Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Virus Death Toll Mounting, But Scum Still Demanding Lockdown Lifted – Because Murdoch Needs His Profits £££

April 7, 2020

The Scum provided further evidence yesterday of Rupert Murdoch’s utterly loathsome attitude to the Coronavirus crisis. The death toll in Britain was continuing to rise, we had lost young people as well as the disabled and elderly to the disease. I’m sure many of you will have been particularly upset by the fact that one of the new victims was a child of five, who had an underlying condition. We have also lost some of our dedicated healthcare professionals – doctors, surgeons and nurses – who carried on doing their duty despite an appalling lack of proper protective equipment. And yesterday Boris Johnson himself was hurried to hospital. This was supposed to be nothing special. It’s just that Boris’ cough had carried on longer than usual. He was just going to have a check-up. Zelo Street, as perceptive as always, smelled more Tory lies, and said that looking at the situation rather than listening to the flannel, Johnson was in a far more serious condition than the Tories were telling us. He was. It’s now been reported that Johnson had to be given oxygen, and is now in intensive care. There have been more reassurances from the Tories that Boris isn’t in that serious a condition, but the Mirror, and Zelo Street, disagree. It looks like he’s got pneumonia. And Matt Hancock, the odious Health Secretary, has said that he has also lost two people to the disease.

It’s serious, and Johnson’s current condition in intensive care should show this to anyone. It demonstrates how anybody can get the disease, no matter how rich and powerful they are. It also shows how you also have to take it seriously. Johnson, like everyone else, was told not to shake hands as this could allow him to catch the disease. He ignored the advice, and carried on shaking mitts, blithely telling the world that this wasn’t a problem, as all you needed to do was wash your hands afterwards. That didn’t help. Johnson has been hospitalised through his own failure to take the virus seriously, just as the same attitude stopped him from introducing the lockdown weeks earlier and making preparations for the disease, which would have saved hundreds of unnecessary deaths.

But that didn’t prevent Scum hack Trevor Kavanagh yesterday publishing another piece demanding that the lockdown should be lifted. Because the disease isn’t that serious, according to some other modelling by a different group of scientists, and the damage it’s doing to the economy. Similar arguments have been used before against measures to combat climate change and global warming and other hazards. These have been refuted in turn. One of the best arguments was put forward a few years ago in an article in New Scientist. This was the principle that even if something wasn’t as dangerous or harmful as suggested, it was still better to err on the side of caution. Hence harmful substances or processes still shouldn’t be used, and measures should still be taken to stop global warming. But obviously Kavanagh disagrees.

Or rather his master, Rupert Murdoch. When Kavanagh first published this nonsense, Zelo Street suggested that his motives probably weren’t as pure and altruistic as he made out. He wasn’t worried about the bankruptcies, mass unemployment and poverty that have resulted from the lockdown, or the way the country will still be paying for it in the years to come. No, he was rather more worried about the effect the lockdown was having on the fortunes of the Fourth Estate, and particularly the titles of his employer, Murdoch. Print editions of newspapers are down by five million. All of the press is taking a hit, including Murdoch’s. And so Zelo Street concluded that Kavanagh was demanding an end to the lockdown for the simple reason that Murdoch wanted his empire of lies, smears and filth back on track and making money. Or rather, less of a massive loss than it’s made in previous years.

There are other warning signs about Murdoch’s self-interest in this. A few days ago Zelo Street also reported that Fox News and Murdoch were being sued by a group in Washington State. They contended that the network had broken the Consumer Protection Act by denying the virus presented a threat. At the same time, according to other hacks, Murdoch himself and his family had been taking personal steps to protect themselves. Joanna, one of the great commenters on this blog, has pointed out that WASHLITE’s suit has been thrown out of court on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment. That is the right to free speech and publication. That still doesn’t stop the plaintiffs from being morally correct.

If Murdoch really took precautions against the virus, while telling everyone that a lockdown was unnecessary, then it means that he really isn’t worried about the public’s health. It strengthens the argument that Murdoch is really only interested in having the lockdown raised for his own selfish interests, no matter how many people die, including his readers and the country’s own political leaders.

Murdoch doesn’t care about the British public, or the people of any of the other countries in which he has his grotty tentacles. He doesn’t care about their leaders, even if he supports their right-wing programme of destroying the welfare state, privatising healthcare and education, and destroying workers’ rights. He just cares about profit.

By printing Kavanagh’s nonsense at the same time Johnson was taken into hospital, Murdoch has shown that he is absolutely no friend of the Tories. They should treat his rags in that light, and stop reading them.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/sun-pundit-volunteers-for-euthanasia.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/boris-illness-and-giveaways.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/boris-johnson-is-unwell.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/murdoch-facing-covid-19-lawsuit.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/sun-pundit-lies-about-covid-19-deaths.html

Cartoon: Borice KKKooper – Dead Babies

March 30, 2020

Hi, and welcome to another of my cartoons expressing my outrage and disgust at the Tory party and the clown, who currently leads it and, unfortunately, our great nation. I’ve used as the basis for these drawings SF/Horror films and pop songs. This one’s based on another pop star, the Rock legend Alice Cooper. And it is to express my utter disgust at the scandalously high infant mortality rate in Britain.

Cooper became notorious in the ’70s for his weird and disturbing stage act, in which he’d behead dolls and even hang himself. He said in an interview on British television some time ago that some people tried to psychoanalyse his attack, and read a bit too much into it. It was claimed that his destruction of the dolls were a metaphorical attack on babies. Cooper denied that it was any such thing. He just hated dolls. It was, he said, possibly something to do with his sister.

But one of his songs at the time was ‘Dead Babies’, about a mother, who neglects her child so that it dies. It has the line ‘Dead babies don’t need looking after’, and includes the sound of a baby crying. It’s a really disturbing track and I’m really not surprised that Cooper drew criticism. He’s a major figure in Rock, of course, but it has also been claimed that he has also been one of the influences on Goth music through his horrific stage act and equally horrific and bleak songs.

And so it seems to me entirely appropriate to attack BoJob and his wretched party for their part in giving Britain one of the highest infant mortality rates in Europe by showing him as an Alice Cooper figure, with a hanged doll and the title of Cooper’s song. As always, I want to point out that I’m not sneering at Cooper, his music or his fans. Certainly not! But I am sneering and mocking BoJob and the Tories. And the idea of Boris as any kind of pop fan, whether Rock or Punk, as I portrayed him in my last cartoon, is pretty ridiculous. Boris definitely comes across as a classical music fan. Nothing wrong with that, but I suspect that when it came to pop music he would be very much like the judge, who had to ask who the Beatles were.

And unfortunately I can very much see our infant mortality rate getting worse under Johnson. Despite the poverty and hardship inflicted on the economy and Britain’s working people by the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown, he’s still pushing ahead with his programme of A and E closures. There has been a mass sacking of workers on zero hours contracts, despite claims that this wouldn’t happen. The government has promised to pay workers 80 per cent of their wages if they are unable to work because of the lockdown. But that’s only if their employer agrees. And some of them, like Tim Martin, the head of Wetherspoons, don’t seem to have done. Martin’s apparently told his staff that they can go off and seek work at McDonald’s, if they like. For those made unemployed, there’s still a five-week wait for the money after they claim Universal Credit. Boris has also promised to pay the self-employed 80 per cent of their earnings. But they’ll have to wait until June to get it. For many, that’s going to be too long. As a result, Mike’s reported that people are getting into debt for food just one week into the lockdown.

Tory cuts to the NHS are destroying people’s health, and so is the mass poverty caused by austerity and now the Coronavirus crisis. This will make child poverty and poor health worse, and probably push the infant mortality rate up further, despite the best efforts of our overworked and under-resourced doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

I am also aware that BoJob’s partner is pregnant. I wish her and her baby all the best for a safe, healthy pregnancy and delivery, and that both baby and mother enjoy good health. But I want every mother and their children to have this. And that is one of the reasons why I’ve drawn this cartoon – because they aren’t, thanks to Boris and his vile crew.

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you enjoy it, and don’t have nightmares!

 

Tory Cuts Destroyed Our Preparedness Against Pandemic Threat

March 29, 2020

On Friday, Mike put up a piece commenting on and reporting a devastating article from the Huffington Post. This revealed that the Tories’ cuts, imposed in the name of austerity and cheap government, had destroyed or discarded the plans previous governments had drawn up against the threat of a global pandemic.

The Cabinet Office had apparently been drawing up a National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies, listing the possible threats to the United Kingdom. At the top of the list in each document was pandemic flu. Mike states clearly that the British government knew an event like the present global emergency was coming. However, the strategy to cope with it was written in 2011 and not updated. And it gets worse. The government’s plan for getting the right messages across to the public during a pandemic, the UK Pandemic Influenza Communications Strategy, was written in 2012. It is now very out of date in its assumptions about how and where people get their information. The guide to dealing with the pandemic’s fatalities, which names key contacts, was written four years before that, in 2008. And the government abolished the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Team, a section within the department of Health, was abolished in 2011. The Tories thus got rid of the very organisation, which would have had the expertise to deal with the pandemic because they were so keen on inflicting cuts.

As a result, according to the HuffPo, “the government has had to either make policy up as it has gone along or is having to beg, borrow and steal from other countries who have been better prepared”.

This is in stark contrast to one of BoJob’s announcements today. Our glorious leader, or one of his minions, declared that Britain was a world leader in tackling the virus. Now this claim was made in the context of the amount of money the government was going to devote to the international effort to develop a vaccine – £500 million. But the statement could be taken to mean that Britain leads the rest of the world in combating the pandemic. Which we don’t. The Chinese are reporting no new cases, or were, and half of the new cases reported in South Korea are of foreigners. It would appear that these countries, which imposed a lockdown much earlier, have been far more successful than we have in tackling it. And other countries have been far less impressed with Johnson. The Greek newspaper Ethnos declared that BoJob was a worse danger than the Coronavirus and reported that he had publicly and essentially asked Britons to accept death. This is in reference to his speech where he declared that Britons were going to lose their loved ones before their time. As he said this, the government was only issuing guidelines but had not imposed a lockdown. The Irish Times stated that Boris was gambling with the health of his citizens. He was. He and his adviser, Dominic Cummings, had decided that they were going to deal with the threat by allowing the disease to spread. The British people would develop herd immunity and the economy would be allowed to continue unharmed by a lockdown. And it was just going to be too bad if a few old people died. The Irish government is relieved that BoJob has at last seen sense. Boris was apparently forced to impose the lockdown because Macron told him he would close the French borders to us if he didn’t. And the mayor of Bergamo, the Italian town hardest hit by the virus, Giorgio Gori, was so frightened by Boris’ complacency and inaction that he flew his two daughters home, because he believed they’d be safer.

Also states that Boris’ singular lack of action on the virus, and the way he dragged his heels before doing anything, bears out criticisms that the Tories have a eugenicist attitude to the poor, the weak and the disabled. They regard them as useless eaters, biologically unfit, who do not deserve to live.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/26/the-tories-axed-their-defence-against-coronavirus-years-before-it-arrived-deaths-were-inevitable/

And the Tories long-term attitude towards the poverty and mass death inflicted by austerity really does suggest that attitude. They seem to believe that the state is only wasting resources by supporting them and they should be allowed to die, so that the biologically superior, meaning the rich and especially the corporate elite, should be left free to do as they wish without government interference and the high taxes required by a proper welfare state

Scientists have been worried for decades about the threat of a pandemic. Some of this fear comes from previous viral outbreaks, such as AIDS in the 1980s, and avian flu and swine flu in the 1990s and early part of this century. I guess that the Tories decided that because these diseases did not require the current measures, such precautions weren’t necessary and could be scrapped.

It was a massively short-sighted decision that has undoubtedly cost lives that could otherwise have been saved. 

 

The Eugenicist Attitude to the Coronavirus: the Buck Stops with Boris

March 25, 2020

Earlier this week, I got a message from Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy urging everyone to put their political differences,including trade unions and employers, and unite to tackle the current emergency. I’d agree with her, if I had faith in the current government. If I believed that Boris Johnson was a competent Prime Minister, who was also deeply concerned to protect the lives and livelihoods of everyone in this great nation. But I cannot honestly say that he is. And one of the reasons that he isn’t is that he let the government’s policy to the virus outbreak be determined by his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings. 

The Sunday Times astonished the British public last Sunday by revealing that the government’s attitude to the spread of the virus had been decided by Bojob’s favourite polecat, Dominic Cummings. And Cummings had decided that it should be tackled by allowing the British public to develop herd immunity. The virus was to be allowed to spread throughout the population, so that people became naturally immune. Biologists, doctors, and epidemiologists warned instead that this wouldn’t work. It has only ever been achieved using vaccination, and if the virus was allowed to spread, it could result in the deaths of a quarter of million people. Its victims would be chiefly the old and the already sick. Tragically, as we’re seeing now, its victims also include young, previously healthy people in their 20s and 30s. Cummings had told people privately that his chief concern was to protect the economy, and if a few old people died, too bad. It’s a disgusting attitude, and Zelo Street was exactly right in his article about it when he says that it places Cummings’ beyond the pale, and that he has to be removed and a public inquiry held afterwards.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/dominic-cummings-fan-hits-shit.html

Cummings’ attitude is rooted in eugenics. This views humans in very coarse, crudely Darwinian terms. For the race to improve, superior stock must be allowed and encouraged to breed. The inferior are to be weeded out through natural selection – they are either to be allowed to die through disease or their own mental and physical handicaps, or sterilised. In the 19th century, the American corporate elite advanced eugenicist arguments to prevent the government passing what would now be called ‘health and safety’ legislation. It was worse than useless to try to improve the condition of the poor with public welfare. The poor were sick and disabled not through poor working or living conditions, but simply because they were biologically unfit. Any attempt to improve their conditions would only result in the biologically inferior breeding, and so contaminating the rest of the human stock. By the 1920s, about 25 American states had passed legislation providing for the compulsory sterilisation of the disabled. The policy was enthusiastically adopted by the Nazis, who boasted that they were making absolutely no innovations. They took it to its horrific conclusion, however, with the SS’ murder of the insane and mentally handicapped in special clinics. A policy that prepared the way for the Holocaust and the wholesale murder of the Jews with cyanide gas.

And the Tories seem to be permeated through and through with eugenicist attitudes. They were forced to sack Andrew Sabisky as one of Bojob’s aides because he held similar noxious views. Toby Young, the Spectator journalist and media sleaze, lost his job on Tweezer’s board, set up to represent students, after it was revealed he was also a eugenicist. Tobes had attended conferences at University College London on eugenics, where real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis gathered. And Maggie’s mentor, the loathsome Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the 1970s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’.

This doesn’t mean that the Tories actively want to round up the disabled and long term sick. But it does explain their absolute complacency about 120,000 deaths or so that have occurred through their austerity, including their obstinate refusal to abandon a policy that is killing people. Cummings should not, of course, have ever been allowed to decide that the government should favour the economy at the expense of ordinary people’s lives. But as Mike also pointed out in an article he posted on Monday, the buck ultimately stops with Bojob. It was Bojob who told the British people that many of them would lose loved ones before their time, when he had not then taken the ‘social distancing’ measures he’s now been forced to adopt to slow down the virus – the closure of schools, pubs, clubs, leisure facilities and social gatherings. And so while the media talked about the Polecat’s horrendous attitude, other peeps on Twitter knew where the real culpability lay. And one woman, MrsGee, probably spoke for many when she said Johnson should resign.

Bid to blame Tory coronavirus strategy on Cummings is baloney. The buck stops with Boris

There’s no question that people’s lives should come before the economy. They were debating precisely this kind of situation in the 19th century. The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, even wrote a piece about it. In one of his plays, the leaders of a spa town are faced with a dilemma. The spa is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, but they are unwilling to close the spa down because of the income it provides the community. Perhaps we would be better governed, and our leaders had been truly prepared for this crisis, if sometime during their education they’d actually read Ibsen or seen the play performed.

But I don’t think Johnson is any too interested in modern Continental literature. He’d rather see what the classics have to say about things and compare himself to Caesar and Churchill.

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

March 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Cartoon – The Tories: Nightmares of the Flesh

March 23, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons lampooning and attacking their Tories and their noxious leading members. In this case, it’s influenced by a few of the ‘body horror’ films of the 1980s – The Thing, Society and From Beyond, and one of the early ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strips in 2000 AD, ‘Killerwatt’. Body horror is that part of the Horror genre, where the human body mutates and takes on warped, twisted forms, though I think it can also include the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, in which people are tortured and mutilated.

In The Thing, an American base in the Antarctic discovers a crashed UFO, from which an alien escaped to infect members of the base’s team and their animals. The alien replicates and hides by infecting other creatures, devouring them at a cellular level but copying their form – until it finally reveals itself by twisting itself into weird, hideous forms. As the bodies mount, and successive characters are revealed to have been infected and taken over, paranoia mounts. The horror is as much in the fear and distrust the characters have of each other, as of the grotesque appearances of the Thing itself.

From Beyond, directed by Stuart Gordon is roughly based on the short story, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft. However, the film bears little resemblance to the story that inspired it. In the film, two scientists, Tillinghast and Dr. Pretorius, are using a device, the resonator, to peer into a unseen dimension surrounding our own and its denizens. Tillingast is arrested for murder after one of the creatures from that dimension then appears and bites the head off his superior, Pretorius. He takes a curious policeman and a female psychiatrist from the mental hospital in which he has been confined back to his laboratory, and set the resonator running to show them he’s telling the truth. But each time they switch on the machine, Pretorius appears, in progressively grotesque forms as it is revealed that he’s become a monster of hideous appetites. The slogan for the movie was ‘Humans are such easy prey’.

In Society, directed by Gordon’s collaborator, Brian Yuzna, the horror is mixed with social comment aimed squarely at the class system of Reagan’s America. It’s hero is a teenage lad, Bill Whitney, who finds out that he’s really adopted, and his upper class family, their friends and colleagues, are really monsters. These creatures have total control of their bodies, which they can deform and twist like rubber or plastic. They are predatory and exploitative, feeding on ordinary humans in orgies in which they melt down almost to a liquid state to feast on their victims.

It’s hard not to see this as a comment on the exploitative, predatory nature of the rich business class set free by Reagan and the Republicans.

But these films were anticipated in their horrors by 2000 AD and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Created by comics veterans Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, the strip was set thousands of years in the future, when humanity had moved underground, away from the devastated surface and the planet’s name was now Termight. Ruling Termight was Torquemada, grand master of the Terminators, a quasi-monastic order, who had turned humanity’s fear of intelligent aliens into a religion and led wars of extermination against them. Opposed to him was the alien hero, Nemesis, and his resistance organisation, Credo. The character first appeared in the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Killerwatt’ in 1980, several years before the above films. In the latter story, the alien chased Torquemada down the teleport wires the grand master was using to get to his capital, Necropolis, after his train journey overland was interrupted by a gooney bird, a colossal bird creature resembling, or evolved from, the Concorde airplane. As the two raced down the wires, they had to cross the Sea of Lost Souls, a nightmare sea of neutrons and twisted bodies created when a gooney bird sat on the teleport wires.

Two panels showing the Sea of Lost Souls from ‘Killerwatt’. Art by that zarjaz master of the macabre, Kevin O’Neill.

In this cartoon, I’ve drawn a similar landscape, complete with surfers, where the denizens of the sea are Tory politicos. They are Boris Johnson, David Gauke, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May. I hope you enjoy it, and that it doesn’t give you nightmares. Oh yes, and what you see behind them is supposed to be giant tongues, in case you thought it was anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ad Astra: A Tale of Quest, Obsession and Disappointment

March 23, 2020

Directed by James Gray, starring Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones and Liv Tyler.

I wanted to catch this one at the cinema when it came out last year, based on the trailer I’d seen online. This showed Brad Pitt as clean-cut, square-jawed space captain racing across the lunar landscape in a rover, guns blazing away at the bad guys in theirs. It looked a very convincing depiction of a possible near future. A future when humanity is at last moving out to colonise and exploit the resources of the solar system, but still plagued by geopolitical intrigues and violence. From the trailer, I thought it might be about terrorism on the high frontier, just as the motive for sending the Robinson family into space in the ill-fated 90s version of Lost in Space was a global threat from an insurgency. But it isn’t. It’s instead about humanity’s quest to discover alien intelligence, and the dangerous consequences of one man’s refusal to face the fact that we haven’t found it.

Warning: this review contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film, and want to see it fresh, please don’t read on. I’ll put up something else in due course, which you can read without worrying that it’ll spoil your fun.

Brad Pitt plays Commander McBride, a hard-working, intensely focused career astronaut, whose devotion to his duty has led to his wife walking out on him. But because of his intense, single-minded concentration on his duty, he isn’t particularly affected by this. The film begins with a statement that humanity will expand into space, and will continue looking for extraterrestrial intelligence. Then the action begins with McBride in space, working with other astronauts on the outside of a giant space structure. This is hit by massive power surges, causing vital components to overload and explode, hurling pieces of the station and the astronauts desperately trying to fix them off into space. McBride is one of these, knocked off the station by falling debris. But he, and the other astronauts, fall downward to Earth, rather than off into space. Tumbling, Pitt eventually rights himself and parachutes back to the ground. The station is revealed to be no such thing. It’s a giant radio antenna, set up to receive possible signals from the ETs.

The power surge that hit the antenna was one of a series, each increasing in strength, that is causing blackouts and devastation across the world’s cities. Their source has been located near Neptune. It’s believed that their caused by an antimatter reaction, and a lost system commanded by McBride’s father, is believed to be the cause as it was powered by antimatter. The ship was sent out there on a 29 year mission to search for alien signals, far away from the interference of human telecommunications in the inner solar system. However, 16 years into the mission it disappeared. McBride’s father became a hero, and many astronauts tell McBride that it is thanks to him that they took up a career in space. This raises the question of whether McBride senior has indeed found aliens, who are hostile and using the station to disable Earth ready for conquest. This would be the plot in other movies, but not in this one.

Journey to the Moon

McBride is instructed to go to the Moon, from which he will be launched to Mars, to send a message to his father on Neptune, who is suspected of being alive. On his trip to the Moon, he’s joined by a Colonel Pruit (Donald Sutherland), who knew McBride’s father. The lunar base at which they land is a bustling town with a mall stuffed full of tourists and shops selling souvenir tat. McBride says to himself that it’s the kind of thing his father hated, and he would have tried to get as far away from it as possible. Pruitt is due to go with him, but is prevented from doing so at the last minute due to a heart problem. Finding a secluded spot away from the crowd, Pruitt gives him a memory stick, telling him that not everybody believes McBride senior to have been a hero. The stick contains suppressed information that they will do anything to prevent getting out. McBride then goes on to join the team that will take him to the launch site of the ship, that will take him to Mars. The Moon is being exploited by a number of different mining companies, but no territorial rights exist, so, as someone explains, ‘it’s like the Wild West out there.’ Hence the armed guards with McBride when he leaves the base. It’s this part of the programme that appears on the trailer for the movie, with McBride and team racing across the grey lunar landscape while under attack from what can only be described as space bandits. Various members of McBride’s team are killed, but he survives and succeeds in getting to the opposite base. He then joins the crew of the Cepheus, who will take him to Mars.

Space Rescue

On the way there, the crew receive a distress call, which they are obliged to answer. McBride tries to deter them because of the vital importance of the mission, but is unsuccessful as he is travelling incognito and so can’t reveal just how his mission overrides international space law. The SOS comes from a Norwegian scientific research station. McBride and the ship’s captain, Tailor, cross over to investigate. They don’ find any survivors, who have been killed by escaped baboons or some other ape used for research. These kill Taylor, and try to kill McBride, but he shuts them behind a door and decompresses that section, killing them. Crossing back to the Cepheus, the give Tailor a space burial.

McBride finally gets a chance to watch the video on the stick. It shows his father, (Tommy Lee Jones) announcing that the crew have mutinied. The mission has been unsuccessful, and so they wish to return to Earth. McBride as therefore suppressed it by putting them all in one section of the station and decompressing it, killing them all, innocent and guilty alike. This obviously leaves McBride shaken.

Mars and the Radio Call

On Mars, he’s taken from the launch complex to the base, where he is taken under great secrecy to a soundproof room, from which he reads out a scripted message to his father. This occurs several times, and are unsuccessful. On the next attempt, he goes off script and makes a personal appeal. He suspects that he has been successful, but the commanders won’t tell him. Throughout his journey, McBride is subjected to psychological testing before he is allowed to continue. He fails this for the first time, and is taken back to a comfort room – a room in which reassuring pictures of flowers are projected on the walls. He is told that he will not be continuing his journey. The crew of the Cepheus will instead go on alone to meet his father. They are equipping the ship with nuclear weapons to destroy the station before it can generate further power surges that will destroy civilisation. McBride is freed from his captivity by the station’s director of operations, a Black woman, whose parents were on board the station and murdered by McBride’s father. McBride has to rush through an underground tunnel to the launch complex, including swimming through a subterranean lake. He finally emerges in the system of tunnels, that will take the ship’s exhaust away from the ship itself when it launches. The countdown has begun, and it’s now a race against time for McBride to get aboard before he’s incinerated when the rocket fires its engines.

Encounter at Neptune

He succeeds in getting aboard and the ship launches. However, the crew are instructed to restrain him using any means necessary. In the ensuing struggle, he accidentally kills them. He then takes over the mission. He inserts the various tubes which will feed him intravenously during the 179-day mission, informs base what he intends to do and has done, and that he will now go dark.

He eventually arrives at the station, and comes aboard, moving through the decomposed section in which the bodies of the murdered crew are still floating. He brings one of the nuclear bombs on board with him. He meets his father, who blithely tells him what he did, and that he cared nothing for either his son or his mother. It is plain that he doesn’t want to come home, as although he hasn’t found alien life, he is convinced it’s out there. He just hasn’t found it yet. McBride sets the bomb, and tries to take his father back to Earth. But on the journey to the Cepheus, McBride senior pulls away from him, dragging him with him as the two are tethered together. The father tells McBride to let him go, McBride releases the tether, and his father floats off into space. McBride then jets back to the station, to rip off one of the panels so that he can use it as a shield against the icy particles and dust making up Neptune’s rings as he jets through that on his way back to the Cepheus. He then returns home, making a successful descent back to Earth, where friendly hands help him out of his capsule. Earth is safe, and his brought back all his father’s information on the countless alien worlds he discovered.

The film ends with McBride back in a military canteen, performing a kind of psychological evaluation on himself. He muses that his father was driven by his obsession to find alien life, and his disappointment at not finding it blinded him to the wonders of the worlds he had found. He is well-balanced, and focused on the tasks at hand, but not to the exclusion of the ability to love and be loved in return. There is a hint that this new attitude is bring his wife back to him.

Ad Astra as the Reply to 2001, Solaris, and Contact.

It’s a very good movie. The designs of the ships and rovers are very plausible and seem very much based on the old lunar rovers NASA used during the Moon landings on the one hand, and those on the drawing board for Mars on the other. It’s also a very quiet movie. It follows Gravity, and the masterpiece of SF cinema, 2001, in showing no sound in space except what can be heard through the characters’ space suits when they’re hit by the force of an explosion or some other event. It’s also at just under 2 hours a longer movie than most. This is gives it some of the quiet, epic quality of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The interrupted space journey of its hero, from Earth to the Moon and the Moon to Mars and thence Neptune, also recalls that of Floyd, Bowman and the other astronauts of 2001.

But there’s an important difference between Ad Astra and these flicks. 2001 and Solaris are about humanity’s encounter with powerful, but unknowable aliens. These encounters are transformative for the species and at an individual, personal level. In 2001, the aliens’ black monoliths raise humanity up from apes, and then transform Bowman into the Star Child at the film’s climax. In Solaris, the hero rekindles a relationship with his lost love through a simulacrum of her generated by the planet below. This allows him to medicate and discourse on the nature of humanity, honour and the need for humans to value each other. He is then able to descend to the planets surface, where he meets another simulacrum, this time of a dying friend he left on Earth, in a house where it’s actually raining inside. In both films, the aliens are genuinely alien, incomprehensible, but nevertheless interested in humanity and able to be reached out and contacted.

This is a reply to those movies, which is clearly informed by the fact that after decades of searching for alien intelligent alien, we still haven’t found it. Nor have we discovered any life elsewhere in the solar system. It’s possible that it exists on Mars, but if it is, it’s at the level of microbes. This makes the film a kind of anti-2001. It could have been called ‘The Stars My Disappointment’, as a pun on the title of Alfred Bester’s SF masterpiece, The Stars My Destination. McBride’s conclusion – that the scientific information about the myriad alien worlds his father discovered – is still immensely valuable, even if they are uninhabited and lifeless, but the obsession with finding alien life blinded his father to its value – is a good one. But I remember the SF writer and encyclopaedist John Clute saying something similar to Clive Anderson back in 1995. This was during the Beeb’s Weekend on Mars, a themed series of programmes on the Red Planet on the weekend that the NASA pathfinder probe landed. Of course, people are still fascinated by the question of whether Mars is, or has been, an abode of life. Anderson asked Clute if he would be disappointed if they discovered there was no life there. Clute responded by saying that if someone said they were disappointed at that, he would be disappointed in them, as we would still find out so much about the world, which should be sufficiently fascinating itself. Well, yes, but that’s very much the consolation prize. What people have always dreamed about is finding life in space, and particularly Mars. You can’t really blame them for being disappointed if we don’t. As for the message that it’s good to focus on your work, but not so much that it damages your personal relationships, it’s a good one, but hardly an earth-shattering revelation. And in the context of space travel, Tarkovsky says something similar in Solaris. There the hero says at one point that humanity doesn’t need space travel and alien worlds. There is 5 billion of us – a mere handful. What man needs is man. This shows the humanistic focus of Tarkovsky’s movie against its theme of space travel and alien encounters.

Conclusion

Ad Astra is an excellent movie, but ultimately somewhat of a disappointment. It’s to be applauded as an attempt to make an intelligent SF film with a grounding in established science. But ultimately its message that the search for alien life shouldn’t blind us to the possibility that it doesn’t exist, or that it may be extremely difficult to find requiring a search that lasts generations, perhaps centuries, before we find it, isn’t as emotionally satisfying as films in which the aliens are very definitely there. You could compare it to the Jodie Foster film, Contact, in which she played a female scientist convinced aliens exist, and finally succeeds in going out there and finding them. In the vast majority of such movies, the hero is nearly always a believer in the existence of the ETs, who is finally vindicated when they turn up. This is one of the few films to show the contrary. It’s a valuable, perhaps necessary message, but one less attractive to most audiences, who want there to be aliens, if only fictional and contained in the narrative of cinema.

Oh yes, and I have to differ with the comments about the presence of tourist malls in space. Yes, such places are full of tat and kitsch, but there are also the sign of a genuinely vital human culture. People aren’t all high-minded, serious creatures, and for genuine, living human communities to be established in space, they can’t all be left to scientists and engineers solemnly probing the secrets of the cosmos or working on the best way to extract and exploit their resources. They’ve also got to be where ordinary people visit, and enjoy the experience of being on an alien planet. And that means buying tat and kitschy souvenirs as well as indulging in deep philosophical meditations. As Babylon 5 also showed with its market, the Zocalo, and its tat. Though in that episode, the stores selling the tourist kitsch were all closed down. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

March 20, 2020

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Cartoon: Mock Movie Poster for ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’

March 18, 2020

Here’s something that I hope will cheer you all up, or at least the SF fans among you. It’s another of my cartoons, though this time it’s not satire, but a mock movie poster for one of my favourite SF novels, The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison. Harrison was a serious SF writer. One of his novels was Make Room, Make Room!, which was filmed in the 1970s as the dystopian thriller Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. However, he’s probably best known for his series of humorous SF novels, beginning with the Stainless Steel Rat, about the galactic archcriminal, Slippery Jim DiGriz. They’re set in the far future, when humanity has spread across the Galaxy, and living conditions, society and psychology/ social services have all advanced so that crime is all but unknown. All but. Slippery Jim, the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ of the title, is a career criminal who does it simply for the joy of outwitting the authorities. The interstellar police, however, eventually catch up with him, and he’s forcibly recruited into their ranks. And he’s shocked to find that they’re all former criminals. His boss, Inskip, was a notorious thief who robbed a spaceliner in mid-flight. It’s done on the principle of ‘set a thief to catch a thief’. And his first assignment is to capture a stunningly beautiful woman, who’s murdering her way across space. Spoilers: he finally catches her, she’s given psychiatric treatment to rehabilitate her, she’s also recruited by the space rozzers. Di Griz marries her, and the two then become a team, whose adventures are then told in the succeeding books as they, and their sons with them, travel across the universe solving crimes, overthrowing dictators and stopping wars with alien races.

I was wondering who I’d cast as the heroes, and have as director and the scriptwriter adapting it for cinema. The text on the cartoon shows who I decided upon. It reads

A Terry Gilliam film. From the book by Harry Harrison. Adapted by Douglas Adams.

Jacqueline Pearce David Tennant Don Warrington.

It’s definitely fantasy, because Adams and Pearce have sadly passed away, as has Harrison himself. Tennant would be the Stainless Steel Rat, Pearce, who you will remember was Servalan in the epic Blake’s 7, would be the murderess, Angelina, and Don Warrington would be the police chief, Inskip. Yes, I am thinking of his character in Death in Paradise, so it would be a bit of type casting. But he has done humorous SF before. He appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf in the ’90s as one of the members of a spaceship crew of Holograms, all of whom had massive intellects and egos to match. His character appeared on board Red Dwarf and promptly started making sneering remarks about Kryten and Lister. Kryten was described as nearly burnt out, while he described Lister as some kind of subhuman creature, that could in time perhaps be taught some tricks. Until Lister parodied him with a mock report of his own, in which he informed him that he had a sturdy holowhip in the ship’s armoury and was going to use it on his backside pronto if he didn’t leave. At which point Warrington’s arrogant spaceman vanished. And with a threat like that hanging over him, who could blame him?

Here’s the cartoon. I hope you like it and it give you a chuckle in these grim times and keep your chin up! The Coronavirus won’t last forever.

Matt Hancock’s Telegraph article Shows He Really Doesn’t Understand the NHS Ethos

March 17, 2020

On Sunday, the current malign incompetent currently posturing as NHS secretary, Matt Hancock, issued a statement of the government’s current policy regarding the Coronavirus. This contradicted Boris Johnson’s previous statement, which was that we shouldn’t be afraid of catching it, because this would confer on us all herd immunity. The Tory party, like the Republicans in America, hate experts. This rather cavalier attitude owed something to the massive ignorance in the Republican party over the other side of the Pond. They had been loudly denouncing it as a scare dreamed up by the Democrats, until one of their number came down with it at CPAC after meeting and pressing the flesh with several of their leading politicos and activists. The result was complaints that the American public weren’t being told enough about it. Johnson here obviously didn’t know what he was talking about, and outraged people who did – doctors, epidemiologists, virologists, and informed laypeople – weighed in to put him right.

Both Buddyhell and Martin Odoni have put up excellent pieces shooting down Johnson’s spectacularly ignorant comments. They point out that herd immunity means that everyone, or at least the vast majority, would have to come down with it. Only a very few would become immune, and that immunity would only last a couple of months, not years or a lifetime. And because nearly everybody would have to contract the disease, even if the mortality rate is low, the result would be that a large number of people, perhaps as many as 200,000, would die for the rest to acquire this short-lived immunity. It’s an immensely callous attitude from a Prime Minister, who obviously doesn’t know what to do. Worse, as the French philosophical feline and Martin rightly pointed out, it shows the eugenicist thinking underlying Boris’ and Cummings’ response to the disease. Eugenics hold that the biologically unfit, which means the inferior lower orders, should not be allowed to breed. The handicapped should be sterilised to make sure they don’t. At the same time, health care should not be extended to the poor, and certainly not racial groups specifically held to be inferior, like Blacks, because this will interfere with the proper natural process by which inferior stock is weeded out of the population. Eugenicist arguments were invoked in America by the corporate rich in the 19th century to prevent the state passing legislation to improve standards of workers’ health and safety. Because if workers and their families contracted disease and had shorter lives, it wasn’t because living conditions were worse than their employers. It was because they were biologically unfit. Cummings seems to hold eugenicist views, as did Andrew Sabisky, before the latter’s unpleasant opinions meant that the Tories had to get rid of him. But you can bet that the attitudes still there. Maggie Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the mid-70s when he declared that single mothers were a ‘threat to our stock’. And that does seem to be how the Tories regard the British public – as stock, to be cultivated or culled according to the whims of their masters.

See: https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/herd-immunity-is-your-answer-johnson-truly-the-lunatic-has-taken-over-the-asylum/

https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/wait-what-herd-immunity/

Hancock’s article seems to me to be partly an attempt by the government to allay some of the outrage Johnson’s comments caused, and to show that the government really does have a sensible policy to tackle the emergency. Despite all appearances to the contrary. But Hancock’s article also showed that Hancock and his masters have no understanding of or sympathy with the public service ethos underlying the NHS. This was shown not so much by what Hancock said, but how he said it. His statement was released as an article in the Torygraph behind a paywall. This caused more justifiable outrage. Zelo Street made the point that Hancock should have made his announcements publicly, not just in a single newspaper, and certainly not tucked away behind a paywall so that only Torygraph subscribers could read it. The Torygraph seems to have taken the hint, and made the article free, as it should be.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2020-03-15T16:12:00Z&max-results=20

But this attitude, however, makes perfect sense from the Tories’ ideological basis in private enterprise. Private industry operates by offering a range of services for the consumer, priced according to what they can afford or are willing to pay. The poorest only get the basic package, if they can afford that. As you pay more, so service improves. Now this works fine if you’re buying a washing machine or computer, but it’s no way to run public services that have to be accessible to all. Like the NHS. When that’s left to the private sector, as it is in America, it means that millions of people can’t afford proper healthcare. It means that 40,000 people a year die because they can’t afford their medicines, and the poorest hoard what medicines they have or use veterinary medicines for animals. A similar situation existed in this country before the establishment of the NHS by the Labour party under Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan. Before then, healthcare varied according to how wealthy you were. You got excellent care if you were well-off or were one of the few occupations that was covered by government health insurance schemes. If you were poor, you either had to make do with the charity hospital, the municipal infirmary, where standards varied immensely, some being extremely poor and basic, or you went without.

What changed attitudes to produce a broad consensus in favour of a socialised medical system was the Second World War. German bombs during the Blitz didn’t distinguish between rich and poor, who were hit alike and often in the same locations, so that the same healthcare had to be offered to everyone, regardless of personal wealth and class. But that was over 75 years ago, and the underlying lesson that made the NHS possible seems to have been forgotten by the Tories. If they ever learned it in the first place.

And so we had the unedifying spectacle of Hancock responding to the Coronavirus in the pages of the Torygraph like a private entrepreneur responding to increased demand. The announcement was made in a broadsheet paper aimed at and read by the top ranks of British society. It was hidden behind a paywall, so that only paying customers could access it. You get what you pays for, and this was premium service for valued customers. Which means the rich, whom eugenicist doctrine holds are biologically superior than everyone else.

This attitude is incompatible with running the NHS and tackling the coronavirus. Progress will only be made through properly funded state health provision and a government that genuinely has a public service ethos, rather than just pays lip service to it.