Posts Tagged ‘Star Trek’

Sargon Begins Car-Crash UKIP Campaign

April 26, 2019

As it’s now certain that we’re still going to be in the EU for the European election, the various racist, anti-EU, anti-immigrant and islamophobic parties are lining up to campaign. And that includes UKIP, who, as I’ve blogged previously, have selected Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, to be one of their two listed candidates for the southwest. Sargon’s a right-wing internet personality with a hatred of ‘political correctness’, meaning feminism and anti-racist and gay rights activism. He styles himself a ‘centrist moderate’ and a ‘classical liberal’. The latter means that he isn’t moderate, but believes in the classical economics of the 19th century: everything should be privatised, and there should be little or nothing in the way of a welfare state. And as an anti-feminist, Sargon is notorious for a Tweet he sent to the Labour MP, Jess Philips, when she was describing the rape and death threats she’d received via twitter, which said ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’.

Sargon launched his campaign at a big UKIP conference last week or so with his fellow internet rightist, Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, and current Kipperfuhrer Batten. Dankula is the man, who was convicted of spreading hate by making a video showing how he had taught his girlfriend’s pug to make the Nazi salute when he shouted ‘Gas the Jews’. It was not a pretty spectacle. In fact it was, as Star Trek’s Ferengi used to say, ‘Ugly. Very ugleee!’ Although it was supposed to be a press conference, Sargon started by attacking the press, boasting that their audiences were collapsing while he had a million subscribers. When asked about his notorious rape tweet by a female reporter from Sky News, Sargon got defensive and said that it wasn’t a rape threat. Which is disingenuous, as no-one said it was. What everyone found offensive was that it was directed at a woman, who had suffered rape. Kevin Logan, discussing the tweet and Sargon’s catastrophic press meeting with Dr. Kristi Winters, argued that his tweet was threatening, in that by including the word ‘even’ Sargon was suggesting that there were people, he did consider worth raping.

And everyone has picked up on that Tweet. Sargon has been massively pilloried for it in the mainstream press, with the Scum – of all papers! – describing him as a ‘sicko’. But this hasn’t deterred Sargon and his supporters from defending it. They try to wave it all off by saying that it all happened three years ago, and so it’s no longer relevant. But it is, as unlike the other politicos, who’ve been forced to apologise for ill-judged or malign comments, they’re still defending it and haven’t changed their views. In fact, the evening before the press conference Meechan and Sargon had held an event at which they talked about themselves. And Meechan told a joke that was arguably even worse. He was talking about how he had been poor at university. The were so poor, they couldn’t afford hook-ups, and so had to resort to rape. But it was worse for the women, who were also poor and always being raped. It’s the kind of joke which would have any other political party demanding an apology or considering suspending the politico involved. Not so UKIP, apparently. Back at the press conference, Sargon said he wasn’t going to answer any more questions from them, as they were ‘dirty, dirty smearers’. Which he then contradicted by immediately asking, ‘any questions?’

Sargon is also notorious for a post he put up on his YouTube channel in which he used a range of racial slurs against Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays and the mentally handicapped. The anti-racist/ anti-religious extremism organisation has dug it out, and yesterday put up a piece about this wretched video, including a transcript. The post was made in November 2015, and was titled ‘Offence Is Never Given, Retard’, but has since been pulled from YouTube for violating their community guidelines. Sargon’s video was a response to another piece trying to get people to stop using racial slurs. This featured a Black man, Hispanic woman, gay man, an Asian, a Jew and a woman with Down’s Syndrome, who come forward and say, ‘It’s not acceptable to call me – ‘ and then the racial or sexual slur, ‘n***er’, ‘Sp*c’, ‘f*g’, ‘k*ke’, ‘Ch*nk’ and ‘retard’. Sargon then protests against all this, and claims it’s perfectly acceptable to call Asians ‘ch*nks’ because they are more privileged than Whites. He then ends his video with a piece of text reading

DON’T LET THESE AUTHORITARIAN BUSYBODIES CONTROL YOU.

IT’S NOT UP TO YOU TO PROTECT THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS, IT IS FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL TO DO THAT FOR THEMSELVES.

AND IT CAN BE SO LIBERATING TO BE PURILE [sic] OCCASIONALLY.

GOD FORBID THESE STODGY BASTARDS OUTLAW OFFENDING PEOPLE.

Oh yes, and just to be really offensive he puts up in front of the Black man the title of a notoriously offensive Danish movie, Gay N*ggers from Space.

The piece by Hope Not Hate also states that Benjamin’s cameraman, Michael Brooks, is another rightist, who has described himself as ’14 and 88′, a far right code mixing ‘Heil Hitler’ with the notorious ’14 words. He has contributed to various far right sites, and once posted a graph showing how the birthrate in Africa was outstripping that in Europe with the phrase, ‘Planet of the Apes is coming’. Brooks appeared alongside Sargon at another Brexit rally organised by UKIP and the Islamophobe Tommy Robinson.

UKIP Euro Candidate’s Vile Racial Slur-Ridden Rant

And this week Sargon kicked off his campaign in his home town of Swindon. He arranged to meet his public by the fountain, before moving to the pub, which he considered to be a more comfortable environment. He showed his characteristic lack of punctuality by turning up half an hour late. No-one from the mainstream media bother to be in attendance, and even the reporter from the Swindon Advertiser packed it in and went off after a while. Which doesn’t bode well for Sargon’s media coverage. Not that he can really complain – he deliberately baited them at the UKIP press conference, expecting to be able to pick up votes online. Kevin Logan pointed out that what he doesn’t seem to understand is that of his million subscribers, many are abroad and so can’t vote for him, while those in Britain are spread all over the country, so that there may be very few of his supporters in the southwest. Which means that the number of people, who know who he is, yet alone intend to vote for him, may be very small. He did turn up in Bristol on Wednesday, where he had a small gathering, but the UKIP rally was vastly overshadowed by Change UK’s.

See Kevin Logan’s and Kristi Winter’s video discussing Sargon’s campaign at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOd0KMVJDBQ&t=7193s This is two and three-quarters of an hour long, but the last 50 minutes or so are about an incident in America where the racist YouTuber Andy Warski was threatened with violence for his stupid antics.

Also, as Zelo Street has pointed out, Aubrey Attwater, the chairman of UKIP’s Swindon branch, has also demanded Sargon’s deselection because of his rape tweet. See https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/04/carl-benjamin-forgotten-already.html

Sargon is proud of having appeared at the European parliament supporting UKIP, but this looks like it’s going to be the high point of his career. With antagonism, hostility and apathy from the press and his own local party, and more general outrage from the rest of the population at his racism, misogyny and bigotry, hopefully Sargon’s hopes to be an MEP are doomed to failure.

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Scientists Told to Halt Development of War Robots

February 15, 2019

This week’s been an interesting one for robot news. Yesterday, or a few days ago, there was a piece about the creation of a robot that could draw and paint thanks to facial recognition software. The robot’s art has been sold commercially. This follows an artistic group in France that has also developed an art robot. I’ll see if I can fish that story out, as it sounds like one of the conceits of 2000AD is becoming science fact. The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic told its readers that all its strips were the work of robots, so that the credits for the strips read ‘Script Robot X’, and ‘Art Robot Y’. Of course it was all created by humans, just as it really wasn’t edited by a green alien from Betelgeuse called Tharg. But it was part of the fun.

Killer robots aren’t, however. Despite the fact that they’ve been in Science Fiction for a very long time, autonomous military machines really are a very ominous threat to humanity. In today’s I for 15th February 2019 there was a report by Tom Bawden on page 11 about human rights campaigners telling the scientists at an American symposium on the technology that these machines should be preemptively banned. The article, ‘Scientists warned over ‘killer robots’ in future wars’, runs

Killer robots pose a threat to humanity and should be pre-emptively banned under an international treaty, the world’s biggest gathering of scientists was told yesterday.

Lethal, autonomous weapons – military robots that can engage and kill targets without human control – do not yet exist.

But rapid advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence mean they are well on their way to becoming a reality, delegates attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s symposium on the technology were told in Washington DC.

A poll conducted in 26 countries found that 54 per cent of Briton’s – and 61 per cent of respondents overall – opposed the development of killer robots that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

“Killer robots should be banned in a similar way to anti-personnel landmines,” said Mary Wareham, of the arms division at the campaign group Human Rights Watch, who also co-ordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

“The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots,” she added. “Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons. Bold, political leadership is needed for a new treaty to pre-emptively ban these weapons systems”.

The article was accompanied by a picture of one of the robots from the film Terminator Genisys, with a caption stating that it was perhaps unsurprising that most Britons oppose the development of such robots, but they wouldn’t look quite like those in the film.

I’ve put up several pieces before about military robots and the threat they pose to humanity, including a piece from the popular science magazine, Focus, published sometime in the 1990s, if I recall. Around about that time one state or company announced that it intended to develop such machines, and was immediately met with condemnation by scientists and campaigners. Their concern is that such machines don’t have the human quality of compassion. Once released, they could go on to kill indiscriminately, killing both civilians and soldiers. The scientists were also concerned that if truly intelligent killing machines are developed, then they could have the potential to turn on us and begin wiping us out or enslaving us. This was one of the threats to humanity’s future in the book Our Final Minute by the British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. When I saw him speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science about his book a few years ago, one of the audience said that perhaps it would be a good thing if humanity was overthrown by the robots, because they could be better for the environment. Well, they could, I suppose, but it’s still not something I’d like to see happen.

Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at the University of Reading, is also very worried about the development of such machines. In his 1990’s book, March of the Machines, he describes how, as far back as the 1950s, the Americans developed an autonomous military vehicle, consisting of a jeep adapted with a machine gun. He also discussed how one of the robots currently at the university could also be turned into a lethal killing machine. This is firefighting robot. It has a fire extinguisher, and instruments to detect fire. When it sees one, it rushes towards it and puts it out using the extinguisher. Warwick states, however, that if you replaced the extinguisher with a gun, gave it a neural net and then trained the machine to shoot people with blue eyes, say, then the machine would do just that until it ran out of power.

This comes at the end of the book. But it’s introduction is also chilling. It foresees a future, around 2050, when the machines really will have taken over. Those humans that have not been exterminated by the robots are kept as slaves, to work in those parts of the world that are still inaccessible or inhospitable to the robots, and to hunt down and kill the very few surviving humans that remain free. Pretty much like the far future envisioned by the SF writer Gregory Benford in his ‘Galactic Centre’ series novels.

Warwick was, however, very serious about the threat posed by these robots. I can remember seeing him also speak in Cheltenham, and one of the audience asked whether he still believed that this was a real threat that could occur about that time. He said he did, but that the he’d lowered the time at which it could become a real possibility.

Warwick has also said that one reason why he began to explore cyborgisation – the cybernetic enhancement of humans with robotic technology – was because he was so depressed with the threat robots cast over our future. Augmenting ourselves with high technology was a way we could compete with them, something Benford also explores in his novels through an alien race that has pursued just such a course. This, however, poses its own risks of loss of humanity, as depicted in Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen.

This article sounds like something from Science Fiction, and I don’t think that at the moment robots are anywhere near as sophisticated to pose an existential threat to humanity right now. But killer robots are being developed, and very serious robotic scientists and engineers are very worried about them. Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are right. This technology needs to be halted now. Before it becomes a reality.

Radio Programmes Next Week on Homelessness, Conspiracy Theories and Aliens

February 6, 2019

Looking through next week’s Radio Times for 9th-15th February 2019 I found a number of programmes which might be of interest to some people following this blog.

On Monday, 11th February at 8.00 pm on Radio 4 there’s Beyond Tara and George, about rough sleepers. The blurb for this programme reads

Last year there were nearly 600 deaths on the streets of the UK. In this follow-up to last summer’s Radio 4 series on east London rough sleepers Tara and George, presenter Audrey Gilan catches up with the pair to ask what it would take to prevent the unnecessary deaths of homeless people. (p. 137).

Then a half hour later at 8.30 on the same channel, Analysis covers conspiracy theories. The Radio Times says of this

Professor James Tilley explores the current spate of political conspiracy theories, and examines what belief in them tells us about voters and politicians.

The next day, Tuesday 12th February, at 1.30 pm on the Beeb’s World Service there’s Documentary: So Where Are the Aliens?, which the Radio Times describes thus

Space, to quote the late, great Douglas Adams, is mindboggling big. So huge, in fact, that the probability of there being civilized life elsewhere in the universe is almost a mathematical certainty. This begs an obvious question, to which Seth Shostak – chief astronomer of the Seti institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has devoted his career. He speaks with fellow scientists Frank Drake and Jill Tarter about their pioneering work chasing extraterrestrial radio signals as well as the new listening and light-based techniques designed to open up the sky like never before. Last year’s tantalizing fly-by of the mysterious cigar-shaped Oumuamua has revived interest in this topic, although in 2019 ET could be forgiven for giving Earth a wide berth. (p. 138).

Regarding the programme on preventing the homeless dying, one way to stop it would be to fix the welfare state so that poor and vulnerable people didn’t become homeless in the first place. Giving more funding and expanding the number of homeless shelters so that they were safe and able to provide accommodation for rough sleepers would also be very good. As would support schemes for those with drug, alcohol or mental health problems. And as Mike’s pointed out in his reports on attacks on the homeless, it would also be very good idea for the right-wing media to stop portraying the homeless, as well as the disabled, the unemployed and those on benefits generally all as scroungers committing welfare fraud and generally demonizing them. But as the Tory party, the Scum, Express and Fail all depend on this for votes and sales, it isn’t going to happen.

The prgramme on conspiracy theories could be interesting, but I doubt it will actually face up to the fact that some conspiracies are real. Not the malign and bogus myths about a Jewish plot to destroy the White race, or that the business and political elite are really evil Reptoid aliens, a la David Icke, or have made a demonic pact with grey aliens from Zeti Reticuli to allow them to abduct us for experimentation while giving them the benefits of alien technology. Or similar myths about the Illuminati, Freemasons or Satanists.

The real conspiracies that exist are about the manipulation of politics by the world’s secret services, and secret big business think tanks and right-wing pressure groups. Such as the various front organisations set up by the CIA during the Cold War, the smears concocted by MI5 during the 1970s presenting Harold Wilson as a KGB agent, and the contemporary smears by the Integrity Initiative, funded by the Tory government, claiming that Corbyn and other left-wing figures across Europe and America were agents of Putin. And, of course, the real conspiracy by Shai Masot at the Israeli embassy to have Tory cabinet ministers, who didn’t support Israel, removed from government. As well as the embassy’s role in making fake accusations of anti-Semitism against entirely decent people in the Labour party.

But I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will shy well away from these real conspiracies, not least because of Britain’s sordid role in the West’s history of regime change in Developing nations that dared to defy the Americans and ourselves. The Beeb has put on similar programmes before, and the person being interviewed or presenting the argument was former Independent journo David Aaronovitch. And his line has always been to ignore these real conspiracies, and concentrate on all the mythical rubbish, which he presents as typical of the conspiracy milieu as a whole. Which you’d expect from an establishment broadcaster, that now seems to see itself very much as the propaganda arm of the Conservative British state.

Moving on to the programme on SETI, Shostak, Tarter and Drake are veterans not only of the search for intelligent alien life, but also of programmes and documentaries on the search. Drake was the creator of the now famous equation which bears his name, which is supposed to tell you how many alien civilisations we can expect to exist in the galaxy. He was one of the brains behind Project Ozma, alias ‘Project Little Green Men’ in the 1960s to listen for alien signals from two nearby, roughly sun-like stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani. Which found zilch, unfortunately. Shostak and Tarter were two of the leaders of the new wave of SETI researchers in the 1990s, and Shostak wrote a book about the possibility of alien life and what they would possibly be like. This concluded that they wouldn’t be anything like us, ruling out aliens like Mr Spock in Star Trek. In size they would probably be the same as Labradors.

It’s been known now that the Galaxy is old enough and big enough, with the right kind of stars and an increasing multitude of known planets, some of them possibly suitable for life, for alien civilisations to have emerged several times. And if they only advanced at the speed of light, they should be here by now. But they’re not. So far we’ve detected no sign of them. Or no absolutely indisputable signs. So where are they? This problem is called the Fermi paradox after the Italian-American physicist, Enrico Fermi. Suggested answers are that life, or perhaps just intelligent life, is extremely rare in the universe. Space travel may be extremely difficult. Aliens may exist, but they may be completely uninterested in talking to us. In this respect, we may even be a ‘protected species’ considered too fragile at our current level of civilization for contact with the rest of the Galaxy. Or perhaps there really are predatory alien intelligences and civilisations out there, who automatically attack any culture naïve and trusting enough to announce their presence. In which case, all the alien civilisations out there are paranoid and keeping their heads well down. One of SF writer even wrote a collection of short stories, each of which gave one solution to the Paradox.

Scientists Invent Ion-Driven ‘Star Trek’ Plane

November 23, 2018

This is a fascinating piece from yesterday’s I newspaper, for the 22nd November 2018. It reports that Dr. Steven Barrett and his team at MIT have built an airplane that flies through channeling air underneath its wings using electrically charged wires hung below them.

The article, by John von Radowitz, on page 13, reads

A revolutionary electronic aircraft propulsion system inspired by Star Trek has been tested on a working model for the first time.

The five-metre wingspan glider-like plane has no propellers, turbines or any other moving parts, and is completely silent.

Instead, an “ionic wind” of colliding electrically charged air molecules provides the thrust needed to make it fly.

In the tests, the battery-powered unmanned aircraft, that weighs just five pounds, managed sustained flights of 60m at an average height of just 0.47m.

But its inventors believe that, like the early experiments of the Wright brothers more than 100 years ago, such small beginnings will eventually transform the face of aviation.

In the near future, ion wind propulsion could be employed to power quiet drones, the team predicts.

Further down the line, the technology could be paired with more conventional propulsion systems to produce highly fuel-efficient hybrid passenger planes.

Lead researcher Dr. Steven Barret, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said: “This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system.

“This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”

He revealed that he was partly inspi9red by the TV sci-fi series Star Trek. He was especially impressed by the show’s futuristic shuttle crafts that skimmed through the air producing hardly any noise or exhaust. “This made me think, planes shouldn’t have propellers and turbines,” said Dr. Barrett.
“They should be more like the shuttles in
Star Trek that have just a blue glow and silently glide.

The test aircraft, described in the journal Nature, carries an array of thin wires strung beneath the front end of its wings. A high-voltage current passed through the wires strips negatively charged electrons from surrounding air molecules.

This produces a cloud of positively charged ionized air molecules that are attracted to another set of negatively charged wires at the back of the plane.

As they flow towards the negative charge, the ions collide millions of times with other air molecules, creating the thrust that pushes the aircraft forward.

The article also said that

Test flights were made across the gymnasium at MIT’s duPont Athletic Centre, the largest indoor space the scientists could find.

The article also carried this diagram of the aircraft and its engine.

The illustration is entitled ‘How It Works’, and shows picture of the plane, with an arrow saying ‘Battery in fuselage’. There’s also a diagram of the electrically charged particles and the wires connected to the battery that the plane uses instead of a conventional engine.

The illustration’s notes read

Thin wires are strung under the front of the wing and thicker wires under the rear. When connected to a high voltage battery they act as electrodes. The thin positive electrode takes negatively charged electrons from air molecules, creating positive ions. The ions are attracted to the negative electrode at the rear and, as they flow towards it, they collide with neutral air molecules, creating thrust.

The plane reminds of me of the atmospheric aircraft in one of Alistair Reynold’s SF novels, Revelation Space, which fly through heating up the air below them. The propulsion system’s also related to the nuclear electric propulsion used, or proposed, for some spacecraft. This also uses an electrically charged grating to channel and increase the thrust of charged particles generated by a nuclear reactor. As I understand it, the amount of thrust generated by this type of rocket engine is small, but because it’s constant it can eventually build up over time so that the craft is flying at quite considerable speed.

An ion-driven plane is a fascinating concept, though it won’t be powering passenger craft just yet. But you wonder how many UFO sightings will be generated by the experimental and prototype craft which will be designed and built after this.

Jai Singh’s Observatory in India: A Great Location for Dr. Who

November 18, 2018

Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur, as photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India

Last week on Dr. Who, the Doctor and her friends traveled back seventy years to the partition of India to uncover the secret of Yas’ grandmother’s marriage. Yas is surprised to find that the man her gran, a Muslim married, was a Hindu. And as nationalism and ethnic tensions surged on both sides, her groom was murdered by his own brother as a traitor. Yas’ gran survived, and held on to the watch her husband of only a few hours had given her as a treasured token of their doomed love.

It was a story of family history, doomed romance set against the bloodshed of the Partition, which resulted in 4 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being slaughtered in bloody massacres. And its central theme was the inevitability of history, as Yas could do nothing to save her gran’s first husband. It was similar in this respect to the Classic Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. Written by Harlan Ellison, this had Spock, Kirk and McCoy travel back to Depression-era America. There Kirk falls in love with a woman running a soup kitchen. But she’s an opponent of America entering the war in Europe, who dies in car accident. If she lives, America will not enter World War II, and humanity will never go to the stars. Kirk is thus faced with the terrible necessity of letting the woman he loves die in order to preserve history.

It’s a good story, though I would have preferred one with a bit more science in it. The two aliens that appear, who the Doctor first believes are assassins and responsible for the murder of the Hindu holy man, who was to marry the happy couple, turn out instead to have reformed. Returning to find their homeworld had been destroyed, the two now travel through the universe to witness the deaths of those who pass unnoticed. They reminded me of the Soul Hunters in Babylon 5, an alien race, who travel through the universe to extract and preserve the souls of the dying at the moment of death. They are interested in ‘dreamers, poets, thinkers, blessed lunatics’, creative visionaries whose genius they want to preserve against dissolution.

Dr. Who has a tradition of the Doctor going back in time to meet important figures of the past. One such influential figure in India was Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, who constructed great observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. As you can see from the piccy at the top, the measuring instruments used in astronomy at the time were built out of stone there. To my eyes, the observatories thus have the shape of the weird, alien architecture portrayed by SF artists like Chris Foss, as if they were monuments left by some strange future extraterrestrial civilization.

B.V. Subbarayappa, in his ‘Indian Astronomy: an historical perspective’, in S.K. Biswas, D.C.V. Mallik and C.V. Viveshwara, eds., Cosmic Perspectives: Essays dedicated to the memory of M.K.V. Bappu pp.41-50, writes of the Maharaja

In this respect, special mention needs to be made of Majaraja Sawai Jai Sing II (1688-1743) of Jaipur, who was not only an able king but also a skilled astronomer and patron of learning. He built five observatories in different locations in Northern India. The observatories now standing majestic and serene in Jaipur and Delhi bear testimony to his abiding interest in astronomy and to his efforts for augmenting the astronomical tradition with an open-mindedness. The observatory at Jaipur has a large number of instruments – huge sun-dials, hemispherical dial, meridian circle, a graduated meridianal arc, sextants, zodiacal complex, a circular protractor (which are masonry instruments), as well as huge astrolabes. Sawai Jai Singh II meticulously studied the Hindu, Arabic and the European systems of astronomy. He was well aware of Ptolemy’s Almagest (in its Arabic version), as also the works of Central Asian astronomers – Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Al-Gurgani, Jamshid Kashi and, more importantly, of Ulugh Bek – the builder of the Samarqand observatory. In fact, it was the Samarqand school of astronomy that appears to have been a great source of inspiration to Jai Singh in his astronomical endeavours.

No less was his interest in European astronomy. In his court was a French Jesuit missionary who was an able astronomer and whom Jai Singh sent to Europe to procure for him some of the important contemporary European works on astronomy. He studied Flansteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, La Hire’s Tabula Astronomicae and other works. He was well aware ot he use of telescope in Europe and he spared no efforts in having small telescopes constructed in his own city. In the introduction to his manum opus, Zij Muhammad Shahi, which is preserved both in Persian and Sanskrit, he has recorded that telescopes were being constructed during his lifetime and that he did make use of a telescope for observing the sun-spots, the four moons of Jupiter, phases of Mercury and Venus, etc. However, in the absence of a critical evaluation of his treatise, it is rather difficult to opine whether Jai Singh was able to determine the planetary positions or movements with the help of a telescope and whether he recorded them. No positive evidence has yet been unearthed.

The principal court astronomer of Jai Singh II was Jagganatha who was not only well versed in Arabic and Persian but also a profound scholar of Hindu astronomy. He translated Ptolemy’s Almagest and Euclid’s Elements from their Arabic versions into Sanskrit. The Samrat Siddhanta, the Sanskrit title of the Almagest, is indeed a glorious example of the open-mindedness and generous scientific attitude of Indian astronomers. (pp. 36-8).

It would be brilliant if there was a Dr. Who story using this fascinating, historic location, but as it’s almost certainly a prized national monument, I doubt very much the Beeb would be allowed to film there. Still, perhaps something could be done using CGI and a lot of imagination.

Dr. Who Meets Rosa Parks and the Beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement

October 21, 2018

In this evening’s edition of Dr. Who, ‘Rosa’ The Timelady and her friends travel back to 1950’s America and meet Rosa Parks. Parks was the woman of colour, whose refusal to move from her seat for a White person on America’s segregated buses started the famous bus boycott and mobilized Black America. It was the spark that launched the mass Civil Rights movement.

The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Doctor and her friends travel to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. There they meet someone trying to rewrite the history of the black civil rights movements. (p. 64).

There’s another piece about it on page 62, which adds some more details about the episode.

The Doctor and her friends land in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 hours before seamstress Rosa Parks lights a fire under the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person.

It is, of course, one of the great turning points in history, where the actions of just one person triggered a convulsive change for good. But someone wants to stop it, someone wants to alter time to keep things, bad things, just as they are. So the gang must paly their part to ensure events remain exactly as they should be to allow Rosa (Vinette Robinson) her defining moment.

It’s an odd episode, co-written by Majorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, that’s preachy and teachy, giving itself the had task of explaining segregation, racism and the Montgomery bus boycott to a young audience. So it loses its way as a bit of teatime fun and becomes more of a lecture.

The reactionary Right has been out in force and in full cry against this series of Dr. Who from before it was even aired. The decision to have the Doctor regenerate as a woman resulted in Rebel Media, a far-right Canadian broadcaster, posting a video on the internight declaring that ‘Feminism Has Ruined Dr. Who’. This was by Jack Buckby, a self-declared activist for traditional British values, who used to be a member of the BNP. Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization have published articles about him, including a pic of Buckby grinning with his Fuehrer, Nick Griffin. There’s absolutely no reason for any decent person to take anything he says remotely seriously.

Despite the denunciations of the racists, there isn’t anything particularly radical going on here. Star Trek explicitly tackled racism from the very beginning. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura in the episode ‘Plato’s Stephchildren’, was the first interracial smooch on American TV. It was so radical, that I think that part of the episode may even have been removed when it was broadcast in the Deep South in case it caused a massive outrage. In one episode of Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, Sisko and his family found themselves in a holographic recreation of Las Vegas. This caused him problems with his conscience, as in the period recreated – the 1960s – Blacks weren’t allowed in the casinos except as entertainers. The conflict is resolved by his wife pointing out to him that this isn’t really Vegas, but Vegas as it should have been. Back to the Classic series, there was also an episode where the crew of the Enterprise discovered a planet, where a rogue federation anthropologist had remodeled its culture on Nazi Germany. The planet was a fully-fledged Nazi dictatorship, with a bitter, racial hatred of a neighbouring world and its people. Kirk, Spock and the others then try to defeat the planet and its leader before they launch a devastating missile at the peaceful, unaggressive other world. The episode was an explicitly anti-Nazi statement, but naturally some viewers were still shocked by Kirk donning Nazi uniform as he disguises himself as one of them in his efforts to bring it down.

Dr. Who also started out partly as a programme to teach children about history, and so the Doctor travelled back in time with his companions to particular periods to meet some of the great figures of the past, in stories like ‘The Crusades’ and ‘The Aztecs’. In the Peter Davison story in the 1980s, ‘The King’s Demons’, the Doctor and his companions travelled back to the 13th century to meet King John on the eve of Magna Carta. He finds that the Master is trying to interfere in history so that the Great Charter is never passed. He describes it as minor mischief-making by the renegade Time Lord, who is trying to destabilize the galaxy’s major civilisations.

It also reminds me somewhat of Ward Moore’s SF classic, Bring the Jubilee, in which a group of modern Confederate nationalists travel back to the 19th century to try and help the South win the American Civil War.

I think, however, this will be the first time that Dr. Who has devoted an entire episode to the issue of anti-Black racism. In some ways, this is really just the series going back to do something like ‘The King’s Demons’ and the earlier historical episodes, but this time taking an episode from Black history as a natural result of Britain’s population having become far more diverse since the early 60s when the series was launched. Majorie Blackman is Black, and a prize-winning children’s author, so I’m not surprised that she was asked to write for the series. I’ve also no doubt that this episode was created because October is Black History month.

It’ll be interesting to see how this episode turns out. It sounds terribly worthy and not as much fun as the other shows. Which was one of the points one of the right-wing detractors of the new series raised in one of his videos attacking it. He quoted Blackman herself as saying that the programme would be ‘educative’ as well as fun. My experience of some of the anti-racist children’s literature recommended for schools during the 1980s is that they were unrelievedly grim, and were also racist in their own way. They seemed to see Whites as being essentially racist, and teach that Blacks could only expect racism and maltreatment from them. I’m sure this episode of Dr. Who will be far different in that respect, as society has become more tolerant.

Radio 4 Programme Tonight Wondering What Happened to Star Trek’s Optimistic Vision of the Future

June 9, 2018

This is one for the Trekkers. On Radio 4 tonight at 8.00 pm, 9th June 2018, Dr. Kevin Fong will be presenting a programme on the Archive hour discussing what happened to the optimistic vision of the future in Star Trek. The blurb for it on page 189 of the Radio Times runs

8.00 Archive on 4: Star Trek – The Undiscovered Future

The first episode of Star Trek aired in 1966. Space medic and broadcaster Kevin Fog asks what happened to the progressive and optimistic vision of the future that the iconic television series promised him.

Cyborgisation and Mass Technological Mind Control

March 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Scene of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

January 22, 2018

And now for something a bit positive and optimistic, before I start blogging about the grim, serious stuff later. I found the opening scene to last year’s Luc Besson SF film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets over on YouTube. Besson was the director of the SF epic, The Fifth Element way back in the 1990s. This clip from Valerian shows the development of something, which looks remarkably like the International Space Station, into a massive, orbital space complex. I like it because it shows a succession of human nations coming through the airlocks, followed by a variety of alien races, to greet each other in peace and friendship. The musical backing is David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, appropriately enough, though the scenes of people and aliens shaking hands in welcome reminds me more of the line from Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’: ‘I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ ‘How do you do?” This was used at the end of the BBC TV version of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy back in the 1980s.

As for people meeting and becoming friends with alien races, that was one of the elements that made Star Trek so popular. It showed that, despite our current problems, humanity would survive, flourish and go on to explore the universe. And that meant all humanity, with people of different races, Black, Asian, and Russians from the other side of the-then current ideological divide, and aliens, like Spock. Gene Roddenberry in his vision for the show stated that he didn’t want there to be an alien race we couldn’t possible deal with. And so in The Next Generation they created the Borg, which originally humanity couldn’t deal with. You either fought them, ran away, or were assimilated.

Alien invasion, or some other insidious threat from beyond the stars is a staple of SF, and has been ever since H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. But there’s another aspect to humanity’s fascination with aliens which counterbalances this. That apart from enemies, we will also make new friends. It’s the driving psychological motive behind the various UFO contactee encounters in the 1950s, when people claimed that they’d been taken aboard alien spacecraft by benevolent space brothers, to be given a message of peace and cosmic brotherhood. And it’s also why there have been any number of SF stories and paintings set in space bars, like the Cantina sequence in Star Wars.

And in this clip here, I particularly like the bit where the human shaking hands with one of the aliens is left with slime on his hand. It’s just a bit gross, but it is funny.

I wanted to see Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets when it came out last year, but unfortunately circumstances got in the way. I heard that it flopped. One reason for this, apparently, was because it came from a French comic strip, which no-one in America had ever heard of. I’m not sure if that’s the reason, and sometimes perfectly good films fall flat at the box office for no discernible reason at all, except that they didn’t appeal at that moment. Anyway, I want to get hold of it on DVD so that I can judge for myself whether it’s any good, rather than just take what the critics said.

The Young Turks on the Sexual Abuse of Boys in Hollywood

November 4, 2017

In this short piece from The Young Turks, hosts Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian report and comment on a story in the Guardian about the rampant abuse of male actors in the film industry. Kasparian states that while there has been much said and written about the abuse of female actors, less has been said about the male victims of this predatory behaviour. She states that there is a great stigma among me about coming forward with their experiences, and wishes to pay her tributes to their courage as well.

After Aaron Rapp talked about how he was subjected to Kevin Spacey’s unwanted advances, other actors have also told about their experiences. One of these was the London-based actor and director, Alex Winter, who states that the subject is very taboo, but he does not know any boys in any pocket of the entertainment industry, who do not suffer some form of predatory behaviour.

Another gay actor, Wilson Cruz, who plays Rapp’s love interest in the new Star Trek series, has also spoken recently about his experience of sexual harassment at the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network awards event, stating that he has been approached by older ‘gentlemen’, and he was left wondering what he should have done about it, although he did not take them up. Uygur and Kasparian state that this is natural, as before the internet the gatekeepers in the industry were very powerful, and repulsing their advances could all too easily damage your career.

They make the point that while sexual abuse is occasionally carried out by women, it’s mostly done by men, including gay men. People’s sexual morals when it comes to exploiting those less powerful than themselves don’t improve or get worse depending on their sexuality, as the number of straight male sexual abusers like Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Bill Cosby show.