Posts Tagged ‘Top Gear’

The Young Turks on Pizza Delivery Drivers Being Replaced by Driverless Cars

September 3, 2017

This is probably going to be the reality behind the driverless cars the car industry and the media have been hyping. In this short clip from The Young Turks, the hosts Ana Kasparian and Brett Ehrlich report and comment on the story that Domino’s Pizzas are planning to replace their pizza delivery people with driverless cars.

It’s only a trial run at the moment. They intend to go through their customers at random, and ask them if they’re happy with their pizza delivered by a driverless car instead. The vehicle will take a maximum of four pizzas to them. To get their orders, the customers will have to punch in a code into a keypad on the car.

After a bit of silly banter about the number of pizzas people usually order, they get down to discussing what this really represents. Kasparian says that when they usually talk about American jobs being lost, they’re usually reporting on corporate outsourcing. But automation is the other way in which people are losing their jobs in America. Kasparian she states that she isn’t against technological innovation, but points out that not only are people going to lose their jobs as pizza delivery staff, but they’re also going to lose an opportunity to acquire useful skills to succeed in a very competitive jobs market. She also states that we also need to give young people proper, affordable college education as well.

Domino’s has released a statement saying that they have at the moment 100,000 pizza delivery people. They hope that when this comes in, they will be able to find other positions within the company. The Turks end by saying that they hope so too.

To be fair, the BBC has carried news and documentary programmes, which forecast that in the coming decades, 1/3 of all retail jobs will be lost to automation. Nevertheless, whenever you see driverless cars appear, the overwhelming message is one of boundless enthusiasm, with the presenters raving about the technology. Clarkson went on a driverless truck on Top Gear, and went almost berserk with excitement when it started to make its way without human guidance.

Driverless trucks are due to be trialed on roads in Britain, according to a report in the I newspaper. They’re going to be tested in groups of three. I talked about this technology and its threats to jobs with a friend a little while ago. He told me that there are about 40,000 truckers in Britain, so that’s 40,000 people, who stand to lose their jobs.

Counterpunch has run an article on this, stating that there’s no desire for the cars from ordinary people. They’re being hyped and pushed by the insurance companies, who hope that their appearance and promotion as being safer than human driving will allow them to put up their premiums for people, who won’t use them.

What also struck me was how cold, lonely and impersonal the future represented by this type of automation is. In much SF depictions of an automated future, the machines performing human jobs also have something like human cognitive abilities and personalities. Long term 2000 AD readers will remember Dredd’s little robotic companion, Walter the Wobot. The character had a lisp and was a gentle soul, providing a contrast with the brutal machismo of Mega City 1’s toughest lawman. Or the robots in the Robohunter strip. These were extremely strong characters with all the traits, foibles and psychological failings of the human creators, including stupidity, thuggishness and all-round criminality. Like the God-Droid, the automatated underworld boss, a machine version of Marlon Brando with a sign stamped across its stomach reading ‘Omerta’, or the incendiary temperament of Molotov, the automatic cocktail-shaker and head of the Amalgamated Androids’ Union, who lectures Spade on the evils of human exploitation. Or Ro-Jaws, a chirpy, bolshie, foul-mouthed sewer droid, and his more dignified mate, the war-robot Hammerstein, and the moronic and sadistic Mek-Quake, the main characters in the Robusters strip, and its spin-off, ABC Warriors.

These fictional machines all had real, authentic characters. They had minds and characters like human beings, even if their bodies and brains were of metal and plastic. And so the strips’ writers could use them to make serious satirical points amidst the cartoon violence and mayhem. From the first, the ABC Warriors strip included a bitter commentary on the horrors of war, and the way soldiers lives were sacrificed by an officer and political class insulated from the actual fighting. The fact that robots were machines, with no rights, also allowed 2000 AD to explore real issues like slavery, racism, and institutionalized discrimination with deliberate, and sometimes very obvious parallels to the experience of Black Americans before Civil Rights.

But the real machines taking our jobs won’t even have personalities, friendly or otherwise, with which we will interact. Admittedly, there isn’t much social interaction with the mail and other delivery people, who turn up at our doors. The conversation is naturally very limited. But with these machines, we won’t even have that. Just a car turning up, following by the customer trudging out to punch in a code to open the doors.

Silent, efficient, and coldly impersonal.

And this is going to make the atomization and despair of contemporary western, and particularly American society, much worse. I’ve also come across a series of videos Chris Hedges has also made, in which he talks about the new American Fascism, and specifically the Religious Right. I think Hedges is probably an atheist, from some of the things he has said about the religious right promoting magical thinking. But he has a divinity degree, his father was a politically radical Presbyterian clergyman, his mother was also a divinity student, and so Hedges doesn’t hate religion or regard the antics of the religious right and the frauds and bigots leading it as normal. Indeed, he is at pains to show that, for all that they scream that they represent traditional values, they don’t. He states in one video that they’re as far from traditional Christian religious doctrine and practice as the religious liberals they despise.

One of the points he makes in these videos is that these bigots have been assisted in their rise to power by the social atomization of modern American society. In places like LA there are no pavements, so people can’t walk down the street. You have to drive. And so people drive straight to work, and then straight home. They don’t really meet or interact with anyone else. And the religious right has exploited this atomization, this alienation, by offering people a community in the ideologically enclosed space of their megachurches. And the people they target are those who have suffered from the attacks of neoliberalism – people in the rustbelt, who have seen their jobs decline and their communities fall into poverty along with them.

Other observers of the American Right have said the same. One of the essays in the book attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservativism, states that these b*stards are able to get away with promoting bigotry and racism, because of the decline in genuine, working class communities. The jobs are going, and White flight has meant that Whites have moved out of racially mixed areas in the centres of town to the suburbs. Community centres have also closed, and the attack on trade unions has also destroyed this pillar of working class community. The result is that the individual is left isolated from both people of other ethnic groups, and similar people to him- or herself. He or she goes to work and comes home. This isolation leaves them vulnerable to the vile propaganda spewed at them by bigots like Jerry Falwell and the rest of the rightwing televangelists that were thrown up by the 1980s.

This atomization and alienation is one of the fundamental characteristics of totalitarian societies of the Left and Right. In the Soviet Union, society was arranged so that people were deliberately isolated from each other. The only way of keeping in contact and forming communities and relationships, at least officially, was through the party organisations. Ditto with the Third Reich. Hitler boasted that they would never leave the individual alone, not even in a poker club.

And the driverless cars also remind me of another dystopian vision of the future, that of Ray Bradbury’s The Pedestrian. This is a tale by one of the great masters of SF, in which a man walking late at night is stopped and picked up by a police car. The car’s not crewed. It’s entirely automatic. Bradbury describes the computer punchcards being processed as the machine thinks. The machine asks the man why he’s on the streets so late at night. He replies simply that he just wanted to take a walk.

Already there are places in some American cities, where you can’t walk. Mike found this out a few years ago when he visited friends in California. You had to drive everywhere, even down to the local stores. Which means that the cold future of The Pedestrian really ain’t that far away.

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Satire: Who Else Should Replace Clarkson on Top Gear?

March 11, 2015

I also spotted this on the SlatUKIP Facebook page. Now that Jeremy Clarkson has once again managed to get himself into serious trouble at Top Gear, the people at the B3tasite have their own suggestion for the one man who’s sufficiently right-wing and bonkers to replace him.

UKIPgear

A Russian Joke about Jeremy Clarkson

December 6, 2014

Earlier this evening, in my post about Mike’s article asking that we all look out for and care for those, who will be alone, disabled, depressed and vulnerable this Christmas, I told an old Russian joke about the propagandistic nature of the Soviet press. The joke’s a pun on the names of the two major Soviet papers, Izvestia, ‘News’, and Pravda, ‘Truth’. The joke ran, ‘There’s no truth in the ‘News’, and no news in the ‘Truth”. I remarked that the situation was actually reversing, and that despite the considerable restrictions on the press in Putin’s Russia, the Russian press seemed to want to present a far more objective picture of the suffering of Britain’s poor than our own, supposedly unbiased, ‘free’ press.

Well, Communism has fallen, but Russian journalists were swift to point out that, at least when it came to the road infrastructure, capitalism still suffered from glaring contradictions as per Marxist ideology. The Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, succinctly summarised this with a joke about Jeremy Clarkson.

Apart from being the celebrity motoring journalist with Top Gear here in Britain, Clarkson is also a Right-wing media pundit, issuing diatribes and tirades on TV and in his newspaper column against environmentalists, Guardian ‘yoghurt knitters’, political correctness and foreigners. All the usual targets of Right-wing populist ire. Komsomolskaya Pravda’s journos found it highly ironic and amusing when Cameron’s government last year announced that road pricing was to be introduced. Private companies were to be allowed to purchase, maintain and expand Britain’s road network, in return for which they would be able to charge a toll on certain roads. It’s really just a return to the 18th century toll road system. The major contender for purchasing and running Britain’s privatised roads, however, was the Chinese.

The world’s largest remaining Communist state.

And so Komsomolskaya Pravda’s report about this in their online edition concluded that ‘Jeremy Clarkson had collapsed through internal contradictions’.

A friend of mine found it online, and really enjoyed it. Okay, so it’s probably not the greatest backslapper, but it is a pithy comment on a bizarre and contradictory situation. And shows that the more outspoken media personalities over here are also something of a joke on that side of the Baltic.

Gorbachev and the Introduction of Co-operatives in Perestroika

May 7, 2014

Aganbegyan Pic

Abel Aganbegyan, leading economist of Perestroika

One of the ways the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, attempted to reinvigorate the country’s economy was through the establishment and transformation of state industries into workers’ co-operatives. They were also intended to create jobs for workers, who had been made unemployed through Gorby’s other reforms aimed at making the country’s industries more efficient. This started with 1986 Law on Economic Activity, which permitted a very limited amount of private enterprise. The only people permitted to work for themselves, either as self-employed or in co-operatives, were pensioners, students and employees working after hours. The materials they used had to be surplus to those of the state industries. The co-ops were restricted to a list of 29 permitted activities, such as taxi-driving and dress-making. This effectively legalised what many Russians were already doing any way. In March 1988 the restrictions were further lifted, so that the co-ops were allowed to pay staff and do business with foreign nationals. A further law in August 1990 allowed the co-ops near total freedom. By the end of 1990 there were nearly 260,000 co-operatives employing 6.2 million people, including those with other jobs. They produced 70 billion roubles’ worth of goods and services. 10 billion roubles were for the Soviet population. The co-ops were originally envisaged as small firms, but three-fifths of the new enterprises were in the former large state industries.

However, the impact of the co-operatives on the retail market was much smaller. Co-operatively managed garages, home decoration, household repairs, tailoring and dressmaking, catering, small manufacturing and retail only accounted for 2 per cent of the products bought by Russian consumers. Many of the new co-operatives also became more-or-less ordinary capitalist industries by a law which allowed profits to be drawn on investment, rather than the amount of work put in. See ‘Co-operative’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London: Andre Deutsch 1992) pp. 49-50.

Abel Aganbegyan, the Soviet economist and chief architect of perestroika, describes the reasons behind the establishment of the co-operatives and the experiments in setting up the system in his book, The Challenge: Economics of Perestroika (London: Hutchinson 1988) pp. 196-9. He states that they were set up to give Soviet workers a sense of responsibility as co-owners, describes the co-operative’s management system, including the election of brigade officials and directors. There was even a nationwide competition to find the new manager for the Riga car factory, organised by Komsomolskaya Pravda, the newspaper of the party’s youth group. Describing the election of managers and officials, he writes:

The working collective carries out its functions both directly at meetings of the whole working collective and through democratically elected Councils to represent its interests. The decision to broaden the rights of the working collective was not taken dogmatically, but out on the basis of generalisation of the experience accumulated at individual enterprises in the Soviet Union. At the Kaluga Turbine Factory, for example, a council of brigade leaders, representing the working collective’s interests, has been operating effectively for many years. The fact is that here collective labour brigades were genuinely organised. Each brigade elects its brigade leader, so that the brigade leaders’ council is a democratically elected body. The factory has major productive and social results to its credit and, moreover, the long-term development policy of the enterprise is in the main the responsibility of the brigade leaders’ council.

For the first time working collectives are being given extensive rights such as the right to elect the manager. This affects the election of managers of all ranks: the brigade elects the brigadier, the workers and section foremen the section head, the working collective of the factory elects the director of the factory, and the whole working collective of the association elects the General Director. These elections are planned as a creative process. They must be preceded by public competition for managerial posts, with a preliminary selection made by, say, the working council. Each candidate then meets with the workers in the sections, departments and enterprises, attends meetings and meets with representatives of public organisations. Each candidate for the post of manager draws up a programme of action and presents it to the working collective. Secret elections then take place with votes cast for a specific person, whose particulars and potential are known, and for a definite development programme for the enterprise. (pp. 197-8).

He then proceeds to describe the election run by Komsomolskaya Pravda for the ailing Riga Car Factory.

This factory produces the RAF microbuses which gained popularity in their day, but had eventually ceased to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands as needs changed and technology developed. The factory was in a deep crisis and stopped fulfilling the plan. A new leader was needed. Under the aegis of the newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda a nationwide competition was held for the post of director of the factory. A total of four thousand applications was received from all corners of the country and a commission was specially created composed of car construction specialists (from the Ministry of Car Industry), from the factory and from local bodies. About thirty candidates were shortlisted. They studied the factory and made their proposals for it. One the basis of a detailed examination of these more concrete data the list of candidates was further reduced to eight. They came to the factory, familiarized themselves with the work, stated their views on how to improve the situation and finally the working collective in a secret ballot selected its factory director. This turned out to be V.L. Bossert, an energetic young manager, 35 years of age, who up to them was working as the manager of the Omsk Factory, a major producer of gear boxes for the Moskvich car. The collective supported the candidacy of this new director and gave its views on his programme for the full reconstruction of the factory and the design of a new model of microbus which would be on a par with world standards. Having elected the director, the collective began to work intensively and soon fulfilled the plan. The number of claims for replacement of defective goods was reduced. The financial situation of the enterprise improved, people started to receive prizes and work motivation grew. Parallel to this, work continues on designing a new car and reconstructing the factory.

This experience has proved to be successful and it has caught on. Based on the RAF factory’s example, tens and even h7undreds of other enterprises have organised elections for directors. Success is assured wherever this is carried out not as a mere formality, but were competition is guaranteed, where time is given and conditions are created for the preparation of imaginative programmes of development for the working collective, and where people really feel they are participating in the advancement of their enterprise at management level. In discussing the question of appointment of leaders by election, we have studied attentively the experience of other socialist countries, Bulgaria and Hungary. In Hungary in particular, this democratic mechanism has been very effective. In re-election for the post of direct 8 % of former directors were voted out, but 92% had their competence at management confirmed by the collective. In this was the quality of managers has been improved. pp. 198-9).

apprentice_sir-alan_pink-pigeon

The Apprentice’s Sir Alan Sugar: Now imagine someone in overalls and work boots saying to their boss ‘You’re fired!’

The competition sounds like a radical Socialist version of Top Gear or Dragon’s Den. Certainly it would have been interesting to see Clarkson covering the election by car factory workers of their manager, all the while careering round Moscow or, in this case, Riga, while making sneering comments about the condition of the roads and Soviet era cars. As for Dragon’s Den, it might be a bit too dangerously subversive for the Dragons. After all, it turns the class system on it’s head by empowering the workers to sack incompetent bosses. Which might actually make it perfect as a kind of anti-Apprentice. After all, how many of the more pompous captains of industry, priding themselves on their ability to make ‘tough decisions’ to close down factories and throw thousands out on the streets for their profit and that of the shareholders, would welcome standing in front of committee of proles and being told ‘You’re fired’. Now that really is an idea for a TV show.

Colonel La Roque and the Croix de Feu: French Fascism’s Jeremy Clarkson?

May 2, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson: Right-wing loudmouth presenter of Top Gear

Colonel La Roque

Colonel de la Roque: French Fascist Leader, who held Paramilitary Car Rallies. The Petrolhead’s Generalissimo.

Jeremy Clarkson is in the news again this morning for once again making or rather, appearing to make a racist comment. It’s from an out-take of Top Gear in which he seems to be using a derogatory expression for Blacks while quoting a nursery rhyme. He has denied he used the term, and states it is word he despises. I dare say he’s right. Unfortunately, he has form for racist comments. Only a year or so ago, he, the Hamster and James May were in trouble for making racist comments on Top Gear about Mexicans, including describing Mexican food as ‘tasting of sick’. Some of Clarkson’s stunts on Top Gear, apart from the comments for which he has been officially criticised and chastened, also to my mind smack of racism and a need to sneer at despised or low status ethnic groups. For example, on one edition of Top Gear, where the boys went round Romania, Clarkson thought it was amusing to spoof the local’s style of dress. Or rather, he decided to spoof the local Roma people’s dress sense. Noting that the men tended to all wear a particular style of hat, he decided to drive through a Roman village wearing one, while saying something suitably sarcastic about it to camera. Clarkson has little patience with the Left. He describes Guardian readers and people with similar Right-on political views as ‘yoghurt-knitters’. My guess is that he and the producers probably regarded this stunt as an amusingly cheeky bit of ‘political incorrectness’. Offensive, but not actually racist.

The problem with that attitude is that the Roma are a severely persecuted people in many parts of eastern Europe. The Nazis were determined to exterminate them, along with Jews and Slavs. There was a scandal a few years ago in the Czech Republic when an ostensibly democratic Czech MP declared that Gypsies would go either to Canada or to the Death Camps. It was also revealed that the Czech medical service had a deliberate policy of sterilising Roma women to make sure they did not outbreed ethnic Czechs. The Australian journalist, Vitaly Vitaliev, who was born in Russia, describes the extreme poverty and utter destitution of many Gypsy communities in Romania in his travel book on eastern Europe, Borders Up. And you can find the same descriptions of utter poverty and despair in plenty of other travel books about Romania. Faced with the reality of severe state persecution and genocidal hatred against the Roma by the host populations, Clarkson’s drive through a Roman village sneering at their fashion sense seems less like a piece of cheeky fun, and something far darker and sinister. It could reasonably be compared to sneering at the fashion sense of the South African Black poor during Apartheid, or Jews during the pogroms. Unlike Blacks and Jews, the persecution of the Roma isn’t quite as notorious, and so Clarkson and his producers could get away with their tasteless stunt.

One of the French Fascist groups in the 1930s also shared Clarkson and co.’s love of cars. This was the Croix de Feu under Colonel Francois La Roque. the Croix de Feu was originally a veterans’ association for soldiers, who had won the Croix de Guerre for their bravery in combat. It was taken over by La Roque, and turned into a political organisation that denounced parliamentary weakness and corruption, the Communist threat and the need for an authoritarian social order. He also demanded the establishment of a corporative state into which the workers would be incorporated on the model of Fascist Italy. Like the Nazis with the SA and SS, and Mussolini with the Blackshirts and Squadristi, the Croix also had a paramilitary wing. These were the dispos, from the French word for ‘ready’, disponible. These used to go off to remote destinations, following secret order to train in readiness for ‘le jour j’ (‘D Day’), and l’heure H’ (‘H Hour’), when they would begin physically fighting a Communist uprising. With a number of other extreme Right-wing groups, they launched a march on the French Chamber of Deputies on February 6, 1934, in emulation of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’. In 1933 and 1934 they set up a series of militaristic car rallies. Which makes them all sound rather like a Fascist candidate for coverage by Top Gear, rather like Clarkson in jackboots with a stormtrooper’s helmet.

Clarkson would not, however, have got on quite so well in Musso’s Italy. The Duce deliberately did not try to launch an affordable family car, like the Nazis planned to do in Germany with Volkswagen. He thought the comfort of motoring would make Italians soft, and so stop them from achieving their imperial destiny as a feared military power. He also declared that he wasn’t going to improve peasant housing for much the same reason, and that he would have liked to have planted more woodland to make the Italian climate colder and harsher, again to toughen Italians up so they could conquer the world. Or at least, the Balkans and North Africa. Whatever else Musso was, he definitely wasn’t a ‘yoghurt knitter’.

Actually, I really don’t think Clarkson is a racist, although he has made it very clear that he wishes to stop immigration. When he actually stops making tasteless comments about foreigners, he can actually be very, very good. A few years ago, he presented a series in which he went round various European countries, Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours. This was actually far from the car-crash exhibit of rampant chauvinism and xenophobia you might expect. He actually likes France, despite his various comments about the French. In his last programme he went round Italy, where he made admiring comments about Italian style and cars. He was also impressed by Italian sobriety. After going out with the Italian navy in their patrols looking for illegal immigrants, he remarked on the way that Italian matelots drank coffee along with the rest of the population, rather than getting drunk on booze. An Italian authority he interviewed about this told him that it was part of the Italian desire to make a ‘bella figura’ – a good figure. You don’t cut a suitable dash by getting drunk, and so Italians simply don’t drink as much alcohol as Brits, or don’t do it to get drunk. He concluded the programme by saying that Europe wasn’t like America, and shouldn’t try to be. It was better.

So, he isn’t quite the racist loudmouth he appears to be, though he is indeed a Right-wing loudmouth. He just makes racist comments as a crude form of schoolboy humour to wind people up. It’s all part of his image as the motoring world’s answer to Bernard Manning. Only sometimes it goes much too far, and strays into the genuinely racist. He’s been making offensively Right-wing comments for nearly three decades now. He was taken off Top Gear in the 1990s after making sexist comments about a particular brand of car snapping knicker elastic. His popularity and the allure of the Clarkson persona was too great, however, and he came back. When he wants to be, he can be a good presenter. It’s just that it’s about time he knew and kept to the limits of what is acceptable.

Jeremy Clarkson: Politician?

September 16, 2013

Mike here discusses Jeremy Clarkson’s declaration that he’d like to stand for parliament against Ed Milliband. Mike points out that as a very well known Tory and the leader of the ‘three idiots from Top Gear’, Clarkson would split the Tory vote, despite announcing that he would stand as an Independent. Probably the best argument against Clarkson standing as an MP is that he and Boris Johnson would together make politics in this country even more farcical than they are already. Clarkson himself has been sent up regularly by a string of comedians and impressionists, including Harry Enfield and Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. One of the best, and most satirically accurate is that of Cassetteboy on Youtube, the address for whose take on the petrolhead motormouth is below. Warning: Some of the material in it is coarse and offensive, but as these are criticisms that have been levelled at Jezza himself in his time, the portrayal is still pretty accurate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5qtoecVIo0?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360

Vox Political

Start the week with a snigger: Jeremy Clarkson reckons he might try his hand at politics.

He tweeted that he might stand for Parliament as an independent candidate for Doncaster North – Ed Miliband’s seat.

Nobody should need to be told that Clarkson is a huge supporter of the Conservative Party, and is believed to be a friend of David Cameron, who is a neighbour of his in Chipping Norton. Yes, Clarkson is one of the famous ‘Chipping Norton set’.

The tweet reads: “I’m thinking I might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North, which is where I’m from. Thoughts?”

All right, Jeremy, since you ask.

You are known around the world as one of the “three idiots” on the BBC’s Top Gear, which has become a comedy show about petrolheads, rather than a serious motoring show (and extremely watchable as a result). Every week, there…

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