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20 April 2017

What If Marine Le Pen Won The French Election? These Graphic Novels Decode A Possible Far-Right Future

File 20170420 20068 puzgy4
La Presidénte volume 3, The Wave. Les Arènes
By Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, Université de Cergy-Pontoise

The 2017 presidential campaign in France has been full of surprises, from François Hollande’s decision not to run for a second term to former prime minister Manuel Valls getting defeated in the Socialist Party primary; from the rise of insider-outsider Emmanuel Macron to the standout debate performance by far-left candidate Philippe Poutou; from François Fillon’s rise, fall, and rise to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s last-minute surge.

The Conversation
All the twists and turns have increased the uncertainty of an election that was up in the air from the start.

One thing that’s nearly certain is the presence of extreme-right populist Marine Le Pen among the top vote-getters. Her party, the Front National (FN), has gone from a pariah in the 1980s to a major political force. While she and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, have fallen short up to now, what would happen if she won in 2017?

The answer can perhaps be found in – of all places – a graphic-novel series. Created by writer François Durpaire and artist Farid Boudjellal, the first volume, La Présidente, was the hit of the 2015 rentrée (the beginning of the literary season). It was followed by the second volume, Totalitaire in 2016, and together they have sold more than 500,000 copies.
Now comes the third volume, titled La Vague (“The Wave”), with Durpaire and Boudjellal joined by Laurent Muller. Together the three books provide an enlightening view on the collective anxiety of French citizens as they face a 2017 presidential election whose outcome has never been less certain, and whose consequences for the country and Europe could be profound.

Durpaire, Muller and Boudjellal are well-versed in the mechanisms of power within the FN and have a superb knowledge of the media and political machinations in France. The originality of the series – a sort of retelling of the near future – is to apply a historical methodology and then to put the imagination into action.

An unprecedented explosion
In the first volume, the authors imagine that on May 7, 2017, Marine Le Pen is elected president of the French Republic. Boudjellal’s sharply realistic graphic treatment and Durpaire’s insightful text allow the potential consequences of this election to unfold step by step. What seemed politically unimaginable in the second round of the 2002 presidential election – when Jean-Marie Le Pen was soundly beaten by Jacques Chirac – is today only too possible. Every voter has to think about it and to do so, it’s essential to better understand what would happen if she were to win.

‘La Présidente’, volume 1. Les Arènes

The narrative is not a caricature: it applies to the letter the proposed programme of the FN, with direct extracts from official communications. “La Présidente” describes the first hundred days of Marine Le Pen at the Elysée palace, mobilising the political machinery and methods that the FN has employed through its history. The fiction was nourished by the advice of a team of political and economic experts, who make it possible to realistically explore the possible consequences of the FN’s taking power.

The graphic novel also extrapolates security propositions and technical advances already in place. In November 2015, former president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed electronic bracelets and house arrest for “S file” suspects, suspected of radicalisation, and in April 2016, Francois Hollande authorised the use of facial-recognition software. France itself is still under an extended state of emergency after the November 2015 terrorist attacks – one that will last at least through the upcoming elections.

And so we see it all unfold in the graphic novels: France’s exit from the euro, mass deportations, legal preference for French citizens and widespread surveillance through new electronic and digital tools.

And if the Front National wins again?

‘La Présidente’, volume 2, ‘Totalitaire’. Les Arènes

In volume 2, “Totalitaire,” we’re at the end of Marine Le Pen’s first term in office, in 2022. When the new campaign opens, a surprise candidate emerges from civil society around whom resistance begins to organise. The new candidate is polling higher than the current president, but is a fair election even a possibility? And what of Marion Maréchal–Le Pen, niece of Marine Le Pen and a political power in her own right?

By this point, technology offers an unprecedented capacity for monitoring and control – integrated chips in connected objects, robots, geolocation, and automated surveillance of all communications. We are far beyond Orwell’s “1984”, and the idea of France as a totalitarian country isn’t so far-fetched.

In a televised debate with former prime minister Manuel Valls in 2022, portrayed in the graphic novel, Marine Le Pen says: “You speak to me of responsibility, you who were in favour of passing laws. Me, I apply them.” The events then accelerate on a global scale, with a new US president and dizzying range of geopolitical consequences. In Paris, Berlin and Madrid, new alignments emerge, even as the French president oversees the education of “a new citizen”.

And when the time comes for the election, darkness wins again: the surprise candidate is imprisoned and Marion Maréchal–Le Pen is elected president after a single term by Marine Le Pen.

Dark thriller

‘La Présidente’, volume 3, ‘La Vague’. Les Arènes

The third volume, “La Vague”, released at the end of March, unleashes a scenario worthy of the darkest thrillers. At this point, France will have struggled through two five-year terms under the FN. There is resistance, but also unquestioning support. With an alliance between Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Le Pen, is there any chance that democracy can make a comeback?

One way to read this science-fiction graphic novel is as an explicit criticism of the totalitarianism that could result were the FN to take power in May 2017 and the rise of nationalist politicians around the world. It also announces the end of a generation of leaders that has governed in a short-sighted way, as well as – and this is the reading I choose – the failure of a system where insiders reserve all the power and benefits for themselves, while leaving no place for the civility and mutual respect that are the very foundation of politics.

“La Vague”, “La Présidente” and “Totalitaire” are published by Les Arènes, Paris, France.

About Today's Contributor:
Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, Sociologue professeure d'université, Université de Cergy-Pontoise

This article was originally published on The Conversation. 

Dutch Philosopher Koert van Mensvoort, Founder of the Next Nature Network, Writes a #LetterToHumanity

Dutch philosopher Koert van Mensvoort has written a ‘Letter to Humanity’ in support of International Earth Day. 
(PRNewsfoto/Next Nature Network)
Dutch philosopher Koert van Mensvoort - founder of the Next Nature Network and Fellow of 'Next Nature' at the University of Technology in Eindhoven - has written a 'Letter to Humanity' in support ofInternational Earth Day. In this letter, he calls on humanity to avoid becoming a slave and victim to its own technology, but to employ technology to enhance our human race.
His letter is addressed to all 7 billion people on Earth. It has been translated into 25 languages right around the world and is endorsed by international ambassadors such as astronaut André Kuipers, philosopher Bas Haring, designer Daan Roosegaarde, National Geographic presenter Jason Silva and experimental architecture Professor Rachel Armstrong
In his letter, Van Mensvoort describes how Man has entered a new evolutionary phase and that, apart from creating the biosphere, has now also created a so-called technosphere. According to him, its impact is similar to the evolution of animals 500 million years ago. "Your presence is transforming the face of the earth so profoundly, that it will still be evident millions of years from now", he writes.
According to him, Man is standing at a crossroads and can develop his relationship with technology either into a dream or into a nightmare. In the nightmare scenario, technology has a parasitic effect on human beings and we become the first species to cause its own demise. In the dream, human technology is based on human needs as a starting point and it is actually used to create a more natural world. The latter path is not only rewarding for mankind, but for the entire planet.
Koert van Mensvoort is a philosopher, artist and Fellow 'Next Nature' at the TU in Eindhoven. He is the founder of the Next Nature Network, a foundation that explores and visualises the extent to which we are surrounded by a technology that is becoming our 'next nature'. This international network now has members in twenty countries.

The Teaser
Examples of other projects by the Next Nature Network are the ECOcoin that rewards positive sustainable activity, a fictional sneaker company that raises a discussion on biotechnology and research into the impact of cultured meat.

SOURCE: Next Nature Network

19 April 2017

Texas Instruments And NASA Launch Virtual Scavenger Hunt With Out-Of-This-World Prizes

Texas Instruments and NASA have partnered to launch “The Search for STEMnauts,” a virtual scavenger hunt that challenges students to unravel space-related riddles for a chance to win stellar prizes.
Texas Instruments (TI) and NASA today launched "The Search for STEMnauts," a virtual scavenger hunt designed to ignite students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Each week, for the next six weeks, students in sixth through 12th grade are challenged to solve space-related puzzles for a chance to unlock virtual reward points. The student team with the most points at the end of the challenge wins an out-of-this-world prize pack, including TI's new limited-edition Galaxy Gray graphing calculator, a $500 Amazon gift card, a stellar NASA swag bag and a live video chat with an astronaut.
The weekly challenges range in difficulty from beginner to advanced and introduce students to the coding and problem-solving skills NASA employees, including astronauts, use in their jobs every day. From cracking a code using TI's basic programming language to calculating the travel time between Earth and Mars, students will put their STEM skills to the test.
"The future of space exploration lies in the hands of students in today's classrooms," said Peggy Whitson, a NASA astronaut who has been to outer space three times and is currently living and working on the International Space Station. "By creating opportunities to encourage teamwork, creativity and problem-solving, we can make learning fun and set students on a course to become the next generation of explorers."
Students who accept the mission will automatically be entered to win TI's new Galaxy Gray TI-84 Plus CE, one of the coolest STEM tools on planet Earth. Students are also invited along on weekly virtual field trips, offering exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to NASA's headquarters. Student teams can check out where they stand, in relation to their classmates and other competing teams from around the country, by following real-time updates to the "Search for STEMnauts" leaderboard on the contest website:
"We've added a high-tech, interactive twist to the traditional scavenger hunt that will appeal to all students," said Peter Balyta, Ph.D, President of Texas Instruments Education Technology. "By making a game out of learning important skills, like coding and problem-solving, we hope to foster a life-long love of STEM and open students up to a variety of exciting career opportunities."
The Video:
International Space Station (ISS) Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson and Commander Shane Kimbrough invite students to enter “The Search for STEMnauts” contest. Watch this short video from the ISS to learn more about this virtual scavenger ...

To view the official contest rules and to accept the mission, visit:

Comedian Keeps Her Sense of Humor When Facing Ovarian Cancer

When I Die Take My Panties by Jen Coken
Ovarian cancer claims the lives of 14,000 American women and 140,000 women worldwide every year. Jen Coken, whose mother died from the disease, has a mission to end late-stage diagnosis by educating women about the signs and symptoms. "If I knew then what I know now, my mother might still be alive," Coken said.
In When I Die Take My Panties: Turning Your Darkest Moments into Your Greatest (Morgan James Publishing) Coken uses jokes she co-wrote with her late mother to bring awareness to the cancer that is often misdiagnosed or diagnosed too late. For example, as Coken's mother's disease progressed she looked like she was pregnant. Her mother used to rest snacks on her "belly" just like she did "when I was pregnant with you," she told Jen "only then it was an ashtray and a martini!"
Coken can share:
  • How to find humor in the darkest topics.
  • New research shows that ovarian cancer starts in the fallopian tubes, giving hope to young women who get diagnosed and want to start a family later in life.
  • How to B.E.A.T ovarian cancer by learning its symptoms: persistent bloating, feeling full while eating less, abdominal or back pain and trouble with bowels and bladder.
  • How to get your doctor to listen.
  • Why every woman is at risk and Jewish women are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with it.

Praise for When I Die, Take My Panties
"Coken's debut memoir provides a close-up and, at times, funny view of dealing with the illness and death of her mother while her own life continued on. The relatable content and all-too-familiar story line make this an easy book to engage with....and Coken's honesty is genuine."— Publisher's Weekly
Jen Coken

About the author
Jen Coken is a life coach and stand-up comedian who has coached thousands of people for nearly 20 years to go beyond their self-made limitations and produce breakthrough results. She uses humor to help her clients transition through tough times to rediscover their joy, purpose and passion.

SOURCE: Jen Coken

13 April 2017

How To Embrace Urban Living, But Avoid An Apocalypse

The future of cities? Paul Jones/NorthumbriaAuthor provided

By Paul Jones, Northumbria University, Newcastle

Cities – we are repeatedly told – are the future. Governments and global corporations seek to increase productivity by accelerating urban growth, while more and more citizens migrate to cities, in search of a better life. Indeed, the Chinese government recently unveiled plans to construct a city three times the size of New York, calling it a “strategy crucial for a millennium to come”. The Conversation

Yet as it stands, visions of our urban future are bleak.

By 2050, it is predicted that up to six billion inhabitants will live in urban areas – more than two thirds of the world’s population. There could be as many as 30 cities with populations exceeding 10m, and massive urban areas may merge to form megacities, resulting in urban populations exceeding 50m.

According to Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums, approaching two billion of the world’s inhabitants will live in slums, scratching out an existence without access to the basic services necessary for life. Another four billion will live severely compromised lives within urban sprawl, left to fight for resources as city governments fail to cope with the rapid influx of people.

A dim prospect. Tokyoform/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Social services and health facilities will break down. Human catastrophes such as starvation and the spread of disease will result from unsanitary conditions and high population density. The megacities of the future will have weak and unsustainable local economies, that will negatively affect citizens’ lives in myriad ways.

Wealth will not provide immunity from these issues. Pollution will rise exponentially, with toxic smog regularly enveloping entire cities. This will inevitably lead to a rise in respiratory diseases, which are already emerging as one of the three major health risks to the modern population. Bad air quality will be made worse by the urban heat island effect, as parks and rural hinterlands are built over to house the influx of people.

Nature will struggle to gain a foothold in the future city, with rural land predicted to shrink by 30% to accommodate urban expansion. The lack of countryside and green space will ultimately contribute to the sixth recorded mass extinction of animal and plant species.

A brighter future
But there is a way to avert this apocalyptic vision. Efforts to control the rapid and chaotic expansion of cities must go hand in hand with tackling the global environmental crisis, brought about by climate change. Governments, however, have proved unwilling or unable to reconcile the interests of global corporations with those of everyday people and the environment; this can be seen through their support of projects such as mining the Alberta Sands and oil operations in the Niger Delta.

Mining Alberta’s tar sands. Kris Krug/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

As such, any alternative to this bleak urban future will require a radical shift in governance and economic philosophy. Scholars argue that society’s economic aim should be the sustainable production and fair distribution of wealth – rather than the maximisation of profit. Devolving wealth and power will help to build robust local economies and strong communities, which can mitigate the pressures of global urbanisation.

These changes should also be manifest in the physical structure and form of urban communities, with compact, densely populated, sustainable and self-governing community developments, as opposed to laissez-faire urban sprawl. In alternative future cities, urban blocks will support all the immediate needs of their inhabitants; from healthcare to housing, education, food production, clean water and sanitation.

Welcome to the Organicity
A cut-through view of the Organicity. Paul Jones/NorthumbriaAuthor provided
To better understand what such a place might actually be like, David Dobereiner, Chris Brown and I created Organicity: an illustrated prototype for localised, autonomous, sustainable, urban community infrastructure. The Organicity is densely occupied, with residential, urban agriculture, retail, industry, commerce, education and health facilities stacked above each other, accommodating approximately 5,000 people per unit.

Automated industries and waste processing are located beneath the living zone, where there is no need for natural light. Each unit has a primary industry which trades with other neighbouring communities to generate income to support the infrastructure. Resources should be managed at a local level, with a higher level of responsibility than is currently shown by global corporations.

Nature and knowledge, side by side. Paul Jones/NorthumbriaAuthor provided

Protecting the environment and supporting a diverse range of wildlife would be a natural function of these new communities. Biodiversity could be promoted by green corridors, situated near education, health and office spaces so that children and workers can benefit from the proximity of a rich natural environment.

People power
Investing in local people through the provision of skills and education will add to the commercial viability of the community, as well as building cohesion, purpose and mutual respect. As the sociologist Jane Jacobs argued back in the 1970s, for cities to remain viable they should become the producers of resources, rather than insatiable consumers.

In the Organicity, each development will have the necessary expertise for the community to flourish, including doctors, architects, solicitors, dentists, as well as skilled and unskilled labour. This new urban model transforms city blocks into productive environments. For example, the development of urban farming would boost food production and prevent starvation, which would be an inevitable consequence of unimpeded urban growth.

Community greenhouses. Paul Jones/NorthumbriaAuthor provided
The developments will vary in scale, with the bigger ones housing hospitals and other community facilities that require specialist facilities. The prototype reinvents the concept of “terraced housing”: land is stepped backwards up a slope, forming true terraces, where rows of houses are arrayed to embrace the public plaza and allotment gardens.

Within these communities, it is essential that people work close to where they live, to reduce the impacts of transport: not only will this tackle pollution, it will also afford people more quality time with their families and local community.

Sharing communal resources – including machinery and cars – is an important principle of urban sustainability. Communal ownership of assets, including real estate and green space, is essential for this model to work. Renewable technologies could also be community-owned, which would help to break people’s dependency on fossil fuel.

By shifting from globalisation to localisation, and creating smaller, self-sufficient communities within sustainable developments, cities could regain their equilibrium. From where we stand today, the Organicity may sound like a Utopian dream. But if we’re to avoid an urban apocalypse, we’re going to need strong alternative visions, to change the way we imagine and plan for the cities of the future.

About Today's Contributor:
Paul Jones, Professor of Architecture, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation

What The Casting Of The Next Doctor Who Will Tell Us About The BBC


Image 20170413 25894 14l4mg4
Des Willie/BBC/BBC Worldwide/Shutterstock
By Alec Charles, University of Hull

If, frozen in time in 1989, an old-school Doctor Who fan were roused from cryogenic slumbers, he (and in those days it would almost certainly have been a “he”) would be astonished to see the direction taken by the latest series. He’d note that the hero’s arch-enemy had been reincarnated as both a man and a woman, that his companion was both black and gay, and that the show’s audience demographic had broadened (beyond anyone’s wildest expectations) to include women. The Conversation

But he might be reassured that two things had not changed. The BBC is still beset by government animosity – and the British press still speculate obsessively about the possibility of a female Doctor Who.

In 1985, Margaret Thatcher’s government had established the Peacock Committee to explore “replacing the BBC license fee with advertising revenues”. This was partly prompted by an antagonism towards the BBC’s perceived liberal bias, a hostility escalated by the BBC’s refusal to adopt jingoistic rhetoric in its coverage of the Falklands War – which went as far as seeing allegations of treason being levelled against the broadcaster.

In July 1986, the home secretary, Douglas Hurd, had thus reported his government’s enthusiastic response to Peacock’s proposals to promote a “free broadcasting market including the recommendation to increase the proportion of programmes supplied by independent producers”.

Two years earlier, that champion of popular broadcasting, Michael Grade, had moved from commercial television to become controller of BBC One. Although feared by traditionalists as heralding a “tidal wave of vulgarian programming”, Grade reestablished the BBC’s reputation as a bold and popular innovator. Those who saw Grade’s ascendancy as a sop to Thatcherism would have been reassured by the controversy he sparked in 1988 by broadcasting Tumbledown, a TV play depicting the indifference of the state towards a serviceman wounded in the Falklands.

Michael Grade giving evidence to the media select committee in 2007. PA/PA Archive/PA Images
As a result of Grade’s forceful endorsement, the drama was, as Mark Lawson has observed, “transmitted despite sustained political and military complaints”. So much, then, for the view of Michael Grade as a corporate collaborator. As noted in a Guardian profile of Grade:
To every generation of BBC executive there is the one programme which irritates the government so much it defines the corporation’s relations with Downing Street for a decade and Tumbledown was Grade’s.
The BBC website notes that Grade “was not afraid to make tough decisions – like scrapping sci-fi favourite Doctor Who”. Grade took the series off air for 18 months and fired its star, Colin Baker – but it was his successors who actually cancelled the programme. Grade remains demonised by die-hard fans as the executive who dispatched their favourite show. Yet his opposition to Doctor Who was indicative not only of his own confidence, but of the institution’s confidence under his management. It was a bold decision, symbolically important in his bid to modernise the organisation, to put a moribund old favourite out of its misery.

Yet Grade was not dogmatic about Doctor Who. When Russell T Davies resurrected the series in 2005, Grade wrote to congratulate the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson on this “classy, popular triumph”. Indeed, Thompson and Davies’s bold move in bringing the series back was only possible as a result of Grade’s bold decision to send it into exile two decades earlier.

Under pressure
Let’s fast forward to the present day – 13 years on from when the Hutton Report scarred the BBC’s confidence and led to the resignation of chair Gavin Davies and director-general Greg Dyke. It’s also nine years since the on-air conduct of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross prompted the resignation of the controller of Radio 2 and five years since the Jimmy Savile scandal broke. Just last year, the findings of Dame Janet Smith’s investigation emphasised that, in that latter context, the BBC had “missed opportunities to stop monstrous abuse”.

In 2015, a battered BBC dithered in its response to the latest incident involving the presenter of its global franchise Top Gear. The organisation prevaricated for a fortnight between the suspension of Jeremy Clarkson following a “fracas” with a producer and the presenter’s termination.

The loss of Top Gear was a big blow for the BBC. via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The following year, the organisation’s confidence was further dented when Clarkson’s replacement, Chris Evans, quit following poor reviews. Clarkson’s successful move that year to Amazon Prime (along with co-hosts Hammond and May) did not bolster the BBC’s morale.

The situation was hardly improved by the arrival of the government of Theresa May and Philip Hammond, and their allies’ claims of the “pessimistic and skewed” BBC response to Brexit – despite the robust defences advanced by Lord Hall, Nick Robinson, Ivor Gaber, The Guardian and a sizeable group of MPs.

In 2015, the BBC relinquished The Voice, one of its most successful formats, to a competitor. Late in 2016 – as a result of production processes promoted by Peacock three decades earlier – the institution lost another treasured asset to another competitor, the quintessentially “BeebishGreat British Bake Off. Having lost its Voice, Auntie was now in danger of losing her identity.

Going, going, gone: another BBC crown jewel. Mark Bourdillon via Flickr, CC BY

Michael Grade had once fought off bids by rivals to usurp the BBC’s rights to the popular American import Dallas. But today’s BBC lacks Grade’s showmanship. It now bravely clings on to its rights to broadcast such staples as Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Is there a Doctor in the house?
That is why the choice of the next star of Doctor Who counts. In its international sales, critical success and popular following, the series ranks alongside such titles as Top Gear, Bake Off and Sherlock. The new series – Peter Capaldi’s last – is scheduled to start on Saturday April 15. It will be the programme’s tenth full season since Davies brought it back. The corporation is clearly keen to retain and regain its success as a highly remunerative global brand.

The casting of its lead may signal the BBC’s confidence as a bold trendsetter – or not. Who it chooses to play the Doctor may be even more significant than the all-female Ghostbusters remake or Tamsin Greig’s Malvolia – or than Idris Elba’s chances of playing Bond.
(In a show of exquisitely pertinent impertinence, Doctor Who’s new cast member Pearl Mackie has this week declared her own desire to play James Bond.)​

Lorna Jowett, of Northampton University, has suggested that the relentless white maleness of this pointedly progressive series’ lead has prompted “increasing criticism. A 2015 episode provocatively presented the regeneration of a white male Time Lord into a black woman, and this prompted renewed press speculation – speculation rife since the 1980s – that the next actor in the role need not be male or white.

When it was revealed last month that the Time Lord’s new companion would be a lesbian, showrunner Steven Moffat expressed surprise that anyone thought this was a big deal, commenting: “The correct response should be, ‘What took you so long?’” This was, after all, the show that had given us John Barrowman’s glorious bisexual Captain Jack.

The hype around the casting of the series’ next lead may be seen as a barometer of the BBC’s sense of confidence in itself as a cultural driver and leader of social mores. Since Peter Capaldi announced his departure in January there has been much speculation as to who might fill his boots. David Harewood threw his hat into the ring, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Natalie Dormer, Olivia Colman and Tilda Swinton have all garnered support.

Confidence motion
In recent days, however, speculation that the BBC may cast a woman (and/or an actor of colour) in this flagship role has given way to tabloid reports that they may make a rather safer choice. “Hopes of a woman have been dashed,” reported The Sun, while The Mirror announced that TV bosses determined to recapture “the glory days of the David Tennant era have set their sights on finding a dashing male actor”.

If the Mirror is right, we may at least hope that Sacha Dhawan is in the frame. This strategy would, however, exclude both Thandie Newton and Vicky McLure – despite their thrilling performances in the latest Line of Duty – from the running.

Thandie Newton and Vicki McClure in Line of Duty. World Productions/ BBC / Bernard Walsh

After Hutton, Savile, Top Gear and Bake Off, the question as to whether a BBC rocked by waves of crisis and beset by political hostilities will seek to retrench or renew itself is of massive cultural and political significance. Will the organisation see this critical period as an opportunity to emulate Michael Grade’s modernising chutzpah – aligned with the cultural zeitgeist, yet unafraid of antagonising the establishment?

The impending decisions it takes as to the casting of this particular role may offer a gauge as to its confidence (and dexterity) in negotiating a route towards a post-Brexit Britain. It will certainly be something worth watching for.

About Today's Contributor:
Alec Charles, Head of the School of Arts, University of Hull

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

11 April 2017

Doctor Who Takes An Ethical Stance Towards Alien Life – So Why Isn't He Vegan?

So, you’ve run out of lentils, eh?’ Ray Burmiston/BBC

By Kate Stewart, Nottingham Trent University and Matthew Cole, The Open University

Since the Doctor Who series was rebooted in 2005 the television show has consistently presented the Doctor as a moral leader, a key element of which is his respectful relationship with other species. The Doctor expresses admiration and wonder for others, even when they threaten him or his human companions. Christopher Eccleston, who played the first relaunched Doctor, told the BBC that the new show retained “the central message of love for life in all its forms”. If this is the case, we have wondered, why isn’t the Doctor a vegan? The Conversation

Peter Capaldi, who plays the latest incarnation of the Doctor, has not eaten meat on screen. This is a nonhuman character who does not appear eat other nonhumans, and in this regard he differs from his previous three incarnations (Matt Smith, David Tennant, and Eccleston) who were often seen eating dead animals or wearing dead animals’ skins. This is a partial departure from the Doctor’s behaviour during the original series, which ran from 1962 to 1989. The sixth Doctor (played by Colin Baker) became a vegetarian in the 1985 episode The Two Doctors after his companions were almost killed by a species who viewed humans as food animals.

But the Doctor’s vegetarianism was expressly abandoned by head writer Russell T Davies when the show returned in 2005. Davies explained that he wrote the Doctor’s vegetarianism out of the series because he wanted to make the Doctor more relatable to the audience. But the result is that the Doctor now displays some very confused ethics.

In episode Boom Town from 2005, Eccleston’s Doctor discusses issues about death and mercy with a condemned alien. The scene is set in a restaurant, and the Doctor orders steak and chips. In the episode The Age of Steel from 2006, Tennant’s Doctor expresses how much he enjoys eating meat hotdogs while acknowledging their similarity to what Cybermen unjustly do to humans. In his first episode in 2010, Smith’s Doctor famously ate fish fingers and custard to recover from the regeneration process. Yet in the Christmas episode that year he reacts with wonder and compassion when encountering flying fishes, who he seeks to save.
The Eccleston, Tennant and Smith Doctors have all been shown as enthusiastic consumers of some nonhuman species while at the same time trying to protect others. When the earth is under threat of destruction, the Doctor only ever seems to care about the loss of human lives that might result, and not the many other species living on Earth. In the episode “Cold Earth” from 2010, Smith’s Doctor becomes involved in negotiations for humans to “share” the planet with Silurians, a species of “homo reptilians” who lived on Earth before humans evolved. In the debate over whether there is room for both species, there is no acknowledgement that any species other than humans already live on the planet, or that they are kept and killed for the convenience of humans.
Capaldi’s Doctor hasn’t yet been shown eating meat like his predecessors. In his first episode in 2014 he even gently chided his companion Clara’s hypocrisy when she was disgusted by the farming of human body parts by an alien, saying: “You weren’t a vegetarian the last time I looked.” There’s been no overt statement that the Doctor has returned to his vegetarianism, but by conspicuously not eating meat Capaldi’s Doctor has at least brought back the moral consistency of the earlier series’ vegetarian Doctor. Twelve years after Davies’ script decision, it seems the Doctor does not need to eat other species in order for us to relate to the character.

As a primetime show aimed at children and adults with a history stretching back more than 50 years, Doctor Who reflects contemporary cultural and ethical norms through the stories it tells. The post-2005 show has been rightly credited for the diversity of its human characters – the new series about to begin sees the introduction of the Doctor’s first openly gay companion, and tipsters feel that the next Doctor may be a woman, or black, or a black woman. However, the modern series has not been so progressive in dealing with our inconsistent ethical relationship with other species, even if the 12th Doctor has gone further than most of his predecessors to demonstrate that he does indeed “love life in all its forms”.

About Today's Contributors:
Kate Stewart, Principal Lecturer in Sociology, Nottingham Trent University and Matthew Cole, Associate Lecturer, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Here's How Doctor Who's Time Machine Measures Up With Real Instruments Of Space And Time


Image 20170409 29403 paxiug
The TARDIS. Babbel1996/wikipedia, CC BY-SA
By Martin Archer, Queen Mary University of London

There’s no denying that we’ve seen some absolutely staggering accomplishments in physics in the past year or so, particularly in our ability to measure space and time with unprecedented levels of detail. But being a lifelong “Whovian” excited about Doctor Who returning to our screens once again, I wondered how these accomplishments stacked up to those of the fictional Time Lords. The Conversation

The crowning achievement of the Doctor has to be the TARDIS, the blue box from the show that’s bigger on the inside and allows the Doctor and his companions to travel “all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will” as Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor once put it. But throughout the history of the show, the Doctor’s TARDIS has shown itself to be rather unreliable, regularly turning up at the wrong place or time. Given these faults we might think that the TARDIS isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be.

While the show has featured many, often conflicting, descriptions of how the TARDIS works, the key to the Time Lords’ time travelling ability seems to be the “Eye of Harmony”, essentially a star in an eternal state of collapsing into a black hole. In terms of real science though, the same theory that predicted black holes – Einstein’s general relativity – has solutions which permit time travel (in fact one possible way of doing this has been given the name TARDIS).

Whether nature actually allows such solutions to exist is still an open debate among theoretical physicists, and even if time travel could happen we certainly don’t know how to build a time machine. So we’ll just have to compare the Doctor’s TARDIS with our best instruments of simply measuring time and space.
How good is the TARDIS?
What we really need to compare here are these instruments’ relative precision. A simple way of thinking of this is as the ratio of the smallest thing you can measure with an instrument to the largest. In the case of a metre ruler that would be 1 millimetre compared to 1,000 millimetres (a metre), or simply one in 1,000.

Measuring space
In terms of measuring space our best ruler by far is advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Gravitational waves are mysterious ripples in the fabric of space and time that travel across our universe at the speed of light – stretching space in one direction and shrinking it in the direction that is at right angles. LIGO was the experiment that last year directly detected the minute changes in distances travelled by light beams, caused by gravitational waves.

These changes in distance are some 1,000-10,000 times smaller than the size of the nucleus of an atom, and they’re detected over a four-kilometre distance. That’s a level of sensitivity that’s up to one part in 1023 – a huge number consisting of a one with 23 zeros after it: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Now, considering the TARDIS’s playing field is “all of space”, it’s staggering that even when it turns up at the wrong place it simply manages to land on the right planet (usually Earth). The observable universe is some 1027 metres in diameter while the Earth’s is a comparatively tiny 1.3m metres. So simply being able to find our planet within only the observable universe is a feat requiring some one in 1070 relative precision. And that number only gets bigger when we consider how big the universe might extend beyond what’s actually visible.

Measuring time
When it comes to time, scientists have been developing new atomic clocks which are much better than the old Caesium ones that have been used to define what a second is. All these new clocks essentially count the number of waves of specific colours of visible light emitted by atoms – a unique property of each element. Our current best clock uses Ytterbium atoms and is stable enough to yield relative precision a little less than one in 1018.

But how do you compare this to the TARDIS? As it covers everything that ever happened or ever will happen, we need to essentially find out when the universe will die to be able to make a comparison. It’s currently 13.8 billion-years-old, but that’s still a very long way ahead. Given our current understanding of the amount of matter and energy in the universe, it won’t be until some 10100 years that all of the stars, planets and galaxies will have died, all protons and neutrons will have decayed and even all the supermassive black holes will have evaporated. This is what is known as the heat death of the universe.

Given that in the show, the TARDIS tends to turn up only a few years or a decade or so off the intended target, a ballpark figure for the TARDIS’s precision in time is around one in 10100. So despite it seemingly looking a bit rubbish in the show from time to time, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can match it. This is certainly something I’ll be keeping in mind when watching the show.

About Today's Contributor:
Martin Archer, Space Plasma Physicist, Queen Mary University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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