Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Low tech and inefficient shopping

I went clothes shopping today, for trousers. It was an inefficient, low tech experience. I went to a well known clothes store, fingered through racks of trousers - the ones I hated least - looking for a pair or two that might fit me, tried them on, and found a second pair of the same size and type that fitted.

I can remember in the 1980s seeing on television (Tomorrow's World?) a whole body scan of someone (simulated, I think) to get their external dimensions with a view to computer cutting a suit for them. Yes, my body's external dimensions should be an easy thing to measure and record, as often as I like. With this information, finding out which shops have trousers that will fit me in stock ought to be very simple. I may wish to go somewhere and physically see/hold a pair of trousers to see if I am content with their colour, style, texture, and so on, but why waste my time if they don't have any that fit me?

If I have seen a style/colour that I like, given my known dimensions and preference for fit (length/looseness) it should be no problem to computer cut a pair of trousers just for me, and deliver them home or somewhere for collection. This should vastlly reduce the amount of already made trousers to flick through - though actually the flicking through could be saved by automation.

Perhaps the combination of size and fit merits a try on, but the size of trousers should be measured consistently (ie in a standard way) to avoid irritating variations in actual size compared to nominal size even in a particular shop. I should be able to try on any pair of trousers for size and fit information.

In an RBE the technology would be applied to radically reduce the time and materials waste involved in what should be the simple task of obtaining an ordinary garment.

Mastermind spoof on debt in EU

Spoof mastermind sketch redolent of Bird and Fortune exposing absurdity of the fact that "broke economies" owe each other money.

Restorative Justice

The report about the riots in England last summer was out today (28 March 2012). From my fairly bried skim through it I can see that it favours restorative justice strongly. I was reminded of a recent item on BBC Radio 4, probably last week, in which meetings had been set up between the parents of someone who had been brutally murdered in the street for no apparent reason, and the perpetrators of another, I believe violent crime (meeting the actual people who had killed their son would be unbearable, and I assume this is the reason it wasn't done that way). What really struck me was how the perpetrators used expressed in their own words how they hadn't really previously considered what the loved ones of their victims might feel as a result of their activities. This is what seems 'restorative' for the perpetrators, who in so many cases 'see' and reform their lives - and of course don't re-offend. For the victims or their loved ones, what's restorative is to see that change happen. Something good has come out of the dreadful actions and consequences.

The background and early life of those who commit crimes are often harrowing to hear of. They haven't been raised in a supportive and loving home, and have often been victims of something much worse than neglect. Perhaps even their parents had an upbringing like this, and are passing on what they know. Violence begets violence. The challenge for society is to break the chain of bad upbringing - and one way of helping might be using some of the techniques of restorative justice. Maybe a young person on a trajectory towards violence, if shown (for example) the restorative justice process I described above (featured on BBC Radio 4) , would be convinced not to continue on that trajectory. A tragedy could thus perhaps be avoided by the restorative's application prior to the need for any justice.

On the front of the London Metro free newspaper today, someone was opining that there's not enough deterrent in the likelihood and severity of prison sentences. Maybe people who were brought up in harsh or even violent homes will fear more of the same in prison, and restrain themselves. I don't know, but I'm not sure fear is what we really want to tap into - not ideally, anyway. The problem of the prison regime though, is for those who go through it. They've maybe started life in a harsh environment of punishment. They've committed a crime, and they're consequently subjected to another harsh regime of punishment. It's all they know. And not only does prison continue the harsh regime of their childhood, it mixes them with hardened re-offenders and gives them the opportunity to study in an academy of crime with the experts.

So, we can look at what happened to offenders before their offence, and make sure that the same thing is not happening to children and young people now. The prevention of re-offending is wise, but if the techniques used on offenders were used on pre-offenders, wow many offences might be prevented?

The riot report says that 50% of the crimes committed in the riots were acquisitive (looting, theft and robbery) and also comments on deprivation. Unfortunately it doesn't hit on the concept of inequality that is used in the book The Spirit Level, and shown to be a good predictor of social ills. Deprivation must be a key feature of those homes where children are badly brought up. Tackle that, and your dealing upstream with violence and rioting, which can only be logical as well as good.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Scientific objectivity

I was reading an article lamenting the use of libel action against scientists, and therefore by extension science itself, when I came across an item about a high school blogger being threatened by such an action because of a blog entry. I take it that the comment  "I take no issue with calling Stanislaw Burzynski a quack and a fraud" gets to the point.

A quack or fraud tries to get money under false pretences - a quack being someone who makes exaggerated or untrue claims about a medicine/drug that he is selling. Burzynski does own the patents to antineoplastons and does stand to gain by their being sold. His opponents say that antineoplastons are unproven. This may be true, but big pharma has an interest in them remaining unproven as they don't own the patents to them and if they were to be proven, the profits they make on their cancer treatments would plummet, with disastrous results for those employed in the industry and conceivably for the research it does.

You see, just as Burzynksi stands to gain from selling his cancer treatment, so do all patent owners of drugs/medicines stand to gain from their sale and therefore from people getting the illness they [claim to] cure/ameliorate. They are all vulnerable to accusations of exaggerating or falsifying claims about their products, and of playing down or undermining the claims of rival products.

I don't see why the medical establishment should be seen as objectively scientific all the while that big pharma has this massive conflict of intetrest, any more than 'mavericks' like Burzynski should. The only solution I can envisage is to remove the perverse incentive of "pay-per-pill".

In a Resource Based Economy, there wouldn't be any money, so no-one could fruitfully be accused of fraud as it would not be technically possible to commit it. The success of drugs/medicines would [could?] only be judged by their effects on patients and not by how much of them was sold or prescribed and there would be nothing to gain by exaggeraton or understating the efficacy of any substance.

Perhaps there is a way of fixing a monetary ecomomy to eliminate the paradox for medicine, but I can't think of it.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mind the map

I have watched two documentaries lately about how vast quantities of satellite imagery can quickly be searched for candidate objects for further investigation. On Horizon, Prof Paul Sajda of Columbia University was shown scanning images at a phenomenal rate, with an EEG widget on his head that recognised the unconsious "aha" moment's (as they called it) electonic signature - which they had detrmined from an initial image showing an example of what they were wanting to match. The aplication used for the programme was spotting military bases in Afghanistan - an example of how the best technology and minds are still used for warfare. The commentator opined that future applications of recent scientific discoveries could be used to improve advertising (deep sigh), but more optimistically the massive increase in throughput would help analysis of medical imagery.

On "In Orbit" the object being sought was the grave/tomb of Genghis Khan in Mongolia. Not a particularly human need oriented subject, though they didn't mention why they were looking for it, but at least peacable. Doctor Albert Yu-Min Lin of the University of California was approaching this through crowd sourcing - cutting up the images and inviting people to tag the images (sisplayed on the internet) where they see likely structures depicted.

I don't know if the two proffessors know of each other's work, but it strikes me that combining the EEG method with the crowd sourcing method would be extremely powerful.

Incidentally the In Orbit episode on satellites is vey interesing and informative.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

WPC Yvonne Fletcher

This Dispatches documentary shows how Yvonne Fletcher could not have been shot from the Libyan Embassy, and reveals the Berlin based mercenaries paid by the CIA (or similar) to kill a police officer to unite public opinion against Col Gaddaffi. It even persuaded MargaretThatcher to allow US bomber planes to use UK bases for their raids on Tripoli. Had the US been successful in killing Gaddaffi then, rich Libyans friendly to Western oil interests could have taken over government in Libya, securing the oil and keeping the petro dollar going.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Home of the future

I have been catching up with the TV series 'Home of the Future' on 4OD (Channel 4). It is extremely interesting and informative, but I wanted to blog about a couple of ideas that stuck out for those sensitive to the RBE concept.

The family featured in the futurized home run a garage and one project was to upgrade it to deal with electric cars, but this was presented as a way of keeping the garage in business. This was just one way in which the programme series has shown up its preconception that there will be / ought to be paid work in the future (it's a given), even though it shows ways of saving work in the home. One family member who works at the garage opined that their future will involved repairing electric cars. Repairing things is good, but to create work and keep comsumption going, products are currently made so that they need repairing or replacing. In an RBE, transport hardware will be designed and built to optimally provide the service of transport as a way of helping human needs to be met. It will not be designed to keep people in work, or to consume resources unecessarily.

The second idea was a smartphone app that helps you find out where the cheapest supermarket prices are. Setting aside the absence of the need for money in an RBE, we can still see the absurdity of using the processing power of a smartphone to mine for price data that is essentially already available, but kept separate for the purposes of competition. The bewildering price structures in supermarkets make it necessary either to have this secondary tech to help you, to use considerable brain power to achieve the same end, or simply to ignore the "shopping around" element altogether.

A supermarket has to create enough of an impression that is the 'cheapest' to get you to choose it over the others, but also to get you to spend more money there once you have chosen it. One of the tenets of the free market is supposed to be clear price information with no subsidies or lags and no externalities. The supermarket price wars give a complete lie to this.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Prison works?

I'm grateful to Ben McLeish for introducing me (and I suppose many others) to the Stanford Prison Experiment in his talk 'Out of the box' at The Friends Meeting House in Euston on Saturday 10/3/12. I will post more details of Ben's talk when available.

The experient used innocent volunteers to be both guards and inmates at a specially constructructed test prison.  The outcomes astounded the experimenters and will astound you.

This link goes to the conclusions section of the experiment's website.

Politicians and government

At this year's Zeitgeist Day (my third, unbelievably), there was some Q&A about the role of government in transitioning to an RBE. Some say we should try to get govenment on board, and others that that is far too optimistic as government is far too venal. For the moment, my thought is that we can't leave government to politicians.

On thetrain travelling home, I read an editorial by Jeremy O'Grady, editor-in-chief of The Week. It is apposite. He wrote: "democracies create all kinds of devices- elcctions every five years, First Past The Post, the European Court of Human Rights -  to ensure that the will of the people is not given too much of a look in. Whisper it quietly, but that's a good thing."

So there you have it - a news editor condoning constraints on democracy. Don't get me wrong, opinion, especially if uninformed, is worthless. It's just that we're played along, and given just enough input to the democratic process to make some people think that our input/opinion actually counts.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Ticket machines dispense fewer and more expensive [rail] tickets than a booking office

This is an argument produced by Manuel Cortes of the TSSA union, acording to today's Metro free newspaper (London). It is true as things stand, but it is entirely possible to produce a ticket machine that can dispense the full range of tickets and corresponding prices. A major step towards this would be simplifying our ridiculous fares structure. One obvious thing would be not to have a fares system where a ticket from A to B and another concurrent ticket from B to C works out cheaper than a ticket from A to C on the exact same trains.

Cortes makes the point as if it is technically impossible for machines to be as good as humans at selling tickets. It's his job to keep people in work. In a sane world, we wouldn't try to create mundane jobs for humans to do. Everyone would do socially constructive work that a machine can't (yet) do, or no work at all. Machines would be perfectd so that they are as good as or better than humans.

The idea of buying a ticket off a person standing behind a bit of glass is so antiquated with today's technology as to be ridiculous. Setting aside the obvious development of smart ticketing, itself argued against on spurious grounds but because it takes jobs, the logical thing for expert ticket sellers to do would be to guide people using the ticket machines, or buying tickets on the www.

Minimum wage freeze to create new jobs

This is a government idea I heard mentioned on BBC Radio 4 this morning.

Obviously the less you pay people the more people you can employ, but 'employment' is not a basic human need - it is just a means to fulfil those needs via wages (= money). Instead of only doing work that is socially constructive (ie directly meets human needs), people must do as they are told - any work is better than no work. It's patently untrue.

War 'vital to our national security'

This is a headline quote in today's Metro free newspaper (London). It is from UK Prime Minister David Cameron. One of the things that provokes terrorism is our armed forces' presence in various countries. In particular, I believe I am right in saying, where this involves non-Muslims being in Muslim countries.

Of course, terrorist attacks, whether real or false flag, generate work for our security services, either setting up the false flag attacks or trying to prevent attacks. Is that really what 'Dave' meant?

Smoking and unhealthy food are good for the economy

Text of a letter I sent to London's Metro free newspaper:

"Fat and Fags

It’s not just the tax that smokers pay that’s paradoxical, Beth (London), METROtalk, 8 March. Smoking creates wok for those who make, advertise and sell smoking and stop-smoking products, for the lobbyists - both pro and anti, therapists and advisers to help people give up, and medical staff to treat those made ill by smoking. Unhealthy food has similar contradictions, plus, topically, McDonald’s at the Olympics (page 30). If ‘fat and fags’ mean more jobs and tax paid, are they good things? Until we accept as a society that only jobs that are socially constructive should be done, we will have this problem."

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Drugs and superbugs

It would be easy to be cynical about the claims made on You Tube or in blogs regarding pharamaceuticals and the inherent problems of drug development in a free market, but an article in The Independent featured in The Week cites the chair of the UK Government's antibiotic resistance working group, Peter Hawkey. Presumably mainstream enough?

An estimated 25,000 people a year die in the EU of antibiotic-resistant infections. Why are drugs companies not developing new drugs for this? No money it. Not as profitable as heart disease or cancer.

A direct example of profit before people. An RBE would be the potent drug against such evil.

Friday, 2 March 2012


I'm not one for putting things in conceptual boxes, but jobs seem to all into these categories. Here they are with their fate in an RBE. Although it's true that some work is truly worthwhile and/or rewarding, realisticaly we have to have jobs in this system.

1) Jobs purely relating to money. Cashiers, bankers and financial investors, insurance, etc. An RBE has no money so these jobs don't need doing (though if they want to carry on playing, I suppose they can).

2) Jobs that can be automated. Already an increasing number, but if a machine can do your job you won't have to, which by any sane measure is good. Unhindered, automation will take on more and more work with technical progress.

3) Jobs with perverse incentives. I'm thinking of things like jobs in the health sector. Yes, making people well is good, but the system contributes to making people ill, and that keeps health workers in work. In an RBE, ill health prevention would precede making people well.

4) Jobs that are actively destructive. For example, selling cigarettes. Whilst an RBE would not be puritanical, selling people something that makes them ill is insane. In our current system it creates work for the stop smoking industry, and those who must try to cure the illnesses smoking cause. More seriously, arms manufacture, which depends on war being started and escalated.

5) Futile jobs. I'm thinking of menial jobs, like giving out leaflets that people don't want, or selling things that people don't want. In an RBE ther would be information about products snd services, but no-one dishing out leaflets about pizza places miles away.

6) Advertising. I think this is a class of its own. There is a creative element in some advertissing which can be admired and enjoyed. It is the end to which that creativity is put which is pointless or perhaps even destructive. Trying to get people to buy what they don't need, or a different brand of what they do need.

7) Jobs fixing things that shouldn't have broken. As we know, the need for consumption to generate 'growth' means "make to break". This generates work in the repairs and maintenance field.

8) Jobs of duplication. It must be dreadfully inefficient to have people making different species of the same widget. We just need the best  washing machine / car / mobile phone / computer or whatever. By co-operating, technologists can make ever more reliable and functional widgets. To compete you need built in obsolescence (see 7) and pointless variation between products, so that parts aren't interchangeable.

What is left is only work that helps meet human need and cannot be automated (transitionally - has not been automated yet).