Spooks to the rescue

June 4, 2012

Not often I write two posts in one day, but here is an unexpected piece of news. It seems that the US National Reconnaisance Office have given two free telescopes to NASA. Its all explained at this NY Times article. They are as big as HST but have a wider field of view. They were designed for looking down of course.  Apparently there has been a secret study team and their conclusion is that one of these beasts would be perfect WFIRST, which had seemed to be kicked into the long grass.

They don’t exactly have the rest of the money yet or an actual approval … but the WFIRST fans are talking about shooting for 2020 … a year behind Euclid.

Ooooo what fun. Spot of healthy competition.

Unfulfilled Utopias (Anarchy in Arcady)

June 4, 2012

Everybody in the UK is doing nostalgia this week. I find this tricky because I am instinctively a republican but on the other hand I do have a warrant signed by Her Queen, being Regius Prof and all that. So I willl compromise and try a bit of Saxe-Coburg-free nostalgia.

I have been doing a spot of tidying up and so rummaging amongst childhood books and parental effects. Back in the sixties, it seemed obvious that by the year 2012 we would be well on the way to World Government. Hah. And there would be no war. Hah. And we would have jet packs. Hah. And we would all work less. Hah. After a bit longer (23rd century according to Star Trek) money would no longer exist or even have a meaning. We would be transitioning to the money-less economy by having computerised money stored on microchips in our clothing. Hmm. Almost there… And of course Engerlund would be the bestest footy team forever !!! On the other hand, cricket-wise we would be rubbish for ever and probably Gary Sobers would be beatified. I did have a friend who taught in a school with lots of West Indian kids, and one of them brought her an apple on Gary Sobers’ birthday. No, really.

Well, we did get the Beatles, and the Internet, and credit cards, so much of the time Hoi Polloi were happy enough. But now we are waking up to realise that the rich have been taking the piss out of us for thirty years, and we are still being fooled. (Nice interview with Paul Krugman here .) I write this carefully as a moderately well paid person, right on the divide between those who have made no progress and those who have grabbed loadsa money.  The honourable vision of European government also seems to have gone horribly wrong, and is adding to the problem.

More rummaging.  Came across some old bits and pieces belonging to me Mum. She died a few years ago. Among these was a store discount card, labelled “Valid in Arcadia”. This seemed very strangely poignant.

Arcadia is a group of companies. My father worked for Debenhams, who were bought up by Burtons, which begat the Arcadia group, which then splintered again, or something like that. Anyhoo, just before retiring my dad was entitled to a staff discount card, valid in any Arcadia group store.

Arcadia is a real place – a province of Greece. I have no idea if it is suffering more or less than the rest of Greece, but I think things are bad everywhere. Chaos and poverty.

Through much of European history however, Arcadia has been a symbol of pastoral simplicity and timelessness. Most of the ancient Greeks lived in cities by the sea, but the Arcadians were shepherds and farmers : innocent and happy. Then Poussin went and put a bitter taste into our mouths, with his famous painting. Shepherds gather around a grim tomb engraved with the words  “Et in Arcadia Ego”. Even in Arcadia, death is here.

In our innocent happy times, your credit card works and you can buy yourself a new hat whenever you like. But eventually all that is left is the piece of plastic embossed with the reminder that death too comes to Arcadia.