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Guardian Op-Ed Moonbattery

This op-ed by Rod Liddle in today’s al Guardian is so deliriously idiotic and filled with sneering cuteness that it would be a shame not to fisk it.

Shall we?

The planet Mars has just made a big mistake.

Anthropomorphizing a planet. How cuuute! I sure hope he keeps this up through the entire article. I just never get tired of opinion writers using cute literary devices like that.

Having spent the past billion or so years circling the sun free from outside interference, it has lately become complacent and, this year, allowed itself to drift a bit too close to Earth.

Oops. While he continues the cute anthropomorphism trick, he includes four factual errors which begin to undercut its charm.

One, Mars does not circle the Sun. Mars orbits the Sun in an ellipse, like the rest of the planets. Indeed, the eccentricity of Mars’ orbit is so large (versus the other eye-observable planets) that a century of intense effort went into attempts to explain it, effort which resulted in the development of calculus, the mathematics of orbital mechanics, and the theory of gravitation.

Two, Mars, like all the other planets (and moons, and asteroids, and comets) is not at all free from outside interference. Each body in the solar system exerts a gravitational effect on all the others, and of course, there is the occasional asteroid or comet impact. More to the point of his op-ed, there are documented, geologically-recent exchanges of material between Earth and Mars (and possibly other planets).

Three, Mars does not “drift” anywhere. It follows an elliptical orbit (see above), as does Earth. Due to the various parameters of these orbits, Earth overtakes Mars every 779 days or so in what is called an opposition, at which point the planets make their closest approach. What is special about this year is that Mars will be near perihelion (it’s closest approach to the Sun) in August, at the same time Earth and Mars are in opposition — the result being that Earth and Mars will be closer together than at any opposition in the past several thousand years. The close approach is the result of physics, not the carelessness or complacency of an anthropomorphized planet.

And four, Mars has been around for a bit longer than a billion years (Of course, I might be misinterpreting his meaning here, but given the general lack of astronomical knowledge displayed in the rest of the passage, I might not be).

Oh, Mars; what were you thinking of? As a result, the red planet is going to be pestered and probed to bits by the robotic devices of various overexcited, jabbering, Earthbound nationalities.

“Pestered and probed to bits”? By one burrowing lander and two rovers? I’ve heard of fragile environments, but that’s ridiculous. Mars has a surface area comparable to the total land area of Earth. It’s difficult to imagine a trio of dishwasher-sized machines wrecking all of it, especially when their range is — to put it mildly — severely limited.

For once, we Brits have got our noses in front. Beagle 2, a remote-controlled dog with a long, thin, detachable penis called “the Mole” will land on the planet round about Christmastime and start to burrow beneath the Martian surface, chewing up the soil as it goes.

Ooh, now he’s channeling King Missile and switching from anthropomorphisim to…what? Canopomorphism?

Yes, Rod, a little robopecker, digging in the dirt to collect samples, chewing up less soil than a real dog burying a bone, is certainly cause for alarm. Why, I’ll bet the very idea must have a whole two or maybe even three wymyn’s studies professors in a tizzy. Not to fear — once the initial shock wears off, they’ll surely find ample raw material in this for numerous postmodernist journal articles deconstructing the patriarchic symbolism of this masculinist “penetration” of the “planet of war”.

But there is still time for us to be beaten to it. The Japanese are getting in on the act, too, with their Nozomi orbiter. So are the Americans. Even the Chinese are planning a mission, possibly manned with what Chinese people call “taikonauts” – just as soon as they’ve sorted out Tibet and Taiwan and the Sars virus.

No. The talk about the Chinese concerns their plans for manned missions to the Moon, not Mars, and they first plan to send robots there (to chew up the lunar soil and probe the place to bits, one would guess). Perhaps Britain could have sent a probe to Mars even sooner, had it not decided to surrender its indigenous launch program and throw its lot in with the French.

Oh, and the Chinese people evidently do not call their astronauts “taikonauts”, but rather “yuhangyuan“.

The Beagle 2 contains a Damien Hirst spot painting and a nine-note song written by Blur. So, clearly, it’s party time for those crazy Martian microbes.

Oh no, interplanetary pop whimsy! The horror!

Mars may well come to rue its lazy orbital drift by this time next year, but at least the European expedition has the whiff of disinterested science about it. Nasa may well argue that disinterested science is the motive for its Challenger exploration, but there are plenty of people in the US with more profound designs in mind.

Ah yes, the inevitable leftie anti-American Euro-snobbery makes its first appearance…you know, it wouldn’t taste like an al Guardian op-ed without it! Even worse, it’s snobbery in the form of the tired old “space is for science” refrain…as if our presence there for any less lofty purposes (like, say, settlement) is somehow inherently “unclean”.

And “Challenger exploration”? I must have missed something. The only “Challenger” I know of ended up at the bottom of the sea, back when I was in high school.

They want to live there.

Darn right. You say that like it’s a bad thing…

Mars, like Inverness, is bitterly cold and almost entirely devoid of atmosphere.

I’m not British — is that witty?

Instead of air, they just have frozen particles of bad breath, ie carbon dioxide.

Man, Rod, your scientific illiteracy becomes more astounding with each paragraph. Hint: if it’s frozen particles, it ain’t air. And “bad breath” is not due to carbon dioxide, which is odorless.

I suppose, if you live in Nebraska or Illinois, this might seem an attractive proposition.

Obviously, Rod has never been to Illinois…else he would know that it’s less like Mars and more like Ringworld.

But, of course, because these people are American, they do not simply want to go and live there and abide by the physical laws of the place; they want to go there and turn it into Nebraska or Illinois. They want to “terraform” Mars.

A funny comment coming from someone who has so far demonstrated zero understanding of physical laws.

And notice the jab — a few sentences back, Nebraska and Illinois are given as examples of places less pleasant than Mars in its present condition, but here Rod is implying that Americans want to change Mars to resemble those two states. The implication is that Americans intend, by terraforming Mars, to make the planet somehow less hospitable. (Not sure what he has against Illinois or Nebraska…both would make fine models for a terraformed Mars, given the ridiculously rich soil of the former and the simple beauty of the latter.)

There is also the implication in this paragraph that all American space advocates want to terraform Mars, which is emphatically not the case. It’s a subject of often heated debate within the space advocacy community, with a wide range of opinions on whether it is acceptable or even possible, and to what degree it should be carried out if and when it someday becomes possible to do it. But why let a balanced view recognizing the diversity of opinion on the topic stand in the way of a juicy broad-brushing, eh Rod?

There are hundreds of societies and organisations in the US devoted to blundering on to other planets and turning them into hideous replicas of the worst parts of our own planet. And while they used to be regarded as nutters, this no longer seems to be the case.

Hundreds, eh? But of course…we’re Americans. It’s a cultural thing.

Here, Rod worsens the insult, by stating outright that we want to deliberately destroy Mars (by making them look like Illinois and Nebraska?), as though we are some kind of mindless interplanetary locusts. Clearly, Rod did little or no research on space advocacy groups before writing this drivel, else he would have understood the attraction of Mars as a laboratory for experimenting with sociopolitical and technological alternatives, with the aim of making a better world.

Take the Mars Society, which has enormous big-business and union backers (including the US Plumbers and Pipefitters Union) and is regularly asked, these days, to contribute to the yearly space conventions run by the government.

Wow! I should join that Mars Society, too! Do you have their address?

They had a Mars Society Week in San Diego recently, hosted by the city mayor. One of their biggest individual donations recently has come from “a British peer of the realm”, Lord Camrose. The Mars Society says it is delighted that Camrose is committed to “extending the proud tradition of the British aristocracy in supporting brutal colonial exploitation”. Actually, it doesn’t quite say that and it does admit that Lord Camrose is, in fact, a former Daily Telegraph hack, Adrian Berry. But still, ?19,000.

“Brutal colonial exploitation” of what, exactly? Rocks? Proto-bacteria? Oh wait, I see — it was just a setup for a cheap shot at an old newspaper rival.

What they want to do, these people, and people like them, is take the place over.

This is meaningless — who would “these people, and people like them” take over from, exactly?

Their mission statement contains the following: “The settling of the Martian New World is an opportunity for a noble experiment in which humanity has another chance to shed old baggage …” To which those of us who have witnessed previous, recent, noble American colonialist experiments may be tempted to reply: “Uh-oh, not again.”

Aha, so he at least read the Mars Society brochure. But he still doesn’t “get it”, as he just uses it as an opportunity for a leftie dig at American Imperialism™.

But they’ve got all the science.

Except for what they don’t have. Which is most of it.

They plan to kickstart life on Mars with hardy microbes known as extremophiles,

Maybe, if they can find extremophiles so extreme they can survive without water and endure ridiculous levels of UV radiation.

move forward to certain lichens and Canadians,

Look, another international cheap shot posing as a funny!

and then up the food chain to sentient human life.

Well, at least Rod doesn’t let his hatred for humanity keep him from putting us on top.

There are plenty of people prepared to pour money into such foolishness, and plenty of politicians to listen attentively.

Wow, great! Send me their addresses, too!

There is even the suggestion that Mars, with its pathetic excuse for gravity,

They say it’s not the size of your gravity well…

could eventually be a retirement home for the aged and infirm. Terrific. Just what we want: a giant Fort Lauderdale blinking redly at us from the heavens every evening, awash with weak tea and urine.

Ahh, yes, the leftie compassion for seniors. If the Martian colonies gave those stinky, crotchety old bastards socialized medical care and free prescription drugs, would that make it okay with you, Rod?

I hope they fail. Oh, I hope they fail. I have nothing against scientific exploration, pushing back the barriers.

“Some of my best friends are scientists…”

But terraforming? You know, I’m not sure that, as a race, we’re in the right frame of mind for that stuff yet. I think we still have issues down here.

Right: we can’t go into space until we realize our paradise here on Earth. Heard it before — hearing it again doesn’t make it any less naive. Call me when you perfect your magic potion to change human nature.

Especially, if you’ll forgive me, the Americans.

“Anti-Americanism? Why, there’s no anti-Americanism in the leftie European press!”

So let Beagle 2 dig up a bit of sand, send back the results, and then either fall to bits or piss off and leave that beautiful red planet in peace.

But if it falls to bits, won’t it be littering up a pristine, perfectly humanity-free landscape just the same?

I’m curious, Rod, just how you know that Mars is a “beautiful red planet”. Seen from Earth, even through Hubble, Mars is just a fuzzy orange-brown blob. Your appraisal of Mars’ aesthetic value wouldn’t be due to up-close photographs returned by the previous missions to the planet, would it? Missions to Mars conducted almost exclusively by American spacecraft? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re welcome.

A bit of advice for you, Rod: if you plan to write an op-ed on space advocacy, get out and actually interview some space advocates, and find out what we really think instead of imputing to us the same old threadbare evils leftists see in everyone they perceive as an enemy.

And if you plan to write about science-related topics, it will help you immensely to actually get a solid grounding in whatever disciplines you are covering. If you just make up something that sounds good or suits your argument, you’ll end up having no credibility on the issue (see above).

6 comments to Guardian Op-Ed Moonbattery

  • Mark R. Whittington

    About the Inverness crack. Mr. Liddle clearly has a bias against Scots, like many other English.

  • Raoul Ortega

    The sole purpose of Nebraska is to keep Iowa and Wyoming a day’s drive apart.

    As for the article itself– now you see why all those Polisci, Lit, Hume and Wymyn’s Studies majors never took any real science classes– they might learn something that wouldn’t fit into their self-constructed fantasy worlds.

  • Out-freaking-standing.

  • I’ve been to Inverness. It’s a charming town. And it was sunny when I was there too.

    Anyway, if I hated humanity (or at least, Americans) as much as this fool, I’d be applauding any movement that proposed moving as many of them off earth as possible. So he’s a hypocrite as well as a liar.

  • Carl Carlsson


    Unfortunately, facts are irrelevant to extreme left-wingers like Mr. Liddle, particularly when they conflict with his preconceived notions of the world.

  • Jim Rohrich

    I’m from Nebraska and Rod Liddle is an idiot.