Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

Redacted Tonight on the Corporate Bias of the Mainstream Media

April 4, 2017

I’ve already put up a piece earlier today from The Humanist Report, which described an article Bernie Sanders had written warning about the threat to American democracy from the bias in the corporate-controlled mainstream media. In this piece from RT’s Redacted Tonight, comedian Lee Camp also discusses this topic.

Camp covers some of the same causes Sanders does, such as the concentration of media into the hands of an increasingly few corporate giants. Only six companies now control American newspapers, magazines, book publishing, television and radio. There were 9 major companies, till ‘Republican’ president Bill Clinton signed the bill permitting a wave of mass media amalgamations. No, that isn’t a mistake. Camp calls him a ‘Republican’, ”cause that’s what he was.’ Absolutely. Clinton did what Blair was to do with the Labour party in England. He took over and imported into the Democrats the anti-welfare stance of the Republicans and their free trade ideology in order to appeal to Republican voters.

Camp also talks about the pressures on companies from the power of the advertisers, who don’t want anything to reflect badly on them or business as a whole. In 1966, for example, Proctor and Gamble sent the TV companies carrying their adverts a message informing them that the must not broadcast anything that would make business and industry look bad. If they did so, and showed a story in which a businessman was the villain, they had to show that the corrupt individual was the exception, not the rule. Camp duly sends this pernicious nonsense up with a riff about a banker’s co-workers in Goldman Sachs being incredibly surprised that he is morally dead.

He also talks about how the corporations themselves are headed by immensely rich businessmen, who don’t want to publicise anything that might harm their profits and corporate power. Thus, anyone, who tries to do something for the poor and vanishing middle class will be attacked and ignored. He quotes the late, left-wing comedian George Carlin: ‘It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.’

One of the ways the media pushes its lies and gross distortions is through constant repetition. Here, Camp quotes a Harvard professor. Others have said the same thing, but quoted an entirely different expert: Adolf Hitler. Hitler said that if you wanted people to believe one enormous lie, you kept on repeating it until it sounded like the truth.

Camp exemplified how effective this tactic is with Obama’s speech about military action in Syria. When he first suggested it, the American public were largely unenthusiastic. The military-industrial complex hadn’t gotten around to propagandising this to the American people. But they soon got to work, and so when it was suggested again a few years later, the American public was supposedly far more enthusiastic about it, after being bombarded with a corporate media campaign.

The government has also tried to ensure that the media broadcast a message that was friendly to big business. In 1975 a document was published on the topic of possible media regulation as a response to falling standards. The thinktank that published this was naturally concerned about this. But as Camp jokes, this wasn’t about whether the girls presenting the weather were wearing underwear or not. No, this was about making sure that broadcasting reflected the ideals and standards of corporate business. If they didn’t, the government would step in and start regulating them.

At the beginning of the clip, Camp states that Americans believe in the myth that they have an impartial media. They believe that because you can say anything you like on TV, as illustrated with a clip of a man ridiculing Hillary Clinton in a bizarre rant, therefore the Land of the Free has an equally free media. However, the immense costs of setting up a newspaper, TV or radio station mean that only the rich can afford to do it, and so the news that Americans receive reflects very much the views and priorities of the rich. Which do not consist in empowering the poor and working people against them.

It’s a very good piece, which cites chapter and verse of studies and writings about the right-wing bias and power of the mainstream media. Camp is, however, quite an edgy comedian, so there’s strong language and some vulgar jokes.

Vox Political on the Lies and Pro-Privatisation NHS Policies of Heidi Alexander

August 21, 2016

Mike also put up a couple of pieces yesterday critiquing and criticising a piece by Heidi Alexander in Friday’s Graun claiming that she resigned from her post as Shadow Health Secretary because Jeremy Corbyn was constantly undermining her and going behind her back. He does so by pointing out the inconsistencies between her tale, and what she actually said at the time.

For example, in her article she talks about how delighted she was to receive Corbyn’s invitation to take the post. Yet at the time, he was also in the Daily Mail saying she would not back Corbyn, because he was ‘unelectable’. She then claims that she left the Shadow Cabinet because it was ‘chaotic’ and ‘entirely dysfunctional’. But the real reason was that she was profoundly ideologically opposed, no matter what she says about interesting bright people committed to the NHS and giving Jeremy Hunt a run for his money.

John McDonnell was suspicious of her. She wasn’t doing enough to support the junior doctors, nor to combat Jeremy Hunt’s Seven Day NHS policy. So he set up an advisory panel to look into her work. She claimed that she supported this, but wasn’t informed about it. When she found out, she quit. Others involved in the affair have quite different versions of events. Mike makes the point that it’s not pleasant having someone else scrutinise your work, but we’ve all had it done to us. It’s part of business. You also have it in academia and in publishing. If publishers think a book you’ve written needs some alterations, they tell you. This includes tenured academics writing technical papers for academic publications. Mike states that it’s significant that the advisory panel hadn’t met before she left.

Mike also makes the point that she was among the first to resign following Hilary ‘Bomber’ Benn. He also points out that it’s hard to take her complaints seriously when she starts claiming that she wasn’t part of a coup, nor a plotter. She clearly was. As for her claim that Corbyn’s election would cause division, that’s exactly what she and the other Blairites have done. She states that when Labour members receive their ballot papers on Monday, they should carefully consider who would best lead the party. She now supports Owen Smith, yet Smudger had not put himself forward when she walked out.

Mike concludes that she’s simply a two-faced co-conspirator, who simply wanted Corbyn out so that she could further her own ambitions.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/20/lets-stop-heidi-alexanders-latest-silliness-right-now/

Following Heidi Alexander’s self-pitying moan in the Groaniad, the NHA – the National Health Action party put up a piece, ‘Bye Bye Heidi’, welcoming her resignation.

They state that they were hoping she’d resign, as she fully supported Simon Steven’s 5 Year Forward Plan for the privatisation of the NHS. The article quotes Dr Bob Gill, one of the executives of the National Health Action party, who met her twice. She said to him I believe Stevens has the best interests of the NHS at heart’. He goes on ‘A former UnitedHealth president here to complete the transition to an American style insurance system has her confidence. That says it all.’ She did not appear on junior doctor picket lines, nor even wear a BMA badge. He hopes that now that Blairites like Alexander are leaving the cabinet, Corbyn can appoint people, who actually want to renationalise the NHS and fully understand that it doesn’t have to be the private industry Hunt and Stevens want.

He states that the hospital closure plan is ready to be implemented. Hospitals and Accident and Emergency services are ready to be closed to pay off NHS debts. Dr. Gill states that Labour ought to be shouting from the roof tops about this. And with the right MPs in charge, may be they will.

See Mike’s article at:http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/20/bye-bye-heidi-nhaspace/

I think the National Health Action party has more than a little experience of dealing with privatising Blairites. I’ve got a feeling it was begun, at least according to Private Eye, when Blair tried to close a popular local hospital in the Midlands – I think it might have been Warwickshire, but I can’t be sure – in favour of a PFI deal. Local people and medical professionals tried to get their local councillor or MP to challenge the policy. They didn’t get very far, so one of the doctors stood as the party’s candidate. He won, defeated the Labour incumbent, and Tony got very cross.

In fact, much of the legislation the Tories have taken over and built on as part of their plan to privatise the NHS was started by Tony Blair, who wanted to remodel the Health Service on the type of ‘managed care’ practised by Kaiser Permanente and other American medical insurance companies. Hence I’m not remotely surprised by her comments about Stevens, an officer from an American insurance company, being placed in charge of the NHS’ privatisation.

The Blairites are disgusting, and the support of the supposedly left-leaning Groaniad for them, and by extension the privatisation of the NHS, is equally revolting. The time’s long past they were banished from the Labour party and national politics for good.

Angry Yorkshireman Plans Crowdfunded Book on Currency

March 9, 2014

Thomas G. Clark, the Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice, has announced that he plans to write a book on economics, to be called the History and Future of Currency. In it he will put forward his suggestions on how currency can be reformed to break down the Left/ Right divide that dominated politics over the last century. He states

I am planning to crowdfund a book about economics. The working title is “The history and future of currency” – but I’m hoping to think up something a little more catchy before publication.

The essence of the book will be the importance of money in economic systems, and how redesigning money itself could break the tired old left-right paradigm that has utterly dominated political and economic discourse since the 19th Century.

There are two main reasons I have decided to crowdfund the project.

The first reason being that I am keen to crowdsource as much of the project as possible in order to turn it into a collaborative project. Perhaps you could think of it as a kind of open peer review, in which a wide range of people are invited to offer their feedback as the book is being written.

The second reason is that I really want to ensure that my book goes into physical print. I will of course do an ebook too, but I feel it is incredibly important to create a physical book so that my work is accessible to those that rarely/never use computers, electronic readers or the Internet. I don’t want my book to be something that just exists in the digital space, if I wanted that I could just write what I’ve got to say in the form of blog posts on this page.

He also states that he intends to produce a short video laying out his reasons for starting the project.

Economics isn’t the most riveting of subjects. There’s a reason why it’s been called ‘the dismal science’. The Angry Yorkshireman, however, is certainly very well informed about the subject. He has described the Coalition’s economic policies as ‘economically illiterate’, and produced some extremely well-argued, concise and readable posts to support this. His posts on economics are always worth reading and I’ve learned a lot from them myself.

There are already books on the history of economics. One of these is The Penguin History of Economics by Roger E. Backhouse (London: Penguin 2002). Unfortunately two of the most recent studies of the subject have both been written by men of the Right: Niall Ferguson’s The History of Money, and Vince Cable’s The Future of Money. It seems to me that the book’s suggested title, The History and Future of Currency, suggests that the Angry One is planning it partly to challenge the ideas of those two, and their support for destructive Neo-Liberal economic policies. And that certainly is no bad thing.

The article is entitled ‘The History and Future of Currency: Rewards, and is over at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/the-history-and-future-of-currency.html. Please go there for further information, including his proposed schedule for various levels of funding and to what that will get you in return.

Strong Words and Hard Times: My Brother’s Book Now Available

July 19, 2013

My brother’s book is finally available. It’s entitled Strong Words and Hard Times, and is a collection of his best and most perceptive essays. If you like reading his stuff, and would like the book of the blog, see the details at his blog at the address below:

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/vox-permanent-our-venture-into-print/