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The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.


‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 12:26am in

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

From being to seeming: why empirical scientists failed in times of Covid.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 7:53pm in

There have long been scientists who were celebrities in their own time. Galileo, Keppler, Goodall, Linneus, Cousteau, Darwin, Smith, Leeuwenhoek, Da Vinci, Ibn Khaldhun, Curie, and many others in the last 800 years were followed and admired. They in many ways performed their science, as when medics performed autopsies in theaters, astronomers performed their experiments and claims in large observatories in major towns, and geologists and botanists had whole populations bring them samples to put on display. The paleontologists displaying the bones of dinosaurs in Western museums were as much performance artists as Kayne West is today.

And yet, nowadays, the business of performing science has gone a level deeper, both inside the halls of academia and outside. Nicholas Gruen has written many times about how governments and other large organisations “perform expertise”, at the cost of actually having much expertise or valuing its application. Not only do I think he is totally right, but the need to be seen to perform has taken over much of science itself. Like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, whose picture shows the degrading real character of a master of pretense, so has the whole of empirical science been sliding for decades into seeming over being.

The Picture of Dorian Gray - WikipediaI suspect this slide towards “seeming over being” is why empirical science so spectacularly failed us during the covid-19 pandemic. It lead to a loss of independence from group think, a loss of awareness of basic rules of thumb, and it lead to poverty in reasoning.

In this long piece, I want to sketch the content of that slide and the deeper reasons for them. Importantly, I don’t think any individual or group is clearly to blame, making it hard to see how we get out of the trap it has put us in.

Government budget performances

Take government budgets as an example of a science-like modern performance. They once were sober affairs wherein governments would put in some state-run newspaper some general information as to how the state finances were going and which taxes were going up or down.

Nowadays, almost everywhere in the Western world, budgets are annual performances. As Nicholas Gruen termed it nicely, governments engage in accountability theater. Someone official announces budgets in an important place. It is televised and podcast. Lots of dressed-up people talking gravely, getting equally grave “responses to the budget”. Snippets are leaked to the media beforehand to get attention for something or to diffuse attention away from something.

The content of budgets is worse. They are now long documents with graphs, numbers, projections, and other “scientific looking” bits. Policies are announced, explained, given an account of. All on the basis of things that seem science. A narrative is spun wherein the government is cognisant of all major problems in society, allocating resources and drawing up plans to solve those problems. In appearance it is all very rational, thought-out, analytical, and statistical.

And yet, government budgets are made to look much more than they are. They are collections of “official lines” on problems society is worried about, not honest analyses of whether those problems even exist or can be addressed in a meaningful way. Announced new plans are often old plans, and nowhere near as coherent or centrally directed as they are presented. Money is pretended to be allocated in a very precise manner, conjuring an image of a back room in which some pie is divided over projects. But no such backroom exist as no-one even knows the current financial position of a whole government: financial positions of the present are, at best, estimated and remain uncertain until years afterwards. The announced costs of announced plans pretend a certainty that does not exist. Government budgets are just a collection of announcements leading to easily digestible talking points for the public. There is some real content, but a lot of non-content too.

Enormous bureaucratic effort thus goes into presenting a rational front of a government that is in charge and is planning ahead using scientific methods. The performance uses phrases the audience wants to hear, promising things they want to hear, and taking on the burden of seeming in control. The language of budgets are fine-tuned, using focus groups and background “papers”.

This scientific theater is not done out of any evil intent, but because governments that don’t perform in this manner get displayed as incompetent by onlookers and are booted out. They have no choice but to put up such a façade and pretend to adhere to a model of planning and evidence that they couldn’t possibly live up to in real life. The level of eontrol-pretense matches the expectations of the audience.

Empirical science is the clothing-of-choice of this increasingly elaborate façade of governments. The façade is normal business in all government departments too. There is a chief medical officer, a chief engineer, a chief economist, and many other chief scientists. They largely perform empirical science, spinning words and reports, making up stuff to appear in charge, aided by large groups helping them cook up all sorts of pretenses. Very little of it is out of bad intentions, nor is it necessarily all dysfunctional.

                   International agencies

Other large organisations too now nearly all have media departments that perform empirical science in this manner on a daily basis. The WHO “brings out” reports, information, and “discoveries”, spun by media managers to suit audiences. So too hundreds of international and national organisations. Its all full of “our scientists have found that, discovered this, warn about that, will study that”.

Frameworks are brought out so that organisations seem to control and understand stuff, whereas in actuality the frameworks replace understanding and control, full of meaningless feel-good phrases. The sustainable development indicators and frameworks are a great example of this genre, 169 underlying variables and counting, many of which tug in totally different directions (including polluting economic development!): the sustainable indicators don’t represent or aid actual policies, but replace them, allowing anything to be dressed up as sustainability policy because every policy will hit several of those 169 indicators.

Yet, if international organisations don’t present themselves like this, their funding is cut pretty quickly as few will notice them. They wouldn’t seem in control and wouldn’t seem to be working towards acceptable solutions. Being unnoticed and not seeming to do the right thing is a deadly sin in our celebrity and media-connected culture. Everyone needs to seem something and be noticed for it. Be noticed and praised, or perish.

Yet, this is but the tip of the iceberg. The above is merely how “non-academics” perform science, twist science, and cloak themselves in what seems to be science.

           The modern image of pure science

Worse is that empirical science itself has become obsessed with style over substance, with seeming over being.

The training into seeming goes very deep into the structures around empirical science now. It affects how students are told to think and write, how the reality of research is presented to them, and how they are supposed to communicate their work.

The image of what empirical science is has largely become a monoculture, based on the notion that scientists follow divine inspiration. The quintessential image is of Archimedes sitting in his bathroom having a Eureka moment of inspiration about water levels and things floating on the water, after which he “tests” his “new theory” with experiments, “confirming” that his theory is “correct”. Newton and the apple is another such example: science starts with divine inspiration, preferably followed by a randomised control experiment.

Very little of actual empirical science is like this, but students and academics are now almost universally forced to pretend it is like this. Research grant agencies nearly all want scientists to list their research questions or hypotheses, present the methods for checking those hypotheses, and give dissemination plans for telling the world about whether they were right or wrong.

                    The broad church of real science

If an astronomer asking for money for a telescope were to say “I am going to gaze through my telescope for years, hoping to find something of interest that then motivates me to think what is going on in the sky’, she would not get a cent of grant money. She has to pretend to be looking for something in particular. And yet “looking for something interesting” and only then “wondering what it might be” is a very old and prevalent scientific activity.

Similarly, there is “combining random data and previous thoughts from lots of differing time-periods, to come at an overall assessment of how things work and what the most important elements in a particular context are”. That kind of reflective armchair activity is pretty much the only thing many economists did for centuries, with their ideas and deductions still dominating the textbooks teaching new students. The market cross taught all students in their first lessons in economics, for instance, is not “tested”, and certainly not “confirmed”. It’s a causal story that fits lots of stuff about what goes on in markets, but is also inconsistent with lots of other information and is thus only useful if you have knowledge of a lot of context and applications.

Then there is “throwing oneself into unfamiliar situations that display the phenomenon I am interested in to see if I can figure out what is going on” which is how whole generations of social scientists made discoveries on the nature of revolutions, dictatorships, markets, etc. They traveled to places in the midst of revolutions, hyperinflation, and other social upheavals, to look around and notice what was of importance, checking causal storylines on the spot, asking others what is going on. Anthropologists still do this, though they now have to pretend they know beforehand what they are going to find, and they are often barred from really interesting field trips that might get them killed, so usually they are confined to a particular village to look at a pre-announced quirky form of behaviour.

Only journalists can still use one of the most powerful scientific methods there is by simply traveling to interesting places and observing humans in action.

These scientific methods used to produce much of the best empirical science we have, including much of economics, biology, history, chemistry, physics, etc.. Alas, very little of this is reflected in the current mandated format by grant agencies, who have the divine inspiration model in mind.

           How scientific teaching now outlaws broad science

Teaching is not truly broad anymore, anywhere. Just ask yourself: which university will allow a lecturer to take students on a field to trip to Syria now to see how a civil war affects people? The answer is “none”. It would be illegal to do so. The days of risky participatory field trips and immersion are over, replaced by the simpler view that science consists of the trifecta “hypothesis, test, and result”. Easier to teach, easier to examine. But it neglects the process via which an interesting hypothesis emerges, confining them to divine inspiration in the bathroom.

Yet, most ideas do not come in a bathroom and do not then get “tested”, but occur to scientists when looking at lots of stuff they happen to be interested in, not knowing what they are looking at or what they might find, using their wits and knowledge of many other things. Even the notion of proving something later on is odd when you reflect on it: the proof that there are such things as tiny moving objects like bacteria happens before ones very eyes as one sees them crawling about under a microscope.

The notions of “prior hypotheses”, “appropriate methods”, etc. are thus largely a form of ex-post explanation in many empirical sciences. That’s not how you discover something, but how you pretend you discovered something.

                 How the pretense has become mandatory

This pretense has deepened further and further in recent decades, particularly in social science and medicine. Ethics rules that empirical scientists now are bound by in many universities demand one pretends that science is divine inspiration: the ethics committee only allows one to gather data (or analyse existing data) if one has “prior hypotheses”, “consent plans”, etc. They thus demand you know beforehand what you are looking for, which means true new knowledge only comes via divine inspiration.

A major reason for this is that is allows for accountability theater: only within the world of divine inspiration can one possibly know beforehand what data one wants to gather and thus what consent or other things one might need of “participants”. The divine inspiration model allows every aspect of research to be controlled, checked, and mandated. Ethics rules thus mandate empirical scientists become producers of a very particular form of scientific theater.

It gets much, much worse. Not only do administrations and granting agencies now demand a kind of “science role-playing” from all and sundry, but scientists themselves are now doing this to each other. The divine inspiration model is what many teach as the “scientific method” to many students, particularly business students and medical students.

The latest in this slide is the notion of “pre-registration plans”, not only on experiments, but on all forms of empirical discovery. In an increasing number of (top) journals, one is frowned upon if one has not pre-registered the planned analysis in a paper. The weird reasoning behind this is that if one didn’t go looking for something in particular, it’s not science if you discover it. That leaves divine inspiration as the only valid form of science: divinity whispered ideas into one’s head, after which one wrote down the tests and the data to go check on that idea, followed by the performance of the appropriate tests and the resulting answer. It makes anything else, like combining observations from different accidental empirical sources, illegal and unethical because one didn’t ask permission of those accidental sources to be probed for knowledge. The science of old wasn’t pre-registered, so its not science. How bizarre can one get? And yet, that is now the supposed pinnacle of empirical science.

Pre-registration plans do not help science, but constrict scholars into play-acting science. It is accountability theater. And it wasn’t ethics committees or evil university managers that cooked them up either: it was other scientists telling themselves and others this was “purer” and a way to “prevent abuse”.

In economics, this has now crystallised into what is known as the randomista culture: if it cannot be presented as a “clean experiment”, you simply have no chance at top journals with your empirical paper, unless it is of innate concern to the country that journal is based in. So young scientists have learned not even to look at important events or big-picture thinking, but to scan the world for what looks like an experiment. This leads to lots of papers showing estimated causal relations in highly specific contexts, often useless, but conforming to the image of science as running experiments based on divinely inspired ideas.

                    How the pretense has become a habitual self-image

It gets worse still if one considers how scientists now “write up” results. In many disciplines a very particular form of communication has arisen: the scientific article. Many journals and disciplines have developed extremely tight notions of what such an article should look like. In economics, for instance, most journals expect a particular length, an abstract, an intro, a methods section, a results section, conclusions, and reference lists. Other disciplines and journals have other habits, but they are just as proscriptive. There are very particular rules on what to reference, how to reference, what to include in the methods, and how to report results.

The subterfuges involved in writing now taught to students as a matter of course mimic the way budgets are presented: everything is presented as rational and a strength, even if its a weakness. So suppose a scientist trialed a pill on some patients who had low education and spoke an obscure dialect, with little idea as to what was happening to them, merely consenting because that way they hoped to get some medical attention. Those patients will probably not have taken them in the correct dosage at the correct times, and hence its very far away from the ideal group. How would a scientist “inform” the referees of this disadvantage in his study though? He relates the information in a way that makes it look good, and not bad. So he will sell the lack of language and education skills of the patients as an advantage, for instance because those patients have no “prior expectations of the working of these medicines and will thus not realise during the trial whether they got the active pill or the placebo, and hence not be biased in their responses”. Sounds good, no? Not quite untrue, but not the whole truth either, is it? Its just an example of how scholars are now trained to show the shiny side of any coin, not its grubby side. Spin is now a way of life.

Deviations from the norm are punished, even if the deviation is purely in style and actually functional. For instance, if a scientist would send an economics journal a video in which some market phenomenon is much better explained than words ever could, she’d have no chance, certainly not as a stand-alone piece. Videos are not considered “real science”, at least not in economics, even if moving images can be a more powerful explanation than the non-moving images inherent in texts. Smells, artworks, etc., are also deemed non-scientific. A collection of explained pictures is similarly not-done as a stand-alone piece of science. And yes, I have tried it a few times!

Still, scientific museums are full of such artifacts used by scientists past and present to demonstrate scientific truths and explain things to the next generation and their colleagues. But conforming to the quasi-religious strictures that exist around “scientific articles” is the way individual scientists get kudos for their research from the gate-keepers, their peers. So once again, the conformism and monoculturalism is not done by outsiders, but insiders, and not out of evil-intent but out of the heart-felt notion that this is “how it should be”.

                   How deceitful pretense is now the norm

The perniciousness goes deeper still. Every sentence of what scientists nowadays write in articles is a performance of sorts, with an element of deceit. One for instance has to acknowledge powerful figures in a discipline by mandated forms of flattery, such as by saying “the seminal paper by X showed” where X is someone powerful in that discipline, often the intended editor of the journal a paper is sent to. If one would say “it was probably widely known for centuries, but X got his name on the following piece of common sense knowledge” one might in a strict sense be more scientific, but it would never get passed the refereeing process. Dividing knowledge neatly into packages of “truths” that were each “discovered and proven” by someone in particular is now a pretend-view of the world that one cannot avoid buying into when writing an article. It is a practice that is totally unscientific, but completely fits the ”hypothesis, test, result” mantra.

The same goes for the issue of what counts as a contribution, what is deemed a “significant result”, how much evidence is required depending on whether the audience already believes it, etc. Scientific papers, particularly at the top journals, are now more like a walk through the subconscious prejudices of the editors and referees than that they explain and reflect good science. Only by hitting the subconscious boxes of editors and referees can one get “accepted”.

Junior scientists very actively try to second-guess the subconscious of their judges, down to the font type and the particular Latin phrase they think an intended referee would appreciate, based on an analyses of which school she attended and what she wrote in her last 5 editorials. And no, I am not kidding. That’s not the worst I have seen. There is the “seminar dance”, “the first draft slant”, “the after conference-dinner pitch”, and of course the “hiring of the student of the editor”. It really is a commercial circus now.

This hence goes to the deeper point that scientists nowadays are nearly all degraded into performance monkeys: they no longer own science but have to continuously earn their place by appearing to be the right sort of monkey. They are forced into theater and are honed in the art of deception towards colleagues, grant agencies, themselves, and the general public.

This is the reality of empirical science now. No-one planned it to be this way, but here we are. And it is too easy to blame university managers or research-performance exercises for this slide. Those external pressures sped it up, but much of the change was championed and pushed by scientists themselves, responding both to internal competitive pressures and the evolving notion of what science is supposed to be.

                How it came to be thus

How does this “performing monkey” reality of modern science and scientists compare with the scientists of centuries past? Why did the previous model stop functioning?

Well, the performance art of the previous generations of scientists was a somewhat aristocratic pass-time, done by a small layer of privileged people who thought they were better than everyone else. They performed science to their audience largely in a display of their superiority, showing off. The production of science behind the scenes though was whatever practical way there was of finding out about something.

The main merit to the old system was that there was a lot of pragmatism involved in how scientific knowledge was produced. Charles Darwin just packed up and went gallivanting to far-away islands to have a look at exotic animals in a situation no-one would stop him experimenting on them, dissecting them, or whatever else he wanted to do with them. He combined his close observations with knowledge of breeding dogs and cows back home, inspired by economic ideas of social selection. He asked no permission, had no clear idea of what he was looking for, and interfered with any animals he felt he needed to interfere with. He’d never get away with it today.

There was also a larger scope of inquiry because there was less competition, so scientists felt more entitled to wonder through large territories. The lack of much scrutiny meant it was easier for an individual to do “grand science” about the whole political economic system, or how to view a complex problem like covid-19. We no longer train scientists to think grand, and we certainly don’t reward it: cut-throat competition rewards specialisation and “keeping to what you know best”. In some sense hence, part of the current problem is that there are just too many empirical scientists leading to these tiny territories.

The “performing monkey” reality of modern science has then lead to a great impoverishment in scientific teaching and methodology used, essentially losing the benefits of pragmatism and aristocratic grandiosity. The monkeys are now all small-time performers having lots of pretend-Eureka moments. Even if the “winners” among them then start to comment on big things, the problem they face is that they were not trained to do so and in my opinion, usually very bad at it.

The main disadvantage of the old system was that it was inherently not very accountable and openly wasteful as most supposed scientists did very little but rake up a salary whilst pontificating to students. Moreover, it often didn’t seem like science when one looked a bit more closely because of course the aristocrats performing towards the public liked to present a much more pristine face than the reality. They were often sloppy and wrong, inevitably so if they talked about many things at once. It was easy to challenge them.

There is no obvious single person, country, or development to blame for the slide towards mass pretense in empirical science: it is the way it has gone, probably because of the incentives of all organisations to seem scientific, and the ability of particular groups inside academia to force others on the defensive by forcing them to conform to a much more narrow and particular view of science. I think competitive pressures got us here. Too many scientists combined with with the relentless need to have appealing but defensible positions. Exactly the same force that has lead governments into accountability theater.

                 The costs of all this pretense and deceit

We are only just discovering the areas in which the monocultural reality is costing science and society, but I suspect that the massive failure of science and scientists in the covid-19 crisis is largely due to the transformation of science from an aristocratic but pragmatic endeavour into this “performing monkey” accountability theater.

For one, being in constant monkey-mode themselves, many scientists have lost the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. They think something must be true when a top journal publishes it because it’s a top journal. They think it has authority because it makes the media and is taken over by prestigious international organisations. They do this partly because the high degree of specialisation makes it difficult for them to judge anything outside their field, but also partly because they have been trained to think outside rewards represent the ultimate judgment of whether something is true. They are totally focused on those rewards themselves and they are truth-seeker, aren’t they? How could those journals and organisations then get it wrong? Unimaginable. Their own lives would suddenly make less sense in a world where one couldn’t trust the supposed top outlets.

Relatedly, governments only have these one-trick monkeys to draw upon. They’re the ones who get the grants, are directors of institutes, and play by these rules. They also play along with the performance-needs of the government, so they are naturally the ones in their vicinity. That’s a general problem in our society, but one more visible in an emergency. What makes it more of a problem in an emergency is that the performing monkeys are automatically more “audience oriented”. They really do not like to be seen to disagree with “mainstream science”, nor with what government wants of them. They have been selected to be like that.

Yet, Covid-19 presented an acute problem needing a broad view. The response to Covid-19 needed an overall view of a hundred and one areas involved (many subfields in economics, sociology, psychology, virology, public administration, transport, etc.), and it needed that view to be generated within days, not months or years.

In the kind of complex situation the pandemic represented, the limited number of bits for which one in a hurry can do “hypothesis, test, result” science is far too slow and too detail-oriented to be more than a small piece of the puzzle. What do those trained in very narrow areas do though when they suddenly get responsibility for making judgments on much more complex problems? As we now know, they follow the group for their actual opinions.

Lacking training in coming up with general pictures themselves, the epidemiologists and virologists suddenly thrust in the role of chief scientific advisers to governments just didn’t realise the potential effects of various actions. And how could they? This made them highly susceptible to sacrificial group think: “Something must be done. That dramatic course of action (locking up everyone) is something. So let’s to that”.

Hordes of “scientists” on the outside were egging them on to do just that. It gave them safety in numbers, with some top journal and international organisation pieces to back them up. What else could they have come up with than ridiculous models with ridiculous numbers of projected casualties unless one did something totally unproven? As we now know, the advising scientists in nearly all Western countries gave in to this pressure, except in Sweden.

In what was another across-the-board betrayal of science, the hordes of scientists advocating lock downs and other unproven experiments reversed the onus of proof. They simply turned around and asked those who disagreed with them to prove to their satisfaction that there was a better course of action. And when they learned over time that no country in the world got even a small fraction of the deaths-from-covid that were predicted (even with lock downs), the unproven assertion many of them moved to was that “that was because they implemented our advice”. Two betrayals of science in one short statement. Essentially, the “scientists” covered up. Just like governments presenting their budgets cover up what they don’t know. Seeming is everything.

                     Accountability theater gone covid-mad

The clearest indication of how poor the training and thinking of most empirical scientists has become is how they are now falling over themselves to analyse and comment upon how governments and countries have “performed” in times of Covid. They take the numbers on those tested for covid-19 or deaths from covid-19 as the key “performance indicators” in this accountability theater, and are discussing in thousands of papers and blogs how this or that country, government, and advising body stacks up relative to others.

Just a year earlier, performance was on totally different indicators, like GDP growth, or perhaps trade-deals and “sustainable development”. Those previous goals have been momentarily forgotten, as if they are of no value at this time.

Worse still, Covid-tests and deaths are not a sustainable or logical way to look at government performance right now. One can quibble over what would be a reasonable indicator, but surely it would include all deaths, some notion of how sustainable current policies are, some notion of changes to our wealth-generating capacity that has to pay for future policies, and some wider notion of changes in how the population is feeling about a whole raft of things. Surely the future of our children and. our businesses still matter, even in times of covid, and hence changes to those futures still matter for judging current performances? And surely, abused women, the wider health of society, our military prowess, and everything else we normally care about is still part of the goal function too?

So how can one possibly fall over oneself to assign blame or praise to governments on the basis of the tiny wobbles in total deaths connected to covid-19 without looking at some notion of how the big things are going? It is a total loss of perspective.

It makes no sense at all, except within the logic of accountability theater. Narrow-minded ignorance of wider questions is exactly how empirical scientists have now been raised to think for a generation or more. It is exactly how grant agencies judge things. It is exactly how the government accountability machinery now works. It is exactly how international organisations now work: they all habitually pretend to have frameworks, plans, and answers to the current specific concerns of the population, judging others and themselves on “performance” in those realms. When those concerns are wide, the pretense is broad and the notion of performance is broad. When those concerns are narrow, the pretense is narrow and the notion of performance is narrow. Scientists are simply joining in.

So the whole circus of performing monkeys now chases the whims of the population, because that is what they have increasingly been doing the last 30 years. We are not watching hordes of scientists losing their minds, but hordes of scientists doing exactly what they have been increasingly trained to do.


                 What we need.

We need different scientists. To help with a fast-changing situation, we need scientists who are nimble, pragmatic, broadly-informed, immersive. Most of all, they should not be afraid to disagree with supposed top journals, top institutions, or top scientists, but take their own council. That needs a form of confidence that comes from real independence and long training.

We also need the involvement in government of people with a reasonable view of how many things fit together and what various relativities are, able to critically evaluate science. This is the sort of person top civil servants used to be. Nowadays, the advisers closest to government in many countries are media-managers, highly adept at reading what the population wants to hear. Seeming is everything. But, alas, spin-doctors are not all that good at understanding a complex situation they haven’t seen before, with their instincts honed not towards what is best for the population, but towards what that population wants to hear. They manage the audience, not the problem, running rings around those “hypothesis, test, result” scientists who are now in essence chasing seeming over being as well.

To prevent a recurrence of the entirely avoidable economic, social, and health disaster now befalling us and to get us out of this mess will require a radical overhaul of scientific teaching, funding, and its relation with mass-communication. This will take some doing though.

Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 1:31am in

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.

What’s wrong with capitalism? Interviewed by Rudyard Griffiths

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 6:52pm in

Video With Original Footage of David Rappoport in Star Trek: The Next Generation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/06/2020 - 2:40am in

Major Grin is a YouTuber, who posts videos about Star Trek, many of which mock the show, pointing out some of its flaws and inconsistencies. The video below is just a collection of scenes from Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data, the android crew member, visits prisoners in the Enterprise’s brig. What may make it particularly interesting for fans of the series are the scenes from the story ‘The Most Toys’ where he visits the villain, Kivas Fajo.

Fajo was a galactic billionaire collector of strange and rare objects. In ‘The Most Toys’, he takes Data captive and tries to add him to his collection. Data resists, and is helped to escape by one of Fajo’s employees. Fajo  intercepts them, however, shooting her with his disruptor, and threatens to kill another one of this servants unless Data obey him. Data raises his phaser to kill Fajo, but is then rescued as both he and Fajo are transported back to the Enterprise.

The role of Fajo was to be played by the British actor David Rappoport. Rappoport played the leader of the dwarfs in the 1980s Terry Gilliam fantasy film, Time Bandits and one of the O Men in one of the Beeb’s ’80s children’s programmes. He was also friends with the people, who ran the Old Profanity showboat down on Bristol’s docks. Despite his lack of height, Rappoport was a performer with real charisma. He had attitude, style and swagger, as shown by his performance in Time Bandits. He appeared in a number of movies and TV series, but managed to break out from just playing SF/ Fantasy roles. Shortly before his death, he starred in a Channel 4 show about an uptight British businessman, complete with bowler hat and pinstripe suit, who becomes more relaxed and laid back when he visits America and experiences proper pop music. Sadly, he died during the making of ‘The Most Toys’ and was replaced by an actor of normal height.

It’s interesting comparing the performances of Rappoport and his replacement. While the other actor’s performance is light, almost comic, Rappoport’s is all snarling aggression, spitting hate at Data from behind the cell’s forcefield.

I don’t want to take anything away from Warwick Davis’ achievement in making the same transition from SF, Fantasy and Horror to mainstream television – he’s now the host of the British game show Tenable – but I do wonder how much of his success he owes to David Rappoport having done it just before him.

David Rappoport – one of the great figures of British fantasy cinema. RIP big fellow.

What kind of crowd are we now seeing? The 5 surprises in this pandemic.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 8:55pm in

There are 5 aspects of the covid-19 pandemic I really did not see coming, all pointing to a phenomenon that European sociologists of a century ago spent their whole lives describing, coming up with theories about crowds and their behaviour – theories now largely forgotten. Scholars like Norbert Elias, Theodor Adorno, and Elias Canetti, witnesses and survivors of the World Wars, wrote about crowds and used phrases few people now recognise, like “hunting packs”. Those sociologists witnessed how whole populations in villages, cities, and countries changed in a matter of weeks from docile citizens into fascists, communists, warring tribes, and mourning packs.Cartoon angry mob stick characters walking Vector Image

It seems crowds are back, eliciting individual behaviour not seen on this scale for nearly a century. Let me talk about these crowds in the context of the 5 elements that appeared over time that surprised me.


                        Contagion of fear and of policies throughout the world

The emotional interconnectedness of the whole world shone out in this crisis, as evidenced by the quick and ubiquitous contagion of mass hysteria through social media and the popular media in February-March 2020. Even the Chinese censors were unable to prevent mass panic from breaking out over covid-19 on Weibo and other social networks, and there was no stopping the mass hysteria that soon followed in the West and eventually appeared everywhere in the world.

Newspapers were lapping up the fear; “experts” were fanning the flames; the WHO and lots of other organisations were quick in pushing the “something terrible is coming” messages; normally rational scientists with a keen sense of perspective were writing mass petitions that begged governments for totalitarian responses; elites in poor countries followed suit; etc. This is all evidence of contagion of emotions and beliefs, turning individuals into fearful crowds. It happened essentially in no more than a few weeks. That’s all it took.

I really did not see coming that the world was so emotionally interconnected. What I witnessed with surprise was how the contagion also affected many of my friends and family members, making them look very differently at the same objective risks and possibilities within a space of just a few days in mid-March. I still remember how one week my students were fearless rationalists and the next week they were anxious and meek. Smart, talented young people with nothing to fear from this virus. The contagious wave of fear, affirmed by policies, transformed them.


                How the West followed China and thus respects China.

One could see the implicit respect in the West for China shown by the West following the Chinese policies of mass lock downs.

One does not follow the hysteria of the beggar but tells him to calm down, yet one does take serious the hysteria and subsequent actions of the respected citizen. So too with countries. Europe initially poo pooed the policies of China, but adopted them very quickly when fear spread. India copied the UK and Africa followed Europe, following the logic that if the countries one looks up to do this, it must make sense, right? The surprise in this is how Europe followed China.

I had not yet realised how respected China now actually is as a citizen in the world community and in Europe. Interestingly, the place that most sees itself as the superior of China, the US, is the place that most strongly resisted following its example, though even there large parts of the population were on board with the same policies.


                     The widespread and sustained appeal of the hysteria.

This is the deepest puzzle for me and the most interesting observation. Populations became overwhelmingly supportive of totalitarian responses to the threat of the virus and strongly resented smaller groups or countries that tried visibly different policies (like Sweden). That desire to see others do the same as oneself is one of the hallmarks of crowd behaviour: the crowd wants to feel one and does not tolerate dissent. Through media and social networks, people were egging each other on to stick to rules and punish dissenters. Dissenting voices in the media and academia were censored.

There was also other classic crowd behaviour: status, careers, beauty, and any other form of social position were momentarily irrelevant. Everyone got a break from their ambitions and other burdens carried in “normal life”. They lost their individuality. Instead, everyone was a potential victim of the virus and everyone was focused on the threat, with every “other” a potential contaminant. Countries and regions locked themselves against others, whether those other regions were ”cleaner” or the opposite. A large new set of rituals and beliefs very quickly got taken up: washing hands, keeping distance, wearing masks, and wiping surfaces. Such things were known as totems, taboos, and sacred rituals by social scientists of a century ago.

This behaviour is very reminiscent of the stories of crowds by writers of the 19th and 20th century who witnessed the rise of nationalism, puritanism, fascism, and communism, deeply impressed by how millions of individuals became united in crowds. Quintessential elements are the extreme fluidity of values, beliefs, and the negation of individualism and the pursuit of individual success. In crowds, groups dynamics are highly accelerated as individuals blur into one and want to blur into one: crowds are groups operating in a high-intensity mode that unlocks behaviour not otherwise seen. The high-intensity mode comes with a clear goal everyone obsesses about, whereas normally groups have fuzzier goals like the wellbeing of its members.

Yet, the crowds of Europe as depicted by Elias Canetti, Theodor Adorno, and Gustav Le Bon were dense, with people packed close together physically, either hunting, feasting, or lamenting. The images one then thinks of are of marching armies, stadiums full of fanatical supporters, jamborees, rave parties, and crowded funerals full of weeping widows. One thinks of people touching many others, becoming one entity in joint movement and thinking.

The covid-19 crowds were of a very different nature, neither feasting, nor hunting, nor lamenting. They were not made up of people physically close together, but by people keeping their distance. Only on the internet and in their minds were people acting together against a common threat that was perceived to threaten each of them as individuals.

Is this a new type of crowd, the “anxious internet crowd”, or some more well-known form of crowd that is somewhat disguised? I will speculate about that later, but the key observation is the sustained popularity of the totalitarian response to covid-19 in Europe, which indicates something is going on that really appeals to people: they want it to go on.

In March 2020, I truly thought the hysteria and the resulting support for draconian measures would soon fade as people realised the risks were not that high and the damage of the reactions was immense. From the extensive economic and wellbeing literatures, I knew mental health and happiness would go down a lot and that unemployment would go up a lot, which is indeed what actually happened. Yet, mistakenly, I expected this unhappiness and loss of jobs to translate into protests and resistance.

When the low death numbers started rolling in in April and the IMF started pumping out dire predictions of the collapsing economies, I thought: “here we go, this will at least wake up the economists and the governments so the madness will now soon end”. Well, the economists in central banks did start to jump up and down, but that was about it in terms of waking up. My mistake was to see it all as evidence of mass hysteria, and not of the transformation of populations into crowds. Mass hysteria is dangerous but very transitory. Crowds are much scarier things.

I expected large groups would realise within weeks the enormity of their loss of liberty and the violation of their personal sphere and privacy. I thought parents would rebel against the damage done to their children. I thought adults would rebel against the inhuman locking up and social isolation of their elderly parents in nursing homes. I thought the groups that lost their jobs and dignity would be rebelling in the streets. I thought scientists would regain their critical views of the mass experiments their societies had embarked upon.

None of this occurred anywhere. The closest to the protests I expected to see were the rallies in the US by small right-wing groups, apparently only saved from the lure of the hysteria in the rest of the world by the extreme partisanship of their politics and their disdain for the rest of the world. I am not normally on the side of groups like the Tea Party or the Second Amendment die-hards, but this was one of those occasions where I thought their behaviour was normal and rational whilst that of the rest was not.

Yet, on deeper reflection what might be a better explanation for these “hold-outs” in the US is that they were already crowds, but then with a very different goal that united them. Perhaps their behaviour is not due to the US being resistant to crowds, but due to the US having succumbed to them a while back already. Covid-19 was too late to turn the US into a single crowd. The unexpected benefits of extreme partisanship!

Whatever the reason for the protests in the US though, those protesters were the exception in the West, particularly here in the UK where only somewhat aristocratic intellectuals were speaking out against the totalitarian policies. Among the masses of scientists and the population, the crowd-state endures. Even now, mid-June, parents are protesting in large numbers against resuming the education and social interaction of their children; the locked down unemployed protest against measures to end the lock down; office workers protest against the prospect of going back to offices and work places; etc.

So the UK population is basically protesting against the return of normality and the chance of a decent life for themselves and their kids. This can’t just be ongoing fear. It’s the kind of behaviour we normally in social science associate with crowds as it is within crowds that people stop caring about their actual health, wealth, and all the other things they care about in normal life. Some deep need they do not normally get to satisfy is being met that makes them willing to damage their children, their own health and their own future. This is distinctly “crowd-like” behaviour, even if it’s a weird crowd.

These crowds are getting some kind of kick out of having an immediate joint goal that they don’t want to let go of. And particularly in the UK, which to me suggests the relief of the usual “keeping up appearances” culture that so typifies the UK must be immense. Whatever it is though, I have been taken aback by the abiding popularity of totalitarian responses to this minor threat and continue to wonder about what type of crowd I am watching.


                  Virtue signalling and hyper-rationality

The crisis saw a hyper-activity of social scientists and governments in coming up with ways to be seen to protect the population from the virus. Schools got hundreds of pieces of conflicting advice on what to do by the ministries; the health sector was flooded with advice from medics and others; the newspapers saw one petition after another with particular advice from particular groups, etc. In my line of work, social science, researchers have stopped doing almost anything else and are churning out maps of covid infections, analyses of who is more infected, the optimal way to prevent longer-term job-loss whilst still outlawing normal job activities, and the economic effects of different types of lock downs.

I see 99% of that work and advice as making the problems worse, ie totally counter-productive and essentially validating the goal of the crowd, with no regard as to actual health outcomes: it has largely been about seeming to reduce risks of infections and deaths from this one particular disease, to the exclusion of all other health risks or other life concerns. Social scientists have slotted in seamlessly with the program of how to help the seeming, taking the overall strategy as unquestionable. Of course they mumble something generic in their conclusions, but to truly strongly oppose the new orthodoxy? Not done much, though, to be fair, increasingly so.

It is this seeming aspect that makes me see this activity as a spectacular form of virtue signalling. They are falling over themselves to be part of the crowd, which is the essence of virtue signalling. The lack of interest in overall health and wealth effects makes it virtue signalling: ticking a very particular box but not making tough tradeoff calls that would openly offend the others obsessed only with covid-19 infections and deaths. The lack of interest in a long-run solution is also telling (except for the somewhat magical idea of a vaccine that would arrive in months rather than the usual decades that they take. It smacks of the belief in a wonder-weapon that will unexpectedly win the war for a losing army).

Whilst I knew in March that a hyper-focus was a natural aspect of fear, I didn’t expect what can be called this calm “hyper-rational” approach taken to the supposed threat. It is almost as if the virus quickly morphed from something that scientists and governments feared into something that they loved to hate and be seen to fight against using all their talents. Such a goal-transformation is also a typical crowd-attribute: crowds like being a crowd and the goal that unites them is somewhat immaterial to a crowd, so it is very willing to switch goal functions at the drop of a hat. From fleeing to guarding. From hunting to total war. As long as the crowd doesn’t end.

In the language of Elias Canetti, one can describe what happened as the formation of a fleeing crowd (lock down) turning into a hunting pack (track-trace), turning into a warring crowd (eliminate, safe zones). And now that the crowds have lost their goal, they are dissipating in many countries and normal concerns return. One can see the massive take-up of the BLM movement in various other countries than the original and focal point of that movement as, partly, due to the crowds in those other countries very eager to latch onto another goal before the crowd falls apart.

I still don’t fully understand the psychology behind this, but the March-June 2020 period really does remind me most of the enthousiasm among scientists and government departments in the second world war when they were supporting the war effort of their countries. Germany and the UK come to mind most of all. I am saddened that covid-19 is the cause they ended up with this time round rather than something more sustainable and useful (like perhaps the local environment or heritage): they have picked a fight they cant really win and a religion that can only disappoint, enslave, and impoverish. Just like the ideologies of the 1930s.

Yet, the analogy with a war effort is really what it looks like. There is the same unquestioning presumption that the cause is right, that the fight will be won, that naysayers and non-combatants are basically traitors, and that there are technical solutions that will quickly overcome any apparent problem or collateral damage. There is also the same disregard and disinterest on the part of individuals in the enormity of the collateral damage, either to their own kids, people in other countries, their own futures, etc. There is even the same fatalism about the inevitability of the path they are on. These are individuals somehow enjoying not being individuals.

It is coming apart now, but last so in London, the home of theater.


                  The medical establishment defending its policy pre-eminence

There has been, particularly the last few weeks, a doubling down of the medical hierarchy and scientists involved in the advice to governments. I expected the scientific advisers to the European governments (the UK and the Netherlands in particular), but also the journal the Lancet, and all the other key public health advisers and organisations in the rest of the West to switch stories round about mid-April. I expected them to start peddling back hard and openly calling for the lock downs to end, schools to reopen, the necessity for people to touch each other, etc. Whilst there have indeed been many medical groups shouting about the damage being done in their neck of the woods (cancer doctors, education groups, mental health practitioners, organisations for abused women, etc.), the group feeding directly into policy has not changed its tune. The health generals are refusing to admit their war is lost and was futile to begin with.

Indeed, the exact opposite is happening right now: an editor to the Lancet has just published a scathing book on how governments weren’t enslaved enough to medical “advice” and thus got thousands killed unnecessarily. I am afraid there is a counter-argument to be made that the Lancet has been complicit in the deaths of millions by refusing to adopt realistic and overall views of the total effects of the advice they published continuously in their journal, so pressing the “thousands unnecessary deaths” line when the damage runs into the equivalent of millions is just weird. Methinks this editor protesteth too much.

Though governments throughout Europe are essentially forced by the collapsing economy and social systems around them to open up their economies, even if the population doesn’t want this, the medical advisers here in the UK are right now still doubling-down on the scare-mongering. Top journals in medicine still publish stories on how important a 2-meter distancing is, how likely a devastating second wave, the dangers of children who could infect their parents, against the lack of absolute safety in offices, against less than 2 weeks quarantines, against using temporary nurses, etc. They remain willfully blind to the huge health and social costs of this advice, simply hiding behind the unforgivable excuse that that is not their problem and they are just warning against the risk of covid-19.

So whilst the prophesies of doom have been well and truly debunked by the low death rates everywhere, no matter what policies were pursued, the medical hierarchy maintains a steady glut of fear stories. They also maintain that their advice has saved millions and that society needs to progress with what they call “extreme caution” and I call “extreme recklessness”. Only the Norwegian health authorities were brave enough to say they over-reacted, but even they did not admit the scale of their over-reaction.

                         In conclusion

To my best current reading, what we’ve seen in March-June 2020 in Europe is the emergence of fleeing crowds turning into hunting packs turning into warring crowds. These crowds are now either slowly dissipating as they have run out of a joint goal, or they are still looking for other goals to keep the crowd intact.

This is behaviour not seen in Europe on this scale for almost a century. Perhaps the reason crowds are back are because the levels of inequality are back to those of that time: an inequality that puts immense psychological pressure on the majority of the population, which is thereby eager to adopt the numbing effects of becoming a crowd, relieving themselves of the burden of expectations and subjugation normal in highly unequal societies. Perhaps that is why the US was more immune to the mass hysteria: its high levels of inequality created crowds there a while back, some of which vehemently opposed to other groups they were suddenly asked to join with.

The crowd behaviour so openly on display now is making me re-evaluate some other recent phenomena too. Political correctness and virtue signalling now in hindsight seem like embryonic crowd-formation and crowd-enforcement. Ditto for re-emerging ultra-nationalist groups. If its true that crowd-formation is essentially how populations react to high continuous stresses, such as from increased inequality, then very unequal places like Australia are going to see a lot more of this type of phenomenon. More equal places have less to fear, though of course the huge depression that is now upon is, is an acute crowd-formation event itself.

I feel how I imagine opponents of the Nazis felt in the Third Reich: dazed amazement at what has “begeistered” (animated) the majority of the population, coupled with the determination to hold on to the hope that that population will eventually come to its senses, saddened at the huge destruction it seems to take. Like those who loved German culture lamented the debasement of the peoples of Goethe and Schiller, so too do I feel the Weltschmerz of the damage done in this crowd moment to all I love. Snap out of it! Please!

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part One

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).


This is a great book. It’s the kind of book on socialism I was very much looking for in the 1980s when the papers were all praising Margaret Thatcher and alleged superiority of capitalism to the heavens. What I wanted then was a classic defence of socialism, which clearly showed the destructive nature and defects of capitalism, and how these would be removed for the better under a proper socialist government with a clear idea of what needed to be done and how it could be achieved.

This is a rather long review, so I’ve split up into four parts.

The book was written between 1924 and 1928, when it was first published. George Bernard Shaw is one of the great figures in British socialism. An Irishman, he was one of the founders of the Fabian Society along with Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and editor of its anthology of socialist writings, Fabian Essays. He’s best known for his play Pygamalion, about a linguist, Henry Higgins, who takes Eliza, a rough working class girl, and tries to mould her so she can pass as a lady of the genteel classes. It was filmed as the musical My Fair Lady, starring Rex Harrison.

Shaw wrote it between 1924 and 1928, when it was published, at the request of his sister-in-law, Lady Cholmondley. She had asked him to write a letter explaining socialism for women. Shaw looked into it, and discovered that amongst the masses of literature about socialism, there weren’t any books that realised that there were such creatures. And, he adds in his ‘Instead of a Bibliography’, very few that recognised the existence of men either. The book’s addressed to a female audience. The reader is a ‘she’ and the examples given are taken from women’s lives, jobs and experience. Shaw recognises that most women are occupied as wives and mothers, or shop girls and workers in the great weaving mills, the common female roles at the time. But he also recognises and fully supports the fact that more professions were being opened up to women in science, law, medicine and so on. If done badly, this approach by a male writer can seem patronising, but Shaw, as a great writer, manages to avoid it. And even though it’s aimed at women, I greatly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to other blokes.

Capital, Equality of Incomes and Imperialism

Shaw tries to present complex ideas about capitalism by simplifying them down to the level of ordinary people’s housekeeping or domestic economy. He defines capital as left over money. It’s the money you have left after spending your income on rent, food and so on. This is the money that the idle rich, the landlords, invest in industry. And money’s only real value is for the food and clothing that it will purchase. You cannot eat money, and the food it will buy must be eaten or else it will be spoilt. Which means that money must be invested and used, rather than stored up.

At the heart of Shaw’s view of socialism is the equalization of incomes. He believed that everyone should earn exactly the same amount. Capitalism had created vast inequalities of wealth. On the one hand there was a small minority of the idle rich, who had to invent pastimes and diversions in order to use up their wealth. On the other was the vast mass of the poor, living at or near starvation level. He begins by asking the reader how they would divide up the nation’s wealth, challenging the reader to think for herself rather than let him do her thinking for her. He then proceeds to argue that it is impossible to decide that one person should be paid more or less than another because of their personal morality or ability. He sharply criticises the quasi-feudal economy of his day, when 90 per cent of the country worked to support the gentry, who only comprised ten per cent of the country’s population. They do nothing for it, don’t benefit from it, as they can’t personally eat or drink more than anyone else. And instead of investing it, they simply take it out of the country to invest it or spend it abroad. He also attacks British imperialism for this same thing. It hasn’t benefited the peoples we have conquered nor British tradespeople, businessmen and workers. It has led to the exploitation of Blacks abroad, who can paid far less than their British counterparts. Thus Britain is flooded with cheap imports, and British companies are going bust and their workers laid off.

The Progress of Capitalism and Decline of the Businessman Owner

Shaw then describes how the middle class have their origins as the younger sons of the aristocracy, with a few acute remarks on the absurd gradations of class which meant that a wholesaler was socially superior to a retailer. His father was a businessman, who had been a member of the gentry. As such he looked down on the elite Dublin shopkeepers, even though they were richer and entertained the local Irish aristocracy, which he very definitely couldn’t. But business was changing. The age of the small businessman in personal possession of his business, was giving way to joint-stock companies owned by their shareholders and managed by professional, salaried staff. Under pressure from the unions, they were combining to  form monopolistic trusts. This made them ready for nationalisation.

Nationalisation and the Coal Industry

He presents the coal industry as particularly needing nationalisation. At the time he wrote, there were a number of different mining companies. Some worked poor mines and were close to bankruptcy, others very rich. However, miners wages were set at the level the poor mines could afford, which was near starvation. Coal prices were set for the rich mines, and so prices were high. The miners were thus being starved and the consumer overcharged. The mines should thus be nationalised so that the workers were paid a fair wage, and the consumer a fair price. Shaw advocated nationalisation so that costs and prices could be brought down and goods sold at cost price.

Banks and the Stock Market

He also discusses and explains finance capitalism, stocks and shares, debentures, futures and the stock market. He warns the reader against get-rich-quick scams, like the bucket shops which will charge his prices for very risky shares. If people want to invest, they should do so with the government or municipality. Their shares won’t provide a great yield, but they will be safe. He recommends that banks should be nationalised because of the problems the small businessman had acquiring capital. The big businesses rely on financiers, who certainly won’t lend the small businessman wanting a modest loan anything. Neither will the banks. He pointed to Birmingham as an example for the future, as it had established a municipal bank to serve the customers the big banks wouldn’t.












Riley’s Mates Oberman and Barber Smear Rachael of Swindon because She’s RT’d by Lineker

More anti-Semitism smearing and scumbaggery from Rachel Riley, Tracey Ann Oberman and Frances Barber. The internet commenter ‘Rachael Swindon’, or @rachael_swindon, her Twitter monicker, is Rachael Cousins, a firm supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Her internet handle comes from the fact that she’s from the railway town in Wiltshire. According to a Buzzfeed article last year by disgraced FT hack Mark di Stefano, she and her husband are both currently unable to work due to their disabilities. Her husband has fibromyalgia, the same debilitating disease that afflicts Mrs Mike, and which can cause severe pain and fatigue. Swindon herself suffers from osteoarthritis in her legs. As well as supporting Corbyn, she also shares the former Labour leader’s support for the Palestinians. However, this does not mean that she is anti-Semite. She isn’t. It’s perfectly possible to support the country’s indigenous people – the Arabs – without hating Jews. Indeed, the pro-Palestinian organisation to which Tony Greenstein, a self-respecting secular Jew belongs, won’t accept real anti-Semites.

Unfortunately, this fact isn’t reported by the lamestream media, and for fanatical the fanatical supporters of Israel, any sympathy for the Palestinians means that someone must be a vicious anti-Semite. This even extends to left-wing Zionists. When a group of liberal Israelis said the Jewish prayer for the dead, the Kaddish, over dying civilians shot by the IDF last year after they broke out from Gaza, they were subjected to a hail of abuse from the ultra-Zionist right. And yesterday, Rachael Swindon was subjected to the same smearing for her support for the Palestinians by Riley, Oberman and Barber.

This was sparked off by a Tweet she’d put up about another 100 year old man, who like Captain Tom Moore, was also doing laps of his garden for charity. Unlike Captain Moore, he wasn’t White, and wasn’t getting the same amount of attention. Gary Lineker noticed this and retweeted it. And Riley’s mates, Barber and Oberman erupted into frothing ire. They called her Rachel Swindler, claimed that she led a Corbynite troll army to post anti-Semitic hate and abuse against Oberman, and compared her to David Icke.

Zelo Street in his article about this sordid piece of smearing and abuse states that it’s another example of the rich trying to silence the poor. He concludes

‘Rachael Cousins is political, opinionated, insistent, and yes, persistent. But she is not a “swindler”, she doesn’t have a “troll army”, she’s not racist, and not a hate merchant. Yet there are the well off, trying to have her erased from Twitter conversations.

She knew that when she gave BuzzFeed that interview. “I am a woman who has got a voice … They are trying to take that away from me”. Free speech is for everyone, whether you agree with their politics or not. Maybe Ms Cousins’ detractors should remember that.’


One of the ways Rachel Riley tries to silence her critics is by suing them for libel. At the moment she is pursuing Mike and two other people through the courts after they blogged and criticised her for the abuse she has poured on her critics, including calling them anti-Semites simply because they supported Jeremy Corbyn.

This nasty bit of jealousy and smearing by Riley’s friends coincidentally occurred at the same time I was reading Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. First published in 1928, this the great Fabian playwright’s savage indictment of capitalism. It was written at the request of his sister-in-law, and obviously aimed at a female audience. It is directly addressed at the reader – he constantly refers to her using the second person, and the examples used to illustrate his argument are, as far as possible, female. I found it in one of the second hand book companies’ catalogues, and ordered it. Although it was written nearly a century ago – he first began it in 1924 – his arguments still have bite. And one of the many all-too relevant points he makes is how the rich use the law to their advantage against the poor simply because their wealth allows them to engage expensive lawyers that are well beyond the ability of the poor to afford. Shaw writes

The civil law by which contracts are enforced, and redress given for slanders and injuries that are not dealt with by the police, requires so much legal knowledge and artistic eloquence to set it in motion that an ordinary woman with no legal knowledge or eloquence can get the benefit of it only by employing lawyers whom she has to pay very highly, which means, of course, that the rich woman can afford to go to law and the poor woman cannot. The rich woman can terrorize the poor woman by threatening to go to law with her if her demands are not complied with. She can disregard the poor woman’s rights, and tell her that if she is satisfied she can take her complaint into court, knowing very well that her victim’s poverty and ignorance will prevent her from obtaining proper legal advice and protection. (p. 61).

This, in my opinion, exactly describes the behaviour of Riley and her besties Oberman and Barber. She has, however, got a surprise with Mike, as he has been able to crowdfund a defence against her suing him for libel. Mike had simply described how she had abused a sixteen year old school girl with anxiety as an anti-Semite, who then suffered a torrent of similar bullying from her followers and supporters. Riley doesn’t dispute the facts of this case, but nevertheless has accused Mike of libel. It’s important that Mike, and the others defending themselves against her, win in order to stop her abusing the law to silence reasonable criticism of her shabby, unreasonable behaviour.

If you are therefore willing and can afford it, you may wish therefore to make a donation to Mike’s crowdfunding campaign. Details are over at this website.

Captain Moore’s Fundraising Is an Indictment as well as an Achievement

There was praise and celebrations across the country and, indeed, some others, yesterday at the news that Captain Tom Moore had succeeded in raising £15 million for the NHS by doing laps around his garden, all at the grand old age of 99. It’s an inspiring feat, for which Captain Moore rightly deserves the all the praise he received. The army also did their bit by providing him with a guard of honour as he did his laps.

But Mike also put up a provocative piece yesterday, which while also celebrating Captain Moore, also pointedly argues that his fundraising feat is also an indictment and distraction. It’s an indictment of the way the Tories have kept the NHS underfunded. And it’s also a distraction from the Tories catastrophic mishandling of this crisis. It keeps attention away from crucial issues, such as:

The Tories were told to buy equipment, including for ventilators and PPE, after the Health Service’s preparedness for a pandemic was tested in 2016. They didn’t.

We need mass testing to combat the epidemic, but the Tories have so far only managed 35,000 a day, and that’s reluctantly.

The disease chiefly affects those at the bottom of society, which is why ethnic minorities are disproportionately likely to suffer from it.

Mike asks why no-one in the mainstream media is asking why the Tories aren’t funding the NHS properly. And he concludes that as poor people are more likely to die than the very rich, the Tories will keep on distracting us until they decide that enough of us have died.

Cpt Tom Moore hasn’t really been found fit for work – but his fundraising shows the NHS isn’t either

These are excellent points.

The fact that no one is asking why the NHS is so underfunded is a terrifying demonstration of the way 40 years of Thatcherism has normalised charity work standing in for state provision. Thatcher wanted to dismantle the welfare state completely, including privatising the NHS. She was only prevented by doing so by a massive cabinet revolt, but since then the Tories and Blue Labour – the Blairites – have been privatising the NHS by stealth. One of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state, apart from the fact that she saw it as supporting idlers – a view which she also shared with the Nazis, who called such people ‘asocial’ – was because she thought it discouraged traditional charity. If the welfare state was dismantled, the poor would not suffer, or at least, the deserving poor wouldn’t, because human generosity lead people to give more to charity. Over the other side of the Pond, former Democratic president Bill Clinton expressed this in a speech in which he said there couldn’t be a government programme for every issue, and so turned instead to private charity. And where Clinton led, Blair followed, trying to transform the Labour party into a slightly more liberal version of the Tories in the same way that Clinton had taken over much of the free market, anti-welfare ideology of the Republicans in the US. He was also profoundly influenced by Thatcher, who reciprocated, calling him her greatest achievement.

Later on, however, it appears that Thatcher realised her views about private charity were wrong. It doesn’t work like that, and is no substitute for state provision. People have not become more generous. In America, it must be recognised that religious Conservatives are, on average, more generous donors to charity than secular liberals. But charity simply isn’t able to alleviate poverty and deal with issues such as lack of proper healthcare, homelessness and so on as state action in the economy and proper welfare provision. But governments have carried on as though it was.

Thus we have continued fundraising drives for hospitals and other parts of the health service. Schools are also expected to raise part of their budgets through private fundraising by teachers and parents. And a 99 year old man has had to raise money that the government should have provided anyway as a matter of course. To which you can add that now millions of people are being kept from starvation by private charity – food banks – instead of getting the money they need to live, eat, heat their homes and clothe themselves and their families from the welfare state.

A similar point was made a few years ago by one of the American left-wing news sites on YouTube. This was after it was reported that some American teachers were too poor to run cars, but were nevertheless still determined to do their best for their pupils. The media was praising their heartwarming dedication, just as the media yesterday praised Captain Moore’s heartwarming good deed. But the news site argued that such poverty wasn’t heartwarming. Quite the opposite. Dedicated teachers deserved to be paid properly, so that they could afford possessions like cars that everyone else takes for granted.

As for distracting us from the way the government’s repeated failures is killing us, Mike has got a point. During a period of revolutionary ferment, I can’t remember whether it was the 18th or the 19th century, Austria’s chief of police or minister in charge of security was asked if he didn’t think the theatres should be closed. He replied that he wanted them kept open to divert the people away from revolution. And so we have the unedifying spectacle of the press and media encouraging us to praise the great heroes of the medical, care and other workers, who are doing their level best to combat this disease. And all the while the same newspapers have vilified the NHS, junior doctors and other medical staff for resisting Tory NHS reforms and demanding higher pay. It’s particularly disgusting that so many of those, who have lost their lives are members of ethnic minorities that the Tories have done everything they can to smear and deport. One of them came back yesterday with a poem, ‘Will You Still Clap me?’, which pointedly asked whether Brits would still continue to appreciate the contribution BAME people give our society after the crisis is over. It’s clearly struck a nerve, as the head of UKIP denounced it, as has right-wing internet personality Sargon of Gasbag, I mean Akkad.

Mike and Zelo Street have written excellent pieces attacking such hypcrisy, which can be seen at:

‘You Clap For Me Now’ poem highlights hypocrisy of coronavirus response

I am not decrying for a single moment Captain Moore’s splendid fundraising effort. He deserves all the praise he gets. But the NHS also deserves to be properly funded, its workers to be properly equipped and paid, and the British people to have a proper welfare state that gives people the right money they needed to support themselves. And they absolutely deserve a far, far better media than the one we now have, which refuses to raise these issues.

As for the Tories, all they deserve is our utter, unreserved contempt.