Log in

Sam PF's Journal Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Sam PF" journal:

[<< Previous 10 entries]

March 24th, 2017
05:57 pm


Hacked by the Met
(This is a public update on previous filtered entry)

It appears that my emails were illegally hacked by the Metropolitan Police, probably some time in the 2000s.

The Guardian ran an article on Tuesday about how the Met, in cooperation with Indian police, used Indian hackers to illegally access the email accounts of hundreds of activists, and were regularly reading their emails. This was revealed in information sent by a whistleblower to Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the House of Lords (Britain's unelected Upper House of Parliament). The information will be submitted to the ongoing Pitchford Undercover Police Enquiry, which resulted from revelations about police spies forming long-term relationships with women they were spying on. (Who were unaware of their true identities).

In particular, the information included a list of ten names with associated passwords. The article says that lawyers from Bindmans, a leading UK human rights law partnership, had contacted 6 of the people on the list, who had all provided passwords that matched exactly, or in one case almost exactly, the ones on the list.

I was one of the four who had not yet been contacted at the time the article was written. I got an email from a Bindmans lawyer on Tuesday, (which at first I took for spam - this was before I saw the Guardian article), informing me that I may have been the target of illegal hacking.

My main problem was, I have had a lot of email accounts and a lot of different passwords. It seems the list just had names and passwords, no details of the email accounts in question or the time they were hacked. But after some emails back and forward, he sent me a set of eleven dashes, corresponding to the length of the password he had for me, with two of them filled in. This fit one of the passwords I have used in the past (and will not be using again for anything!), so I sent him that one, and this was indeed the one he had on the list.

(Obviously it would not be nearly so strong evidence if he had just told me the password and I had confirmed it.)

The password in question is one I did not use before 2003. As I left the UK for Sweden in late 2007, and soon stopped being active in the UK activist scene (beyond the odd letter to MP or online petition, etc.), I would guess that the hacking can't have taken place too long after that. My best guess is that it related to my involvement with Campaign Against Arms Trade, in particular as a member of their Steering Committee from I think 2004-2007. We know, after all, that BAE was spying on our emails around that time. But there are other possibilities.

So our email correspondence will be going into the Pitchford inquiry. The Bindmans guy will be getting in touch at some stage to discuss next steps, whatever this might involve.

I can't say I am massively surprised. When you're involved in left-wing, environmentalist, trade union, or peace activism, etc. etc., you pretty much expect that the government may well be spying on you in some way, while wondering if you are just being paranoid or self-important.

You are not being paranoid or self-important. If you are involved to any significant extent in activities that fundamentally challenge the government, then the government probably are spying on you in some way, and not just the bulk meta-data collection by which they are passively spying on just about everyone.

The police are not, and never have been, neutral, apolitical upholders of the law and protectors of the public. They are, and always have been, first and foremost the protectors of the rich and powerful, and upholders of the established order. This should not be news to anyone who is paying attention. (I'm not saying that there are not plenty of police officers who are decent people who are seeking to serve the public, or that the police do not also provide an important public service. But as an institution, their raison d'être is fundamentally politically reactionary).

So I am not surprised, but I am certainly angry that the police were illegally reading my emails: potentially my personal correspondence with friends and family as well as my political activities, professional correspondence, Buffy fandom exchanges, and whatever else. (I am not completely sure which accounts they hacked; I can't remember which accounts I used this passwords for when. So I don't know for certain if my personal email was one of the ones hacked). The fact that this sort of behaviour by the police is normal (and that they have done much worse) does not make it acceptable or right.

I hope that Pitchford will succeed in digging out some of the truth of all this and that there will be some sort of consequences, although I can't say I'm optimistic that the state will stop spying activists who oppose them; a unit may be disbanded, and declared to have been a Very Bad Thing, and not at all in keeping with our values, and we do things differently now; but other ways will be found. It is the nature of the beast.

(For those who do correspond with me: I am confident that this password is one that I have not used for my main personal email account for at least, oh, 7 years or so. I am going to start shifting away from that account, however, which is not with the world's most secure provider).

Tags: , ,

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

January 6th, 2017
10:40 pm


The idea of the technological singularity, where artificial intelligence overtakes human intelligence, leading to runaway technological growth with unknown implications for human society, is well-established, although how likely it is remains controversial.

There are numerous concerns about the implications of increasingly autonomous computers and robot systems with artificial intelligence. A very important one relates to autonomous weapon systems, or killer robots, that not only operate without a physical human pilot/driver, but which use AI algorithms to make their own decisions about who to target, and when. In the short term, there are all sorts of moral and legal concerns - who is to be held responsible if an algorithm kills an innocent person? In the longer term, the potential for killer robots to turn against their makers and take over the world and destroy humanity. Such a risk may be far in the future, but it seems to me far from implausible, once you start building algorithms that 'work', but in ways that human programmers do not fully understand, there must exist a risk that they will develop in ways completely contrary to the intentions of the programmers. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots campaigns on just this issue. It seems to me that, as AI becomes a reality, something akin to Asimov's Laws of Robotics becomes a no-brainer.

The other big potential danger that is often talked about, and which is the main subject of this post, is that of mass unemployment as robots replace more and more human jobs. This has long been the case for blue-collar manufacturing jobs of course, but now the middle classes are beginning to sit up and take notice, with cases like the recent decision by Japanese insurance company Fukoko Mutual Life to replace 34 employees who assess insurance claims with the IBM Watson AI system. The Nomura Research Institute estimated in 2015 that half of all jobs in Japan could be replaced by robots by 2035.

Up to now, advances in technology have certainly caused significant sectoral employment problems among workers with particular skills that are no longer needed; the tendency of a Capitalist economy has been to shrug its shoulders at the fate of these obsolete workers and leave them to rot on the dole, if they're lucky. Sometimes, where there are more social-democratic oriented governments, there may be some effort at retraining, reskilling, industrial and regional policy, etc., to provide new opportunities to such workers. So far, however, fears that advancing technology would lead to permanent and growing mass unemployment have proved unfounded; new technologies make some occupations redundant or less needed, but create new ones, and expand the production possibility frontier so that the great majority of workers can still be employed one way or another, but producing more and more output. Not that this is unproblematic, for all sorts of social, economic and environmental reasons, but the majority of humanity has not been thrown on the scrapheap, and indeed extreme poverty continues to diminish.

Perhaps, then, fears of economic doom due to AI are misplaced? In fact, I think it may be worse than most people think.

Starting with economic fundamentals, production (in the economy as it has been up to now) requires a combination of labour and capital. (The latter in a broad sense may include land). Labour is paid a wage, capital receives a rate of return, in the form of profits, interest or rent.

But capital, and the owners of capital, needs labour needs the rest of us, tho great majority of us who depend on our labour for our livelihoods*, in two ways: first as a means of production; you need some combination of people, land and machines; but secondly as a market for the goods and services produced by labour.

This is crucial. Capital does not reproduce itself, does not get a rate of return by some intrinsic magical property, but because there is demand for the goods and services capital helps produce. It is true that the rich themselves form an important market, but that is not enough to sustain the great majority of owners of capital. The owners of Starbucks and Macdonalds could not become rich just by selling to the rich. Even, say, landlords can only earn rent if their tenants are able to pay it, which means they need employment (or government transfers).

But if AI becomes sufficiently advances, this could cease to be true. If capital can create more capital without labour input, that is if robots can build robots, that can in turn do all (or almost all) the necessary work, then those who own capital (robots and the technology that drives them) not only no longer need labour for production, they no longer need to mass-produce products and services to be sold to the majority of the population. Their capital can provide them with all the necessities and luxuries they desire, and continue to reproduce itself to greater and greater levels of sophistication. No doubt a small number of very lucky humans would be needed to help maintain things (who themselves would quickly join the ranks of the rich, the robot-owners), but the great majority of the population would become completely surplus to the requirements of the elite.

This is a truly terrifying prospect. Would the rest of humanity even be allowed to survive? Perhaps the elite 1% or so would allow the rest of us to continue to eke out an existence as best we could on whatever portions of the earth they decided they had no use for, and without access to the technologies that allow the elite their luxurious lifestyle. They would certainly want to sequest for themselves all the key natural resources they need to keep this new economy running. They would protect themselves of course not only with high fences but with robot armies. They would probably see a need to 'cull the herd' periodically of the roaming barbarians outside their protected zones, less we threaten their system in some way. I suspect they would quite quickly come to see the rest of us as less than human. Maybe some of them would extend 'charity' to a few of us.

Perhaps in such a scenario, a robot rebellion would not be the ultimate fear, but our only hope.

Is there a flaw in my reasoning? There may well be, I hope there is, and please do point it out if so. Or is the point when capital becomes self-reproducing so far in the future that it is not a serious concern for now, especially in the face of other civilization-threatening challenges? Perhaos the Future of Humanity Institute has already analyzed this question, although I did not see anything obviously relevatn on a cursory look at their website.

But if my line of reasoning is correct, then Socialism becomes all the more urgent - that is, the socialization of the means of production, of the technologies that would enable self-contained labour-free production. If capital is all that is needed for production, then we must all own the capital.

The choice will be between fully automated luxury space communism, or the end of humanity as we know it.

*We must also include those of us who do not own capital, but who are unable to work due to unemployment, sickness or disability, or old age. Those of us in this position either depend on our own past labour (savings, pensions), or on a social transfer system that relies on labour income from a large proportion of the population.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where I am also smhwpf. Comments welcome at either site.

Tags: , ,

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

December 31st, 2016
04:51 pm


Since the Brexit vote, there has been a massive upsurge in Brits applying for other EU citizenships. Not me, for once I had foresight and applied for Swedish citizenship about a week after the last UK General Election, when it was clear there was going to be a referendum. Didn't expect people would vote Leave, but just in case. Smart move.All too rare on my part.

So it seems that precautionary back-up measures are once again required, this time in the blogosphere, with LJ's servers moving to Russia n'all. So I have finally done what I probably should have done ages ago (not so much foresight this time), and put my journal in the queue for backup to Dreamwidth. I am also smhwpf there.

I still intend to keep posting to LJ as my primary place, so long as matters do not take a turn for the worse, but will copy to DW.

Also, fuck Putin.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

November 11th, 2016
12:19 am


Fighting Fascism with data
There are a lot of narratives about why Trump won. It's racism. (Almost certainly). It's misogyny (ditto). It's anger by the white working class at declining economy and lost manufacturing jobs. (Maybe). It's a desire to give a big up yours to the system (probably). It's a reaction to political correctness. (Sceptical).

Likewise, there are two major counter-narratives: that we need to understand, reach out to and empathize with Trump supporters; and that, no we don't, or at least we don't need to 'understand their concerns' as if they're poor victims, rather than people with deep racist instincts angry at the perceived dilution of their privilege.

I tend to agree with the latter, except I think we clearly do need to understand Trump supporters, what's driving people to vote for him, and why there were enough people choosing to vote for him in exactly the right states.

I've seen the exit polls, the breakdown by all sorts of demographic indicators, race, gender, age, income, education, etc. Also plenty of articles with data on predictors of Trump support: authoritarianism, implicit racial bias, etc., articles supporting and opposing the idea that economic decline is a factor.

But these all leave so many questions. One of the key ones is, what is the interplay between racism and economics? It seems pretty damned obvious that racism is a factor behind Trump support. But racism is not exogenous; what social circumstances tend to lead to higher levels of racism? Trump has galvanized and empowered racism that was already there, but what factors have led to this strategy gaining him votes in the particular places he needed them.

There is a lot missing from the exit poll data. Like, the breakdown by income shows Clinton getting majorities among people of lower income and Trump of higher income, going against the economic anger theory. But, given that people of colour have lower average incomes, does this pattern hold when restricted to white voters? We know white voters without college degrees voted for Trump much more strongly than those with, and of course college degrees correlate with higher income, but it does not thereby follow that low income among whites correlates with Trump support.

Then again, how does the income distribution of Trump support among whites compare with the income distribution of previous Republican support among whites? Traditionally, I think, lower income whites have been more likely to vote Democrat than high income. So the question is not just are they still more likely to vote Democrat, but, is the income correlation with voting among whites stronger or weaker than before? What has happened to the relative propensity of lower income whites to vote Dem compared to upper income, from previous elections to this one?

In particular, what is the source of the increase in relative Trump vote compared to McCain and Romney? The people who voted Obama but now voted Trump, who voted Obama but now stayed at home or voted 3rd party, the people who stayed at home but now Voted Trump?

Racism is clearly a huge factor behind Trump support. But racism was almost certainly correlated with support for previous Republican candidates. It has been at least since Nixon's Southern Strategy. Trump got the support of the great majority of (self-identified or registered) Republicans, Clinton got the support of the great majority of Democrats, so the fact that racism is correlated with Trump support doesn't tell us much about the relationship between relationship and Trump's gain in support (in relation to the Democrat opponent) compared to previous candidates. (In fact Trump got less votes in absolute terms, as I understand it, than Romney or McCain, but while Clinton beat Trump in popular vote by 0.2% so far, maybe 1-2% when all the votes are in, Obama beat McCain by over 7 and Romney by 3.9.)

Some of Trump's largest gains relative to Clinton in vote share, compared to the 2012 election, were in the Mid-West, certainly if one considers swing states. (Which includes virtually all the Mid-West). By contrast, the Clinton vote held up relatively well in Southern swing states or near swing states.

What I'm possibly getting at is that it could be true both that racism is the key predictor of Trump support, and that a key factor of Trump's victory—the people who switched to him, the people who stayed at home having previously voted for Obama, and so on—is anger at economic decline and a system that has failed the working class. (Not to say race isn't still a factor. But maybe, say, the more racist people turned out for Trump, while people who were put off by Trump's racism but angry at the system stayed at home instead of voting Clinton. Maybe).

I say this could be the case, but we need better, more granular, data.

None of this changes the fact that Trump's victory has enthused and empowered racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and much else, and that these forces need to be vigorously opposed, not empathized with. That is the priority. But we also need to understand what went wrong, and what strategies can reverse it; what, for example, is going to help the white working class people in rural, small town and suburban communities, who didn't vote for Trump, reach out to at least some of their neighbours who did and offer a better alternative? I think that is a much better question than the one that is often asked, how can 'we' (implicitly right-thinking but guilt-ridden middle-class educated urban liberals) 'reach out' to 'Trump supporters' in the abstract.

Tags: , ,

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

November 9th, 2016
02:31 am


All you Fascists
The world is entering its second Fascist era.

The absolute number one priority now is to fight this new Fascism. All other ideological differences, be you socialist, communist, anarchist, scoial democrat, liberal, neoliberal, moderate conervative, all these are secondary.

I do not know how to fight it. Although I have some limited experience on what might be called the front lines, it was toes in the water, and for the most part I am an elitist middle-class London/Stockholm/Massachusetts liberal. But we are all going to have to learn fast.

We have one advantage, which is the knowledge of how things played out last time, so that maybe we can avert the very worst of it.

One thing I would say - do not put your trust in senators, or judges, or constitutions, or (hollow laugh) the international system, or any of the august established institutions of authority to hold the dark forces in check. They will all melt away when the right incentives are found. None of the normal rules can be assumed to apply. If they did, we would not be where we are today. It is on all of us to find new ways.

It is a different and darker world we wake up to. But if we survive this, we get to try again.

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

November 8th, 2016
03:16 pm


Worst case scenario
So what do we do if Trump wins? The odds are against it, but not that much against it. Not something we want to think about, but probably eaier to think about now than in the immediate miasma of despair.

There's some obvious answers: "Don't mourn, organize". Resist, build solidarity, seek to maintain compassion and hope.

But what specifically? What would be the best ways to stand by the people most vulnerable to Trump's attacks? What battles can be realistically fought with some hope of at least fending off some of the worst? What should the top priorities be?

(Of course many of these questions are still valid if Clinton wins, but the answers are probably very different).

What about for people outside the USA? A Trump Presidency would affect the whole world of course; questions of war and peace, climate change, etc. If the US pulls out of the Paris accords as Trump has promised, what can the rest of the world do, and what can its citizens do to push their governments?

I suspect that in the US the priority is probably simply resisting fascism, resisting the destruction of democracy, standing up for minorities and immigrants, against attacks on the press, activists, civil society, opposition politicians, even fighting to keep Hillary Clinton out of jail. Because if the battle against fascism is lost, so are all others until the wheel turns again.

This is still short on detail.

Meanwhile hoping to God that this question remains hypothetical.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)

12:14 am


Doomsday Eve
There's a sci-fi film I saw on TV as a kid, of the Earth-to-be-destroyed-by-giant meteor variety, I can't remember the name of the film or the nature of the calamity, and for once will abstain from Googling. Anyway, there's a last throw of the dice effort by the brave sciencey heroes to do science and avert the catastrophe, and no-one knows if it's going to work. It's all in the public eye, and so there's this scene with a newsstand, and there's two piles of papers being delivered to it, one with the headline "EARTH SAVED" and the other with the headline "EARTH DOOMED".

That's kind of how it seems now.

Nate's a bit more optimistic just now than in the past few days, giving Clinton a 70.9% chance, when it had fallen as low as about 63% a few days ago, but those are still darned concerning odds. But I'm not going to speculate on what if this state or that, and shy Trump voters versus Hillary's ground game, because I've wasted far too much breath on that in the past and it's all irrelevant afterwards, vanity and chasing of wind.

Talking of Hillary's ground game, I've been part of it in the last few days. Doing some phone banking down at the Cambridge Dem office, first of all recruiting more volunteers, then calling voters in New Hampshire for Get Out The Vote. Saturday I was up in NH as part of a party from Cambridge, canvassing. I was with a friend, and we were paired with a driver, another British guy who's been living here 20 years. Used to run theatre tours to Britain for dramatically minded young Americans. Anyway, we went up to Rochester NH, a small town of about 30,000. The campaign office was buzzing with dozens of vols, so this ground game is really a thing. My little group was sent on a really rural turf, driving along leaf-covered tracks by a lakeside, where occasional clusters of houses could be found in clearings in the wood. One of the 'streets' was called 'Hideaway Lane', which was accurate.

We only managed to make contact with a handful of voters, but by God the scenery was gorgeous.

This also counted as my first American Road Trip, albeit a relatively short one.

This evening I was calling likely Dem voters in NH to GOTV , using a cunning app that robocalls numbers until it finds a live one, then puts it through to your phone, although half the time you get the click of someone hanging up. Mostly got positive responses, yep, we're voting Dem all the way down, one 'well she's the lesser evil' (I restrained myself from saying 'right there with ya'), but several "For Gods sakes stop calling me, this is the dozenth call", and one "If I get another call from you people I'm voting Trump!".

Is it possible to have too much ground game?

Seriously, it seems loads of people round here are doing stuff, in some cases phone banking from home using a thing on the Clinton website.

More tomorrow after work, which willl be mostly directed at points West. Then an election watch party with some friends, at which I can confidently project that a very large quantity of liquor will be consumed whatever happens.

Deliver us from Evil, O Lord. Or at least from the greater Evil. That'll have to do for now.

Tags: , ,

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

October 22nd, 2016
07:18 am


Shadow World
I was in New York last weekend, for the New York launch of the movie Shadow World, by Johann Grimonperez, based on the book, The Shadow World: inside the global arms trade, by Andrew Feinstein, who also worked extensively on the film. Andrew, as I've mentioned, is one of the people in the group I've been in, working with World Peace Foundation on their global arms project that I'm now running.

It was a very powerful film, extremely well put together. (It won Best Documentary at the Edinburgh Film Festival earlier this year). It is partly on the international arms trade, with some entertaining/revealing/horrifying interviews with a very candid arms broker (who apparently is now in prison in Portugal), but also, moreso than the book, on US wars and militarism more generally; but it manages to fuse these two elements together pretty well, with some apparopriate readings of his work by Eduardo Galeano interspersed. Not a whole lot that I wasn't aware of, though some things, but as I say well put together and effective in its impact.

Full disclosure: I am actually in it for about 15 seconds as a talking head. So now I am wondering if I have a Bacon Number. (I might already as I was in an episode of Mark Thomas Comedy Product). And if so if I have a Bacon-Erdos number, as I have co-authored one maths paper.

It is also a salient reminder that, for all that Obama has done that is praiseworthy, there is plenty on the foreign policy front that is pretty dismal, perhaps the drone wars in particular, and that he really only looks at all good when grading on a curve. And that Hillary promises to be worse. (Yes, still unimaginably better than the alternative).

There was a Q&A afterwards with Andrew and with Anna Macdonald of Control Arms, which went on way longer than scheduled, a lot of people with questions. And I was invited to give a brief spiel about the work we're doing at WPF and hand out fliers, to justify my train fare.

Anyway, the film is definitely recommended. It has apparently already had a 3-week run in London, don't know if it will be on anywhere else in the UK. We are still trying to organize a showing in Boston.

Tags: , ,

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

July 26th, 2016
11:49 pm


Lesser Evils
In the final round of the 2002 French Presidential election, leftists faced an insidious choice: the two remaining candidates were Jacques Chirac, of the mainstream right-wing party, the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR, Assembly for the Republic); and Jean-Marie le Pen, leader of the far-right, explicitly racist Front National (National Front).

France has a 2-stage Presidential election system: in the first round, there are many candidates – 16 in this case; but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, there is a 2nd stage run-off between the top 2 candidates.

Usually, that will be someone from the main right-wing party [1], and one from the Socialists. But this time, with an even more divided left than usual with 8 parties standing [2], and partly as a result, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin came narrowly 3rd behind Chirac and Le Pen.

Most of French society was horrified that a fascist like Le Pen could come so close to power. [3] What, though, was a Socialist or Communist voter to do faced with this ugly choice in the second round of a right-winger and a far-right-winger? Stay at home? Spoil their ballot paper? Or swallow their bile and vote for a candidate whose politics they detest (and with a bunch of corruption scandals from his time as mayor of Paris)?

Read more...Collapse )
FootnotesCollapse )

Tags: ,

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

June 6th, 2016
05:45 am


Well, it's sufficiently official and generally known by all concerned that I can make it public.

I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts in the autumn (or fall as I should get used to calling it), to work at the World Peace Foundation, based at Tufts University, as Project Manager for their programme on corruption in the global arms industry and trade. I start there at the beginning of October. I was in Boston earlier this week to meet with them and discuss details and ideas.

I have in fact been involved in this project for the past few years, as part of an international group of academics and civil society people convened by WPF to discuss these issues and produce various materials on the subject (there's a book coming out fairly soon, plus various internet tools). The group includes South African anti-corruption campaigner Andrew Feinstein, whose book on the arms trade, The Shadow World, has recently been made into a movie, which everyone should totally see when it hits the cinemas.

The idea of the programme has been to take a rather broad perspective on the issue of corruption, looking not only at financial corruption, but at how the global arms industry and trade, and the militarist ideologies behind it, can undermine democracy and the rule of law.

Anyway, so this project by WPF has been edging forward for the past few years, but now they are able to hire someone full time, that someone being me.

The position is for 2 years initially, potentially longer if more funds are raised; however, I am taking a 2-year leave of absence from SIPRI, so I will have the option of returning at the end of this 2-year period. I am therefore not technically leaving SIPRI at the present time, but will at any rate be gone for at least 2 years. If anyone wants to apply for my position at SIPRI working on military expenditure (again, 2 years initially), or knows someone who might be interested, the ad is here.

As to whether or not I will return in 2 years, well, a lot can happen in two years, so who knows? But it is good to have the option.

I am very excited by this. It is a really interesting project, and a really good bunch of people I'll be working with, and from all I hear (and the little I've seen so far from the meetings there of our group), Boston is a fantastic city.

I am already a US (as well as UK) citizen, but this will be the first time I have lived in the US, or indeed been there for more than a week at a time. So that too will be an interesting new experience.

I will also be sad to leave SIPRI, and will miss a lot of people there, not least my team, who are also a great bunch to work with. After the storms of 2 years ago, SIPRI is now on what seems to be moving in a very positive direction, so in some ways a strange time to be leaving; but I have been crunching the military expenditure numbers for long enough, and feeling it's been time for a change for quite a while; and this definitely feels like the right move at the right time.

(Well, except that we might have President Trump a few months after I move. But since there are no shuttles to Mars Colony any time soon, there's nowhere to escape the consequences that may bring.)

Tags: , , , , ,

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[<< Previous 10 entries]

Powered by LiveJournal.com