Posts Tagged ‘Defence’

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

August 1, 2017

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

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The NME Interviews Jeremy Corbyn

June 3, 2017

The musical paper, NME, last week put its support firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn. They’ve put on YouTube this interview with the great man by their editor-in-chief, Mike Williams.

Williams states that the other parties are ignoring the needs of young people, with the exception of Corbyn. In the course of the interview, Corbyn talks about how support for Labour is surging because, now that we’re in the election period, the reporting has to be a little fairer, and so people are for the first time hearing what Labour’s policies actually are.

He talks about how children are having their future damaged through growing up in high rent, poorly maintained housing, attending schools that are having their funding cut so they are releasing teachers and teaching assistants.

He talks about how Britain spends less on its welfare support than other nations. This is unacceptable, as we are not a poor nation. He states that he intends to correct this by putting more on corporation tax, but 95 per cent of the people of this country will not be paying anymore.

He also talks about how student debt is also damaging young people’s future. It harms their credit rating and makes it difficult for them to get a mortgage. As you have to be earning over £21,000 before paying it back, it means that many people don’t earn enough, and so, as many people also move abroad, it means that there is a mountain of public debt that’s piling up.

He states that Labour will make tuition free for those beginning uni in 2017/18, but acknowledges that there is a problem with existing students, who have already accumulated a debt. He sketches out various ways Labour may try to reduce it, but acknowledges that at this point he can’t give a definitive answer, because an election has only just been called.

Corbyn and Williams also talk about how the Tories are running down public services, including the welfare state, through massive cuts, in order to give massive tax breaks to big companies, which leave the rest of us worse off.

He rebuts May’s dismissal of Labour’s proposals as ‘utopian’, and makes that dry observation that this the first time he’s heard her use the word. Clearly, he has a low opinion of her intelligence and vocabulary.

As the NME is a music paper, Corbyn also talks about Labour’s proposals to protect and nurture music and young musical talent. About 40 per cent of the music venues in London have closed. Corbyn states that he intends to rectify this by putting more funding into live music venues and music education. There will be an additional £160 million given to schools, which will enable schoolchildren to learn an instrument. He also wishes to give money to councils so they can provide affordable practice spaces to aspiring musicians. In this way, he hopes to encourage the music industry to take up the pool of talent that there will be.

Williams tackles him on the subject of pacifism, and asks him why he has said he will put more money into defence. Corbyn states that he believes in and works for peace, but there is the question of what you would do in a war like the World War II and the need to attack enemies like the Nazis. However, he states he has set up a shadow minister for peace and disarmament, and that if Labour wins he will turn this into a ministerial position.

The two also talk about what will happen to the NHS if Labour don’t get into power. How close is it to collapse? Corbyn states that it is very close to collapse already, and that if this goes on, it will become a health service of last resort to people who cannot afford private healthcare. If that happens, you will have the system where the poor will have to receive care from emergency rooms, a prospect he finds appalling.

Williams asks him what will happen if Labour doesn’t win. Corbyn says in reply that Labour will, but people need to get out and vote.

As for the whole question about young people versus old people, he states that he does not believe politics should be so compartmentalised. He describes a public meeting in which he spoke to a wide cross-section of the community, the young, the old, gay, straight, Black and White. We should be talking, he says, about intergenerational support. The young need the wisdom of the old, and the old need the inspiration of the young.

Williams also asks him the burning question that people have been poring over for the past 20 years: which was better, Blur or Oasis. Corbyn things a bit, and then says Oasis, but then says that what he really should have said, was that he’d refer it to a focus group. But he doesn’t do focus groups.

This is an excellent interview. Corbyn is quiet spoken, in command of the facts and figures, optimistic, but not complacent, and with very clear ideas how to make life better in Britain for everyone, not just the poor. And he has the honesty to admit that Labour doesn’t yet have a fixed policy when it comes to the debts students now have built up. You won’t hear such honest from May. All you can expect from her is lies.

All the Tories will give us, by contrast, is more poverty, more starvation, and all to give more money to the rich.

We can stop them.
For peace, a just Britain, and an end to Tory poverty and misrule, vote Labour on June 8th.

The Majority Report: British Journo Calls Theresa May ‘A Glum-Bucket’

May 31, 2017

Our liberal friends and cousins across the Atlantic have also picked up on the pessimism and desperation that the British media have detected in May’s campaign. In this clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, the host comments on a clip from British TV where the man interviewing May states that her campaign has been ‘low-key’ and that she’s ‘a bit of a glum-bucket’ compared to the dynamism of Boris Johnson.

The Majority Report’s anchor says that the take such an interest in British politics, as compared to it, American culture is ‘adolescent’. But he comments that you need to have 100 years of decadence and imperialism before you get to call the Prime Minister ‘a glum-bucket’. And, he adds, you have to be ‘frickin’ mad’ to want Boris as your leader.

Of course, May rebuts the remark, stating with the fixed, squinting, rictus smile she adopts whenever anyone even obliquely suggests that she is not the greatest thing since Margaret Thatcher walked this earth, that she is very optimistic.

But the blurb for the clip on YouTube says it has obviously got her rattled.

Well, of course she’s rattled. Her lead in the polls have been cut down to 5 per cent, far more people in England trust Labour with the NHS, most people don’t want the backdoor privatisation the Tories – and New Labour – have been sneaking in, and Labour has far more sensible polices on defence than the Tories. Such as actually restoring the strength of our police, border guards and armed forces, which the Tories cut.

And May is a ‘glum bucket’. She very obviously does not like meeting the public, as is shown by the fact that she only conducts her meetings with ordinary people behind closed doors, and often they’ve been carefully selected beforehand, so it’s invitation only.

When she does encounter crowds, they boo her and she is left scuttling back to whichever grim biotechnology lab under Tory Central Office spawned her. A few days ago she was forced to beat a hasty retreat from a council estate in Bristol. Possibly she felt that she’d find some loyal, Alf Garnett-style working class Tories. What she found instead was local people ground down by welfare cuts, stagnant wages and zero hours contracts, who were understandably angry.

Hence a swift walk back to the black limousines, which vanished off as quick as they could.

Any optimism she affects is painfully false. And the fear underneath the mask is showing as the wheels fall off the Tory battle bus.

Fake News Alert: Fox News Interviews Bogus Swedish Defence Expert

March 2, 2017

After Trump and the mainstream media have been going on about ‘fake news’ when they mean accurate reporting by independent media that makes them and their right-wing political and industrial paymasters look bad, here’s some real fake news from Fox. After Trump made a speech about a completely nonexistent terrorist attack in Sweden last week, Fox’s anchorman, Bill O’Reilly, interviewed on his show a ‘Swedish Defence Advisor’, Nils Bildt, to confirm his and Trump’s prejudices. Bildt confirmed that there was indeed a problem with crime and immigration in Sweden. Immigrants weren’t assimilating into Swedish society, and this problem was confounded by the liberal Swedish mindset which refused to accept this.

Except that it was all rubbish. After the programme, senior officials in the Swedish defence ministry and associated organisations contacted the country’s national newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, to say that Bildt wasn’t one of them and they’d never heard of him. Robert Egnell, the leadership professor at the Swedish Defence University, said that Bildt was ‘not in any way a known quantity in Sweden’ and that he had ‘never been part of the debate’. Johan Wiktoren, a real Swedish intelligence and defence advisor, said that he had heard of him. When Pakman’s people tried to contact Bildt’s company, they were told by an employee that Bildt was an independent US-based defence advisor, and that the decision to credit him as a Swedish defence advisor was Fox’s. To make matters worse, Bildt hadn’t been in the country for over 25 years. As Pakman and Louis point out, this makes you wonder just how much he knows about his country of origin.

Pakman and Louis point out that this piece of bogus reporting is exceptionally deceitful, even for Fox. But it’s not as if the company doesn’t have previous for fake news and bogus reporting. Academics analysing the broadcaster’s actual news content have concluded that 75 per cent of Fox’s news was actually false, and you were less informed if you watched them than if you didn’t. And O’Reilly himself is certainly no stranger to making false claims. He has made up numerous stories about himself, claiming that he was in south Argentina during the Falklands War while he was actually in Buenos Aires, having witnessed a sectarian riot in Northern Ireland when he was nowhere near it, having seen nuns raped and murdered in Central America, and having been outside the front door when one of the witnesses to the JFK assassination shot himself. All fantasies from a serial liar, working for a company broadcasting lies and deceit.

Fox News – ‘a company with a proud future behind it’, as that great, computer-generated newsman, Max Headroom, would say.

After Trident Misfiring, the Warships that Can Be Heard 100 Miles Away

February 6, 2017

Here’s another example of the defence industry selling highly expensive equipment, that is difficult and costly to maintain and which falls far short of expectations. Last week there was the news that May kept very silent about the failed test launch of a Trident missile, which went massively of course. May is very keen that we should buy the missile, despite its massive cost. So naturally she kept quiet about it, in case this would stop MPs voting for the wretched thing.

Then yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that the new Type 45 destroyers, which cost £1 billion each, and which have to be continually repaired ’cause they keep breaking down, can be heard by Russian hunter-killer subs 100 miles away. Apparently, they have been described as ‘rattling like a box of spanners’. The government has been accused of focussing too much on the war on terror, and not enough on the resurgence of Cold War rivalries.

But May’s government insists that everything is all right, as they’re designed to fight of attacks from planes. Mike comments that far from Britain being the world’s most accomplished naval nation, this is turning us into a joke.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/02/05/our-1bn-destroyer-ships-are-so-loud-they-can-be-heard-100-miles-away-worth-the-cost/

Private Eye has been constantly criticising the defence industry because of the way it has time and again sold the government massively overpriced weapons and equipment that don’t work. As for Trident, this was the subject of some very, very astute comedy back in the 1980s in Yes, Prime Minister. This was in an episode when Hacker was considering scrapping the nuclear deterrent and bringing back conscription. The writers deliberately satirised perennial issues that remain, year-in, year-out, regardless of the particular government in power. And the arguments about Trident are still acutely relevant today. Here’s a clip from the show, in which Hacker and Sir Humphrey discuss the issue.

A friend of mine once commented that the series now seems to him less comedy, and more documentary. Absolutely. And May and the rest of the government are so incompetent that they make Hacker, Bernard and Appleby look like political titans.

‘I’ Newspaper: Thatcher Wanted to Abolished Welfare State and NHS Even After Cabinet ‘Riot’

November 27, 2016

The I newspaper on Friday (25th November 2016) carried a report that recently released cabinet papers reveal that Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe continued to plan for the abolition of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS even after the rest of the cabinet violently and vehemently rejected her plans. Here’s what the paper wrote

Thatcher’s plan to abolish the welfare state outraged MPs

The Prime Minister tried to advance incendiary proposals despite uproar in Cabinet. By Cahal Milmo.

Margaret Thatcher and her Chancellor Geoffrey Howe secretly sought to breathe new life into incendiary plans to dismantle the welfare state even after they had been defeated in a cabinet “riot”, newly released files show.

Shortly after she came to power in 1979, Mrs Thatcher instructed a Whitehall think-tank to put forward proposals on how to shake up long-term public spending based on the free market principles she spent her 11 years in office seeking to apply.

But what the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) put forward in 1982 was the most radical and vexing blueprint of the Thatcher era, including a call for the end of the NHS by scrapping free universal healthcare, introducing compulsory charges for schooling and sweeping defence cuts.

The proposals proved far too militant for the “wets” in Mrs Thatcher’s frontbench team and were shouted down at a meeting in September that year which Nigel Lawson, the then Energy Secretary, later described in his memoirs as “the nearest thing to a Cabinet riot in the history of the Thatcher administration.”

A chastened Mrs Thatcher, who later claimed she had been “horrified” at the CPRS document, responded to the leak of a watered-down version of the paper by using her speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1982 to insist that the NHS is “safe with us”.

But Treasury documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London, show that the Iron Lady and her first Chancellor did not let the project drop and planned behind the scenes to “soften up” the ministers in charge of the main departments targeted by the CPRS.

In November 1982, a memo was sent informing Sir Geoffrey that Mrs Thatcher had set up meetings with her Health Secretary, Norman Fowler, Education Secretary Keith Joseph and Defence Secretary John Nott. The memo said: “This series of meetings is designed to soften up the three big spenders. Without their support the operation will not work.”

The document details a political pincer movement between No 10 and the Treasury with Sir Geoffrey asked to ensure that no department’s funding was ring-fenced – although there was recognition that the Prime Minister’s public position on the NHS made that difficult. It said: “Your main aim, I suggest, should be to ensure that no sacred cows are prematurely identified. Given the Prime Minister’s concern about the NHS, this may be difficult.”

The files suggest the ploy met immediate opposition. A later Treasury memo said: “DHSS [Department of Health and Social Security] officials say there is no chance that Mr Fowler would agree to further study of this idea. I imagine that in the circumstances, and especially given the Prime Minister’s speech at Brighton, it is difficult to press them.”

The documents go on to reveal that Sir Geoffrey had a certain ambivalence towards how the Thatcherite project should proceed.

When the Adam Smith Institute came forward with a project to set out a plan for radical Whitehall restructuring to be enacted after the 1983 general election, Sir Geoffrey accepted the concerns of his political adviser that the scheme would fail.

Sir Geoffrey Wrote: “Every proposal will be seized on and hung round our neck. I see v great harm.” (p. 16).

This gives the lie to Thatcher’s claim in her autobiography that when she reviewed the NHS, she found it to be basically found, and only felt that it should have given more space to private industry. It also shows that Leon Brittan was also lying in his autobiography when he also claimed that the Labour party had lied about the Tories planning to abolish the NHS. They had considered it in 1983, and again considered it four years later in 1987.

As for the cabinet rebels who ‘rioted’ against Thatcher’s scheme, from what I’ve read they were motivated not from principle but from the realisation that if she tried to carry out her plans, they’d all be out of a job come the next election.

This did not stop the Tories carrying on the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS. Thatcher carried on chipping away at it. So did John Major, and it was kicked into a higher gear by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And now David Cameron and his wretched successor, Theresa May, have nearly completed the job.

I also like to know who the members of the CPRS were, who recommended the complete dismantlement of the welfare state. At the moment, ideological thugs like them hide behind their extremely low profiles. If the politicians, who’ve embraced their ideas are attacked on lose their seats, these people are nevertheless safe, in that they slink off and get another seat at the governmental table somewhere else. Mike on his blog pointed out how Wasserman, one of the architects behind Thatcher’s plan to privatise the NHS, was also one of the official invited back to advise Cameron on how to ‘reform’ it, in other words, privatise more of it.

It’s about time the shadowy figures behind these ideas were named and shamed, as well as the foul politicos who back them.

Jim Callaghan and Andrew Shonfield’s Alternative View of the British Economy

May 8, 2016

Simon Matthews begins an article on the career of Jim Callaghan in government, ‘Jim Callaghan: the Life and Times of Solomon Binding’ in Lobster 49 for summer, 2005, with a discussion of Andrew Shonfield’s critique of the British economy in the 1950s:

It is still possible to find an interesting Penguin Special that appeared in 1958, British Economic Policy Since the War, by Andrew Shonfield, then economics editor of The Observer, remains a striking piece of work. Among his conclusions were: that the maintenance of a separate Sterling Area, giving the comforting feeling and appearance of great power status, actually hindered the UK economy; that the UK should be more closely involved with Europe; that UK governments and the UK private sector failed to invest sufficiently in their own country and invested instead elsewhere in the Sterling Area; the City of London had a poor and distorting effect on the UK economy; that public spending in the UK was more restrained than in other European countries for reasons that did not make much sense; that the Treasury possibly had too much power; that although industrial relations in the UK were poor, days lost through strikes were often no higher than in other countries, but too much power resided with individual shop stewards (a fact that some employers actually quite liked); that the national offices of the big trade unions had surprisingly little input in either planning or negotiation within significant industries, with matters being handled at a purely local level; that because of the low level of pay and facilities offered by major employers a better relationship with the trade unions was difficult to attain; an that the UK spent too much on defence.

In 1958 this was prescient. Shonfield anticipated the essential economic debates of the 1970s and 1980s, some of which remain unresolved to this day. (P. 21). He notes that ultimately Shonfield’s views had little effect, though that doesn’t mean they went unnoticed. He considers that Harold Wilson arrived at some of Shonfield’s conclusions independently.

These issue are still, with some caveats, very much with us. Britain does not invest in public services at the same level as the other European countries. Spending on the NHS, for example, in the 1970s was below what other European nations spent on their health services. The City does not like investing in Britain, and most of the investment networks are geared towards the Developing World. As for government investment, you can see how reluctant the British government is to support British industry by the desperate efforts to find a foreign buyer for failing British companies or factories. The most recent example of this is the closure of the Tata steel plants in Bridgend and elsewhere. However, Cameron is cutting the defence budget to ludicrous extremes, and we have been saved much of the chaos that has overtaken some of the Continental economies because we kept the Pound instead of joining the Euro.

Matthews also has a broadly positive view of Callaghan’s government in the 1970s, which has been blamed for the economic failures that led to the rise of Maggie Thatcher.

It is convenient for contemporary politicians to say that the Thatcher years were something that Britain either needed or could not have avoided. But had it not been for Callaghan’s decision to postpone the election from 1978 to 1979 Thatcher might never have got to 10 Downing Street; or, if she did, would have been ousted very quickly. It is also true that the 1974-1979 Wilson-Callaghan governments made a reasonable job of recovering from the inflation caused by Heath and Barber in 1971-1973. ‘Old Labour’ id OK. It was just a shame it didn’t have a better leader. (P. 23).

So much for the conventional Tory wisdom that Thatcher was needed to sort out the chaos Labour caused. In this view, Callaghan was needed to sort out the chaos Heath had caused.

The Young Turks: Republican Voter States Rather Vote for Sanders than Trump

March 6, 2016

This is a very interesting interview. In this clip from The Young Turks, Jordan Chariton talks to Roy Williams, a life-long Republican voter, who voted for Ben Carson in the Republican primaries in his home state of South Carolina. Mr Williams is an engineer, a contractor for the government’s energy saving programme. A committed Christian, he’s also a deacon at his local church. Williams states that he voted for Ben Carson, the Black neurosurgeon, because he had the best policies. Williams is in favour of extremely limited federal government. The states should be virtually autonomous, and the federal government only responsible for defence and facilitating trade between them.

When asked about Carson’s controversial comments, such as his remark that a Muslim should not be president of the US, Williams stated he supported this. He did not believe that a Muslim should be president of the US, but not because he was a Muslim. He objected to a Muslim president because of the status of women under Sharia law, where they are not allowed to do anything without their husband’s permission.

Williams was, however, certainly no fan of Donald Trump. He described Trump as ‘brash’, and feared his outspokenness would mean that he wouldn’t be able to last his four-year term without plunging America into a war, probably with Russia. He also objected to Trump because Trump would not work within the American system. Chariton also asked him about Trump’s bigoted policies, and asked him if he felt, as so many others did, that Trump was just throwing ‘red meat’ to the Republican base, but had no intention of honouring it. Williams said he didn’t think that was the case. So, if he was faced with Trump, he’d rather vote for Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that Sanders was a Socialist and so stood for everything he opposed. He’d prefer to vote for Sanders rather than Trump because Sanders, at least, would work within the system.

He was very definite that he would not vote for Hillary Clinton. As a former military contractor, he was very much aware of the government rules regarding security. Clinton had broken these by receiving secret emails. He stated that if she wasn’t who she was, she’d be in jail for these by now. When Chariton pointed out that so did Bush and Condoleeza Rice, then Williams accepted that they too, should be in jail.

Williams stated that the Republican party he grew up with now no longer existed, to his regret. Chariton asked him who his favourite Republican president was. He responded with ‘Ronald Reagan’. Chariton pointed out that Reagan wasn’t a believer in limited government. He massively increased the debt and raised taxes. Williams seemed at a loss when this was point out. He did, however, say he liked Jimmy Carter. Why? Carter was also an engineer, and in Williams’ own experience in the energy business, he felt that if America had followed his policy on energy, America wouldn’t be chasing after it abroad in the Middle East. Chariton asked him if he felt the country was moving leftward after Obama. he said ‘yes, to my dismay’.

Bugbots – Military Nano Drones, and a Warning from Polish SF Author Stanislaw Lem

December 1, 2015

This is another interesting – and chilling – video I found on Youtube. It’s a promotional film from one of the US aerospace contractors talking up nanorobotic drones. This is drones about the size of a small bird or children’s toy helicopters. The video hypes their use for gather intelligence, both singly and in swarms like insects. It also states that they may be used to kill enemy soldiers or combatants.

We’re already using miniature drones like those above to gather information in Afghanistan.

This video shows British soldiers talking about the Black Hornet nano drone, which can be controlled in the same way you can operate a playstation.

I find this chilling, as it starts to confirm a prediction the Polish Science Fiction author, Stanislaw Lem made, about the future direction of military technology in the 1980s/90s. Lem was impressed by the increasing power and intelligence of computers, and predicted that eventually this would effect even politics. The short story played with the idea that political parties would compete to show the electorate that they had the best computer, and therefore the best solutions to the country’s problems.

He also believed that as weapons and equipment, such as planes, ships and tanks became increasingly sophisticated, so they would also become prohibitively expensive. As a result, government would turn to miniaturisation, using swarms of extremely small robots to attack their enemies.

This would result in a global situation that was neither war nor peace, as it would be unclear whether natural disasters, such as, for example, devastation of crops by bad weather or insect swarms, were genuine or caused by enemy robot intervention.

Fortunately, we haven’t got to the point where politics is decided by which party has the biggest, cleverest computer. I think if that point every comes, we may as well say goodbye to democracy and just hand the world over to Microsoft, IBM or Apple. Military technology and equipment is becoming more expensive, and in Britain we are seeing extensive cuts which may well harm our ability to fight and win wars. However, American politics is strongly coloured by the arms and other industries sponsoring politicians campaigns, in return for them continuing to receive extremely generous subsidies from the taxpayer. I really don’t see the Americans cutting back on their military spending anytime soon, still less Russia and China.

And with miniature killer drones disguised as insects, it really does look like the frowning Polish grandmaster of SF was right about the use of such robots, and the highly uncertain hostile and militarised ‘peace’ that would arise through their use.

Here’s another video, this time from Reason TV, giving three reasons why the use of drones is a bad idea.

The transcript for the video on its Youtube page runs

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may not agree on much, but they’re both totally into the use of unmanned aircraft known as drones to hunt down and kill real and imagined threats to the American way of life.

Whenever you’ve got top Democrats and top Republicans getting along, you know something has gone horribly wrong.

Here are three reasons why drone strikes are really freaking scary.

1. They’re not that accurate.

One of the main selling points of drone strikes is their supposedly surgical precision. Rather than carpet-bombing entire city blocks to nail one or two bad guys, now we can just zap them without harming anyone else.

But a new study from researchers at NYU and Stanford concludes that as many 881 civilians – including 176 children – have been killed by US drone strikes in northern Pakistan since 2004. Worse still are reports that targets get blasted repeatedly, to ward off rescuers from helping the wounded.

2. There’s no legal framework.

Drone strikes have been carried out in countries with whom we’re allies or against whom we’ve yet to declare war. They are the principal way in which President Obama’s infamous “kill list” is made operational and yet nobody knows how such decisions are being made. As The New York Times said earlier this year, “a unilateral campaign of death is untenable.”

Not only is such a campaign immoral on its face, it only damages America’s standing in the world.

3. It’s only going to get worse.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that in 20 years, as many as 30,000 drones could be filling the skies over America, doing everything from promoting local restaurants to executing warrantless snooping for local, state, and federal cops. That includes “nano drones,” that will the size of a small flying insect. As it stands, the taxpaying public has basically zero information on how many drones are being used by which parts of government.

That’s led the ACLU to file a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to find out more about the technical capabilities of drones and what parts of government are already up there in the wild blue yonder.

We need to force the government to be transparent on drones long before the machines start blotting out the sun.

This is powerful technology that clearly is a real threat to the freedom of the countries using them, as well as being unethical and counterproductive when used against the enemy. And the secrecy surrounding them should be real cause for concern.

It’s no accident that the first appearance of something like a drone – an airborne camera to spy on citizens – made its appearance as long ago as the 1980s in 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd. And a drone can also be seen flying around in the opening scenes of the Dredd movie that came out a few years ago, starring Karl Urban. Dredd is the ultimate lawman, but he’s also a deliberately ambiguous figure. John Wagner in an interview around 1983 or so stated that he would never take off his helmet because he represents the faceless police state.

When real life starts to resemble the nightmare black comedy of Megacity 1, you know something’s gone very seriously wrong.

Blair’s Ideological Legacy

March 27, 2014

Tony-Blair-006

Earlier today I posted a long piece on the origin of New Labour and its legacy on Ed Miliband’s current leadership of the party. This means the way Labour after the 1987 General Election turned away from state intervention to embrace the middle classes, the free market and the financial sector, at the expense of domestic manufacturing industry and the working class. Simon Matthews also further summarises Blair’s fundamental attitudes to the economy, the press and the middle classes in his review of Anthony Seldon’s biography, Blair (London: Free Press (Simon & Shuster) 2004) in his piece ‘Our Leader’ in Lobster 48, Winter 2004, pp. 34-5. He notes that under Blair, Brown and Balls allowed unelected officials from the Treasury control vast areas of domestic policy, such as the railways, housing and defence. These schemes tended to implode, forcing Blair to intervene personally. He then states

What is not clearly articulated in this book is the world view that Brown, Blair and the various other UK politicians like them follow. This appears to be the same as the outlook many demoralised US and Australian leftists and centre-leftists adopted in the ’80s after the seemingly invincible triumph of the Reagan-Thatcher agenda. Namely:

1. Support of the middle classes is critical at every level. Therefore direct personal taxes can never be raised.

2. The media are too powerful to challenge. Therefore flatter them, give them good stories (‘briefing’, ‘spinning’ etc) and allow them a deregulated area in the market place in which to work.

3. If you either need to or want to pay for additional domestic projects because of (1) you can only do so by increasing the amount of cheap foreign labour within the domestic economy (in the USA, Hispanics; in the UK anyone in the world) and as the working population goes up and costs go down, so the amounts of taxes coming in from low wage jobs goes up.

4. Anything other than this is impossible and should be resisted.

It is striking that the tribulations that Blair and Brown have with Europe stem from this approach. (thanks to their electoral arrangements, Europe did not have majority governments that implemented the Reagan-Thatcher policies.)
Generally one senses, when the narrative concludes in mid-2004, that we have not seen the end of the Blair years by a long chalk.

Blair’s administration is long over, as is that of his successor, Gordon Brown. However, Blair and his free market policies and pursuit of the middle classes and the media at the expense of everyone else still casts a very long shadow in the form of Balls, Miliband and their coterie.