Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The new planet, hoax or not, and my dream about Evelyn Waugh (in tweed)

Interesting news this week about a possible ‘giant planet’ being discovered. It is said to be apparently part of our solar system but is so far away and hidden in something called the Oort Cloud that it hasn’t been spotted before. The report I read comes from the impeccably po-faced Independent, which is not known for sensationalism (it’s readers are far too well-behaved to fall for that kind of thing, and anyway as almost all of them – 52 at the last count, according to ABC circulation figures, although doesn’t included the editor’s extended family – can tell a shiraz from a merlot merely by the way it moves in the glass, they are naturally more accustomed to higher stuff).
You can find another report here and here.
The planet, which has been called Tyche, is said to be made of hydrogen and helium and has a surface temperature of -73c, although quite how they can know all this stuff if they haven’t yet even seen it is beyond me. It’s rather like all those claims about dinosaurs: we can apparently tell what its diet was, whether or not it lived in groups and how ferocious it was just from a 2cm slither of shin bone. Yeah, right.
The discovery – make that ‘discovery’ – is excellent news for those who believe in ‘aliens’ and suchlike, because although the planet Tyche is said to be wholly made of gas, it is likely, claim Bill and Ben Tugendhat, from the Wichita Academy of Space Exploration, Cancer Cures and Stem Cell Research Inc., who are behind all this nonsense, that it will have loads and loads of moons. And where to the aliens come from who spend most of their waking moments visiting the third rock from the Sun? Got it in one: the moons of various planets in our solar system. Case closed.
You’ll have gathered that I don’t believe in little green men or any other kinds of aliens, but I must confess that I find it utterly implausible, which is to say, a complete certainty, that life has evolved elsewhere in the universe, given its size. By life, of course, I include the kind of single-cell life forms from which we (and, I’m told even Tony Blair) evolved. And given the size of the universe, I think it is also highly likely that somewhere out their such single-cell life forms have also evolved into what we laughingly called intelligent life. However, and there’s always a however, given the size of the universe and given, for example, how long intelligent life has been around on Earth – the common comparison is that if the time life has existed on Earth is compared to a 12-hour clock, intelligent life has existed hereabouts for the last minute of the last hour of the day – it is also highly unlikely, not to say downright impossible, that one such form of intelligent life will come into contact with another form. The chances are that we do not coincide, and if we do, we are so bloody far away from each other, there is no danger that we will come across each other by chance. Many folk, of course, talk of ‘travelling through dimensions’ which would, if true, solve the problem of our astronauts dying out (and most certainly of boredom) before they got anywhere close to anywhere else, but I think it is complete cobblers.
According to the Independent’s report, more data on the new plant Tyche is due to be released in April, and in the meantime Bill and Ben Tugenhat, of Wichita, wonder whether they couldn’t interest you in a little more life insurance.

. . .

Alongside the report in the ‘Indy’, was a little feature as to why claims that the Apollo Moon landing were faked are bollocks. It goes through ten common charges, for example how come the astronauts’ boots left footprints on the Moon’s

surface then there was no moisture around? I once again belong firmly in the sceptics camp about claims that the whole thing was faked and was filmed in a huge warehouse in Wichita which Nasa rented from Bill and Ben Tugendhat, but looking at the pictures, I was struck by one anomaly. I have included one here: from the astronaut’s shadow, it is clear that the Sun is behind him, though at an angle. Yet from my life as an unsuccessful photographer I know that if the light source is behind your subject, it could well end up being completely underexposed, and unless some form of fill-in flash were used to illuminate the astronaut from the front, we should not be able to see anything at all. He would be an outline and nothing else.
However, we can see quite clearly. In fact, it is rather a good photograph. So some form of flash was used. But for some reason that strikes me as a little implausible, because the astronaut is almost opposite the camera i.e. not at an angle, and if flash had been used, there would most certainly have been a reflection of it in the astronaut’s visor. But there isn’t. One explanation is that flash wasn’t used, but another kind of light source. An objection to that, however, is that it, too, might well be expected to be reflected in the visor and also that it would have to be a light source of the magnitude of a studio arc lamp to cast that much light. On the other hand, the same objections apply if, as the conspiracy theorists claim, the whole thing was photographed in a studio. Then, too, given the strength of the light source behind the astronaut, another light source, whether flash or arc light, would be needed to fill in the detail of the astronaut. But again there is no evidence of it in the man’s visor. So, so far, even stevens. I suspect it’s those bloody little green men again.

. . .

Many years ago, I had a very vivid dream. In it, the novelist Evelyn Waugh was cooking m a fry-up. He was dressed as you see him in the picture, and was obviously at the end of his life (he died at 66 from too much good living). In the
dream he was a very friendly man and very pleasant. I was just an ingĂ©nue pleased to meet a writer I whose work I liked a great deal. This would have been in the mid-Sixties, more or less around the time he died. Apart from having read all his novels up until that point (and having had the very good fortune of starting with Decline And Fall, his first, and then, fortuitously, more or less reading them in the order in which he wrote them, I had read nothing about Waugh. So I didn’t know much about him. I later found out that he wasn’t always very nice, although there is often the suggestion that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, but that if you were courteous to him, he could also be courteous and charming. I find his humour to be unique, and I do think he was able to laugh at himself, which is a trait not quite as common among the famous as it might be.
That dream has always puzzled me. Undoubtedly, by the time I had had it, I had come across the picture I have supplied or a similar one below, or else I would not have dreamed about him wearing a tweed suit. And why did I dream it. Who knows?

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