Posts Tagged ‘Blake’s 7’

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

May 26, 2020

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

‘I’ Article About Research into Artificial Wombs and their Morality

January 8, 2020

This is another science story from yesterday’s I for 7th January 2020. It’s about current research into developing artificial wombs. At the moment, these would be for very premature babies, but they could in theory go much further, which raises some serious ethical issues.

The article by Alla Katsnelson, ‘Baby in a bag: could humans be grown in an artificial womb?’ runs

Critically preterm babies face an uncertain future. Although a foetus is considered viable at 24 weeks of gestation, only about 60 per cent of babies born so young will survive, and many will experience life-long complications.

For those born a couple of weeks earlier, the statistics are even more dire: just 10 per cent of babies born at 22 weeks are likely to survive.

building a so-called artificial womb could potentially save these babies. In October, researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands announced that they had received a grant for E2.9m (£2.5m) to develop a prototype of such a device. But the project isn’t the only artificial womb on the horizon. In 2017, researchers in Philadelphia transferred foetal lambs, aged between 105 and 115 days of gestation (equivalent to about 28 to 30 weeks human gestation), into a so-called biobag filled with artificial amniotic fluid. After several weeks in the bag, the lambs developed normally. And in March 2019, an Australian and Japanese research team kept younger lambs, about 95 days’ gestational age, alive in a different system.

Dr Matthew Kemp, who led the latter work, admits that researchers don’t fully understand foetal growth in the womb, which makes replicating it a challenge. The Dutch group noted plans to roll out a clinic-ready prototype in five years, but Dr Kemp says it will probably take much longer. And because the technology is so costly, it’s unlikely to be widely available any time soon.

So far, what researchers call artificial wombs are essentially souped-up incubators. They provide a fluid-filled space in which a foetus can receive nutrients and oxygen through a ‘placenta’. From there to full-on ectogenesis – incubating foetuses outside a human for the full duration of a pregnancy – is an enormous leap.

But many bioethicists note that technology moves quickly, and proactively thinking through the possibilities is important.

In this more futuristic vision, artificial wombs can do a lot for society, says Dr Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist at Fordham University in New York. It could allow people who can’t carry a pregnancy for whatever reason – illness, infertility, age, or gender – to do so. It might also shift some of the childbearing responsibilities carried by women. But it also raises concerns. For example, ex-utero gestation would probably turn reproductive rights on their head, says Elizabeth Chloe Romanis, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Manchester. If a foetus can gestate outside a woman’s body, the choice fo whether or not to have the baby might be deemed out of her hands.

Another issue is that our legal rights are predicated on having been born alive. “I don’t think that a gestating subject in an artificial womb necessarily meets that requirement,” says Romanis. “That raises some questions about human entities ex-utero that have never existed before.

There have been newspaper articles about the development of artificial wombs since the 1980s, at least. The Absurder published one c. 1985, and I think the Independent also published one in the 1990s. And the whole area of artificial reproduction has been a live issue since the first ‘test tube’ baby created through in vitro fertilisation in the 1970s. But it also raises the spectacle of the kind of dystopian society Aldous Huxley portrayed in Brave New World, where humans are bred in hatcheries, engineered and conditioned for their future role in society. The Auronar, the telepathic race to which Cally, one of the heroes of the Beeb’s SF series, Blake’s 7, also reproduced through artificial gestation.And one of the predictions in Brian Stableford’s and David Langford’s future history, The Third Millennium, is that during this millennium this will be the preferred method of human reproduction, at least in some extraterrestrial colonies. And over a decade Radio 4 broadcast a series in which various intellectuals created fictional museums. One was ‘the museum of the biological body’, set in a post-human future in which people were neuter cyborgs born from hatcheries. This is obviously very far off, and I doubt anywhere near the majority of humans would ever want to reject gender and sexuality completely, whatever certain sections of the trans community might believe.

As with cloning and Dolly the Sheep, it raises very profound and disturbing questions about humanity’s future and how far technology should expand into the area of reproduction.

Short Guardian Video of Corbyn’s Election Promises

November 22, 2019

Labour launched its manifesto yesterday, as did the Tories, and the newspapers and TV were full of it. The Guardian, however, produced this little video in which Corbyn presents the party’s manifesto promises in just a minute and a half.

The Labour leader says

‘Labour’s manifesto is a manifesto for hope. That is what this document is. We will unleash a record investment blitz. And it will rebuild our schools, our hospitals, care homes and the housing we so desperately need. Every town, every city and every region. So a Labour government will ensure that big oil and gas corporations that profit from heating up our planet will shoulder the burden and pay their fair share through a just transition tax. We’ll get Brexit sorted within six months. We will secure a sensible deal that protects manufacturing and the Good Friday Agreement. And then put it to a public vote alongside the option of remaining in the EU. And yes, be clear, we will scrap university tuition fees.’ 

At this point there is massive cheering from his audience. He goes on

‘We are going to give you the very fastest, full fiber broadband for free. That is real change. And Labour will scrap Universal Credit.’

More cheering and applause. Corbyn’s speech ends with

‘It’s time for real change. Thank you!’

The crowd rises to give him a standing ovation.

Okay, so this is a very short, very edited version of Corbyn’s speech, just giving the briefest outline of the party’s policies. But it shows that Corbyn’s policies offer real change after forty years of Thatcherism, which has decimated our schools, NHS and public services and destroyed people’s health and lives through savage welfare cuts intended to punish the poor so that the rich could profit. All of which was also carried out by the smarmy face of Blair’s New Labour, who tried presenting themselves as some kind of caring alternative to the Tories, while taking over their odious policies and actually going further.

And as Corbyn says, this is a manifesto of hope. Zelo Street has written a post comparing it with the radical changes that set up the welfare state by Clement Attlee’s 1940s Labour government and their manifesto, Let Us Face the Future. The Sage of Crewe describes how Attlee’s reforms, which set up the post-war consensus, were destroyed by Thatcher, leaving nothing but poverty and run-down, struggling public services, including the NHS, so that the rich 1% can get even richer.

But he writes

Today, Labour brought something to the General Election campaign that recalled the message of 1945, and that something was hope. Hope that students of whatever age would not be saddled with tens of thousands of Pounds of debt for years after graduating. Hope that the punitive benefit sanctions régime would no longer target the sick and disabled. Hope that a living wage really would be enough to live on.

Hope that those out-of-towners without cars would not be effectively trapped in their homes at weekends and in the evening because of public transport cuts. Hope that the NHS would be able to cope without leaving emergency admissions on trolleys in corridors. Hope that someone would, at last, take the Climate Emergency seriously. Hope that the scourge of Universal Credit would at last be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Hope that the victims of press abuse would finally see the long-overdue completion of the Leveson Inquiry, so shamelessly ducked by the Tories in exchange for favourable coverage. Hope that bad housing, and bad landlords, would finally become a thing of the past. Hope that the Police and Fire services will be able to cope, giving security and peace of mind to everyone. Hope of an end to homelessness.

Hope that education will be resourced properly, that teachers will be supported in their work, that pupils will not have to ask parents or guardians to help pay for what should be classroom essentials. Hope of real action to challenge racism in all its forms. Hope for 1950s women that pension injustice will be acknowledged – and tackled. Hope that the divisions caused by the 2016 EU referendum can finally be healed.

He goes on to predict how the people, who have profited from the poverty and misery Thatcherism, and particularly the austerity imposed by the Tories and Lib Dems over the past 9-10 years, will fight to prevent these hopes being realised. He points out that

that alone tells you whose interest is served by the decade of decay that has ravaged so many towns and cities across the country.

And concludes

‘Labour has promised us hope. Let Us Face The Future Once More.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/11/let-us-face-future-once-more.html

This is all precisely what we need, which is why the establishment will do everything they can to prevent ordinary people getting the government, a Labour government, that they deserve. Because, as the Galaxy’s dictator Servalan once said in the BBC SF series Blake’s 7, ‘Hope is very dangerous’.

 

 

Cyborgisation and Mass Technological Mind Control

March 25, 2018

One of the big stories this week has been the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s datamining of the personal details of people on Facebook, in order to target them for electoral propaganda. Not only have they been doing it in America, but they’ve also been contracted by other governments around the world, including the Tories in Britain, as well as Kenya, and Israel, who wanted to interfere in elections in Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis. But reading Alex Constantine’s Psychic Dictatorship in the USA (Portland, Oregon: Feral House 1995) the other night I found a couple of chapters discussing CIA and Russian experiments in technological mind control. These were based on implanting electrodes in the human brain, which could then be operated remotely through a computer, which would effectively turn the person operated upon into a meat puppet. Constantine writes

The CIA’s experiments in radio control of the brain are based on the development of the EEG in the 1920s. In 1934 Drs. Chafee and Light published a pivotal monograph, “A Method for Remote Control of Electrical Stimulation of the Nervous System”. Work along the same lines allowed Dr. Jose Delgado of Cordoba, Spain, to climb into a bull-ring and, with the push of a button, trigger an electrode in the head of a charging bull and stop the beast in its tracks.

Further groundbreaking advances were made by L.L. Vasiliev, the famed Russian physiologist and doyan of parapsychology, in “Critical Evaluation of the Hypnogenic Method” . The article detailed the experiments of Dr. I.F. Tomashevsky in remote radio control of the brain, “at a distance of one or more rooms and under conditions where the participant would not know or suspect that she would be experimented with … One such experiment was carried out in a park at a distance,” Vasiliev reported, and “a post-hypnotic mental suggestion to go to sleep was complied with within a minute.”

By 1956 Curtiss Shafer, an electrical engineer for the Norden-Ketay Corporation could explore the possibilities at the National Electronics Conference in Chicago. “The ultimate achievement of biocontrol may be man himself,” Shafer said. “The controlled subjects would never be permitted to think of themselves as individuals. A few months after birth, a surgeon would equip each child with a socket mounted under the scalp and electrodes reaching selected areas of brain tissue.” In this psycho-Arcadia, “sensory perceptions and muscular activity could be either modified or completely controlled by bioelectric signals radiating from state-controlled transmitters”. (pp. 2-3). Constantine goes on to describe the various experiments in mind control and the sadistic scientists involved in them. Several involved using microwaves to beam auditory signals to people, and their possible use as a tool to manipulate assassins. One of these was supposedly Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Robert Kennedy. He then goes on to describe the development of the technology of brain implants to control humans, and the connection to research into creating human-machine hybrids – cyborgs – a few pages later. He writes

The development of remote mind-reading machines in secret academic enclaves picked up again with ARPA backing in the early 1970s. Scientists mapped the brain, gigahertzed the nervous system and gauged biohazards at MIT, NYU, and UCLA. NASA launched its programme. A story on the ARPA brain effort appeared, not in the corporate press, but in the National Enquirer for June 22, 1976. ‘The Pentagon did not exactly deny the story. Robert L. Gilliat, an assistant general counsel for the Department of Defence, replied meekly: “The so-called ‘brain-wave’ machine is not capable of reading brain waves of anyone other than a willing participant in the laboratory’s efforts to develop that particular device.” Presumably, the brain of an unwilling subject was impenetrable to microwaves.

In 1972 an ARPA report in Congress announced, after Helms, that “the long-sought goal (is) direct and intimate coupling between man and the computer.” Four years later ARPA reported that thought-wave research had gone beyond to communication to enhance memory by downloading information into the brain. Based on these capabilities, the post-PANDORA team set out to upgrade the interpretation of neural signals, and broaden the program to invent realistic tasks of “military significance”.

‘This side of the electronic battlefield, the experiments contributed to medicine the “transmitter-reinforce”, a device that transmits data on a patient’s health. Ford:

The transmitter-reinforce utilizes space age technology to send accurate readings on the patient’s condition to a computer, which digests the data. The computer can monitor many patients simultaneously. If a patient needs a dose of aversion treatment, the computer acts as controller, delivering a tone signal or shock.

The original, clandestine purpose of the “reinforcer” was not lost on authoritarian types in the psychiatric wings. Rowan:

One study suggested that radio transmitter receivers should be implanted into the brains of patients to broadcast information to a computer which would monitor and control the patients’ behaviour.

Other “constructive” uses of CIA/PANDORA telemetric brain implants were championed by criminologists. In 1972, Drs. Barton Ingraham and Gerald Smith advocated the implantation of brain transmitters to monitor and manipulate the minds of probationers. “The technique of telemetric control of human beings offers the possibility of regulating behaviour with precision on a subconscious level,” the authors enthused in a 1972 Issues in Criminology article.

Surveillance expert Joseph Meyer of the DoD carried the idea a step further, proposing that electromagnetic mind control devices “surround the criminal with a kind of externalised conscience, an electronic substitute for social conditioning, group pressure and inner motivation.” The ideal subject for testing the implants was “the poor and uneducated urban dweller (who) is fundamentally unnecessary to the economy,” Meyer said.

Military doctors with hard-right political views were naturally drawn to electronic mind control as the final solution to the “useless eaters” quandary. One Air Force doctor went so far as to recommend, in the New England Journal of Medicine, that if a criminal’s brain waves did not test “normal” after five years, he should be put to death.

Dr. Louis Jolyon West, formerly a CIA brainwashing specialist and LSD experimenter, proposed establishing a computerised system of employing space technology to monitor and control the violence-prone. … This sort of Orwellian thinking led opponents of West to fear the prospect that computer data on young children could be used as justification for implanting them for state control.

The nagging ethical considerations prompted a report on future applications and possible abuses. Scientists as Lockheed and Stanford Research Institute prepared the report, which postulated the rise of “a technocratic elite” with dominion over intelligence and identification systems to monitor whole countries. Wars would be waged by robots.

Technological advances anticipated by the authors include computer operated artificial organs, biocybernetic device to provide “social conversation, entertainment, companionship and even physical gratification,” and a “machine-animal symbiont,” an animal or human monitor that transmits its perceptions to a central authority. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the report recommended the formation of an oversight panel of artificial intelligence specialists to uphold ethical standards. (pp. 16-17).

This is clearly the classic stuff of the paranoid, conspiracy fringe, the kind of material that informs Alex Jones’ Infowars net programme and the X-Files. However, the information in Constantine’s book is meticulously documented, and the CIA’s experiments in mind control have been discussed elsewhere, such as in the conspiracy magazine, Lobster. The suggestion that the technology could used to strip whole populations of their humanity and individuality clearly bring us close to Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen, while the use of computer technology to control the brains of criminals recalls the limiter in Blake’s 7. This was a computer device implanted into the brain of one of the heroes, Gan, to rob him of his ability to kill after he slew a Federation trooper. And Pat Mills portrayed the use of this technology in an episode of Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, when the Terminators electronically monitoring the thoughts of the citizens of Termight pick up a dream of the heroine’s father, in which he fights against the future Earth’s evil Grand Master, Torquemada. The man is arrested shortly after. This episode is obviously inspired by a similar passage in Orwell’s 1984, but it does show the sinister uses this technology could be put to.

And there have been numerous stories in the papers over the past few months that scientists are coming closer, or have discovered ways of reading the human mind electronically. Mostly this is connected to the development of artificial limbs, and the creation of methods by which amputees or people, who have lost the use of their limbs, can move artificial arms or operate other machines, to give them more independence and movement. No-one would object to the development of this technology to benefit the physically handicapped. But this chapter also shows it can also be used for far more sinister purposes. And the comments quoted from various far-right military officers and doctors shows how they viewed the poor: as suitable victims for experimentation, who otherwise have no social or economic value.

Kitty S. Jones on Cambridge Analytica’s Datamining of Facebook

March 23, 2018

Aside from the Skripal poisoning, one of the major issues this week has been Cambridge Analytica and their datamining of Facebook to get the personal particulars of something like 50 million people, so that they could be targeted for political manipulation. Kitty’s article is a long one, but she makes some very good points. Not least is that GCHQ and the other western intelligence services discussed ways of using the internet to target particular individuals to manipulate them or disrupt groups that posed a threat to national security. She also connects this to ‘behavioural economics’ and the infamous Nudge Unit, which uses subtle psychological techniques to manipulate people into making decisions the government wants. With those two, we are well into the kind of dystopian future, where a totalitarian government manipulates the minds of its subjects portrayed in the Beeb’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7. Some of this datamining appears to have been done to benefit Russian oil interests. Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this to her piece, commenting on the immense value of personal information on the Net:

“The Wiley disclosure certainly had quite a media make over, he sits in a trendy bare room with a big photo shoot light for the Guardian and in a graffiti tunnel for ITV news, yet with all his intellectual prowess his deductive reasoning interestingly falls short on his employer making a link with Russian oil: “It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

REF: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

The spotlight on this company must be just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 I had blogged about the EU intending to make it clear how internet users would have their digital data exploited and the New York Times had a comment re the intended EU overhaul of privacy regulations. I had written that the publishers value was not based on content or brand but on the information that can be collected about each digital visitor, as we click away our preferences and online patterns are being delivered up to the advertising market because the ability to sell this information about us is the true value a publisher holds. Here is the comment in the New York Times (20 Nov 2010) about the E.U´s intention to overhaul the online privacy rules to protect personal data which would hamper the “development of services” – a great euphemism for snooping:

“Rules requiring Internet companies to secure users’ consent upfront could hamper the development of services that align online advertising with Web users’ personal interests, as reflected in the Web sites they visit or the preferences they express in social networks and other online forums. From a marketer’s perspective, this could dilute one of the big advantages of the Web over traditional media.”

REF: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/technology/05privacy.html?_r=2

Evidently the misuse of data has been understood for many years, (as you have pointed out Sue), I also noted in 2010 a New Scientist article: “EVERY move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.”

REF: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727701-100-social-networks-the-great-tipping-point-test/

So how did the ‘security services’ miss Cambridge Analytica’s flagrant misuse of data when it has been clearly understood even in the public realm for almost a decade? These supposed revelations at this juncture come at a time when the hype to cold war status is already far too high…”

Kitty’s article is at: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/cambridge-analytica-the-commodification-and-marketisation-of-democracy/

And the Americans are not alone in using Cambridge Analytica, it seems. I found this report by RT about our government also using them and their parent company, SCL, to gather data on us. RT’s presenter, Polly Boiko, states that the two were hired by the Ministry of Defence, and paid for providing staff with training and for keeping government secrets on their computer, amongst other services. Yvette Cooper has demanded a wider investigation into their activities. They have also been hired by some very dodgy governments around the world. Like Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling party to gather data on its opponents, and create a psychological strategy that would allow them to hold on to power. The company has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions as part of this. They were also hired by Ukraine to undermine the breakaway Donetsk Republic. This ended in failure, but the company’s report not only went to the Ukrainians who commissioned it, but was also shared with the British government. She concludes that the next stage of the scandal will probably be the company’s connections to the world’s governments.

This has been touched on today in the I newspaper, which reported that Israel had also hired the company to swing elections Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is a real threat to democracy, but I doubt that many people are paying attention, because of the way May and her team are ramping up tensions with Russia to distract everyone from just how terrible they are. And if the MOD have been using them to gather data on British citizens, then the immediate comparison that comes to my mind is with the Stasi and the other totalitarian secret police. It ain’t Corbyn who’s a threat to democracy, but Cambridge Analytica and their Tory government paymasters.

Painting of Blake’s 7’s ‘Liberator’ by David A. Hardy

September 9, 2017

This is for all the fans of the classic British SF series, Blake’s 7. It’s a painting of their spaceship, the Liberator, before it came crashing to an end in ‘Tereminus’, the last programme of the third series. I found the painting on the SF/ weird art site, Tomorrow and Beyond.

David A. Hardy is one of the great veterans of British space and SF art. He’s illustrated numerous books on astronomy, including several with the late Sir Patrick Moore. The best known of these is probably The Challenge of the Stars. Hardy’s unusual in that he crosses the divide between space and SF art. It seems ridiculous to me that there is such a division, considering how so much science fiction art is set in the Black, and the care with which many SF artists take to portray it. I was rather surprised to find this. I knew Hardy also painted SF, I didn’t think he’d painted any TV material.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Plays David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’

August 11, 2017

This is awesome. It’s a video made by the astronaut Chris Hadfield, of himself playing the Bowie classic, ‘Space Oddity’, aboard the International Space Station. Which, when you think about, couldn’t be a better location.

Astronauts have played music in space before. I’ve got a feeling several Russian cosmonauts had their instruments with them back in the 1980s when they travelled to Mir, and had a jam session up there in orbit.

The SF writer Allan Steele wrote a short story, ‘Live from the Mars Hotel’ about the rise of fictional astronaut band in his anthology, Rude Astronauts. In this tale, a group of spacers on Mars form a band to keep boredom at bay during the long months on the Red Planet, especially when a howling dust storm comes down to blanket the entire world and nobody can venture outside. When they return to Earth, the band briefly find themselves celebrities. However, this rapidly wanes, and they go back to their day jobs after their all-too brief stint as space’s first rock gods.

Part of the reason for this is that they sacrifice their authentic sound for the image manufactured for them by the music industry. Their own sound, honed on Mars, is rough and gritty, authentic country ‘n’ western. However, when they play gigs back on Earth, they’re persuaded to wear spangly jumpsuits and perform with a full orchestra. It’s just too ‘Nashville’ for our roughneck space heroes. The fans sense this, and so stop listening to them.

The shots of the ISS itself and the Soyuz spacecraft, as well as Earth itself, remind me of the opening credits to the 1980s space detective series, Star Cops. This was set forty years in the future, when space was being opened up to industrial exploitation and regular space travel. Unfortunately, it only lasted a single season. Part of the problem was that many of the space/ SF fans, who would have seen it, never heard of it. I also think that it suffered because it was broadcast just after Dr. Who’s cancellation in the mid-1980s, and I think this overshadowed the show. I also think it probably suffered from being mismarketed. I think it was being advertised as detection, rather than SF, and so the trailers for it were aimed at the wrong audience. I’m quite aware, however, that there is an audience, and that there are SF stories that are basically detective yarns. They’re just set in the future with robots, aliens and mutants.

Here’s the beginning titles for Star Cops.

Well, it’s thirty years after the series was aired, and we’re still waiting for the future it envisioned. Star Cops was written by Chris Boucher, who was script editor on Blake’s 7, and was very much intended to be hard, near-future SF. The series boasted that all the technology was based on hard, science fact. Unfortunately, the dream of cheap, mass spaceflight hasn’t happened, possibly because the spaceplanes being designed at the time by Martin Marietta simply proved unviable in practice.

Still, perhaps in Skylon takes off next year, we might really see the space age begin in earnest. In the meantime, I hope there are a few more astronauts, who take the opportunity to lay down a few awesome tracks as they explore the High Frontier.

Ismahil Blagrove on Why the Days of the Mainstream Media Are Over

July 20, 2017

This is awesome. I’ve posted up videos from Blagrove before, particularly one in which he laid into the mainstream media for their reporting of the Grenfell Tower disaster. In this very short piece from Double Down News, he rips into the mainstream media for its class bias – for the White, middle class elite, and against poor Whites, Muslims and so on. He has very forthright views about the Heil, stating that, yes, he would use it as toilet paper. Well, it’s got to be good for something. He tells how he was asked by someone from the mainstream media what they were doing wrong. He told them about how they were for the elite, and constantly attacked Jeremy Corbyn. This even included nominally left-wing papers like the Groaniad. Corbyn’s popular because he gives people hope and builds them up. The MSM does the opposite. When they talk about youths committing crime, they aren’t talking about the children of the middle classes, but lower class Whites. The same with their constant attacks on Muslims, and their refusal to recognize that British foreign policy and military action abroad has an effect on terrorism.

He talks about how he was an independent film maker for about 17-18 years, and never got a commission from the Beeb or Channel 4. Now both channels want him and his team. He rhetorically asks where they were when he was young and hungry? They don’t want him; they just want his contacts. But he talks about an independent film on young gun crime, which garnered four million views. He seems to be talking directly to DDN at one point, stating that he dislikes their name, but good on them, because they’re successful. He concludes by saying that the days of MSM are over. The revolution will be livestreamed!

Warning: the video contains images of Eton or other public schoolboys acting as such, which some people may find offensive.

Blagrove’s absolutely right. Corbyn is successful, precisely because he does give people hope. And that absolutely terrifies the media and corporate elites. As Servalan, the supreme commander of the Terran Federation, once said in Blake’s 7 ‘Hope is very dangerous’.

It’s why the Heil and Torygraph a few days ago started ranting about how the young supported Labour and Corbyn because they’d been indoctrinated by left-wing teachers. They haven’t. The vast majority of teachers simply want to stand in front of a whiteboard and teach. When they do become political, and criticize the government, or start mooting strike action, it’s because of genuine professional concerns, both for their careers and the teaching profession as a whole, and also because of the harm Tory educational policies are having on schoolchildren and their intellectual and moral development.

There is also very stringent legislation in place to make sure teachers cannot indoctrinate young children. If there is a situation, where they are asked to make a judgement about a political or religious belief, they have to state clearly that this is only their view.

The idea that there are somehow legions of left-wing teachers poisoning young minds is just more propaganda. I really shouldn’t expect anything more or better from them. Back in the 1980s under Thatcher the Fail and the Torygraph, along with the rest of the right-wing press, were screaming the same lies about Communist teachers and the Peace Studies courses, taught in some schools. Quite apart from the scaremongering about Brent Council and its crusade against sexism, anti-gay prejudice and racism.

There are very good reasons why many young people are turning to Labour: Corbyn is giving them hope. Hope that they might actually get a job, or if they don’t, that they might actually receive unemployment or disability benefit from the state. That the 50 per cent, which the government wants to go to uni, will emerge without something like £40,000 worth of student debt, a debt that they will never be able to pay off, and will stop them owning their own home. Corbyn gives them hope that their parents just might be able to afford to retire to a well-earned, decent pension. Hope that we are going to live in a civilized Britain, where the elite aren’t constantly whipping up hysterical fears about immigrants to divide working people, or demonise the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the weak, the disenfranchised.

But the corporate elite are so convinced of their own right to rule, that they simply can’t get their heads round all that. Or rather, they don’t want to. And more importantly, they don’t want the British public, who buy their disgusting rags, to understand that either. And so it’s all back to the stale, antiquated Thatcherite lies about teachers.

Blagrove is also absolutely right too, about the way Corbyn has been properly reported and supported by the internet and social media, just as Obama and now Bernie Sanders is in America. And the plutocrats, who own it are frightened. It’s why YouTube is demonetizing left-wing internet news shows like The Young Turks, The David Pakman Show, Secular Talk and so on. It’s why Mike and other left-wing bloggers have found that Facebook has changed its sharing buttons, to make it more difficult for them to be reblogged and shared.

Because, as Blagrove has said, he trusts blogger to report the news better than the professional media.

I also applaud this video because Blagrove stands up, not just for Muslims and people of colour, but also for poor White kids. I’ve commented on a number of pieces in Counterpunch, which have observed that White and Black in the working class need to stand together, and that Trump and elite are using White racism to divide working people. These articles argued that Whites needed to reject racism. Blagrove here has embraced poor Whites. He doesn’t accuse them of racism, but recognizes them as fellow victims of elitist class rule.

It’s a very trenchant criticism of the media, and its failure to serve the real interests of the public over its corporate masters. But the internet has put the power of the media in the hands of the ordinary, working people, who are excluded from the corporate elite. And they are livestreaming the revolution.

The Fantastic Space Art of David A. Hardy

April 22, 2017

This is another couple of videos from the redoubtable Martin Kennedy showcasing the amazing work of yet another space and Science Fiction artist, David A. Hardy. Hardy is one of the longest running space and SF artist working. The entry on him in Stuart Holland’s Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History, runs:

David Hardy’s introduction to astronomical illustration was a somewhat rushed affair. In 1954, as a mere 18-year-old, he was commissioned to produce eight black and white illustrations for a book by legendary UK astronomer Patrick Moore: Suns, Myths, and Men. He had just five days to create them before British national service-conscription-required him to join the Royal Air Force. The commission was all the more remarkable as Hardy had only painted his first piece of astronomical art four years previously, inspired by the work of Chesley Bonestell.

Since those early days, Hardy (1936-) has garnered numerous awards for artwork that spans the science fiction/hard science divide. Born in Bourneville, Birmingham, in the UK, he honed his talents painting chocolate boxes for Cadbury’s. By 1965 he had become a freelance illustrator, beginning a career that resulted in covers for dozens of books and magazines, both factual, such as New Scientist, Focus, and various astronomical publications, for which he also writes; and SF, including Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. 1972 saw the publication of Challenge of the Stars, which Hardy not only illustrated but co-wrote with Patrick Moore (the book was updated in 1978 as New Challenge of the Stars). A bestseller, it joined the select pantheon of book that influenced a new generation of up-and-coming astronomical artists.

By now, Hardy’s work was receiving international recognition, and in 1979 he was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist. Tow years later, another book followed, Galactic Tours, which as the name suggests is a “factitious” guidebook for the interstellar tourist. As a result of the book, travel company Thomas Cook approached Hardy about becoming a consultant on the future of tourism in space-long before Richard Branson had planned Virgin’s conquest of the stars.

Hardy has written an SF novel, Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds; worked on the movie The Neverending Story, and on TV (Cosmos, Horizon, The Sky at Night, Blake’s Seven), and produced record covers for – unsurprisingly – Holst’s The Planets and for bands such as Hawkwind, the Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.

In 2004, Hardy’s long-standing partnership with Patrick Moore culminated in the award-winning Futures, in which the two explored the changing perceptions of space exploration since they first collaborated in the ’50s, the ’70s (the era of Challenge of the Stars) and into the 21st century. Artistically, Hardy has also embraced the growing digital trend that started in the approach to the new millennium. While still painting in acrylic and oil, he now uses Photoshop as a matter of course.

In March 2003, Hardy was paid perhaps the ultimate accolade an astronomical artist can receive: he had an asteroid [13329] named after him. Discovered ini September, 1998, it was christened Davidhardy=1998 SB32-high praise indeed!
(P. 130).

Several of the paintings in the video come from the Challenge of the Stars and its updated version.

The videos also include his cover illustration for Arthur C. Clarke’s The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – the History of Man’s Colonisation of Mars, which is another ‘future history’, this time of the terraforming of the Red Planet.

I have to say that I’m really impressed he also worked on Blake’s 7. This was low-budget British SF, but it had some create scripts and a really beautiful spaceship in The Liberator. And I would far rather go into space on something designed by Hardy, and operated by Thomas Cook, than by Branson.