Economic governance

I am currently writing a sequence of books that together comprise a “future history”, and one of the questions I am trying to address is, how should we be governed? By what right do some take from the majority? Obviously, the issue is extremely complicated, BUT it is an issue we have to face, because in my opinion, the current situation is far from ideal. Before thinking about that, though, perhaps some thoughts on how we got into this mess are worthwhile, and here, you, the reader, should also contribute.

In the deep past, the ruler was determined by might, then, because that was messy, by bloodline. That had the advantage of having a clear nominated ruler, which stopped the inevitable bloodletting, at least most of the time (the War of the Roses is a clear example of what can go wrong), but there was no consideration given to ability, justice, or anything else. The objective was to stop civil war, and lesser battles for lesser power, and, of course, for those with privilege to retain it. Ownership of land or the ability to operate a craft alone gave opportunity, and land ownership gradually accreted to a number of Lords, while craftwork had limited scope for expansion, and again, the skills were inherited. There were no tech colleges to learn to be a smith; your father taught you. This led to an embedded class system where your life was determined by the status of your parents. This system was static for a number of reasons, but the most obvious was that there were no opportunities to get out of it. The industrial revolution changed that; there were opportunities everywhere and fortunes could be made, but to make them workers had to leave the land.

Even before the industrial revolution, there were pressures to change, largely because there were new opportunities. The existence of colonies meant there was an expansion of land, which led to the American Revolution, while in France, the ruling class totally neglected their obligations. What happened then was that people began thinking about how they should be ruled, which is my question.

We have settled for what we call democracy, but in my opinion, it is deeply flawed. So far, the flaws have not mattered that much, because there have been a continual supply of fresh opportunities, at least in some countries. The masses in India, China and Africa might find opportunities there difficult to come by even now. Technology has removed the dependency on land ownership, but opportunities still depend on resources, and particularly on the availability of energy. Like it or not, sooner or later oil will no longer provide the cheap source of energy that we have experienced, and that will contract opportunities. Now what? What should be the basis of future governance? Winner take all? Fairness? Pre-existing wealth rules?

What started this particular post is the news that Cyprus has a deep problem. Cypriot banks have miss-behaved, at least according to the European Central Bank, and although the details are unclear, it seems to be related to the Greek crisis. So what does the European Central Bank do? They will lend Cyprus the money, but will raid the depositors’ savings to cover most of it. This tactic is not entirely original. It is the method once used by one J. Stalin, so with precedent, it is OK, right? Wrong! It is simply theft. The fact that previously only J Stalin tried this should be some indication that the morality of doing this is definitely on the dark side.

The argument seems to be that the depositors knew the risk, so they pay. My question is, did they? How many depositors in any country have the foggiest idea what their bank is doing, and even if they did know, what could they do about it? Then, consider that in 2007, in the US even the Federal Reserve either had no idea what “Investment Banks” were creating, or alternatively they did, but they did nothing. The bank is fundamental to our economy, so much so that banks are considered “too big to fail”. So, bankers seem to have a charmed life. They can pay themselves whatever they like, do whatever they like, and someone else will pick up the pieces. Is this fair? What part should fairness play in future governance? Why should a banker in one country have the right to steal money from another, then effectively ruin that country’s economy, to cover his/her own ineptitude? Then there are the bankers. If I sold you shares in the Golden Gate Bridge, I would go to jail for fraud, but if bankers sell worthless derivatives that nobody has the faintest chance of understanding, they pass go and take millions in bonuses, while all and sundry lose their jobs, their houses, whatever. Can that be allowed to continue? What do you think?


Evil characters

I just received a review for “A Face on Cydonia”, and one of the things that really pleased me was the reviewer’s comment about one of the characters: “totally despicable, a truly loathsome character with not one redeeming quality”. Don’t you like it when you succeed in something?

How do you write an evil character? The problem should be, you don’t have the experience at being one, and for most of us, we do not know one, so what to do? The problem is, someone running around in your novel just being evil is all very well, but that is merely a piece of cardboard. For a mystery crime story, that is probably fine because the character is “off-screen”. It is, after all, a mystery, and it is easier to have the guilty party being unknown than, say, the detective. Accordingly, the bad guy can run around doing bad things, and the detective will know about the bad things, but he will not know much more until almost the end, when a few inspired guesses might add something to the character. Another possibly easy one is the biography. Now, the author has to write about how the evil character developed, but in this case the author has a “friend” – if it is a biography, the facts were there for him. For example, there is a biography of Stalin and here the facts speak for themselves. Stalin has to be thought of as bad, after all he probably was responsible for more deaths than most. Here the author’s problem is, what are the facts? That can be overcome by research. But suppose you want the bad guy to be an integral part of the story. Now what?

Why write in a bad character? Well, to start with, have you heard actors who play them discuss their parts? Most of them say acting the bad guy is fun. So is writing about them, at least up to a point. But like anything else, there is work to be done to succeed.

In “A Face on Cydonia” I created a bad character, and what I did was to start with a young man who wanted to go places, but he did not have the ability to get there. He was reasonably “nice” to start with, although his ambition gave a flaw. What happened next is that he faced a series of situations where he had to choose, and each time his ambition did the choosing. The problem then was that as he got deeper and more involved, he had to take advantage of opportunities to do even worse things. Another point to consider is that when you write your hero, everybody says you should give him/her flaws. Nobody is perfect. The same operates in reverse even more so. It is imperative that the bad guy has some moments where he seems quite reasonable, the reason being you want to generate a little sympathy for him so that when his behaviour reverts, the reader feels more distaste. If you run continuous evil, the reader gets used to it. Another way to get around that problem is to run streams and switch to something different periodically. Just as in music you cannot sit indefinitely on a climax, while writing you must not wallow in the trough indefinitely. There has to be relief.

So, in A Face on Cydonia I start with a character you could possibly sympathize with, and then let him get progressively deeper into the mire. Because you might have had some sympathy to begin with, as the character gets worse, the reader’s initial sympathy goes to the opposite extreme.

Back to the review. Something else that really pleased me was that besides praising the book, the reviewer saw what I was trying to achieve. A reviewer that actually understands the book he is reading is a gem, and in this case, I strongly recommend this reviewer’s opinions, and the reader of this blog might like to try out some of his other reviews. If you want to see what I mean, go to, and when you finish, try out some of his other reviews.


More on the Cydonian “Face”

At least one of the readers of this blog indicated an interest for more information on the Face of Cydonia, so here goes. The Face was first noticed in July, 1976, and was considered a trick of lighting. However, two computer engineers Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, contracted to the NASA Goddard Flight Centre, processed images using new software, and included a pyramid, about 800 meters high, about 16 km from the Face, in their study. They concluded the Face and the pyramid were hard to reconcile with naturally-formed objects. In 1988, Mark Carlotto further processed the Viking images, and from an analysis of the shadows in the two Viking images, he came up with a three-dimensional reconstruction. Further, he argued that The Face looked like a face from any viewed direction, which does not usually happen with “accidental faces”. He went even further and suggested a second eye socket may be present, and he argued there was fine structure in the mouth suggesting teeth.

The problem with the processing of images is that the processing software invariably contains a bias. The procedure usually looks for contrasts, and enhances strong signal regions and deletes low intensity, but this tends to find things that are not there, or lose things that are. A classic example I can recall came from the “famous” UFO off Kaikoura in New Zealand. A reporter and a cameraman hired an aircraft and took images of an orange light that followed the aircraft. Image-processing software was used. Each run deleted pixels, but no sharpening occurred, so the image was rerun. Finally, all the pixels were removed and the conclusion: there was nothing there! This conclusion is obviously ludicrous, but it illustrates the fact that computer processing merely changes things. In many cases the changes will improve things, but they can make matters worse by leading to a totally incorrect conclusion.

As noted in the previous post, the basic problem was insufficient data. The Viking cameras simply did not have the necessary resolution, mainly because the task they had did not require it. Remember, resolution comes with a price, such as a corresponding reduction in area covered. The reason we only got two images of this zone was that the cameras only imaged this area twice. Mars might be a small planet, but it is a planet, and it takes a lot of thin strips to get the lot. The thinner the strips, the longer the satellite will take to cover everything.

As you might expect, the initial speculations on the Face died down. Most scientists simply shrugged and said, “insufficient data”, while some merely scoffed at the concept. The Face would probably have died a natural death until Richard Hoagland got involved. He pointed out the presence of a rectilinear arrangement of massive structures, together with several smaller pyramids, which he named “The City”. All of this was published in a book, The Monuments of Mars.

Eventually, Global Surveyor produced the image I showed last post, and that should have been the end of it, right? Wrong! If you search the web, you will see items arguing that statistically the chances of the Face being natural are billions to one against. Of course you do not see the details of the calculation. Another interesting point is that Cydonia is littered with mesas like the Face, and these are of interest to planetary geologists because they are in a transition zone between cratered highlands to the south and smoother lowland plains to the north. An argument can be made that the northern plains are the remains of an ancient Martian ocean, in which case the mesas might represent ancient islands. This interpretation is consistent with the erosion around their bases, so the Face might be of interest as providing evidence of such ancient water, if not aliens. In my novel, A Face on Cydonia, I describe an easier means of climbing to the top of the Mesa. I cannot help it if you do not believe this, but I did this from the Global Surveyor images when I wrote it, back in the late 1990s. While rechecking the web, I found a link to a “trail map”, where a NASA scientist indicated where he would climb it. What pleased me is we start in exactly the same place. I am not totally illiterate with images! The link is

Another interesting link  shows some illusions:


One final comment. It is obvious that the shape of the butte is either natural or of alien origin, right? Not so fast! In my novel, A Face on Cydonia I try out yet another option. I also promised a link, so:

Suppose the Face were real and alien, the fringe seems to argue that NASA is covering it up. This must go down as utterly ridiculous. If the Face were a real alien monument and demonstrably so, NASA’s budget would fly upwards! And please do not tell me that NASA is not interested in increasing its budget.

The “Face” of Mars

I start my new SciFi ebook, A Face on Cydonia, as follows:

On the Cydonian region of Mars there are two faces staring into space. Both are two and a half kilometers long, a kilometer wide and about four hundred meters high, and since both are in exactly the same place, no observer can see more than one of them. Most see a battered butte with craters roughly in the right place such that, with considerable imagination, the image of a badly torn face can perhaps be seen. Some, however, see a refinement of the enhancement produced from the original low resolution Viking photographs, a truly alien monument, a deep message to humanity . . .

I refer, of course, to the “Face”, which has gained a certain degree of notoriety as people speculated as to what might have created what we see.  Guesses run from Martians, aliens, to natural erosion. Most people would be skeptical and point out that, “You can see faces anywhere, such as clouds,” and dismiss anything other than nature as nonsense. While this face is somewhat different from cloud faces, it has one interesting thing in common: much of the face is hidden in the original image, simply because the angle of the sun shades half of it. One purpose in my novels is to try to show that reality should follow the rules of logic. So, what would logic say? The first question a scientist asks is, are the data suitable to resolve anything? If they were collected for some other purpose, they may not be. The initial data were collected by the Viking orbiter, which had the task of creating the first map of Mars. The map, perforce, had to deal with the major features, so for various reasons it settled on resolution that would give the desired map. Below, see one of the images of the Cydonia Mensae, in which the Face was first seen. Note that the angle of the sunlight shades quite a bit of the Face.



We can expand and enhance the particular region (small black dots are lost pixels and are not real):




The initial argument against erosion/adventitious craters was initially, the probability of sufficient coincidences is too low. That argument is false, because what was overlooked was that with so few pixels devoted to the face, coupled with the shading, you do not need much in the way of accidental coincidence. That does not prove it is natural, but rather suggests you need better data before reaching a conclusion.

As I noted in Red Gold, we can immediately eliminate Martians, because the face looks like ours  (if it looks like a face) rather than like a possible Martian’s, and leaving aside the inhospitality of Mars, even had there been such Martians, they would have no idea what our face would look like. There are further reasons: there is no reason why a Martian would carve a face only we could see, and Mars could never have evolved indigenous technological life forms without leaving some evidence of the process. Aliens are slightly more difficult to eliminate by logic. As one of the characters in Red Gold said as a joke, space-traveling aliens who visited Earth, say two million years ago, could have worked out what our faces would look like when we evolved sufficiently to develop the technology to see such a butte on Mars, and they could have carved something. It could then be a message to us, meaning, “Come to space; it is possible and it is worth it.” That still leaves the issue of why would they bother to do that.

All of this speculation almost certainly annoyed NASA considerably. Beside the Face, some thought they saw pyramids. That is not hard to understand, except again the specific lighting in the first picture greatly enhances the possibility, since only a pointed top and an edge is required. Accordingly, when Global Surveyor was sent to Mars, NASA promised to use its better resolution to settle for once and for all what this rock was. Meanwhile, I had thought that all the activity might make it worth while to write  a SCiFi novel about the rock. Of course you cannot simply write about a rock, so I had to construct a story around it. This was slower than I thought, and Global Surveyor settled this issue, one of its images being reproduced below:



The end of speculation about aliens! Well, not necessarily in fiction! (Actually, not necessarily in reality, as can be seen if you check the web!) I started my novel A Face on Cydonia with a television program that showed the image of the butte, intending to show how silly people were to think there could have been aliens, when the image morphed into the Viking-type image and winked. Eventually, this lead to an expedition, in which the members all have problems with each of the other members, and the book focuses on these problems. To add to the mix, there are at least three attempts from an external agent to murder at least one of them. Then, to keep the story going, each of the participants finds exactly what they did not want to find, and I set up a situation for more story by having each of them look forward to a future where they will have to carry out what they do not wish to do.

For those interested, in next post I shall give a link to A Face on Cydonia.



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