Friday, February 29, 2008

Who's a clever boy then?

Remember this post, about Robots at war?

Well, earlier this week Robotics professor Noel Sharkey (see an article he wrote back in August here) gave a speech in which he discussed the proliferation of robotic military equipment:
Over 4,000 robots are currently deployed on the ground in Iraq and by October 2006 unmanned aircraft had flown 400,000 flight hours.

At the moment, humans can make the decision whether to attack or not but a recent policy shift in the U.S means that 'intelligent' autonomous attack robots will soon be given the power to decide who and when to kill.
(Appologies for linking to the Daily Mail)

Significantly, though, his concern is the falling cost of robotics manufacture - precisely the point I made about capitalism cheapening the means of production, including the production of death. AP report him saying
"How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act? With the current prices of robot construction falling dramatically and the availability of ready-made components for the amateur market, it wouldn't require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons."

Sharkey said a small GPS-guided drone with autopilot could be made for about 250 pounds.
Another report of this speech notes:
In December 2007, the DOD published an “Unmanned systems roadmap” proposing to spend about $4 billion by 2010 on robotic weapons, a figure that will later rise to about $24 billion.
Sharkey suggests a code of ethics for robots - I'd have thought calling for development of electronic counter measures to fritz the robot brains would be a wiser bet, a drone with GPS deprived of its GPS isn't very useful.

Finally, the Official Propaganda - see, there is a career in videogames. They're not people, their mooks!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Biological solution

So, Castro has retired.

Good. The last thing the Earth needs is another dictator.

Readers may remember this article of mine, which was translated into Spanish by some Cuban social-democrats. The idea of aiding Cuban opposition (albeit largely of a nationalistic flavour) is one of the prouder moments of my miserable political career.

On another aside, this comes just when I've been wading my way through some actual writings by Trotsky - largely as a means of discovering that I've not missed nothing by not reading Trotsky before - he really was a one trick pony "What you need to do is prepare a military dictatorship and wait for civil war" - it surprising how few Trotskyist groups do seem to take the grand old man's advice.

Here we have Trotsky projecting like a fiend:
A fool, an ignoramus or a Fabian can see in Cromwell only a personal dictatorship. But in fact here, in the conditions of a deep social rupture, a personal dictatorship was the form taken on by the dictatorship of a class which was, moreover, the only one capable of liberating the kernel of the nation from the old shells and husks. The British social crisis of the seventeenth-century combined in itself features of the German Reformation of the sixteenth century with features of the French Revolution of the eighteenth century. In Cromwell Luther joins hands with Robespierre.
Of course, the grand old man who bestrode Soviet congresses in his dress General's uniform would see no contradiction between dictatorship of one man and class liberation. Indeed, Trotsky would have argued that being shot like a partridge by the workers' dictator would be wholly different to being shot like a partridge by the capitalists' dictator. You'd have to be a fool and a communist not to see the difference.

On the other hand, British toytown revolutionaries aren't living the prescriptions of Trotsky, but enjoying the fantasy of ruthless violence - just as they project Cuba as their utopia and live vicariously through the dictatorship of Castro. The danger, as ever, is the intrusion of fantasy into the real world - then they would move from being disturbing to being dangerous.

Without the sacred/symbollic dictator in the physical form of Castro, they may give up their fantasies - but worse, may try to enact them themselves. With his symbollic presence gone, though, in Cuba, maybe a different set of fantasies may be lived out - you know, little ones like human rights and democracy.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Don't panic Don't panic!

George Osborne said nationalisation is a "catastrophe", David Cameron has said: "The nationalisation of Northern Rock is a disaster for the taxpayer, a disaster for this government and a disaster for our country."


How many are dead? Where are the rotting corpses in the streets?

They accuse Darling of dithering - or what some of us might call taking a careful decision after examining the options.

See, the Cameronians have become obsessed with the big lie, repeat "dither" and "catastrophe" and you set the mood music - of course, the converse is that they may appear feckless, irresponsible and out of their depth. he party that cried "Wolf!" The words disaster and catastrophe may yet return to haunt them.

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The joy of sects (again)

Anyway, outside Kentish Tahn co-op Respect were holding a petion/stall (I think the WRP had just finished their shift, it's a regular political marketplace outside Kentish Tahn co-op). I couldn't resist - I asked if they were going to defect to the Tories if elected. The respectoid laughed, and said she's only just heard of the story herself - she tried to pass it off as the swings and roundabouts of electoral politics - she knew the *other* three councillors, and they are sound - so that's allright then. But from the SWP to the Tories? not since Hyndman - that's a hell of a record to be breaking.

Anyway, the Ingrate links to the greatest peice of trainspottery for somewhile: Mark Steel has left the SWP (according to Derek Wall).

I've been surprised by the resiliance of SWP members, and the fact that the party hasn't gone into meltdown after the failure and ructions of Respect - maybe this has begun, now.

How significant would this be? Well, their profile is enormous. My friends always thought I was out selling Socialist Worker and in the Socialist Workers Party - now matter how often I'd try to correct them. Basically, the far left peopel on street corners were Socialist Worker, and you'd have to be a trainspotter to know any different. Everyone has heard of them, especially if they've been through university.

I won't rehash their record in trashing the Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party and, bizarrely, Respect, but it's well known. Mind, I've been predicting the WRPisation of the SWP since Tony Cliff died, so what do i know...

Update: When I posted this, I had a sneaking suspicion I was repeating a joke: it turns out I posted an article with an identical title almost exactly two years ago (The joy of sects). Should I be worried? Or glad? Anyway, compre and contrast, comrades.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

As requested

Another little list:

Neville Chamberlain: Wealth at death
£84,013 6s.: probate, 15 April 1941

Baldwin, Stanley: Wealth at death
£280,971 3s. 1d.: probate, 18 March 1947

Winston Churchill: Wealth at death
£304,044: probate, 9 Feb 1965,

Harold Macmillan Wealth at death
£51,114: probate, 1 June 1987

Yeah, I believe MacMillan only had £51K - the British aristocracy and their trusts, eh? I wonder how only 1 in 20 people pay inheritance tax? hmmm.

Anyway, look at it how you will, the figures aren't too far different, though Saint Attlee still shines through.

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London Skolars v. Celtic Crusaders

So, I popped along to the New River stadium to watch a bit of rugby league on Sunday. A very enjoyable day I had, I'm sure it will be lovely through the summer to sit in that nice shady grandstand, watching big buggers running into each other on the pitch of Rugby League. I mean, not that I'm a chippy northerner who chose to watch league rather than the Six Nations on the telly, but, I am a chippy northerner who chose to watch league rather than the Six Nations on the telly.

The crowd wasn't huge, but the welsh folk certainly chanted loudly, and there was a bit of banter with the handful of Skolars fans there.

The play bodes well - there were clear differences between the sides. Skolars ground out their two tries, the Crusaders tended to score on the break. Mid-way through the second half a move that epitomised the Crusaders fleet passing play came to naught, blocked by the dogged defending of the Skolars (who must have been a touch sick of standing on their own try line).

10-26 to the Crusaders in the end, but by no means a walk over, especially given the gap between the two teams in the leagues.

There, rugby commentary, an occasional break in normal service, just to give me more time to digest Gordon Brown's fascinating insight into his vision in yesterday's Observer...

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Brother, can you spare a billion?

Just a quick list:

MacDonald Wealth at death
£21,501 18s. 5d.: confirmation, 12 March 1938

Attlee Wealth at death
£7295: probate, 4 Jan 1968

Wilson Wealth at death
£490,992: probate, 17 Oct 1995

Callaghan died to recently for me to find him, but the list, I think, makes the point. MacDonald was directly corrupted (being loaned a Roller, being taken to country houses, etc.) and yet he died with a relatively modest estate for a former Prime Minister. Attlee must have worn hair shirts all his life, or something.

Tony Blair has made £5 million (alleged) from his memoirs, and its gettign Millions of Dollars per year for consultancies with multinational firms such as Zurich and JP Morgan.

The genius of this is that in capitalist terms it is't corruption, not quid pro quo payments for services rendered. It is indirect corruption, the implicit statement that any Prime Minister will find a place in the trough, if they keep their nose suitably clean first.

The vast inequality in wealth and access to wealth implicitly corrupts the entire political system. There is no way of fixing this, only social equality can deliver genuine democracy.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How many brains?

I was befuddled, last night, listening to Start teh week with Andrew Marr, to hear David "Two Brains" Willets talking about game theory. more specifically, how game theory can describe how co-operative results occur within social systems. Further, he advocated state power as a means of constructing such circumstances, to attaion better social co-operative outcomes. They used to call that social engineering.

Admittedly, this isn't as incoherent for a Tory as it first sounds. After all, Adam Smith's economics was based around an assumption that free markets would produce co-operative and stale social outcomes. It was also profoundly egalitarian, believing free markets would produce socal equality. The invisible hand is a leveller.

More than that, they are now up against the weight of science, evolutionary science in particular which shows that each against each and devil take the hindmost isn't necessary nor essentially desirable. He cited Vampire Bats who will share out a good nights hunt to non-related colony members.

Of coruse, Willetts thinks this should come back to structures like the familly. Although discussing Pakistan, he noted that a high proportion of marriages are between first cousins, indicating the degree of clanishness that still exists there, and suggesting that this is a barrier to liberal democracy - maybe his brains haven't come to agreement on that one yet.

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