What If We Are All Just A Hologram?

It’s one of the more exotic theories blown around the cyber ether lately, backed up, so they claim, by some actually credible science. Basically, everything you see around you, including yourself, is fake, a kind of hologram.

It sounds straight out of a bit from Douglas Adams, where man goes on to prove that the law of cause and effect does not exist and promptly gets himself killed at the next pedestrian crossing. The science makes even less sense to me than most things, but it goes something like this:

A team of physicists studied data from the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), believed to be radiation left over from the very start of the Universe, and claimed to find evidence that our entire Universe is a kind of illusion. Basically, they say, we perceive reality in three dimensions, but everything we see and feel in 3-D is actually stuff that has been compressed on to a 2-D surface, like the hologram stored on a credit card.

Everything that happens inside this 2-D surface, including time, is thus an illusion, something that may indeed be a kind of computer simulation.

Bit of a head scratcher, eh? But before we get down to the impossible task of imagining what kind of celestial lunatic might actually want to include everything from black holes to Donald Trump in an utterly lifelike computer simulation, might there not be a kind of upside to all this?

After all, if time doesn’t exist, then neither does old age, decrepitude or sell by dates.

Indeed, the growing number of spectacularly aged billionaires dangling supermodels on their arthritic hips suggests that, far from being the deluded old saddos we thought, these guys may indeed have unlocked a fundamental truth of the Universe.

If people don’t exist, then neither do your loved ones. You never need to worry about forgetting anyone’s birthday ever again. That blithe and bonny soul to whom you pledged your everlasting truth is no more real than that candy wrapper, but then, neither are you. One fake person can no more keep promises to another fake person than he can make them in the first place, so your faithlessness is covered; it’s just as real as anything else.

But think about it, if your loved ones aren’t real, then neither are all those people you hate. The idiot in the office with chronic B.O. who insists on eating complicated sandwiches with loud smacks of his lips isn’t real. He is simply a figment of your non-existent imagination. Your broadband provider isn’t real, and neither is its delusion that you somehow owe it money. Indeed, money itself isn’t real, so I can stop using it to buy the food I think I need.

Cancer isn’t real, so I can smoke non-existent cigarettes to my non-existent heart’s content while drinking my non-existent head off. The tribe of devil worshipping accountants whose ad I’ve just heard on the radio isn’t real either, and that, somehow, makes my non-existent soul feel very good indeed.

Sartre famously said that hell is other people. But the hell we think other people bring us is entirely a figment of our non-existent imaginations.

I’ve got the perfect response for the next time I’m arrested for eating a burger in the town square while wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers. I’m going to put every non-existent defence lawyer in the world out of business.

“None of it is real, Your Honour. You sit before me, a non-existent judge in a non-existent court in a non-existent Universe. You may have the deluded notion that you can impose some kind of sentence on me, but you can’t. The policemen who claim they saw me don’t exist, and we know how naughty policemen are when it comes to making up evidence.

“In this case, their false claim to existence is the most egregious perjury of all. Since you are nothing more than a figment of my non-existent imagination, then I’m going to imagine that you have just acquitted me. And I think I’d fancy some nice damages as well. Cheers.”

I have no idea what all of this says about humanity, but it is clearly something very profound and far reaching. It wasn’t enough to prove that God doesn’t exist. We had to prove that we don’t exist either. What’s next?

 

Jeremy The Snail, or Zambian Politics UK Style

If you go by traditional media at least, things aren’t looking so good for Jeremy Corbyn, left wing leader of the Opposition Labour Party, in the election due to be held in Britain on June 8  next. Corbyn and Labour have been well behind in the opinion polls since long before the election started.

Now, things can often change in the course of a campaign. Favourites start to falter in the white heat of battle and circumstance, just look at Hillary, but nothing like that is ever going to happen if traditional media in the UK has anything to do with it.

To a man and woman, with the exception of The Mirror and The Guardian, all national British newspapers are staunchly, rabidly, frothing at the mouthingly pro-Tory. This has been an accepted fact for decades, so accepted that said newspapers don’t even bother pretending any more, apart from a brief flirtation with Tony Blair at a time when Labour were basically Tory-lite.

Indeed, this lack of pretence might be said to be a good thing, no more false promises of objectivity, and the power of print media, let’s face it, wanes a little more every single day.

But the extent to which the British media has been colluding since day one in a concerted effort to stitch up the snap election called by UK Prime Minister Teresa May for the Tories must surely give pause to some of those who still entertain the notion that they live in a democracy.

Even the venerable, supposedly truth telling BBC has been swept up in the tsunami of Corbyn ridicule. Can it possibly have been an accident that BBC Radio 4’s main morning news programme – broadcast just after the launch of Labour’s official election manifesto – also featured extensive references to a story about “a snail called Jeremy,” with frequent updates such as “it appears that Jeremy the snail has bitten his owner. Oh dear, I didn’t know that snails could bite.”

All this was interspersed with another news item quoting a trade union boss and supposed ally of Corbyn as saying that the best Labour could hope from this election was to hold on to around 200 seats, in reality a catastrophic defeat. There’s nothing more likely to persuade potential supporters of a candidate not to come out than constant references to his lack of a winning chance.

Shortly after this election was called, I remember thinking it might not be the slam dunk everyone in the pro-Tory media was frantically predicting. Whatever people might feel about Corbyn as a candidate, he is one of the few putative leaders in Western Europe who actually stands for a different way of doing things. I thought that the more Corbyn got to talk about the kind of society he wanted, the more the result might cease to resemble the hoped for stitch up.

But I couldn’t predict how even the pretence of balance would be abandoned by ‘respectable’ organisations like the BBC.

It all reminds me of a story I heard years ago about the one time veteran President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda. The bould Kenneth was running for, God knows, an eleventh term or something, but this wasn’t one of those one party charades.

Oh no, there were genuine opposition parties who had nothing to do with the President and were genuinely trying to win the office from him.

The only problem was this, a lot of people – particularly in rural Zambia – weren’t able to read, so the Government came up with a clever visual code to help them make the right choice. The box where you could cast your vote for Kenneth was emblazoned with a soaring eagle, the symbol of the nation, while the boxes where you could vote for the opposition were decorated with pictures of rats, snails, snakes and the like.

Sound familiar? Of course the UK is so much more sophisticated than those people down in Zambia, isn’t it?

Lost Religions: Forgotten Winds From The East

Watching ‘The Lives of Others’ brought to mind a visit I managed to make to the former East Germany last year. The visit involved one of those odd little loops of coincidence life seems to have such a panting fondness for, but then, maybe it’s just that I’ve started to meet myself on the way back, as it were.

I had been in Berlin as a most callow youth just a couple of weeks before the Wall came down. I was back as the official nation geared up for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of that event and the consequent extinction of the GDR, the former East Germany, call it what you will.

At a radio station in the beautiful city of Halle (a neglected pearl of Germania, believe me), I had a conversation with a man who had lived over half his life in the GDR. He presents a show on Halle’s Radio Corax called ‘News From A Damaged World.’ He wasn’t overly enamoured of the present set up, but then, not too many of the Germans I met in Halle were.

Most seem to have accepted what they all refer to as “the change” with a certain degree of fatalism. Now that all the slogans about freedom have mouldered away, people have had time to realize that no political story is as ever as simple as politicians (and indeed most of the media) would like us to believe.

Goetz (I do hope I’m spelling his name correctly) described life in the final years of the GDR, roughly the same era in which ‘The Lives of Others’ is set. His view was that the entire country had become suffused – not with a righteous clamour for freedom – but with a kind of all embracing boredom, a sort of ennui that seeped into every pore of life.

People just couldn’t be arsed. They had long ago stopped believing in things, and even the inertia of post-belief had begun to sputter and give out. You don’t have to love or believe in a regime in order to be an active participant in its version of reality. You might even hate it, but the act of hatred makes you a participant.

What matters is that it matters to you, but if it stops mattering, if those great grey structures you were taught to fear as  a child suddenly seem made of paper, then that might go a long way towards explaining the spontaneous collapse of a country to which, in theory at least, 17 Million people had given their allegiance.

Listening to Goetz, I couldn’t help being reminded of the 1980’s in Ireland, of how I and people like me were being disgorged from a school system which didn’t seem to believe in anything into a future which seemed weirdly devoid of possibility.

Catholic Ireland was sputtering to a conclusion. It would take Ireland’s Cultural Cosa Nostra another 25 years to notice, of course – they’re not exactly the quickest – but a crucial energy in people’s souls, the willingness to take it all somehow seriously, had bled away in the night.

Everything, from the monotonous drone of priests into bad microphones (I will never understand why, when they got rid of the Latin Mass, the Irish Church never trained its priests how to speak, how to hold an audience. Were they too afraid of what they might say?) to the slack jawed cant of politicians, began to seem like some form of arcane dance, a bubble warping away from the reality of peoples’ lives at lightspeed.

Belief in anything has, believe it or not, never counted for much in Ireland, but even the illusion of belief had begun to melt. There was nothing to replace it, no civic code – however vague – such as had been left behind by Christian Churches in England or Germany for example.

Like anything else, the story of the GDR and why it foundered is a great deal more complex than we are led to believe. Only on my visit to Halle did I discover that it actually had a great deal to do with oil.

Apparently, during the oil crisis of the mid-1970’s, the Soviet Union discovered that the East Germans had been acquiring extra oil by doing deals on the side with other countries. The extra oil helped fuel an economy that (here’s another thing you won’t be told today) was actually pretty dynamic.

The Russians decided to respond by starving the East Germans of oil, because you couldn’t have those pesky Germans stealing a march on the rest of Socialism. The consequences seem to have been fairly terminal. An export driven economy needs lots of energy. Without it, things began to stagnate.

How do I know this? As part of the same trip, I visited a museum in a place called Halle Neustadt. Halle Neustadt itself is a fascinating notion, a kind of mad experiment in social engineering.

Basically, the communist regime built an entire new city from scratch to one side of the ancient city of Halle. The idea was to provide housing and other fully integrated facilities for workers at a nearby chemical complex.

Many of the buildings, including a weird structure of narrow apartment blocks known as ‘The Slices,’ are now derelict. Some, including what is thought to be the longest apartment building in the world, still function as home to thousands.

Anyway, inside the Halle Neustadt museum is a room dedicated to artefacts produced inside the old GDR. Walking around it produced possibly the very last sensation I could have expected. Like the astronaut at the end of ‘2001,’ I had stumbled into something that defied all my senses by seeming absolutely familiar.

I recognized almost everything: kettles, a popular kind of portable typewriter, lamps, irons, even a type of phone. I had walked casually through a wormhole into my own past. All these goods had been present in the Ireland of the 1970’s, of my early childhood.

I’ve since realized that ‘Auf Deutsch Bitte,’ a kind of teach yourself German manual purchased by my parents (don’t ask) was actually produced in East Germany. It even had a picture of ‘Der Slices’ in it.

Our Government didn’t tell people at the time, but Ireland obviously imported a great deal of stuff from the GDR in the 1970’s, and if we did, it’s likely others did as well. The creases of Commie irons may well have been all over your clothes.

Scarcity of oil probably affected the ability of the GDR to continue producing exports, and it’s highly likely that the EU – the greatest protectionist racket ever devised – had something to do with it as well.

Funny how stuff is never, ever as simple as we think.

Secret Space Planes And Radio Plays

Ok, so why does this post contain a picture of the US Military’s ultra secret spy spaceship, so ultra secret that we don’t even know if it spies or not? Well, it’s partly a piece of self-indulgence I suppose. I hope it amounts to a piece of serendipity.

Also, though of course this isn’t the main point of the piece, I can’t help ruminating yet again about what exactly constitutes ‘fake news’ these days. After all, if the X-37B is so damn secret, then how come we know about it? How come we even know its name?

But I digress. This is supposed to be about blowing my own tiny electronic trumpet. Just the other weekend, a small and very talented group of people – with myself in tow – put the final touches to recording my new radio play, entitled ‘A Pilot’s Honour.’

The drama will be edited before being broadcast on Ireland’s Newstalk station. It should be possible to listen to it from just about anywhere in the world, but we’ll keep you posted on that.

In the meantime, let’s confine ourselves to noting that we enjoyed a hard working but very successful weekend, and that the combination of glorious sunshine and Galway is enough to lift the most haggard spirit. My unlimited thanks go, as always, to my brilliant and unflappable producer, Alan Meaney, and to an incredible acting team of Martina Dolan, Joe Steiner, Martin Kelleher and Ronan Flynn.

‘A Pilot’s Honour’ is a sort of love story very loosely adapted from a subplot in my novel ‘Ghost In The Sky,’ which I published on Amazon a couple of years ago, coincidentally around the same time the X-37B went into orbit.

‘Ghost In The Sky’ tells the story of a top secret aircraft which uses lighter than air technology in a way so bizarre it can actually hover outside your house by night without you knowing anything about it. You can find out more about it here:

Ghost In The Sky Kindle Edition

 

All Hail Monsieur Le Presidente Gump

“Madames et Monsieurs, je vous presente le Presidente nouveau de la Republique: ‘Urr, Hallo. Mah name is Monsieur le Presidente. Yew can call me ‘Monsieur le Presidente.'”

It’s official: the new President of one of the eight most powerful countries in the world is someone no one had ever heard of until a few months ago. Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the weekend’s election is predictably being hailed as a triumph for the entrenched EU establishment by an ever more pliant and distorted mainstream media, but is it not really more a sign of how desperate things have become?

To stop Marine Le Pen, the giant creaking edifice of the west’s political establishment – and that includes media, showbiz, Barack Obama and all the other ephemeral nonsense – threw its full weight behind somebody nobody anywhere really knows anything about.

Macron was the Forrest Gump candidate, the dystopian prediction of the 1979 movie ‘Being There’ made flesh. In Peter Sellers’ finest hour, an illiterate gardener named ‘Chance’ accidentally gains the favour of a dying billionaire and his lonely wife, and simply by dint of failing to offend anyone, is set on course to become the President of America.

Sometimes, somebody somewhere gets very, very lucky. They win the lottery. People do, you know. Sometimes you can be 39 and look barely 25. And you can be in the public eye for such a short time that no one gets around to wondering how young you looked when, as a 15 year old boy, you caught the eye of your 39 year old drama teacher, who later became your wife.

The first good news they’ve had in years, Macron’s victory will be trumpeted by the Brussels oligarchy as an excuse to keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing for the last two decades. Who needs more democracy, they will crow. We just asked the people and look what they said, they agree with us completely.

No matter that EU policy up to now has consisted of walking gingerly around every giant turd on the electoral road – from Spain to Italy to Britain – not even holding their noses because that would imply some acknowledgement that the turd is actually there.

It would be perilously shortsighted to press ahead with economic policies which continue to allow the industrialists and financiers of Germany to wear the people of Europe like a crash helmet, but going on their form up to now, that’s exactly what the Eurocrats will do.

Backtrack a bit, and you realize this is nowhere near the turning point a ludicrously biased media will claim. Marine Le Pen is a figure whose political career has been mired in controversy almost from the moment of her birth. The only figure more divisive than her in a country which – believe it or not – is allergic to extremes, was her dear old Dad.

Not so long ago, the ability of the Fronte Nationale to attract 10% of the vote in a French election was regarded as an utter disaster. This time, they managed to persuade 11 million Frenchmen and women to back them (and a staggering 4 Million others went to the trouble of going to the polls solely in order to spoil their votes). This is anything but a triumph for moderation. It is a dire warning. The tragedy is that the greedy fools who run ‘L’Europe’ will fail to heed it.

In electoral terms, the establishment needed to come up with a figure capable of defeating someone normally as electable as Hitler’s poodle, and they almost didn’t make it. One after another, so called political titans like Hollande, Sarkozy, Manuel Valls and Francois Fillon simply disintegrated.

Think about it: the establishment came to the conclusion that any one of these men would have lost the election to Le Pen. Think about how insane such a calculation would have seemed only three years ago, then think about the times we are in, the times that everyone except the Eurocracy and their godawful media lapdogs knows have changed utterly.

Faced with disaster, it was time to go with the nuclear option: Le Presidente Gump, President Chance. Go for the guy who hasn’t been around long enough for anyone to form a real opinion about. Sure they’ll have plenty of time to start hating him when he’s President, and you never know, maybe we’ll have thought of something different by then.

While very little is known about France’s new President, there are already a couple of details which might cause a small arching of the occasional eyebrow.

His wife is 24 years his senior, and they first caught each other’s eye when she was his drama teacher, and he was the ripe old age of 15. Macron’s parents are said to have moved him to Paris from his home town of Amiens in order to end the relationship, but the couple defied predictions by staying together and eventually marrying in 2007.

Macron has a stepson who is two years his senior. Weird? Well, I know they do things differently in France, but isn’t there something about M. and Mme. Macron’s romantic history which sits uneasily beside the torrid maelstrom that is sexual politics today?

You can’t click on an Internet news site these days without finding a pic of some comely young female teacher who’s just been dismissed and arrested for having sex with a male pupil. The Feminazis will tell you that this is true love, that you’re a rabid misogynistic bastard and that anyway, times were different then.

The fact that the latter is the exact argument used to play down the abuse of women and children in the past will naturally trouble them not a whit.

But the question remains: what if M. Macron had been 39 and Mme. Macron a mere 15 when they met? Would he have stood a snowball’s chance of being elected? Actually, you’d most likely have never heard of him, because he would have been in prison since the mid-1990’s. As things stand, it’s hard to imagine Macron getting to be, say, PM of Britain or President of the US without some pretty awkward questions being asked.

The best man at Macron’s wedding in 2007 was an elderly businessman who had loaned him €550,000 to buy his first apartment in Paris, coincidentally while Macron held a position known as ‘Inspector of Finances,’ so nothing even slightly dodgy there. The new hero of the masses previously served on President Hollande’s Elysee staff and also had a highly paid position as an investment banker with Rothschild & co. Mon Dieu, he’s basically Joan of Arc meets Trotsky.

It’s also proven helpfully difficult to pin down anything he actually believes in, other than, obviously, that ‘racisme’ is bad and the EU, though possibly misguided, is good. He has been described as a ‘Centrist,’ a term often translated by cynics to read: “I will do and say absolutely f***ing anything to get into power, so long, of course, as it offends the least possible amount of people.”

Elsewhere, it has been said that he identifies with the ‘Third Way’ policies espoused by the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Sounds harmless enough, if only it hadn’t been proven years ago that ‘Third Way’ is basically code for Thatcherism and cannibalistic neoliberalism with a smiley face sticker on it. The workers and peasants must be necking each other with abandon. No wonder Obama is such a fan.

Personally, I think it’d be great fun if Macron turned out to be a cannibal or a devil worshipping zombie, but there’s one thing I’m pretty sure he isn’t, and that’s a Socialist.

In the meantime however, all hail Monsieur le President. He’s bought the EU another few months or years (depending on how they screw it up), and that’s all he’s really there for, you know.

Hot Air And Climate Change

I wonder how they calculated all the multiple carbon footprints of the recent Paris Climate Change Conference? How did they offset the air miles generated by delegates travelling from the farthest corners of human habitation? Imagine, for example, how much carbon must have been generated in transporting delegates from all those island countries which are set to disappear because of global warming.

Then there’s the question of all those multi-course dinners the delegates will have enjoyed in Paris. The fare might have grown slightly less exotic once world leaders had departed the city but, in my experience, senior civil servants and NGOs don’t exactly stint themselves these days either. How did they deal with all the methane produced by well fed delegates, not to mention the biblical quantities of carbon dioxide emitted in the course of all that worthy sentiment?

Maybe there was a plan before things even started. Maybe the organisers had already put in place an ingenious scheme (or possibly a piece of miracle accounting, which these days is kind of the same thing), whereby the entire impact of the global shindig was somehow registered as carbon neutral.

I hate to sound negative or, God forbid, as if I’m a climate change denier. I have enough problems without being put in the stocks and pelted with carbon neutral eggs. It is simply that climate change is a religion – or at least a form of public piety – in which the great majority of people have lost faith.

It’s not that most people don’t believe climate change is happening. It is hard to ignore the reports of your eyes and skin. I live in a country that isn’t in any danger of disappearing under the Indian Ocean, but even here, extreme weather events – flooding, wildly fluctuating temperatures, processions of storms that last for weeks – have become almost expected.

Whether these events are as a result of human behaviour is something most people are probably a bit agnostic about. Probably, if you press someone who isn’t paid by an NGO or environmentally rapist corporation, they will speculate that climate change could be due to a number of factors, only one of which is human behaviour.

We are told repeatedly that ‘all of the science’ says global warming is happening and is directly as a result of human consumption of various noxious materials. Again, like nearly all of us, I’m not qualified to contradict even 1% of the science, but it’s important to point out what exactly we mean when we say ‘the science.’

Giant global assumptions about what is likely to happen in a system as complex and fantastically diverse as the climate of Planet Earth are only possible because of computer modelling. Basically, giant masses of raw data from all over the globe (from weather stations, field studies, pollution monitoring in cities etc.) are fed into computers which then model the statistics and generate predictions.

When the good and mighty tell us to have faith in ‘the science,’ they are actually telling us to have faith in computer modelling. Now, the great majority of us unthinkingly hand over our lives to computers every day. It’s always been much easier to simply press a button.

None of us, however, and scientists – whether they know or admit it or not – are no different, ultimately know just how reliable computer modelling is. Today’s computers are radically different from the computers which ran large parts of our lives ten years ago, the computers of ten years time will be different again. And climate is arguably the most difficult, the most complex and contradictory thing computers have ever been asked to model.

Currently, a great deal of social and health policy in western countries and elsewhere is based on statistical data which has at least partly been generated and interpreted by computers. There are a great many instances where the policies generated by these processes have turned out to be fantastically wrong.

Human beings are notoriously difficult to predict, it is incredibly easy to miss some obscure yet critical causal factor. Yet no one ever argues that the models need to be changed, that we need to supplement the analyses of computers with some kind of revised human paradigm. It’s always been much easier to let a button do the thinking for you.

But this isn’t the real reason why most of what has come out of Paris is likely to fail, and that our chances of averting the various predicted global catastrophes with actions taken in this decade are virtually zero.

The real reason is this: fairness. Your average consumer (civil servants prefer nowadays to label people as ‘consumers’ rather than ‘citizens,’ which in itself is interesting) may have always quailed at his tiny inability to do anything in the face of a global phenomenon – such as famine in Ethiopia or the plight of whales – but he was prepared to buy into it, to do his insignificant little bit: he isn’t anymore.

It used to be possible to sell global warming on the basis that ‘we are all in this together.’ It is not possible to rationally make this argument anymore.

The last global financial collapse and the consequences which flowed from it gave the lie to any notion that ‘we are in this together.’ When supposedly democratic governments in the west demonstrated their willingness to plunge tens of millions of their citizens into poverty in order to rescue the banks whose criminal behaviour had caused the crisis in the first place, it became very clear to everyone that we were not in it together, we are not in anything together.

Likewise, when the US and Britain turned international law on its head to grab oil resources in Iraq – with consequences that have bedevilled the world, and most recently the citizens of Paris, ever since – it became very clear that we are not in it together.

Before the Paris talks had concluded, your average ‘consumer’ knew that whatever sequence of platitudes emerged was likely to go heavy on him and be more or less ignored by powerful corporations. It really doesn’t matter in terms of global warming whether the ordinary consumer has to sort his refuse into eight separate compartments instead of three and then pay ever more exorbitant fees to private companies for the carrying away of said refuse; but someone is going to attempt to make him do it all.

Likewise, an alleged intention to conserve vital resources such as water has somehow morphed into a process whereby water has been commercialised, and consequent obscene profits are being made by water companies, all in the name of saving the planet?

Even the most challenged consumer sees through the bullshit by now, and that has fatal consequences for whatever Paris thinks it is trying to achieve. Even the most unaware of us has some knowledge that so called clean technologies – whereby humanity’s demands for energy could mostly be met without obvious damage to the planet – already exist.

If such technologies were properly pushed and resourced, then most of the alleged human causes of climate change would be removed, but it turns out that there’s still loads of oil in the ground, and still loads of money to be made by those who never think they have enough.

 

Saving Your DNA With Tinder

From the world of global media craziness comes news that Sudan, the endangered Northern White Rhino, is looking for a date on Tinder. Yes, as part of an attempt to save the species, the hook up app is trying to show its humane side by helping to raise $9 Million for an in vitro breeding programme.

$9 Million eh? That is one expensive date. It seems bizarrely out of place on Tinder, one of whose selling points is surely the urge to minimize costs by eliminating thorny issues about second dates, dinner, breakfast, moving in or, God forbid, marriage.

There may be sons of Sultans or reigning US Presidents who’ve spent similar amounts on dates, but it’s very unlikely they go on Tinder.

Sudan is 42, which is apparently pretty old for a rhino, and a combination of age and low sperm count mean he has thus far failed to be fruitful with the two female white rhinos who comprise his sort of harem. Being the last of his kind, Sudan is surrounded by armed guards all day and night at his compound in Kenya. Between that and the babes, he sounds a bit like a rapper, though hopefully all the weaponry isn’t putting him off.

You’ve got to love his Tinder profile though, which says things like “I don’t mean to be forward, but the fate of my species depends on me.”

Apparently, if you ‘swipe right’ – which is Tinder speak for ‘yeah, not a total minger,’ or ‘I’m so f*****g bored and desperate I’m about to propose marriage to the table’ – you’ll be taken to links which enable you to donate to the preserving Sudan’s genetic legacy fund.

Now, I’m not on Tinder so have probably missed the point, but I wouldn’t have thought it had all that much to do with preserving your precious genetics. Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe there are profiles that run something like “I am a middle aged Botanist whose best friends are a tree named Ralph and a cup named Gerald. I am terribly worried that unless I meet someone very soon, the unique strands of my DNA will be lost to the Universe forever. All responses considered. Frankly, if you’re a bunny boiler (bunnies aren’t plants, after all) or a former cast member of TOWIE, I really don’t feel like I can be choosy.”

One assumes also that people are always looking for a new angle on Tinder. By now, one expects people are used to completely misleading photographs or wildly exaggerated claims about earnings or sexual prowess. You’d nearly expect people to lie, wouldn’t you? It’s almost like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.

But Sudan, or those seeking to preserve his genetic legacy, may well have stumbled across the greatest Tinder angle of all time. Surely there are people at work right now on variations.

“I am the very last Timelord / Martian / Gary Glitter fan left alive in the Universe. Please think about this: if you don’t swipe right and go on a date with me, you are dooming an entire species to extinction. If you don’t swipe right, it is tantamount to an act of genocide. Are you really that much of a monster? How can you sleep at night? P.S: My turn ons include little models of the TARDIS that make noise and Gary Glitter records.”

It might sound like a particularly cruel and manipulative sell, but is not all fair when it comes to love, war and getting your rocks off, which some people will tell you are all aspects of pretty much the same thing?

The other aspect of the story which piqued my interest was a quote from a spokeswoman for Tinder, who apparently said “we’ve heard countless stories about Tinder babies, but this would be the first match to save a species.”

Really? There are Tinder babies? I wouldn’t have thought Tinder had all that much to do with babies. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong. Are there a lot of Tinder babies out there? What’s that like? Are they, you know, well adjusted and stuff? Someone should be carrying out a study right now.

Zuckerberg’s Glasses: The 7 Billion Futures of Man

So the High Overlord of Facebook apparently vowed last week to bring about the death of the smartphone. This is the way things go these days. No sooner has something become arguably the most powerful device in the Universe than someone, somewhere starts plotting to kill it. It’s like a hyper tech version of Game of Thrones.

According to those who claim to understand these things, Mark Zuckerberg wants more and more of his customers to have more and more of their reality mediated directly through Facebook.

It’s not enough anymore to groan murderously at yet another pic of a puppy in trouble, or yet another PC rant from someone who wants to sue reality for making them swallow yet another bottle of pills, Facebook has bigger plans for you, or at least for the way you perceive the Universe.

Basically, you’ll get yourself some kind of mobile device, like a camera or, I don’t know, a paper clip or a pair of glasses, just anything but a smartphone, hold it up against some everyday scene or object, and instead of the simple object or everyday scene, you’ll see all kinds of things that Facebook has put there.

Life will become a sort of waking hallucination. Maybe you’ll see fairies or dragons or Donald Trump chasing some co-ed around a cloud. You will – presumably after paying your few dollars – be enabled to have all kinds of experiences that used to get people labelled as schizophrenics.

You’ll be tripping without mushrooms, having visions without being, you know, a visionary. You can become your own DIY Nostradamus. You can be like William Blake watching angels singing in a tree.

It will seem strange to some, but the technology to do what Zuckerberg is talking about has actually been around for a while. For some years now, Nintendo have been producing so called AR (‘Augmented Reality’) cards. They look for all the world like ordinary collector cards, but place them on a table or other flat, bright surface, point a DS at them, and all sorts of outlandish 3-D figures start mushrooming out of the table.

The same thinking went into the global, but bizarrely brief craze known as Pokémon Go. Nintendo seeded a virtual version of the entire globe with Pokémon figures, and teenagers and arrested developers the world over caused thousands of traffic calamities every day by running around trying to snap them with their smartphones.

It seized the world for four weeks and then stopped. In retrospect, the most amazing thing about the Pokémon Go craze was its brevity. People lost interest so quickly. Presumably, billions are being poured into trying to find out why.

One further presumes that Zuckerberg has something more elaborate in mind, but what? The most likely way to access his new reality would be through some kind of goggles, gizmos that look and weigh the same as a pair of glasses, or maybe even contact lenses. The reality they bring you has to be a great deal more absorbing than a simple hunt for cartoon figures.

Maybe you’ll be lost inside your own insanely detailed version of ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Star Wars.’ Maybe you’ll turn a corner in your favourite park and be assaulted by some kind of dragon, or chased down the street after the pub by a gang of Stormtroopers.

There’s no point, by the way, in wondering whether any of this is a good idea or not. People gave up doing that about tech a long time ago.

But it does raise some interesting questions. One size won’t fit all. The short life of Pokémon Go seems to prove that, so maybe we’ll all have to sign up to our own, individualised realities. Maybe I want to go exploring Ursa Minor while I’m at the gym, or hike up Olympus Mons while sipping coffee in the shopping mall.

The longer we all become absorbed in these ‘realities,’ and let’s face it, focusing on that ‘reality which is supposed to be real’ is already tough, it’s so damned boring and unpleasant for so much of the time, the more we will cease to agree on the basics of what is real or not.

Most political fractures at the moment are fuelled by the fact that opposing parties don’t even share a common definition of reality anymore. Your ‘fake news’ is my ground breaking revelation. ISIL inhabit a different Universe to the one inhabited by everyone else. Even in so called western democracies, it has become virtually impossible to verify a single objective fact.

The generations are already warping away from each other at light speed, like galaxies in a speeded up Big Bang. The life experience of someone who grew up as recently as the 1960’s is as alien to that of someone growing up now as putative life forms under the ice sheet of Enceladus. Not alone is this going to continue, it will accelerate in ways we can’t even imagine.

Every age has its prophet. Every day that passes seems to prove that the prophet of ours was Philip K Dick, the American sci fi author who wrote what ultimately became ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Total Recall,’ ‘The Man in the High Castle’ and others.

Most of Dick’s writing is preoccupied, even obsessed with, with the question of what, if anything, can truly be called ‘real.’ One of his most famous short stories involves a man who discovers by accident that he is a robot, and that what he thinks of as reality is actually contained in a stream of punched tape moving through a chamber in his chest.

He tries sticking a pen in one of the holes on the tape, and the walls of his house disappear, another hole, and a flock of pigeons flies through his kitchen etc.

In a lecture delivered at Berkeley College (where else?), Dick spoke of his interest in Gnosticism which, very roughly speaking, holds that most of the small, day to day ‘reality’ you see around you is an invention of the Devil, and exists simply to blind you to the ‘Higher Reality’ of the kingdom of God.

Dick tells the students that he went on to have a full blown Gnostic experience. A girl called to his door, selling or surveying something. She wore a fish symbol around her neck, something Dick recognized as an emblem of the early Christians.

The way he tells it, he instantly knew that all of the reality – the America of the 1970’s – around him was fake, that in the higher reality, it was but a short time after the death of Christ. The Procurator Felix ruled in Jerusalem, and Dick and his fellow early Christians knew that Christ would be coming back soon.

Any bios of Dick you find on the Internet will say that this episode occurred as the result of a period of pretty heavy drug use, but I wonder. Was he just ages ahead of his time? Did he somehow acquire an early version of Zuckerberg’s glasses?

Flash Fiction: ‘The Harvester’

After midnight, when the police cars go home and the city turns over and tries to forget, a shadow haunts the fitful sleep of the junkies and assorted vagrants who lie in the waste land between the river and the park where mothers and joggers patrol by day.

The shadow is already legend. Every so often, a baleful junkie will shriek the legend in a police station, raving about a vampire that harvests souls in the blackest pit of night. The less kind police simply laugh and taunt, others shake world weary heads and mutter things about the full moon.

Hardly any of the city’s orange night light falls on the waste land. Yet the figure moves through the dark without error, as if every rubbish heap and jagged shard of metal has been committed to memory. It seems possessed of inhuman patience.

The older hands long ago learned the value of huddling together. There is something about the power of numbers against the dark. But sooner or later a fight will break out, and someone gets detached from the herd.

The figure curls into a vantage and watches. So perfect is its disguise that victims swear it literally twists out of the dark. No one has come near the woman for over an hour. The figure rises, certain there is no one within earshot.

It is some time before the woman notices. The figure sits just a few feet from her. She is rocking to and fro and clutching something, an empty bottle. For some reason, it is important that she notices, that she speaks first.

“Oh no … oh God no. Oh Holy Mary mother of …”

“Relax.” The figure speaks in a voice painstakingly learned, something carefully honed to stifle hysteria. “I won’t do anything. Do you want something to eat? Some cigarettes?”

“What is it you want?” She tries to crawl backwards, trying to keep her face to the figure.  “I’ll do anything you want. Please don’t kill me.”

“Tell me what you want.”

“What?”

“I’m here to give you what you want.”

“I don’t want death.”

“That’s good. I’m not a murderer. What else do you want?”

She stammers out the street name of a narcotic. He obliges and helps her prepare.

“It’s totally clean. You don’t need to worry, not that…”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I see.”

There are deep, quivering breaths as she rides the first waves of the drug. When she speaks, her voice is deeper, calmer.

“Now will you tell me?”

“What?”

“You want something. Everybody does. What is it?”

“I want you to tell me about it.”

“What?”

“I want you to tell me how you got here. Leave nothing out, and I’ll give you all I have left. Tell me to go away, and you get nothing else, but I’ll leave you alone, no harm done.”

“You want … my story?”

“I want your story.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Maybe. Are you going to tell me?”

And after a few moments, she starts. There are occasional deep, gusting sobs which seem to well up from some epicentre of her, but he is amazed by how clearly she can recollect, how ordered the mind buried underneath seems to be. He listens – as he does every night – and says almost nothing.

Hours later, as the first grey chinks of day spy the wet hulk of the city, he will steal through the secret hole in the fence between the waste land and the park. Moving very quickly, he will strip out of his black clothes, hiding them in the holdall he keeps in a space known only to him. He will don his city clothes and walk without stopping back to his apartment.

He will go straight to his computer and write up the notes he has been taking all night. The rest of it – the showering and the breakfast – can wait. Already his awareness thrills with the quality of this night’s catch.

The young woman’s story could make a new novel, or at least an award winning short story, adding ever more to his reputation as the owner of his country’s most fertile, unsparing imagination.

No one at the endless award dinners, none of the worshipful magazine writers, no one in his circle, knows that it has been twelve years since he last had an original thought.

That is a secret between him and the souls he harvests every night.

Flash Fiction: ‘Ultra’

 

“Quite a sight, isn’t it? The other side of a cloudless sky.”

She nods without taking her gaze from the window. At first her eyes were stunned by the blast of bleached white from six hundred miles below. They have begun to adapt. She can make out details now: slightly darker clumps of rock, smudged freckles where – according to him – the ground has literally just collapsed in on itself.

“An ultra-desert. They had to invent the term, just for this place. Incredible.”

Even in the old days, Garner had loved the sound of his own voice, could never let a silence be. It was one of the reasons why …

“Imagine,” he will not be silenced today, “at high noon down there, the temperature tops three hundred degrees centigrade. Then this planet turns and it’s one fifty below. There’s even a kind of frost.”

She frowns. “Water?”

“We think it’s mostly methane. Some inert gases.”

She shrugs. “No point asking about life so.”

She knows without looking that he is smiling. It bothers her that she is still that attuned to him.

And yet. “What about that report? Mills seemed positively excited. I wouldn’t have tagged him as a hothead.”

Garner shrugs. “Too much time down there,” he says. “Even with the best suits, the radiation you know.”

She turns her head to him. The reflected glow of the ultra-desert, six hundred miles below, makes him seem a kind of spectre, as if he is bathed in pure energy.

“I’ll take his remains back with me,” she says.

“Of course.” Now he turns towards her. There is a quality to his smile that she does not recognise, something both wistful and serene.

“I was glad when they sent you.”

“Really?”

“How have you been Jenny?”

“Oh, you know,” she cannot stop herself passing a hand through her long black hair, “fine, really. You?”

“I’ve missed you.”

“Really? Well that was your…” Her heart begins to flicker. She wants to shout at him. Years have passed. Why is he doing this? He would never have said this type of thing before.

“Amazing things have been happening here Jenny. I’ve never felt more … alive I suppose. But there’s been a gap all along, a kind of void in me. It was the fact that you weren’t here to share what was happening.”

“What?”

“But you’re here now.” And he does the smile again, the smile that dizzies her with the knowledge of how much he has changed.

“You mentioned about life.” He has turned his gaze back down upon the planet.

“Yes?”

“Before he got sick, Mills came up with some exotic theories.”

“Did he?”

“He tried to solve the problem of how a living organism could survive such violent changes in temperature. I mean, change our environment by thirty degrees or so, and we’re in trouble, right?”

“Of course.”

“He came up with something that could change its molecular structure very rapidly, existing as a gas one minute, a clump of dust the next. There’s no food to speak of on the planet, so he suggested it could metabolise pure energy, literally live off sunlight and storms. He did a lot of research, came up with a lot of equations.”

“We never saw them back home.”

“We weren’t sure what to do with them. You can look them over.”

“Any evidence?”

Garner closes his eyes, opens them slowly. “Not … at first.”

“Oh?”

“What’s most amazing is … How quickly it learns to change into a new shape, one it’s never encountered before. We’re talking about a process that’s much faster than evolution.”

“Yes?”

“It is intelligent Jenny. It can cling to a space suit as dust and survive the vacuum somehow. It can change itself to particles that aren’t picked up by the ship’s detectors. When it finally connects with a human host … It is capable of the most beautiful thoughts Jenny.”

“I know, my love.” And her eyes fall pregnant with tears as she levels the gun and blasts him into atoms.