The Kremlin doth protest too much me thinks…..

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Of course one of the stories over the last few weeks was the report of Dutch air accident investigators into the loss of MH17. It confirmed much of what we know, that the aircraft was shot down by a missile, almost certainly a Buk missile, which struck the front of the aircraft (implying it was fired in front of the plane, i.e. rebel territory), showering the cockpit with shrapnel.

Analysis of this shrapnel, some of it recovered from the bodies of the aircrew, point to it being specifically a 9M38-series missile with a 9N314M warhead. This type of the Buk is only available to Russian supplied forces (i.e. not the Ukrainians) and it ties in with sightings of just such a launcher in the area prior to the shoot down.

Furthermore, the Dutch point to signs of attempts to conceal the truth from them. A failure of the Russians to hand over radar data (strange if we are to believe their claim it was the Ukranians!) and signs of a botched autopsy on the airplane’s pilot in an effort to remove shrapnel from the missile (unfortunately, there was just too much of the stuff and the Dutch recovered enough from the plane and occupants to prove their case).

All this of course points to the fact that the Russians have blood on their hands. They tried to deflect attention by staging a “test of a missile in an effort to give their media something else to talk about, even though all there test proved is that you can blow the nose of a plane with a AA missile (anyone who actually looked at the Dutch report would realise it was clearly an attempt to invoke the wookie defence).

In short the lady doth protest too much, me thinks…..

Indeed I would argue that Russia’s behaviour suggests it goes deeper than simply an attempt by them to prop up their allies in Eastern Ukraine. If that was truly the case, they’ve have thrown the relevant rebel leader responsible under the bus along time ago by now, packed him off to the Hague and focused on saving face with the international community.

No, Russia’s behaviour strongly hints that it wasn’t rebels at the controls of that Buk missile but the Russian military. Its long been suspected that many of the “rebels” are actually Russian soldiers, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were also providing air cover. And probably they were there under orders coming right down from the top, maybe even Putin himself. This would immediately explain Russian’s sensitivity on this issue.

Of course, the people who really needed to listen to the Dutch, the Russian people and a number of neo-fascist conspiracy theorists, will of course not be convinced. They will no doubt find some excuse to cast doubt on the evidence, they will ignore anything and everything that contradicts their little fantasy, even the blindingly obvious.

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Vorsprung durch cheatnik

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I’ve avoided commenting on the whole VW scandal because A) I was busy and B) I was waiting for the other car makers to get caught out, as it would be unfair for us to focus on the one who got caught.

Figure 1, There's trouble in Wolfsburg Figure 1, There’s trouble in Wolfsburg

Was I surprised by this story?No! Its been long established in the scientific literature that there is a large gap between how vehicles perform in lab tests on a rolling road and how they perform on the actual road in real world conditions. There’s a whole section of research into reconciling the differences between these two.

In part this gap is because real world driving conditions are quite variable. There’s a big difference between how a car performs in say stop go city traffic or on a motorway, or on a rural country road. Particularly when we throw in issues such…

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Don’t mention the climate deficit

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Figure 1, There's something ironic about a Tory energy secretary who has committed to a policy that is unworkable and all but guarantees future power cuts standing under a banner labelled “stability”. Figure 1, There’s something ironic about a Tory energy secretary who has committed to a policy that is unworkable and all but guarantees future power cuts standing under a banner labelled “stability

At the Tory conference there was an awkward moment when Amber Rudd was required to speak of the Tories recent “achievements” in her field. Of course, she had very little that one could put a positive spin on, given that the Tory party has in the space of a few months reneged on everyone of its commencements on environmental issues. Even some of the few positives from the Thatcher era, the NFFO (non-fossil fuel obligation) has essentially gone.

So she spent most of the time pointing out that the Tories weren’t as bad as UKIP (who are at least honest enough to confirm their climate denial credentials, unlike the Tories who like to…

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Blogging Catch up

Pandering to the UKIP mob

Teresa May’s speech on immigration was something that got the news commentator’s talking. In it she claimed that the benefits of immigration are zero….which is somewhat at odds with the data from within her own department. As the Guardian points out  on every one of her claims not only does the data not support her claim, it strongly suggests the opposite conclusion.

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All such claims are of course just myths put out by closet racists. The UK is not “full or overcrowded by any stretch of the imagination. Migrants are not a threat to British culture, they do not push up crime (actually crime rates often fall when migrants move into an area…because they generally work for a living!) and they are not putting undue pressure on the NHS. Indeed without the taxes paid by migrants its questionable how the UK can afford to continue to fund the NHS or the generous pension provisions.

More worryingly is that this speech confirms that the Tories have completely lost the plot on this issue. They plan to ignore any and all data that happens to contradict the mantra of the tabloids and push ahead with a radical policy. Of course the whole point of responsible government is to prevent rule by the mob.

But if the Tories want to pander to UKIP why not just go the whole hog and have a racist themed costume party next time. Cameron can go as a pig-screwing upper class twit (he won’t even have to put on a costume), Theresa May can go as Eva Braun, Eric Pickles as can go as Goering, Osborne as Himmler, etc.

Syrian Refugee’s

Indeed speaking of tabloid miss-information, the Daily Mail has recently claimed that only 20% of those arriving in Europe from across the Mediterranean are Syrians. However, a more reasoned analysis of the data, suggests a very different picture. The data set they focus on precedes the recent influx. While it might have been only 20% before June, the UNHCR figures suggest 51% of documented arrivals are now Syrian refugees.

And of course, this only accounts for “documented” refugee’s but most of the Syrians aren’t being documented. And we’re assuming that Syria is the only country where people have a legitimate right to flee from. However, it is a known fact that many of the refugee’s are coming from other war zones such as Eritrea and Afghanistan.

This highlights the dangers of letting right-wing tabloids set policy. They have a nasty habit of being wrong and manipulating data to suit their own ends.

Tax does have to be Taxing

I recall pointing out in the lead up to the last election that the Tories spending plans were unaffordable without major welfare cuts. And the fact is that the bulk of welfare spending is not spent on unemployment benefits or welfare to the disabled (3% of the welfare budget). Instead its working tax credits and pensions (about 50% of welfare budget).

Thus the only way the Tories could pull off their plans is by significant cuts to working tax credits…or pensions. The latter of course is unlikely given how many pensioners vote Tory. So anyone voting Tory was more or less guaranteeing that tax credits would go.

The Tories naturally, denied this. However, blink and a few months later and now working tax credit cuts are on the agenda. Needless to say, this is the reward for all those who were silly enough to vote Tory!

The Billion dollar flat

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The impoverished East European state of Moldova has been hit by a number of dodgy corruption scandals, including what was basically a massive pyramid scheme. As much as 1/8th of the country’s GDP has essentially been stolen. However, more surprising is the connection between this theft and a modest two bedroom flat in a Scottish council estate.

This flat is the headquarters to 530 companies, many of them involved in the recent theft. Yet, despite this nothing has been done by the British authorities. The attitude of the Tory government seems to be its okay to rob people, so long as they are abroad. And no doubt when hordes of Moldovans start migrating to the UK they will complain about how the plight of these people is hardly their problem.

Security Theater

An interesting wee video from comedian Adam Conover, in which he points out the ridiculous nature of airport security. The reality is that the TSA (the American security drones who waste your time at airports, boss people around and make you go through the “smut machines”) are a massive waste of time and money. Not only have they never caught an actual terrorists (including the shoe or underpants bombers, nor the 9/11 hijackers) but when they’ve been tested by the FBI, they failed to find dummy weapons on 95% of the occasions.

In essence its what’s called “security theatre. Whereby the TSA engage in a ritual meant to reassure people about security for the benefit of the closet racists who are scared of any dark skinned people on the same plane. Frankly, they may as well start sacrificing chickens to the gods of the air for all the good it actually does.

Failing the AI test

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An American Professor has a thought experiment to highlight what he claims is a flaw in so-called artificial intelligence. Basically machines think differently to us, so they perceive things in a very different way.

Imagine the scenario where you are on a road in a wood and you see a underground bunker door leading into a dark room. Standing in the doorway is a clown smiling next to a sign saying “free hugs. Now to a human, no way we’d go down to a creepy bunker to go near an even creepier looking clown. But an AI would think, well clowns are good, hugs are good, and free hugs are better.

In essence, what our Professor is trying to do is create a form of intelligence test, or perhaps more precisely a common sense test for AI’s. Often when the topic of artificial intelligence comes up, many point to the Turing test. This has never sat well with me, as I’d argue its flawed. It relies on the fact that a human can’t be fooled by a machine, if the machine is less smart the human. I’ve known situations where dogs and cats have outsmarted their owners, so that’s not really an appropriate benchmark.

So a more effective test of future artificial intelligence would be to apply tests to it that test the machines ability to reason, its common sense, its ability to learn new things independently, its morality and its capacity for independent thought. Several similar tests like this “clown test” could produce a more objective AI test with which to gauge artificial intelligence.

Of course, one flaw in this is that we have to ask the question, would all humans pass our test? Let us take this idea of perceiving risks. Recently a school kid in the US was arrested because his teacher thought a clock he’d build himself was a bomb. And this is one of a whole host of similar incidents. I myself have seem airport security take holy water off some old fella. And the US TSA have a reputation for taking all sorts of stuff off people.

Now I suspect computers won’t have to advance much further to realise that an Irish grandad with holy water is no threat to anyone…..other than vampire’s and Tories 😉 . So by this logic we have to conclude that many in the security services lack sufficient common sense and fail the test and hence do not count as intelligent concious beings.

And similar we have the issue of bible literalism or the likes of ISIS and other religious puritans. Again, most of us will understand that works such as the Bible or the Koran are not to be interpreted as literally true word for word (not least because there is ample scientific and historical evidence to counter a literal interpretation). They are instead works of allegorical literature, which was a common writing style at the time of their creation. So again, by this yardstick, as Baptists (or ISIS) can’t exert basic common sense, we would have to judge that they fail any AI test.

And lets not even get onto climate change deniers, anti-vaccine quacks, Gun nuts  who follow a literal interpretation of the 2nd amendment or those tinfoil hat wearers who still think MH17 wasn’t shot down by the Russians Separatists…..

The point I’m trying to get across here is that any test by which we judge a future AI has to be fair. If a large proportion of the human race would fail it also, or demonstrate that they too lack basic common sense, then perhaps we judge machines a little too harshly….or maybe we let our fellow humans off a little too easily!

Why the guns don’t work…unless you’re planning to kill

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The US is gripped by yet another mass shooting….or two….or three. Its now so regular its hardly news. However what exasperates the President, is the total unwillingness of the GOP to do anything. As Pier’s Morgan commented he can’t bring a Kinder Surprise toy into the country (or a Haggis, or Cadbury’s chocolate) on grounds of “safety“…yet you can buy a AR-15 in Walmart no problem!

While the gun nuts will point to anecdotal situations where guns supposedly led to a mass shooting being prevented, the hard data points to the fact that on 92% of occasions gun owners were confronted by an attacker they failed to protect themselves. This I would note, matches analysis from the military which has shown that a majority of Green troops in combat for the first time will not shoot to kill. Gun owners are in fact more likely to turn the gun on themselves or their family than on an armed intruder .

And we’re assuming that our shooter will be chivalrous enough to engage in tactics that put him at an obvious disadvantage. In other words if a shooter know’s he’ll face armed opposition he’s likely to change tactics, such as shooting from long range, or being sure to take out the armed guards first. So this idea that the solution to a “bad guy” with a gun is a “good guy” with a gun, only applies if the bad guy is kind enough to wear a black hat, doesn’t sneak up on the other guy unaware and challenges him to a fair duel, in a public street, in which the “good guy” is actually prepared and ready to kill if necessary. The reality is that the states with the most lax gun laws have the highest rates of gun deaths.

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Indeed we have such ridiculous comments as those coming out of GOP candidate Ben Carson, suggesting than the Holocaust won’t have happened if the Jews had guns. This is actually an old myth that has been refuted before. The reality is that the nazi’s actually relaxed gun laws (although they did ban Jews from owning them). The main victims of the Holocaust in Poland, quite few of them actually owned guns (as would be common in many rural areas at that time). However they had the good sense not to use them against the nazi’s as they understood what would happen if they did. And when Jews did fight back, such as during the Warsaw uprising the response from the nazi state was brutal.

The reality is that this NRA idea that they need guns under the bed to keep them safe from “the government” ignores military reality. The fact is that inevitably any confrontation between a militia of NRA members, with their AR-15’s, against a professional army, is going to be a very short and generally one sided battle. I mean how exactly do they plan on stopping an M1-Abram’s battle tank with an AR-15? Or a helicopter gunship? Or laser guided smart bombs? Or artillery shells? Or nukes?

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You can count on one hand the number of times a small group of “rebels” has actually defeated a major army. And often this was due to other factors at play that limited the government from bring its full force to bear. Or where the rebels were getting outside help. For example in the Vietnam war, the US won every major battle of significance. The reason why they left was because the reasons for going into war were less than honest (and once the public worked that out, they insisted on withdrawal) and that the rebels were being armed by the Soviets.

1776 will commence again….or not!

Indeed, ironically enough, 1776 and the US war of independence is another example. The reality of this war was that only 1/3 of the loyalist forces in the US were actual “red coats. The rest were loyalist militia, German mercenary’s or native Americans. Only a small fraction of the British army was brought to bear on the rebellious colonies, because the British were too busy fighting their enemies in Europe, notably the French.

Yet despite this fact, the reality is that the British still managed to win almost every major battle of significance, until the latter stages (when the French began directly intervening). While Americans may celebrate certain battles, raising them to almost mythical status, the reality is that most of these victories were mere minor skirmishes, the results of which were often reversed by the British shortly there after, once they brought up sufficient forces. Bunker Hill or the crossing of the Delaware being good examples. The victory in Yorktown, that ultimately brought the British to the table, only came about because of substantial help from the French. Had the French taken a more neutral line (which given recent behaviour of the US, would probably have been a good idea), the British would still be running the US to this day.

And least we forget, there is a world of a difference between weapons technology in the 18th century and today. In those days amateur soldiers could stand some chance against a professional army, but these days its very different. And naturally the 2nd amendment was written at a time when guns were single fire weapons, accurate to only a very close distance that took a minute to reload. If we were to be completely true to the 2nd amendment, I’d argue that means gun ownership should be limited to 18th century muskets and they must be a member of a “well organised militia“.

And while romantic notions would like to say that the rebel alliance can take on the evil empire, the military reality is that the army with the most firepower tends to win.