Posts Tagged ‘Judge Dredd’

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

From 25 Years Ago: Private Eye on the Failings of the Privatised Water Companies

July 13, 2020

A few days ago I put up a piece about a report in the I that stated MPs had criticized the regulatory authorities for their failure to ensure that the water supply is adequately maintained. According to the I, the supply is in such a terrible state that within 20 years England may run out of water.

This isn’t exactly surprising, as environmental scientists, ecological activists and archaeologists have been warning about the terrible possibility of a global drought as the world runs out of supplies of drinking for over two decades. And in the 1980s the SF author Alfred Bester set his last book, Golem 100, in the ‘Guf’, a sprawling metropolis covering America’s eastern seaboard somewhat like Judge Dredd’s Megacity 1. Society in the Guf was decaying, with different areas controlled by various gangs and terrorist groups. Crime was rampant, and in addition to the social and political decline and fragmentation the huge megacity also suffered from a shortage of drinking water.

The regulatory authorities aren’t solely to blame for the deleterious state of England’s water. The industry is also responsible, and particularly its privatization in the 1980s and ’90s by the Tories. This was supposed to bring new investment. This hasn’t materialized in the privatized utilities, either here or in the US. In this country, these industries owners are foreign companies, which put the minimum into maintaining them while taking the profits out of the country.

Private Eye was a sharp critic of the Tories privatizations when they were being pushed through by Maggie Thatcher and then John Major. And one of their criticisms at the time was that the Tories appointed as heads of the new regulators, such as Ofwat and the Environment Agency in the case of water, people from the private sector, who shared the Tories view that government should leave industry to regulate itself. This was the beginning of the corporatist system, in which private industry is entwined with government to the point where it dictates official policy. This became notorious under Tony Blair, with leading industrialists like David Sainsbury of the supermarket company given posts on government bodies, that Guardian hack George Monbiot wrote an entire book attacking it, Captive State.

I found three reports of some of the antics of the privatized water companies in the ‘Privatisation Round-Up’ column in an old copy Private Eye from 25 years ago, Friday, 16th June 1995. They were as follows:

It’s tough at the top of a water company – especially if you are William Courtney, chairman of Southern Water, and all you hear are grips about your salary, your £250,000 share options (cashed) and the increasing cost of water in your area.

The public probably doesn’t realise how hard Mr Courtney works. In his capacity as director of Waterline Insurance, for example, a major subsidiary of Southern Water, he recently had to attend a long conference. As did his long-suffering wife Margaret; his diligent finance director at Southern Water, Ray King; and Ray’s long-suffering wife Sandra.

The relevance of the conference – on “international risk management” – may not be immediately obvious to Southern Water consumers, who will ultimately foot the bill; but the surroundings were relevant. Hard-working Mr Courtney and Mr King and their spouses attended the five-day conference at the luxury Marriott’s Castle Harbour Hotel in Bermuda – and as everyone knows Bermuda is surrounded by, er, water.

OFWAT, the water regulator, likes ot boast of its own successes, but the residents of Clyst St George in Devon are not convinced. Their case has been sitting in OFWAT’s tray for three years.

Their argument began when the National Rivers Authority ordered a clean-up of local ditches which acted as open sewers for septic tanks. The bill for householders could have run into the thousands. When the case finally ended up in court it was ruled that the responsibility fell on South West Water to bring the ditches up to modern hygiene standards.

South West Water had better things to spend the money on – like share options worth £144,95 for its managing director. The consumers turned to the apparently powerful watchdog OFWAT to force South West Water to take action. Finally, after no encouragement from OFWAT, the company is now thinking of installing the new sewerage system. But it still refuses to foot the bill and has approached the residents for a financial contribution towards the clean-up.

The European Union, meanwhile, is investigating why Yorkshire Water, which is now trying to buy up its own shares, was once given £23 million of regional aid to fatten it up for privatisation when the sold-off company now makes profits of more than £140 million a year.

The money, from a fund earmarked regenerating regional economies in the EU, was spent on improvements to three sewage works – improvements that had to be carried out in any event. When the EU bureaucrats sent the cheque, perhaps they forgot to point out that regenerating local economies does not mean boosting shareholders’ dividends and executive salaries.

I have a feeling that Yorkshire Water was hit by so many scandals that it ended up re-branding itself as Kelda.

These stories are an example of why English water is in the terrible state it is: greedy senior management doing as little as possible to maintain or improve the supply, awarding themselves grossly inflated pay and benefits and flitting off to foreign junkets and complacent and apathetic regulators doing as little as possible to protect the interests of these companies’ customers.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party were quite correct to demand these companies’ renationalization, along with other utilities. And it can’t come soon enough.

Rishi Sunak Goes Social Credit

July 6, 2020

Zelo Street put up another piece yesterday showing the glaring hypocrisy of the Tory party and their lapdog press. According to the Absurder, the Resolution Foundation had been in talks with chancellor Rishi Sunak to give everyone in Britain vouchers to spend in shops and businesses. Adults would receive vouchers worth £500, while children would get half the amount, £250. Sunak was being urged to accept the scheme as it would stimulate the economy, which has been badly hit by the lockdown. The Tory papers the Heil and the Scum also reported this, and thought it was a great idea.

This contrasts very strongly with their attitude last May, when Jeremy Corbyn also floated the idea of giving the British people free money in UBI – Universal Basic Income. The Scum claimed that if everyone was given £70 a week, then this would raise the welfare bill from £188 billion to £288 billion a year. The Heil reported that when the scheme was tried out in Finland, it made people happier but didn’t improve employment levels and would prove ‘unsustainable’.

But it isn’t just Finland that is experimenting with UBI. It was introduced in Spain a few weeks ago as Mike reported on his blog. Spain is a poorer country than Britain, but their willingness to try it contradicts the government’s excuse for not doing so, which is that Britain can’t afford it.

But now Rishi Sunak is considering it, and the Tory papers are praising him for it, whereas they vilified Corbyn. Zelo Street commented

‘Clearly, since May last year, a “free money” handout has stopped being a ghastly socialist aberration, and is now an excellent wheeze. Cos Rishi will be doing it.

The press will do anything to flog more papers. Including a little socialism.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/government-handouts-yeah-but-no-but.html

Of course, the reason the right-wing press are supporting Sunak whereas they condemned Corbyn, is because the two men have very different reasons for recommending it. In Corbyn’s case it was a desire to help empower ordinary people and stop the poverty the Tories have inflicted on them through low wages, job insecurity and the murderous system of benefit cuts and sanctions. The Tories, by contrast, heartily despise the poor. In the interest of maintaining healthy profits, they have always pursued low wages and punishing the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed with minimal state welfare provision. This is now for many people below the amount needed to keep body and soul together. Where it is available at all, that is. That’s if people are able to get it after waiting five weeks for their first payment, and not getting sanctioned for the flimsiest excuse. This is all done to reduce the tax bill for the 1 per cent. Those able to work must be kept poor and desperate so that they will accept any job and won’t be able to demand higher wages. As for the long-term unemployed and the disabled, they are biologically inferior ‘useless eaters’, exactly as the Nazis viewed them, who should be allowed to starve to death.

Sunak’s motive for embracing UBI is so that the proles can spend it, thus keeping businesses afloat and maintaining or boosting profits. It’s socialism for the rich, as modern corporatism has been described. Just as welfare benefits are cut or completely removed for working people and the poor, so corporatism rewards business, and particularly big business, through a system of subsidies and tax breaks. It’s why one book attacking this system was titled Take the Rich Off Welfare.

Sunak’s version of UBI also harks back to a similar scheme founded in the 1920s by the British officer, Major C.H. Douglas. Aware of the widespread poverty of his day, Douglas argued that it was ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’. The goods were available to satisfy people’s needs, but they were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue vouchers to solve this problem and enable people to buy the goods they desperately needed.

The idea has never really taken off. It was included among the policies Oswald Mosley adopted for his New Party after it split from Labour in the late ’20s and early ’30s. There was also a Social Credit party in British Columbia in Canada, though I believe that’s an extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party for Anglophone Whites which doesn’t actually support the Social Credit economic policy.

I’ve also seen something extremely similar to Social Credit used as the basis for an SF story. In Frederick Pohl 1950’s novella, ‘The Midas Plague’, the poor are bombarded with expensive goods and services which they must use and consume. They are punished if they don’t. As a result, in terms of material conditions the position of rich and poor is reversed: the poor live opulent lives, while the rich, who have to own their own possessions, live much more austerely. The whole point of this is to keep the economy booming and industry expanding.

We haven’t yet got to that point, and I don’t we ever will, if only because the wealthy ruling class, on whose behalf the Tories govern, are so against letting the poor get anything for free. Even when they need and deserve it. But unemployment is set to increase due to automation in the workplace. It’s been forecast that over the next 20 years about a 1/3 of jobs will be lost. 21st century Britain, and indeed much of the rest of the Developed World, could look like Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where over 95 per cent of the population is unemployed and lives on welfare.

If that ever happens, then the government will need to implement something like Social Credit in order to give people both enough to live on and support business and industry.

Not that Sunak need go that far just yet. One of the reasons F.D. Roosevelt introduced state unemployment insurance for Americans as part of his New Deal was also to support industry. He, and liberal and socialist economists in Britain realized that if you give people money to support themselves during a recession, they will spend their way out of it. Both the poor, the unemployed and industry benefits. We could do the same now, by giving people a genuine living wage, raising unemployment and other benefits up to a level so that people can actually live on them and abolish the five-week waiting period and the sanctions system so that people don’t have to rely on food banks to save them from starvation.

But this would contradict the Tories’ favoured policies of keeping working people and the poor hungry and desperate.

Jewish Board of Deputies Accuses Nigel Farage of Anti-Semitism

June 30, 2020

Zelo Street reported yesterday that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had taken a break from accusing the Labour party to turn their ire on another British politico. This was Nigel Farage, Fuhrer and CEO of the Brexit Party. According to the Graoniad, the Board had accused the man 2000AD’s Judge Dredd satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ because

Farage’s airing of claims about plots to undermine national governments, and his references to Goldman Sachs and the financier George Soros, showed he was seeking to ‘trade in dog whistles’ … [he] was also condemned by the MPs who co-chair the all-party group against antisemitism”.

They then provide a series of examples from a recent tweet and interview with Newsweek magazine. In the tweet’s video message, the Fuhrage claimed that Britain was facing a wave of ‘cultural Marxism’. This is an idea that has its origins in Nazism, and their claim that Germany was being subverted by Jewish ‘Kulturbolschevismus’. Organisations funded by George Soros were also responsible for companies removing adverts for right-wing TV programmes. This was the trope of the ‘disloyal Jew’.

In the Newsweek article, Nige had ranted about ‘unelected globalists’ shaping the lives of the public based on recommendations from the big banks. ‘Globalists’ was a code word for ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish bankers’. Goldman Sachs was the only bank he named, which followed another theme from the extreme right.

And Zelo Street also provided a few examples of his own to support the Board’s accusation. In another tweet, the Brexit Party’s Duce Faragissimo had praised Viktor Orban’s Hungary for standing up to the globalists, and wished we all did the same. He also talked about anti-Brexit plots backed by George Soros, including the campaign for a second referendum. Rants against the globalists featured regularly in his tweets. In one, he declared that we were all sick of threats from the globalists. This followed a statement that London was the world’s no. 1 financial centre, and Frankfurt only the 11th. We were, he also announced, heading toward a world where the democratic nation state had made a comeback against the globalists. Former US president Barack Obama, and Chancellor Merkel of Germany were ‘holding a losing party’ for the globalists. And then there was this series of comments about Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs and big business lost the referendum … Congratulations to former EU Commission President [José Manuel Barroso], now over at Goldman Sachs. Global corporatism! … If Goldman Sachs are leaving London for the US, why aren’t they going to their beloved European Union? … Goldman Sachs Chairman thinks those who want border controls are ‘xenophobic’. Badly out of touch”.

The Street noted that these snippets showed the Fuhrage being promoted by the Beeb, Sky News and the Heil. By doing so, they were also promoting anti-Semitism. The Street concluded

Serious anti-Semitism always comes from the far right. Nigel Farage is living proof of that.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/nigel-farage-theres-real-anti-semitism.html

Farage’s rants and denunciations of the globalists, Goldman Sachs and George Soros are the latest forms of the anti-Semitic fears about Jewish bankers that first appeared in the Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They also have their roots in some of the conspiracy theories that emerged in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission. Many leading bankers, like Bernard Baruch, had backed the formation of the United Nations, Trilateral Commission and the elite Bilderberg group, which meets annually to discuss global politics. Thus the UN and the other organisations were seen as devices by which Jewish bankers sought world domination, culminating in a one-world dictatorship, the enslavement of gentiles and the extermination of the White race. Not all versions of this theory are necessarily quite so anti-Semitic. Some of them distinguish between Jewish bankers and the rest of the Jewish people, noting that some of the former, like the Rothschilds, advanced credit and loans to Nazi Germany even when the Nazis were persecuting the Jews. Other forms of the theory are more bonkers still. In one of them, the Trilateral Commission takes its name from the Trilateral ensign, the flag of the Grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli, with whom the US has made a Faustian pact. The aliens are allowed to abduct and experiment on humans in return for providing extraterrestrial technology like velcro.

I wouldn’t like to say that Farage is definitely an anti-Semite, but his rhetoric and beliefs about evil globalists comprising banks like Goldman Sachs and the Jewish financier George Soros are certainly part of a series of conspiracy theories, some of which are viciously anti-Semitic.

The Board is right to denounce Farage for spouting these theories. However, this hasn’t changed my mind about the Board as a whole. Most of its accusations of anti-Semitism, along with those of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbinate and their allies in the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, have been directed against Labour, its former leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, and Corbyn’s followers. They have done so not out of concern about real anti-Semitism, but from a determination to defend Israel and its barbarous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from criticism. At the same time the Board denounced the Fuhrage yesterday, it was also attacking Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, for demanding the government impose a block on the import of goods manufactured in the Occupied Territories if Israel begins its planned annexation of a third of the West Bank tomorrow.

It looks to me that the Board’s accusation of Farage for anti-Semitism is intended to soothe its left-wing critics by showing them that it doesn’t just attack the Labour Party. It really does attack other parties for anti-Semitism, really. But this doesn’t change the fact that the Board seems packed with Tories and Tory supporters. And it doesn’t change the fact that Board’s chief motivation for its attacks on the Labour Party is simply an attempt to excuse the inexcusable and defend entirely reasonable and proper criticism of Israel.

The Board is right to accuse Farage. But its accusations against the Labour Party are still wrong and politically motivated.

 

 

Trailer for Movie of HP Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour out of Space’

November 8, 2019

I found this trailer for a forthcoming movie version of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, The Colour out of Space, over on YouTube. It stars Nicholas Cage and is directed by Richard Stanley.

Lovecraft was a master of cosmic horror, and the creator of the Cthulu mythos about malign, alien gods that seeped down from the stars untold aeons ago. Although they were banished from Earth by the ancient Elder Races, they are constantly seeking ways back. And when the stars are right, and the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from the deep, Cthulhu, the bat-winged, octopus-headed god will rule over a mankind reveling and killing. And in untold aeons even death may die.

The trailer says it marks the return of Stanley to directing. This is welcome news. He made an excellent film about a berserk robot going on the rampage in a decaying future, Hardware, back in 1989.  2000AD sued and won for plagiarism, as the film’s plot appeared to be stolen from a short story from comic, ‘Shocc!’, drawn by the master of macabre art, Kevin O’Neill. This was about an explorer, who finds a war robot and gives it to his girlfriend. It then comes back to life, and goes on the rampage. The film has cameos with Lemmy, a member of the Goth band The Mission, and Iggy Pop as the DJ, Angry Bob, and the soundtrack includes Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, The Mission’s ‘Power’ and Pil’s ‘Order of Death’. There’s a reference to the earlier film in the trailer. A shot of the family’s kitchen shows a framed Biblical quotation, ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This was also used in Hardware to explain the B.A.A.L. robot’s genocidal mission to exterminate all humanity.

Stanley disappeared from directing movies, although he continued to make documentaries and pop videos, after the debacle of a version of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Stanley originally intended it to be a relatively low budget film, but the studio wanted a big star. Stanley chose Marlon Brando. Big mistake. Once in the movie, Brando proceeded to do his best to wreck it through bizarre demands and massively arrogant behaviour. There was a documentary made about this whole shambles a few years ago. One of the actresses provided an example of Brando’s weird, cavalier attitude to the film. She went to him to ask the great Hollywood star for acting tips. He told her to carry on doing whatever she liked, because it didn’t matter as the film would be shut down in three weeks anyway. He also asked a member of the production crew if they should ‘f**k with’ one of the producers. When the man asked why, as the producer was a good guy, Brando made a very lame excuse. It’s pretty clear from this that Brando didn’t have any respect for the film. With costs and time overrunning, Stanley was sacked, and a veteran Hollywood director brought in instead to salvage something from the mess. The result apparently is a competent film, but it’s not the really amazing movie that would have appeared if Stanley had been able to complete it according to his vision.

It’s a pity that there was that plagiarism case between 2000AD and Stanley over Hardware. 2000AD want to produce films based on their characters. Two films have been made of ‘Judge Dredd’, but both have performed less than expected at the box office. The most recent, 2012’s Dredd, starring Karl Urban, was a critical success. There’s too much enmity there, but I’d say that if anyone could direct a great movie based on 2000AD’s cast of heroes, Stanley is the man for the job.

Looking at the trailer for the movie, it seems to have rejected Lovecraft’s original plot for the Hollywood cliche of a happy American family that moves into a rural area, only to find something sinister and threatening. It’s a long time since I read the original story, but I don’t think it’s the one Lovecraft wrote. Still, it looks like it could be a really good film, even if it is somewhat less than faithful to Lovecraft.

And to show everyone what Stanley’s Hardware was like, here’s a video for Pil’s ‘Order of Death’ using clips from the film from Hert Zollner’s channel on YouTube.

Enjoy!

Prof Simon on the Technology of Blade Runner that Exists Today

November 7, 2019

This is another fascinating video from Professor Simon Holland. As I said in an earlier blog piece, November 2019 is the date Ridley Scott’s SF classic Blade Runner is set, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Prof Simon here examines some of the technology that has now been developed, which is similar to that of the movie. This includes robots, flying cars and ‘a polaroid which allows you to see round corners’.

He begins with robots, stating that most of them have been developed by the pornography industry. These are the Real Dolls, androids which have been designed to look like real women. There’s a few photographs of these, shown with their owners or manufacturers. Mercifully, both have their clothes on. But some have also been developed by the military, and these, Prof Simon says, comparing them to Blade Runner’s replicants, are scarier. The robots shown at this point are the humanoid – roughly – and quadrupedal machines developed by the American firm, Boston Dynamics. A gun-toting humanoid robot shows its shooting skills in a range out in the deserts. Despite being repeatedly struck and pushed over by a man with a hockey stick, the robot manages to hit its target. When the pistol it’s using runs out of ammo, they throw it a rifle, which it catches with both hands and then proceeds to use. Another humanoid robot is shown carefully walking along a stony path simulating rough terrain, while one is also shown trying to pick up a box while another man with a hockey stick knocks the box away and tries to knock the robot over.  The quadrupedal robots include the Big Dog machine and related robots, which got their name because they look somewhat like headless mechanical dogs. Big Dog was designed for carrying equipment, and one is shown with four saddlebags walking around trying not to be forced over. Two lines of similar machines are shown pulling a truck.

The ‘polaroid that sees round corners’ is also shown, and it appears to be a mobile app. He also shows photographs of a number of flying cars that have been developed. As for the taxis on demand that appear in the movie, he quips that he’ll just call Uber.

But he also raises the important point about why our expectations of the future are inaccurate. He argues that it’s because we’ve forgotten how very different the world was back in the 1960s when the book was written. This is shown through another set of photographs of the fashion of the period, though I think they come more from the 1970s. Certain the pic of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from Saturday Night Fever does. He goes on to point out how we have technology that was unknown when he was growing up – computers are everywhere and cursive handwriting a thing of the past. We evolve into the future, rather than making quantum leaps into it. He also cheerfully observes that he shares a Blade Runner obsession with his younger, near-lookalike, Adam Savage.

At the end of the video he examines an interesting photo he’s been sent by a viewer. This is a photo of the Earth from space, with a mark that looks like a UFO. But it isn’t. Unlike today’s digital cameras, those used by the astronauts used photosensitive film, which could get marked and spoiled by dust. This is what’s happened to the photo here.

Prof Simon is a genial, entertaining host, and it’s fascinating that some of the technology featured in Blade Runner is being developed. Scientists and engineers have been working on the flying cars since the 1990s, and one of the tech firms has said that they intend to put them into service as flying taxis next year. This seems unlikely. Critics have pointed out that the noise generated by their engines would be colossal, making their use very unpopular. Living in a city in which they were in general operation would be like living in an airport. The SF artist and book illustrator, Jim Burns, also comments on one of his paintings, which show such cars in use, that there are prohibitive safety aspects. What about accidents? Nobody would like to be around when it starts raining bits of aircar and body parts.

The robots we’ve developed are different from Blade Runner’s replicants, which are artificial, genetically engineered creatures, and therefore biological rather than simply technological. We’re nowhere near creating anything that complex. The military robots instead remind me of the machines from Robocop and the ABC Warrior from the ’90s movie, Judge Dredd, in which Megacity 1’s toughest lawman was played by Sylvester Stallone, as well as the robots in Chappie, which came out a few years ago. Despite the very impressive sophistication of these machines, however, they mercifully aren’t as intelligent as humans. This means we don’t have to worry about the world of 2000 AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’ or the Terminator movies becoming reality quite yet. But even so, watching these machines walk, move and shoot is disturbing, demonstrating their lethal potential and efficiency as fighting machines. Looking at them, I think the fears many scientists and members of the lay public have about them as a potential threat to the human race are justified.

Nigel Farage Reveals Contempt for Royal Family to Ozzie Tories

August 13, 2019

Yesterday, the Groaniad reported that Nigel Farage had made some unpleasant, and quite possibly impolitic, comments about the royal family atthe Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney. The Brexit party’s fuhrer spared the Queen his sneers, but went on to attack Prince Harry and Megan Markle for their ‘irrelevant’ social justice and environmental concerns, called the late Queen Mother a ‘slightly overweight gin drinker’. He then went on to say that he hoped the Queen would continue to live a long time to stop ‘Charlie boy’, as he called Prince Charles, becoming king, and that William would live forever to stop Harry ascending the throne. He also bewailed how Megan Markle changed Harry’s laddish behaviour. According to today’s I, page 9, the Fuhrage said

Terrifying! Here was Harry, here he was this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all kinds of mayhem. And now he’s met Megan Markle and it’s fallen off a cliff.

The I explained that when Fuhrage referred to him as being ‘inappropriately dressed’ at stag parties, he meant the time when Harry turned up at one dressed in Nazi uniform. According to the I, a spokesman for the man ‘Judge Dredd’ satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ claimed that the Groaniad had taken his comments out of context. But as Mike says in his article about this, it’s irrelevant whether Farage meant what he said or not. He was telling his right-wing audience what they wanted to hear: that he was their friend.

He was raising money from rich foreigners again.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/12/what-he-thinks-they-want-to-hear-farage-attacks-royals-in-speech-to-far-right-aussies/

Now I’m aware that some of the readers of this blog may well be republicans, who believe that the monarchy is a vestige of feudal privilege and that we would be better off with a proper democratic constitution and an elected presidency. I’m also aware that what Farage said at the conference would be unremarkable if it came from a member of the public or a journalist. A few years ago, before his career imploded due to plagiarism, Johan Hari wrote a very long article in either the Independent or Guardian attacking the royal family. A tranche of government material had been declassified and released to the national archives. These revealed that ministers and senior civil servants had been worried about Prince Charles writing letters to newspapers and various official bodies trying to influence government policy. He was, for example, very keen to stop the closure of the grammar schools. The officials found his interference a headache because the monarchy is supposed to be above politics. They are definitely not supposed to try to influence government policy.

The Tory press, including and especially the Heil, despise Charles. I can remember the Rothermere’s mighty organ claiming that that the Tories were discussing ways to ensure that the Crown passed directly from the Queen to William, completely bypassing Charles. The reason they cited for this was that Charles was too close to Laurens van der Post, the author of Testament to the Bushmen. Under van der Post’s influence, the Heil claimed, the future heir to the throne had become too New Age in his spiritual beliefs. He had indicated that he wanted to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ when he ascended the throne, an inclusive title to cover all religions, rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’, meaning exclusively Christianity. As he would be the head of the Church of England, this would create a constitutional crisis. I wonder if the real reason was that Charles appeared a bit too left-wing, especially in his concern for the unemployed. And Charles’ office also spoke out against the decision by John Major’s government to close down Britain’s mining industry.

Hari was also scathing about the Queen Mother. He claimed that she was certainly no democrat, complaining that it was ‘so unnatural’ when she was a young woman. Ministers were also upset at the government apparently having to spend £1 million a year keeping an office open for her so she could get the results at Ascot. Private Eye has also described her as ‘greedy’ and criticised Charles for hypocrisy over his views on architecture. Charles caused outrage a little while ago by describing modern buildings as ‘monstrous carbuncles’. But the Prince himself was also employing the same type of architects to design similar buildings. They also attacked him for the colossal overpricing of his organic honey.

Now we live in a democracy, where you are allowed to criticise the government and the monarchy. One where people do, often. But what makes Farage’s comments unwise is that they come from a ruthlessly ambitious politician. Attacks on the royal family are bound to be controversial because they still have a central role in the country’s constitution. The Queen is the head of state, and the royal family act as this country’s ambassadors. They also have a politically unifying role. Some people may find it easier to respect a head of state like the Queen, who is above party politics. To many people the royal family also embody British history and tradition, and they are still regarded with respect by millions of British and commonwealth citizens. I dare say this is particularly true of Conservatives. I’ve a Conservative friend, who hates the Scum because, in his view, it has done nothing but run down the royal family. And looking at the wretched rag, I can’t say he’s wrong either. Nor is it alone – all of the papers run stories trying to create some controversy about the royal family. The latest of these are about Markle, and how she is apparently throwing her weight around and causing some kind of feud with the rest of the royals.

Farage’s piece of lese majeste Down Under is controversial and offensive because it comes from a politician, who clearly hopes one day to serve in government. If he did, it would surely create tensions between him and the Crown. It’s also impolitic, as even though the culture of deference is supposed to have gone, the constitutional importance of the monarchy means that any criticisms politicians have of the royal family or differences of opinion between them should be settled discreetly. Farage has shown himself to be incapable of maintaining a tactful silence on the matter.

Of course, what Farage really hates about Harry and Megan, along with Conservative rags like the Spectator, is that Harry has dared to be environmentally concerned, like his father. He’s also fallen behind Markle’s feminism, so obviously they despise him for that. And there’s also a nasty tone of racism there was well. They certainly wouldn’t have objected if he’d married a White American. But instead he married a woman of colour. Farage’s apparent view that Harry dressing up as a Nazi officer was just natural masculine hi-jinks shows just how seriously he takes the issue and the offence it caused. I’ve no problem with comedies spoofing the Nazis, like Mel Brooks’ The Producers or the BBC’s ‘Allo, ‘Allo. But the Nazis themselves were far from a joke, and people are quite right to be angry at those who think dressing up as them is a jolly jape. But Farage and his audience obviously don’t. Quite possibly the Conservatives he addressed are still pining for a White Australia policy. But in their environmentalism and their social concerns, Harry and Megan, as Mike says, are just showing themselves to be a modern couple. The monarchy also has to move with the times, whatever reactionaries like Farage like to think.

Farage’s comments aren’t just disrespectful to the royal family, they also show how he places his own political ambitions above them as an institution as well as showing his contempt for the genuinely liberal attitudes Harry and Megan have espoused. I hope they lose him votes with that part of the Conservative-voting public, who still revere the her Maj and the other royals above the sneers of press and media. 

 

Zarjaz! Rebellion to Open Studio for 2000AD Films

November 26, 2018

Here’s a piece of good news for the Squaxx dek Thargo, the Friends of Tharg, editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. According to today’s I, 26th November 2018, Rebellion, the comic’s current owners, have bought a film studio and plan to make movies based on 2000AD characters. The article, on page 2, says

A disused printing factory in Oxfordshire is to be converted into a major film studio. The site in Didcot has been purchased by Judge Dredd publisher Rebellion to film adaptations from its 2000 AD comic strips. The media company based in Oxford hopes to create 500 jobs and attract outside contractors.

Judge Dredd, the toughest lawman of the dystopian nightmare of Megacity 1, has been filmed twice, once as Judge Dredd in the 1990s, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, and then six years ago in 2012, as Dredd, with Karl Urban in the starring role. The Stallone version was a flop and widely criticized. The Dredd film was acclaimed by fans and critics, but still didn’t do very well. Two possible reasons are that Dredd is very much a British take on the weird absurdities of American culture, and so doesn’t appeal very much to an American audience. The other problem is that Dredd is very much an ambiguous hero. He’s very much a comment on Fascism, and was initially suggested by co-creator Pat Mills as a satire of American Fascistic policing. The strip has a very strong satirical element, but nevertheless it means that the reader is expected to identify at least partly with a Fascist, though recognizing just how dreadful Megacity 1 and its justice system is. It nevertheless requires some intellectual tight rope walking, though it’s one that Dredd fans have shown themselves more than capable of doing. Except some of the really hardcore fans, who see Dredd as a role model. In interviews Mills has wondered where these people live. Did they have their own weird chapterhouse somewhere?

Other 2000AD strips that looked like they were going to make the transition from the printed page to the screen, albeit the small one of television, were Strontium Dog and Dan Dare. Dare, of course, was the Pilot of Future, created by Marcus Morris for the Eagle, and superbly drawn by Franks Hampson and Bellamy. He was revived for 2000 AD when it was launched in the 1970s, where he was intended to be the lead strip before losing this to Dredd. The strip was then revived again for the Eagle, when this was relaunched in the 1980s. As I remember, Edward Norton was to star as Dare.

Strontium Dog came from 2000 AD’s companion SF comic, StarLord, and was the tale of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter, his norm partner, the Viking Wulf, and the Gronk, a cowardly alien that suffered from a lisp and a serious heart condition, but who could eat metal. It was set in a future, where the Earth had been devastated by a nuclear war. Mutants were a barely tolerated minority, forced to live in ghettos after rising in rebellion against an extermination campaign against them by Alpha’s bigoted father, Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Alpha and his fellow muties worked as bounty hunters, the only job they could legally do, hunting down the galaxy’s crims and villains.

Back in the 1990s the comic’s then publishers tried to negotiate a series of deals with Hollywood for the translation on their heroes on to the big screen. These were largely unsuccessful, and intensely controversial. In one deal, the rights for one character was sold for only a pound, over the heads of the creators. They weren’t consulted, and naturally felt very angry and bitter about the deal.

This time, it all looks a lot more optimistic. I’d like to see more 2000 AD characters come to life, on either the big screen or TV. Apart from Dredd, it’d good to see Strontium Dog and Dare be realized for screen at last. Other strips I think should be adapted are Slaine, the ABC Warriors and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Slaine, a Celtic warrior strip set in the period before rising sea levels separated Britain, Ireland and Europe, and based on Celtic myths, legends and folklore, is very much set in Britain and Ireland. It could therefore be filmed using some of the megalithic remains, hillforts and ancient barrows as locations, in both the UK and Eire. The ABC Warriors, robotic soldiers fighting injustice, as well as the Volgan Republic, on Earth and Mars, would possibly be a little more difficult to make. It would require both CGI and robotics engineers to create the Warriors. But nevertheless, it could be done. There was a very good recreation of an ABC Warrior in the 1990s Judge Dredd movie, although this didn’t do much more than run amok killing the judges. It was a genuine machine, however, rather than either a man in a costume or animation, either with a model or by computer graphics. And the 1980s SF movie Hardware, which ripped off the ‘Shock!’ tale from 2000AD, showed that it was possible to create a very convincing robot character on a low budget.

The Ballad of Halo Jones might be more problematic, but for different reasons. The strip told the story of a young woman, who managed to escape the floating slum of an ocean colony to go to New York. She then signed on as a waitress aboard a space liner, before joining the army to fight in a galactic war. It was one of the comic’s favourite strips in the 1980s, and for some of its male readers it was their first exposure to something with a feminist message. According to Neil Gaiman, the strip’s creator, Alan Moore, had Jones’ whole life plotted out, but the story ended with Jones’ killing of the Terran leader, General Cannibal, on the high-gravity planet Moab. There was a dispute over the ownership of the strip and pay between Moore and IPC. Moore felt he was treated badly by the comics company, and left for DC, never to return to 2000 AD’s pages. Halo Jones was turned into a stage play by one of the northern theatres, and I don’t doubt that even after a space of thirty years after she first appeared, Jones would still be very popular. But for it to be properly adapted for film or television, it would have to be done involving the character’s creators, Moore and Ian Gibson. Just as the cinematic treatment of the other characters should involve their creators. And this might be difficult, given that Moore understandably feels cheated of the ownership of his characters after the film treatments of Watchmen and V For Vendetta.

I hope that there will be no problems getting the other 2000 AD creators on board, and that we can soon look forward to some of the comics many great strips finally getting on to the big screen.

Splundig vur thrig, as the Mighty One would say.

The BDJ’s Attempted Accusation of Anti-Semitism in Pat Mills’ ‘Crisis’

April 3, 2018

Pat Mills is the creator of 2000 AD, the Galaxy’s greatest comic, and the co-creator of many of the favourite characters in modern British comics, like Judge Dredd and Slaine, as well as the creator of the anti-war comic strip, Charley’s War, in the British war comic, Battle. Crisis was an explicitly political strip Mills’ launched in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Its ‘Third World War’ strip tackled the politics of food and the exploitation of the Developing World. Mills was also not afraid to tackle other controversial subjects. He was contacted by Amnesty International to do a story about the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. He did, and inevitably the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained about anti-Semitism.

Mills is absolutely no kind of racist or anti-Semite, as you can tell by reading his strips. Many of them tackled racism and bigotry. The mutant heroes of Strontium Dog, for example, were forbidden by law to pursue any other job except bounty hunter, and were kept isolated from the non-mutated rest of humanity in ghettoes. And under the dictator Nelson Bunker Kreelman, there was an organised campaign by the British authorities to wipe them out. The Nemesis the Warlock strip was also a metaphorical treatment of racial and religious persecution. The villain of this strip, Torquemada, named after the head of the Spanish Inquisition, was the grand master of a feudal order thousands of years in Earth’s future, who were dedicated to exterminating all intelligent alien life. The treatment of the issues were metaphorical, but they had their basis in their bigotry and intolerance that has marred human history.

Mills describes the incident on page 155 of his book Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History:

There were many more ordinary hero stories I would have loved to have produced. Eventually, Amnesty commissioned me to write an Amnesty issue of Crisis. And there were also plans for me [to] do something with Campaign Against Arms Trade. For Amnesty, I wrote about the death penalty in South Africa and Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip. Both were illustrated by Sean Phillips. One Palestinian kid was so beaten up by the Israeli forces, Sean showed him lying there with his legs and arms a twisted angles.

When it appeared, the watchdog organisation, the Jewish Board of Deputies, complained to Robert Maxwell that this kid’s limbs were in the shape of a swastika. No concern about the kid himself. Or no interest in the story: a damning indictment of the brutality of the Israeli forces. It was like the Board were looking at faces in the fire and seeing what they wanted to see. But they couldn’t try their usual anti-Semitic allegations, which often successfully shuts us all up, because the three key organisers on the project were Jewish. Sara Selwood, Dan Green and Igor Goldkind. They couldn’t all be dismissed as self-haters. Surprisingly, Robert Maxwell, of all people, and hardly a self-hater either, told the Board to get lost. I can get behind his response.

This is the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is now backing the fake anti-Semitism smears against Corbyn, and which, along with the Jewish Labour Movement, is now moaning about how he’s not really serious about tackling anti-Semitism. Because instead of meeting them, he went off to spend a Passover seder with Jewdas, a left-wing Jewish religious group instead. Which to me shows how pompous and arrogant they are, in claiming that they alone speak for the British Jewish community, when there are many other Jewish groups like Jewdas, who have put their full support behind the Labour leader.

Mills also goes on to describe how he also tackled other controversial topics in the strip, such as the British suppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya. Drawn by John Hicklenton, one of the artists who drew Nemesis the Warlock, the strip was so horrifying that the staid printers threatened not to print it. ‘But’, writes Mills, ‘we got it through and I’m proud to have shed light on at least one aspect of our country’s evil colonial past.’ (pp.155-6).

This would have been very controversial when it appeared, especially as many of the documents were still classified until only a decade or so ago. The British army’s repression of the Mao Mao was indeed horrific, with internment, torture, mutilation and massacre. There’s a book about it, Africa’s Secret Gulags, and a few years ago a group of former Kenyan internees won a court case against the British government for what they had suffered at the hands of the army. This is one of a number of areas where comics in the 1980s did tackle contemporary politics, and stood up for the poor, marginalised and oppressed in Thatcher’s Britain.

I’m not sure Mills would have been so lucky with the strip on Palestine today, though. As we’ve seen, the Israel Lobby now has absolutely no qualms about smearing whole masses of decent, self-respecting Jews as self-hating anti-Semites, as well as respectable, sincerely anti-racist non-Jews. This is utterly despicable, and it’s disgraceful that the Board should be a willing party to such foul libels.