Posts Tagged ‘Hotels’

Money Laundering: Will Jeremy Hunt End Up at the Bottom of the Black Sea like Iron Bella?

April 22, 2018

Much mirth was had on Friday night’s edition of Have I Got News For You when host Lee Mack inadvertently accused Jeremy Hunt of money laundering. The current minister in charge of privatising the NHS has bought a whole load of houses in Southampton to the tune of £50 million, but not declared it in the register of members’ interests. This breaks parliamentary rules, as Mike reported on his blog. Mack went a bit further, and frightened the Beeb’s lawyers and producers by inadvertently claiming that Hunt had been accused of money laundering. He hasn’t, as the producers and the lawyers told him through the microphone in his ear and by autocue. He then got frightened over whether it would be the programme or himself that could get sued for libel.

Hislop, however, was perfectly willing to repeat the accusation. He said that the legislation that Hunt had violated had been brought in specifically to deal with money laundering, and so that was what Hunt was doing. ‘Trust me on this. I never lose’. That last must have been said ironically, as Hislop and Private Eye have lost libel cases so often that it was a case for major celebration over a decade ago when he actually won one. Mack hurriedly repeated the statement that Hunt had not been charged with that offence, while Hislop said ‘But that’s what he’s been doing.’ Ah, the fun of watching arguments on panel games, and a host terrified of m’learned friends coming down on him.

But this also raises an interesting point. Amongst their various donors, the Tories have been taking money from Russian oligarchs. These men were very highly placed managers and apparatchiks under the old Soviet system. Hence they were able to buy up their particular industries and state enterprises, often at knockdown prices, when it was all privatised by Yeltsin. And there’s a conflict of interest here. When Putin came to power, he allowed them to retain their ownership on one condition: absolute loyalty to him. It’s been described by Russian dissidents and academics as ‘industrial feudalism’. Alexandra Politovskaya, the murdered Russian democracy activist said that as long as this system continues, there is no freedom, no democracy, just the strong man in the Kremlin.

Exactly true. So although the Tories want some kind of confrontation with Putin, including war, a sizable portion of their rich donors don’t.

But there’s also the possibility of personal danger to Hunt himself. Russia is a very corrupt society, and the Communist era was certainly no exception. The Russian journalist Arkady Vaksberg described just how corrupt Russian officialdom was in his book The Soviet Mafia. Vaksberg was a Jewish Bulgarian, who worked for TASS, the official Soviet news agency. Several times he risked censure and arrest for uncovering massive corruption within the Communist party. And it went all the way to the top, right to Brezhnev himself and his son-in-law. Vaksberg describes talking to exhausted, demoralised Soviet generals, who had spent days trying to arrange emergency transport for food into areas hit by famine. They then found out that all their efforts had been wasted. There was no famine. It all had been a scam by the local party chiefs and apparatchiks to misdirect funds and goods, and enrich themselves.

And money laundering was one of the many tricks the corrupt Communist chiefs were into. In one of the these scams, the embezzled money was laundered through the Soviet hotel chains on the Black Sea coast, run by a powerful Georgian lady nicknamed ‘Iron Bella’. Again, millions of roubles were involved. After this was busted wide open, and those responsible were sacked and led off to the gulags, Iron Bella mysteriously disappeared.

But everybody knew where she went. As they said in the Godfather, she sleeps with the fishes. The joke at the time went, ‘Nobody knows what happened to all those roubles, but everyone knows Iron Bella’s at the bottom of the Black Sea’. Quite.

If Hunt has been doing a bit of money laundering, an offence for which he has not been charged, and it comes from Russian oligarchs, then it might be advisable for him to avoid any coastal holidays for the time being.

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A Word of Encouragement after Esther McVile Returns to the DWP

January 15, 2018

Like everyone else, who really cares about what happens to the poor and disabled in this country, I am angered and dismayed by the return of Esther McVey to the cabinet in charge of the DWP. When she was in charge of disability, McVey presided over a system that saw tens, if not hundreds of thousands of severely ill people declared ‘fit for work’, and left without any means of support after their benefits were cut off. People like Mike, DPAC and other disability rights activists and campaigners have accused her of pursuing a murderous, genocidal policy against the disabled. For them, it’s eugenics by the back door. The disabled are being culled, but unlike the Nazis and their infamous Aktion T4 programme, with which Tory policy has been compared, they aren’t dragging the disabled away to be gassed in a hospital run by murderous doctors and uniformed, military thugs like the SS. No, they’re simply told their fit for work, and have their benefit cut off, so that they starve to death, or take their own lives through misery and hunger. Stilloaks has compiled a list of the victims, as have various other left-wing bloggers and activists. One artist even made a picture composed of the faces of all those the Tories had murdered through their welfare reforms.

If you want to know just how nasty McVile is, take a look at some of the recent articles Mike has written about her return over at Vox Political. And some indication of the depth of feeling against her is shown by the fact that someone altered her Wikipedia page a few years ago, so that it read that she was in charge of the genocide of the disabled.

It’s an utter disgrace that this woman, who was nicknamed ‘the wicked witch of the Wirral’ by her constituents, and who lost her seat at the last election, should come back into front bench politics.

And her return has resulted in very vulnerable people feeling afraid. Florence, one of the great commenters on this blog, said here in a response to a previous post, that she knew disability activists, who worked hard for 48 hours solid after her return, trying to stop frightened and distressed disabled people from committing suicide. That alone shows how disgraceful the Conservative party and their attitude to the disabled is. The Tories consistently deny that there is any link between their murderous and pitiless ‘welfare reforms’, and the suicides that have already occurred. Even though some of the victims have written suicide notes explicitly stating that it is. All you get is May, IDS, McVile or some other Tory spokesperson coming out with a flat denial, and then assertions that these reforms are helping people into work – they aren’t, but the Tories don’t worry about the truth when a lie is so much better. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail and the rest of the pestilential right-wing press tries to tell us all that everyone claiming sickness benefit, ESA or whatever, is a malingerer sponging off the British taxpayer. Florence said that she’d been abused when she’s had occasion to use her wheelchair. I’ve a friend in Cheltenham, whose wife is severely disabled, and similarly has to use a wheelchair if she goes out. He told me that they’ve been abused.

This shows how low this country has sunk under the Tories and the Blairites. One of our uncles, with whom our family used to go on holiday when Mike and I were young, had Parkinson’s Disease. This is a deterioration of part of the brain governing movement, and it leaves sufferers paralysed. There are drugs that can treat it, the best known being L-Dopa. Despite this many sufferers, including our uncle, was confined to a wheelchair. I can remember Mike and myself pushing him along esplanades on holiday with the rest of our family, and no-one made any adverse comments. In fact, I don’t recall my aunt telling us that there had been any problems when she had gone out with him, though she was embarrassed about going into cafes. But here again, I don’t recall anyone else saying anything at the time.

Britain has, thanks to four decades of Thatcherism, become more hate-filled and prejudiced.

But I don’t think people need despair just yet. McVey is a vile piece of work, as is Tweezer for appointing her. But she must surely be aware of how much she’s hated, and this will take its toll. Remember when the Gentleman Ranker, IDS, wanted to leave the DWP? He was whining about how everyone was blaming him for food banks, when it was Blair who introduced them. Well, it was, but only in a limited way for asylum seekers. Which is bad enough, but it wasn’t the wholesale replacement for state aid that it’s become under David Cameron and Tweezer. IDS was held in contempt by everyone concerned with disability issues and poverty, and it clearly got to him. Just like the outcry against Toby Young’s appointment to the university’s legislative panel clearly got to him, and forced him to resign. Even though Tweezer had given her backing to this far-right, eugenicist clown.

The Tories are vulnerable. Even those like IDS, who was boasting how he’d been a major in the army. Despite the fact that no-one can find any record of him actually being one.

People know McVile, and massively and collectively hate her. She isn’t going to have it easy, by any means. She may well be tougher than IDS – this is, after all, a man, who came into a parliamentary inquiry with armed bodyguards, just in case the peeps in wheelchairs and their carers in the public gallery turned violent. And who hid from demonstrators in Scotland in a hotel laundry basket. But enough people complain, criticise and attack her, it should make her feel uncomfortable, and hopefully bring her down.

And people are going to do just that. Just like they did when she was in charge of disability the first time round.

So don’t despair.
Get mad.
Get even.
And get her out!

Motherboard Report on the Japanese Robot Hotel

November 25, 2015

This is another interesting video I found over on Youtube. It’s a piece by the science news programme, Motherboard, on the Henn-na – Japanese for ‘weird’ Hotel in Tokyo that’s staffed by robots. The presenter states that Japan has legions of industrial robots, and Japanese trends were believed to show what the future would be like. In the case of the hotel industry, a few decades ago this was believed to be the capsule hotels, where tired Sararimen hired what was basically a stacked space about the size of a coffin to sleep in. The presenter tries one of these out, and talks to a traditional Japanese hotelier about how he feels about the rise of hotels where everything is done by robots.

The human hotelier states that he believes that people actually want the human touch, and personal contact with other human beings. So to compete, he believes that ordinary hotels will have to concentrate on being more human, rather than like those run by the machines. The journalist then goes on to sample what a night in one of these robot hotels is like. He states that the Japanese are turning to robots in order to cut down on high labour costs.

Inside the hotel, he is greeted with the hotel reception, which consists of two robots on a desk. One is in the guise of a woman, the other is a dinosaur in a hat. To check in, he has to use a touch-screen, which he describes as like those used at checkouts. Any valuables you have is placed in a locker behind glass by a robot arm, which the journalists says could come from a state of the art factory. Your luggage is taken to your room by another robot, though this is a robot trolley, not any kind of humanoid machine. In the bedroom on the bedside drawers is another, rather diminutive robot, which responds to your voice, greets you, and asks if you want the lights on or off.

Back down stairs, there are no catering staff. All the meals come from vending machines. There is a small human staff of about three guys. When interviewed, they also talk about how these hotels are driven by the need to cut labour costs. The journalist also interviews the managers, who states that he believes these hotels will become more popular and appear around the world. He and his staff also believe that to compete, hotels staffed by humans will also have to offer a more uniquely human experience.

The presenter himself and some of the guests he interviews are, however, in the end less than enthusiastic about the experience. He states that while its exciting to begin with, it’s actually rather lonely. The group of young women he interviews actually state that it’s really rather boring.

Here’s the video:

Now the presenter makes the point that as machines take more of our jobs, businesses like these raise the question of what can be uniquely done by humans. I’d argue that hotel catering and accommodation may not be an industry that can only be done by humans, but at the moment its an industry that can only be done well by humans.

If you look at the type of robots that have been popular in SF, they’re fictional machines that have had real characters and personalities. Think of Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet, C-3PO and R2D2 in the Star Wars films and K-9 in Dr Who. The same with the sentient computers, like Zen, Orac and Slave in Blake’s 7, or the Hal 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Or even Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. These machines became favourite SF characters because they were precisely that: characters. They were essentially artificial people, with human-like intelligence, personality traits and even flaws. Robbie the Robot had all the polite aloofness of a human butler. C-3PO was fussy and rather camp, but a foil for R2D2, who was cheeky and slightly wilful, in the manner of a child determined to have its own way. Orac in Blake’s 7 was arrogant and pedantic, like a rather tetchy university professor. Slave was grovelling and subservient. K-9 was a perky companion, eager to help his master, but also with his own mind and opinions. The Hal-9000 computer was proud of its model’s computing power, accuracy and reliability, stated it enjoyed human companion, even though it went on to kill the crew on the grounds that human unreliability made them a threat to the success of the mission. Finally, it felt fear, when Dave Bowman, the hero of that segment of the film, closed it down. Zen was the most impersonal of all the machines. Except for its dying moment in the last episode of the third series, ‘Terminal’, it did not refer to itself. It was basically a hemisphere in a corner of the Liberator’s flight deck, across which flowed patterns of lights. Yet these lights and the slight inflections in its voice gave the impression of a distinct personality, and again, real human-like intelligence. Peter Tuddenham, the voice actor for Orac and Zen, in an interview with Blake’s 7 magazine in the 1980s, stated that of the two, Zen was his favourite. Orac, he felt, had merely taken on the personality of its creator, Ensor, who was also tetchy, pedantic and professorial. Zen’s personality was a more natural growth of the machine’s basic nature. It could have become human-like, but had deliberately held back and remained as it was.

And back in the 1970s and ’80s, 2000 AD also gave their own very comic version of what form robot accommodation for humans would take in the Robohunter strip. This followed the adventures of Sam Slade, that’s ‘S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’, as he attempted to combat robot crime. In the first story, Slade found himself despatched to the distant planet, Verdus. This had been occupied by robots in preparation for human colonisation. The robots, however, had refused to recognise the colonists as humans on the grounds that humans would obviously be superior to them in the every way. When the human colonists turned up, the robots found that they were instead weaker, and less intelligent. They concluded that they must somehow be ‘sims’, simulated humans, sent to deceive them for some purpose they didn’t understand. As a result, humans were rounded up into concentration camps to be experimented on and culled. Slade managed to break out, find the original robot sent to colonise the planet, who duly recognised and testified that he was indeed human. This convinced some of the robots that the Sims were humans, while others remained unconvinced. A war broke out between the two sides, which was only stopped by Slade destroying every robot on Verdus. This restored peace, but left his employers furious.

All this makes the strip seem grimmer than it actually was. The strip, scripted by long-time 2000 AD writer John Wagner, and drawn by Ian Gibson, was funny and satirical with a distinct cartoonish quality. On Verdus, everything was done by robots. There was a robot parliament, occupied by deranged and moronic MPs, like the Stupid Parties, which existed solely to provide comic amusement to the planet’s true leader, Big Brain. There was a robot archbishop and chief rabbi, demanding rights for Sims as God’s creatures. The robot armies included stereotypical ‘Colonel Blimp’ generals, while members of the robot constabulary in Robopoly, a robot board game, where also corrupt and brutal, following several real police scandals of the time. There were also robot singers and TV stars, like Frankie Droid, and Valve Doonican, a pastiche of the Irish singer, Val Doonican, who had his own show on British television at the time.

In the last couple of decades, a number of computer entrepreneurs and SF writers have predicted that eventually, everything will have computers chips in and so be computer controlled. The Robohunter strip also depicted that possibility, but gave it its own, twisted slant. In the page below, Slade and his diminutive sidekick, Kidd, on the run from the robots break into an apartment. Once inside, they find that everything, from the kettle, to footwear and furniture, is a robot.

Robohunter Pic 1

What makes this interesting, and extremely funny, is that all these machines have their own personalities. They talk and argue. They discuss whether Slade and Kidd are really human, or just Sims, and then decide to put it to the vote whether they should turn them in or not.

This is absolutely unlike the real robot hotel. For all the talk about Artificial Intelligence, the machines there aren’t really sentient. They respond in a very limited way to a set of instructions. These may be verbal or keyed in. Unlike the fictional machines, there is no ‘I’, no sense of self lurking within the chips and circuit boards. And no real understanding of what they’re doing either. It’s just one set of circuits responding to a certain stimulus according to its programme or wiring. They’re moving mannequins, rather than the artificial people of SF.

So instead of the robotic maniacs of Verdus, what is instead presented is something far more like the antiseptic, alienated futures of Stanley Kubrick’s SF films. In 2001 everything is gleaming white, clean, and sterile. People speak, but don’t actually communicate or really say anything much at all. And that was deliberate. Clarke had told Kubrick that he had trouble writing dialogue for the movie. Kubrick told him not to worry. He liked it stilted, as he saw the people in this future as brittle and alienated. They had reached a high stage of technological sophistication but had little human warmth or empathy in their social interactions themselves. Critics have commented that the only real personality in the movie is that of Hal, the murderous computer.

The programme’s presented states that the increasing use of robots in Japan is driven by the need to cut labour costs. I dare say that’s part of it, but not quite what has been said elsewhere. Japan actually has a labour shortage, partly caused by a falling birth rate and strongly traditional attitudes against women in the workplace. As a result, there’s been campaigns not only to introduce robots into Japanese industry, but also to humanise them, to get the other, human members of the workforce to accept them as a fellow being, rather than just a machine.

And for all the country’s immense technological sophistication and ingenuity, it’s actually extremely reluctant to implement mechanisation itself as comprehensively as its competitors in the West have done. Way back in the 1990s I read a book on Japan written by a Times journalist. The author stated that while in the West were used to computer checkouts, if you went into a Japanese shop or the post office, the clerk there would be using old fashioned ledgers. The Japanese had worked out that if they fully automated their industry, it would put half their workers out of a job. And the actual numbers of robots in Japan may well be colossally exaggerated. Geoff Simons in his book Robots: The Question for Living Machines, states that most of the what the Japanese call robots are what in the west are viewed as machine tools. The impression I have is that the Japanese love robots, but want to introduce them as an addition to the human workers, not as a replacement.

The film shows the journalist enjoying the robot actors and dancers at a carnival or nightclub. Alongside some machines, are people dressed as robots, playing at them. This strikes me as what visitors to a robot hotel would really want from the experience – real humans alongside the machines, and the machines themselves to be more like personalities than just simple automatic mechanisms. The danger there is that if you did give robots personalities, you run the risk of creating miserable robots like the eternally depressed Marvin, the Paranoid Android. He was a ‘personality prototype’. ‘You can tell, can’t you?’ as he himself put it.

I’ve no doubt that the ruthless logic of capitalism means that there’ll be more of these hotels in the future. I think there’s already another like it in Los Angeles. But in the meantime I think human-run premises probably offer a better service. At least they have real cooks, rather than vending machines.

The Young Turks: Racism More Acute in Recession

March 12, 2015

This is another Young Turks’ video. I know I’ve posted a lot of them, but bear with me. This one’s also relevant to the situation here in the UK. The Turks’ in this one are talking about a study in the American liberal magazine, Mother Jones. Black Americans have suffered disproportionately in the presence recession. This isn’t just because they have most of their wealth invested in property, which they’ve lost due to the banking crisis and sub-prime mortgages. It’s also because racial prejudice amongst Whites also increases during recession.

I know Black people here in Britain, who have had exactly the same experiences as those reported in the magazine article. I was talking to a Black friend about a fortnight ago, who has a very stereotypically Black first name. He’s a businessman, but found that fewer of his potential customers called him back if he used his first name. So he took to using his far more mainstream second name in order to get more trade. This is exactly what the Mother Jones’ article reported Black American businesspeople had experienced.

The Turks state clearly in this piece that it shouldn’t be about blaming Whites for unconscious racism, but simply of acknowledging it and finding ways to move on to create better, more non-racist society. It’s extremely wise words, as studies have also found that Whites become more racist when somebody accuses them of racism. This last piece of research was not lost on one extreme Right-wing Canadian site, that recommended that Conservatives use that study to attack anti-racism and affirmative action policies.

I’ve decided to post the video here because, like the other Young Turks videos I’ve posted, it also relevant to the situation here in Britain. Not only is the experience of Black business people losing trade because of their name the same in America and Britain, but Black people over here have also suffered disproportionately due to the recession. Johnny Void has pointed this out in his last piece detailing the racist background of one Iain Duncan Smith, the mass butcher in charge of the DWP.

And the problem has been made even more urgent by today’s announcement by the Fuhrage that if the Kippers ever gain power, they will scrap the anti-racism legislation.

The stories about boarding houses, bed and breakfasts and hotels not taking Blacks, Irish and dogs are not myths. One of my uncle is Irish, and he suffered that discrimination while working on a site. Clearly, the Generalissimo of the legions of squalid weirdoes is upset that this kind of behaviour is no longer legal.