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Space Colonization Is A Capitalist Perception Management Op

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/05/2021 - 11:39pm in

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The world’s two wealthiest people are fighting over the moon, which just says so much about where our species is at right now.

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a dispute with NASA over whose private space exploration corporation will get the $2.9 billion US government contract to return to the moon. I gleaned this annoying piece of information by way of an obnoxiously sycophantic Atlantic puff piece titled “Elon Musk Is Maybe, Actually, Strangely, Going to Do This Mars Thing”, subtitled “From his private Cape Canaveral, the billionaire is manifesting his own interplanetary reality — whatever the cost.”

The mainstream press cannot get enough of these two unfathomably wealthy plutocrats and their outspoken ambition to colonize space, with Musk advocating Mars colonization and Bezos preferring to ship us all offworld to live in giant Amazon space tubes. They love it for the same reason they love war and status quo politicians: it fits in beautifully with the capitalist world order.

Space colonization is largely a capitalist perception management op promoted by the likes of Musk and Bezos to strengthen the narrative that it’s okay to continue the world-raping global capitalist principle of infinite growth on a finite world because we can escape the catastrophic ecological consequences of that paradigm by fleeing to space.

“Ecocidal capitalism is fine, we’ll just go to space before it kills us!” is the message we’re all meant to absorb. And too many do. A large obstacle to waking people up to the existential crises we are facing as a species is the blind faith that technology will save us from the consequences of our mass-scale behavior, and therefore we don’t need to change. Which suits the world’s richest men perfectly.

But it’s a lie. Humanity will never colonize space. We are not separate or separable from this planet in that way.

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People believe we can just snip humans out of their ecosystemic context to colonize space for the same reason they believe in rugged individualism: they don’t grasp how inseparably interconnected each human is. With our ecosystem, and with our society. Separation is an illusion.

We are not separable from our ecosystem. We are our ecosystem. We’re so inseparably one with our ecosystem that we need to send astronauts into space with a little box full of it or they’ll die. Thinking a human can be snipped out of its ecosystemic context and permanently transported across the desert of space is like thinking you can snip a ripple out of a pond and place that ripple in a teacup on the other side of the world. The ripple is the pond. It’s not separate.

We know how to build rockets, and how to keep a human alive in space for a short time as long as they bring part of their ecosystem with them, but there’s no scientific evidence that we can live separately from our ecosystem, and we’ve barely begun exploring our ignorance here.

Many imagine we’ll have people living independently of Earth’s ecosystem within the next century or two, but there’s literally no basis for this assumption; we essentially know as much about how to keep a human being alive apart from Earth’s ecosystem as we knew ten thousand years ago. Our Biosphere attempts to create a closed-Earth system were as clueless and silly as monkeys poking around at a supercomputer, and that was right here on our home planet.

The myriad ways in which we are connected with the ecosystemic context in which we evolved boggle the mind. Science is barely even beginning to explore those connections. There are tons we know about, but that’s just scratching the surface. We don’t know how much we don’t know. We’re only barely beginning to understand our own gut bacteria, and how those mini-ecosystems relate to our health. Those mini-ecosystems have their own relationships with our greater ecosystem. We know next to nothing about any of this. Most of the picture is missing.

And Elon says he’s going to ship humans to live on Mars?? What, because we have the technology to get there? Our bodies might get there, sure, but the whole staying alive part is a riddle that science is not even the tiniest fraction of a percentile close to solving.

Musk likes to argue that we must become a “multi-planetary species” because if an asteroid strikes Earth or we wipe ourselves out in a nuclear war, that’s it for our species. Our survival as a species, he argues, depends on colonizing other planets.

This is false and toxic thinking, because it will not happen. Our survival does not depend on our becoming a multi-planetary species, our survival depends on collectively waking up and learning to collaborate with each other and with our ecosystem. We’ve got an infinitely better chance of developing the technology to deal with an asteroid than we do of developing technology that will allow us to colonize space, and if we can transcend our self-destructive patterning the threat of nuclear war will be neutralized by our no longer being crazy enough to keep weapons around that make it a possibility.

Some argue for the possibility of terraforming planets like Mars to give them Earth-like ecosystems, but terraforming runs into the same problem: not just humans but all organisms are dependent on Earth’s ecosystem for survival. You couldn’t begin creating an Earth-like ecosystem without snipping out all the organisms which give rise to it. This can’t be done. A tree can’t be snipped out of its unfathomably interconnected ecosystemic context any more than a human can. To terraform you need trees and a near-infinity of other ecosystemic building blocks, none of which are separable from their terrestrial ecosystemic context.

We’re just going to have to make this Earth thing work. People assume space colonization is part of our future primarily because science fiction takes this as a given. But science fiction is just that: fiction, written to entertain and appeal to the same ego which imagines it is separate from the rest of the world. It’s an illusory premise.

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We’re not going to rocket ship our way out of this mess. We’re not going to be able to keep doing things the way we are doing them. The “growth for its own sake” ideology that Musk and Bezos have dedicated their lives to embodying is, as Edward Abbey put it, the ideology of a cancer cell. Such an ideology is unsustainable. We’re going to have to change.

“I must change” is always the first possibility that an ego rules out when evaluating a dilemma, and it’s the same ego which says we are separate individuals, and it’s the same ego which created our dilemma in the first place. But we must change. We must transcend the ego.

That’s always the last thing anyone wants to hear, that we need to change, but it’s true. We’ll either collectively change our minds in a way that enables us to drastically shift the way we operate on this planet, or we’ll go extinct. It is evolve or die time. We’ll either make it or we won’t.

Space will not save us, and we will never colonize it. We can explore space, but it will be done via satellites and other tech, not by living organisms. Our astronauts have up until this point been nothing more than glorified scuba divers, entirely dependent on boxes of Earth’s ecosystem, no more independent from that ecosystem than someone holding their breath. This will remain the case.

Hell, forget colonizing space, try colonizing part of the Sahara Desert. Get everything you need, then seal yourselves in a bubble completely separate from the rest of the ecosystem. Even on Earth, with many of the terrestrial connection factors still intact, you will fail relatively quickly.

Such a project isn’t even on Musk’s radar, which shows his pet space project is really about making money and justifying an economic/political paradigm which will necessarily destroy our ecosystem. It’s justifying his cancer cell ideology, proving Robert Heinlein correct when he said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”

They work to make it appear that we’ve got some other option than to end our ecocidal trajectory and all the systems which feed into it, because otherwise it just looks like they’re a bunch of psychopaths burning an entire world and throwing its ashes into a gaping hole their hearts that can never be filled. If space colonization isn’t possible, then the people who are destroying our environment for money are just deranged lunatics who must be stopped at all cost.

But they are. And we must.

This is our home. It is our only home. I really, really wish we could stop treating it like a womb we plan on leaving or our parents’ house we plan on moving out of. There is nowhere else to go. This is it.

The earth is not some temporary transit station. We are the earth. We are inseparable from it. We are all indigenous terrestrials. We need to stop trying to move out, and start moving in.

It’s so, so beautiful here. We should be willing to change to keep it alive, like we would if a loved one’s life depended on our changing our behavior. Because that really is the case. I hope we see this before it’s too late.


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Grim Jim on the Role-Playing Games Based on the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/05/2021 - 9:20pm in

The Terran Trade Authority handbooks were a series of SF art books by Stuart Cowley published in the late ’70s and early ’80s beginning with Spacecraft 2000-2100. Cowley took various paintings of spacecraft, published originally as covers for paperback SF novels, and turned them into a future history and typology of these fictional spacecraft. I’ve only got the first book, Spacecraft 2000-2100, but I think there were others on space wrecks, star liners and great space battles. The books were the fictional publications of a future governmental organisation, the Terran Trade Authority, and its subsidiary, the Terran Defence Authority, which regulated trade between Earth and the other planets and civilisations, as well as providing for the planet’s defence. In this future, humanity was only just expanding into interstellar space, but had encountered two nearby alien civilisations on Proxima and Alpha Centauri. These aliens were markedly similar to humans, although not so similar that their ships didn’t need modification for human use. These similarities were so strong that there was speculation about a deep kinship or common origin for the three different species.

I came across the book when I was on holiday and was really blown away by the art. This was by such great SF artists as Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Bob Layzell and others. And even now, about forty years later, the books are fondly remembered by SF fans. What I didn’t know is that they also spawned two Role-Playing Games set in their fictional universe, one published by Morrigan Press.

I found this video by Grim Jim, a game designer, who’s also a fan of these great books. Here he talks about the RPGs, which unfortunately failed to make much of an impact. According to him, the Morrigan RPG gamebook has been long out of print. If you want to play it, you’re therefore reduced to either finding a second hand copy somewhere, or pirating it. Normally he wouldn’t recommend the latter, but this is really the only option for people who want to play it. He talks about the mechanisms of the game system used, which seems to have been a generic game system. For some reason the book replaced the awesome paintings of the original TTA handbooks with computer art. This is fine, but doesn’t have the paintings’ quality. G J speculates that Morrigan may have had to use computer art because of problems over the copyright for the paintings. It seems that by the time Morrigan published the book, the copyright had reverted back to Cowley.

I’m not really into games, but a number of my friends are very much into RPGs, like the classic Dungeons and Dragons and so on. One of these is Traveller, an SF game which I think came out in the 1970s a few years before the TTA handbooks and the games based on them. People are still putting up videos on YouTube about the TTA books and their spaceships, including one which recreated them zooming through space through CGI. This isn’t politics, but I thought people would enjoy this video about a great piece of SF art and literature.

1980’s Book Discussing the Future Militarisation of Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/03/2021 - 10:00pm in

One of former president Donald Trump’s controversial decisions has been to propose the establishment of an American military space force. As with just about every stupid decision the orange buffoon made, this caused immediate controversy. It breaks the current international agreement banning the militarisation of space and threatens a new arms race, increasing international tension and the possibility of real war. Which could result in the nuclear annihilation of humanity and the reduction of our beautiful, blue-green planet to a smouldering atomic cinder.

But The Donald’s proposal was hardly new. Congress and the US military discussed the possible establishment of a space force over thirty years previously. These discussions had been accompanied by the publication of a book, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, by John M. Collins (Washington: Pergamon-Brasseys 1989). The book was published to help congressional representatives understand the issues. It also gives a fascinating insight in what American politicians and military staff considered might happen in this new area of human combat over the following half century. The book’s blurb runs

‘The latest from renowned defense authority John M. Collins, Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years was requested by key U.S. congressmen to help them and the White House evaluate and understand future space issues. This is the foundation document upon which future U.S. space policy will be based.

Concentrating on the Earth-Moon system, Military Space Forces has four purposes:

  • To describe space as a distinctive military medium.
  • To describe military space planning and programming, with particular concern for problems and options.
  • To compare present and projected U.S.-Soviet military space postures.
  • To indicate courses of action that might improve U.S. military space posture at sensible costs.

All appraisals are based on present technologies and predicted improvements during the next 25 to 50 years. Designed as a tool to help Washington blend military space capabilities with land, sea, and air power in ways that best assure U.S. security-without avoidable destabilization or waste of time and resources-Military Space Forces also clarifies the complex technology and issues facing military space planners today. This pathfinding new book provides any citizen an essential frame of reference with the nation’s future role in space.’

Among the issues discussed are military strategies, doctrines and tactics in space, and the development of space forces themselves. This includes their military infrastructure on the High Frontier, military space industries, military space installations, deployable space forces, R&D requirements and contributory science and technologies.

The book includes two sets of recommendations. One is a set of nonprovocative actions intended to strengthen deterrence and improve American combat capability in the event deterrence fails. These are:

  1. Develop comprehensive military space doctrines applicable to the total Earth-Moon system.
  2. Integrate military space more effectively into U.S. national security strategies.
  3. Emphasise verifiable arms control to confine threats.
  4. Reduce Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps dependency on space support by cross-training to preserve traditional skills such as communications and navigation.
  5. Embellish basic research to multiply serendipitous results that might benefit military space programmes.
  6. Employ technological expertise to produce first-class systems at acceptable cost.
  7. Improve passive defences for selected military space installations and vehicles, with particular attention to innovative hardening and deception.

These are all low cost options. Far more expensive are those in the second list, which suggested

  1. Survivable launch, recovery, and C3 infrastructure.
  2. Heavy lift boosters.
  3. National Aerospace Planes (NASP) able to breach the atmospheric barrier easily and maneuver in space.
  4. Reasonable redundancy and reconstitutions capabilities for essential military space systems.
  5. Anti-satellite systems.,
  6. Active onboard defences for military support satellites on a case-by-case-basis.
  7. Land-and space-based SDI systems.

The book concludes with this paragraph

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, at a March 1974 press conference in Moscow, asked, “What in God’s name is strategic superiority?” It may be unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants, and its entire contents. If so, possessors of that vantage position could overpower every opponent. They might, in fact, impose their will without fighting, a feat that Sun Tzu called “the acme of skill” 25 centuries ago. U.S. military space forces therefore need means to forestall strategic surprise from space and respond successfully, unless best case estimates prove correct as events unfold.

The book’s clearly a product of the Reagan era and his wretched ‘Star Wars’ programme. Among the weapons and installations the book discusses is a six-man lunar base, space-based railguns, which use electromagnets to propel missiles to colossal speeds, and space based lasers. I don’t know how dated the book and its predictions are. It considers the threat of electromagnetic pulses generated from nuclear explosions high in the atmosphere above targets disrupting computers and other electronic systems, but I think that threat might have been overcome.

Whatever the reality is today, it shows that Trump’s demand for a space force follows decades of debate within the American military and political establishment.

Spaceship Earth and the Alien Economy: More than a Metaphor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/03/2021 - 4:53am in
By James MacGregor Palmer

“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil.” (Image: Pixabay License, Credit: Ray Shrewsberry)

The year was 1965, and on the morning of July 9 in Geneva, Adlai Ewing Stevenson II prepared for his final speech to the United Nations. A former Governor of Illinois and presidential candidate, what he was about to say might still become his greatest contribution. But we’re in danger of forgetting it.

What Adlai Stevenson proffered the world that day was a metaphor. A simple yet powerful idea that, over fifty years later, we need more desperately than ever.

The world has changed since the 1960s. Neoliberalism arrived in full force in the ‘70s and only sunk its claws deeper into our society since. We live in a technologically advanced, globalized world. We are more interconnected than ever, keeping in touch with our loved ones on our phones and laptops whilst physically separated by a virus that went global in the blink of an eye.

As technology has removed our limitations, streamlining our communication, travel and consumption, it has become increasingly easy for us to forget our one great, insurmountable limitation: We’re mere travelers on Spaceship Earth. A ball of rock, that is, floating through space, with 7.6 billion of us aboard. In our globalized world, however, the economy has grown into something “other,” detached from the reality of our limited existence. We have alienated our economy, untethering it from a consciousness of limits, feeding it constantly to fuel its endless appetite. In doing so, we’ve created an alien that no longer comes in peace.

Adlai Stevenson and the Spaceship Earth

Adlai Stevenson: Let his metaphor not be forgotten. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0, Credit: Carl Albert Center)

“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave—to the ancient enemies of man—half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.” – Adlai Stevenson

This was Stevenson’s metaphor–the Spaceship Earth. In truth, he was not the first to come up with it. The first mention of Earth as a ship travelling through space appears way back in 1879 in Henry George’s book Progress and Poverty. The idea even makes an appearance in George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. But in 1965, four years after Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space and four before Neil Armstrong became the first to walk on the moon, the image had a new resonance.

Buoyed by the cultural significance imbued upon it by the space age, the Spaceship Earth worldview gained further traction as the decade wore on. The year after Stevenson’s speech, the economist Kenneth E. Boulding released an essay entitled The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.  In 1968, the author R. Buckminster Fuller released his book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Both helped popularize the idea. Sadly, since then it has been largely forgotten outside the field of ecological economics.

The Alien Economy

Though the Spaceship Earth metaphor is inextricable from the historical context that produced it, it has even more relevance today. Since the 1960s, ‘the economy’ has slowly become more and more divorced from reality. This process of alienation has led us to a point where endless growth seems not only possible, but a desirable outcome. We have convinced ourselves that we can create something out of nothing. The Spaceship Earth metaphor helps us remember that we cannot.

Like the famous ‘blue marble moment’, Spaceship Earth provides us with a visualization of an uncomfortable but necessary truth: Earth is finite. We are terrifyingly dependent on our natural, exhaustible resources. In fact, part of the appeal of the growth-at-all-costs mindset is that it gives us a false sense of security. We don’t have to confront our ecological problems if we believe that those problems are in service of something greater: economic growth. In accepting this ideology, we passively accept the principles of trickle-down economics, believing that—whatever the evidence to the contrary—the benefits of growth will somehow find their way to us eventually.

What is the nature of this economic alien? (Image: Pixabay License, Credit: klebesonfra42)

In this way, we have allowed ‘the economy’ to become its own separate entity because we are taught through the hegemonic actors in government, fossil fuel industry, and the media that a larger economy does in fact serve our interests. But the Spaceship Earth reveals that this is untrue. In its terms, the pursuit of economic growth is burning our fuel at ever greater rates. One day we will run out. It is an uncomfortable truth, but also an unavoidable one. The sooner we confront it the better.

Uncomfortable truths are difficult to communicate, however. It is hard to convince people of something they don’t want to hear. That is why, in my opinion, visual tools, metaphors, narratives, stories are so important for steady staters. Facts often don’t land if they tell us something we don’t want to acknowledge. But images and stories get stuck in our heads. They worm their way into our subconscious and take hold. The story that we can go on using up our natural resources forever in the service of an alienated economy is nothing more than a fairytale, but it has become so deeply embedded that it is hard not to accept as gospel. We have to find new images, new narratives that frame our planet in a different way. The Spaceship Earth did that in a way that was new, exciting and culturally relevant. The challenge is all the more pressing now to find a 21st century equivalent.

As R. Buckminster Fuller begins Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth:

“If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.”

We cannot continue to cling to the “piano top” of economic growth. It has solved problems in the past, but in today’s Western economies, it cannot continue to. The pursuit of growth blinds us to the environmental damage it causes. The anthropogenic climate crisis is a problem that cannot be solved by growth. Indeed, continued growth will only make it worse. That means we need a different solution. And that solution is the steady state economy.

Adlai Stevenson’s notion of the Spaceship Earth may have been a product of its time, but its lesson is even more urgent today. We are merely passengers, aboard a ship that has everything we need in abundance. The biggest threat to our voyage is greed.

The post Spaceship Earth and the Alien Economy: More than a Metaphor appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Model-Maker Bill Pearson Talks About His Work on Blake’s 7

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/02/2021 - 5:56am in

This is another video from the film about the work of the talented peeps behind the models and miniatures used in some of the classic SF films and TV shows, A Sense of Scale. In this short video of about 4 mins in length, the late Bill Pearson talks about his work on the Beeb’s cult SF series, Blake’s 7. He describes the series as the Magnificent 7 in space, and says that the heroes were all bad guys, but not as bad as the people they were fighting against. They were anti-heroes. It’s a fair description, as the heroes were nearly all convicted criminals – Vila was a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon an embezzler, Gan a murderer, while Blake was a democratic agitator, a political criminal against the totalitarian, fascistic Federation, who were the real bad guys. Cally, a freedom-fighter from the planet Auron, was the only one who hadn’t been arrested, sentenced and convicted by the Federation she was pledged to overthrow.

Pearson says he was persuaded to join the effects team as he was told it was going to be wonderful and big budget, which it never was. He was recruited to the series as he had impressed the Beeb’s head of special effects with what he had been doing at college, and started work at the Corporation with a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. He was on Blake’s 7 from the start and did most of the spaceships in the last series. He says there were very little miniatures. There were a couple of hero ships, but they’d been built by the time he joined the SFX crew. The London, the ship used in the first episode, ‘The Way Back’, to transport Blake and his future crew to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha, had already been made by an outside company. Other model-makers on the series included Martin Bower, who also worked on Space 1999 and the film Outland, and who worked on a couple of models of the heroes’ ships, the Liberator. There, and I thought the effects were all done by Matt Irvine and Mike Kelt. He only got involved with the miniatures in the final series. Pearson says that he’s notorious on the internet for making the gun that Avon uses to kill Blake in the very last episode. This, he says, is still around and getting more appreciation. I think here he’s referring to the series, rather than the weapon, as it’s just after that he talks of Blake and his crew as being bad guys and anti-heroes.

Pearson states that model-making for the screen isn’t as glamorous people think. One of the downsides is unemployment and there are many special effects firms now going bankrupt. However, it is the closest we’re going to get to immortality at the moment. A century from now someone’s going to pick up a packet of cereal and get a free 4D recording of Alien, put it in their viewer, and see his work and his name on the credits. And that’s pretty cool. The video also includes stills of Pearson working on some of the models used in the series and on Alien along with the interview.

BLAKE´S 7 (TV) miniature effects – YouTube

Pearson gave the interview in 2012, and the state of the effects industry may have changed somewhat since then, but I don’t doubt that CGI has had a devastating effect on the use of practical effects in movies and television, although they’re still used to a certain extent.

Blake’s 7 was made over forty years ago and was low budget SF. Matt Irvine said once that the money spent on one effect in the cinema was far in excess of what they had to spend on the series. But the show had memorable characters, great actors and some excellent stories. The effects work varied in quality, but the main spaceships, the Liberator and the Scorpio, looked good, as did the three sentient computers in the show, Zen, Slave and Orac. Blake’s 7 is, along with Dr. Who, Thunderbirds and Space 1999, a classic of British SF television and still retains a cult following all these decades later.

Philosophers On Space Exploration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/02/2021 - 1:23am in

Last week, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) landed its rover, Perserverance, on Mars. It is the latest in a series of human efforts now spanning six decades to physically explore and travel to parts of the the universe beyond our terrestrial home. Scientific and engineering matters tend to dominate public discussion of these efforts, yet there are a wide range of philosophical questions about space exploration, too, and philosophers have been working on them.

“Philosophy of Space is in much the same position as Philosophy of Biology was in the 1980’s—largely ignored by traditionalists, but with enormous potential for new and exciting work.” Those are the words of Kelly C. Smith, professor of philosophy at Clemson University, who works on philosophical issues surrounding the search for life on other planets. Philosophy of space involves such fascinating issues, yet, like space itself, is relatively unexplored by humans.

[Val Britton, “Satellite” (detail)]

So I asked Professor Smith to put together an edition of “Philosophers On” to introduce readers to some of these issues. I’m grateful to him for organizing and editing this post, which includes contributions from him, Brian Patrick Green (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University), Chelsea Haramia (Philosophy, Spring Hill College), Carlos Mariscal (Philosophy, University of Nevada, Reno), and  Jim Schwartz (Philosophy, Wichita State University).

As with previous “Philosophers On” posts, the contributions are intended not as comprehensive statements or final words, but rather as brief prompts to further discussion of the issues here and elsewhere. The idea is to explore ways philosophers can add to public conversations about topics of current interest, as well as spur further discussion among philosophers about these events. As Professor Kelly says below, he hopes the post will “pique the interest of the wider philosophical community and inspire more to examine the many questions raised by the coming space age.”


Discussion welcome.

Philosophy of Space Reaches Puberty
by Kelly C. Smith

Humanity stands at the brink of the space age. Of course, this was also said in the 1960’s, but then it was more an expression of enthusiasm for our very first steps into space. The frenetic pace of missions, discoveries, and new technologies in recent years mark the end of this beginning and the start of…something, we know not what. Consider a few landmark achievements in just in the last few years:

  • Discovery of the first “exoplanet”, which now tops a list of over 4,400 (some potentially habitable)
  • The discovery of an asteroid estimated to be worth 10,000 quadrillion dollars
  • Solid evidence of liquid water (thought to be critical for life) on several bodies in our own solar system
  • The first paying tourist in space
  • The germination of the first terrestrial plant on, as well as the first major biological contamination of, another world
  • The departure of the first human probe (Voyager I) from humanity’s home system, with greetings from Earth on its “golden record”

This is not your parents’ space race. In particular, as the price of admission continues to drop, we will see more and more involvement by private individuals with their own agendas. For example, a Russian billionaire is funding a series of projects, including a “Starshotmission to our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri (which appears to contain habitable planets). The Interstellar Beacon Project aims to beam the contents of Wikipedia to thousands of potentially inhabited systems and is funded by a mere millionaire.  This activity is almost entirely unregulated, raising the very real possibility of a “wild west” in space.

Of course, the most philosophically explosive development would be the discovery of extraterrestrial life (ETL). NASA currently predicts that we will find evidence of ETL within the next few years, which would surely rank as the most important scientific discovery ever made. The array of complex social, ethical, and conceptual questions this would raise is enormous, though curiously there has been little sustained investigation by the wider academic community. There are, of course, good reasons for caution. Astrobiology at present has an ineliminable speculative element, since it has as of yet no alien organisms to study. But there are many questions about our future in space which, though raised in radically new contexts, are amenable to traditional humanistic analysis right now (e.g., environmental ethics, property rights, etc.).

And even questions about ETL that lack the kind of empirical basis we prefer do not lack strong theoretical underpinnings. The famous Drake equation frames the likelihood of ETL in scientifically tractable terms, and a recent calculation suggests that it is vanishingly unlikely terrestrial life is unique. This should not be surprising, given the evolutionary view of life as a natural outgrowth of chemistry and the ubiquity of all the necessary ingredients (see Mariscal’s post in this series). The force of the theoretical argument is not always fully appreciated, so let’s assume for a moment that life were unique to Earth. That would mean a huge chunk of our current scientific understanding is not just wrong, but fundamentally wrong. It would also force us to reassess many aspects of how we see ourselves that we have long taken for granted. For example, is there really a meaningful distinction between saying life evolved via natural processes, but only once (despite trillions upon trillions of inviting opportunities) and saying it’s a miracle?

To be sure, it’s especially important for new scholarly endeavors to impose limits on speculation and uphold rigorous standards. One major problem astrobiology faces is the inevitable comparison to the UFO craze. The basic problem with “Ufology” is that it begs the question by starting with the belief it purports to establish (that aliens not only exist, but regularly visit Earth). However, it’s important to keep firmly in mind that there is absolutely nothing unscientific about hypotheses involving aliens when these are consistent with the best available evidence, as may be the case with the Oumuamua object. In other words, we should be wary of being overly credulous, but also of adopting a cramped empiricism which refuses to seriously consider the possibility of ETL until the evidence is irrefutable.

The purpose of this series is to pique the interest of the wider philosophical community and inspire more to examine the many questions raised by the coming space age. If we are to avoid a dystopian future, we need to begin thinking about these issues now, before they are reified in established practice (much as ELSI did with genetic technology). I submit that Philosophy of Space is in much the same position as Philosophy of Biology was in the 1980’s—largely ignored by traditionalists, but with enormous potential for new and exciting work. The reward for first adopters is a seat at the table as an entirely new field is being shaped. It was with an eye toward establishing a supportive community for this work that the Society for Social and Conceptual Issues in Astrobiology (SSoCIA) was founded in 2016, which has since held three international conferences and grown to include over 100 scholars from a wide range of disciplines. If you are interested in joining our intrepid band, I invite you to look at our most recent conference proceedings and join our listserv.

Ethics in Space
by Brian Patrick Green

There is some urgency in the area of space ethics, and the work of SpaceX corporation is instructive: Elon Musk is proceeding to Mars as fast as he can, for the sake of preserving a “backup” for humanity in case an existential risk destroys human civilization on Earth. Ethics should keep up with—or preferably stay ahead of—this rapidly developing area of scientific and technological advance, or else humankind risks blundering into enormous and irreversible mistakes. Here I will give a brief overview of a few ethical issues related to space.

The first ethical issue is whether humans ought to go into space at all. There are plenty of arguments against human space exploration in particular, e.g., the cost of it, the well-known risks to human life and health, and the justice of using funds for space and not for other more immediate problems here on Earth. The arguments in favor of exploring space involve developing science and technology (and indeed space exploration has already resulted in incredible gains in knowledge and technology as well, such as GPS), preserving the human species (and other Earth life) off-planet in case of existential disaster, and seeking human purpose in the cosmos. But we have to ask, ethically, is it worth it?

Another set of ethical issues involve the military value of space. Militarily, space is the “ultimate high ground” (“Semper Supra” or “Always Above” is the motto of the new US Space Force), and makes for a tempting location for weapons platforms and weapons of mass destruction. While these are banned by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the temptation to do it anyway may strengthen over time.

Certainly ground-based weapons are already targeting satellites for destruction, and even a limited space war in low Earth orbit could quickly lead to a debris cascade. Orbital debris is already increasing over time, and if it reaches a certain threshold, it will spark an exponentially growing process—the “Kessler Syndrome”—which could make space inaccessible from Earth. Indeed, we may already be at the beginning of such a cascade and not yet recognize it. Outer space is a new space for environmental ethics, and the unfolding tragedy of the commons a few hundred miles over our heads should be solved sooner rather than later.

There are several types of civilization-threatening space-borne disasters including asteroid and comet impacts, coronal mass ejections causing geomagnetic storms, and supernovae and gamma ray bursts. Mitigating these threats is possible but complicated. For example, given enough time to prepare, humanity might now be capable of preventing an asteroid impact, thus potentially eliminating an entire class of threat to our planet. This is a huge and new ethical responsibility, affecting not only the well-being of human civilization, but the ecosphere as well. However, with the power to divert also comes to power to target, and so these technologies also push us closer to a future where asteroids can be used as weapons of super mass destruction. This dual-use potential for space technology ought to promote more thought and action about how to make human civilization safer from these types of risks, including via space settlements.

And the question of space settlement brings us back to SpaceX. Many new players have entered space in the last few decades, but private companies like SpaceX present special challenges. Currently, the Outer Space Treaty puts all subnational actors under the jurisdiction of their sending nation, but SpaceX (through an odd bit of language in its Starlink satellite internet contract) has already expressed that they might not be planning to follow this law, stating that the parties of the contract “recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities.” Musk has also stated he wants to terraform Mars, which brings us to another issue.

Any settlers on Mars might well desire to warm the frozen desert planet, and ideas for technology already exist to rapidly do so, with one paper saying it can be done in 100 years. This will not make a breathable atmosphere, but it will release immense quantities of carbon dioxide and water, which will raise the temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure to more Earth-like levels. This would also dramatically alter Mars’ current environment and destroy much scientifically irreplaceable evidence of its natural history. If there is any life on Mars, it would be affected as well, perhaps to the point of annihilation. Needless to say, changing the habitability of a planet is a godlike power, and one that ought to be wielded with great care.

There are many more topics in space ethics. For example, in this series of posts, Schwartz and Haramia discuss planetary protection and extraterrestrial intelligence, respectively. The possibility of extraterrestrial life involves other complex ethical issues, such as the nature of its moral value, how we ought to relate to it, and so on. And, of course, there are huge philosophical questions about what humankind’s role and purpose in the universe is or should be (if there even is such a thing). In my forthcoming book, Space Ethics (Rowman & Littlefield International), I go into all of these topics in more detail.

How Should We Search for Intelligent Life in the Cosmos?
by Chelsea Haramia

Either we’re alone in the universe, or we’re not. If we’re not, then we might someday come into contact with other intelligent life. ‘SETI’ stands for ‘Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence,’ and SETI practitioners have historically engaged in a largely passive search for ETI—listening for alien transmissions. More recently, some researchers have taken up a more active approach known as ‘METI’ or ‘Messaging ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence.’ They are intentionally sending high-powered cosmic beacons into interstellar space, attempting to elicit a response. Both projects raise a host of ethical questions, especially recent METI projects, which are much more powerful and targeted than past messaging activities.

For example: Who should speak for Earth? Historically, it has been astronomers themselves. Notably, earlier messages (such as the Voyagers’ Golden Record or the Arecibo Message) were primarily symbolic or ceremonial in nature. Presently, however, the goal of METI is to expedite communication with ETI, and the opportunity to speak for Earth is available to anyone with access to sufficiently powerful equipment. One worry is that those who speak for Earth—past and present—are not exactly a representative bunch, yet the project involves speaking on behalf of all humanity. Properly communicating on behalf of humanity may require more-inclusive representation, along with a concerted effort to amplify the voices of members of non-dominant groups.

The above debate presumes that it’s time to speak up. But another important ethical question is lurking here: Should we be announcing our presence in the cosmos? We simply do not know what to expect from an ETI, and it’s possible that they will be hostile or unintentionally harmful. The effects of contact could negatively impact everyone. This raises the concern that METI projects impose globally catastrophic risks on humanity without humanity’s consent. Of course, there’s reason to think that achieving global consent would be practically impossible. However, there may be an ethically defensible degree of consent that’s worth aiming for, even if comprehensive agreement among all members of humanity were out of the question. Beyond that, we may bear obligations to those whose consent is impossible to gain, e.g., plant and animal species, or future generations. And given the lag times involved in signaling even the nearest stars, future generations stand to be impacted the most by any effects of contact.

Another way for the METI proponent to respond to the challenge from global catastrophe is to flip the risk question. There are a number of catastrophic possibilities that threaten humanity or the Earth that don’t involve aliens. Human-caused climate change is one. Supervolcanoes and asteroids are others. METI proponents point out that communicating with ETI might be the advance that gives us the tools, knowledge, or capabilities needed to effectively ward off other global threats. There may be many other benefits of contact as well. The point is that it’s at least possible that not contacting ETI would lead to the destruction of humanity or the Earth. Therefore, abandoning METI also risks catastrophic outcomes.

This can start to feel like an impasse. Both engaging in and abandoning METI projects carry a non-zero risk of global catastrophe. And so, it is difficult for both METI proponents and METI critics to successfully appeal to particular harmful outcomes when attempting to justify their respective positions.

But there remains an important ethical consideration available to the global citizen who is concerned about risk. On the one hand, passively searching gives us the time to evaluate carefully before committing to communication. This inherently allows for more caution, and it still preserves the possibility that we may someday benefit from communication with an ETI. On the other hand, METI’s active approach effectively rules out this opportunity—once the signal leaves Earth, it cannot be stopped, and we can only speculate about who might receive it. Thus, active messaging carries risks that the alternative doesn’t. But this does not mean that passive searches ensure that we decide how detectable or at-risk we are.

Passively searching does not automatically provide us with a cosmic cloak, nor does it guarantee an opportunity to evaluate an ETI before making our presence known, even if it’s our best shot at doing so. Our presence may already be detectable because we’ve been unintentionally leaking our own technosignatures for decades (e.g., radio and television broadcasts), and Earth itself has been displaying biosignatures for billions of years. At the same time, extraterrestrial astronomers would have to be especially savvy to have detected us already. Biosignatures seem to be quite difficult to detect. Our unintentional radio signals do travel, but they haven’t traveled very far yet, cosmically speaking, and they diminish exponentially in strength as they go. And if it turns out that we’ve already been detected or observed without being contacted, it might be that aliens have decided that humanity is simply not ready to join the galactic community.

A Pragmatic Account of Universal Biology
by Carlos Mariscal

The only life we know is on Earth. It is a quirky phenomenon, but whether those quirks are unique to our corner of the galaxy or like what we might find elsewhere in the Universe is an open question. Most biologists are not used to thinking about the implications of their research for life elsewhere; most biology is local.  By contrast, we might ask whether any principles of biology would apply more generally than Earth: universal biology. In short, universal biology is the study of life as it must be everywhere in the Universe. We may never be in a position to conduct universal studies to a philosopher’s satisfaction, but work in astrobiology suggests we may be in a position to explore the matter now. There are two questions immediately invoked by the concept of universal biology.

  1. In what sense is universal biology universal? In other words, which properties or principles of biology are likely to be common, which are exceptionless, and where should we look for them?
  2. In what sense is universal biology biology? The answer to this question will either require a deeper understanding of the concept of ‘life’ or an explanation of what stand-ins we can use that can still shed light on the issue.

Let’s start with the first question: how is universal biology universal?

The more we learn about astrobiology, the more plausible it is that Earth is not unique in many ways, making it very plausible that biological entities exist elsewhere. Supposing that is the case, in what ways are they likely to be similar to Life on Earth? Even before the development of astrobiology as a discipline, this has been a serious question and there are many topics that intersect with it. For example, philosophers have wrestled with the question of whether biology has laws, whether they be exceptionless universals, exception-riddled generalizations, or merely models that apply more broadly than Life’s history on Earth. Biologists have approached a similar issue in drawing broad conclusions from biological principles, such as the Zero-Force Evolutionary Law or generative entrenchment, which dictate null expectations of evolution and development, respectively. Astrobiologists might even apply other sciences to biology and observe that the chemistry of the Universe is fairly well understood, which, in turn, constrains the biochemical possibilities for life. Each of these topics fits within the broader topic universal biology, though connecting them and their implications is a much larger task.

Let’s turn to the second set of questions invoked in universal biology: those about the domain of the topic, namely ‘life.’

Every organism on Earth shares common ancestry, as evidenced by a shared genetic code. Life on Earth is a peculiar phenomenon, but in many respects it is not unique. It (or its parts) evolve, metabolize, are in thermodynamic disequilibrium, etc. and there is no reason to believe that those features are unique to this corner of the Universe. Rather, it’s plausible that similarly situated physical systems would result in relevantly similar phenomena.

Some philosophers and astrobiologists have interpreted one or more of the properties of life as definitional of life itself. To these researchers, universal biology is the study of their favorite property under the expectation that life elsewhere will also share that property. Too much ink has been spilled in this fight (including some of my own), for me to spend much time on it here (though see here). Suffice it to say, there is wide disagreement about what, if anything, defines life. Still, if no theoretical definition of life is possible, investigating the properties of Life on Earth might remain a worthwhile endeavor. Such investigations might inform us about Life-like phenomena elsewhere even if they cannot reveal the essence of life in general.

Curiously, those most skeptical of universal biology are philosophers and scientists who accept life on Earth as a member of some as-yet-unknown natural kind. They believe it is more prudent to wait until astrobiologists discover new instances of life before we begin conjecturing about universal biology (for more on this debate, see here and here).

I accept Life on Earth is a member of many categories: evolving lineages, metabolizing entities, informational systems, squishy things, etc., but I am quite skeptical of any essences or defining features of life. I don’t believe any natural category will be co-extensive with what scientists or the public will accept as ‘life.’ As such, I label as ‘universal biology’ most of the work done investigating the nature of evolution, information, metabolism, etc. Because the scope of these studies is universal, the potential for counterexamples for any particular view will never be quenched. Let many flowers bloom in our quest for universal features of biology, even if the practitioners never come to a consensus view. An investigation of universal features that apply to Life on Earth is universal biology enough.

Space Policy as a Prompt for Philosophy: The Example of Planetary Protection
by Jim Schwartz

“Planetary protection” is a policy tool for (a) protecting Earth’s life from harmful contamination from extraterrestrial sources (AKA back contamination – think Andromeda Strain), and (b) protecting sites of interest in the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life (including traces of past life) against contamination from terrestrial sources (AKA forward contamination).  Here I will focus on protection against forward contamination, as (so far) this has proved to be the more philosophically interesting of the two.

The need for forward protection was recognized in the 1950s, before humans had even placed a satellite in orbit. The underlying concern is that it would be terrible to “discover” alien life on worlds like Mars, Europa, or Enceladus, only to realize later it was just some terrestrial microbes that had stowed along for the ride.  COSPAR (the Committee on Space Research) routinely updates its planetary protection policies, which are widely used for science missions, though they do not carry the force of law.  These specify protocols and bioburden reduction strategies based on mission-type (flyby, orbiter, lander, impactor) and intended destination (Moon, Mars, Ceres, etc.).

Philosophically interesting questions appear immediately: What do these efforts assume about the nature of life?  How can we determine whether a space environment is habitable (or even potentially habitable) given that we do not fully understand the boundary conditions for life?  How effective are COSPAR’s policies? Should their scope be expanded or narrowed?

Characteristically ethical questions lurk nearby: What is the moral status of alien life?  Which kinds of life (microbial, multicellular, intelligent) should be accorded moral value and of what sort (intrinsic, instrumental, etc.)?  Does it matter whether this life represents a distinct evolution of life?  What effects will analyzing the moral status of alien life have on theories and concepts in normative and metaethics? Should planetary protection focus on potential obligations to alien life in addition to/instead of its current focus on protecting opportunities to study that life? (For more on space ethics, see Brian Green’s post; also here and here.)

More broadly, should our focus extend beyond alien life? There are many bodies in the solar system that we do not think are even potentially home to life. What sort of environmental ethics do we need for exploration of such bodies?  Is the value of “lifeless” places exhausted by their instrumental value to planetary science or do they have value in their own right, though perhaps of another kind?

There is a growing need to consider expanding the scope of protection policies.  Space science sits in an evolving context where commercial actors (such as SpaceX and Blue Origin) are playing increasingly prominent, agenda-setting roles, and with significant cultural, financial, and political momentum supporting the exploitation of lunar and asteroidal resources and human settlement of the Moon and Mars.  However, legal instruments like the U.N. Outer Space and Moon treaties were crafted before momentum-shifting discoveries about space resources (e.g., asteroids like 16 Psyche that are potentially worth trillions of dollars).  Can the goals of space science be reconciled with the goals of commercial actors?  If we wanted to create a policy to protect sites of interest to planetary science, or a general framework for environmental protection, would we even know how to do this or what is worth protecting?  What level of protection would be reasonable given competing stakeholder interests?

The Moon, rather than Mars, will probably be our first “case study”.  The Moon’s polar regions offer two critical resources: The basins of permanently shadowed craters are home to a limited, non-renewable quantity of water-ice (potentially useful for drinking, watering crops, and electrolyzing for rocket propellant); and the rims of some of these craters receive nearly uninterrupted sunlight (useful for solar power and solar observation).  The poles are thus places most everyone wants to visit, suggesting we may soon see intense competition between the various actors to secure them for their own purposes.

The Moon is a precious object for scientific study.  Lacking plate tectonics, its structure and composition have remained largely the same for much of its 4.5 billion years of existence.  Its surface cratering preserves a record of the early history of the solar system.  This means that studying the Moon will inform our understanding of the evolution of the solar system, especially the inner solar system. While pursuing fundamental science questions is a major theme of the Lunar Exploration Roadmap, so too is the use of the Moon as test-bed for crewed missions to Mars and for eventual human settlement.  Are these goals compatible?  If not, which should be prioritized?  (In The Value of Science in Space Exploration I argue at length that science goals should be prioritized over non-science goals in space.)

The Moon is also culturally significant.  It is a fixture of our night sky visible to every human who has ever lived, we have named many of its prominent features, we have visited it robotically and in person, and we have left our trash there.  Do we need to think about protecting cultural heritage sites on the Moon?  Who should be consulted if we wanted to do so? Is NASA’s guidance adequate? What should be our response to serious proposals to erect or project advertisements on the lunar surface?

Of course, planetary protection, and by extension, space environmentalism, are not the only philosophically interesting space policy topics. To name just a few, orbital allocation regulations, space debris mitigation guidelines, and space science/mission decision-making processes each provide similar playgrounds for philosophers.

Call for Papers (CfP): Remembering, Reimagining Political Space

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 4:58pm in


Blog, Space

Institute of Australian Geographers & New Zealand Geographical Society Combined Conference

6-9 July, 2021, University of Sydney

The Institute of Australian Geographers and New Zealand Geographical Society Combined Conference will take place at the University of Sydney on stolen, unceded lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

Remembering, Reimagining Geography

The conference theme, Remembering, Reimagining Geography, is offered as an opportunity to critically consider how geography evolved the way it did, its influences on human and more-than-human worlds, and the contribution the discipline can make to more just and sustainable futures. Further details: HERE.

Session and Call for Papers

Ari Jerrems and Adam David Morton welcome papers related to the following call:

Political space, understood as the frameworks, infrastructures and geographies through which politics is exercised, has long been the site of intense contestation. In recent times, dominant constellations have been challenged by an array of social movements with diverse objectives, from contesting extractivism to forging spaces of autonomy and defending Indigenous sovereignties. At the same time, there have been numerous violent reassertions of state power often upholding colonial hierarchies and the interests of capital. To make sense of the current political landscape this session builds on the conference theme, bringing together papers seeking to remember and reimagine political space. On the one hand, papers will analyse the constitution of dominant notions of territory and sovereignty, from the violent bordering practices through which they are defended to the colonial imaginaries and violent histories underpinning them. On the other hand, papers will attempt to think political space otherwise, building on the imaginaries and practices of diverse thinkers, movements and anti-colonial struggles.

Deadline: 5 April, 2021

Please contact: Ari Jerrems (Monash University)

Set Image: Dale Harding, SPINE 3 (RADIANCE), 2018

The post Call for Papers (CfP): Remembering, Reimagining Political Space appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Dido Harding Didn’t Realise Viruses Mutate – How Did She Get Her Job Again?

I realise that it’s an old story, but it’s worth repeating as it shows the level of corruption and plain incompetence surrounding Boris Johnson and his appointments to official post. Mike posted up a piece a little while ago commenting on a statement by Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, that no-one could have predicted that the virus would mutate. Really? Doctors and scientists have known for a very long time that viruses mutate. It’s why there are different varieties of the flu vaccine and they haven’t yet been able to find one that will absolutely eradicate it, as they have with smallpox. The disease mutates too rapidly, so that as soon as an effective vaccine against one strain is found, a new variety, immune to it, emerges. It’s also why the world’s scientists are worried about the declining effectiveness of penicillin, as new strains of bacteria are emerging that are immune to it. I also believe that malaria is also changing so that quinine is becoming less effective.

This isn’t some deep medical secret, hidden by the scientific establishment for some nefarious purpose of its own, along with alien bases on the Moon, the Greys, the Face on Mars and the location of Atlantis. It’s widely known, well-publicised fact. One of the peeps on Twitter, Kit Yates, showed that it was actually taught in his seven year old’s science textbook. Which looks a lot more fun and exciting than some of the textbooks we used when I was at school. And scientific concerns about viral immunity to penicillin and quinine has been discussed on several programmes on Radio 4. This is the public service broadcaster the Tories want to defund and abolish in favour of something far more right-wing and owned by Rupert Murdoch or another millionaire like him. The fact that Tory official Harding doesn’t know a fairly basic fact about disease clearly demonstrates that if the Tories have their way, the abolition of the Beeb will leave Britain dumber and much less informed. But that’s obviously the only way the Tories feel they can win in the long term.

Fortunately for Britain, as Dr Julia Grace Patterson pointed out, doctors had been tracking different strains of Covid since last Spring. She also pointed out that viruses mutate, which was why the flu vaccine changed annually, and concluded that Harding’s remark was ‘awful’. This shows that we can count on our scientists diligently researching and doing everything they can to combat the disease. We just can’t count on their bosses knowing much about it.

If Harding was an ordinary member of the public, her ignorance would be excusable. You don’t expect ordinary people to know everything. They don’t have the time, the energy nor often the education. But Harding’s different. She’s in charge of the government body set to monitor and combat the spread of the disease from person to person. Her ignorance says much not just about her suitability for her position, but also about the cavalier attitude Boris’ government seemingly has to putting the right people in charge of such vital work. It has always looked as though Harding got the job, not through any real skill, knowledge or ability on her part, but because she was a friend of Boris and his wretched coterie. She was put in purely because of personal loyalty, as well as an attitude on Johnson’s part that no particular expertise was needed in this area. Anyone could do it, so it was important that that anyone was a personal friend or supporter of his.

This attitude seems to go back to the 90s. Private Eye in its literary column lamented the emergence of an attitude to bookselling and libraries, which saw them as just another product to be marketed. Managing directors were being appointed to publishers, booksellers and libraries, who had no experience of that sector, from industries like catering. One of them was the head of a sandwich firm. The attitude seemed to be that in the new commercial environment, industries, no matter how different, were somehow at some basic level identical. A man, who knew nothing about books or literature but made great sandwiches was just as good a choice as someone who had been in the book trade all his or her life, and appreciated that books were a social good with a distinct ethos and societal and ethical function far beyond their value as a material ‘product’.

And the same cavalier ignorance pertains here. BoJo and his fellow morons clearly regard NHS Test and Trace as just another business. Anyone from any business can therefore run it. They don’t have to have any personal expertise themselves, as they’ve got scientists below them to do that. But virology is not any kind of business, and while you wouldn’t expect Harding to have the same level of expertise as the scientists underneath, you do want her to have a basic understand of the nature of disease and the way its fought. Even if that comes from seven year old’s science text books.

Harding’s ignorance is amusing at one level, as the jokes about her on Twitter have shown. But it’s also dangerous. The Tories have absolute contempt for experts. Boris, Cummings and the rest of the ratbags supported ‘herd immunity’ against the advice of the overwhelming majority of doctors and scientists, because it fitted their prejudices of letting the poor die to protect the rich. I think it was one of them, rather than an American Republican, who said that people are sick of experts. Even if it was a Conservative from across the Pond rather than our own, homegrown rightists, the Tories certainly share that determined, anti-intellectual attitude.

Tory medical ignorance and negligence has cost something like 50,000 lives. And it’s still going on. Harding’s lack of a basic fact about viruses is symptomatic of a wider cavalier attitude to science and protecting people’s health and lives. They’re a disgrace. It’s time Harding was sacked and Johnson and his fellow cronies also forced out of office in favour of people better qualified to run the country and preserve its people.

Anyone got any ideas who that might be, as it surely isn’t Tory Starmer!

For further information, see: ANYBODY could have predicted that Dido Harding would be wrong on Covid-19 mutation. Here are some of the funniest responses | Vox Political (

Fan Plays Dr Who Theme as Different Doctors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 07/02/2021 - 8:39pm in

Before I start on the serious stuff, here’s another fun video I found on YouTube. It was put up by Dan Louisell, who performs a rock version of the Dr. Who theme on various instruments – piano, double bass, electric guitars, drum, mandolin and the Theremin – in costume as the Doctors. They are Christopher Ecclestone’s, David Tennant’s, Matt Smith’s, Peter Capaldi’s, Patrick Troughton’s and, of course, Tom Baker’s incarnations of the Time Lord. In the case of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, the performance is actually completely accurate, as his Doctor was a master of the electric guitar. And of course, lacking a proper BBC radiophonic workshop, the weird quality of Delia Derbyshire’s arrangement has to be played on the Theremin, a suitably weird instrument itself.

Doctor Who Theme cover by Dan Louisell – YouTube

Videos of CGI Recreations of Vehicles and Castle for Jodorowski’s ‘Dune’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 01/02/2021 - 5:39am in

Alejandro Jodorowski’s Dune is one of the great, unmade films. Jodorowski himself is a Chilean-French film director and comics writer. A Surrealist, he made a series of very bizarre films, such as the western El Topo. In the early ’70s he set about making a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic SF novel, Dune, despite never having read it. This would have starred Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the great, bonkers Surrealist artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the Known Universe. Equally impressive were the artists he hired to produce the concept art and designs for the spaceships and other vehicles and settings for the film. These included H.R. Giger, the creator of the infamous Alien, French comics artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and Chris Fosse, the force behind a thousand SF paperback covers. The film was never made, as the producers cut its funding at the last moment. However, the work on the movie was never wasted, as Jodorowski and Moebius used it as the basis for their comic The Incal and The Metabarons. It has also been immensely influential on later SF movies, including Ridley Scott’s ’80s classic, Bladerunner.

These two videos have been made and put up on YouTube by Monochrome Paris, a group that wishes to recreate in CGI Jodorowski’s aborted film. They have so far managed to recreate Duke Leto Atreides’ car, which was designed by Fosse, and Baron Harkonnen’s castle, which was the suitably horrific work of Giger.

Here’s the link to the car video:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality [Chris Foss Vehicle test – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

And this is for Harkonnen’s Castle:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality pt II [HR Giger – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

I think the two videos are great, and it would be really superb if they were able to recreate the entire movie in CGI. Unfortunately the videos are from 2019 and so I don’t think their proposed movie will ever be made. It would still be good if they were able to produce more videos of some of the other designs for the movie, such as the space tugs towing the containers of spice through space, a space pirate ship and the Harkonnen’s own spaceship, which were all designed by Chris Fosse. They’re included along with his other art, included concept designs for Bladerunner, Alien and Superman 2 in the book 21st Century Fosse.