We’re all going to need safe spaces

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/03/2018 - 2:22am in



So I got muted on Twitter this morning by Jonathan Chait.

Riffing off this really fantastic essay on Jordan Peterson, I’d pointedly asked Chait whether he might reconsider his own position given Peterson’s guff about the deep commonality between trans activists and Maoist murderers of millions. After a grumpy back-and-forward he responded even more grumpily that he’d only ever said that identity politics people had borrowed Marxism’s critique of liberalism. I pointed out that he’d in fact also suggested that we’d all be marching to the gulags if the campus left got its way. After a couple more tweets, the ban-hammer descended. Finis.

Traditionally, a post like this would continue the fight by other means, likely (as a bunch of people have been doing on Twitter), by doing a tu quoque tying Chait’s habit of blocking or banning people on Twitter to his condemnations of campuses shutting out inconvenient voices. I don’t want to do that. It seems to me perfectly reasonable that Chait should mute or block me if he wants – I’ve occasionally done it myself to people who kept on trying to pull me into arguments that I didn’t want to be pulled into. Doubtless, those people felt aggrieved too that I wasn’t responding to their (in their minds good and cogent) points. Given the way that Twitter is set up, you sometimes have no other good options, if you want to continue to have the conversations that you do want to have, and not have them drowned up by the conversations that you don’t.

But there’s also a much bigger point there, about the kind of space that the Internet has created. Liberalism of the small-l kind goes together with a strong emphasis on free speech. The implicit assumption is that we will all be better off in a world where everyone can say whatever they want, to whoever they want, even if it is inconvenient, or wrong minded, or crazy.

However, this assumption rests on empirical assumptions as well as normative ones. And as speech becomes cheaper, it may be that those assumptions don’t hold in the same way that they used to (see further Zeynep Tufekci, Rick Hasen and Timothy Wu, as well as Molly Roberts’ forthcoming book).

There are two versions of the problem. First – speech doesn’t scale, and at a certain point, the scarce resource isn’t speech but attention. Even when people who want to argue with you are entirely sincere, there is a point at which you simply can’t pay attention to everyone who wants to talk at you on Twitter and still function. You need to make choices.

Second, speech is increasingly being weaponized to drown out inconvenient voices. “Flooding” attacks (as Roberts describes them) are making online political conversation more or less impossible in authoritarian regimes, as people have to deal with a spew of tendentious, irrelevant, and angry comments, what Adrian Chen describes as a “flood of fake content, seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space” (in passing, I used to be very strongly in favor of anonymous free speech on the Internet; I’ve had to seriously rethink that).

In the standard shibboleth, the best antidote to bad speech is more speech. What Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China have discovered is that the best antidote to more speech is bad speech. And while there is a lot of paranoia about Russian bots, there was, I think, a very real attempt to use these techniques to stir things up in the US election, and in Western European countries too.

These are problems that liberalism (including strongly-left-democratic versions of liberalism) are poorly equipped to handle. We don’t have any good intellectual basis that I know of for deciding the appropriate ways to allocate attention, since we’ve only started to have that problem in the very recent past. We also don’t have good tools for muting the kinds of speech that have been weaponized to undermine conversation, while preserving the kinds of speech that conduct towards it. Which is maybe all a long winded way of saying that I don’t particularly blame Jonathan Chait for wanting a safe space, and wanting to exclude me from it. We are all going to need safe spaces – and to start thinking systematically about how to build them while preserving conversation. Neither Chait’s version of liberalism, or the kind of left-democratic approach that I am more attracted to has any good idea of how to do this (or if either have, I’m not reading the right people and want to be pointed to them).

Radio 3 Programme on Internet Threat to Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/03/2018 - 8:06pm in

Next Tuesday at 10.00 pm Radio 3 is broadcasting a programme about the threat to democracy in the age of the internet. It’s part of the Free Thinking Festival, and is entitled ‘People Power’. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

Democracy was the most successful political idea of the last century but can it survive the digital age? Anne McElvoy chairs a discussion with Rod Liddle, associate editor of the Spectator, David Runciman, author of How Democracy Exists, Caroline MacFarland, the head of a think tank promoting the interest of “millennials”, and geographer Danny Dorling. Recorded in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead as part of Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival. (p. 130).

McElvoy recently presented the excellent short history of British Socialism on Radio 4. Now, I might be prejudging the programme, but it looks like very establishment thinkers once again trying to tell us that the Net, bonkers conspiracy theories and electoral interference from the Russians are a threat to western democracy as a way of protecting entrenched media, political and business interests.

The Net isn’t a threat to democracy. What is destroying it, and has caused Harvard University to downgrade America from a democracy to an oligarchy, in the corporate sponsorship of politicians. Because politicos are having their electoral funds paid by donors in business, they ignore what their constituents want and instead represent the interests of big business. Which means that in Congress they support the Koch and the oil industry, and the arms companies against 97 per cent of Americans, who want greater legislation over guns to prevent any further school shootings.

As for the press, they’re aiding the collapse of democracy because they’ve become part of massive media and industrial conglomerates, and represent the interests of their corporate bosses. They are most definitely not representing ‘truth to power’, but are instead another layer of power and ideological control. They promote the policies their bosses in big business want, even when it is actively and obviously impoverishing ordinary people. Like the way the right-wing press is constantly pushing neoliberalism, even though this as a doctrine is so dead it’s been described as ‘Zombie Economics’.

In this case, the internet really isn’t a threat to democracy, but the opposite. People can check the lies their governments and media are telling them, and disseminate real information to correct it, as well as go further and identify the people and organisations distorting and corrupting our politics from behind the scenes.

And this is obviously scaring the political and media elite. Otherwise they wouldn’t be transmitting programme like this.

Presswise: Charity for People Abused by the Press

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/03/2018 - 2:42am in

Looking through issue 40 of Lobster, for Winter 2000/2001, I came across this notice for a charity to help people, who have been abused by press.

Presswise is a chaarity which primarily exists to represent the interests of those abused by the press. their web site now contains details of the Robert Henderson/Blair Scandal. The details can be found by going from the Presswise Home Page ( to either ‘Mediation’ and then ‘complaining to regulators’, or via ‘Briefings’ and ‘data protection’.

I don’t know if they’re still going, but I thought I’d put up this notice about them in case they were, and they had advice which could help anyone else, who has been libelled by the press like Mike.

Al-Jazeera Report into Israel Lobby in America and Qatar

‘Michelle’, another of the great commenters on this blog, sent me the link below to a report by Asa Winstanley in the Electronic Intifada on a forthcoming Al-Jazeera documentary exposing the activities of the Israel lobby in spying on anti-Israel activists in America, and their attempts to bring the United Arab Emirates into line with Israeli and American foreign policy. And, of course, suppress Al-Jazeera.

This is being done through the Neocon organisation, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which is gathering the data of pro-Palestinian activists and the BDS movement in the US. The top civil servant at the Israeli Ministry of Strategy Affairs is Sima Vaknin-Gil, an Israeli army officer, whose boss is an ally of Netanyahu. The Ministry is in charge of propaganda against the BDS movement. Vaknin-Gil has said that she wants to create an army of pro-Israeli trolls to flood the internet, while being formally separate from the Israeli state.

The Foundation also receives funding from Sheldon Adelson, the American casion magnate, who makes it very clear that he stands for ‘Israel first’.

The documentary also shows pro-Israel lobbyist Max Adelstein, who works for AIPAC, the big pro-Israel lobby group in the US, boasting of how he is also working to bring the UAE into closer alignment with America and Israel.

The film also shows Jonathan Schanzer, the Senior Vice-President at the Foundation, telling his minions how they are to smear pro-Palestinian activists. And he reveals how the smears increasingly aren’t work. This part of the report says

According to the source, Schanzer admits to the undercover reporter that “BDS has taken everybody by surprise.”

He calls the response by Israel lobby groups “a complete mess,” adding, “I don’t think that anybody’s doing a good job. We’re not even doing a good job.”

According to the source, Schanzer laments that attempts to smear Students for Justice in Palestine and American Muslims for Palestine as linked to extremist Islamic terrorism have failed to gain traction.

He is also said to regret that the Israel lobby’s habitual tactic of falsely alleging Palestine solidarity activists are motivated by anti-Jewish hatred is losing its impact.

“Personally I think anti-Semitism as a smear is not what it used to be,” he is said to tell the undercover reporter.

Schanzer’s views echo a secret report endorsed by the Israeli government and distributed to Israel lobby leaders last year. That report, a leaked copy of which was published by The Electronic Intifada, concludes that Israel’s efforts to stem the growth of the Palestine solidarity movement have largely failed.

And the Emirates’ links to the Trump administration are also being investigate by Robert Mueller, who is moving away from the supposed Russian influence to include them through their connections to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

It also discusses Al-Jazeera documentary, The Lobby, which showed Shai Masot conspiring with members of the Conservative and Labour parties. This new documentary was supposed to be shown five months ago, but has not yet come out.

The Israel lobby has also been active travelling to Qatar to get the film suppressed, and supposedly received assurances that it won’t, though the Qataris deny this. Al-Jazeera’s investigation has been decried by Noah Pollak, another Neocon, as a foreign espionage investigation on American soil. The Israel lobby is pressuring the US government to force Al-Jazeera to register as an arm of the Qatari government.

I am frankly completely unsurprised that the Neocons were up to their neck in this. The Neocon project always was a Zionist outfit. It all started with an article in the late ’60s by their chief ideologue, William Kristol, about ways to get the American public to back Israel. Which included the vast majority of Jewish Americans at the time, who were completely indifferent in Israel, a foreign country they had never seen and had no desire to emigrate to.

As for AIPAC, there’s more than a whiff of double standards here. One of the left-wing American news channels pointed out that FARA, the piece of American legislation dating from World War II, which demands that foreign lobbyists register with the US authorities, should cover them. But it doesn’t. Because of their very powerful influence since the 1950s.

What is encouraging, however, is Schanzer’s admission that the lies and smears he and his scummy friends have been directing against pro-Palestinian activists, that they’re all connected to Islamist terror groups, or anti-Semites, increasingly aren’t working.

And when they fail completely, how is this going to make McNichol and the kangaroo courts persecuting decent, anti-racists and campaigners against anti-Semitism, who’ve been libelled by the Israel lobby because of their anti-Israel activism, going to look?

Cartoon: Future veterans of the information wars

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/02/2018 - 11:50pm in

While there’s been chatter in the news about conspiracy theories and Russian trolls, I think Americans are underestimating the problem of unreality and the dangers this poses to democracy. I’m reminded lately of this chilling article I read in the Seattle Times last fall, about a University of Washington researcher who studies information flows after mass shootings and other massacres (the infographic shown in the photo is enough to give you the willies). To quote the professor, Kate Starbird:

Starbird says she’s concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward “the menace of unreality — which is that nobody believes anything anymore.” Alex Jones, she says, is “a kind of prophet. There really is an information war for your mind. And we’re losing it.”

Starbird sighed. “I used to be a techno-utopian. Now I can’t believe that I’m sitting here talking to you about all this.”

Sure enough, a video making the claim that the Parkland students were “crisis actors” was the #1 trending post on Youtube shortly after the shooting. But the problem is hardly limited to Alex Jones’ legions of followers (and there truly are legions of them). Republicans in Maine and California have been setting up their own propaganda sites masquerading as news.

Follow Jen on Twitter at @JenSorensen

#1380; In which a Pitch is pitched

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 9:53pm in


comic, Internet

 A special Thank You listed on our eventual $5 Kickstarter reward

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/02/2018 - 1:59am in

Just posted to my radio archive (click on date for link):

February 8, 2018 DH on stock market madness (longer version is here) • Yasha Levine, author of Surveillance Valley, on the military/intelligence roots of the internet, which live on today (hi NSA!)

Protect your connection to the Internet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/01/2018 - 2:05am in

Once a year you should take time to review and audit your digital hygiene to make sure you’re doing everything possible to protect yourself online. First, make sure you know what we mean when we discuss privacy and security online. Second, take control of your passwords. Third, use two factor authentication to add a layer of protection on top of your passwords. Fourth, you should make sure you’re always backing up your information and devices. Fifth, you should clean up your browser extensions to protect yourself from unseen threats. Sixth, you should examine the social logins you use for tools, apps, and accounts.

In this post, we’ll discuss ways to make sure your connection to the Internet is protected.

Your gateway to the Internet

Most times we don’t even think about how we connect to the Internet. At home, many of us use the cable or telephone company as our Internet Service Provider (ISP). We pay the monthly service for a connection to the Internet and just expect it to work. We hear the advertising about how fast the service is, and just expect things to work when we pay for them. Wi-Fi in the house is just something that is expected to work.

Likewise, we purchase mobile devices (phones/tablets) and expect that the service will be good, and we’ll be able to connect to the network when we need it, for whatever purpose. We have an expectation that we’ll be able to view web content, connect to social media, and communicate when needed.

As long as these services do not slow down, or disconnect, there is no concern. Strangely, there is also usually a belief that a slow connection may be expected. If there is a slow connection, or things bog down, we often do not know what to do about it. But, as long as things work, and they connect, we assume that everything is working correctly. We pay little attention to dangers that remain unseen.

As a regular user of these services, we need to pay more attention to our gateway to the Internet. That is, how do we connect our devices to the web. If you’re on Wi-Fi at work or at home, you have a router that is taking that Internet signal and broadcasting it to trusted devices in your home or office. If you’re on your wireless signal, you’re trusting that your service provider is protecting information going to, and coming from your device. If you’re out on the road, and on a public Wi-Fi, you’re trusting that the entity that is providing this Wi-Fi, is protecting you as well…and not harvesting your data. An example of this is stores, airports, hotels, or public spaces that offer free Wi-Fi for you while you are on the premises.

You need to understand that you are at risk in all of these situations. In fact, you may have already been compromised in any or all of these instances. The best course of action at this point, is to examine, and protect your connections to the Internet. These involve updating (or upgrading) your router, or using a VPN.

Update (or upgrade) your router

As detailed above, while at home we expect that our service to the Internet will be fast, and just work. This means that devices (a wireless router) is installed, you are given a password, and you log in to your wireless service. The technician will install everything for you, and test it before she leaves. Most times, you pay a monthly fee ($7 to $10) to “rent” this wireless router from your ISP. After the technician leaves, they usually only come back if there is an issue, or you are discontinuing service.

Your wireless router is one of the primary ways that you connect to the Internet, yet it is one of the most insecure. You can secure your router by making sure that you use a password with WPA2 encryption. When you log in to your router to check the settings…yes, you can do this and you should…you can select different types of encryption for your router. You want WPA2 encryption.

You should also make sure your router is always updated. Just like a computer or mobile device, your router needs to be updated if there is a security threat. Security threats are happening with more regularity, we need to trust that manufacturers are allowing you to log in and perform maintenance on your router, and this includes updating the software.

If you cannot figure out how to update or change the settings for your router, it may be time to upgrade your router. This means buying a new router and installing it to connect to the Internet. You can regularly find great deals on routers and install them to connect you to the Internet with relatively little effort. Many new routers have new features, and offer better Wi-Fi speed and strength than what you’re getting with the stuff you get from your ISP. Keep in mind, if you buy your own router, you can most likely return the router that you’re renting from your ISP.

Using a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows you to create a secure connection to the Internet. A VPN allows users to access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. In plain english, think of a VPN as a secure (private) server in between you and your connection to the Internet. When you want to use the Internet, you go to the VPN server and connect. From within the VPN server, you then connect to the apps, services, and spaces you want to access. The VPN server obfuscates and encrypts your data coming to and from the server.

For you this means that as you’re using the Internet, prying eyes see you connected to the VPN. While within the VPN, you might be off looking at social networks, banking, emailing colleagues, etc. Other people watching you will see you enter the VPN, and all traffic will be associated with the VPN. No one can easily identify you or your computer specifically as the source of the traffic. Finally, all data is encrypted, so if they do find your data, it will be garbled up content.

Finding and using a VPN can sometimes be a challenging process, but if you’re concerned about your privacy and security online (you should) it’s worth the (time and financial) investment. There are numerous options and services to select from.

If you want to try one out for free that is relatively easy to set up…try Tunnelbear. Tunnelbear has a free level that you can get you in the habit of using a VPN. You can also save the VPN for times when you feel like you need more protection. Tunnelbear has apps and extensions for all of the devices and platforms you use. Once you get the hang of it, I’d suggest finding a more robust option.

Remain vigilant

As heavy users of these connections to the Internet, it is our responsibility to make sure that we are protected and secure as we venture online. We cannot trust that the manufacturers of these devices and services are protecting our data. You also cannot trust that your ISP is protecting you. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are protected.

One of the key points of failure is often the very connections we make to the Internet. Secure this by updating or upgrading your router. If you’re out on public wifi, be careful and consider the use of a VPN. Finally, if you are on public wifi, and you are not on a VPN, consider doing basic, to no surfing that would share data that you want secure.


If this helps you out…please consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter to make sure you stay connected.

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Books on Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Archaeology

A few months ago I got through the post the 2017 archaeology catalogue for Eurospan University Presses. Amongst some of the fascinating books listed were several on the archaeology of Black communities in America and the Caribbean. As you’ll see, they’re at prices well beyond what ordinary readers can afford. They’re really available only to the rich and academic libraries. If you’ve got access to one near you, then I recommend you try to borrow it from there. Some universities do lend to members of the public in the summer holidays when most of the students have gone home. It might also be possible to get it on interlibrary loan, although this can also mean a long wait and isn’t cheap either. The last time I enquired about it at Bristol, I was told the price was £5 per book. Which means that if you want to borrow more than one, it can become very expensive very quickly. Dam’ Tories and their cuts! I don’t know, but it may also be that some of these books may be available in PDF form over the Net at a cheaper rate. This isn’t mentioned in the catalogue, but it might be so. Alternatively, you could see if there are secondhand copies on Amazon. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting to see if a paperback edition comes out, which may be cheaper.

Here are the books I found interesting, and the blurbs for them in the catalogue.

Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall & Richard F. Veit
9780817319656 Hardback £74.50

Provides insights into the archaeology and cultural history of African-American life from a collection of sites in the northeastern US. This volume explores the archaeology of African-American life and cultures in the Upper Mid-Atlantic region, suing sites dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

University of Alabama Press.

Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves and the Founding of Miami, Andre F. Krank, 9780813054513, hardback £18.50

Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. This work takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.

University of Florida Press.

Honoring Ancestors in Sacred Space: The Archaeology of an Eighteenth Century African Bahamian Cemetery, Grace Turner, 9781683400202, hardback £79.50.

Throughout life, black Africans in the Bahamas possessed material items of various degrees of importance to them and within their culture. St. Matthews was a cemetery in Nassau at the water’s edge – or sometimes slightly below. This project emerged from archaeological excavations at this site to identify and recover materials associated with the interned before the area was completely redeveloped.

University Press of Florida.

The Rosewood Massacre: An archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence, Edward Gonzalez Tennant. 9780813056784, £84.95.

Investigates the 1923 massacre that devastated the predominantly African American community of Rosewood, Florida. The author draws on cutting edge GIS technology, census data, artefacts from excavations, and archaeological theory to explore the local circumstances and broader socio-political power structures that led to the massacre.

University Press of Florida.

Simplicity, Equality and Slavery: An Archaeology of Quakerism in the British Virgin Islands, 1740-1780, John M. Chenoweth, 9781683400110 hardback, £79.50.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of simplicity, equality, and peace, a group of White planters formed a community in the British Virgin Islands during the eighteenth century. Here, the author examines how the community navigated the contradictions of Quakerism and plantation ownership.

University Press of Florida.

These books sound very interesting. There have been a lot of research into the homes and communities of Black Americans over the past couple of decades. They’ve been excavated in New York, and also the slave communities owned by the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin. In the case of excavating cemeteries, it’s obviously a particularly sensitive area, and the archaeologists involved have obviously had to be particularly careful in their negotiations of the host Black community and the surviving relatives of the deceased. As you should when excavating any human remains.

From what I gather from reading elsewhere, cemeteries and burial grounds are of particular importance in Afro-Caribbean culture, where it’s associated not only with personal heritage and family history and identity but also occupation of the land.

I remember correctly, the 1923 Rosewood massacre was White supremacist pogrom against the Black community in Rosewood, their politicians and their White supporters and allies. This was before McCarthyism, when the American Left was still very strong, and the Republican party the more left-wing of the two main political parties. The town’s mayor was Black, and the town council included Socialists. Even the Republicans issued a statement condemning the treatment of the poor, the corrupt corporate politics keeping them there, and declaring healthcare and education a right. Obviously the Conservatives and the Klan really couldn’t tolerate that, and stirred up resentment until it boiled over into organised violence.

As for the Quaker plantation in the British Virgin Islands, the Quakers very early denounced and condemned slavery as fundamentally opposed to their principles. John Fox, the sect’s founder, denounced and by their laws no member could own slaves. Nevertheless, the acceptance of slavery was so deeply ingrained in European society, that its rejection was not easy for many to accept. And although they were condemned from owning or dealing in slaves, some Quakers did make their cash through supplying the slave ships. If you want to know more about the Quakers, their ideals in this period, then I recommend you read David Dabydeen’s history of the Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sugar and Slaves.

Robohunter: 2000 AD’s Warning about Crazed Robots?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/12/2017 - 7:08am in

Now for something a bit lighter. What struck me watching Six Robots and Us on BBC 2 last night, was how similar the real robots given to the six families to help them with their problems resembled the demented machines drawn by art robot Ian Gibson for 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. Written by script droid John Wagner, who was Pat Mills’ partner in crime behind Judge Dredd, ‘Robohunter’ was about a future private detective, Sam Slade, who specialised in hunting down rogue robots. In his first adventure, Slade is sent to Verdus, a planet colonised by robots ready for eventual human occupation. But the robots have developed so rapidly, that they now exceed humans in strength and intelligence. Programmed to regard humans as their superiors, they simply don’t recognise the inferior organic beings that turn up as humans, and so incarcerate as experimental animals in concentration camps.

‘Robohunter’ was one of my favourite strips in 2000 AD. It was Science Fiction, but had the wit and style of an old-fashioned hardboiled detective thriller from the thirties or forties. Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ was something like a futuristic Sam Spade. Which meant that he was frequently being beaten up by the villains, before fighting his way out with a few laconic witticisms. And the robots drawn by Gibson were imaginative and convincing, with the same type of cartoony features as the robots used in Six Robots and Us.

And like very many of the other strips in 2000 AD, ‘Robohunter’ was also sharply satirical. Here’s Wagner’s and Gibson’s take on the British parliament, from the collected strips Robo-Hunter: Verdus, by John Wagner, Ian Gibson, Jose Luis Ferrer and Jose Casanovas, published by Rebellion/ 2000 AD.

Okay, so the robots sent to the families weren’t demented killing machines intent on enslaving us. In fact the Shopbot sent to a supermarket in Glasgow offered people hugs. One of the store workers observed shrewdly that he had nothing against the machine, as long as it didn’t put human employees out of a job. Quite.

And some of them actually didn’t work very well. The Carebot sent in to look after a lady with MS, thus allowing her husband some time away from looking after her, actually couldn’t physically help her. It could only remind her and her husband when she needed to take her medicine and to call him on the mobile if there was something wrong. Unfortunately, it used the internet, and so the moment the husband was out of wifi range, the connection went down and it was more or less useless.

So they’re not quite like the robots in ‘Robohunter’ just yet. But we have been warned!