Wednesday 14 February 2024

You'll See The Tories' Last Stand On The Far Right...

Britain's voters need to be on guard against extremists in this year's elections, starting tomorrow. The divisive nature of British politics since 2015 has led to the collapse of the country's public services and infrastructure across the board. And we know from bitter experience that this is fertile ground for those on both the far left and far right who prey on the most vulnerable and dissatisfied. So we need a new set of politicians who focus on providing adequate public services and infrastructure rather than stoking 'culture wars' and spouting idiotic nationalism dressed up as patriotism

Starmer seems to have won the Labour Party's ideological battles and occupies relatively centrist ground. The polls suggest we're about to find out whether he's any more effective in government than the Tories have been. But anything can happen, so it's important to be alert to the threat of a Conservative Party in its death throes...

Last week, for example, a group calling themselves the Popular Conservatives (PopCorns) held a launch event in which speakers appeared to mimic the rhetoric from Germany in the 1920s-30s in rants against the judiciary and the courts. Dangerous stuff.

Worryingly, our Defence Secretary (who generally but not always goes by the name 'Grant Shapps') also recently attacked the British military's recruitment policies on "ethnicity, diversity and inclusivity" as part of his party's so-called 'war on woke'. This was alarming enough for the respected Royal United Services Institute to warn that neo-Nazi groups are trying to insert their supporters into Britain's armed forces and police (Evening Standard 14.02.24).

Sunak would likely have you believe that he represents the 'sensible' wing of Britain's Conservative Party (among many wings), but his sole remaining policy involves demonising asylum seekers and deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda (on which he publicly accepted a £1,000 bet) and he recently attended a far right rally in Italy. Bringing back David Cameron as Foreign Secretary was also perceived by some as a sign of centrism. But you'll recall that it was Cameron who moved the Conservatives from the centrist political bloc in the European Parliament to the far right bloc, and they've remained fans of Hungary's leader and Putin fanboy, Viktor Orban to this day. Sunak was also Cameron's go-to contact when lobbying for Greensill/Gupta, so you can see they're really a couple of peas in the same pod.

If you think I'm suggesting that Putin also occupies the far right of the political spectrum, you wouldn't be far wrong. In truth, that 'spectrum' is not so much a line running infinitely left and right as a circle that brings the far right and far left together, cheek by jowl. Make no mistake, both extremes share an authoritarian vision that results in a totalitarian regime controlled by a wealthy elite. German fascists chose the name 'National Socialists' as an appeal as much to the workers and those who leaned left as to those who preferred jackboots to sandals. Putin longs to reinstate the communist USSR or perhaps an earlier empire, but his Russia is effectively controlled by oligarchs with their own private security forces

Britain's politicians may have started out spouting idiotic nationalist slogans as a means of courting marginal voters, but we've seen how this ends in tears as well as outright collapse. It's time Britain's voters sobered up and elected people who want to get on with the job of governing fairly in the national interest.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Our Enemies Are Within. Choose To Deserve Better.

When the British Prime Minister attended a fascist rally in Rome on the weekend, he crossed a line. When he claimed in his speech at that fascist rally that "our enemies... will use migration as a weapon, deliberately driving people to our shores to try to destabilise our societies," he crossed a line. 

In the year to June 2023, the British government allowed 1,200,000 people to come to Britain, of whom 40,000 arrived on 'small boats' seeking asylum. In the previous year, the figures were 1,100,000 and 35,000 respectively. To pretend that the 3% of all immigrants who come to Britain as asylum seekers in small boats are 'deliberately driven by our enemies to destabilise British society' is a very convenient scapegoat for a Prime Minister eager to distract from the many failings in British society. It is the Prime Minister's claim that has the deliberately destabilising effect.

Asylum seekers were not responsible for Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May, Johnson, Truss or Sunak himself.

Asylum seekers were not responsible for the need to bail out our banks during the financial crisis or the crippling austerity budgets that followed. 

Asylum seekers were not responsible for Britain's disastrous decision to leave the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

Asylum seekers were not responsible for perpetrating the vast financial waste and fraud during the Covid19 pandemic.

Asylum seekers were not responsible for ministers and officials partying while everyone else obeyed their Covid restrictions.

Asylum seekers were not responsible for sexual assaults by police officers or MPs.

Asylum seekers are not responsible for the sewage in our rivers or on our beaches.

Asylum seekers are not responsible for our crumbling hospitals, schools and courts, or the potholes in our roads.

Asylum seekers are not responsible for the lack of funding for legal aid, social care, education or social housing.

Asylum seekers are not responsible for our declining incomes, higher taxes and inflation.

Asylum seekers are not responsible for our bankrupt councils or the lack of government in Northern Ireland.

We were, and we are, responsible for all those things.

We elected the people responsible for those things and we keep electing the people who are responsible for those things.

Our enemies are within.

And we have a responsibility to put those things right. A responsibility to defeat the enemies within. 

Not to blame vulnerable people in rubber dinghies for the problems that we created, that we tolerate, among the politicians and their donors and cronies.

We get the government we deserve. It's up to us to choose to deserve better.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Why The British Government Wants You To Pay For Fraud, Not Stop It.

Through its own efforts and inattention, the British government has made fraud one of Britain's largest industry sectors. But it's chief response is to make you pay for it, rather than stop it, because the boom in fraud is also reflected in a boom in political donations, even while the rest of the economy is flat... 

In 2021, the financial cost of fraud was £137bn, making it the UK's sixth biggest industry sector. There were 3.7 million incidents of fraud in England and Wales in 2022, yet 86% of incidents are estimated to go under-reported. Virtually all UK adult internet users say they have seen fraudulent content. The UK was third internationally in the growth of attempted digital fraud between 2019 and 2022. The UK government's own contribution to fraud has been enormous, but not in a good way. According to the National Audit Office:

Most public bodies do not know how much fraud they face and cannot demonstrate that they have the correct level of counter fraud resources... 
The amount of fraud in government expenditure that was reported in the accounts audited by the NAO rose from £5.5 billion total in the two years before the pandemic (2018-19 and 2019-20) to £21 billion in total in the following two years. 
Of the £21 billion, £7.3 billion relates to temporary COVID-19 schemes. These estimates are in addition to an estimated around £10 billion of tax revenue lost to evasion and crime every year. The Public Sector Fraud Authority (PSFA) ...estimates that in 2020-21 there was between £33.2 billion and £58.8 billion of fraud and error in government spending and income unrelated to the pandemic. 
These figures likely understate the scale of the problem because they exclude any amounts that are too small to be reported in the context of any one set of accounts and no estimate was made of the level of fraud in the Department for Health and Social Care’s COVID-19 spend.

Not only is the UK government careless with how much taxpayers' money is lost to fraudsters, it is finding new ways to distribute the burden among consumers: in other words, you are paying for industrial quantities of fraud through both your income and expenditure while the government actively contributes to the problem. The Online Safety Act is designed to shift the burden of addressing online fraud onto tech companies, whose only means of recouping their costs is via consumers. Similarly, the Payment Systems Regulator has been tasked with ensuring that banks and payment service providers - and ultimately their customers - pay for increased 'authorised push payment' fraud.

In these circumstances it should come as no surprise that the UK government is also resisting checks on the sources of political donations. By creating a boom in dirty money, and leaving key loopholes for dodgy donations, the politicians have experienced a boom in political donations:

"...donations have almost trebled... rising from £41 million in 2001 to £101 million in 2019... with 60% of donations in 2019 coming from private individuals. 
The increases in donations have favoured the Conservative party, which had £27 million more in financial resources than Labour in 2019, even when taking account of the public funding received by Labour (known as ‘Short Money’) that is designed to balance resources across the parties."

You see what they did there?

Monday 10 July 2023

Machine Unlearning: The Death Knell for Artificial General Intelligence?

Dall-E and

Just as AI systems seem to be creating a world of their own through various 'hallucinations', Google has announced a competition between now and mid-September to help develop ways for AI systems to unlearn by removing "the influence of a specific subset of training examples — the "forget set" — from a trained model." This is key to allow individuals to exercise their rights 'to be forgotten', to object to processing, restrict processing or rectify errors under EU and UK privacy regulation, for example: Google accepts that in some cases it's possible to infer that an individual's personal data was used to train an AI model even after the personal data was deleted. But what does machine unlearning mean for the 'holy grail' of general artificial intelligence?

Unlearning is intended to be a cost effective alternative to completely retraining the AI model from scratch with the "forget set" removed from the training dataset. The idea is to remove  certain data and its 'influence' while retaining the accuracy or fairness of an AI model and its ability to generalize in ways that have already been held out as examples of what the model can achieve.

A problem with approaches to 'machine unlearning' to date has been inconsistency in the measures for evaluating their effectiveness, making comparisons impracticable. 

By standardizing the evaluation metrics Google hopes to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different algorithms and spark broader work on this aspect of AI.

As part of the challenge, Google will offer a set of information, some of which must be forgotten if unlearning is successful: the unlearned model should contain no traces of the forgotten examples, so that 'membership inference attacks' (MIAs) would be unable to infer that any of them was part of the original training dataset. 

Perhaps unlike the problem of hallucinations or fabrication (from which humans also suffer) - the advent of 'machine unlearning' provides another reason why 'artificial general intelligence' - a computer's ability to replicate human intelligence - will remain elusive, since humans often forget things only to recall them later, or are unable to recall events or aspects of them that we witnessed firsthand and/or were 'supposed' to remember (like an accident or a birthday or wedding anniversary).

Friday 23 June 2023

Russian Invasion Of Ukraine Coming To A Head?

Events of the past 24 hours suggest Putin is either about to back out of Ukraine or spark a war with NATO...

The Ukrainian President warned yesterday of intelligence that suggests the Russians are about to blow up the nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia.

That prompted an immediate bipartisan effort in the US Congress to send Putin/Russia a clear statement that using a tactical nuclear weapon, or blowing up a nuclear powerplant, in Ukraine would cause harm to NATO countries, especially Poland, in the form of radiation; and that would trigger a NATO response under Article 5 of the treaty. 

Meanwhile, Prigozhin, oligarch and owner of the brutal Wagner mercenary group, suddenly reappears with a 30 minute monologue presenting Putin's assault on Ukraine as effectively a coup by local Russian military/authorities and oligarchs who've been plundering Eastern Ukraine since 2014 and triggered the 'special military operation' as a cover for further personal gain. That would certainly set up a basis for he and Putin to back Russia out of Ukraine and pin the whole disaster on those 'culprits'...

Worryingly, this is far worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis, since that stand-off involved ships with warheads nearing a port, while this involves some random Russian soldier with a hand on a detonator...

How this ends depends on who's really in charge and how insane they are.

Not encouraging, based on what we've seen the Russians do since February 2022! 

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