Posts Tagged ‘David Butcher’

BBC 2 Programme Next Week on Possibility of Life on Pluto

July 2, 2020

Way back in the 1970s David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust asked if there was life on Mars. Things have advanced since then, and a new programme on BBC 2 next Monday, 6th July 2020, ponders the possibility that life might exist on the dwarf planet traditionally at the edge of our solar system: Pluto. From being a dead world, Pluto is geologically active and possesses organic chemistry, the building blocks of life. Which raises the question of whether life of some sort exists there.

The programme’s titled Pluto: Back from the Dead and theĀ  blurb for it on page 62 on next week’s Radio Times for 4th – 10th July 2020 reads

New discoveries from the edge of the solar system are transforming what is known about Pluto, thanks to the New Horizons space probe that took the first-ever close up images of the dwarf planet. This Horizon documentary reveals that Pluto, once thought to be geologically dead, is an active world of stunning complexity, with mountains carved from ice, a nitrogen glacier that appears to be moving and a recently active volcano. The data sent back has led some scientists to speculate that there may even be life on Pluto today.

David Butcher’s piece about the programme on page 60 adds

There might be life on Pluto. It sounds far fetched, but that’s the conclusion some scientists have reached, and its one of the unexpected new angles explored in this intriguing edition of Horizon.

The insights come courtesy of New Horizons, a tiny spacecraft that travelled 3.26 billion miles to the edge of the solar system, and sent back amazingly detailed imagery.

It reveals a geologically fertile world with, among other features, a nitrogen glacier and a recently active volcano. Moreover, Pluto’s abundant supply of organic molecules and liquid water suggest some form of alien life might exist.

Pluto isn’t alone in possessing mountains of ice. They also exist on Titan and the other moons of the outer solar system. Titan also possesses organic chemistry, which is why scientists are particularly interested in it for clues about the origin of life on Earth. And it was also at one considered that it too may have life. Carl Sagan also suggested that it might even have volcanoes of frozen gas. There’s an illustration of Titan with one such volcano erupting by the astronomy/science Fiction artist David A. Hardy in his and Patrick Moore’s The New Challenge of the Stars. I don’t know if such volcanoes actually exist there. I haven’t seen anything about the Huygens probe to Saturn and its moons finding any.

Scientists also began speculating that life might also exist in the frozen wastes of the outer solar system after someone suggested that the difference of a few degrees’ temperature between light and shadow on them might be enough to provide the energy to drive life. The quantum physicist and SF author Stephen Baxter expanded this into a short story in his Xelee sequence, collected in the his short story anthology, Vacuum Diagrams. I think that story, however, was set further out in one of the dwarf planets of the Kuiper Belt.

After all this time searching the solar system, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there’s life on Pluto. But who knows, perhaps I’m wrong. It would be truly epoch-making if I was and Pluto did possess a biosphere, even if it was only simply microbial organisms.

The programme’s on BBC 2 at 9.00 pm on Monday, 6th July.

 

BBC 2 Programme on 70 Years of Windrush Style Deportations

June 10, 2020

Next Saturday, 13th June 2020, according to the Radio Times, BBC 2 is screening a documentary. Titled The Unwanted: the Secret Windrush Files, the programme reveals the background to the grossly unjust and illegal Windrush deportations. This was when the children of Windrush migrants were deported back to their countries of origin, even though they had lived here since childhood and had been legally granted citizenship. The programme is presented by David Olusoga and shows that similar illegal deportations had been going on for the past 70 years, providing the institutional frame work of discrimination for those of last year. The blurb for it in the Radio Times for 13-19 June 2020 run

David Olusoga opens secret government files that show how the “Windrush Scandal” has been 70 years in the making. In this film from 2019, the historian traces the stories of Sarah O’Connor, Anthony Bryan and Judy Griffith, all legally settled in the UK, who were reclassified as illegal immigrants. Unable to show proof of their status, they lost jobs and savings and faced deportation back to countries they could barely remember.

A piece by David Butcher a few pages earlier states

In 2017, press reports uncovered the plight of Caribbean migrants who, having lived in Britain legally for decades, were facing deportation as a result of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy. But what became known as the Windrush Scandal didn’t come out of nowhere, argues David Olusoga in this superb documentary, first shown last year.

He looks back at 70 years of UK policy through human stories and official documents. “At iots heart,” Olusoga concludes of th epolicy, “was a belief that no matter what the laws of citizenship might say … black and brown people could never really be British.”

The programme’s on at 8.15 in the evening.

 

New BBC Series Next Week on Universal Credit

January 28, 2020

The BBC is screening a new documentary series next week on Universal Credit. Titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’, the first installment is on BBC 2, on Tuesday 4th February at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In-depth look at the Department of Work and Pensions, Jobcentres and claimants, during the implementation of the biggest change to the benefits system in a generation. This edition focuses of Peckham Jobcentre in south London. Rachel left a 27-year caareer in the NHS to care for her elderly parents. She’s been struggling to pay her rent and bills while paying back an advance she took out while waiting for her first Universal Credit payment. Jobcentre staff member Karen works tirelessly to support claimants but is frustrated that she has to supplement her low earnings with a second job. (p. 86).

An additional piece about the show by David Butcher a few pages earlier, on page 84, also says

There’s a key scene in this first episode of a series about benefits, where the civil servant in charge of Universal Credit, Neil Couling, shows us a whiteboard in the Department for Work and Pensions called the “motherboard”. Among the grids and numbers is a piece of paper stuck on that says, “Pay claimants the right amount of money and on time”. It seems a modest aim but, as Couling tells us, “It has defeated the benefits system for the last 35 years.”

The series helps us understand why. Its strength is that we meet not just those at the top of the benefits bureaucracy but those at the bottom – officials at a Jobcentre in Peckham, south London, known as “work coaches”, and their claimants or “customers”. In their sometimes testy encounters we see how Jobcentres have become a one-stop shop, helping claimants with food bank vouchers, housing and childcare. As unemployed labourer Declan says, unhappily, “It’s like they’ve got a hold of your life.”

I think this programme has been expected. If I recall correctly, there has been some discussion whether it would accurately reflect conditions in the DWP and the misery and despair Universal Credit has inflicted on claimaints. There were fears that it would follow the path set by a similar documentary a few years ago. This was also made with the help of the DWP, but presented a very sanitised view of the Department as government-sanctioned propaganda.

It’s to be hopedthat this will be different from the previous series, and from the ‘poverty porn’ produced by Mentorn Television like ‘Benefits Street’. But considering the massive bias on the BBC news desk against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, and its general bias towards supporting austerity and the Conservatives, that may be too much to expect.

Antony Gormley Presents Programme on Stone Age Art

January 25, 2019

According to the Radio Times for 26th January to 1st February 2019, tomorrow, Saturday, 26th January, Antony Gormley will be presenting a programme on the origins of art way back in the Stone Age. As well as trotting round the world looking at various Paleolithic sites, he also meets and talks to the modern practitioners of this ancient art, Aboriginal Australians. The programme’s entitled ‘Antony Gormley: How Art Began’, and the blurb for it on page 52 of the Radio Times runs

One of Britain’s most celebrate sculptors travels back in time and journeys across the globe to piece together how art began. Once we believed that it all started with the cave paintings of Ice Age Europe, but new discoveries are overturning that idea. Deep inside the caves of France, Spain and Indonesia, Gormley finds beautiful, haunting and surprising works of art. The creator of the Angel of the North asks what these images from millennia ago tell us about who we are.

There’s rather more information about the programme by David Butcher on page 50, which says

Yes, it’s a documentary about prehistoric cave art. How often over the years have we seen an arts presenter in torchlight, sighing about the ineffable power of cave painting?

But this is different. This is Antony Gormley, one of our great artists, who by lucky chance is also a better talker about art than most presenters, making a pilgrimage not just through the French caves that he first visited on his honeymoon (we see a holiday snap) but also venturing further afield to Indonesia and Australia, looking for the first stirrings of human creativity.

“This is a cathedral of joy in living things,” he says in a cave called Les Combarelles. “I think we’ve found a Palaeolithic Picasso,” he jokes in Niaux. And in an extraordinary scene at Pech Merle, with its 28,000-year-old paintings of horses, a local expert demonstrates how they were made, by chewing up charcoal and delicately blow-spitting on the rock.

The ancient cave paintings of northern Spain and southern France are superb, extremely naturalistic depictions of the creatures roaming that part of the Mediterranean during the Old Stone Age 28,000 years ago. Some of them seem to have been deliberately painted on distinctly shaped pieces of rock, so that if you come into the part of the caves where they are they appear to move. When Picasso saw them over a century ago, he was so utterly astonished at their superb quality that he declared ‘We have invented nothing!’

At the turn of the Millennium 18 years ago, Hugh Quarshie, one of the actors in Casualty, presented a programme on the art and artefacts of the Stone Age on New Year’s Eve. One of the speakers he interviewed about them was a director of Horror flicks – I’ve forgotten whom. But he made some very interesting points about the parallels between Palaelithic art and his type of movie. They were both initiatory experiences which you viewed in darkness.

There seems to have been a definite religious/ritual purpose to their production. Most of them are found in chambers deep in the cave systems, which are extremely difficult to reach. To get to one of them you literally have to squeeze through on your stomach. There was very probably an aural component to their painting as well. Quite often the rocks near them have musical properties. Their lithophones which produce musical tones when struck. It therefore seems that some of them were being played while the artists worked producing these amazing pieces of work.

No-one quite knows why these wonderful paintings were made. It’s been suggested that they may have been made to secure success in hunting, or for fertility. Others have suggested that they were produced as part of shamanic rituals, in which the painters attempted to pass through the membrane between this world and that of the spirits. Whatever the reason they were created, they’re superb. I’m not a fan of Gormley’s work, but this looks well worth watching.

Anthropologist, TV presenter and former member of Time Team Alice Roberts also talked about the ancient cave paintings of Europe this week in the last edition of her The Incredible Human Journey, the series in which she traced humanity’s emergence and spread out of Africa tens of thousands of years. This week she talked about some of the very earliest human remains found in Europe, including those of modern Homo Sapiens from around 30-40,000 years ago from a cave in Romania. A forensic artist then reconstructed what one of them may have looked like from one of the skulls found. Roberts and the artist remarked on the person’s absence of any distinct racial characteristics. It was a definite human face, but it was neither Black, White or Asian, although they pointed out that we believe the people at this time had dark, Black skin. But it comes from a time before the development of modern racial characteristics.

They also reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal from about this time. They were stocky, powerfully built people with big noses and strong brow ridges. Although they died out, some of them interbreed with the invading modern humans, so that the DNA of modern people outside Africa contains about 3%-9% Neanderthal genes. The reconstruction didn’t have any hair. Contemplating it Roberts said that although Neanderthal women probably found modern human men very handsome, and that human women obviously found something in Neanderthal males, she wouldn’t have fancied mating with them. Well, each to his or her own taste. Looking at the reconstructed Neanderthal head, it reminded me of nothing so much as that of Beeb TV presenter and former felon, Dom Littlewood.

She also covered the ancient cave paintings, talking to a French artist who worked using the same techniques. He was shown blowing charcoal on to the rock behind his hand trying to create a stenciled handprint, just like those left by the ancient artists. Like the article in the Radio Times, Roberts said that it had to be made using a distinct technique. You couldn’t take it all into your mouth and just spit it out. Instead the artist blew it out in a constant stream of spitting, leaving his hand black with charcoal. It’s quite a time consuming process, and Roberts and the artist said that some works could take as long as week.

The art of the palaeolithic is fascinating and enigmatic. We’re learning more about it and the people who produced it, but so much still remains lost in the mysteries of time.

Woo-hoo! China Mieville’s ‘The City and The City’ Coming to BBC 2 Next Friday!

March 29, 2018

Next Friday, 6th April 2018, BBC 2 screens the first part of its four part adaptation of China Mieville’s SF novel, The City and the City. The blurb for it in the Radio Times read

Detective thriller based on the novel by China Mieville, starring David Morrissey. A dead girl is recovered at Bulkya Docks on the border between Beszel and Ul Qoma – two cities with a division like no other – and inspector Borlu is surprised by the similarities to an old case that still haunts him. The entire series will be available on iPlayer. (p. 114).

There’s more information on the series earlier, on page 112, where the series is declared ‘pick of the day’ by the magazine. David Butcher’s description of the show runs

Imagine a kind of double city where citizens on either side are forbidden from looking at each other, and the frontier between the two – a frontier of the mind, partly – is ruthlessly policed. That’s the premise of China Mieville’s fantasy novel, adapted into a queasy, unsettling drama.

It has the air of a slow-motion Philip K. Dick fable, layered with retro seediness. David Morrissey plays a hangdog copper investigating the murder of an American woman stabbed with a glass shard. But he is haunted by the loss of someone dear to him and by parallels between her case and this one. “I knew there was another city I dare not see,’ he growls, ‘Just on the other side of where I was permitted to look.”

Gradually, we gather what the characters mean by words like “unseeing” and “Breach”,, so it’s best not to explain too much here. As a procedural, the plot moves through treacle, but the look and feel of the story create an oppressive mood that is hard to shift.

This looks very interesting, and I need my dose of TV SF now that the X-Files and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams have ended.