Posts Tagged ‘Venus’

Saturn as the Abode of the Dead in Victorian Science Fiction

December 22, 2022

I put up a post the other day about an early 20th century SF story from 1901, in which Jesus Christ is raised on Mars and sent to Earth by the Martians to enlighten us. They rescue Him from the crucifixion, and bring Him back to Mars. It struck me that the story may have been an influence or at least prefigured the idea that later arose among UFO contactees and researcher that Christ was an alien. The best-known of the various UFO religions that believe this is the Aetherius Society, founded in the 1950s by former taxi driver George King. King was into eastern mysticism, and became aware of his mission as spokesman for the Space Brothers when he heard a voice in his kitchen one day telling him to prepare to be the voice of interplanetary parliament. The Aetherius Society believes that King was the recipient of spiritual messages from Aetherius, an alien on Venus, and that Jesus is also there on the planet. Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Israel, also claimed that he’d been taken aboard a UFO and shown how Jesus and his predecessor as head of the religion, W.D. Fard, were also on Venus. Both Christ and Fard were Black, and Fard was directing and preparing for the coming apocalyptic war against the Whites that would free Black America.

Looking through the SF collection Born of the Sun again today, I found another early SF story with a religious or supernatural dimension. This was John Jacob Astor’s 1894 A Journey in Other Worlds, in which Saturn is inhabited by the spirits of the dead. I think this was influenced by contemporary spiritualism and trends in psychic research. The followers of the 18th century Swedish scientist and mystic, Immanuel Swedenborg, believed that he had travelled in spirit across the Solar System and that the various planets were inhabited, including by the spirits of the departed. This was also the same time, I think, that mediums like Helene Smith believed that they were receiving telepathic messages from Mars. The Surrealists were fascinated by these mediumistic accounts, and one collection of Surrealist writings contains a drawing, done automatically, of Mozart’s house on either Jupiter or Saturn. There’s definitely a religious element in much Spiritualist speculation about space and early Science Fiction, and I’m very sure that this has had an influence on the UFO phenomenon and its accounts of contacts with spiritually advanced, benevolent alien beings.

Poul Anderson and Ideas about Terraforming Venus Before Carl Sagan

December 21, 2022

This might appeal to readers of this blog, who aren’t fans of the late astronomer, Sceptic and presenter of the blockbusting TV science series, Cosmos. I put up a drawing I’d done of Sagan a week or so ago along with a piece explaining why I thought he was a great TV personality. While Sagan was a brilliant astronomer and space scientist, some of the readers of this blog were less impressed by his attitude towards the UFO crowd. Sagan was a fervent rationalist, who saw it as his mission to attack ideas he thought were irrational, and particularly the paranormal. He was one of the founders of the Sceptical organisation, CSICOP, or the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, along with the stage magician James Randi and the mathematician Martin Gardner. One of Sagan’s last works was The Demon-Haunted World in which he worried about the tide of irrationality creeping over America and the world and foresaw a time in which the New Age would have taken over completely, leading to a new Dark Age and people earnestly consulting their horoscopes each morning.

Some commenters remembered how Sagan had been wheeled on TV in the 1960s to debunk UFO encounters. They didn’t like his superior and condescending attitude towards the experiencers. Now I’ll admit that I don’t regard UFOs as nuts and bolts alien spacecraft. Much of the imagery and the basic plot of UFO encounters seems to come from science fiction and supernatural encounters with gods, demons and fairies before then. One of the alternative views of the UFO phenomenon is the psycho-social hypothesis, which sees it as an internal psychological experience which uses the imagery of contemporary culture. In previous centuries this was of fairies. Now, as belief in the supernatural has declined in the West, the imagery is from science fiction. But both the imagery of fairies and alien spacecraft represent the same theme of encounter with a cosmic other. Some UFO writers and researchers like John Keel and Jacques Vallee believe that there is a genuine paranormal phenomenon at work, and that the force that was previously responsible for encounters with fairies and so on has simply now changed to using that of space craft as society has changed. See Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse, for example. Many UFO encounters can be explained as misidentification, hoaxes, and sightings of top secret military aircraft. I’m also convinced that some are due to the intelligence community deliberately messing with people for their own purposes. In one of his books, Vallee suggests that the Cergy-Pontoise abduction in France may have been faked by French intelligence as an experiment to see how people would react to a real alien encounter. And then there’s the case of Paul Bennewitz, a defence contractor in the US who was driven out of his mind by a pair of intelligence agents at a nearby USAF base. Bennewitz thought he had got in touch with an alien held captive at the base. The pair claimed to be whistleblowers and fed Bennewitz a whole load of spurious documents apparently confirming it, and then told him that it was all fake. It’s a tactic apparently known as the ‘double-bubble’ used by the intelligence services to destabilise their enemies. It worked on Bennewitz, who I think was driven to a nervous breakdown.

Even with the hoaxers, the top secret aircraft and the misidentified objects, there are still some UFO encounters that are very difficult to explain. I think the best explanations are probably the paranormal and psycho-social rather than the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any the less puzzling nor that genuine people, who have had a truly inexplicable experience, should be sneered or condescended to.

But back to Sagan. One of Sagan’s achievements was to suggest a way Venus could be terraformed. This involved planting genetically-engineered bacteria in the Venusian atmosphere. These would consume the carbon dioxide and exhale breathable oxygen. But Sagan wasn’t the first person to suggest ways of terraforming the planet, and he didn’t invent the concept of terraforming. You can find the idea, but not the name, in the Martian books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, in which the Martians have built giant machines to replenish the atmosphere on their dying world. The great SF writer Poul Anderson wrote a story in which a similar technology is used to terraform the Venusian atmosphere.

This is mentioned by Mike Ashley, the editor of the anthology of classic SF stories about the worlds of the solar system, Born of the Sun, published by the British Library. In the introduction to the story about Venus, Ashley writes

‘The 1950s saw some authors taking note of recent research which suggested Venus was far from a watery world. Leading the way was Poul Anderson. In ‘The Big Rain’ (1954) he describes a harsh, sweltering Venus that, when it does rain, rains formaldehyde. The story considers how Venus might be terraformed, using the formaldehyde locked in Venus’ clouds. Airmaker machines, spread all over Venus, accelerate a reaction with the formaldehyde, ammonia and methane to produce hydrocarbons and oxygen, whilst bombs reinvigorate volcanos so that in time it starts to rain – and rains for over a hundred years, by which time Venus starts to be more Earth–like’. (p. 93).

To me, this is an example of one the instances where informed Science Fiction, even if wrong in the details, has advanced scientific thinking. And there are plenty of other examples in some of the other stories Ashley discusses in some of the other books in the same series.

Sagan, for all his faults, was a brilliant scientist and he did much to make people aware of the environmental crisis and opposed the threat of nuclear war and the New Cold War Reagan and Thatcher started ramping up in the 1980s. But in this case, while his ideas about terraforming Venus are most likely to be correct, he wasn’t the first to invent the idea.

Sometimes SF writers get there first.

‘Women with Wings’ – The SF Novel about Interbreeding with Aliens to Save Humanity from Racial Degeneration

December 21, 2022

As I wrote in my last piece, I’ve been reading a number of collections of SF stories published by the British Library. These collections are on various themes – other planets, life in space, the threat of the machines taking over – and the short stories are mixed with introductions describing the history of the depiction of that planet or theme in SF. The introduction to the story about Venus notes that before the modern space probes revealed that it was hell planet of scorching heat, crushing pressure and sulphuric acid rain, Venus was often thought of as an Edenic world with peaceful, angelic inhabitants. But I found myself particularly interested in the brief description of the plot of a book published in 1930 by Leslie F. Stone. In his ‘Women with Wings’ the Venusians are humanoids descended from flying fish. Both they and humanity are declining from racial degeneration, which the two peoples successfully combat by interbreeding.

I find this fascinating, as much SF is about the threat of alien invasion, including the rape and forced interbreeding with human women, and occasionally men. You think of fifties B-movies like Mars Needs Women or the lurid covers of the mid-20th century SF pulp magazines with square-jawed earthmen attempting to stop evil Martians or Moon people or whatever carrying off the heroine. Then there’s the plot of Hammer’s notorious Devil Girl from Mars, in which a Martian woman lands in Scotland in order to kidnap a man and bring him back as breeding stock to the Red Planet. This kind of cosmic rape is part of the contemporary UFO abduction myth, in which evil grey aliens from Zeta Reticuli are abducting humans and either physically raping them or harvesting their sperm and eggs in order to create a hybrid race. In some forms of the myth, it’s because the greys are racially degenerate and need to incorporate human genetic material in order to continue. Alien abduction and hybridisation were an integral element in the original X-Files, in which FBI agents Mulder and Scully were pitched against a secret organisation, the Syndicate, who were at the centre of a global conspiracy to create a race of alien hybrids who would be the only survivors of an alien takeover.

At the time Stone was writing, many European and American intellectuals feared real racial degeneration. This was at the hearts of the eugenics movement, that held that the biologically unfit would outbreed healthy people and so the human race would inevitably decline. One element of these fears was the threat of racial interbreeding with the non-White races judged inferior in the contemporary racial hierarchy. Hence the legislation passed by various American states to prevent the congenitally disabled having children and to limit immigration and prevent intermarriage with racial inferiors. These not only included non-Whites, but also Whites from southern Europe. These fears were also expressed in the SF and fantasy of the period, such as in H.P. Lovecraft. Several of Lovecraft’s stories are about racial degenerates preying on normal humanity and forced interbreeding from outside. In ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, an entire fishing community has been taken over by a murderous cult and its people racially mixed through generations of interbreeding with a race of fish people. Stone stands out against these fears through presenting racial mixture with aliens as improving the biological stock of both races. He’s a curious exception to the trend, and I wonder if there were other writers with similar ideas.

These racial fears were the basis for the horrendous legislation and political moves against people of different race and the disabled that culminated in Nazism and the Holocaust. It’d be interesting to know a bit more about Stone and whether he had the same attitude to terrestrial peoples of different colours intermarrying and having children. It might be that such anti-racist attitudes were just confined to that fiction and involved the idea of people breeding with an equal or superior race. But nevertheless, it is remarkable that someone wrote a story that had a positive view of it at all, especially as racist regimes like apartheid South Africa, banned literature with similar themes and messages long into the 20th century. And in Israel there are still Jewish groups devoted to stopping Israelis forming liaisons and marrying Palestinians.

Charles Cole and the Origin of the Belief that Jesus was an Extraterrestrial

December 21, 2022

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much over the last few days. Our boiler here packed in last Friday, and we’ve spent the past few days trying to get it fixed. Part of the problem has been trying to get through to the gas company that installed it. We were on the phone for three hours the other day trying to get through to someone. But we’ve managed to sort things out and hopefully it’ll all be fixed before too long.

I’ve started reading a few Science Fiction books I ordered a few months ago, but have only just got around to reading. They’re collections of early, classic SF short stories edited by Mike Ashley and published by the British Library. Each collection is devoted to a different theme. There’s one on the Menace of the Machine, which traces the idea of robots rebelling and taking over from the 19th century to 60s predictions of the rise of the internet. Born of the Sun is an anthology of SF stories set on the various worlds of our solar system, from Mercury out to Pluto, including the false planet Vulcan.. This was a planet a 19th century astronomer believed he had seen inside the orbit of Venus. It’s existence has since been disproved, but as the book says, it lives on in the name for Mr. Spock’s home planet in Star Trek. Each of the stories is prefaced by a brief history of these worlds in Science Fiction. And these are often fascinating.

The introduction to the short story about Mars in Born of the Sun notes the way the planet has also been used to explore theological and religious issues, such as in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. This was one of a trilogy of books, the others being Perelandra, or Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength, all with a very strong theological dimension. The other planets of the solar system, in Lewis’ SF, are unfallen and ruled by angels, and there is a war going on with the demonic forces on Earth. In Out of the Silent Planet a philologist, Ransom, is kidnapped by an evil scientist and his commercial partner, and taken to Mars. Ransom manages to escape and at last makes contact with the indigenous Martians. Meeting the Oyarsa, the angel ruling the planet, he is told of its Edenic state and that neither he nor his captors can remain there, and they are sent back to Earth.

But SF stories about Mars with Christian theological dimension predate Lewis’ by some years. The book states that in 1901 Charles Cole published a story, Visitors from Mars, in which Jesus is raised on the Red Planet. He is sent to Earth to help us, and rescued by the Martians at the Crucifixion, who return Him to Mars. This is very similar to some of the beliefs among the UFO fraternity about Christ. The Aetherius Society, set up in the 1950s by ‘Sir’ George King, knight of the Byzantine Empire (self-awarded) teaches that Christ is alive and well and on Venus, along with Aetherius, an ascended being who sends messages of spiritual improvement to us via King. It also reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human raised by Martians who has great spiritual and psychic powers, and who founds a religion back on Earth. This was one of the influences on the emerging New Age movement back in the 1960s. One of the first neo-pagan religions was the Church of All Worlds, which was an attempt to put the religion founded by the book’s hero into practice. Heinlein himself wasn’t impressed with it, not least because he didn’t believe psychic powers existed. It might be that Cole’s book and other SF stories of the period in which the peoples of Venus and Mars were depicted as angels started that line of mystical speculation which eventually produced the New Age idea that Jesus was an alien. Or it could just be that it prefigured them when they arose later in the century with the emergence of the UFO phenomenon.

Sketch of American Astronomer, Space Scientist and Activist Carl Sagan

December 3, 2022

I’ve put up this sketch of Carl Sagan began he was one of the major figures in space research as well as a committed Humanist and political activist. He was also a major populariser of astronomy and science, most notably through his blockbusting TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. This was also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, who also composed the music for Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. According to the blurb on Cosmos’ back cover, Sagan was

‘(t)he director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and for Distinguished Public Service, and the international astronautics prize, the Prix Galabert. He has served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as chairman of the astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union. For twelve years, he was Editor-in-Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. In addition to 400 published scientific and popular articles, Dr. Sagan (was) the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Cosmic Connection, The Dragons of Eden, Murmurs of Earth and Broca’s Brain. In 1975 he received the Joseph Priestly Award “for distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind,” and in 1978 the Pulitzer Prize for literature.’

It was Sagan who suggested that Black Holes could be used as interstellar subways so that spaceships from one part of the universe could use them to travel faster than light to another part of the cosmos connected by the wormhole passing between the Black Hole and its White Hole. He also suggested that Venus could be terraformed into a living, habitable world through the introduction of genetically engineered bacteria that would consume its toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen. He also noted that Mars had a large instability in its rotation, and that this could have resulted in its current, millions-year long period of lifelessness. But it was possible that in time its rotation would return to a more hospitable position and the planet would once more bloom into life. He was also a staunch advocate of the view that the universe was inhabited by intelligent alien civilisations and that one day we would contact them. He also wrote a later book, Pale Blue Dot, after the view of the Earth from space.

He was also a fierce opponent of what he considered to be superstition. He was one of the founders of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal along with the stage magician James Randi. They were formed in response to the publication of Gauqelin’s research suggesting there really was a link between the star sign under which people were born and their later careers. He was alarmed by the rise of Creationism and the New Age, and expressed his fears about them in his book, The Demon Haunted World. He was afraid that this would lead to a new Dark Age in which people would wake up every morning to anxiously look through their horoscopes.

He was also greatly concerned with the environment and global warming and the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s he also proposed the idea of nuclear winter. This was the idea that a nuclear war would send millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and causing temperatures to plunge. This has since been rejected by scientists, but I have seen it suggested as one of the causes for the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case it was the dust thrown up by the asteroid’s impact 65 million years ago that blocked out the sun’s light, after the initial holocaust caused by its impact.

During the inquiry following the Challenger disaster, Sagan claimed that it had occurred because the Shuttle was poorly designed, the result of a compromise between NASA and the military. The Shuttle was originally intended to be fully reusable and smaller. However, the armed forces insisted on it becoming larger so that it could carry military satellites into space. The result was that it was larger, and only partially reusable as it required an external tank to carry the extra fuel it needed to reach orbit. This was jettisoned after its fuel was consumed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

He also wrote the SF novel, Contact, later filmed with Jodie Foster playing the lead. This was about a female astronomer, who makes contact radio contact with aliens, a method Sagan himself strongly advocated. Following their instructions, she constructs an artificial wormhole portal that transports her across space so she can finally meet them. I remember coming across the book in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones in the 1980s and was rather put off by its blurb. This boasted about it challenging and refuting racism, sexism and so on. All good stuff, of course, but a bit too PC for me.

Many of these themes appear in Cosmos. This was his personal view of the history of science, and while I loved it at the time, I have serious issues with some of the claims now. One of the problems is that he accepts what we were all told at school, that the Greek philosophers were scientists. He believed that if Greek science had progressed, we would have had space travel by now. The ancient Greeks were certainly responsible for laying the foundations of western science, but they were not quite scientists in the modern sense. They used deduction rather than the scientific method of induction. Deduction meant that they observed a phenomenon and then invented an explanation. In induction, devised by Francis Bacon in the 16th/17th century, the scientist observes a phenomenon, comes up with an explanation, and then devises an experiment to disprove it. If the explanation passes the test, it is tentatively accepted as true until a later observation or experiment disproves it. The ancient Greeks didn’t do much practical experimentation.

Sagan also followed the popular explanation of the evolution of the brain, in which there is a lower, animal brain with the higher faculties evolving later, so there’s a primitive reptile brain and a more advanced mammal brain. But Victorian scientists found that both types of brain structure were present in the earliest, most primitive animals. He also followed the standard, accepted narrative that the Roman Catholic church had suppressed scientific knowledge and experimentation during the Middle Ages. This has since been rejected by historians of science. To many such historians now, the Middle Ages after the 8/9th centuries were an age of innovation and discovery. Jean Gimpel’s book proposing the idea was called The Medieval Machine, after the invention of the clock, to symbolise the period’s belief in a universe governed by law, discoverable by human reason under the light of the divine. And rather than the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance leading to a new enlightened, rational order, it had the potential to do the opposite. The medieval philosophers and theologians were Aristotelians but were very aware of the flaws in Aristotelian science and had modified it over the centuries in order to conform more closely to observed reality. But the Renaissance Humanists would have dumped all this, and so we would have been back to square one with no further scientific advances than what was permitted through a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s thought.

There’s also an anti-Christian element in Cosmos too. He describes how Hypatia, the late Neoplatonist female philosopher was murdered by a group of Christian monks in the 4th century. Hypatia has symbolised for a long time to radical atheists the fundamentally anti-science, and to feminists, the misogyny in Christianity. But by this time Neoplatonism was a mixture of science and mystical speculation, forming what has been called ‘the mind’s road to God’. The real motives for her murder weren’t that she was some kind of pagan threat, but more from a power struggle between the authorities in that part of the Roman world.

Sagan is also critical of western imperialism and describes the horrors the Conquistadors inflicted on the Aztecs and other peoples of the New World. He’s right and this section is clearly a product of its time, with the rise of anti-colonial movements among the world’s indigenous peoples, the Black Civil Rights movement in the US and the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as Reagan’s new Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. But looking at this 40 years later, it’s also one-sided. Europe wasn’t the only expansionist, brutal, imperialist culture. Islam was also militaristic and expansionist, and at the time the Spaniards conquered South America, the Turkish empire was expanding and subjugating parts of Europe, while Muslim pirates were raiding the continent as far as Iceland for slaves.

It’s also dated from an archaeological standpoint. At one point Sagan discusses the Bronze Age collapse of the societies of the Ancient Near East, showing how it was characterised by a series of crises, similar to the process of the fall of other, later civilisations into Dark Ages, but that these aren’t causes in themselves. It’s Systems Analysis, which was popular at the time, but which I think has also become subsequently passe.

All that said, Sagan was right about global warming, whose devastating effects he illustrated with the example of the planet Venus. This has also suffered catastrophic heating due to its greater nearness to the Sun. This released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect so that it is now a hell planet of burning temperatures and sulphuric acid rain. He also wasn’t wrong about the threat of renewed militarism and nuclear war and was a welcome voice against Reagan’s strident belligerence.

As a science populariser, his influence has also been immense. Cosmos was a bestseller, and I think it prepared the way for other bestselling works by astronomers and scientists like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And I certainly was not surprised when Brian Cox, the scientist, not the actor, said in an interview in the Radio Times that he was a massive admirer of Sagan. That came across to me very strongly from his numerous TV series about space and the planets.

Sketches of Comedy Writers and Broadcasters Frank Muir and Dennis Norden

November 26, 2022

Frank Muir

Dennis Norden

Muir and Norden were a duo of comedy writers who together were responsible for some of the radio comedy hits of yesteryear. I think they may have started out with Take It From Here before producing possibly their best-known series, The Glums. This was their response to the one of the first British soap operas, Life With The Lyons. The Lyons were a very clean, respectable family. This was well before the gangsters, crims, adulterers and murderers now populating British and international soaps. Their answer to this was to create a comically horrible family. This consisted of the blokey Mr. Glum, played by Professor Jimmy Edwards, his gormless son, Ern played by Ian Lavender, and Ern’s girlfriend, Eth, played by June Whitfield.. Mrs Glum never appeared as a distinct character, except for growling heard coming from upstairs. The episodes usually began with Mr Glum in the pub. As the landlord rings the bell for last orders, Mr. Glum orders one last pint before recounting that week’s tale of comic woe to his cronies. The series was adapted for TV in the 1970s, the scripts were collected and published as a book, and the series is also available on DVD.

Apart from writing, the two also appeared on a number of TV and radio panel shows. Dennis Norden appeared on My Music, with three other singers and experts: John Amis, the opera singer Wallace, and Arthur Marshal. After his death, Marshal’s biography appeared in the book Three Gay Lives, along with two others. This revealed that during the War, Marshal had been part of a team sent to hunt down one of the leading Nazis – I think it may have been Himmler. Marshal himself commented wryly that he was a strange choice for such a project. He had a gentle, camp manner, but appearances can be deceptive. Sometimes the men with gentlest or most camp demeanour can be some of the toughest. But possibly not in Marshal’s case. Norden was a specialist in the peculiar hits of yesterday. I particularly remember a hilarious rendition he gave of the 30s pop song, ‘I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself). This has stayed with me so much, that when I found the sheet music for it in a secondhand shop in Cheltenham, I immediately bought it.

Muir and Norden also appeared together on another BBC 2 show, Call My Bluff. In this show, two teams competed to present the definitions of obsolete words. Three were given for each word, but only one was correct. The object was to deceive their opponents into choosing the wrong definition, while guessing the right meanings themselves. Both My Music and Call My Bluff were originally broadcast in the evening. After the original series of Call My Bluff ended, it was later revived as an afternoon show.

They also appeared on another panel show, this time on the radio, My Word. The teams were given a famous saying or literary quote and asked to make up a story inspired by it, ending with a pun on the original saying. In one edition, they were given the phrase, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. This was turned into a story about how tall men have small wives, who stop them getting to sleep at night with their snoring. This culminated in the pun, ‘The massive men need wives of quiet respiration.’ In yet another edition, they were given the line from Pepys’ diaries, ‘And so to bed’. This inspired a very convoluted story which produced the final, punning line, ‘And saw Tibet.’ These stories and their inspiration were also collected and published.

I also remember that Dennis Norden also had his own afternoon show in the 1970s, in which he took the audience back to the cinema of yesteryear. But the films he chose were obscure, rather than the big cinema successes, and he definitely had a taste for entertaining B movies. These were often films so bad, they were entertaining. One of these was a fifties movie which featured a great White hunter staggering out of the jungle before collapsing. As he did so, a voice intoned, ‘He came out of the jungle drained of man’s essence’. I think the story was about how he’d been captured by a tribe of women, who then banged him till he escaped utterly exhausted. This seems to have been part of a series of films of the time in which male explorers stumbled on all-female societies. This was a particular favourite in Science Fiction. There was one about earthmen landing on such a female society on Venus, and another one where the matriarchal society was on one of the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. Hammer also contributed to this particular theme with the 1948 Devil Girl From Mars. In this flick, a Martian woman lands on Earthy on a mission to kidnap men for use as breeding stock on her homeworld. As the taste for such terrible movies increased and they became a genre in themselves, Badfilm, aided by the Medved brother’s Golden Turkey Awards and Michael Medved’s 1980s Channel 4 series, The Worst of Hollywood, this film was reissued on DVD in the ’90s. I wonder if these films were part of crisis in masculinity caused when men returned from the War to find that women had taken over their roles in industry and society when they had been away fighting. One of the other films he commented on was Glen/Glenda or I Changed My Sex. This was a tale of one man’s struggle with his transvestism. It’s quite a daring subject, considering the very conservative morality of the time. It could have been done well if intelligently handled. A few years ago, the Beeb broadcast an autobiographical play by ceramicist and transvestite Grayson Perry, Mr. Misunderstood, about how his own shame and struggle over his crossdressing. However, Glen/Glenda was one of the demented products of Ed Woods, whose films have become bywords for spectacularly bad films. His Science Fiction outing, Plan 9 From Outer Space, about UFOs invading Earth and causing zombies to rise from their graves, was voted the worst film of all time. I think its place may now have been usurped by the recent Badfilm, The Room. Glen/Glenda isn’t that bad, but it does boast leaden dialogue, a dream sequence in which furniture moves about for no reason, and Woods’ friend Bela Lugosi, appearing as God, saying, ‘Dance to this, dance to that, but beware of the little green dragon sleeping on your doorstep.’

Later Norden starred as the presenter of the long-running show presenting hilarious bloopers and outtakes, It’ll Be Alright on the Night. This started in the 1970s but has continued to appear sporadically ever since. Since Norden’s death it’s been presented by Griff Rhy Jones and David Walliams. Muir had a rather impish sense of humour. In a Christmas article in the Radio Times one year, he described a trick he liked to play at that time of year on his relatives north of the border. He’d include with the Christmas card a completely made-up quote from Rabbie Burns, and chuckle at them trying to work out which one of the works of Scotland’s national poet it appeared in. His voice also appeared in a comic TV advert for fruit and nut chocolate. This had him singing ‘Everyone’s a Fruit and Nutcase’ to the tune of one of Tchaikovsky’s classics.

Muir and Norden in many ways were highly influential figures in the development of British comedy and their programmes were very witty. The gentle humour of their panel games now seems to me to be a world away from today’s much more savage and cutting humour of satirical shows like Mock The Week, The Last Leg and Have I Got News For You, at least when that first came out.

‘I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself’ was a vaudeville song recorded in 1923 by Irving Kaufman of the Avon Four. I found this original recording of it on Daniel Melvin’s channel on YouTube. I hope you enjoy its comic absurdity.

I also found these two versions of the Fruit and Nut advert on YouTube. This one’s from IanLucey1972’s channel.

And this from Findaclip.

Independent: Venus Could Have Completely Alien Lifeforms in Cloud Layer

December 21, 2021

The Independent has published a piece by Adam Smith reporting that scientists at Cardiff University, MIT and Cambridge University have modelled a series of chemical reactions based on a ammonia, which would neutralise sulfuric acid droplets. Venus has a lethal atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide, where it rains sulfuric acid, and an atmospheric pressure and temperature much higher than Earth. Probes sent to the planet have lasted only a few minutes after landing because of the immensely harsh conditions. However, as the article states, ammonia has also been detected in its atmosphere, that might indicate that it has life. The article states that this would be ‘unlike anything we’ve seen’, which sounds like there could be large creatures moving around in the planet’s cloud layer. Unfortunately, as the article goes on to say, if life exists it’s going to be microbes, but microbes of a very different biochemistry. The article begins:

‘Researchers believe that there could be potential lifeforms producing ammonia in the clouds of Venus that are “very unlike anything we’ve seen”.

The colourless gas, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, could be indicative of chemical reactions that would make the planet – 47.34 million kilometres from Earth – more habitable to alien life.

On our planet, ammonia is a common left-over waste from aquatic organisms. Its presence in Venus’ upper atmosphere has been puzzling astronomers since the 1970s – with scientists believing that it should not be produced by any known force on the world.

Venus itself is so hot that it is inconceivable to have life forms, and if there is life in the clouds it is likely to be microbes like Earth bacteria – albeit with a chemical composition unlike that we have seen on our planet, or even neighbouring planets like Mars.

This is because life on Mars is more likely to be similar to that on Earth and so scientists have a greater idea of what to expect. Venus, in contrast, is unlike any other planet in the solar system.

In a new study, researchers from Cardiff University, MIT and Cambridge University modelled a set of chemical processes to show that – if ammonia is indeed present – it would set off a cascade of chemical reactions that would neutralize surrounding droplets of sulfuric acid.’


This is interesting, and Venus certainly has the organic chemistry necessary for life, and I think the temperature and pressure in the cloud layer is roughly suitable. But I’m pessimistic about there being life on Venus. We haven’t found it elsewhere in the solar system yet, although it could be preserved in refugia deep in the rocks and artesian wells on Mars or in the subterranean oceans believed to be under Jupiter’s moon Europa. But I’m not confident of its existence there, either. We were disappointed when the Mariner probe got to Mars in the 1960s, and found that instead of being roughly like Earth, it was more like the Moon. Before then, astronomers had observed seasonal changes of colour on the planet, and suggested it was due to changes in vegetation, possibly mosses and lichens. And then, of course, there was speculation about Martian canals in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There may yet be life in the solar system. I hope so, but I’m not confident. And the only way to find out is to go there. Until then, we’ll have to wait and see, whatever planet it’s on it.

Black History Month Website Forced to Delete Article Describing Whites as ‘Genetically Defective Mutants’

October 6, 2021

October is Black History Month, set up to educate people, and particularly Blacks, about their history and achievements. And already the controversy has started. The Lotus Eaters put up a piece yesterday commenting on a report in Telegraph that the Black History Month website, which is not run by the government although it contains ads from various state organisations, had taken down a piece denigrating Whites that had been up for three years.

Posted in 2018, the article quoted American Frances Cress Welsing, who claimed that White people originally evolved as genetically defective mutants, who were driven out of Africa by the indigenous Blacks. Settling in Europe, their lack of melanin made them more immoral and their innate racism caused them to create White supremacy. It was only after an investigation by the Torygraph that this was taken down.

Clearly, this is pure hate and as evolutionary palaeoanthropology, it’s utter bilge. Sargon of Gasbag in his video commenting about it states that white skin evolved in northwest Europe 7,000 years ago to allow Europeans to absorb enough of the vitamins humans need from sunlight in the cold, overcast climate of northern Europe. I think the biology’s correct, but I’m not sure about the location or timescale on the grounds that many of the peoples of the Near East, like Turks, Arabs and Iranians can have White complexions. There have even been blondes in Syria and the Caucasus. But it is true that humans lost their initially dark complexions as they adapted to the European climate when they first entered the continent 60,000 or so years ago.

Welsing’s anti-White rant is typical of a Black ideology, Melanism, that’s been around for decades. Roughly speaking, Melanism states that Black people are physically, intellectually and spiritually superior to Whites because they possess a greater amount of the pigment melanin, which not only produces the darker skin colour, but is also found in the brain. There have been a number of Black writers promoting this anti-White nonsense, some of whom have been officially judged racist. Way back in the ’90s, biologist and snail expert Steve Jones met a group of British melanists in his series on genetics, In The Blood.

Welsing’s description of Whites as ‘genetically defective mutants’ is of kind with the weird views on the origins of Whites of the Nation of Islam, although far less bonkers. The Nation of Islam believe that Whites were created by the evil Mekkan scientist Shaitan 70,000 years ago in order to destroy the purity of the Black race. The Nation of Islam itself has precious little to do with real Islam. It’s based around the worship of W.D. Fard, a Syrian, who migrated to the US in the 1920s and who was worshipped as God. Its present leader, Louis Farrakhan, is extremely anti-Semitic and blames Jews for the slave trade. He also claims that a UFO landed while he was meditating on a Mexican mountain back in the ’80s-90s, and took him to a ‘mother wheel’ in space, where he was told that Fard, Jesus and other religious figures, who of course were all Black, are alive and well on Venus and directing the war against Whites. The Nation of Islam are also Black separatists, who want their own, Blacks-only state carved out of America. There’s been controversy about them in Britain. Back in 1980s Bernie Grant invited Farrakhan to come to Britain, despite the fact that Farrakhan despises the welfare state. Grant tried to excuse himself by saying that he regarded Farrakhan as an ‘elder statesman’ and didn’t endorse all his views.

The Nation of Islam, as far as I know, isn’t involved with Black History Month, or at least, not in any official capacity. But there clearly is a danger in that some of the organisations that want to be involved clearly do have very racist views. These should no more be tolerated than White Fascists.

MechaRandom on Israeli Space General’s Claim that the Aliens Really Are Here

December 9, 2020

Here’s a piece about Israel, which doesn’t involve them maltreating the Palestinians. But are they really in touch, along with the US, with beings from another planet?

MechaRandom42 is a vlogger, who talks about SF/Fantasy film, TV and comics, especially Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who. She’s very critical about recent treatment of these classic series and film franchises, which she and many other fans believe have been ruined for explicitly ideological reasons. For example, popular, long-standing male characters in her view have been deliberately humiliated and undermined in order to give centre stage to poorly written and unlikeable female characters in order to preach an explicit and simplistic feminist message. At the same time gay and trans characters are also included in popular film franchises and TV series, like Batwoman, but the treatment given them is also simplistic. It’s tokenism, and this forced diversity comes at the expense of creating genuinely well-crafted, popular characters or intelligent, coherent and involving plots and stories. She’s also critical of recent Star Trek series, like Star Trek Picard, for abandoning the utopian optimism of previous series, like Classic Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and so forth, for a darker, dystopian future that’s robbed the series of its soul and reduced it to a generic SF show which just uses the settings and characters of Trek. She also laments the series’ decline in their ability to treat issues like racism, sexism and gayness. Previous series of Trek did so intelligently and from the perspective that humanity had already transcended these problems. The series often had an explicit message, but it took the trouble to explain them to the audience and didn’t patronise or insult them if they disagreed. Now their treatment is much cruder, reasoned argument is replaced by shrill preaching and there’s an underlying attitude that everyone who disagrees with the message must be an ‘-ist’ or a ‘-phobe’. This has resulted in these once popular film franchises, TV series and comics losing viewers and readers. And it’s one of the reasons the last series of Dr. Who catastrophically lost viewers.

It’s a controversial view, but one shared by a number of other Youtubers and fans of these genres. Some of this criticism comes from people on the political right, but it has also been expressed by peeps on the other side of the political spectrum. They argue that there have always been a concern with these issues in popular entertainment, and that there hasn’t been a shortage of strong female characters in SF. The Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley is a classic example. The problem is that these issues aren’t being intelligently handled, but instead have been taken over by creators who are ideologically intolerant and seem intent on alienating their audience rather than winning them other.

In this video, however, she moves away from this to discuss the claims of Haim Eshad, a retired Israeli general, professor and former head of their Space Security Force, that the US and Israel really have made contact with aliens. According to the Jerusalem Post, citing another Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, the two countries have made contact with the Galactic Federation, and they’re operating an underground base on Mars jointly with the aliens. Donald Trump was on the verge of announcing the extraterrestrial presence on Earth, but was stopped from doing so. The aliens don’t which to cause mass panic, and believe we are not ready for them just yet. He’s also got a book coming out, which he says contains more details and evidence.

MechaRandom compares this with the Star Trek universe and its theme of whether humanity is sufficiently evolved to meet aliens. She believes that we aren’t, and that this is due to the way society has dumbed down so we don’t use our ability to do Maths. This is the area we need to be concentrating on, in her opinion, if we are to meet aliens. She also wonders whether the retired military gentleman really is telling the truth, or if he’s ‘a crazy old guy’. He’s 87.

Aliens & The Galactic Federation Are Real For Reals This Time? – YouTube

To people with more than a superficial knowledge of Ufolore, this is very familiar stuff. Ever since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of them over the Rockies in the 1947, there have been tales of secret government pacts with aliens, underground bases and so on. And there have been a string of Contactees, like George Adamski, who claimed that they had personally made contact with aliens, who had given them a message for humanity. These aliens also claimed to come from some kind of galactic or interplanetary federation, and their messages reflected the pressing global concerns of the day. In the 1950s this was the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s and 1990s this was the threat to the environment, mirroring the rise of the Green movement. Whole religions have been built on such claimed contact, like the Raelians, UNARIUS and the Aetherius Society. This was set up in the 1950s by taxi driver George King, who heard a voice in his kitchen one day telling him that he should ‘prepare to be the voice of interplanetary parliament’. The Society claimed that King was in touch with an alien, Aetherius, on Venus, where Jesus was also alive and well, as well as Mars Sector 6.

There have been rumours of underground bases since at least the 1980s, as well as various newspaper and magazine articles and books written by government or military officials like Donald Keyhoe, Nick Pope, and the pseudonymous ‘Commander X’. The British hoax TV programme, Alternative 3, broadcast in the 1970s as an April Fool’s joke, also claimed that the Americans and Russians were secretly operating bases on the Moon and Mars, to which people were being kidnapped for use as slave labour in the event of global environmental collapse and the extinction of terrestrial humanity.

There are also stories that President Truman made contact with aliens when they landed at Holloman AFB in the ’40s or ’50s. JFK is also supposed to have been about to reveal the truth about the aliens, which is why he was assassinated. Ronald Reagan is also supposed to have been privy to this information, as shown by his remark to Steven Spielberg during a screening of ET at the White House: ‘Only five people in this room know how true all this is’.

You get the picture. Nothing Eshad has said, at least according to the Jerusalem Post article, is original. If anything, it’s curiously dated. The Contactee Howard Menger claimed to have seen Americans and Russians cooperating together on a secret base on the Moon when the space brothers took him there on one of his extraterrestrial jaunts. Menger was not a military man, but a barber. Hence the title of one of his books was Hairdresser to the Space People, or something like it.

Is Eshad telling the truth, or is he deluded or actually lying? My guess it’s one of the last two. Age and the pressures of holding such a senior command in the tense, war-torn Middle East could have taken their toll on the old boy’s mental health. It might also be that he may have personally had some kind of UFO sighting or experience, like some of the US astronauts. Or had UFO reports from the service personnel under him passed up for his comments. Researching the subject, he’s come across all the tall tales and rumours, and managed to convince himself they’re true.

On the other hand, he could very well be spinning yarns himself. He could be telling these stories as some kind of personal joke and to make a buck on the side from the sales of his forthcoming book. Or there may be something far more sinister going on here. There’s a large amount of evidence that the US intelligence agencies have been deliberately spreading disinformation about alien contact, crashed spacecraft and secret underground bases for their own purposes. Some of this might be destabilise the UFO community, which they have often viewed as a security threat because of the interest taken in secret aircraft and the air force and other bases, which are supposed to hide alien spacecraft and bodies. Some UFO sightings have been of American spy planes. These were often flown from US airbases in Britain and elsewhere, but were so secret that the Americans didn’t tell their allies in the host nations. It might be that Eshad is telling these tales of alien contact in order to have everyone looking in the wrong direction and so ignoring something that his country is really doing in space. At present the militarisation of space is banned under international law. Trump wants to break this and set up an American Space Force. Perhaps Israel is considering doing the same, but wants everyone to disregard it on the grounds that people think that what they’ve seen are alien spacecraft, and only nutters believe in UFOs and aliens.

And you could go on speculating. We really don’t know he’s telling these stories about secret contact with aliens, and can only guess at his motives. But I’m certain that aliens aren’t here, that Trump wasn’t going to spill the beans about them and that there definitely isn’t a secret US-alien base on Mars.

Have Astronomers Found Traces of Life on Venus?

September 19, 2020

The big story on Tuesday was that astronomers had discovered traces of a gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The gas is produced by living organisms, and so it’s discovery naturally leads to the possibility that the second planet from the Sun may be the abode of life.

The I’s edition for 15th September 2020 reported the discovery in an article by David Woods entitled, ‘Forget Mars, a startling discovery may mean there’s life on Venus’. This ran

Alien life could be thriving in the clouds above Venus: a team of astronomers detected a rare gas in its atmosphere, according to a study involving British researchers.

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has a surface temperature of 500o C, and 96 per cent of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide. But the discovery of phosphine, around 31 miles (50Km) from the planet’s surface, has indicated that life could prosper in a less hostile environment.

On Earth phosphine – a molecule of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms – is associated with life. It is found in places that have little oxygen, such as swamps, or with microbes living in the guts of animals.

A group of British, American and Japanese scientists – led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University – first identified Venus’s phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The presence of the gas was confirmed at an astronomical observatory of 45 telescopes in Chile. The discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Professor Greaves said: “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock.” Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, a Royal Greenwich Observatory astronomer, who was part of the research team, added: “This was an incredibly difficult observation to make. We still have a long way to go before we can confirm how this gas is being produced but it is definitely an exciting time for science.”

The team is now awaiting more telescope time to establish whether the phosphine is in a particular part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. While the clouds above Venus have temperatures of around 30oC, they are made from 90 per cent sulphuric acid – a major issue for the survival of microbes.

Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, has called for a new mission to Venus to investigate the findings.

This reminds me somewhat of the excitement in the 1990s when scientists announced that they may have discovered microfossils of Martian bacteria in a meteorite from the Red Planet found in Antarctica. The above article was accompanied by another piece by Woods, ‘Nothing found since claims awed Clinton’, which described how former president Clinton had made an official announcement about the possibility of life on Mars when the putative microfossils were found. The article states that confirmation that these are indeed fossils is lacking. It also notes that 4,000 exoplanets have also now been found, and that some of them may have life, but this has also not been confirmed. Astronomers have also been searching the skies for radio messages from alien civilisations, but these haven’t been found either.

Dr Colin Pillinger, the head of the ill-fated Beagle Project, a British probe to the Red Planet, also argued that there was life there as traces of methane had been found. This looked like it had been produced by biological processes. In a talk he gave at the Cheltenham Festival of Science one year, he said that if a Martian farted, they’d find it.

A few years ago I also submitted a piece to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that there might be life in Venus’ clouds. It was based on the presence of organic chemicals there, rather similar, I felt, to those on Saturn’s moon, Titan, which at one time was also considered a possible home of alien life. I got a letter stating that the Journal was going to run it, but in the end they didn’t. I think it may have been because another, professional astronomer published an article about it just prior to the proposed publication of my piece. I think I threw out the Journal’s letter years ago while clearing out the house, and so I don’t have any proof of my claim. Which is obviously disappointing, and you’ll have to take what I say on trust.

The possibility that there’s life on Venus is interesting, and undoubtedly important in its implications for the existence of life elsewhere in the cosmos if true. But I think that, like the Martian microfossils, there isn’t going to be any confirmation for a very long time.