Posts Tagged ‘Learning Difficulties’

Share and Enjoy! The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Predicted the Tutorbot

December 28, 2017

‘Share and enjoy’ is the company motto of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, a massive robotics conglomerate best known for its incompetence and shoddy workmanship in Douglas Adams’ Science Fiction classic, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The company and its products are so substandard, that its complaints division now occupies the major landmasses of three whole planets.

And while, according to Adams, the great Encyclopedia Galactica defined a robot as a machine designed to do the work of a man, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as ‘your plastic pal who’s fun to be with’.

And we’re coming closer to that reality every day. Yesterday and today, BBC 2 have been running a short documentary series, Six Robots and Us, in which six families and other groups of people take care of six robots designed to help them with their particular problems. One of these is Fitbot, a robotic fitness instructor, which was given to a group of people trying to get fit. In tonight’s episode, the people of a shop take custody of Shopbot, are robotic store worker, to see how they get on. And there are two children with learning difficulties, one of whom is autistic, who are given Tutorbot, to see if it can help them overcome their difficulties at school.

Douglas Adams predicted something very similar in the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy way back in the ’70s-80s. In the second series of the radio version of Hitch-Hiker, there’s a device called an autoteach, a kind of computer teacher. It gives the student facts, and then starts asking questions to get the student to think through the issues. If the student gets an answer right, they get to press a button on the autoteach, which stimulates their pleasure centres. And at the end of the lesson, after the students has laughed and screamed with pleasure when they get the answers right, the autoteach asks them to press the other button. This give the autoteach itself a dose of pure pleasure, so that part of the story ends with the autoteach laughing like a maniac.

Ok, so Tutorbot, with its humanoid shape isn’t quite like that, and it doesn’t electronically stimulate the pleasure centres, mercifully. But the idea’s more or less the same: an intelligent machine to teach children.

As for the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy defined them as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks, who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’

I didn’t see all of yesterday’s edition, because I went to bed early due to this cold. The next programme is on tonight, 28th December 2017, at 8.30. Aside from the cold, what went through my mind while watching the programme was all the jokes in Hitch-Hiker about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

Here’s a clip from YouTube from the 80s TV version of Hitch-Hiker, where the Book talks about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation and robots.

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Vox Political: Report Recommends Commissioner to Protect People with Learning Difficulties

February 23, 2016

This is another fascinating piece from Vox Political. According to the Grauniad, Stephen Bubb, the author of a report on abuse of people with learning difficulties at a care home near Bristol, has recommended that a special commissioner should be appointed to protect them. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/appoint-individual-to-protect-rights-of-the-vulnerable-report-suggests/

It’s an interesting idea. The piece points out that there is already a children’s commissioner, following the horrific maltreatment and death of Victoria Climbie. Continuing the Classical theme from my last post about Boris Johnson, there’s a kind of precedent for all this in Ancient Greece. I can remember reading in one of the books at College that one of the Greek city states – probably Athens – had an ‘archon for women’ – effectively a ‘minister’, to investigate causes of complaint raised by them. This followed a women’s strike or strikes similar to the sex strike portrayed in Sophocles’ Lysistrata. There was, I believe, also radical working class Communist movements, which formed the basis for another ancient Greek play, The Ekkleziae. In the case of women, today that’s resulted in calls for greater representation of women in parliament and politics generally, but that simply wasn’t considered in the very patriarchal political environment of the ancient world.

It’s an interesting idea, but I honestly don’t know how effective such a commissioner would be, even if one could be set up. The Tories don’t like bureaucracy, and especially not when it deals with disadvantaged groups. Mike’s undoubtedly correct when he says that there’s little chance of such a commissioner being appointed under Cameron. I feel that if a commissioner were appointed, it would only be a cosmetic measure. The institutions within the civil service which are supposed to be the government in check seem to be all too willing to bow to their every whim. For example, Mike had to fight long and hard to get the DWP to concede that it had to release the figures of the number of people with disabilities, who had died after being found fit for work. The Department did so only exceedingly grudgingly, and the Information Commissioner at many points seemed very willing to accede to the government’s wishes, rather than get them to release the information. Privacy and civil liberties groups have also expressed alarm at the way the government watchdogs, which are supposed to protect us from the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the intrusive acquisition of personal data by the state, have done no such thing, or have made only the flimsiest of protests.

It’s a good idea, but I’m pessimistic about how it would work out. Even if Cameron appointed one in the first place. And I doubt he would. I think the home at the centre of the abuse scandal is privately run. Cameron definitely does not want anyone to take any action that might impugn the mighty efficacy of private enterprise. It’s why, after all, Nikki Morgan, the education minister, refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s question about how many privately run academies have had to be taken back into state management. The last thing Cameron and his crony capitalists want is another report stating that private enterprise doesn’t necessarily mean quality care, and the expansion of the powers of the state. The Tories are, after all, the party of Thatcher, and that’s what she hated the most. The frontiers of the state have to be rolled back, and who cares if the poor and the disabled are abused and victimised.

Vox Political: Tory MP’s Stupid Comments about Person with Learning Difficulties Sanctioned, Left to ‘Starve in the Dark’

February 7, 2016

Here’s another story from Vox Political that will make your blood boil, and astonish you with the sheer crass stupidity and insensitivity on the Conservative party. In his article, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/07/how-many-other-tories-share-starve-in-the-dark-mark-spencers-views/ Mike reports that Labour’s shadow civil society minister, Lisa Nandy, told the Commons during a debate on Wednesday about poverty in the UK, how one of her constituents was sanctioned after arriving only four minutes late for an interview at the Job Centre. The man has learning difficulties, and was left without food or electricity. Mark Spencer, one of the genuine morons elected to join the Tory madhouse, declared this would teach the man better time-keeping, and blamed the education system for not curing his ‘learning difficulties’. A political scientist from Manchester Uni, accused hims of leaving the poor to starve in the dark.

Sometimes I wonder where the Tories find these people. Four minutes is hardly terribly late, and certainly not enough to warrant leaving someone without their food or power, except in the warped view of the DWP, which is desperately trying to find any excuse to throw people off benefits. Moreover, as any fule kno, most ‘learning difficulties’ can’t be cured simply through education. The term frequently refers to people, who have some kind of mental handicap. They’re incurable, or require special assistance in order to help them function in society. Like all the mentally handicapped people, who were educated in special schools, and are employed under particular schemes designed to give them work.

Spencer undoubtedly believes he’s just a bluff, straight-talking bloke, who simply says what things are. In other words, he’s the type of right-wing windbag you can find in many bars, sounding off about things they really don’t understand with all the confidence and self-assurance of the complacently ignorant. The Tories have been particularly successful in attracting any number of these ignorant so-and-sos to their ranks. Remember Matthew Freud, formerly a member of New Labour, and before then a lawyer for the Dirty Digger’s squalid empire, who declared that ‘the poor should be more flexible than the rich, because they have less to lose’. Or the Tory grandee, who described the homeless as ‘the people you step over leaving the opera’. And I don’t doubt there’s more. Many, many more. Mike even asks in his article how many share Spencer’s repulsive views. The answer is ‘quite a few, I should think.’

Once upon a time, Tory backbench MPs used to cause a scandal making racist comments about Blacks and Asians. They’ve clearly been told to shut up about race by Cameron, so they can no longer try and ‘outnigger’ each other, in the slang of the American Deep South for such politicised racist rhetoric. But the disabled and poor are still fair game. Last week I posted up a piece on the term ‘outnigger’, and wondered what the equivalent for the expression of competitive political contempt for the disabled would be. Florence, one of the commenters here, suggested ‘outmengle’. From Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor. Well, it describes Spencer. He definitely has tried to ‘outmengle’ his rivals. He has both expressed his contempt for the weak, and the Social Darwinist ideal that they should have nothing done for them and be left to starve. We can definitely say that Florence’s neologism applies to him. And you can bet he isn’t the only one. Expect more outmengling of the physically and mentally handicapped as parliament goes on and the loudmouths get bolder.

Cecil Parkinson Dead at 84

January 26, 2016

Scarfe Parkinson

Gerald Scarfe’s bilious view of Parkinson: All matinee idol looks and smarmed down hair.

Mike yesterday also reported yesterday the death of the Tory politician, Cecil Parkinson, at the age of 84: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/25/former-tory-minister-cecil-parkinson-dies-aged-84/. Parkinson was a member of Thatcher’s cabinet and was being groomed to be her successor, when the news broke of his affair with Sara Keays, by whom he had a daughter, Flora. Mike states that this was his first exposure to political sleaze. Mike’s disgusted by Parkinson’s treatment of his lovechild, who has Asperger’s and learning difficulties. Parkinson has supported the child financially, but never met her, to the girl’s distress. Mike states that its because of this callous treatment of his handicapped daughter, that he has nothing good to say about the former politico.

Mike’s right, and the more you know about it, the more disgusted you are with Parkinson’s behaviour. Parkinson was in Private Eye on and off for years in the 1990s because of his treatment of his former lover and their daughter. He was extremely reluctant to pay Keays sufficient maintenance to support them both, and, from what I recall, imposed some kind of weird gagging order on her. I’m afraid it’s so long since I looked at the articles, that I can’t remember the details, but the Eye reported that this had the effect of making Keays unable to claim some of the welfare benefits or financial relief she needed. At one point I think she and her daughter were facing losing their home.

This was the grim reality facing Keays later on. At the time the scandal was regarded as a huge joke. Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the antidote to panel games, had this little song about the affair:

John Selwyn Gummer is a name warm and dear,
Isn’t it a pity,
Cecil Parkinson wasn’t a trifle queer.

This caddish behaviour didn’t stop Parkinson from staging something of comeback. He appeared on Have I Got News For You a decade or so ago on television. Ian Hislop said that he charmed all of them. This is surprising, given the way the magazine uncovered and described his lover’s ill-treatment. As for his general demeanour, I don’t think many women shared this opinion of him. My mother and her friends agreed that he looked the kind of man they would not like to be caught behind the back of the filing cabinets with.

Clearly, he was not a man who valued marital fidelity, and his persecution and neglect of Keays seems mean-spirited and spiteful, at the very least. He probably wasn’t the worst, but he certainly did personify to an extent the personal sleaze and corruption of the Tory front bench.

In Private Eye this Fortnight: A4E Using Untrained Advisers Working with the Disabled

January 7, 2015

In the ‘In the Back’ section of this fortnight’s Private Eye, 9th-22nd January 2015, is the piece ‘Welfare Gap’. This reports the claims made by a former employee and whistleblower, Chris Loder, at an employment tribunal in Manchester, that the ‘welfare to work’ provider is using untrained or inexperienced personnel to deal with claimants with a variety of mental and emotional problems, such as the mentally ill, those with learning difficulties and people who are drug or alcohol dependent. According to Loder, he was recruited by A4E to work helping unemployed people find jobs in 2012. In February 2014, the Blackpool office started using untrained advisers to deal with clients with the above problems.

The article quotes Jessica Pilling, a former ministerial adviser with 14 years’ experience of working with the disabled, stating her concerns about the companies’ policy. She says, ‘The approach that you take with somebody with mental health problems when coaching them into work is not the same as someone without, and it’s incredibly dangerous to think it is’.

A4E, as might be expected, deny the charge, stating that its staff complete ‘safeguarding training’ and ‘have access to a dedicated safeguarding team’. It also claims to work with specialist partners so that customers are given extra individual support according to their personal needs.

I have to say, I’m highly sceptical of A4E’s claims. As many left-wing bloggers like Tom Pride and Johnny Void have pointed out, so much of the welfare to work strategy pursued by ATOS and now Maximus is basically pseudo-scientific, self-help woo. It’s stuff concocted by the type of alleged experts, who fill the government’s Nudge Unit, largely drawn from the rubbish now filling the self-help shelves of booksellers like Waterstones. It’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Not that this will deter the coalition, who are little more than hucksters ready to peddle any old rubbish, so long as they make a massive profit out of it.