Tag Archives: Interstellar

A Week of Facts and Opinions

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by  Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons

Above, Turkish soldiers and paramilitary guard the border with Syria in September as Kurds seek refuge from Islamic State fighters. Photo by Heike Hänsel via Flickr, Creative Commons. 
Readings: an essay arguing the siege of Kobane is a battle for a stable Middle East (free*), and Jonathan Manthorpe’s column, War on Islamic State caliphate boosts the birth of Kurdistan (paywall*)

Our schedule at Facts and Opinions in the past week has been packed, with a special series each on the fall of the Berlin Wall and Remembrance/Armistice Day, in addition to our ongoing work. Here’s our stellar lineup, below.

Next week, look for new columns by Jim McNiven, Tom Regan and Jonathan Manthorpe, and a careful selection of reporting and features on some of the most interesting news items in the world — work you’ll find only in F&O’s independent, employee-owned journalism boutique. There will also, of course, be an update on the European deep space probe Rosetta. (See our blog post, Rosetta: love astride a comet.)

Lastly, scroll down for a few items elsewhere that caught our interest this week, from Jon Stewart on “citizen journalism,” and the stark silence of Bill Cosby when confronted by a NPR interviewer with allegations of sexual assault, to an important ProPublica piece that nails the perilous state of the global economy.

We won’t waste your time, and we appreciate your support. 

Mrs. Clooney rushes to the rescue of Greek culture. By Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

It had been a tough day interviewing victims of Khmer Rouge atrocities, and it was with great relief that I slumped down in a chair in the hotel bar in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and ordered a beer. Through the window I could see the sun shimmering red as it sank through the torpid, tropical air hanging over the Tonle Sap tributary of the Mekong River. I was the only non-Asian in the bar, which was humming with the chatter of rich locals and visiting businessmen from other parts of the region, who had come to see what spoils there were to be harvested in a country just emerging from decades of war. … read more (paywall).

The Real ‘Game-Changer’ was not in Beijing. Has the ‘Anglosphere’ lost its Mojo? By Chris Wood (paywall)

Once upon a time an amalgam of rigorous, inquisitive candor about the physical world, and a deep delusion about superior racial entitlement, delivered control of two of the four continents that were up for colonial grabs in the 18th century to Britain. Britain’s legal and political philosophy, its English language, and to a large extent genetic descendants of its families, dominate North America and Australia to this day. Europeans, Latin Americans, and others outside this socio-political clan have resented their exclusion and berated the ‘anglo’ model of cut-throat corporate permissiveness — what used to be called laissez-faire and is now re-branded for global distribution as neo-liberalism. That fewer descendants of Empire persist in their delusions of racial superiority is a welcome development. But it’s worrying to see the Anglosphere also abandoning its realism about the physical world. … log in to read more (paywall*)

Out of the Saddle, Playing Papa to a Super-baby: Glenn Ford. By Brian Brennan (paywall)

John Ford with Rita Hayworth, in 1945. Publicity photo

Glenn Ford with Rita Hayworth, in 1945. Publicity photo

The line was, “Martha Clark Kent, are you listening to what I’m saying?” It was scripted for Glenn Ford, playing a Kansas farmer named Jonathan Kent in the 1978 movie Superman. A spaceship containing the baby Superman had just crash-landed in the Kent wheat field and the farmer’s wife – played by Phyllis Thaxter – was suggesting they keep the apparently orphaned boy as their own. After a brief exchange about the pros and cons of doing this, the farmer put his foot down. … read more (paywall*)

Time to end religious holidays in public schools. By Tom Regan

Recently the Board of Education in the Virginia suburb of Montgomery County (which is just outside DC) faced a dilemma. A group of Muslim parents were pressing the board to add religious holidays that would allow Muslim children to observe the important days to their faith without missing any school. On the surface, I have no problem with this. If we’re going to allow Christian students to observe Christmas, and Jewish students to observe holidays like Yom Kippur, then it only makes sense that we allow Muslim students to observe their religious days. But I do confess I wonder where will this end? .. read more

Evolutionary insights underscore need for new natural-world taxonomy. By Ben Holt and Knud Andreas Jønsson

A cat is, of course, a cat. Lions are cats too, as are leopards, lynxes and so on – the “Felidae” family contains 41 species in total. But what about other closely related species such as hyenas or mongooses? These animals are not in the cat family: they are cat-like “Feliformia”, but are in their own separate families. So why are some species grouped together in the same families and others separated into different families? It might surprise you to learn that there is no general answer to this question, despite the fact that we now know a lot about evolutionary relationships for groups like mammals. Science has moved on and so should the way we classify life on earth. … read more

Carolus Linnaeus's first, or 1735, edition of Systema Naturae is the "In the Beginning" text of animal and plant classification. Shown is a scam of Table of the Animal Kingdom (Regnum Animale).

Carolus Linnaeus’s first, or 1735, edition of Systema Naturae is the “In the Beginning” text of animal and plant classification. Shown is a scan of Table of the Animal Kingdom (Regnum Animale).

Siege of Kobane a battle for a stable Middle East. By Karthick Manoharan

Events in Kobane disprove Islamophobes who believe the Middle East to be incapable of progress and politically correct Islamophiles who push the patronizing idea that religious identity is a top priority for Muslims the world over. In their readiness to defend the Yazidi minority against persecution from Islamic State, the Kurds have essentially been promoting a radical secularism and a vision of tolerance in a region torn by religious strife. What is novel about the Kurdish struggle for self-determination is its very definition of self-determination. … read more

Interstellar’s spectacular view of hard science. By Alasdair Richmond

In Interstellar’s near-ish future, our climate has failed catastrophically, crops die in vast blights and America is a barely-habitable dustbowl. Little education beyond farming methods is tolerated and students are taught that the Apollo landings were Cold War propaganda hoaxes. Against this unpromising background, a former space pilot receives mysterious directions to a secure facility. Therein, he finds the American space agency NASA’s last remnants devoting dwindling resources to sending a spacecraft through a new-found wormhole mouth orbiting Saturn.   .. read more

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

In case you missed them earlier this week:

FOCUS ON THE BERLIN WALL:

BERLIN, 1989: A Photo-essay  NEW
GREG LOCKE

History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing (Paywall) 
JONATHAN MANTHORPE

Critical Assembly: A Drama Critic Remembers Berlin (Paywall) 
BRIAN BRENNAN

Children born just after the Wall fell were lower achievers 
ARNAUD CHEVALIER AND OLIVIER MARIE

Graffiti Interpretations of the Berlin Wall 
GAVIN KENNEDY

Postcard from Poland as the Iron Curtain lifted  
ROD MICKLEBURGH

Remembrance Day in St. John's, Newfoundland. © Greg Locke 2014

Remembrance Day in St. John’s, Newfoundland. © Greg Locke 2014

FOCUS ON REMEMBRANCE  

Remembrance, in photos   
GREG LOCKE AND DEBORAH JONES

‘JACK’ and ELEANOR NASH
MICHAEL SASGES

Why I prefer to remember Remembrance Day  
TOM REGAN

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead?  
JANNA THOMPSON

Body counts disguise true horror of what wars do to bodies 
TOM GREGORY

Recommended elsewhere:

In NPR Interview, Bill Cosby Declines To Discuss Assault Allegations

Bill Cosby, in 2004. Photo by Jeffrey Putman via Flickr, Creative Commons

Bill Cosby, in 2004. Photo by Jeffrey Putman via Flickr, Creative Commons

In an NPR interview with Bill Cosby that aired today on Weekend Edition Saturday, the comedian discusses the loan of 62 pieces of African Art for an exhibition in Washington, D.C. But, there’s one thing the 77-year-old actor would not comment on: accusations of sexual assault that have been leveled against him.

The Real Roots of Hedge Fund Manager Rage (For the “Serious business” file)

by Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

On the “fake” economy and paranoia of hedge-fund managers:

 … corporations have spent the post-crisis years engaged largely in financial engineering. The largest United States corporations took 91 percent of their earnings from 2003 to 2013 and plowed them into buying back their own stock or paying out dividends, according to William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.   

There has been a corporate shift from making investments for the long-term health of the company and the economy toward cutting jobs and elevating share prices, with the end result of increasing top executives’ compensation, Professor Lazonick says. Nobody can say how long this can go on. But it’s not sustainable.

Experience: I founded my own country (For the “Quirky” file)

By Renato Barros, the Guardian

 My father wasn’t a king, he was a taxi driver, but I am a prince – Prince Renato II, of the country Pontinha, an island fort on Funchal harbour. It’s in Madeira, Portugal, where I grew up. …  

In 1903, the Portuguese government didn’t have enough money to build a harbour port, so the king sold the land to a wealthy British family, the Blandys, who make Madeira wine. Fourteen years ago the family decided to sell it for just €25,000 (£19,500). It was of no use to them. But nobody else wanted to buy it either. I met Blandy at a party, and he told me about Pontinha. He asked if I’d like to buy the island. Of course I said yes, but I have no money – I am just an art teacher.

A Finding, last but not least:

Jon Stewart Jon Stewart: ‘Evil is relatively rare. Ignorance is epidemic.’

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique of slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. We appreciate your support: a day pass is $1 and subscriptions start at $2.95 per month.

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Interstellar’s spectacular view of hard science

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount, publicity photo

By Alasdair Richmond, University of Edinburgh
November 15, 2014

Note: this article has spoilers.

In Interstellar’s near-ish future, our climate has failed catastrophically, crops die in vast blights and America is a barely-habitable dustbowl. Little education beyond farming methods is tolerated and students are taught that the Apollo landings were Cold War propaganda hoaxes.

Against this unpromising background, a former space pilot receives mysterious directions to a secure facility. Therein, he finds the American space agency NASA’s last remnants devoting dwindling resources to sending a spacecraft through a new-found wormhole mouth orbiting Saturn.

Worlds galactic distances away have been discovered via the wormhole, some of them apparently habitable and apt for colonisation. A small expedition traverses the wormhole and visits several planets, some near a giant black hole. Peril, conflict and soul-searching ensue.

Science and science fiction are uneasy relatives, and classic sci-fi often folds under scientific scrutiny. HG Wells wrote great and prophetic sci-fi, but the great (such as The War of the Worlds) wasn’t prophetic and the prophetic (such as The Argonauts of the Air) wasn’t great. Science fiction usually uses scientifically derived fictional concepts to pit humanity against a hostile universe.

Worthwhile sci-fi can be downright inaccurate. Wells’s rampaging Martian tripods survive in the public imagination while more realistic predictions of mechanised warfare fade. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four remains the relevant parable about totalitarian mind-control for all that its titular year came and went without copying its namesake. However, so-called Hard Science Fiction takes its science seriously, only adopting as premises real theoretical possibilities recognised by current science.

Hard sci-fi gives writers interesting constraints, but the results can date quickly and narrative needs can tempt even the “hardest” writers to fudge facts. That is the case with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. It might appear to be very “hard” – dealing with concepts rooted in actual science, but it only aspires to those ideals. The story plot fudges many scientific aspects.

Of course, there are science-fiction treats on offer: gnarly space-flight vessels spinning to produce centrifugal pseudo-gravity, hibernation in eerie-looking pods, a planet with icy clouds, familial relations strained by time dilation and witty robots that initially annoy but end up more sympathetic than most humans.

And it shows this with stunning imagery. There are beautiful depictions of gravitational-lensing by wormhole, distorted starscapes during wormhole transit and faux Earth interiors on a giant, revolving space-habitat. Wormhole mouths and black holes are depicted as genuinely three-dimensional holes, while the high-energy colliding matter in the accretion disc around a black hole’s equator is vividly portrayed. So impressively does Interstellar render these phenomena that if we ever see such things close-up, reality may suffer by comparison.

Nolan tries to get the science right most of the time. Just as one harrumphs: “genetic diversity?” when there is a mention of seeding other worlds, Anne Hathaway’s character neatly addresses the problem. Relativity does allow gravitation and motion to produce time dilation, which means that time plays out at different speeds for different people. Wormholes could theoretically connect otherwise distant space-time points. And, yes, “Hawking Radiation” means black holes aren’t strictly “black”.

But where it might annoy Hard sci-fi fans is that some essentials get fluffed. Visits to a planet’s surface could produce temporal discrepancies – an hour-long jaunt on the surface might seem to take years from the point of view of an observer in orbit – but only if the surface gravity is thousands of times stronger than that of Earth. Wormholes traversable by crewed spacecraft require unfeasible quantities of gravitationally repulsive “exotic matter”, which theoretically has negative energy density and breaks just about every energy condition we know.

Sneaking past a black hole’s event horizon, scanning the hole’s singularity and retrieving gravity-mastering data is impossible. As for falling into a black hole and seeing tidal forces disintegrate your vessel without making you into spaghetti, then entering a region prepared by your future self only to re-emerge into normal space-time via wormhole… well, criticism seems superfluous.

And, yet, this is a film worth watching. Interstellar offers much besides visuals to commend. It takes climate change seriously, is realistically cynical about political and educational preparedness for the future, doesn’t soften ethical dilemmas in saving humanity and suggests climate solutions will owe everything to scientific imagination and initiative. 

Creative Commons

Alasdair Richmond, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Edinburgh, does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

 

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique of slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. We appreciate your support: a day pass is $1 and subscriptions start at $2.95 per month.

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