personal, sometimes it’s just an individual or group of people they’ve seen on TV, particularly in ‘poverty porn’ shows like Benefits Street. This is used to maintain the attitude that the state really is supporting people and giving cheats more than enough money, and to dismiss the genuine suffering of others.

Older people may also be more inclined to dismiss or ignore stories of rising poverty because of conditions they endured when they were younger. I remember that even in the 1970s, when the affluent society supposedly was just beginning, it could be a real struggle for working/ lower middle class people. This was ameliorated in many cases through the greater sense of community, where neighbours and relatives helped each other out. That sense of community seems to have vanished as society has in general become more affluent and individualistic. And so some older people ask how the younger generation can really be poor and need to use food banks when they can afford luxury items like satellite & cable television, computers, mobile phones and so on. In fact, computers now aren’t a luxury item. I don’t know about primary schools, but some universities at least expect their students to write their assignments on computer. Computers are used to search out information for homework, and so for many school pupils and students, they’re a necessity. But nevertheless, the attitude among some people is that if people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’, to use Gordon Brown’s notorious term. They’re profligate with their money, frittering it away of luxuries which they never had in their youth. Being poor, to them, means being dirt poor and definitely not being able to afford the goods and services which are now taken as part of normal, everyday life.

This is reinforced by the Tory press, which seeks to divide those in work but struggling from those on welfare. The line pushed here is that the virtuous, thrifty but insecure are being penalised through high taxes to support scroungers.

The Tories and the compliant press are also devious in the way they present their reforms. Mike and others have posted pieces pointing out exactly what it means for the disabled when the Tories abolish the need for doctor’s note for decisions on whether a disabled person is fit for work. This means that the assessor can arbitrarily decide that a person is able to work based on their own prejudices or pressure from those higher in the administrative chain without needing to consult their doctor, who obviously may have a far better understanding of that person’s needs and disabilities than they do. It leaves disabled people vulnerable to being considered ‘fit for work’ and thrown off benefits when they are in no such state. But as Mike has shown, the headlines about it in the Tory press present it positively. The sick and disabled, it proclaims, are freed from the burden of having to make a doctor’s appointment. Less bureaucracy! Less hassle! I doubt many people like having to make medical appointments like that, but they have to be done. But the Tory spin is that it saves people from unnecessary trouble without mentioning how vulnerable this makes them.

And it’s through lies and spin like this that the British public is gulled into believing that the Tories aren’t destroying the welfare state, just making it more efficient. Giving more to honest claimants while weeding out the fraudsters. 

But there are very few real fraudsters, and the Tories are destroying the welfare state. Just like the Blairites also wanted. Fighting back means directly tackling and refuting the lies and poisonous attitudes.

130,000 people have already been killed by Tory welfare reforms. And if the Tories carry on, there’ll be at least a hundred thousand more. All denied by the Tories and their collaborators in the press, and justified by smooth lies and evil smears.

Desperate, Paranoid ‘Sun’ Puts Up Conspiracy Map

December 8, 2019

This shows how weird and desperate Tom Newton-Dunn, the Scum’s political editor, is to smear Jeremy Corbyn. Zelo Street yesterday put up an article revealing that Newton-Dunn had written an article declaring that former members of British intelligence had revealed that Jeremy Corbyn was at the centre of a network of ‘hard-left’ extremists. The article carried a chart, known apparently as the ‘Traitors Chart’, which purports to reveal the connections between such subversive groups as ‘International Marxism’, the People’s Assembly, Stand Up To Racism, Stop the War Coalition and ‘Left-wing media’.

It’s classic far-right conspiracy stuff. It’s the kind of chart that the far-right uses to prove that the supposed subversive groups are all ultimately controlled by the Illuminati or the Jews. Zelo Street states that anyone looking for subversion and treachery, whether from the right or the left, isn’t going to find it at the Beeb, the Guardian, the NEC or People’s Assembly. The fact that these organisations were on this map should have been enough to have it pulled. But it wasn’t. And one of those organisations threatened to complain to IPSO. Peter Geoghegan of Open Democracy declared it was ‘pitiful shite’ and threatened to complain, because his organisation was on there despite winning numerous press awards. But they were a subversive organisation because they had received funding from George Soros. Yep, the George Soros, the infamous Jewish banker at the heart of so many real anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Zelo Street was also flattered because the chart included it, even though the connection with Guardian is utterly erroneous. But that’s only because the paper once ran a feature on the site and its author. Apart from that, there’s absolutely no connection. He’s never written for them or done anything else for the newspaper.

Andrew Bartlett commented

Tom Newton Dunn sharing fascist conspiracy theories should be the end of his career. But it won’t be. So feel free to laugh in the face of any journo moralising about fake news or extremism when that beetle is still invited on Newsnight and so on.

To which Zelo Street adds that Newton-Dunn regularly appears on Andrew Marr’s show, who also appears on the chart. Which should make for some interesting explanations the next Newton-Dunn turns up in that studio.

The article has, however, now been taken down. The text explaining this and redirecting those looking for it says ‘legal removal’, which suggests that m’learned friends might have had something to do with it.

Zelo Street concludes

‘Publishing drivel like this in a mainstream newspaper is going to get someone hurt or even killed. Newton Dunn should have been sacked for going anywhere near it.

But as it’s the Murdoch press, he’ll probably get a promotion instead. Same old, same old.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/sun-conspiracy-map-busted.html

There are several things to be said about this farce. Firstly, the Scum and the Tories are trying to run another version of the ‘Zinoviev letter’, trying to link Corbyn to evil left-wing subversives. The Scum ran a version of this in the 1987 when it printed pictures of Labour MPs with quotations showing how far-left they were and so a threat to British society. I also would not be surprised if former members of the intelligence services were also trying to discredit Corbyn with this smear. In the 1960s and ’70s MI5 was running the smear that the-then Labour leader, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent. IRD, that branch of the intelligence services supposedly tasked with combating Communism, ran disinformation linking Labour MPs with the Communists, Soviet Union and the IRA. And the Integrity Initiative, another intelligence outfit, which although private has extensive links with British intelligence and the cyberwarfare branch of the SAS, has lost its charitable status, at least in Scotland. Instead of countering Russian propaganda, it chose to smear Jeremy Corbyn and other left-wing political figures, both here and on the continent instead.

The use of the chart also clearly shows the Tories’ desperation to smear Corbyn, because a casual glance at it would show to most people that it was ludicrously wrong. Unfortunately, there really are loonies out there on the far right, who do seem to think that the Beeb is an extremist organisation. Because the Corporation promotes multiculturalism in its programming, as well as defends Muslims from the charge that they are all terrorists. The kind of people, who would agree with this map that the BBC is full of left-wing subversives, would probably be the same rabid islamophobes and racists, who think that there is a Jewish plot to encourage non-White immigration in order to destroy the purity of the White race.

Which raises real questions about racism at the Scum.

The Scum has a history of racism stretching right back almost to its appearance in the late 1960s, and was fined several times for its bias by the press complaints authority. In the early part of this century Private Eye revealed that there had been 19 such judgments against the wretched paper. The use of this chart therefore suggests that there is real, very deep-seated racism at this paper and it verges on the anti-Semitic extreme right.

And it also makes me wonder if Newton-Dunn and co. aren’t heading towards the same kind of sheer paranoid lunacy that has got hold of Rachel Riley and Tracy Ann Oberman. They seem to believe that not only is the Labour leader a real threat to Jewish life and safety in the UK, but that he’s also persecuting them personally. Like when Oberman declared on Twitter that she was being stalked by him, because he happened to turn up at the Manchester theatre in which she was performing, to see a play. Which he was entirely entitled to do, as he was one of the theatre’s founders and patrons.

I’ve written a couple of pieces about how Oberman reminds me of some of the more notorious paranoiacs on the American conspiracy fringe. Like Steve Renstrom, the artist who believes that Senator Alan Cranston is at the centre of a global conspiracy that has killed millions, including the actors Natalie Wood and Jim Belushi. Or Dr. Francis E. Dec, who believed that there was a Jewish-Communist-CIA conspiracy to reduce the world’s peoples into FRANKENSTEIN COMPUTER GOD TV EYESIGHT SLAVES. This was the same conspiracy which had forced him into a run-down neighbourhood with ‘apoidal Nigers’. He obviously means ‘Blacks’ here, but the misspelling of the racial smear shows how far gone Dec’s mind is. Niger, as any fule kno, is a country in Africa, and one of that continent’s great rivers.

How long will it be, we wonder, until Newton-Dunn similarly goes bonkers, and starts writing completely insane pieces like this before they finally put him away.

By the evidence of that conspiracy chart, not long at all!