Michael Meacher – another of the old school leaves us

I was sad today to hear of the death of Michael Meacher, left wing Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. He was one of the last of the ‘old school’ Labour politicians who showed true Socialist conviction, having been first elected in 1970 and serving under Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair, and was once even suggested as a possible Labour Leader.

I remember Neil Kinnock referring to Mr Meacher as ‘Tony Benn’s Vicar on Earth’, such was the latter’s support for the left wing firebrand. He was also a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, being one of the Labour MPs who nominated and supported JC at the start of his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party.

That he died so soon after the election of a party Leader that he admired and supported wholeheartedly is a great and sad irony, but it isn’t the only irony around the timing of his death…

In late 1985, the BBC broadcast one of the finest thrillers they ever produced ‘Edge of Darkness’.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself and try and find it online or on a DVD – well worth 6 hours of anyone’s life, and still astonishingly relevant.  In it, a detective investigates the death of his daughter, murdered when she finds out that Plutonium is being stockpiled illegally in an underground facility in Yorkshire owned by a massive US energy company.

Meacher plays himself at a political meeting, speaking on environmental issues. And I’m sure he’d appreciate the irony of his death on the day on which the British Government allowed a foreign power to take a substantial degree of control over parts of our nuclear industry…



Seven of Nine and the Illuminati

This blog post started life this summer, after the Olympics.  It was a time of great celebration in Britain; after all, according to some people we’d dodged at least three bullets over the Olympic period – a nuclear terror attack, the invasion of Earth by inter-dimensional aliens through a portal opened by the Olympic Opening Ceremony or an uprising of the forces of the Illuminati.  My original comments can be read in ‘Whoops, No Apocalypse’.

And in December we’re still here….although the Mayans are around the corner…

A day or two ago I again watched the episode of the TV series ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ that triggered this piece in the first place – The Voyager Conspiracy.  In this episode, ex-Borg drone Seven Of Nine attempts to download the whole of Voyager’s computer database in to her head, and in the process of doing so gives herself paranoid delusions in which she attempts to put together a narrative from various events that have taken place on the starship, resulting in her almost causing a mutiny as the Captain and her second in command are told different paranoid delusions in which other crew members are conspirators.

The facts of what happened to the ship were correct; the interpretation placed on them by Seven was totally delusional, caused by her mind’s attempt to see connections and causality where non existed.  As her theories were questioned by other crew members, she would change them to add new facts, never lying but working things around to support her own point of view, ultimately ending up with the crew not knowing who to trust and going around carrying sidearms!

And I’m afraid that that’s what we’re seeing from a lot of people these days.  The Internet has bought a lot of information to a lot of people, and I’m afraid that many folks don’t seem equipped with the critical faculties needed to differentiate between a scientific fact and a stick of rhubarb.  And if you dare to suggest that there might be a more simple explanation than the conspiracy theorists are offering, you’re described as a sheep, already brainwashed in to believing what ‘they’ (whether they are lizards, zeta reticulans, organised crime, CIA mind controllers, etc.) wish us to believe.  Only the people pushing the right line of conspiracy are truly awake and aware; the rest of us are either unwitting dupes, fellow travelers or part of the enemy.

This isn’t to say that conspiracies don’t happen; they do.  But we all need to get a grip on facts as well.  Sometimes a gunman is just an evil or insane, rather than being someone who has been conditioned like Jason Bourne to be a killer.  And whilst the mind-manipulation techniques of programmes like MK-ULTRA no doubt exist, they’re not used on every bat-shit crazy lunatic.

Cock-up is usually more likely than conspiracy.  I have no doubt that on 23rd December when we’ve dodged the Mayan Apocalypse bullet  the conspiracy theorists will be coming up with any number of reasons why they’re still right.  We can expect calendar issues, successful interventions by aliens or enlightened ones, or even that it DID happen but we didn’t notice it.  Me? I have no idea what’s supposed to happen but my money is on nothing at all….

But these conspiracies, propagating around the world and in popular film and TV shows, cause some people a lot of fear and uncertainty. At a time when the world is full of real problems – crashing economies, poverty, hunger and war – perhaps these very capable minds might think how they can apply their intellects to solving a few real-world issues, rather than playing games in which they see themselves as something special – enlightened ones better than the rest of us because ‘they know’.

Whatever it is that they think they know, I’m convinced it’s simply the  production of an under-employed, over-fed and over-stimulated mind.



Whoops…no Apocalypse!

So, all you Olympic / Illuminati / Alien Conspiracy theorists….how’s that ‘The 2012 Olympics will herald the end of the world with nukes, interdimensional portals and alien invaders’ idea hanging this morning?

A few weeks ago I posted this item – http://www.joepritchard.me.uk/2012/07/oops-apocalypse-or-get-a-friggin-grip/ – and as we’ve now crashed back to earth on the Monday after the Olympic closing ceremony, I think I can safely say that given 3 possible ends of the world, 2 opportunities for these events to happen (opening and closing ceremonies) and 2 weeks of primetime TV coverage in case the bad guys were late in arriving – it’s not going to happen.

The use of the Clash in an advert was just marketing gonks not listening to the words, the triangular lighting towers at the stadium were just….surprise….triangular lighting towers, the ‘Shard’ is just a rather big glass and steel penis substitute and not a landing platform for Goa’uld style pyramid shaped mother ships.

The closest that we got to an interdimensional portal releasing hordes of creatures from another dimension was when the Octopus appeared in the closing ceremony, and for a brief moment it did look like “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” was about to give way to ‘Cthulhu has been woken up by the din and fancies a light supper’…..

OK.  Enough jokes. like I said previously – what really scares me is that there are quite a lot of sane, otherwise sensible people who publicly (well, behind Internet aliases) stated that all this bollocks was going to happen, and larger numbers of people who believed it.  Given the state of the world I guess that if I was feeling generous I could attribute this sort of rubbish to some sort of late Millennial or pre-Mayan Endtimes panic or a spillover of stress from the economic and environmental problems facing the world, but when I’m feeling less generous I have to regard the people pushing this tripe as rather nasty, evil little trolls.

So…to all you conspiracy nuts. Anyone I know on Twitter or Facebook will be purged the first time that you post ANY sort of apologetics explaining why the end of the world didn’t happen.  Just ‘fess up and admit it was bollocks.  There’s good folks.  And get back to playing Dungeons and Dragons.

And for the worried and the anxious – there are enough real world problems out here to deal with.  Engage with a few and try and make the future for yourselves and your family what you want it to be, rather than being anxious about a future that will never exist outside bad science fiction or a psychiatric ward.

Oops Apocalypse….or…..GET A FRIGGIN’ GRIP!

According to some folks, the Olympic Opening cermony on Friday night is going to go with a bang.  Not figuratively, but literally.  Apparently a bunch of ne’er do wells called the Illuminati are going to detonate a nuclear weapon at the Stadium which will open up an interdimensional portal and flood the world with… well, you get the picture.

Just as the Overlook Hotel in ‘The Shining’ was built on an Indian Burial Ground, the Olympic Stadium in London was apparently built on an area steeped in Satanism and nuclear waste.  I would have hated to have been the Health and Safety at Work officer signing off on that one….”Look, we have protocols for dealing with low level radioactive waste, but 3 legions of Demons and Azrat the Merciless, well, you can’t just put THEM in landfill….” I’ve visited Stratford – not my cup of tea but by no means the Hellmouth.

I’m not going to link to this garbage – at one level I find it incredibly funny, but at another level I’m sort of concerned that a lot of people are taking it at least semi-seriously, and some are really giving it the works; whilst the choice of the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ by BA for their advertising campaign is bizarre to say the least, the way in which people have freeze-framed and analysed the advert to ‘prove’ that it’s actually a warning of impending doom is reminiscent of the ‘Paul Is Dead’ business with the Beatles ‘A Day In The Life’.

I suppose it’s some form of Millienalism – I’m sure that it will get VERY crazy as the end of the ‘current’ phase of Mayan calendar approaches in December, but that’s another story – but I honestly wish these dingbats would shut the fuck up about it.  People.  It’s not going to happen.  If the Illuminati were so smart, how come it’s taken them 300 years and we’re still not all enslaved?  Why advertise the fact that they’re going to do this?  Are they some sort of Bond Villain who gives away their plot so they can be defeated and then have to go and create a new one to keep them busy for the next half century?  Why am I even trying to be logical about this?  Even if bugger all happens except what’s supposed to happen, the conspiracy theorists will have a brilliant explanation as to why Stratford isn’t a glowing crater surrounded by H P Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones.

The Internet seems to have allowed us to rapidly create instant mythologies, and then spread those mythologies far and wide.  Our leaders and Governments and institutions have failed miserably and ever since Kennedy was assassinated it seems that we’re happier to believe in conspiracy rather than cock up, in mind control rather than mindless violence.  Please folks, let’s just get a grip here; we’re in a big enough pile of pooh right now – just how we’re going to afford to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies in a year’s time is a bigger concern than a load of sub-X Files conspiracy fiction triggered by folks treating the Illuminatus! trilogy as historical fact rather than second rate, mildly pornographic science fiction.

And if I’m wrong, I’ll see you on Saturday in the Illuminati Death Camps that await most of us, and I will strangle any smart arse who says ‘I told you so….’


Variations on a Spotify theme…..

I found out tonight that there are over 70 versions of the Bob Dylan song ‘All along the watchtower’ on the online music service Spotify.  I sort of worry that there might soon be a ‘Watchtower radio’ channel online somewhere that plays nothing but versions of the song –  and, of course, there are songs on there with just as many if not more cover versions.

I should add that I’m quite a Spotify fan – heck, I even have a paid subscription to it – and I can’t remember the last time I popped a CD on when working – I just go to Spotify and play my choons from there.  Every now and again I search out a particular favourite of mine and see what other versions are around – there are usually a few that I’ve not heard before – and after you prune away the Karaoke versions it can be quite an interesting musical experience to listen to a few in succession.

I find it a good way of finding new artists that I might like. By listening to cover versions of music that I like in the original, it removes a variable from the complicated equation of ‘do I like this band / artist?’  If I already like the song, it comes down to what they’ve done with it. A good example of this was when I came across a cover version of Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane’ done by the Dave Matthew’s Band – I liked what I heard and became a fan of the latter based on what they did to the Neil Young classic.

What was I looking for when I was searching through covers of ‘All Along the Watchtower’?  Well, fans of the TV series Battlestar Galactica will recollect that a very ‘arabesque’ influenced version of this tune had a very significant role in the series, and apart from that it was a bloody good version.  We’re getting there – a recent addition to the lists was a cover by Dominik Hauser and Tim Russ and that was pretty damn close!

And should you ever want a version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ as played by a string quartet, I point you here… 


Dr Who – lazy writing or social engineering?

And so the new incarnation of Dr Who has his first adventure on BBC One, with 27 year old Matt Smith as the latest actor to portray the eponymous Time Lord.  The one thing about Doctors these days is that if you don’t like the current one, there’ll probably be another one along in a couple of years…. 🙂

As well as teh Doctor, we have his new assistant, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, who encounters the Doctor whilst dressed as a Kissogram Policewoman and agrees to travel with him.  She does, however, insist that she comes back before the following morning, as she has ‘stuff’ to do.  What we know, but what she doesn’t tell the Doctor, is that the stuff is her Wedding Day.

Hold on a minute…picking up a new assistant at the time of her Wedding…haven’t we been there before with the dreadful Donna Noble, who turns up in the TARDIS actually in her Wedding Dress on the day of her Wedding?  Come on folks – that is laziness of the highest order.  There are lots of ways in which assistants have been introduced to the Doctor, but to have two of them introduced in what has to be an unusual way like this is really lazy writing and serious imagination failure.

Or…could it be another piece of social engineering on behalf of the Dr Who / Torchwood writing ‘establishment’?  OK – I know that may seem a little extreme but I’ve muttered on numerous occasions in the past about the rather ‘heavy handed’ PC attitudes that have permeated some of the episodes of both Doctor Who and Torchwood – to the degree that some of the dialogue grates.  Several of the characters have frequently seemed to fit a set of PC stereotypes, and I’m afraid that this introduction of a second assistant at a point in which she is basically committing herself to a traditional lifestyle again grates. 

Just think about it – a Doctor who appears to be getting increasingly younger with each incarnation, in looks and behaviour.  An occasional character in the form of Jack Harkness who cannot die and is forever young.  A young woman running away from what some folks would label the ‘humdrum’ of normal life.  Just seems a little bit ‘Lost Boys’ here – reflecting a lifestyle and belief structure in which people are unwilling to grow up.

Caprica 90210

I am an enormous fan of the re-visioning of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ – good story and plot, good characters, nice combination of high tech and retro gadgets (loved the old style telephone handset that was used in the command centre).  Combine that with excellent soundtrack – just the best TV science fiction in recent years.  When I heard that a ‘prequel’ of BSG was in the works, I was a little bit concerned, but hopeful – same folks involved, should be worth watching.  And so I watched the pilot of Caprica with interest….

The following will help understand this post if you’ve not watched Caprica.  Daniel Graystons, father of Zoe, has a company involve din military robotics and AI.  They’ve made something called a Cylon, which needs an electronic brain called an MCP to work.  Joseph Adama, a top lawyer, has a daughter, Tamara, who was killed in a terrorist attack along with Zoe.  Both girls had ‘avatars’ in a VR game, and these avatars have retained form after their death.  Zoe ends up in the electronic brain of the prototype Cylon.  Tamara ends up left in the VR systems.

With me so far?  Where the frack did it all go wrong?

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all doom and gloom in Caprica, (list of episodes and plot here) and at one level that makes it worse – every now and again stuff starts happening and you’re at the stage of ‘Oh yeah, here we go, they’re gonna start turning out Cylons in a production facility, and Zoe – that teenage lass who’s consciousness is in the prototype – will….er…..do something…but hey, we’re looking at some serious tin men whupping Colonial Marine action!’  But then we cut back to a frackin’ boarding school or a VR representation of Dawson’s Creek.

And that’s the problem.  There is simply too much attention being paid to teenagers in this whole saga.  And that’s the flaw.  Last night we had Zoe going on a virtual reality date with the teenager who is helping her father work out why the ‘brain’ of the one working prototype works and others don’t.  The two teenagers end up with a suggestion that may point to the problem.  Back in the lab, old man Graystone is told this by his teenage assistant and it’s as if he’d never thought of it.  Hello?  This guy is the Stephen Hawking of robotics and AI.  His company make the holographic interfaces that people use to go in to immersive virtual realities in Caprica.  He’s not Homer J Simpson, for crying out loud!

Elsewhere, the head of the other family involved in the saga, Joseph Adama, is swanning around in a VR ‘game’ called ‘New Cap City’ trying to find the avatar of Tamara.  It works well, some shoot ’em up and folks with the same tailor as Neo and Trinity from ‘The Matrix’ – I’m hopeful that this will go places.  The religious / spiritual angle – monotheism emerging in a polytheistic culture – is really interesting as well.

But then we get the bloody teenagers again and I weep in to my tea.

Come on guys – I can see that you want to reach the teen demographic, but don’t forget the rest of us.

The Last Temptation of Mankind?

halOne of my professional interests is in Artificial Intelligence – AI.  I think I’ve had an interest in the simulation of human personality by software for as long as I’ve been interested in programming, and have also heard most of the jokes around the subject – particularly those to do with ‘making friends’. 🙂  In fiction, most artificial intelligences that are portrayed have something of an attitude problem; we’ve had HAL in 2001 – insane.  The Terminator designed to be homicidal.  The Cylons in the new version of Battlestar Galactica and the ‘prequel’ series, Caprica – originally designed as mechanical soldiers and then evolving in to something more human with an initial contempt for their creators.  The moral of the story – and it goes all the way back to Frankenstein – is that there are indeed certain areas of computer science and technology where man is not meant to meddle. 

Of course, we’re a long way away form creating truly artificial intelligences; those capable of original thought that transcends their programming.  I recently joked that we might be on our way to having a true AI when the program tells us a joke that it has made up that is genuinely funny!  I think the best we’ll manage is to come up with a clever software conjuring trick; something that by deft programming and a slight suspension of disbelief of people interacting with the software will give the appearance of an intelligence.  This in itself will be quite something, and will probably serve many of the functions that we might want from an artificial intelligence – it’s certainly something I find of interest in my involvement in the field.

But the problem with technology is that there is always the possibility of something coming at us unexpectedly that catches us out; it’s often been said that the human race’s technical ability to innovate outstrips our ethical ability to come up with the moral and philosophical tools we need to help our culture deal with the technical innovations by anywhere from a decade to 50 years; in other words, we’re constantly trying to play catch up with the social, legal and ethical implications of our technological advances.

One area where I hope we can at least do a little forward thinking on the ethical front is in the field of AI; would a truly ‘intelligent’ artificial mind be granted the same rights and privileges as a human being or at the very least an animal?  How would we know when we have achieved such a system, when we can’t even agree on definitions of intelligence or whether animals themselves are intelligent? 

Some years ago I remember hearing a BT ‘futurist’ suggesting that it might not be more than a decade or so before it would be possible to transfer the memory of a human being in to a computer memory, and have that memory available for access.  This isn’t the same as transferring the consciousness; as we have no idea what ‘conciousness’ is, it’s hard to contemplate a tool that would do such a thing.   But I would accept that transferring of memories in to storage might be possible and might even have some advantages, even if there are ethical and the ultimate in privacy implications to deal with.  Well, it’s certainly more than a decade ago that I heard this suggestion, and I don’t believe we’re much closer to developing such a technology, so maybe it’s harder than was thought.

But what if….

In the TV series ‘Caprica’, the artificial intelligence that controls the Cylons is provided by an online personality created by a teenage girl for use as an avatar in cyberspace that is downloaded in to a robot body.  In Alexander Jablokov’s short story ‘Living Will’   a computer scientist works with a computer to develop a ‘personality’ in the computer to be a mirror image of his own, but that won’t suffer from the dementia that is starting to affect him.  In each case a sentient program emerges that in all visible respects  is identical to the personality of the original creator.  The  ‘sentient’ program thus created is a copy of the original.  In both Caprica and ‘Living Will’ the software outlives it’s creator.

But what if it were possible to transfer the consciousness of a living human mind over to such a sentient program?  Imagine the possibilities of creating and ‘educating’ such a piece of software to the point at which your consciousness could wear it like a glove.  From being in a situation where the original mind looks on his or her copy and appreciates the difference, will it ever be possible for that conscious mind to be moved in to that copy, endowing the sentient software with the self awareness of the original mind, so that the mind is aware of it’s existence as a human mind when it is in the software?

Such electronic immortality is (I hope) likely to be science fiction for a very long time.  The ethical, eschatological and moral questions of shifting consciousnesses around are legion.  Multiple copies of minds?  Would such a mind be aware of any loss between human brain and computer software? What happens to the soul?

It’s an interesting view of a possible future  for mankind, to live forever in an electronic computer at the cost of becoming less than human?  And for those of us with spiritual beliefs, it might be the last temptation of mankind, to live forever and turn one’s back on God and one’s soul.

Reflections on “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”

I read this short story again recently; it’s by Ursula Le Guin and is one of the most haunting short stories that I’ve ever read.  The only short story that sticks with me more than this one is Parke Godwin’s ‘Stroke of Mercy’, which is stunning.

I’d suggest you go and read ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ before you hit the link below, but, if you can’t, to save the plot summary, here we go:


I guess the question for me is whether I would choose to be one who walked away; I suppose that in our heart of hearts we all like to think that we have in ourselves the courage and self-knowledge to ‘do the right thing’.  For several years after I first read this story – which must have been in the mid 1980s – I guess at one level such thinking was hypothetical and rhetorical; it wasn’t the sort of world we lived in, after all.  But today I’m not so sure that it is rhetorical anymore, and also I’m not sure I’ve got the guts to walk away.

We in the ‘developed world’ live a materialistic and consumer driven lifestyle, which has had an increasing amount of impact on the state of the world.  For us to have many of our goodies, it could be argued that somewhere else in the world someone else’s lifestyle takes a kicking.  We have an oil-driven economy; if you’re cursed enough to live above rich oil fields then start running now.

We want high-technology equipment; if you’re a young, female, circuit board assembler in a sweat shop then be aware that some of the processes that are involved may expose you to fertility affecting chemicals.  In order to provide us with cheap electronics, some of the safeguards that we adopt in the developed world are ignored.

Have a think about it, please.

I guess my hiking boots and rucksack are still in the store cupboard right now, and I sincerely doubt that I’ll be walking away real soon.  But I do wonder whether I should at least dust the rucksack down and polish the boots, figuratively speaking, for the day when I too start looking to the distant hills of a less consumption oriented lifestyle and choose to walk away from Omelas.