Posts Tagged ‘US Senate’

Arthur C. Clarke Book on the Terraforming of Mars

March 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Pakman on Anti-Semitic and Racist Republican Candidate Escorted Offstage at Kentucky University

February 23, 2017

In my last post, I discussed the rise in racism in this country and America, as reported in Mike’s recent post about the fall in immigration and rise in hate crime following Brexit, and the anti-Semitic desecration of a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. This incident has had a more positive sequel, in that a Muslim organisation has so far raised $71,000 to be spent on repairing the cemetery and other Jewish communities, that have suffered similar attacks.

Discussing the American attacks, Ben Mankiewicz and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks made the point that they were part of the wave of hate that has been unleashed by Trump’s bigoted rhetoric and campaigning. While Trump has a Jewish son-in-law, whom his daughter converted to Judaism to marry, and denies that he is anti-Semitic, his supporters include Steve Bannon of Breitbart, an anti-Semite and White supremacist, and Richard Spencer, the leader of the Alt-Right, which comprises anti-Semites, White Supremacists and other far-right bigots.

Unfortunately, there has been a racist strain in the Republican party for a very long time. Ever since, in fact, Richard Nixon devised the ‘Southern Strategy’ to keep hold of the South by playing on the racist fears of White voters after desegregation. One of the leading Republican politicos is David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. And I can remember how Joe Queenan on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Postcard from Gotham, greeted the electoral victory of Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire with the statement that the only thing you could now in that state were cries of ‘Duce! Duce!’ after Mussolini.

In this piece from 2014, David Pakman reports on a speech at Kentucky University’s ‘Constitution Day’, which resulted in the speaker being escorted off stage by university staff. This was Robert Edward Rensdell, a rising Republican candidate for the senate with appalling anti-Semitic and White separatist views. Rensdell had previously put placards up with his slogan ‘With Jews we lose’ all over Cincinnati. He has also called Blacks ‘savages’ and looked back to the racist past as a time when ‘Blacks knew better’ than to pick on White people, particularly women and children.

Instead of the speech on the American Constitution they were no doubt expecting, the university’s students got a racist rant.

Pakman himself also warns about treating Rensdell and his antics too lightly, as if he represented no more of a threat than a few tasteless comments. He talks about how he had on his programme Frasier Glen Miller another racist Republican senator ten years before. Miller was openly anti-Semitic on his show, insulting Pakman personally with remarks about his Jewish heritage. Miller has since been convicted of the murder of two Jewish people at different Jewish community centres. Pakman points out that the racism expressed and promoted by people like Rensdell and Miller has terrible real world consequences, and can very quickly turn to violence.

Financial Speculators, Not Cost, Are the Real Oil Prices Are Rising

February 10, 2017

This week it was reported that British Gas were considering raising their prices by 9 per cent. This is frightening, as it means that the other companies may also raise their prices as well. Many people are increasingly finding themselves faced with a choice due to austerity, benefit cuts and stagnating wages. They can eat, and freeze, or stay warm and starve.

I don’t know what the reason given for raising the price of gas is. I suspect, however, from the behaviour of the oil industry, that any justification presented is spurious. William Blum in the chapter on capitalism in his book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, shows that the rise in oil prices aren’t due to rising costs. The cost of getting the stuff out of the ground has remained the same, despite all the guff about having reached peak oil. The real cause of the rise in fuel prices, including gas, is financial speculation, and quotes a US Senate report, The Role of Market Speculation in Rising Oil and Gas Prices. This states

The traditional forces of supply and demand cannot fully account for these increases [in crude oil, gasoline, etc.]. While global demand for oil has been increasing… global oil supplies have increased by an even greater amount. As a result, global inventories have increased as well. Today, US oil inventories are at an 8-year high, and OECD [mainly European] oil inventories are at a 20 year high. Accordingly, factors other than basic supply and demand must be examined…

Over the past few years, large financial institutions, hedge funds, pension funds, and other investment funds have been pouring billions of dollars into the energy commodities markets … to try to take advantage of price changes or to hedge against them. Because much of this additional investment has come from financial institutions and investment funds that do not use the commodity as part of their business, it is defined as ‘speculation’ by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CTFC). According to the CTFC, a speculator ‘does not produce or use the commodity, but risks his or her own capital trading futures in that commodity in hopes of making a profit on price changes.’ The large purchases of crude oil futures contracts by speculators have, in effect, created an additional demand for oil to be delivered in the future in the same manner that additional demand for the immediate delivery of a physical barrel of oil drives up the price on the spot market… Although it is difficult to quantify the effect of speculation on prices, there is substantial evidence that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices. (p. 248).

Blum goes on to make the point that the American financial regulators have been unable to combat these rises, because their ability to do so has been taken away from them by Congress. (pp. 249-50). As a result, although it still costs ExxonMobil $20 to get a barrel of oil out of the ground, the oil itself can trade at $40, $80 or $130 a barrel. (p. 251).

So if you’re worried about paying the gas or heating oil bill, the reason it’s gone up is due the financial sector. The very people that donate to political parties, especially the Tories and employ MPs when they leave.

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger

February 13, 2016

Just a few moments ago I put up The Young Turks’ long list of the war crimes and vicious mentality of Henry Kissinger following the PBS debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Hillary had been flattered that the old butcher had complimented her on the way she ran the state department. In the clip below, Sanders criticises Hillary for accepting Kissinger’s friendship, stating very clearly that he’s proud Kissinger isn’t his friend, and pointing to his involvement in the coups and military interventions across the world. He states very clearly that it was Kissinger’s bombing of Laos that destabilised the country, leading to the seizure of power of the Khmer Rouge and the attendant horrors.

And here’s a clip from Democracy Now! about an attempt by activists from Code Pink to arrest Kissinger when he arrived in 2015 to talk before the Armed Services Committee. McCain was particularly annoyed at their protests, declaring he’d seen nothing like it and called them ‘lowlife scum’. The protestors wished to arrest him for his crimes against Chile, Vietnam, Laos and East Timor.

Six years ago a group in Ireland also tried to enforce an arrest warrant for Kissinger when he was attending a meeting at the Trilateral group at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin. The warrant was signed by a judge in France and another in Spain, demanding Kissinger’s arrest under an EU convention for mutual assistance in justice. Kissinger was wanted in connection with crimes against French and Spanish citizens in Chile. Presumably, this was for the arrest and torture of people rounded up during General Pinochet’s 1973 CIA backed Coup.

The people of Eire have a long tradition of moral disrespect to senior American politicians for their war crimes in Latin America. When I was at school there was an incident where Ronald Reagan turned up to visit Dublin. There were mass demonstrations against Ray-Gun’s visit. A number of the demonstrators were students at Dublin University. The BBC covering the event stated that many Irish people were particularly upset over Reagan’s visit, because the Irish Roman Catholic church was particularly involved in charity work in the Latin American countries, which had been victimised by Reagan’s death squads.

God bless Code Pink and the people of Ireland for trying to get this monster and bring him to justice.