Letters to Craig Murray #8

Letter #8 Delivered 3 Oct 21

Hi Craig,

You’re right that I’m a dedicated Sci-Fi reader. I grew up with a great love for the potential of science and technology. My dad was always tinkering with stuff in the garage, reading New Scientist and watching episodes of Equinox etc. My mum has more of a humanities background, but whilst her academic work was on Robert Browning, her first love is Sci-Fi. I was also heavily influenced by various non fiction books on the potential of technology, often with cutaways to show how things work. It’s therefore no surprise that I chose a career in engineering, and I continue to enjoy Sci-Fi as a way of exploring what will become possible (and the dangers that might come with that).

I try not to limit myself to Sci-Fi though. During my teens my mum insisted that I read some ‘proper’ books (besides computer manuals, Sci-Fi, and war stories), and incentives were offered. Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ has really stuck with me, along with Jilly Cooper’s ‘Class’, which although a little dated now still does a great job of explaining why the typical Englishman puts up with the lot inflicted on him by the establishment.

Though I’ve read a fair bit of Asimov, I’ve (to my shame) never taken on Foundation, so sadly I’m not familiar with ‘the Mule’ who you mention. Foundation has however just made it to the small screen, with a big budget, high production value series on Apple TV+. So far it’s been glorious. I hope they get to complete the proposed eight series run.

Your comments on charisma remind me of a time when I went to see a talk by Eric Raymond, author of ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar ‘, his seminal work on open source software. Eric is not an attractive man. Descriptive adjectives would include: stunted, gnarled, twisted. But oh boy does he have charisma. He can captivate an audience, and persuade them. The old Dungeons and Dragons player in me would score his Charisma attribute as off the usual chart. The “IT” you describe is definitely a thing.

I wonder if there used to be more “IT” in politics, and it’s been driven out by a hyena press corps? Or if simply the commitment to use “IT’s” powers for good has succumbed to the easier ‘dark side’ path of using “IT” to gain power and wealth? Cory Doctorow had an excellent thread this week on the entanglement of debt (for many) and wealth (for few) based on the works of David Graeber, Thomas Piketty and Michael Hudson concluding that estate taxes need to be properly enforced.



Highlights of Craig’s reply

Interesting about “Foundation”. I suppose special effects have progressed to the stage where these kind of high concept Seci-Fis can be rendered on screen.

I once had dinner with Arthur C Clarke in Sri Lanka, actually as part of my FCO job, to discuss ocean thermal energy! He was a very interesting man, at that time wheelchair bound. The idea of OTE was to pump up water from the super cold deepest ocean in the tropics, and generate electricity through the differential temperature between that and the tropical surface sea. I never did understand the technology. Arthur C Clarke described it as a fridge in reverse.

The US government built a pilot plant in Hawaii. The pumping of nutrients from the ocean bottom made it profitable as an abalone farm! I haven’t heard the technology mentioned for decades, so I suppose it was too inefficient.

The Doctorow thread sounds interesting. Wealth tax, as opposed to inheritance tax, is important but enforcement on the rich of any tax is not serious. But there is a more important need to prevent the absurd concentration of capital in the first place.

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