Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

African Drone with Pilot/Passenger

December 16, 2018

Yesterday I put up a piece I found on YouTube of a group of Kenyan engineers building what they believed to be Africa’s first passenger-carrying drone. The video showed them testing it in flight loaded with bags of sugar.

This short video from Sami’s channel on YouTube shows the machine in flight, carrying a passenger. The film begins with the team thanking the governor of Nairobi, Mike Sonko, before showing the flight. The man himself wasn’t terribly happy in the air, as a caption reads that it was only then that they realized he was frightened of heights.

The photo of the team at the end shows that the majority of its members are Black Africans, but there’s also a White guy and an Asian.

As I said in my earlier post about the vehicle, this shows the immense creativity of the people of Africa, a creativity that is being held back due to the continent’s poverty and kleptocratic politicians. If these could be overcome, and the continent reach the same stage of develop as the industrial West, we would be astonished at what they could achieve. This video offers a glimpse of the massive potential waiting to be unlocked.

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Democracy Now on the Crimes and Mass Murders of President George H.W. Bush

December 10, 2018

The Friday before last, former president George H.W. Bush, the father of former president George ‘Dubya’ Bush, finally fell off his perch at the age of 94. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. He was an ex-president, and well and truly. He was buried with due state honours last Wednesday.

And the press and media fell over themselves to praise him to the rafters. If you believed them, you would have thought that America had lost a statesman of the stature of the ancient Athenian politico, Pericles. Or that he combined in himself the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, Maddison and the rest of the Founding Fathers.

He wasn’t. He was the successor to Ronald Reagan and a former head of the CIA, and had been involved with shady dealings, dirty, proxy wars and invasions in Latin America and Iraq, that had cost thousands their lives, while thousands others were tortured by the dictators he supported. And domestically he was responsible for racist electioneering and a highly discriminatory drugs policy that has resulted in the massive disproportionate incarceration of Black American men.

Mehdi Hasan on George Bush Senior

He was a disgusting creature, and Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece in the Intercept describing just how disgusting and reprehensible he was. In the piece below, he also appeared on Democracy Now! to talk to host Amy Goodman about Bush senior and his legacy of corruption, murder and terror.

Bush was elected president in 1990. He was a former director of the CIA, and served from 1981-89 as Reagan’s vice-president. Despite calling for a kinder, gentler politics when he was vice-president, Bush refused to tackle climate change, saying that the American way of life was not up for negotiation, defended future supreme court justice Clarence Thomas even after he was accused of sexual harassment. He was responsible for launching the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. During the War, the US air force deliberately bombed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing 408 civilians. The relatives of some of those killed tried to sue Bush and his deputy, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. The attack on Iraq continued after the end of the war with a devastating sanctions regime imposed by Bush, and then his son’s invasion in 2003.

The Invasion of Panama

In 1990 Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest the country’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. Noriega had previously been a close ally, and had been on the CIA’s payroll. 24,000 troops were sent into the country to topple Noriega against Panama’s own military, which was smaller than the New York police department. 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. In November 2018, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations for what they considered to be an illegal invasion.

Pardoning the Iran-Contra Conspirators

As one of his last acts in office, Bush also gave pardons to six officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a secret operation in which Reagan sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, despite Congress banning the administration from funding them. Bush was never called to account for his part in it, claiming he was ‘out of the loop’, despite the testimony of others and a mass of documents suggesting otherwise.

The Collapse of Communism and Neoliberalism

Bush’s period in office coincided with the collapse of Communism. In the period afterwards, which Bush termed the New World Order, he was instrumental in spreading neoliberalism and the establishment of the NAFTO WTO treaties for international trade.

Hasan not only wrote for the Intercept, he also hosted their Deconstructed podcast, as well as a show, Up Front, on Al-Jazeera English.

The Media’s Praise of Bush

Goodman and Hasan state that there is a natural reluctance against speaking ill of the dead. But they aren’t going to speak ill of Bush, just critically examine his career and legacy. Hasan states that as a Brit living in Washington he’s amazed at the media hagiography of Bush. He recognizes that Bush had many creditable achievements, like standing up to the NRA and AIPAC, but condemns the way the media ignored the rest of Bush’s legacy, especially when it involves the deaths of thousands of people as absurd, a dereliction of duty. He states that Bush is being described as the ‘anti-Trump’, but he did many things that were similar to the Orange Buffoon. Such as the pardoning of Caspar Weinberger on the eve of his trial, which the independent special counsel at the time said was misconduct and that it covered up the crime. And everyone’s upset when Trump says he might pardon Paul Manafort. Bush should be held to the same account. It doesn’t matter that he was nicer than Trump, and less aggressive than his son, he still has a lot to answer for.

The Iran-Contra Scandal

Goodman gets Hasan to explain about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan sold arms to Iran, then an enemy state, to fund a proxy war against a ‘Communist’ state in South America despite a congressional ban. He states that it was a huge scandal. Reagan left office without being punished for it, there was a Special Council charged with looking into it, led by Lawrence Walsh, a deputy attorney general under Eisenhower. When he looked into it, he was met with resistance by Reagan’s successor, Bush. And now we’re being told how honest he was. But at the time Bush refused to hand over his diary, cooperate with the Special Counsel, give interviews, and pardoned the six top neocons responsible. The Special Counsel’s report is online, it can be read, and it says that Bush did not cooperate, and that this was the first time the president pardoned someone in a trial in which he himself would have to testify. He states that Bush and Trump were more similar in their obstruction of justice than some of the media would have us believe.

Iraq Invasion

They then move on to the Iraq invasion, and play the speech in which Bush states that he has begun bombing to remove Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. It was done now, because ‘the world could wait no longer’. Because of Bush’s attack on Iraq, his death was marked by flags at half-mast in Kuwait as well as Washington. Hasan states that Hussein invaded Kuwait illegally, and it was a brutal occupation. But Hasan also says that Bush told the country that it came without any warning or provocation. But this came after the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Hussein that American had no opinion on any border dispute with Kuwait. This was interpreted, and many historians believe, that this was a green light to Hussein to invade.

Bush also told the world that America needed to go into Iraq to protect Saudi Arabia, as there were Iraqi troops massing on the border of that nation. This was another lie. One reporter bought satellite photographs of the border and found there were no troops there. It was lie, just as his son lied when he invaded twelve years later. As for the bombing of the Amariyya air raid shelter, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, this was a crime because the Americans had been told it contained civilians. Bush also bombed the civilian infrastructure, like power stations, food processing plants, flour mills. This was done deliberately. Bush’s administration told the Washington Post that it was done so that after the war they would have leverage over the Iraqi government, which would have to go begging for international assistance. And this was succeeded by punitive sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. It all began on Bush’s watch.

Racism, Willie Horton and Bush’s Election Campaign

They then discuss his 1988 election campaign, and his advert attacking his opponent, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was attacked for having given a weekend pass from prison to Willie Horton, a Black con serving time for murder, who then went and kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping the woman. This was contrasted with Bush, who wanted the death penalty for first degree murder. The advert was created by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, who later apologized for it on his deathbed. This advert is still studied in journalism classes, and until Trump’s ad featuring the migrant caravan appeared it was considered the most racist advert in modern American political history. Atwater said that they were going to talk about Horton so much, people would think he was Dukakis’ running mate. Bush approved of this, and talked about Horton at press conferences. And unlike Atwater, he never apologized. Roger Stone, whom Hasan describes as one of the most vile political operatives of our time, an advisor to Donald Trump and Nixon, actually walked up to Atwater and told him he would regret it, as it was clearly a racist ad. When even Roger Stone says that it’s a bad idea, you know you’ve gone too far. But the press has been saying how decent Bush was. Hasan states he has only two words for that: Willie Horton.

In fact, weekend passes for prison inmates was a policy in many states, including California, where Ronald Reagan had signed one. Hasan calls the policy what it was: an attempt to stoke up racial fears and division by telling the public that Dukakis was about to unleash a horde of Black murderers, who would kill and rape them. And ironically the people who were praising Bush after his death were the same people attacking Trump a week earlier for the migrant caravan fearmongering. It reminded everyone of the Willie Horton campaign, but for some reason people didn’t make the connection between the two.

Racism and the War on Drugs

Hasan also makes the point that just as Bush senior had no problem creating a racist advert so he had no problem creating a racist drug war. They then move on to discussing Bush’s election advert, in which he waved a bag of crack cocaine he claimed had been bought in a park just a few metres from the White House. But the Washington Post later found out that it had all been staged. A drug dealer had been caught selling crack in Lafayette Square, but he had been lured there by undercover Federal agents, who told him to sell it there. The drug dealer even had to be told the address of the White House, so he could find it. It was a nasty, cynical stunt, which let to an increase in spending of $1 1/2 billion on more jails, and prosecutors to combat the drugs problem. And this led to the mass incarceration of young Black men, and thousands of innocent lives lost at home and abroad in the drug wars. And today Republican senators like Chris Christie will state that this is a failed and racist drug war.

This was the first in a series of programmes honouring the dead – which meant those killed by Bush, not Bush himself. The next programme in the series was on what Bush did in Panama.

Dark Rock and Bush: The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Vision Thing’

I’ve a suspicion that the track ‘Vision Thing’ by the Sisters of Mercy is at least partly about George Bush senior. The Sisters are a dark rock band. Many of front man Andrew Eldritch’s lyrics are highly political, bitterly attacking American imperialism. Dominion/Mother Russia was about acid rain, the fall of Communism, and American imperialism and its idiocy. Eldritch also wanted one of their pop videos to feature two American servicemen in a cage being taunted by Arabs, but this was naturally rejected about the bombing of American servicemen in Lebanon. Another song in the same album, ‘Dr Jeep’, is about the Vietnam War.

‘Vision Thing’ seems to take its title from one of Bush’s lines, where he said, if I remember correctly, ‘I don’t have the vision thing.’ The song talks about ‘another black hole in the killing zone’, and ‘one million points of light’. It also has lines about ‘the prettiest s**t in Panama’ and ‘Take back what I paid/ to another M*****f****r in a motorcade’. These are vicious, bitter, angry lyrics. And if they are about Bush senior, then it’s no wonder.

Corbyn Attacks Tories For Using Food Banks as Photo Opportunity

December 6, 2018

Here’s another great little video from RT where Corbyn once again savages May and the Tory party for causing nothing but despair and poverty for millions of working Brits. In this one, of just over a half a minute, Corbyn takes them to task for cynically using food banks as photo ops. He says

The Trussel Trust has also pointed out foodbanks face record demand this December. I just gently say to her and the MPs behind her foodbanks are not just an opportunity for Conservative MPs, who themselves, all of whom supported the cuts in benefit that have led to the poverty in this country.

Corbyn’s again absolutely right. It’s disgusting, hypocritical and disgraceful that the Tories are exploiting foodbanks in this manner.

Mike put up an article about this earlier this week, showing Dominic Raab, Claire Perry, Ross Thomson and Stephen Crabb posing at foodbanks and alongside Tesco workers, who were supposed to be contributing some of the produce at their stores to the banks. He also included the comments of the peeps on Twitter, including comedian David Schneider, neurologist Prof. Ray Tallis, Claire Hepworth OBE, Charlotte Hughes, the author of the Poor Side of Life blog, teenage corbynista Hasan Patel and many, many others, all of whom tore into the Tories. James Colwell tweeted about Perry’s voting record, reminding the world that she

consistently voted against raising benefits, almost always voted for reducing housing benefit, & generally voted against spending to create jobs for young people. She is one of the reasons foodbanks are needed.

These are the people, who have left over a quarter of a million people needing to use foodbanks to stop themselves starving to death through their insistence on low wages and benefit cuts and sanctions, the work capability tests and the introduction of alterations to the way benefits are paid, so that people have to wait even longer for them.

All of this is to create a cowed, obedient workforce will put up with any form of exploitation in order to keep their jobs, and give massive tax breaks to the rich.

As for the Tories posing in the foodbanks, Steve Perry pointed out that all the tweets about them were following a script. And the Labour whips immediately smelt a very large, odoriferous rat. The tweets and photos came at the same time as May was applauding a batch of new Tory candidates ready to fight the next election. The Labour whips put two and two together and concluded that they made four: the Tories were preparing for a possible general election if May’s Brexit deal goes sour.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/02/hypocritical-tories-try-gaslighting-us-with-foodbank-photocalls-but-is-something-more-serious-behind-it/

Now today we have the spectacle of the Beeb and the rest of the media castigating Corbyn for concentrating on the poverty the Tories had created at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, rather than Brexit. He dropped the ball on this one, they chorus. Those repeating this nonsense included Laura Kuenssberg and the Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson. This provoked the retort from the Labour supporters on Twitter, including Mike, that Corbyn had done very well. If Corbyn had asked May about Brexit, she would have used it as an excuse to get out of debate with him about it later, arguing that she had already discussed the matter. But he didn’t, and she can’t. And the peeps on Twitter applauded Corbyn for concentrating on poverty and bitterly criticized May for laughing about the poverty she had caused in parliament. Mike on his blog quoted Clare Hepworth, who said

Jeremy Corbyn was ABSOLUTELY right to major on the Alston report and the JRM report – there are FIVE days of #Brexit.
It was OBSCENE to witness the PM and the Tories LAUGHING at the mention of poverty, deprivation & low wages !!
The pundits on #PoliticsLive didn’t mention that !

And she was one of very many.

They also ripped into Kuenssberg, Robinson and Co. for being part of a complacent media elite, sealed inside the Westminster bubble, who have no idea what it’s like to be genuinely poor.

They also connected this to the four Tory MPs posing at food banks this weekend. Tory Fibs and Another Angry Voice applauded Corbyn attacking May for the Tories exploiting them to promote themselves. Clive Lewis said of them

.@jeremycorbyn: “Foodbanks are not just for photo opportunities!” #PMQs > 14 million people are in poverty in the UK. That’s one in five people. It’s not just @UKLabour saying it – even the @UN has said that the Tories are in a “state of denial” about poverty in this country

As for May’s response, and in particular her comment about ‘making difficult decisions’, Lisa Nandy and Mike had their answers to this pathetic, timeworn excuse.

Lisa Nandy tweeted

Theresa May says the Tories had to take “difficult decisions” on benefits. They cut taxes for the richest and cut benefits for the poorest. That isn’t “difficult”, it’s immoral #PMQs

And Mike posted these two tweets

.@theresa_may is going over the usual arrogant nonsense about benefits. People are NOT better-off, and the govt is NOT saving money. We heard about her #ContemptOfParliament yesterday – now we are seeing her contempt for the people she is supposed to serve. #PMQs #PoliticsLive

.@theresa_may has no defence against claims by .@jeremycorbyn about mistreatment of the poor. All she can do is attack .@UKLabour because she cannot defend herself. We’ve heard this before and she’s coming across as a silly, braying old Scrooge. #PMQs #PoliticsLive

But if the Tories are secretly preparing for another general election, and the Tory photographs at foodbanks were part of that, as the Labour whips suspected, then Corbyn was absolutely right to remind Britain of the grinding poverty they had created.

Disability campaigner Paula Peters also tweeted asking people to remember the suffering and death done by the Tories and their benefit cuts. She tweeted

While everyone is concentrating on Brexit, spare some thought for disabled ppl losing PIP, social care, ESA, claimants sanctioned, facing eviction, going hungry. Many are dying & having human rights violated. Christmas isn’t happening for many. Rise up! #GTTO

Mike concluded his article with the statement:

It seems Mrs May has scored enough own goals herself to make such an uprising – at the ballot box – a distinct possibility.

Let us hope we all have a chance to demonstrate our opinion of her, and the privations she has inflicted on us, in the very near future.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/06/pmqs-drama-corbyn-outplays-may-and-her-poodle-press-by-highlighting-poverty/

Any such chance won’t come too soon!

Two of the Candidates for the Fifty Pound Note: Alan Turing and Thatcher

November 27, 2018

Mike today put up a piece about the two candidates the government is considering sticking on the back of the fifty pound note. They are Alan Turing, the wartime mathematical genius, who broke the enigma code and helped shorten the war. One of the machines Turing designed, or helped design to break the code was programmable, and Turing is respected as one of the founders of modern computing.

He was, however, gay at a time when it was very much against the law. He was convicted of gross indecency, and chemically castrated, which led to him taking his own life.

Thatcher, on the other hand, is the woman whose policies have inflicted nothing but misery on this planet for nearly forty years. She started the Tories’ and New Labour’s privatization programme, including that of the NHS, the destruction of the welfare state and deliberately made signing on for unemployment benefit as humiliating as possible, in order to deter the poor from doing so. She was also determined to break the unions, manufacturing a strike by the NUM through the gutting of British coalmining, purely to break the union that had brought down Heath’s government years before. And she used the police has her army to attack and beat the miners, aided by a complicit media, including the Beeb. These ran the footage of the strike at Orgreave colliery backwards to make it appear that the miners were attacking the police, while it was the other way round.

Exactly as the great peeps on Twitter, whose comments Mike quotes in his piece about it.

Ah, but Thatcher was a chemist! She worked for Walls, inventing the process that injects air into ice cream to make it appear that there’s more of it than there is.

Well, if the government wants to put scientists, and especially women scientists, on the fifty pound note, I’ve got a few suggestions of my own. Female scientists they could choose include:

Dorothy Hodgkin. She’s the woman who should have got the prize for discovering the structure of DNA, as Crick and Watson were looking completely in the wrong direction until they walked past the door of her lab, and heard her talking about her work. She lost the Nobel to them, but did get another prize for another great discovery she made. If she hasn’t been already, it’s the right time to have her commemorated on our folding stuff.

Jocelyn Bell Purnell. She was the astronomer, who discovered pulsars. These are tiny, dense stars at the end of their lives, which send out a radio signal. They spin very quickly, so that the signal sweeps across the sky, so that they appear as a regular beat. At first it was believed that they might be signals from an extraterrestrial civilization. Some astronomers also believe that, while they’re natural, space-traveling aliens could use them as lighthouses to navigate their way across the Galaxy.

Helen Sharman. She’s another chemist, though at Mars, rather than Walls. But she is know for being the first Brit into space when she joined the British-Russian space mission to Mir in the 1980s. Since then, she’s been something of a science educator, appearing at events to encourage children to take up science.

Caroline Herschel. She’s the brother of John Herschel, and daughter of William. She and her brother were astronomers in 18th century Bath, making telescopes and discovering new stars.

I’m sure there are many others. These are all astronomy and space related, because that’s the area I’m interested in and know most about. All of these ladies have a better claim to be on the Fifty pound note than Thatcher.

But if you want another bloke, how about Dr. Jacob Bronowski. He was another mathematician working during the War. He was also the presenter of the 1970s Beeb science blockbuster, The Ascent of Man. He was also a Fabian socialist with a hatred of war. In The Ascent of Man he makes his view of armed conflict very clear by saying: ‘War is theft by other means’. It’s parody of Clausewitz’s famous phrase ‘War is politics by other means’. Bronowski’s description of war is very true, especially now when we’ve seen that the humanitarian interventions in the Middle East have all been about conquering them in order to despoil their oil reserves, loot their state industries and stop any kind of Arab and Islamic support for Israel. And Iran appears to be next on the hit list.

However, I do like the suggestion of Raab C. Brexit that it should be the sage of Govan, Rab C. Nesbitt on the notes. Having his mug staring out at them might just put a few of the really filthy rich off when they get it out to pay for their bottle of Krug.

Remember, it was Nesbitt who predicted that there’d be a war between the Toffs and the Scum. The Toffs would win initially, because they’ve got the army. But the Scum would be the victors, because they have all the Rottweilers.

See also Mike’s article at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/27/whose-face-do-you-want-on-the-back-of-the-50-note-alan-turing-or-margaret-thatcher/

Video of Ion-Driven Plane in Flight

November 27, 2018

A few days ago I put up a piece about an article in the I, which reported that scientists at MIT had successfully built and flown a plane propelled by ions. These are charged particles. The plane had a series of electrically charged wires running in front and behind it. These turned the air running between them into a stream of charged particles, which were directed around the plane to propel it through the air.

I found this video of it in flight from the Sci-News channel on YouTube. There’s a brief explanation of the principle behind it, which describes the ionized air which gives the plane thrust as an ionic wind. It then shows the plane moving a short distance without the power switched on. This is then followed by the plane flying a far greater distance using the ionic power system. The video calls it the first solid-state propulsion system, and then describes it as ‘flight without propulsion’. Which sounds like the line about travelling through folding space in Dune: ‘Travelling without motion’. The explanatory blurb for the video states that the system could be used to create cleaner, quieter planes.

It’s a fascinating form of aircraft propulsion, and as I blogged about it the other day, it’s similar to the nuclear thrust engines used on some spacecraft. These use a grid of electrically charged filaments to direct a flow of ions away from the craft to generate thrust, although in this case the charged particles come from a nuclear reactor.

However, I am slightly alarmed by the possibility that this will be used to create silent drones, as mentioned in the I article and by one of the commenters on this video on YouTube. The last thing this planet needs is more refined killing machines, especially drones which are being used to kill civilians, including children – dubbed ‘fun-sized terrorists’ by the American drone pilots. And there is a real dehumanizing effect in using drones in combat. The drone operator is remote, miles away from the carnage they’re inflicting, and so the killing can seem unreal. As one angry trainer remarked when he hauled one operator from the controls for going way to far, ‘This isn’t a computer game’.

Hopefully this technology will be used to produce cleaner, greener, more efficient aircraft, rather than yet more engines of destruction.

Zarjaz! Rebellion to Open Studio for 2000AD Films

November 26, 2018

Here’s a piece of good news for the Squaxx dek Thargo, the Friends of Tharg, editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. According to today’s I, 26th November 2018, Rebellion, the comic’s current owners, have bought a film studio and plan to make movies based on 2000AD characters. The article, on page 2, says

A disused printing factory in Oxfordshire is to be converted into a major film studio. The site in Didcot has been purchased by Judge Dredd publisher Rebellion to film adaptations from its 2000 AD comic strips. The media company based in Oxford hopes to create 500 jobs and attract outside contractors.

Judge Dredd, the toughest lawman of the dystopian nightmare of Megacity 1, has been filmed twice, once as Judge Dredd in the 1990s, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, and then six years ago in 2012, as Dredd, with Karl Urban in the starring role. The Stallone version was a flop and widely criticized. The Dredd film was acclaimed by fans and critics, but still didn’t do very well. Two possible reasons are that Dredd is very much a British take on the weird absurdities of American culture, and so doesn’t appeal very much to an American audience. The other problem is that Dredd is very much an ambiguous hero. He’s very much a comment on Fascism, and was initially suggested by co-creator Pat Mills as a satire of American Fascistic policing. The strip has a very strong satirical element, but nevertheless it means that the reader is expected to identify at least partly with a Fascist, though recognizing just how dreadful Megacity 1 and its justice system is. It nevertheless requires some intellectual tight rope walking, though it’s one that Dredd fans have shown themselves more than capable of doing. Except some of the really hardcore fans, who see Dredd as a role model. In interviews Mills has wondered where these people live. Did they have their own weird chapterhouse somewhere?

Other 2000AD strips that looked like they were going to make the transition from the printed page to the screen, albeit the small one of television, were Strontium Dog and Dan Dare. Dare, of course, was the Pilot of Future, created by Marcus Morris for the Eagle, and superbly drawn by Franks Hampson and Bellamy. He was revived for 2000 AD when it was launched in the 1970s, where he was intended to be the lead strip before losing this to Dredd. The strip was then revived again for the Eagle, when this was relaunched in the 1980s. As I remember, Edward Norton was to star as Dare.

Strontium Dog came from 2000 AD’s companion SF comic, StarLord, and was the tale of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter, his norm partner, the Viking Wulf, and the Gronk, a cowardly alien that suffered from a lisp and a serious heart condition, but who could eat metal. It was set in a future, where the Earth had been devastated by a nuclear war. Mutants were a barely tolerated minority, forced to live in ghettos after rising in rebellion against an extermination campaign against them by Alpha’s bigoted father, Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Alpha and his fellow muties worked as bounty hunters, the only job they could legally do, hunting down the galaxy’s crims and villains.

Back in the 1990s the comic’s then publishers tried to negotiate a series of deals with Hollywood for the translation on their heroes on to the big screen. These were largely unsuccessful, and intensely controversial. In one deal, the rights for one character was sold for only a pound, over the heads of the creators. They weren’t consulted, and naturally felt very angry and bitter about the deal.

This time, it all looks a lot more optimistic. I’d like to see more 2000 AD characters come to life, on either the big screen or TV. Apart from Dredd, it’d good to see Strontium Dog and Dare be realized for screen at last. Other strips I think should be adapted are Slaine, the ABC Warriors and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Slaine, a Celtic warrior strip set in the period before rising sea levels separated Britain, Ireland and Europe, and based on Celtic myths, legends and folklore, is very much set in Britain and Ireland. It could therefore be filmed using some of the megalithic remains, hillforts and ancient barrows as locations, in both the UK and Eire. The ABC Warriors, robotic soldiers fighting injustice, as well as the Volgan Republic, on Earth and Mars, would possibly be a little more difficult to make. It would require both CGI and robotics engineers to create the Warriors. But nevertheless, it could be done. There was a very good recreation of an ABC Warrior in the 1990s Judge Dredd movie, although this didn’t do much more than run amok killing the judges. It was a genuine machine, however, rather than either a man in a costume or animation, either with a model or by computer graphics. And the 1980s SF movie Hardware, which ripped off the ‘Shock!’ tale from 2000AD, showed that it was possible to create a very convincing robot character on a low budget.

The Ballad of Halo Jones might be more problematic, but for different reasons. The strip told the story of a young woman, who managed to escape the floating slum of an ocean colony to go to New York. She then signed on as a waitress aboard a space liner, before joining the army to fight in a galactic war. It was one of the comic’s favourite strips in the 1980s, and for some of its male readers it was their first exposure to something with a feminist message. According to Neil Gaiman, the strip’s creator, Alan Moore, had Jones’ whole life plotted out, but the story ended with Jones’ killing of the Terran leader, General Cannibal, on the high-gravity planet Moab. There was a dispute over the ownership of the strip and pay between Moore and IPC. Moore felt he was treated badly by the comics company, and left for DC, never to return to 2000 AD’s pages. Halo Jones was turned into a stage play by one of the northern theatres, and I don’t doubt that even after a space of thirty years after she first appeared, Jones would still be very popular. But for it to be properly adapted for film or television, it would have to be done involving the character’s creators, Moore and Ian Gibson. Just as the cinematic treatment of the other characters should involve their creators. And this might be difficult, given that Moore understandably feels cheated of the ownership of his characters after the film treatments of Watchmen and V For Vendetta.

I hope that there will be no problems getting the other 2000 AD creators on board, and that we can soon look forward to some of the comics many great strips finally getting on to the big screen.

Splundig vur thrig, as the Mighty One would say.

Scientists Invent Ion-Driven ‘Star Trek’ Plane

November 23, 2018

This is a fascinating piece from yesterday’s I newspaper, for the 22nd November 2018. It reports that Dr. Steven Barrett and his team at MIT have built an airplane that flies through channeling air underneath its wings using electrically charged wires hung below them.

The article, by John von Radowitz, on page 13, reads

A revolutionary electronic aircraft propulsion system inspired by Star Trek has been tested on a working model for the first time.

The five-metre wingspan glider-like plane has no propellers, turbines or any other moving parts, and is completely silent.

Instead, an “ionic wind” of colliding electrically charged air molecules provides the thrust needed to make it fly.

In the tests, the battery-powered unmanned aircraft, that weighs just five pounds, managed sustained flights of 60m at an average height of just 0.47m.

But its inventors believe that, like the early experiments of the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, such small beginnings will eventually transform the face of aviation.

In the near future, ion wind propulsion could be employed to power quiet drones, the team predicts.

Further down the line, the technology could be paired with more conventional propulsion systems to produce highly fuel-efficient hybrid passenger planes.

Lead researcher Dr. Steven Barret, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said: “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system.

“This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”

He revealed that he was partly inspi9red by the TV sci-fi series Star Trek. He was especially impressed by the show’s futuristic shuttle crafts that skimmed through the air producing hardly any noise or exhaust. “This made me think, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines,” said Dr. Barrett.
“They should be more like the shuttles in
Star Trek that have just a blue glow and silently glide.

The test aircraft, described in the journal Nature, carries an array of thin wires strung beneath the front end of its wings. A high-voltage current passed through the wires strips negatively charged electrons from surrounding air molecules.

This produces a cloud of positively charged ionized air molecules that are attracted to another set of negatively charged wires at the back of the plane.

As they flow towards the negative charge, the ions collide millions of times with other air molecules, creating the thrust that pushes the aircraft forward.

The article also said that

Test flights were made across the gymnasium at MIT’s duPont Athletic Centre, the largest indoor space the scientists could find.

The article also carried this diagram of the aircraft and its engine.

The illustration is entitled ‘How It Works’, and shows picture of the plane, with an arrow saying ‘Battery in fuselage’. There’s also a diagram of the electrically charged particles and the wires connected to the battery that the plane uses instead of a conventional engine.

The illustration’s notes read

Thin wires are strung under the front of the wing and thicker wires under the rear. When connected to a high voltage battery they act as electrodes. The thin positive electrode takes negatively charged electrons from air molecules, creating positive ions. The ions are attracted to the negative electrode at the rear and, as they flow towards it, they collide with neutral air molecules, creating thrust.

The plane reminds of me of the atmospheric aircraft in one of Alistair Reynold’s SF novels, Revelation Space, which fly through heating up the air below them. The propulsion system’s also related to the nuclear electric propulsion used, or proposed, for some spacecraft. This also uses an electrically charged grating to channel and increase the thrust of charged particles generated by a nuclear reactor. As I understand it, the amount of thrust generated by this type of rocket engine is small, but because it’s constant it can eventually build up over time so that the craft is flying at quite considerable speed.

An ion-driven plane is a fascinating concept, though it won’t be powering passenger craft just yet. But you wonder how many UFO sightings will be generated by the experimental and prototype craft which will be designed and built after this.

BBC 4 Looks Back at Tomorrow’s World

November 22, 2018

Tonight, Thursday 22nd November 2018 at 9.00 pm BBC 4 are looking back at the 1980’s BBC science show, Tomorrow’s World. The programme’s entitled Tomorrow’s World Live: for One Night Only, and the blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

Dr. Hannah Fry joins former presenters Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford for a one-off live revival of the much-loved science and technology series, which ran from 1965 to 2003. They will be looking at the programme’s archive, discovering the latest in British inventions, testing new technologies in the studio and looking forward to the innovations that will shape our future. (p. 97).

The other short piece about the show by Mark Braxton, on page 95, says

To think the BBC’s flagship science show might have been called “To Be Announced”. Creator Glyn Jones only came up with the title the night before RT went to press back in July 1965. But then there was always something excitingly seat-of-the-pants about Tomorrow’s World.

The influential series ran for 38 years, fronted by a conveyor belt of hosts from the old-school (blazer-sporting Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter) and the smooth (Michael Rodd) to the long-running (Judith Hann, for 20 years).

It soon became known for things going awry on live TV – Baxter later gamely spoofed both himself and the programme on The Goodies (“This entire studio is held together with string.” Crash!). But the fact is that this was the first chance the public had to see new tech in action: the home computer, artificial grass, the digital watch, personal stereos and so on.

So in this one-off special, ex-Tomorrow people Maggie Philbin and Howard Stableford take a fond look back and a peek into the future. though I won’t consider the project complete without Johnny Dankworth’s jaunty jazz theme and the show spelt out in cake, nails and fried egg.

The Radio Times also has an article on the show by James Burke, another of its presenters, on pages 18 to 21, which includes a list of the predictions the show got right and got wrong. I remember Burke presenting the Beeb’s coverage of the US space missions in the 1970s, like the Link-Up when US and Russian astronauts and cosmonauts docked in space for the first time, and then returned to Earth in each others’ craft, if I recall correctly. I was fascinated by it, despite being only eight at the time. Burke also presented the Beeb’s science blockbuster series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed.

And here’s the show’s titles and theme tune from the Revoxy Channel on YouTube.

Musical Satire: Tweezer Sings about Arlene Foster and the DUP to the Tune ‘Jolene’

November 21, 2018

This is a bit of Cassetteboi-type fun from the YouTube channel Joe.com. Cassetteboi cuts and edits footage of politicians and celebrities to make them appear to be saying stupid and ridiculous things. One of their greatest hits was at the 2012 London Olympics, when they made Boris Johnson look even more of a pratt than he already is.

The people of Joe.com have done the same to Tweezer, mocking her reliance on Arlene Foster and the Loyalists of Northern Ireland’s DUP. It’s a relationship which is increasingly looking very rocky since Foster’s withdrawal from their Confidence and Supply agreement over the issue of Brexit and a hard border with Eire. Yesterday, as Mike explained in his blog post, the government’s position was so precarious that they had to swallow their pride and accept all of Labour’s amendments to their wretched budget, otherwise the result could have been that it was voted out completely, followed by a ‘No Confidence’ vote on Tweezer and a general election.

So the channel has put up this video of Tweezer singing about their dubious relationship to Foster, which has the lyrics

Arlene, Arlene, Arlene,
Arleeeeene,
I’m begging of you
Please don’t break my plan.

Arlene, Arlene, Arlene,
Arleeeeene,
Please don’t break it
Just because you can.

I gave you one billion pounds
So that you would not vote me down
So please don’t turn your
Back on me, Arlene.

When you’re not denying dinosaurs,
You insist on having UK laws
Except abortion and Gay rights,
Arlene.

You only have 10 MPs
But it’s you that I need to appease
My time is up
Without your help, Arlene.

If you vote this budget down,
You end up with that Boris clown,
Be careful what you wish for,
Arlene.

Arlene, Arlene, Arlene,
Arleeeeene,
I’m begging of you
Please don’t break my plan.

Arlene, Arlene, Arlene,
Arleeeeene,
Please don’t break it
Just because you can.

Visual highlights include May pulling back the bedcovers in front of Foster to reveal masses of pound notes, Boris Johnson in clown make up, and copies of Foster’s head appearing from clouds to surround Tweezer.

Jai Singh’s Observatory in India: A Great Location for Dr. Who

November 18, 2018

Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur, as photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India

Last week on Dr. Who, the Doctor and her friends traveled back seventy years to the partition of India to uncover the secret of Yas’ grandmother’s marriage. Yas is surprised to find that the man her gran, a Muslim married, was a Hindu. And as nationalism and ethnic tensions surged on both sides, her groom was murdered by his own brother as a traitor. Yas’ gran survived, and held on to the watch her husband of only a few hours had given her as a treasured token of their doomed love.

It was a story of family history, doomed romance set against the bloodshed of the Partition, which resulted in 4 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being slaughtered in bloody massacres. And its central theme was the inevitability of history, as Yas could do nothing to save her gran’s first husband. It was similar in this respect to the Classic Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. Written by Harlan Ellison, this had Spock, Kirk and McCoy travel back to Depression-era America. There Kirk falls in love with a woman running a soup kitchen. But she’s an opponent of America entering the war in Europe, who dies in car accident. If she lives, America will not enter World War II, and humanity will never go to the stars. Kirk is thus faced with the terrible necessity of letting the woman he loves die in order to preserve history.

It’s a good story, though I would have preferred one with a bit more science in it. The two aliens that appear, who the Doctor first believes are assassins and responsible for the murder of the Hindu holy man, who was to marry the happy couple, turn out instead to have reformed. Returning to find their homeworld had been destroyed, the two now travel through the universe to witness the deaths of those who pass unnoticed. They reminded me of the Soul Hunters in Babylon 5, an alien race, who travel through the universe to extract and preserve the souls of the dying at the moment of death. They are interested in ‘dreamers, poets, thinkers, blessed lunatics’, creative visionaries whose genius they want to preserve against dissolution.

Dr. Who has a tradition of the Doctor going back in time to meet important figures of the past. One such influential figure in India was Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, who constructed great observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. As you can see from the piccy at the top, the measuring instruments used in astronomy at the time were built out of stone there. To my eyes, the observatories thus have the shape of the weird, alien architecture portrayed by SF artists like Chris Foss, as if they were monuments left by some strange future extraterrestrial civilization.

B.V. Subbarayappa, in his ‘Indian Astronomy: an historical perspective’, in S.K. Biswas, D.C.V. Mallik and C.V. Viveshwara, eds., Cosmic Perspectives: Essays dedicated to the memory of M.K.V. Bappu pp.41-50, writes of the Maharaja

In this respect, special mention needs to be made of Majaraja Sawai Jai Sing II (1688-1743) of Jaipur, who was not only an able king but also a skilled astronomer and patron of learning. He built five observatories in different locations in Northern India. The observatories now standing majestic and serene in Jaipur and Delhi bear testimony to his abiding interest in astronomy and to his efforts for augmenting the astronomical tradition with an open-mindedness. The observatory at Jaipur has a large number of instruments – huge sun-dials, hemispherical dial, meridian circle, a graduated meridianal arc, sextants, zodiacal complex, a circular protractor (which are masonry instruments), as well as huge astrolabes. Sawai Jai Singh II meticulously studied the Hindu, Arabic and the European systems of astronomy. He was well aware of Ptolemy’s Almagest (in its Arabic version), as also the works of Central Asian astronomers – Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Al-Gurgani, Jamshid Kashi and, more importantly, of Ulugh Bek – the builder of the Samarqand observatory. In fact, it was the Samarqand school of astronomy that appears to have been a great source of inspiration to Jai Singh in his astronomical endeavours.

No less was his interest in European astronomy. In his court was a French Jesuit missionary who was an able astronomer and whom Jai Singh sent to Europe to procure for him some of the important contemporary European works on astronomy. He studied Flansteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, La Hire’s Tabula Astronomicae and other works. He was well aware ot he use of telescope in Europe and he spared no efforts in having small telescopes constructed in his own city. In the introduction to his manum opus, Zij Muhammad Shahi, which is preserved both in Persian and Sanskrit, he has recorded that telescopes were being constructed during his lifetime and that he did make use of a telescope for observing the sun-spots, the four moons of Jupiter, phases of Mercury and Venus, etc. However, in the absence of a critical evaluation of his treatise, it is rather difficult to opine whether Jai Singh was able to determine the planetary positions or movements with the help of a telescope and whether he recorded them. No positive evidence has yet been unearthed.

The principal court astronomer of Jai Singh II was Jagganatha who was not only well versed in Arabic and Persian but also a profound scholar of Hindu astronomy. He translated Ptolemy’s Almagest and Euclid’s Elements from their Arabic versions into Sanskrit. The Samrat Siddhanta, the Sanskrit title of the Almagest, is indeed a glorious example of the open-mindedness and generous scientific attitude of Indian astronomers. (pp. 36-8).

It would be brilliant if there was a Dr. Who story using this fascinating, historic location, but as it’s almost certainly a prized national monument, I doubt very much the Beeb would be allowed to film there. Still, perhaps something could be done using CGI and a lot of imagination.