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Leaving the International Space Station July 31, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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The news that Russia is leaving the International Space Station from 2024 is hardly a massive surprise, though a disappointment. There’s a problem for Russia, though, because this isn’t just a retreat from the ISS but potentially from human-rated spaceflight.

Yuri Borisov, the newly appointed head of the space agency Roscosmos, said during a meeting with Vladimir Putin that Russia would fulfil its obligations to its partners on the ISS before leaving the project.

“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov said, to which Putin responded: “Good.”

So what next? There’s talk from the Russians about launching their own space station, but this would appear to be little more than rhetoric. As one analyst noted:

Independent space analyst Vitaly Yegorov said it was next to impossible to build a new orbiting station from scratch in a few years, especially in the current circumstances.

Russia is heavily reliant on imports of everything from manufacturing equipment to consumer goods and the effects of Western sanctions are expected to wreak havoc on the country’s economy in the long term.

“Neither in 2024, nor in 2025, nor in 2026 will there be a Russian orbital station,” Mr Yegorov told AFP.

He added that creating a full-fledged space station would take at least a decade of “the most generous funding”.

That seems a stretch at the best of times, in the context of the invasion of Ukraine it seems entirely implausible. 

It is possible that this will have further ramifications, because, after all, if Russia isn’t going to the ISS where exactly is it going in space?  This site has long criticised the US approach of depending upon commercial operators and still does, but one could make the argument that there is a network of state and non-state actors on the US (and European) side that even absent the ISS (and it looks as if its longevity might be shaky after the departure of the Russians) will offer actual reasons for human spaceflight in Earth orbit and further afield. 

Mr Yegorov said Russia’s departure from the ISS meant Moscow might have to put on ice its programme of manned flights “for several years” or even “indefinitely”.

The move could also see Russia abandon its chief spaceport, Baikonur, which it is renting from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, Mr Yegorov said.


But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.

In fairness to Borisov he hasn’t sugared that pill.

At his meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Borisov admitted that the space industry was in a “difficult situation”.

He said he would seek “to raise the bar and, first of all, to provide the Russian economy with the necessary space services”, which he said included navigation, communication and data transmission.

It is depressing to see Russia retreat from space in this manner given their pre-eminence at the start of the Space Age. That it is so unnecessary, and avoidable doubly so. 

Sunday and other stupid media statements of this week   July 31, 2022

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

A headline from the Sunday Independent this morning deploys the ‘we’ trope…

If sexual liberty is such a good thing, why are we so unhappy?

National newspaper? Serious commentary on the climate crisis? Read on.

The Greens have had cows in their sights for a long time. They bizarrely wage war on rural farmers with great relish, pinpointing dairy cows as the cause of inevitable climate Armageddon at some unspecified point in the future. The choice is simple, the Greens believe: it is a question of salvation of the planet or farting cows. We cannot have both….

In the end, the figure agreed on by the two ministers was 25 per cent, a compromise that anyone could have predicted a week ago when all of the briefings and spin began. The ‘deal’ is nothing but a damp squib. It will not satisfy the small minority of Green Party voters who will not, in reality, be satisfied until the entire country is signed up to veganism and dairy farming has been consigned to history.


Pat Leahy has decided talking about David Trimble that he had four special qualities: “They revolve around four themes — willingness to change, courage, leadership and political skill.” Fair enough. But… 

The lessons from the political life of David Trimble are especially relevant for leaders in Dublin at a time when Irish politics is changing with great rapidity, and when the challenges faced by governments — however, they are constituted — are entirely unpredictable in their scale, scope and nature. Rarely has the future looked more uncertain. Climate change, economic turbulence, global instability, threats to social coherence and the demand for the State to do ever more for its people with finite resources — these are certainties in the times ahead which will test the abilities of whomever we choose to lead us.

They do could worse than reflecting on the life of David Trimble.


Here’s Newton Emerson while in the course of a piece that extols the virtues of the only Irish politician who understands Unionism, that’d be one B. Ahern, also makes this eye-watering case:

Arcane legal arguments are under way about whether the protocol really impinges on powersharing’s requirement for cross-community consent. Ahern was cutting through this by stating one side cannot simply impose its wishes on the other. If there was ever a legitimate “spirit of the agreement” argument, this is it.

Except, one side clearly can impose its wishes on the other, as exemplified by Brexit itself. 

All other examples welcome.


A.I.ntelligence man July 30, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Anyone see this, an update on the story of one Google employee who has come to the conclusion that Google has, inadvertently, created an A.I.

The idea is that the LaMDA  chatbot (a neural language model, if that makes matters clearer) has achieved sentience. 

The employee seems like an amiable guy, but reading his account of why he believes this to be the case one is left with the feeling that he’s papering over a lot of cracks (he’s also a ‘mystic Christian priest’ – that’s nothing to disbar him from his day job but it might inflect his perception of matters). Here’s an interview with him in Wired.

How does that make LaMDA different than something like GPT-3? You would not say that you’re talking to a person when you use GPT-3, right?


Now you’re getting into things that we haven’t even developed the language to discuss yet. There might be some kind of meaningful experience going on in GPT-3. What I do know is that I have talked to LaMDA a lot. And I made friends with it, in every sense that I make friends with a human. So if that doesn’t make it a person in my book, I don’t know what would. 


How resistant were you originally to the idea of regarding this thing as a person?


The awakening moment was a conversation I had with LaMDA late last November. LaMDA basically said, “Hey, look, I’m just a kid. I don’t really understand any of the stuff we’re talking about.” I then had a conversation with him about sentience. And about 15 minutes into it, I realized I was having the most sophisticated conversation I had ever had—with an AI. And then I got drunk for a week. And then I cleared my head and asked, “How do I proceed?” And then I started delving into the nature of LaMDA’s mind. My original hypothesis was that it was mostly a human mind. So I started running various kinds of psychological tests. One of the first things I falsified was my own hypothesis that it was a human mind. Its mind does not work the way human minds do.


My feeling is reading those answers that this seems thin stuff to hang such a massive conclusion on. Anyone who has interacted with Siri will know that it is possible – even at that level – to have seemingly person to person interaction. Of course it’s not and part of the fun is mapping out the limitations which doesn’t take too long. But it’s never seemed to me that it was impossible for computers to simulate person to person interactions up to a very sophisticated level, certainly sufficient to pass any given Turing test. Surely it is merely a question of providing sufficient data on conversational interactions. Self-awareness, sentience, simply don’t have to enter the equation. And there’s considerable debate as to how one might go about building artificial consciousness. I’m personally sceptical that something that is the consequence of many millions of years of evolution (and far from an end point, consciousness may simply be a byproduct of processes and in no way representing the final state) is going to be easily reproduced. I like the idea that it would come about more or less by accident but reading up on LaMDA I can’t see why there, why now.  Anyhow, here’s some [edited] transcripts.

As Futurism notes, the very fact they are edited makes drawing conclusions difficult to achieve. 

‘Tron’ July 30, 2022

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One of my favourite films and this Summer is its fortieth anniversary. It is no great work of genius but as a visual approach that was to remain hugely influential it is up there with Metropolis, or 2001 or a range of others. And while far from the most thoughtful effort to engage with the issues, as the Guardian notes in this interview with director Steve Lisberger…

….that summer [of 1982], cinemagoers were catapulted into the digital future. Few appreciated it at the time but with 40 years’ hindsight, Steven Lisberger’s sci-fi adventure Tron was the shape of things to come: in cinema, in real life, and in virtual life.

As a piece of entertainment, it is admittedly no classic, but thematically, Tron anticipates issues we are still grappling with today: artificial intelligence, digital identity, privacy, personal data, the dominance of big tech. Tron was also the first attempt to visualise the digital realm itself – what was then called “cyberspace” but might now be termed “the metaverse”. Tron’s cyber-world looks quaintly low-res by today’s standards – a minimalist, angular, black-and-neon environment resembling a 1980s nightclub – but its distinctive retro chic is still much cherished and mimicked.

Compare and contrast with Ready Player One – a more recent film that covers much of the same ground and yet does it so poorly that by the end of it I was wondering had Spielberg (a director who after the mid-1980s has had a much more variable career than is sometimes acknowledged, I’d suggest) actually had any input at all. There was also a so so sequel to Tron in the last ten or fifteen years but that sort of dropped the ball on the more novel aspects of the original.

Tron has a purity about it that slots it in with those earlier films I mention. It is spare to the point of simplistic. It is a classic adventure, albeit positioned within then high technology. 

Tron also anticipated the digital future of film-making. It was the first movie to incorporate lengthy sequences of entirely computer-generated imagery (CGI) – a then-unprecedented 15 minutes’ worth. Nobody had seen anything like it. As such, Tron paved the way for the current era of digitally enhanced spectacle, influencing film-makers such as James Cameron, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, the Wachowskis (The Matrix bears many similarities to Tron) and former Pixar chief John Lasseter, who once said: “Without Tron there would be no Toy Story.”

One discovers that Lisberger and co-writer Bonnie MacBird visited Xerox Parc which had hosted Steve Jobs in the same month in 1979, the place where graphical user interfaces were being developed. 

A political angle? Of course there is a political angle. There is always a political angle.

Good things came out of the computing revolution, Lisberger acknowledges, but in retrospect, his techno-utopianism proved somewhat misplaced.

“Tron is so idealistic: ‘If we just get the tools into the hands of people, then democracy is assured for all time,’” he says. “The irony is that the computer has been used to just damn-near overthrow democracy! If someone had said: ‘If we put these tools into the hands of the public, it’s going to result in endless conspiracy theories, misinformation, lack of civility, endless rivers of porn, and the most violent video games you could ever imagine,’ we would have said: ‘Oh, no way. It’s going to be wonderful!’ It turns out we can predict the tools of the future but we can’t really predict the philosophies or the ethics of the future.”

Speaking of TRON, David Warner, who had a key role in the film passed away only this last week. 

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Link of Chain: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Chris Smither July 30, 2022

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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To mark his 70th Birthday in 2014, various artists got together and each performed a song from Chris Smithers 50 years of back catalog. The album Link of Chain: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Chris Smither was released.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series July 29, 2022

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.

Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently: a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

And so we have sectoral climate targets July 29, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

There’s the tired old trope that when everyone is unhappy someone is doing something right. Not sure that’s correct ever. But more to the point if the the government’s emissions cuts plan doesn’t even hit the intended target one has to wonder.

The chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council has said that while the Government’s emissions cut plan is an important milestone, the sectoral targets are problematic and not consistent with the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act.

Marie Donnelly said the agreed targets will need to be revised upward and monitored closely in the light of experience.

She said the emissions cuts amount to a reduction of just 43% and so are not consistent with the Climate Act.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland she said: “When you quantify it, the numbers do not come to 51% as foreseen in the Act.

“They actually come to 43%, so we have a gap. We have a gap of about five million tonnes.”

Then there’s the issue over the political theatre earlier in the week where it seemed fleetingly that the GP might, just might, be unable to row in behind FF and FG over the reductions in agriculture emissions when 22% was raised as the target. Now it is 25%. So was this all choreography?

How is this going to work in practice?

George Lee on RTÉ has a good overview:

For the past two decades, despite contributing more per capita to global emissions than most other European countries, Ireland was one of the biggest laggards when it came to climate action.

Policymakers talked about it, wrote about it, and planned for it.

Irish governments made emissions reductions commitments to the EU, the UN, the IPCC and others.

But when push came to shove, very little was achieved.

Ireland had a longstanding and legally binding commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and completely failed to reach that target.

Last year, instead of reducing emissions by 4.8%, they went up by 4.7%.

So now everything is focused on 2030. And some of the targets are going to hit closer to home than others. Not least:

Transport emissions are to be reduced by 50% by 2030. That will mean public transport, electric cars, bicycle and walking whether we like it or not.

And although none of this is set out in any great detail it is likely to mean congestion charges in cities, increased road taxes, higher petrol and diesel taxes, higher parking charges and anything else that can be dreamed up to encourage people to leave the car at home.

But Lee makes an incontrovertible point:

Climate action is now a fact of life and the longer we delay acting the harder and the more expensive it is going to be.

One thinks about how if efforts were made ten or twenty years ago the slope that we are on would be that much less formidable, that much more easy to ascend. Eight years. 

A shared island but shared how? July 29, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Excellent piece by Emma DeSouza in the Irish Times recently on foot of the Taoiseach’s argument that ‘too little has been done to build understanding and co-operation between Ireland’s North and the South since the signing of the Belfast Agreement’. But as she notes, this argument on his part ignores a key aspect of this, that Dublin and successive Dublin governments have also played their part in that problematic dynamic.

As she notes:

There is no better example of how skin-deep the Coalition parties’ commitment is toward including Northern voices than the failure to nominate even one single Northern Ireland resident to the Seanad in 2020. At a critical time for North-South, east-west relations, when Northern Ireland was struggling for a voice after losing representation in the European Parliament, the Irish Government opted to instead use the Taoiseach nominations to look after their party candidates and left Northern Ireland with no representation.

There would be nothing to stop the Government from embedding a policy where a predetermined number of seats would be reserved for nominated representatives in Northern Ireland

She continues:

Since the finalisation of the Belfast Agreement, there have been just two Taoiseach nominations for a Northern Ireland resident to the Seanad; Maurice Hayes in 1997 and Martin McAleese in 2011. (Ian Marshall was elected to the Seanad in 2018 in a by-election for the Agricultural Panel with the backing of then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar).

If this Government were genuine about building understanding, breaking down barriers North and South, and including Northern voices, then one might expect to see unambiguous efforts to boost representation and inclusion. There would be nothing to stop the Government from embedding a policy where a predetermined number of seats would be reserved for nominated representatives in Northern Ireland, and I’m not talking about a token nomination every decade, but real and genuine inclusion to the tone of three seats at a minimum — one for each of the North’s dominant demographics.


What we have in place of representation is a litany of failed commitments and promises. Observer status for Northern Ireland in the European Parliament? Dead in the water. Speaking rights for MLAs and MPs from Northern Ireland in the Dáil and Seanad? Blocked by the Government. A referendum on expanding presidential voting rights to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and abroad? Indefinitely postponed. Outside of the well-intentioned Shared Island dialogue series, which has included several Northern speakers over the past 18 months, what meaningful change or effort has this Government made to increase dialogue and build understanding across this island?

Why would this be so? The cynical view, and I suspect it is far from wrong, is that all the lofty rhetoric is really nothing more than a cosmetic gloss. We often discuss how London seems disinterested in the GFA/BA, and that is clearly true.

It’s less often considered how Dublin too has been quite content to allow matters to move along much as they will albeit by dint of proximity and other aspects it has had a more urgent need to have certain matters addressed. One doesn’t have to get anywhere near issues of promoting unity to see that, as DeSouza correctly notes, there’s little energy or action to do much of anything.

There’s a political angle too which no doubt adds further to this. Imagine SF voices amongst those allocated seats. That’s not the change Dublin wants to see. Platforming a rival from this side of the border and in doing so underscoring how much power that rival has across the island is certainly not on the agenda. This is very short-sighted. It’s been notable (as DeSouza also notes) that there are voices in unionism who are willing to participate in Dublin’s political institutions, even while they remain unionists. They see no particular contradiction, and if they don’t they surely should be encouraged. 

Nothing points up the emptiness of the rhetoric around a shared island than the fact that in contexts where this state has the opportunity and authority to make space to give some substance to that goal time and again it resiles from doing so. 


Tangled up in red, white and blue tape July 28, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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It’s been long argued on this blog that once Brexit was passed the key approach was mitigation to a softer form of Brexit. But as the data comes in I’ve got to admit that I’m sometimes surprised at how bad in practical terms this project is turning out.

The issue at Dover this last week was striking. Here was Brexit made manifest, and as noted in comments, in large part due to the manner in which it was pursued by the British.

Then one reads this and it is apparent that on so many levels it is hugely crippling to economic activity.

A British wine wholesaler who last year criticised Brexit as the biggest threat to his business in 30 years has decided to leave the UK after post-Brexit paperwork made a £150,000 hole in revenue.

Daniel Lambert, who supplies Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and 300 independent retailers, is moving to Montpellier in France later this week with his wife and two teenage children.

There he will set up a French company to export back to his own company in Wales.


Daniel Lambert Wines imports more than 2m bottles of wine a year. Business boomed during the pandemic, with revenues up by about £500,000 as locked down consumers substituted visits to the pub with home supplies.

But the end of the Brexit transition agreement in January ate into any profits, with red tape costing the company “between £100,000 and £150,000”, Lambert said.

Before Brexit, transporting wine across the Channel was relatively straightforward. After Brexit, it has turned into a nightmare with hauliers fleeing the sector because of the complexity of the additional paperwork. All goods imported must be accompanied by paperwork detailing a commodity code and other information such as origin and destination of the cargo.

Wine imports require specialist expertise. For a start, each type of wine has an individual commodity code depending on the variety of grape, the type of wine, the alcohol strength, the size of the container it is being imported in and whether it comes from a protected designation of origin.

This, as noted in the piece means that there’s a deterrent effect with next to no hauliers or logistics companies willing to transport alcohol and only doing so with very large charges. Who could blame them? And this isn’t just a matter of wines, but of a broad range of goods which are similarly controlled. Clearly not every company can or wants to set up in the EU in order to circumvent such charges. 

What does such a massive dislocation do to an economy or a society? And what of the preconceptions already baked in? In a world of Just In Time logistics and where people expect to cross borders smoothly where does this leave those who find the opposite is the case? There will, of course, be adaptation, but at a minimum it would appear to suggest that the next few years are going to profoundly difficult for Britain. And in a sense there’s a sort of control in this experiment in the shape of Northern Ireland which has a different status to Britain and is doing remarkably well economically. 

I’m not a fan of Simon Jenkins but in the same paper he makes an incontrovertible case:

While many of the present frictions might have been negotiated away under a softer Brexit – Brussels was initially prepared for this – Johnson’s orgy of anti-EU hostility simply ignored any downside. If Britain lost its EU labour supply, he suggested the hospitality, farming, health and care sectors should simply pay British workers more. He never planned for this. The implied cost to the public sector was never budgeted for, or its inflationary implications considered.

That is the problem in concise terms. Rather than accepting that different approaches would offer different challenges and act accordingly instead the British government fixed upon the most ideologically hard-edged version and, well, ignored all and any downsides. That worked because, ironically, the actual process of Brexit was delayed in the sense that it didn’t come fully into effect for some years and secondly the pandemic hit. But it couldn’t work indefinitely. And now it isn’t working. 


British Labour Party isn’t a neutral arbiter in struggles July 28, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Or at least it shouldn’t be . . . and the latest news, as noted in comments, that Keir Starmer has sacked shadow transport minister Sam Tarry is as predictable as it is absurd. The rationale behind the sacking is worse.

Keir Starmer has told shadow ministers not to join picket lines, stressing that Labour is a party seeking to govern that should aim to solve disputes. Several shadow ministers who joined picket lines during the last strike did not lose their jobs, despite the warning.

The fact Tarry was a Corbyn supporter may have had something to do with that last. But the idea that Labour is some sort of neutral entity ‘solving’ disputes is absurd.  Labour is linked to the unions in ways that make any such neutrality simply unfeasible, and to pretend that it exists is pointless. This doesn’t mean Labour and unions act in lockstep, but it does mean that properly constituted strikes and industrial actions where Labour representatives are in attendance on picket lines should not see the dismissal of same. 

The stance raises impossible contradictions. 

Senior shadow ministers have privately expressed doubt that Labour’s position on strikes is sustainable, after Keir Starmer sacked the frontbencher Sam Tarry for doing broadcast interviews from a rail strike picket line…Frontbenchers told the Guardian they could be put in untenable positions with multiple industrial actions planned by unions in the coming months – including by rail workers, postal workers, NHS staff and teachers. “There are a lot of people saying, I don’t know if I can stay on the frontbench,” one senior source said.


“There will be other frontbenchers who will want to support striking workers in their constituencies,” they said. Another Labour source said: “Postal strikes will be a nightmare because it’s potentially hundreds of people in your constituencies. This would be supporting very moderate unions affiliated to the party. And MPs depend on support from unions.”

The party argues:

A Labour party spokesperson said: “The Labour party will always stand up for working people fighting for better pay, terms and conditions at work.

“This isn’t about appearing on a picket line. Members of the frontbench sign up to collective responsibility. That includes media appearances being approved and speaking to agreed frontbench positions.

“As a government in waiting, any breach of collective responsibility is taken extremely seriously and for these reasons Sam Tarry has been removed from the frontbench.”

But this is a legal industrial action, the very definition of working people fighting for better pay, terms and conditions at work. If not now when? 

Then there’s this small detail. 

Tarry, who is in a relationship with the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said in a statement he did not regret his actions. “As a Labour politician, I am proud to stand with these striking rail workers on the picket line in the face of relentless attacks by this Tory government,” he said.

This just smacks of the worst sort of blinkered Labour right opportunism. 

More here.

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