Posts Tagged ‘Richard Branson’

Double Down News Video: Ken Loach Explains Why People Need to Vote Labour

November 10, 2019

I found this excellent video from the socialist, radical film director Ken Loach. It’s from Double Down News, another online news agency that’s there to tell the world the truth about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, ’cause the lamestream media won’t. Loach is the veteran director who made the films Dirty, Pretty Things, about the low-paid immigrant workers, who do the work we don’t want to, and I, Daniel Blake, about a man struggling with the obstructive, deliberately unhelpful bureaucracy of the Tories’ benefit system. He’s also another person they’ve tried to smear as an anti-Semite because he made a film a few years ago exposing the brutality of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians. However, Loach is demonstrably very far from anti-Semitic. I believe he made the film with an number of Jewish critics of Israel, and was given a rapturously welcome the other year when he appeared at a meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour. Despite what smear merchants like the Campaign AgainstAnti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Blairites, the Tories and the mendacious press would have you believe, Corbyn’s supporters are decent, self-respecting anti-racist people. The many Jews, who support him do so because they are, decent, self-respecting anti-racist people. They are not self-hating, and know that he has done much to support the Jewish community as he people from all racial, ethnic and religious groups in this countries. And so the folks at JVL would very definitely not give their applause to a genuine anti-Semite.

Loach begins the video by saying

The impact of Johnson is like the emperor has no clothes. We can see clearly what is amiss. Get out of Europe fast so that even the small protections that Europe provides in working conditions and the environment disappear, so that he can do deals with people like Trump, where it’ll open the door to the big American multinationals to take over our public services. And the biggest issue of all, climate change will be disregarded. If we care about the future for our kids, and grandchildren in my case, then that’s suicidal. Why are we destroying the planet? Why? Why do some areas of the country exist with nothing while other areas are overwhelmed with wealth? Why is the world like that? It doesn’t need to be like that. 

The Labour government of the past failed with its illegal wars, privatisations. We now have a chance with the beginnings of a policy that will regenerate our country, protect the environment, get rid of privatisation in the public services. Why should Richard Branson make a fortune out of the Health Service? It makes no sense. I mean, the questions are so obvious, of course young people will see it. And then they get confused with this fog of stupidity which you see in the press, broadcast every morning, so that politics becomes not the simple answer to simple questions, but becomes some arcane procedure in a tiny part of London by people, who speak a different language. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell cut through that, that’s why they’re not allowed to speak. Empathy, solidarity, supporting each other, understanding each other – this is the essence of socialism. We’;re naturally good friends, we’re naturally neighbours, that’s the essence of our political system – it’s the opposite of their political system. 

The video ends with a statement by Loach about Double Down News, explaining that it’s an alternative news service, that doesn’t get funding from anyone except what it’s given. Even by old farts like him. He appeals to people to give to the organisation, offering them £20.

It’s a great video illustrated with some very pertinent images. This includes urban decay contrasted with the wealth of the City of London, Boris Johnson and Rees-Mogg in parliament, the arcane ceremony of the opening of parliament with Black Rod, the warmongers Bush and Blair together, Richard Branson toasting his good fortune, a collage formed by a newspaper photo of Osama bin Laden embracing a newspaper photo of Corbyn and the selection of tabloid front pages smearing the Labour leader. There’s also clips of Corbyn meeting ordinary members of the public, embracing a Muslim woman in a burqa, that’ll no doubt send Boris’ supporters bonkers, and writing messages of condolence to the people of Grenfell Tower.

This is an eloquent talk by one of Britain’s most gifted and critically acclaimed film-makers. He’s right, and especially about the way the concentration on the arcane ritual of parliament may be putting off young people. It certainly seems to me to be a way of dividing people into a politically-literate class of affluent people, who understand it and its jargon, and the rest of us.

Loach is getting on a bit, but he’s still active and his voice needs to be heard. We need to listen to him and organisations like DDN, and not to the lamestream media.

RAF Pilot Set to Join Branson Satellite Programme

October 6, 2019

There were a couple of really great, fascinating science stories in Friday’s I newspaper, which I’d like to cover before I get to the political stuff of attacking and refuting Boris Johnson, the Tories, and other right-wing nonsense.

One of these was the report that the RAF had selected a pilot to join the crews set to fly Cosmic Girl, an adapted 747 developed by Branson’s company, Virgin Orbit, send satellites into space. The article by Ewan Somerville, titled ‘RAF pilot gets space wings as first to join satellite programme’ on page 15 of the newspaper for Friday, 4th October 2019, ran

The Royal Air Force is heading for new heights after selecting its first pilot to join a space programme.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard has been assigned to a new £30m Ministry of Defence project. He will swap the cockpit of a Typhoon jet to fly a modified 747-400 plane, called Cosmic Girl, to launch satellites into orbit from mid-air, marking a “significant step” for British space endeavours.

A partnership between the RAF and space company Virgin Orbit to develop space technology, a response to billions of dollars being spent by the US, China and India, was unveiled at the Air Space Power conference in July.

Flt Lt Stannard hailed the programme a “truly unique opportunity” adding: “This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bring the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF.”

Over three years, Flt Lt Stannard will join several test pilots to send satellites into space from 30,000ft using a launcher attached to the Boeing 747’s fuselage. Freed from the need to launch from the ground, hi-tech satellites, developed by Britain, weighing only 300kg and described by Flt Lt Stannard as “the size of a washing machine”, could be launched from anywhere worldwide.

The RAF already has a similar small satellite, Carbonite 2, in orbit and plans for a “constellation” of them to provide HD imaging, video and secure communications. 

The mission is design to ensure Britain is not target by foreign powers for lacking its own space capabilities. It comes as the UK is due to send eight military personnel to join Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led coalition to deter “hostile acts in space” over the next 12 months.

I’m another British satellite launcher is being developed, even if the plane is made by Boeing, an American company. I’m also glad that the RAF have supplied an officer, as previous efforts to get a Brit into space have been hampered by squabbling within the armed forces. Before Helen Sharman became the first British person to go into space with the Russians to Mir, Britain was offered the opportunity by the Americans of sending an astronaut to go aboard the space shuttle. The army, air force and navy all put their men forward, and the scheme failed because of the wrangling over which one should be chosen.

I am not, however, altogether optimistic about this project as it’s a space company owned by Beardie Branson. How long has his company, Virgin Galactic, been claiming that ‘next year’ they’ll send the first tourists into space? Since the 1990s! I can see this one similarly stretching on for years. I have far more confidence in Orbex and their spaceship and launch complex now being built in Scotland.

As for using an aircraft as the first stage to send spacecraft into orbit, this was extensively discussed by the aircraft designers David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins in their book Your Spaceflight Manual: How You Could Be A Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years (London: Headline 1990). After discussing some of the classic spaceplane concepts of the past, like the XIB rocket plane and the Dynosoar, they also describe the design by the French aerospace company, Dassault, of 1964-7. This would have consisted of a supersonic jet capable of reaching Mach 4 as the first stage. The second stage would have been a rocket which would have flown at Mach 8, and used fuel from the first stage launcher. The whole vehicle was designed to be reusable.

The two authors also proposed their own designs for composite, two-stage spaceplanes, Spacecab and SpaceBus. These would have consisted of a jet-propelled first stage, which would piggy-back a much smaller rocket-driven orbiter. They estimated that Spacebus’ cost per flight would be higher than that of a 747, but much, much less than the space shuttle. It would be an estimated $250,000 against the Shuttle’s $300 million. Space bus was designed to carry 50 passengers, at a cost to each of $5,000. The pair also estimated that it would need $2bn to fund the development of a prototype Spacecab, and believed that the total development cost would be $10bn, the same as the similar Sanger concept then being developed in Germany. Although expensive, this would have been less than the $20bn set aside for the construction of the Freedom Space Station.

It’s a pity Ashcrofts and Collins’ spaceplane was not developed, though hardly unsurprising. Space research is very expensive, and the British government has traditionally been very reluctant to spend anything on space research since the cancellation of Black Arrow in 1975. The pair were also writing at the end of the 1980s, when there was little interest in the private development of spaceflight. This changed with the X-Prize in the 1990s so that we now have several private space companies, such as Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ outfits, competing to develop launchers, as well as Orbex. Hopefully, sooner or later, someone will start taking paying passengers into space and developing space industry. But somehow I doubt it’ll be Branson.

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

June 11, 2019

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Plans to Take Us Back to the Moon

May 12, 2019

One of the other interesting pieces in yesterday’s I for 11th May 2019 was David Parsley’s article, ‘Amazon tycoons furthest delivery – putting people back on the Moon’. As the headline says, this is about the plans by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for a crewed mission to the Moon within the next five years. The article runs

The man who made billions from sending parcels around Earth is taking one giant leap towards the Moon.

The world’s richest man and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aims to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2024, 55 years after Neil Armstrong took his first small step.

Mr Bezos said his space company Blue Origin will initially land an unmanned robotic ship about the size of a small house, but would also help Nasa to meet its target to put humans back on the surface of Earth’s satellite in five years’ time.

“We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago,” said Mr Bezos. “It’s time to back to the Moon, this time to stay.”

Known as Blue Moon, the reusable lunar lander is capable of carrying four rovers and uses a newly designed rocket engine powerful enough to carry up to 6.5 metric tons of cargo on the 238,000-mile journey.

Mr Bezos, who is worth £100bn, unveiled a model of one of Blue Moon’s proposed rovers, which was roughly the size of a golf cart, and presented a new rocket engine called BD-7 which can blast 10,000 lb of thrust.

“We have been given a gift – this nearby body called the Moon,” Mr Bezos added.

In March, US Vice President Mike Pence called on Nasa to build a space platform in lunar orbit and put American astronauts on the Moon’s south pole by 2024 “by any means necessary”, four years earlier than planned.

Blue Origin said the group would “share our vision of going to space to benefit Earth”. Based in Kent, Washington, the group is also developing the New Shepherd rocket for short space tourism trips and a heavy-lift launch rocket called New Glenn for commercial satellite launches. It is aiming to deliver the New Glenn rocket by 2021, while launching humans in a suborbital flight later this year aboard New Shepherd.

Elon Musk also develops plans to take humans to Mars with his company SpaceX. He previously set the first cargo-carrying Mars mission for 2022 and a crewed mission for 2024.

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson achieved Virgin Galactic’s first manned flight last year and plans to launch the first space tourism flights later this year. (p. 13).

This is very exciting, and I’m really looking forward to Bezos to take humanity back to the Moon, and Musk to send us to Mars. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Branson to take tourists into space, as he’s been promising that ‘soon’ or ‘next year’ for decades.

However, I’d like Bezos to pay his Amazon workers a living wage first. From what I gather, the peeps working at his warehouses really are paid starvation wages. Which, I ‘spose, is how he get to be worth £100 billion. But he can afford to earn a little less, and workers a lot more. Sending people into space does not mean ignoring or exploiting the folks back on Earth. If he gives his workers a proper wage, then I’ll be behind him and his plans to take humanity to the planets 100 per cent.

The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

October 19, 2018

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

My JBIS Paper on Passenger-Rated Hobby Rockets

October 16, 2018

After the flight a few months ago of the American eccentric in his steam-powered rocket to see if the Earth really was flat, and Richard Branson’s announcement last week that he was only weeks away from sending his first tourists into space aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane, I thought it was time I put up a piece about a paper I had published in the Journal of British Interplanetary Society about other, passenger-carrying rockets. The paper, ‘Backyard Spaceships: Passenger-Rated Microlights for Hobby Rocketry’, argued that just as hang-gliders and microlight aircraft allowed people to enjoy the experience of flight simply for pure pleasure, so short-range passenger-carrying rockets could be developed to give people some of the experience of spaceflight. It’s quite a long and technical article, so I’ll simply quote the abstract. This runs

The FINDS and CATS prizes have introduced to contemporary astronautics the competitive spirit, which led to such spectacular advances in the fledgling aviation industry. This pioneering spirit is also shared by present day microlight aircraft enthusiasts. If the expected expansion of commercial passenger spaceflight with mass space tourism occurs, then it may create a demand for extreme short-range crewed rockets as a new form of leisure craft, Just as microlight aircraft recreate the experience of large aircraft flight on a smaller scale. If the technologies, materials and procedures used in microlight and balloon aviation are applied to those of high power solid propellant rocketry, then similar ‘microlight’ rockets able to reach altitudes of c.3,200 m, may be a possibility. Apart from the leisure and sporting opportunities offered by such craft, which would also encourage technological experimentation and progress, they would also great benefit astronautical education by adding the practical human experience of rocket flight to ground studies’ curricula. (p. 45).

The FINDS and CATS prizes were set up to encourage private organisations to develop rockets that could successfully fly into space and land again. They were deliberately established in emulation of the prizes that drove the early research into aviation and aircraft flight. These prizes were awarded in competitions for aircraft flying particular long distances, for example, and so encouraged and rewarded designers, engineers and pilots working on the designs of the planes and their engines.

A Danish organization, Copenhagen Sub-Orbitals, was also working on developing a human-carrying rocket, and have posted a few videos showing their vehicles’ test flights on YouTube. However, the last thing I read from them was that they were having difficulty making their rocket safe for humans, as the crash test dummy was always broken on landing. I don’t know whether anyone will actually go ahead and make such microlight hobby spacecraft, but the flight of the guy in his steam-powered spacecraft showed that such short-range, passenger hobby flights are possible.

Branson’s Spaceplane and Kubrick’s 2001: The Legacy of a Vision

October 11, 2018

Today’s I also carried a picture of Richard Branson hanging out of the portholes of one his spaceplanes, waving a model of the craft he claims will shortly take paying passengers for a trip into space.

This follows his announcement yesterday that, after over a decade of delays, one of his spacecraft will launch sometime in the next few weeks. And then, a few months after that, Branson himself would take a journey into the High Frontier. There’s supposed to be a race on between Branson, Bezos and Musk over which will be the first private company to send people into space.

I’ve got my doubts that it will be Branson. He’s been telling the world that his Virgin Galactic spacecraft will be taking people up there in a year’s time since the late ’90s. For a moment, it did look as though he might actually do it, until one of the spaceships crashed due to a design fault, killing one of the co-pilots. Moreover, investors and those worried about the state of the NHS should look very carefully at what else is going on in Branson’s empire when he makes these announcements. There was a story in Private Eye a few months ago about how Branson uses them to direct attention away from other projects, which might be controversial. He was quoted as saying that he made one announcement, that his planes were ready to fly, to distract people from the fact that his private healthcare division, Virgin Health, had just one a whole slew of NHS contracts and was ready to open several clinics around the country.

And several times in the past Virgin has had problems with its finances to the tune of hundreds of millions or so. Private Eye was threatened several times with a libel action from Branson, claiming it was all false. The Eye later ran a story about this, quoting Branson himself as saying that he tried to silence the satirical paper because it was true, but he didn’t want the public, investors or the banks knowing because it would stop him getting more money from the banks.

Now that he’s declaring that they’re nearly all set and raring to go, we’re entitled to ask whether this is really the case, or is it just another distraction from him eating up more of our precious NHS, or the possible collapse of one of his other companies.

As for the spacecraft itself, I was struck by the similarity between it and the Orion spaceplane of Kubrick’s SF masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As you can see from the cover for the DVD version of Kubrick’s epic, the two look very similar.

And I’m not surprised, as this shows the very thorough research Kubrick did to get the look of the space vehicles just right. Clarke’s a Hard SF writer, which means that his fictions are based in scientific fact, although often with more than a little extrapolation and fantasy. There are, after all, no real black alien monoliths in the solar system, which form stargates to alien realities. Kubrick also wanted to make the greatest SF movie ever, and so he turned from relying on artists to real space scientists and engineers to design the spacecraft.

Which is why the spacecraft in 2001 – the spaceplane, orbital space station, Moon shuttle and the Discovery spacecraft itself – look utterly convincing as well as cool. The film was shot in Britain, and as well as using experts from NASA and American aerospace companies, he also used British firms, especially for the one-person space pods.

I think if Branson really wanted to get into space, he would have been better off ringing Kubrick up for a few hints about spacecraft design. He’d also have been in the enviable position of being in charge of the first company whose promotional film would have won and academy award.

Branson may be set to go into space, but Kubrick and Clarke got their first. And it was awesome.

And here’s a video from YouTube showing a bit of the spaceplane from 2001.

Trust in GPs Lowest for 35 Years, And That’s the Way the Tories Want It

March 2, 2018

A few days ago, a report in the news concluded that people’s trust in their doctors was at lowest for 35 years. I’m not surprised, and I have absolutely no doubt that people’s dissatisfaction with their GPs is part of their ongoing assault on the NHS. The Health Service is immensely popular. It’s been described as the closest thing our increasingly secular society has to a god. Which is why the Tories want to destroy public confidence in it so that they can privatise it and replace it with one where we’ll all have to pay the likes of BUPA, Circle Health, and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health for treatment, while taking out expensive and unaffordable medical insurance from the likes of Unum.

I’ve already put up on this blog a video I found on YouTube, which featured an academic stating that the way the Tories will do this is by running down services so that the middle class – those that can afford private treatment – will abandon it, as a way of creating the public disenchantment necessary to make its privatisation anything less than electoral suicide. Margaret Thatcher, despite the self-serving lies in her autobiography, did want to privatise the health service, and was only prevented by a massive cabinet revolt. Afterwards, she merely confined herself to wanting to increase the proportion of Brits with private health insurance to 25 per cent or so. Jeremy Hunt has made it clear that he hates state medicine and the NHS. As does Daniel Hannan, the Europhobic Tory MEP for Dorset, who is flagrant his use use of untruths that Guy Debord’s Cat calls him ‘The Lyin’ King’.

And the Tories are privatising the NHS. 70 per cent of NHS contracts are going to private firms, despite the fact that these offer worse service and are much less economical that state medicine. They also want to make it possible for private firms to run whole regions. It won’t be long before they sell it off completely, if they have their way.

And some rightwing sites are very honest about it. While the Tories lie through their teeth about what they’re doing to the Health Service, claiming to ‘treasure’ it, in Hunt’s mendacious little words, some groups and blogs are quite open about their longed-for destruction of this most precious British institution. A couple of years ago I found a piece posted from the Traditional Britain Group, which said that they wanted to privatise the NHS. But it was so popular they were afraid it would have to be retained for reasons of electoral expediency. The Traditional Britain Group, I needn’t remind you, were that bunch of Nazi toffs, whose annual dinner Jacob Rees-Mogg happily attended before the Independent published the pics. Then he tried to excuse himself, saying that he didn’t know anything about them when he accepted their invitation. Which is a likely story.

And way back as the London Olympics, I found the Canadian Tory blog, Five Feet of Fury, moaning about Danny Boyle’s celebration of the NHS in the opening ceremony. After ranting about how terrible this was, the transatlantic rightists then began to discuss how they could destroy public confidence in it. They decided that the way to do so was to encourage people to complain about it, because that would apparently break our socialist brainwashing that makes us all praise it.

No, it’s not because we’re all brainwashed or conditioned to accept the NHS unconditionally. It’s because we know what a colossal train wreck private medicine is, if you don’t have socialised medicine. And many people in this country can still remember how expensive medicine was before the NHS.

So despite what the Tories may so to the contrary, I’m very sure May, Hunt and the rest of her corrupt gang and their supporters and donors in private medicine are absolutely delighted by this new. If you don’t want to see the NHS privatised, vote Labour and Corbyn, as he has promised to renationalise the Health Service. And that terrifies them, the Blairites and the right-wing press. It’s why Paul Dacre and the bizarre Barclay Twins have spent so much ink vilifying him as a Trotskyite.

Virgin Trains Bans the Daily Mail – Right-Wing Heads Explode!

January 15, 2018

Last week Virgin Trains announced that at least on one of the lines they operated, they would no longer carry the Daily Mail due to customer complaints. Immediately the Mail and its legions of followers started frothing at the mouth and complaining of censorship. But they don’t really have any basis for complaint, as the ban by Virgin is part of the very capitalism and privatisation that their heroine, Maggie Thatcher, promoted.

As a private firm, Virgin is under no obligation to anyone except to turn a profit for its shareholders and bloated paychecks for its board members. Thatcher deluded herself into believing that privatisation would lead to better services, due to the action of market forces and competition. But this didn’t happen. We’re paying more now in subsidies, for a worse service, than we did under British rail. But this hasn’t bother the Tories, whose ideological commitment is for private industry to run everything, even when this would produce a manifestly worse service, as it would if and when they decide to go all out and privatise the Health Service completely.

But as a private firm, ‘Beardie’ Branson can do whatever he likes with it. It’s his property. And so, by the nature of property rights, the Tories can’t argue against what he’s done. It is censorship, yes, but it hasn’t been done by the state. It’s been done by a private individual, whose right to do what he likes with his property has always been regarded by the Tories and the Republicans in America as absolutely inviolable. Branson is free to decide whatever magazines his trains will, or will not carry, in the same way that newsagents can decide which papers to stock. Way back in the 1980s I tried to order the English version of Pravda, which was then coming out, from my local newsagents in my part of Bristol. No such luck. I was told that Bristol had been divided up between the two national distributors. One operated to supply the newsagents in one half, while the other operated in my area. And the distributor that supplied the newsagents in my area wouldn’t carry it. So I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. Private enterprise had decided that where I was, I couldn’t obtain Pravda. Just as Branson has now decided that the Heil will be unavailable on his trains.

Yes, the decision makes a mockery of Thatcher’s constant mantra that privatisation and private industry would bring more ‘choice’. It hasn’t. But this has been the result of privatisation generally. People have been left with a plethora of companies, all actually providing a worse service than when the utilities were nationalised, and for many people choice is actually an illusion. It doesn’t matter who you go to, you’re still paying very large amounts for services that arguably aren’t worth it. If you want an example, think of the privatised dentists. Thanks to Thatcher’s decimation of the dental service back in the 1980s, there are now few dentists taking NHS patients. The dentists that have gone private charge fees that, for many, make going to them unaffordable. Yes, you can change dentists, looking around for a cheaper service, but unless you find an NHS dentist, you’re still going to be charge very high fees. So from that perspective, you don’t have a choice. And the same applies to the railways and other public services taken over by private contractors.

Secondly, Branson was responding to ‘market forces’. This was the other buzzword of the Thatcherites. The operation of the market was held to be good, just and a guarantee of commercial efficiency and success. Capitalism won over socialism, because socialism took no account of market forces. There’s some truth in that when it’s applied to completely socialised economies such as those of the Communist bloc. But as we’ve seen, various capitalist firms have since failed, and then had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. If you just have market forces as your guide, then these firms, which now include Carillion, should be allowed to go under because of their failure to respond to what the market wants. But instead the right demands that we bail them out, because it’s private enterprise and so can’t be allowed to fail. It’s why the corporatist capitalism ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher has been called ‘socialism for the rich’, as the state is always required to support them, while denying welfare services and healthcare to those genuinely in need.

As for Branson’s ban on the Heil, he was responding to market forces. People had complained about the Heil, and as the service provider, he responded to what his customers wanted. The Mail, which has vociferously and consistently fallen over itself praising Thatcher to the rafters, cannot complain. Thatcher stood for market forces, and market forces have dictated that Virgin’s customers don’t want the Daily Mail. So it’s just too bad for them that Virgin trains will no longer be carrying it. There’s also an element of hypocrisy here. If Virgin had said that they wouldn’t carry what remains of the left-wing press in Britain – the Mirror, the Groaniad or the I, the right-wing press, including the Heil, would be delighted. This shows that the great British public despise the left and its journalism, they would announce proudly. But now that the great British public, or at least that section of it that travels by train, have decided that they don’t want the Mail and its hate and bigotry travelling with them, the Tory press has been screaming ‘censorship’.

Yes, Virgin’s ban on the Daily Mail is censorship, but it’s been done because of the nature of capitalism, Thatcherite ‘choice’ and ‘market forces’. Except that in this case, they haven’t acted to empower the right, but attack it.

Boris Back to Lying about Giving Money from Brexit to the NHS

September 19, 2017

Late last week, Boris Johnson threw the Tories into further chaos as he published his own, 4,000 word document outlining his vision for Brexit. It’s clearly another bid for power from someone, who desperately wants to be in the driving seat and doesn’t care what he says or who he betrays to get there. May responded by calling him a ‘backseat driver’ and insisted that she is in control. Well, as people have commented, if she has to say it, then she obviously isn’t.

And Mike the other day put up a piece showing that Johnson is back to repeating the old Brexit lies he used last time. Yup, he’s told the British people once again that we pay £350 million a year to the EU, when with rebates and other considerations it’s far less than that, and in fact Britain has a net benefit from remaining within the European Union. And he’s also trotted out the old lie that some of this money will be spent on the NHS when we come out.

In fact, Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers have absolutely no intention of doing this. No surprise there. They didn’t when Britain narrowly voted to Leave the European Union. Instead, Johnson did what Tories always do, and reneged on the promise. He made a lot of huffing and puffing about not actually having promised to give that money to the NHS, and only said that if we left the EU, some of that money, for example, could be spent on the Health Service.

Despite the fact that the buses that went round the country clearly stated that the money would be spent on the NHS.

Johnson lied. And he’s doing it again.

It’s all part of his cynical maneoevrings to get himself into No. 10. He was a Remainer, until he decided to throw in his lot with Michael Gove. Whom he then betrayed. And how far he really believes that leaving the EU will benefit Britain is a very good question. From the ashen expression on his face when the result came in that Britain, well, really only England, had voted to Leave, he doesn’t believe in it at all.

The man has no principles, and is just cynically repeating an old, tired lie to get himself a bit closer to becoming PM. Don’t be taken in.

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

As George Dubya nearly said correctly.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/18/boris-johnsons-350-million-eu-claim-is-still-a-lie-no-matter-how-he-dresses-it-up/

Mike’s article is also worth reading for what the folks on Twitter have to say about this latest resurrected falsehood from Johnson. One of the more interesting observations comes from a Beeb journo, who reports that they were under pressure from their bosses to find a positive story about how Brexit would benefit the UK. They couldn’t find any. Eventually, they were going to have to settle for the news that the vaping canisters for e-cigarettes would be bigger. But even that was wrong.

And the piccie Mike uses for that article is also quite fun. It shows one of the buses with Johnson’s infamous lie on its side, stuck halfway up a cliff face.

Which is rather like one of the urban legends that went round in the 1990s, and which got into the pages of Private Eye. According to this tale, American police had found the remains of a chevy out in the Nevada Desert. It seemed the former owner, with a need for speed that went beyond even Jeremy Clarkson’s, had had the bright idea of sticking a JATO engine on his car’s roof. These are small rocket engines that are used to assist air force jets to take off from small runways. This clown forgot just how powerful these engines are, and was completely unprepared for the 8 G acceleration which kicked in when he fired it. According to the story, under its thrust the car left the road and ‘the surly bonds of Earth’, flying five miles before ending its journey by crashing 30 feet up into a cliff face. The impact was so severe that all that was left of the driver was his false teeth.

Fortunately, this story turned out to be untrue. It was a lie, just like Johnson’s porkie about £350 million being paid to the EU, and how that will instead go to the NHS. It never happened, though there isn’t actually anything improbable about the details. Burt Rutan, a former NASA engineer, and the man designing SpaceShip Two for Beardie Branson’s Virgin Galactic, built his own spacecraft, the Volksrocket, for $70,000 using rocket motors that the government had manufactured, then discarded in the local rubbish dump. It shows what private individuals could and are doing in developing space technology, that has the potential to make space vastly more accessible.

As for Johnson, all I can say is that I hope his lies about Brexit, and indeed his entire political ambitions, go the same way as the JATO propelled rocket in the story, and meet a very sudden, and well-deserved end.