Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power’

RT Footage of Workers’ Protests against Trump and Japanese Prime Minister

November 6, 2017

RT has put up this short clip of less than a minute in length, showing workers demonstrating in Tokyo against Donald Trump, who has gone on an official visit of their country, and their Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

The brief description for the video runs

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Sunday in occasion of the 20th National Worker’s Meeting, to protest against the policies of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the visit of US President Donald Trump.
Protesters contested Abe’s economic plans in the realm of company privatisation, the country’s nuclear power policies and the US troops’ presence in Japan among other things.

The marchers bang drum, and as well as carrying placards, many of them also wear headbands bearing slogan. Some of the placards have the slogans in English ‘No War’, ‘No Poverty’, ‘No Trump’. Trump and Abe are hanged in effigy, and there’s a performance in which a man, masked and dressed as Trump, is attacked and buried under cardboard boxes, bearing the words ‘War’, ‘Poverty’, ‘Kairoshi’. I’ve no idea what the last means, except it’s probably a very Japanese concept describing some godawful aspect of the present administration.

I am really not at all surprised that Japanese working people are protesting. As is notorious, they work extremely hard, but the continuing problems of the Japanese economy mean that people are being laid off, and there is very little in the way of a state welfare system to support them. A few years ago the BBC did a piece on the current state of the Japanese economy, and showed some of the victims living in tents under a bridge. One of these poor homeless souls came up to explain a few things to the programme’s host. According to the presenter, it was a bitter complaint about the government and the economy.

I am also not at all surprised at their anger against Trump. The orange buffoon’s aggressive stance towards North Korea, threatening to go to nuclear war with the Stalinist thug, is obviously going to frighten a nation that stands pretty much in the firing line. The last missile North Korea lobbed in America’s direction overflew them. The Japanese people probably remember only too well the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and are all too horrified by the prospect of a repeat.

The presence of American troops in Japan, where there’s a base on the island of Okinawa, is another major source of irritation. You may remember that there were also massive demonstrations against it a few years ago. I think that while the Cold War was on and Communism remained a threat, real or perceived, the Japanese were prepared to accept it. But now the Japanese, or at least a sizable part of them, see it as American occupation.

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Code Pink Urges US Institutions to Boycott Arms Industry

October 25, 2017

This is another important piece by RT America on attempts by American peace activists to stop the war machine that is currently killing and making homeless millions of innocents in the Middle East, as well as the courageous American and allied squaddies sent to fight in it, and which has also resulted in massive cuts to public programmes in order to fund it.

The left-wing peace group, Code Pink, has launched a conference to encourage universities and financial institutions to boycott and divest from the arms industry. The group’s leader, Medea Benjamin, states that the reason these wars have dragged on so long is because they are incredibly profitable to the arms manufacturers. Every time Trump goes to Saudi Arabia, for example, to announce a multi-million dollar sale of armaments, the share price of companies like Lockheed Martin goes up. So, she says, they are simply following the money and trying to get institutions to stop funding and supporting these ‘merchants of misery’.

Vijay Prashad, the director of International Studies at Trinity College, states that even though millions are being killed in these wars, there is no accountability, no outrage, no pity for the victims and no sense that anybody should be dragged before an international tribunal. Instead, the victims of these wars themselves are blamed, as is happening now in Syria, while the reality is that these wars are destroying country after country.

The Black American activist, Ajamu Baraka, who was the Green Party’s presidential nominee, also makes the point that in order to fund this war machine, the American state is cutting vital welfare services and programmes. These include those for the homeless, support for education, such aid for the poor to go to college, environmental protection policies will be cut, energy assistance for the poor and elderly will also be cut, all in order to find the money to provide the £696 billion granted to the US military. It’s money that has been supplied at the expense of poor people’s basic needs.

The clip ends with Medea Benjamin stating that the conference is designed to get people together to say ‘enough is enough’ and that institutions no longer want to make profits from the military and their wars.

All of this is correct. People in America, as well as those over here, are seeing welfare budgets slashed partly to provide funding for the continued wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. These are not being fought for democracy, or the defence of the West and its allies against evil dictators. They are being fought to provide profits for American arms contractors, who provide millions of dollars in funding for American politicos. Iraq wasn’t invaded because it had weapons of mass destruction. That was a lie. It was invaded because the Saudi-US oil industry wanted the Iraqi oil reserves and its industry. American multinationals also coveted Iraqi state enterprises, and Israel hated the aid Saddam Hussein was giving to the Palestinians.

And the same is true of Syria. The neocons want to destroy it, because its an ally of Iran and Russia and a potential threat to Israel. They and a group of Arab states, including Qatar and Jordan, also want to oust Assad because he’s blocking the construction of a massive gas pipeline, which will stretch from Qatar to Turkey. In fact, these nations even told the Americans they’d pay for the war if America attacked Syria.

And the neocons have already destroyed Libya, they’d like to destroy Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Hence Trump’s step in decertifying the Iranian nuclear deal with Obama.

General Smedley Butler described all this back in the 1930s in his book, War Is A Racket, detailing the way American big business had profited from the First World War. As for the poor suffering because of the need to cut services to fund the military, I think it was president Truman, who described it has taking food from the mouths of the poor, and denying the construction of schools and hospitals.

I’ve already said in my last article about the revelation that the CIA was staging fake academic conferences as part of its campaign against the Iranian nuclear programme, that Lobster had published an article expressing similar concerns about the way some of Britain’s universities were also supporting the British war machine. Millions are being plunged into poverty and death, including American and British squaddies, all for the profits of the merchants of death and big business like Haliburton. It’s time for this obscenity to end, and universities and investment houses to pull out of supporting the war machine.

Frank Fields Asks Tories If His Local Food Banks Are Scaremongering About Extra Food Needed for Universal Credit

October 25, 2017

I found this telling snippet from RT on YouTube yesterday. It’s of the Labour MP stating that his local food bank are not scaremongering, but have made the prediction after careful consultation with the other food banks in the area after Universal Credit was rolled out. They say that they will need an extra 15 tonnes of food as Universal Credit cannot be implemented without increasing poverty.

He was answered by Damian Hinds for the Tories, and as he rises you can hear a female voice – presumably that of another Labour MP – asking him whether he feels proud. He replies that he certainly would not accuse Fields’ food bank of scaremongering, but the government does not agree that they will need the extra 15 tonnes of food. Because they all believe in Universal Credit and want it to work. And it is improving, and it and they are evolving.

Mike and the other left-wing bloggers have been covering the immense poverty caused by Universal Credit after it was launched as the pet vanity project of the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith. Smith declared it was going to be greatest act to liberate people since William Wilberforce finally secured the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1809. Which shows just how vain and mendacious aIDS was. In the years since it was announced, Universal Credit has resulted in nothing but delayed payments and massive, grinding poverty and misery for those poor souls, who’ve seen it rolled out in their areas.

It’s massively over budget and over time, and it should have been abolished years ago. The great British space scientist, Freeman Dyson, in his book Imagined Worlds, states that experiments should be allowed to fail when they don’t work, instead of throwing good money after bad. He was talking about the repeated failure of expensive scientific projects, like attempts to create a workable fusion reactor. But the same argument could be applied to political experiments, like UC.

I don’t know whether Hinds is consciously lying when he says the Tories are determined to make it work, or if he’s just one of the Tory faithful, that swallow everything Tory Central Office tells them. Other lies believed by the Tory faithful are that the Tories aren’t destroying the welfare state, they’re just targeting benefits more effectively, and that they aren’t privatising the NHS. Both are untrue, but Tory rhetoric and the way the privatisation and cuts are structured carefully hide this.

In the case of Universal Credit, the system is so obviously a failure that it’s clear to me that it’s only kept going because it is forcing people into poverty. That’s what the Tories want: a poor workforce, kept in the constant fear of unemployment, with few or no rights at work, and as many people off welfare as possible – but not necessarily in unemployment – in order to try and fool people that they are creating jobs, and give even more tax cuts to the rich.

It’s long, long past high time that Universal Credit was stopped as the sham it is, and the Tories cleaned out of government.

The Pro-Israel Billionaires Pushing Trump towards Confrontation with Iran

October 21, 2017

This week, Trump decertified the nuclear deal with Iran, limiting that country’s development of nuclear technology. The orange maniac did so claiming that the country had broken the spirit of the agreement, by continuing to fund anti-American militant groups along with other policies. He did not, however, take any further action against Iran, pushing this back to Congress.

In this piece from RT America, their reporter interviews the investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, who states that Trump made the decision very much against the wishes of his own foreign policy advisors. They’re also very strongly against Iran, but realise that decertifying the agreement will strengthen the hand of the hardliners within the country, which will make negotiations with them much more difficult.

Instead of his own foreign policy people, Trump is listening instead to a group of neocons, some of whom were responsible for the 2003 Iraq invasion. These have the same goals towards Iran. They want to overthrow its government, and those of other nations that defy American policies. Chief amongst these neocons are Nikki ‘Pancake Queen’ Haley, his UN ambassador and John ‘Bombs Away’ Bolton. These neocons are in turn funded by three billionaires – Sheldon Adelson, who runs a chain of casinos, Bernard Markus and Peter Singer, who are not only viciously anti-Iran, but stand very close to Israel’s far right Likud party. Haley was the author, or rather ostensible author, of Trump’s policy paper on Iran. Blumenthal states that it’s a stretch describing her as the author of anything. She has no foreign policy experience, and he calls her the ‘Pancake Queen’ as her knowledge of foreign policy comes from eating at the same pancake restaurant as various diplomats and foreign affairs politicians while she was governor of Georgia. She is so determinedly against Iran that she has openly called for regime change. Blumenthal himself is so underwhelmed by her intellectual powers that he says that neocons have simply taken over her mind and rented space in her head. As for ‘Bombs Away’ Bolton, he was responsible for wrecking Bush’s negotiations with North Korea. he has even gone so far as to call for the country’s bombing.

Adelson himself has given $40 million to Trump’s election campaign. In 2012 Adelson spent $100 million through his super-pacs (political funding organisations) promoting Mitt Romney in order to wreck the nuclear deal then being negotiated by Obama. This was all on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, whom Adelson has been promoting through his various funding organisations and think tanks for ten years. He is another one so bitterly opposed to Israel, that in a secret meeting he declared that he wanted a nuclear bomb to be dropped on the country.

Bernard Markus is the billionaire behind the American firm, Home Depot. He has funded numerous necon thinktanks, including the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy, which was responsible for crafting Trump’s speech. Markus has denounced Iran as ‘the Devil’.

Blumenthal concludes by stating that these three are not looking at international politics in any rational way. They are putting Israel’s interests above America’s, and the interests of an extreme right-wing party, Likud, above what many Israelis would want. This is an extremely dangerous time.

RT: Trump Puts Israel’s Interests Above America’s in Withdrawal from UNESCO

October 20, 2017

In this short video from RT America, they interview Max Blumenthal on the withdrawal this week from the United Nations’ cultural organisation, UNESCO, by America and Israel. The two countries have claimed that the organisation is profoundly anti-Semitic. He says that the Israelis would far rather have been in the organisation, haranguing it from inside. Blumenthal states that Israel was more or less forced to leave the organisation against its own wishes by Trump’s decision to quit. He makes the point that Washington would never have left it, if they thought it was biased against France or Spain. He also says that America owes UNESCO $500 million, which it now no longer has to pay back. The bigger question, he also suggests, is why Israel was ever allowed into the UN in the first place, considering its Talibanesque destruction of Palestinian archaeology and historic monuments. He also states that the present coalition government in Israel, led by Likud, includes the 3rd Temple Foundation, who would like to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. The mosque is the third holiest in Islam, and its destruction would start a war throughout the region.

The programme then discusses Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal this week with Iran. One of the foreign policy advisors, Ben Rhodes, has said that Trump’s withdrawal from UNESCO, his decertification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and his threatened withdrawals against NAFTA, the TPP and other international agreements, means that no other country will trust America. Blumenthal also comments that Trump’s decertification will strengthen the hand of the hardliners inside the Iranian government, against the current liberalisation that the country is going through. He also makes the point that Trump’s decision has been influenced by ‘Israel-first’ billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who have contributed millions to his campaign.

The news that the Likudnik coalition includes maniacs, who would like to destroy the al-Aqsa, or Dome of the Rock, Mosque is terrifying. There have been several attempts by Jewish extremists to destroy the Mosque already in the hope that by doing so they will start an apocalyptic war that will lead to the restoration of the Temple and the coming of the Messiah. The same belief is held by some of the extreme right-wing Christian Fundamentalists, who hope that it will bring about Christ’s return to Earth. This apocalypticism is one of the main influences behind Christian Zionism.

I’ve read, however, that the Mosque isn’t built over the remains of Solomon’s Temple. Stephen Runciman, in his History of the Crusades, states that the mosque was built where the caliph Omar prayed after conquering Palestine. Omar did not pray at a site already venerated by the country’s Jewish and Christian inhabitants, as he realised his followers would want to turn it into a mosque. So he deliberately chose a place outside the Temple precincts, where rubbish was dumped.

As for the destruction of Palestinian monuments, I would have liked to know much more about this. The Israelis have destroyed immense numbers of Palestinian homes and villages as part of their campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Arabs. Blumenthal himself in the clip refers to the way Arab villages are being bulldozed in order to build settler colonies.

I am, however, aware that Muslims in Britain are very much aware, and very concerned about the closure of Palestinian mosques. I did part of my minor degree in religious studies, which included modules on Islam. One of the pieces of literature I read researching British Islam was the Muslim ‘parish’ magazine for the congregation in a British mosque. Apart from the local news, it also covered the closure of a mosque in Israel, and its conversion into a disco/ nightclub by the Israelis. This is to them a shocking sacrilege, and it would be to many other religions if their centres of worship were treated in this way.

The newsletter also reported that a local Christian church in the same area of the mosque had also been closed. This is something you definitely don’t hear about from the very pro-Israel Christian Zionist right. The impression these organisations try to give is that Israel is very positive towards Christianity, and that Christians are religiously obliged to give their absolute support to the country. As opposed to the Arabs, who are bitterly opposed to Christianity. Yet I can remember being told by a former local priest, that in his experience of visiting Israel and Syria, it was Syria that had a far more tolerant attitude towards Christian antiquities and those visiting them.

I don’t mention this in order to stir up any kind of religious hatred against Jews. I am very much aware that Jews have suffered horrendous persecution by Christians down the centuries, and am very definitely opposed to it. I am merely trying to make the point that Christians in America and elsewhere are not being told the whole truth about the state of religious politics in Israel. They are being instead presented with a very biased and distorted account that places the blame almost wholly on Muslims.

Theresa May Refuses to Sign UN Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

September 17, 2017

This is frightening. By refusing to sign up to the international treaty proposed by the UN to ban nuclear weapons, May is actively endangering our planet.

Mike today put up a piece reporting that the UN proposed a treaty in July that would ban nuclear weapons across the globe. 120 nations have already put their signatures. But Britain and the other nuclear powers oppose it. Nevertheless, Britain is coming under increased pressure to sign the treaty, which will be put forward before the UN again this week.

Mike in his blog suggests that Britain’s reason for not signing the treaty is because Michael Fallon no doubt thinks that he can sell a few nuclear bombs elsewhere in the world, along with all the other instruments of murder produced and exported by Britain.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/17/theres-an-obvious-reason-theresa-may-wont-sign-a-treaty-to-ban-nuclear-weapons/

I don’t think that’s probably the case. What is more likely is that Britain, America and the other members of the nuclear club, like Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and China, are afraid that if they sign this treaty, then their own ability to defend themselves and intimidate the rest of the world will be weakened. In the case of America, it’s part of the country’s long history of exceptionalism, in which America is seen to be unique and above the laws and treaties that it imposes on other countries. It’s why America is keen to see the Serbs and other war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, for example, prosecuted by the international war crimes tribunal at the Hague, while not submitting itself to the tribunal. It’s why, despite the attacks on Islam by the American Right for the common practice of FGM, the US did not sign a UN treaty outlawing it. America simply wants to reserve the right to judge and invade other nations, but not to be judged and held to the same standards by them.

Ditto for this country, as we have spent so much of the post-War period riding on America’s coat-tails, pretending to be a global superpower when we lost that status nearly the moment the Second World War was over. The possession of nuclear weapons seems to be important to our national psychology. So long as we have them, we can convince ourselves that we can see off any foreign threat.

One of the interesting things I’ve read about the Labour party under Michael Foot is that, paradoxically, it was not extreme left. This is despite the foaming rants about ‘loony Labour’ and Communist infiltration by the Tories at the time. Foot was actually seen by many outside the party as a centrist. But Foot stood for unilateral nuclear disarmament, and so Thatcher portrayed him as someone, who was a positive danger to this country’s security. If we didn’t have nuclear weapons, it was argued, the USSR would not be deterred and would attack us or invade with impunity.

Except that if the Russians had launched a nuclear attack, our nuclear deterrent wouldn’t have mattered one iota. The MOD ran a simulation of what would happen if such a horrific event had occurred. The predicted results were that there would have been massive casualties in the first minutes of the attack, with millions dead and the destruction of our major cities.

Naturally, this was unacceptable to Thatcher, so she tried to falsify the results. She altered the parameters of the simulation, so that she could say that, well, actually most of us would survive and be able to strike back at the enemy. Except that for this to happen, most of the Soviet missiles would have had to land in Wales and other, largely rural parts of Britain. Even then, the casualties were too high, and the simulation was eventually abandoned because Thatcher’s interference to get the results she wanted made it completely unrealistic.

Foot was actually quite right, and the number of times the world has been a hair’s breadth away from nuclear Armageddon is terrifying. Nuclear weapons are a real danger to the continued existence of our planet. A global ban is desperately needed.

And perhaps – just perhaps – if a ban on nuclear weapons were imposed, we could develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes without the suspicion that they would be used for manufacturing missiles. Like space exploration and colonization. in the 1960s, Freeman Dyson and NASA developed the concept of the Orion spacecraft, a spaceship that would use nuclear bomblets to achieve unheard-of speeds to zip around the solar system. Mallove and Matlock in their book, The Starflight Handbook, show that a fission rocket would cut the journey time to Mars from six months or so to three or four weeks.

Orion was cancelled because it would have violated an international treaty banning nuclear explosions in the Earth’s atmosphere. But if nuclear weapons were banned completely, and the only uses for nuclear power were civilian and scientific, nuclear rockets could be a safe option for exploring and colonizing Mars and the other worlds of the solar system.

But this won’t happen so long as the present situation persists, and the world is endangered by the existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of their use.

Redacted Tonight on How Trump Is Lying to Us about Iran and North Korea

September 9, 2017

This is a very short video from RT’s Redacted Tonight, presented by the left-wing comedian Lee Camp. Camp shows how Trump is lying to America and the world, in order to bring us closer to war with both of these countries. Trump has said this week that he could declare war with Iran over its failure to keep to the agreement regarding its nuclear programme. Except that, according to the Intercept, UN weapons inspectors have found that Iran has kept to the agreement.

Americans have also been told that North Korea is unwilling to negotiate over its nuclear weapons. Except that the North Koreans have said they’re unwilling to negotiate getting rid of theirs, unless America ends its hostile stance and military threat to them.

Which as Camp points out, means that they are willing to negotiate.

Others have pointed out that the real reason Trump wants a war with Iran is that, while the country certainly is abiding by the treaty limiting its nuclear capability, it is still supplying arms and other aid to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad in Syria and the Shi’a in Iraq. In other words, America’s geopolitical enemies. But they have not violated the international treaty regulating their development of nuclear power, so that shouldn’t be an issue Trump can use for pushing America into another devastating war in the Middle East.

As for the North Koreans, while I don’t trust them, and Kim Jong Un really is a murderous b*stard, with the same taste for killing his family as the most degenerate Roman emperors, past experience with other nations has taught him he can’t trust America if he gives up his nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein did, and the US invaded anyway.

This looks very much like the American military-industrial complex trying to start yet another series of wars, including one that could very easily set off nuclear Armageddon. In Iran’s case, Trump seems simply to be following the policy set by the Likudniks in Israel and the Neo-Cons in the US. They wanted to overthrow the governments of seven nations, including Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran.

As for Israel itself, Tony Greenstein on his blog has posted a piece discussing how no-one wants to discuss the real elephant in the room: Israel’s own nuclear weapons. Israel isn’t supposed to have any, but they do. Nobody has held them to account for breaking the international treaty, and officially the Israel’s don’t have them. But in practice, everyone knows that they do.

http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/israels-nuclear-weapons-consistency.html

I still remember the uproar back in the 1990s when Mordechai Vanunu leaked the information to the international press that Israel had broken the treaty and produced nuclear weapons. He was prosecuted and imprisoned for a very long time. And it seemed shortly thereafter that Robert Maxwell, the obese fraudster, who owned the Mirror, one of the British papers which I think broke the news, fell off his yacht. Of course, I might be wrong about all of this. Maxwell was probably up to his ears in international intrigue, but at the moment it seems that his death was just an accident.

Hmmm….

But back to Greenstein’s article, one of the very interesting things he says there is that a few decades ago one of the Middle Eastern countries did propose a plan for a nuclear-free Middle East. This would have made the world a much safer place.

And the country that put forward this proposal was Iran. Now unfairly accused of building nuclear weapons.

Which bears out in spades what Lee Camp has said about Iran and North Korea. We’re being lied to about them and their supposed nuclear ambitions. And in the case of Iran, they’ve been lying to us for a very long time.

Both of these countries are extremely repressive states, though Iran is more democratic and freer than North Korea. Indeed, according to the book on the country written by the veteran BBC correspondent, John Simpson, Iranians often said things to him about their government, which made him fear for their safety. When he asked them about it, they’d respond with ‘Why not? This isn’t Russia.’ But those countries’ lack of freedom isn’t why the Orange Generalissimo is spoiling for another war with them.

General Smedley Butler was right: war Is a racket. And the western military machine want to be the gangsters that run it.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

Arthur C. Clarke Book on the Terraforming of Mars

March 18, 2017

Arthur C. Clarke – The Snows of Olympus: A Garden on Mars – The Illustrated History of Man’s Colonization of Mars (London: Victor Gollancz 1994).

A little while ago I put up a number of articles on the possible terraforming of various planets in our solar system. The prime candidate at the moment would be Mars, but people have also suggested ways to terraform Venus and the Moon. I’ve managed to dig out from my bookshelves a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s book, The Snows of Olympus, which I bought way back in the 1990s. Clarke’s been called ‘The Space Prophet’ because of his article published in a radio hobbyists’ magazine shortly after the War predicting geostationary communications satellites. He has jokingly said in an article ‘How I Lost a Million Dollars in My Spare Time’ that he should have patented the concept, and so made himself a billionaire because of its immense value to the telecommunications industry. This book is no less prophetic in that it uses computer simulations to depict the gradual greening of the Red Planet over a thousand year period from the next few centuries to c. 3000.

The book has a prologue, in which Clarke gives the text of a speech he gave to future Martian colonists as part of the Planetary Society’s ‘Visions of Mars Project’. Launched by the late and much-missed astronomer and space visionary, Carl Sagan, this was a project to send the future colonists the gift of a collection of SF short stories about Mars aboard two probes due to land there. There’s then a short introduction in which Clarke lays out the aims of the book. The first chapter, ‘Prelude to Mars’, discusses the history of the exploration of the Red Planet by terrestrial astronomers and writers, such as Giovanni Schiaparelli, Percival Lowell, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet, and the controversy surrounding the supposed ‘face’ on Mars, made by Richard Hoagland and others.

Chapter 2 – ‘The Curtain Rises’ – is on the probes sent to explore Mars, such as the Mariner probes and discussion between himself, Sagan, Ray Bradbury and the JPL’s Bruce Murray at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the probes and their findings. He goes on to discuss Viking probes and the debate about American and Russian cooperative ventures in space research. This last ended for a time because of international tensions created by the Solidarity crisis in Poland.

Chapter 3 – ‘Going There’, describes the problems and suggested methods for reaching Mars, establishing crewed bases there, including various types of rocket from the conventional chemical to nuclear-thermal and atomic; solar sails and space elevators, George Bush seniors’ intention to launch a crewed mission to Mars by 2019, and the tasks that would immediately face the astronauts landing there.

Chapter 4- ‘Virtual Explorations’ is on the use of computers and VR to explore and map Mars, and particularly the Vistapro programme used in the generation of many of the images in the book.

Chapter 5 is on the artistic and computer depictions of Olympus Mons, the planet’s highest mountain and the gradual reclamation of its surface by vegetation, beginning with lichens, during the long centuries of terraforming. This culminates in the emergence of liquid water and creation of a sea surrounding the mountain.

Chapter 6 does the same for Eos Chasma, the ‘Chasm of the Dawn’, in the Valles Marineris.

Chapter 7 shows the same process as it would affect the Noctes Labyrinthes – the Labyrinth of Night. This forecasts the growth of forests in this part of Mars, beginning with pines but later including deciduous trees.

Chapter 8 – ‘The Longest Spring’ discusses the various methods that could be used to terraform Mars, such as coating the ice caps with carbon from Mars’ moon, Phobos, the use of orbiting mirrors to melt them, raising its temperature by turning Phobos into a miniature sun for about 40 days using ‘muon resonance’ – a form of nuclear reaction, and bombarding the planet with comets to cover it with water, and ‘Von Neumann’ machines that would gradually terraform the planet automatically.

‘Disneymars’ looks forward to a museum display and audiovisual presentation that would show the colonists what their planet would look like in the future as the terraforming progresses.

Chapter 9 – ‘Concerning Ends and Means’ discusses the moral dimension of terraforming, the immense historical importance of exploration and the need to continue this exploration to the Red Planet in order to preserve human civilisation and progress.

There are two appendices. The first is an extract from a speech, The Mars Project: Journeys beyond the Cold War, by US senator and WWII hero, Spark Matsunaga. The second, ‘So You’re Going to Mars’, is fictional advice given by the immigration authorities to people moving from Earth to Mars.

The quality of the computer graphics is mixed. Many of them, which were without doubt absolutely astonishing for the time, now look rather crude and dated as the technology has improved. Others, however, still stand up very well even today. The quality of the computer simulations of the terraforming process can be seen from this image below of what Eos Chasma might look like in 2500 AD.

There are also plenty of illustrations of Mars, rendered using more traditional artistic methods such as painting, including photos of Percival Lowell’s own drawings of what he believed was the planet’s network of canals.

Although the computer tools may have been superseded and improved in the decades since the book’s publication, I think the science, and the social issues Clarke discusses, are still solidly relevant and contemporary. Certainly there is now a popular movement to send humans to the Red Planet at some point in the coming decades, and prospective future colonists have even come forward to volunteer a few years ago. There is, however, a greater awareness of the medical dangers from radiation and microgravity that would affect – and possibly destroy – a mission to Mars. The dream, however, is still there, as shown by the success of the film The Martian a few years ago.