Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Bat with Two Engines?




   The Savoia Marchetti S.81 bis.
   
   The picture above the headlines portrays the S. 81 bis, an almost unknown version of the Savoia Marchetti S.81 Pipistrello (Bat), a very important, ubiquitous  Italian bomber that fought in the Ethiopian campaign, in the Spanish Civil War and in all the theaters of the Second World War in which the Regia Aeronautica was engaged (and, later, even with the Luftwaffe).


The S.81 prototype


At or around the end of 1934 and the beginning of 1935, when the production of the Savoia Marchetti S. 73B (Belgium) airliner for SABENA began, the S.73's were advertised as derivatives of the S. 81 Pipistrello bomber which, meanwhile, had reached the flight test stage of its development; but the three-engined S. 73 airliner did not derive from the bomber at all. In fact, as late as September of 1934, the 18 passenger airliner version of the S.81 was still referred to as the S. 73C (Civile, that is, commercial).

Aguelock (in today's Mali), 1937. A Touareg is guarding a Belgian SABENA's S.73 that is being refuelled, before continuing on the "King Albert Route" to Black Africa.  

Actually, without a doubt, the variant of the S.81 that featured the highest number of modifications, with respect to the Pipistrello, was the S.81 bis, which was another of the many Italian attempts to transform a three-engine aircraft into a twin (the most famous one is probably the S.M. 79B). 
The only S.81 bis that was ever built was propelled by two 840 hp (kW 618), V 12, liquid cooled  Isotta Fraschini Asso XI RC, and it featured a windowed bow which housed the station of the bombardier. 
Since the empty weight and the payload had remained basically the same, the airplane suffered from the scarce power of the two engines, which was about 20% lower than the power of its trimotor progenitor; and in fact the S.81 bis was never able to reach an airspeed higher than 185 knots. As a result, the two engine Bat was terminated.



1938. A CSA's S.73 in Prague-Ruzyne


This was the much - edited translation of a couple of paragraphs of an article from the July-August 1978 issue of the Italian aviation magazine "Aerei." The picture of the Touareg came from the book "Dai Wright all'avvento del jet," di Nino Arena, Edizioni Bizzarri, Roma, 1976.

Leonardo Pavese

    
   

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Red Who Happened To Be Black



Soulbrush

A NON - POLITICALLY - CORRECT PORTRAIT OF NELSON MANDELA. 
By Marco Respinti (translated by L. Pavese)

Good confessors tell the sinners, who are determined to change, that a long period of abstinence is equivalent to a second virginity. Maybe that’s the reason why the “canonization,” while he was still living, of Nelson Mandela made everybody forget his true origins. But that’s why good journalists exist.
Nelson Mandela’s real name was Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, and he was a prince of the cadet branch of the xhosa speaking line of Thembus. He was born on July 18, 1918 on the shore of the river Mbashe, in the district of Umtata, in Tembuland, capital of Transkei (the former Bantustan), in the south-eastern Republic of South Africa, which has been  independent since 1979. The family moved to Qunu, where many still think he was born, when his father lost his succession rights to the throne and fell out of favor with the colonial authorities. In elementary school, a methodist pastor, who was fascinated by the hero of the battle of Trafalgar and could not pronounce the name “Rolihlahla,” rechristened him Nelson. For the record, Rolihlahla means troublemaker. The last name Mandela was the first name of a son of one of Nelson’s ancestors, King Ngubengcuka, that had been passed on as a surname.
In 1940, when he was twenty-two years old, he and his cousin Justice rebelled against the marriage arranged by the Thembu chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who had raised him like a son. But Nelson eventually would have three wives, (his father had four, and he was a son of the third one), the most famous one of whom was Winnie Madikizela, who was very very much involved with the 1980’s and 1990’s bloodbaths of Soweto and vicinities. Winnie was such an extremist that even Nelson one day would eventually opt for a second virginity in democratic clothes and repudiate her.
Nelson joined the ANC in 1942, and befriended Yossel Mashel “Joe” Slovo, the future leader of the South African Communist Party. In 1952, Mandela became the president of the Transvaal chapter of the organization, and in 1961 he created Umkhonto we Sizwe (“The Lance of the Nation”), the armed branch of the ANC. People in the streets began to get hurt. Blacks who did not feel represented by the ANC or by the Communist Party ended up with a burning tire around their necks. 



The racial problem in South Africa had been huge at least since 1948, the year in which the Nasionale Party (the Afrikaan nationalist party) had impose the apartheid regime; but it was clear that the communist character of the ANC was not the solution but part of the problem. It was a big problem, for example, for the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by the Zulu King Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who was very black and also a sworn enemy of communism and of the ANC. On the other hand, Comrade Slovo was of white Lithuanian origin.
On May 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested in Howick, Natal, and sentenced to five years in jail for minor crimes.  In his wake he had already left a series of attacks that, from the 19th to the 21st of March 1960, had killed 86 people and wounded 424. All the attacks had been attributed to the ANC and to its separatist wing, the Pan African Congress. Then, on July 11, 1963, in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, the police discovered the clandestine headquarters of the Lance of the Nation. Mandela was under pressure again, and finally he was convicted of conspiracy. One hundred and seventy-three witnesses were heard at the trial, but it was Nelson Mandela himself who openly admitted that his organization was pursuing its goals through violent means. Moreover, he confessed to have personally planned sabotages and to have set up military training camps abroad, including one in Algeria that he had personally supervised. After all, he had also theorized the armed class struggle in several manuals (such as one entitled “How To Be A Good Communist”),  in political writings about “dialectic materialism,” that emerged during the Rivonia trial, and in the pamphlet entitled “Operation Mayibuye” (“Return”), where he cited the precedent of the communist guerrilla war in Cuba, which had won and survived. In one of the texts seized by the police and presented in the courtroom, Mandela described in detail the path of honor to be followed in the name of Marxism-Leninism, for which it was necessary to procure, among other things: 210,000 hand grenades, 48,000 of the infamous anti-personnel mines and 1500 detonators for as many bombs.
On August 23, 1985, in an unsigned interview published by the Italian daily La Stampa, Mandela laid it all out: “The white man must be totally defeated and wiped off the face of the earth, before the communist world can be realized.” Mandela spent 26 and a half years in jail, from June 1964 to February 11, 1990. Later, as a free man, he rose to the presidency of the good old ANC, and on March 10, 1994, he became the democratic and acclaimed president of the new post-racial South Africa. One of his ministers was the ever-present white and red Joe Slovo.
Inspired by Karl Marx and by the priests of the Liberation Theology, Mandela has been compared to the Mahatma Gandhi (who began his career in South Africa as well, and was also an admirer of the philosopher from Treviri). In his land he was venerated as “Mandiba,” an honorary title of the elder members of his clan, that became a world renowned nickname. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, notwithstanding his past as a communist guerrilla fighter, his siding with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, his friendship with Yasser Arafat (an anti-semite, a terrorist and also a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994), Fidel Castro, and Muammar Gaddafi; and even if, in an August 23, 1985 John Lofton interview in The Washington Post, he had declared: “there is no alternative to violent revolution; there is no space for peaceful confrontation.” Apartheid was disgusting; racial segregation was too; racism even worse. But could that be that Nelson Mandela just happened to be black?
The article appeared originally on the Italian daily l'intraprendente, and was translated and published here with their permission. Marco Respinti is an Italian author and the director of the Russell Kirk Center. Your comments to the article will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, L. Pavese.



Friday, December 13, 2013

Die Italiaanse Korps





The Italian volunteers for the Boer cause.  
By Alberto Rosselli (Translated by L. Pavese)

December 25, 1899, Austral Africa. 


In a clearing near the city of Dundee, in Southern Transvaal, a tall and bearded officer of the Boer army wearing a worn broad-brimmed hat and carrying a Mauser rifle is reviewing a curious-looking unit, consisting of three hundred soldiers, dressed and armed in the most varied and colorful ways.
The officer is haranguing the soldiers, inciting them to fight the British oppressor who is bent on wiping out the Boer state’s freedom dream. At first sight, the scene would not be an incongruous one because, a few weeks before, the  Boer president Paul Kruger had begun the mobilization of the Afrikaners against Her Majesty’s army.  This unit, however, had been formed by Italians residing in the Transvaal who were determined to give their contribution (together with German, Austrian, Irish, French and American volunteers) to the cause of the African Dutch, whom Queen Victoria had promised to eradicate from the land of gold and diamonds.




A map that shows Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, which was created by Great Britain after it annexed the Orange Free State.



 
At the head of the Italian legion (or, as General Piet Joubert called it, “Die Italiaanse Korps” or the “Italian Scouts”) was a thirty-four-year old Piedmontese fighter and war correspondent, Giuseppe Camillo Pietro Ricchiardi, born in Alba and already a veteran of many campaigns in the Philippines, Siam, and  China, behind a sword as well as his typewriter.
The war between the Boers and Great Britain had broken out only a couple of months before (on October 10, 1899), and in Colenso, by that December, Ricchiardi already had had the chance to show off his worth as a fighter. At the beginning of November, near Chievelrey, he had led a victorious assault against a British armoured train and captured several enemy soldiers and officers, among whom there was a young reporter by the name of  Winston Spencer Leonard Churchill, who had been attached to the South African Light Horse Colonial Regiment.
General Louis Botha had tasked Captain Ricchiardi, who already led a small group of 50 Italian volunteers, with organizing in Johannesburg a volunteer battalion formed almost entirely by Italian miners, cooks, hunters, farmers, ranchers and explorers; and the former Second Lieutenant of the 4th Cavalry Regiment “Genoa” had not waited to be asked twice. Thanks to his charisma, his persuasive eloquence, his looks that resembled the figure of a Garibaldian leader, and the help of First Lieutenant, Count Pecci and Major Caldara, Ricchiardi was able in record time to gather and train in the use of weapons about 280 compatriots.
In January 1900, Ricchiardi was promoted Feldcornet (Major) and was given permission to appoint his own curious and almost entirely Italian and aristocratic staff, consisting of Captain Edgardo Rossegger, from Trieste, the Genoese-Dutch-Italian Giobatta Van Ameringen, and the Lieutenants (and Barons) Von Carlsberg, Paratico di Lantieri and Von der Lippe. Lieutenant and reporter Eugenio Boccalone (from Genoa), Corporals Rizzola (from Cesena), and Carmelo and Francesco Degiovanni (from Catania) completed the group.





A group of volunteers: Colonel Ricchiardi is the second one standing, from the left. Major Caldara is the first from the left, sitting.


   


Ricchiardi, who was a gourmand, had  also inserted in the staff the chief mule driver Silvio Sella, who, notwithstanding his name (sella means saddle in Italian) and his job, happened to be also the best chef in Johannesburg.
On January 24, 1900, during the bloody and famous battle of Spionkop, the members of the Italian legion covered themselves with glory, charging with bayonets a large British unit and causing it to flee. The following month, the Italian Brigade (as the Britons called it) took part in more fights and, because of its extraordinary maneuvering capability and aggressiveness, was mentioned several times in the war bulletins from Pretoria. In May, following the addition of many fresh French volunteers, the “Italian Legion” changed its name to the “Latin Brigade,” reaching a force of 2000 men.
On September 1st, 1900, Ricchiardi (who by now was known as the African Garibaldi) was promoted to Colonel and commander in chief of all the foreign volunteer units (the German Legion, the Austrian Corps, the International Irish Brigade, the American Explorer Group and the French Corps); but the Italians remained the hard core of the Latin Brigade.
When the Autumn of 1900 was approaching, horse mounted patrols of legionnaires specialized in sapping actions behind the British lines, harassing the enemy units. After blowing up an ammunition depot, the commandos led by the Genoese Giovanni Carcioffo left the following jeering message for Lord Roberts, the commander in chief of the British army: “We will be back again to see you. Tell your soldiers not to sleep so much! The Italian Legion!”
But notwithstanding the heroism of the Boer army and its international allies, the war was turning in favor of Great Britain. The Britons by then were enjoying an overwhelming, to say the least, superiority in terms of number and equipment. At the beginning of Fall of 1900, President Kruger, after having thanked and praised the Legion, ordered it to disband, but not before he had regularly compensated the troops. A few days later, all the volunteers crossed the border into Mozambique, heading to Lourenço Marquez (Maputo), where a steamer was waiting for them. Only a small group of diehards (not more than twenty and all Italian) remained behind in Boer land. Their names are unknown. They would fight till the end in the area of Komatipoort (in northern Transvaal) beside their Boer brothers.




President Paul Kruger


Colonel Ricchiardi and the other Italian and foreign veterans (386 out of the original 2000) landed in Trieste on October 31, 1900, welcomed by a small crowd and a reporter from the daily newspaper “Il Piccolo,” who described the scene as follows: “I meet Colonel Ricchiardi aboard the steamer Stirya. Notwithstanding the suffering, he’s still young: he’s a splendid type of gentleman-soldier...Before ordering his men to disembark, he asks a boy to play the Boer national anthem, one last time, with the harmonica...all the volunteers uncovered their heads and followed... A solemn and sad song rose from the bridge and it ended with a thunderous Hurray for Kruger! Hurray for the free Transvaal!”

The epic of the “Italian Legion” was over.



Alberto Rosselli is an Italian historian and an author who also contributes to several daily newspapers. He edits the Italian magazine Storia Verità (appropriately called the "non politically-correct history magazine"), from which this article was taken and translated with his permission.


Mr. Rosselli is also the author of an interesting book about the Turkish Air Force in the First World War, entitled "Le Aquile della Mezzaluna" (The Eagles of the Crescent"), whose cover you can see below:




I hope you enjoyed the article and your comments, as usual, will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, (and many thanks to J.J.P. for reviewing the English text).

Leonardo Pavese

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

L'atterraggio a gambe incrociate

Ovvero, più storte di cosí...
Di Jon Cadd (Tradotto e adattato da L. Pavese)

Il telefono squillò, e all’altro capo c’era il mio amico Simon Rodger che mi chiamava dal Sudafrica. Aveva avuto qualche guaio con il suo Cessna 185 e, siccome io mi ero specializzato a lavorare su di essi, e avevo insegnato a Simon a pilotare il suo, lui aveva pensato che forse io avrei potuto aiutarlo. Aveva acquistato quel particolare 185 dalla Mission Aviation Fellowship, grazie a uno dei nostri programmi di rinnovamento della flotta. L’aereo era appena uscito da un’officina commerciale, dopo un cambio di registrazione e la sostituzione degli elementi strutturali incrinati del carrello d’atterraggio. Sarebbe stato uno dei primi voli dell’aereo, dopo le riparazioni. C’era una vibrazione nel ruotino di coda, ma l’aereo, secondo Simon, era molto più difficile da pilotare di quanto si ricordasse, e aveva pensato che forse sarebbe stato meglio se avessimo volato un po’ insieme di nuovo, per un ripasso.






Un bel Cessna 185 



Il Cessna 185 è un aereo a carrello biciclo, e come tutti i suoi simili è un po’ bizzoso. Deve essere pilotato passo per passo fintantoché non è stato parcheggiato nell’aviorimessa; per cui se il pilota non sta sempre un po’ “sul chi vive”, le cose sulla pista possono mettersi male molto velocemente. Simon diceva che pareva proprio che non gli riuscisse più di stimare dove fosse la pista, e che perciò l’aereo rimbalzava e si comportava in un modo imprevedibile. Infatti, addirittura,  una volta Simon  stava rullando verso le pompe del carburante e quando aveva frenato per rallentare l’aeroplano s’era impennato sul muso, e gli era riuscito di impedirgli di capottare solo tirando il volantino tutto indietro e dando tutto motore. Una cosa terrificante, a pochi metri dalle pompe della benzina; e non sono così sicuro che io avrei reagito tanto tempestivamente!
Simon disse che sarebbe venuto su da noi  in volo immediatamente, e io acconsentii a dare un’occhiata all’aeroplano. Quando Simon arrivò, trainammo l’aereo nell’hangar e io lo misi a coda in su, su un cavalletto. Non fu difficile scoprire il problema col ruotino di coda: nei fori che assicuravano le balestre del ruotino erano stati avvitati i bulloni sbagliati, per cui il ruotino sfarfallava tutto in tondo. Mi avviai a prendere i bulloni giusti, ma mentre passavo davanti all’aereo notai qualcosa di sballato nel carrello d’atterraggio principale. Sul bordo anteriore delle gambe elastiche d’acciaio del carrello d’atterraggio c’erano degli incavi rugginosi, che erano stati riverniciati, e che erano proprio della dimensione dei supporti che sostengono i condotti del fluido idraulico dei freni; i quali dovrebbero trovarsi lungo il bordo posteriore delle gambe del carrello. I supporti dei condotti erano stati incollati (lungo il bordo posteriore) col Super-Glue. Molto strano. Tutto sembrava sottosopra!
C’era un altro Cessna 185, del Servizio dei Parchi Nazionali, parcheggiato sulla rampa, quindi andai a dare un’occhiata al suo carrello, per vedere se mi riusciva di capire quale fosse il problema. Tutto mi fu chiaro appena ebbi guardato il secondo aereo. Il carrello di Simon era alla rovescia! Per cui adesso le ruote si trovavano arretrate dai 20 ai 25 centimetri, rispetto al baricentro dell’aereo; il che, per quanto riguarda il rullaggio, è completamente sbagliato.





Il 185 con il carrello a rovescio


Adesso era chiaro perché l’aereo avesse quasi capottato in avanti! Quando il carrello è montato nella maniera giusta, il bordo anteriore delle balestre è diritto, e quello posteriore è un pochino angolato. Quando avevano fatto le riparazioni, avevano montato gli elementi di forza del carrello a rovescio, dopodiché avevano dovuto scambiare di posto alle balestre per farle combaciare; per cui adesso la balestra sinistra stava a destra e viceversa. Avrebbero dovuto capirlo, quando avevano dovuto fare tutto quel lavoro per rimuovere i supporti dei condotti dei freni e incollarli sull’altro lato!


I supporti dei condotti del fluido dei freni, incollati sul bordo sbagliato




Infine, un 185 con le balestre montate correttamente

Dissi a Simon che ero molto fiero di lui, per essere riuscito a tenere l’aereo diritto in quelle circostanze. Una cosa del genere era già successa. Quando il pilota era uscito con l’aereo per collaudarlo, aveva frenato per fermarsi e fare i controlli pre-volo e l’aereo si era impennato sul muso, urtando con l’elica e facendo un gran danno.
Non è raro pensare di aver eseguito qualche operazione con precisione, quando anche solo il più piccolo errore nel collocare le parti o le informazioni, anche se giuste, può portare a conseguenze disastrose.

Questa è la traduzione di un articolo che Jon Cadd aveva pubblicato un po' di tempo fa sul suo blog, Captain's Blog-Africa.




Jon Cadd

Jon Cadd ora pilota un Cessna 208 Caravan per la M.A.F., ma ha accumulato più di 13500 ore di volo, pilotando aerei leggeri, decollando e atterrando da ogni tipo di terreno, nel Pacifico, negli Stati Uniti e soprattutto in Africa.
Se vi interessa un altro articolo che ha a che fare con il pilotaggio di aerei a carrello biciclo, date un'occhiata a questo.
Spero che il pezzo sull'aereo dalle gambe storte vi sia piaciuto, e i vostri commenti saranno molto graditi. Grazie,
Leonardo Pavese

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arabic Numerals


    The Libyan War: the absurdity of it is in the numbers.
    By Gianandrea Gaiani  (Translated by Leonardo Pavese).
    
   There really wasn’t a need for new revelations to remind us of the absurdity of the Libyan war that, in 2011, led to the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and the fall of his regime. Fomented by the Emirates of the Gulf, headed by Qatar with the support of France, the United States and Great Britain, the war created chaos in Libya - a country that by now has been thoroughly rendered like Somalia, and has fallen in the hands of tribal militias, Islamic terrorists and criminal gangs, exactly like the African Union had warned us. The same war has seriously damaged Italy, forced by her NATO “allies” to intervene against a government with which she had made a Friendship Treaty, and against a country that was her main supplier of oil. In the history of war, this is probably a unique case. As we all remember, the Libyan war also marked the point of lowest credibility of the Berlusconi administration, and the erasure of Italian national sovereignty: a condition that was later sealed by the government of Mr. Monti, forced on the Italians by their Euro-American handlers.




The rhetoric of the popular Libyan insurrection against the tyrant of Tripoli has been also widely brushed off by the facts that were emerging even during the war. We know that the insurrection in Cyrenaica was instigated by Qatari agents, who relied on the rebel islamist groups that flanked the regional and independentist movements, inspired by the monarchy of King Idris. We also know that the rebellion would have failed without the robust intervention of a U.S. led coalition first, and without the NATO forces of operation Unified Protector later, who sided with the rebels but took as long as seven months to defeat the loyalists. It is impossible to forget that the allied forces could have never handled a prolonged military operation without the Italian military bases, and we have irrefutable evidence that Tripoli was not taken by the ragtag rebel army, but by a few thousand Qatari soldiers who had shed their uniforms to look like militias.


In the past two years since the end of the war, we actually had several occasions to miss Gaddafi - a ruthless and shrewd dictator who,  since 2004, had nevertheless opened the doors to the West, cooperating with us commercially and in the fight against Muslim terrorism. Without him, the Libyan oil supplies to Italy have decreased, and they risk stopping altogether, because all the oil terminals and oil wells are at the mercy of the various tribal militias. Without the Colonel, Libya has become al Qaeda’s “New Afghanistan,” and the smuggling of human beings to the Italian island of Lampedusa has resumed massively, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the last two years. Even the French bitterly regret their Libyan adventure, which allowed al Qaeda to rearm looting the Libyan arsenals, to occupy half of Mali, and to threaten Algeria and the entire Sahel. There really was no need for new revelations to fuel the sense of frustration after a war that, for Italy and the West, was suicidal, and only helped our enemies. Therefore, the October 31 information release, in Tripoli, by the Libyan office of statistics and census, which revised further downward the number of casualties of the 2011 war, sounds like the last joke played on us Westerners. During the war, our leaders and public opinion drank deeply from the propagandist sources of information of al Jazeera and al Arabiya which, since the early days of the revolt in Benghazi, blew out of proportion the dead and wounded reports, relying on unreliable and manipulated sources.
The data published a few days ago reported 6,048 dead and 831 wounded during the 2011 “revolution,” compared to the 50,000 casualties among civilians and fighters that the rebels announced on August 30, 2011; a number that was later halved at the end of the war. We’d like to recall a couple of pearls of rebel war propaganda: on February 23, a week after the beginning of the conflict, al Arabiya reported 10,000 dead and 50,000 wounded, a number that was deemed “credible” by the Italian Foreign Ministry. On March 25, the Benghazi rebels communicated to al Jazeera that between 8,000 and 10,000 people had died in the uprising against the regime.


The government statistics do not differentiate among regular forces and militias, but many factors seem to indicate that the majority of the casualties were soldiers killed by air attacks. The almost 260 allied aircraft (half of which were fighters) and the 21 warships launched about 10,000 projectiles against Libya during 26,500 sorties, 9,700 of which were air-strikes. There were as many as 5,900 stricken targets, including 600 tanks and armored vehicles, and 400 artillery pieces - a volume of fire that caused an undefined number of victims.  But, taking into account that every tank or armored vehicle usually houses not less than four or five soldiers and crew members, it is not difficult to figure out that most of the 6,000 “certified” government casualties were Gaddafi’s troops killed by NATO’s weapons.

A true joke, played on the West that believed (or wanted to believe) the reports of the bloody repression in the cities of Cyrenaica, or the news of the regime mass graves and the indiscriminate bombing of Misurata, the “martyr city,” in which, after the war, the rebels distinguished themselves for their racial violence and the looting against the black population, and today are getting rich smuggling humans to the Italian coast.


Gianandrea Gaiani is an Italian author who edits the Italian on-line magazine Analisi Difesa. On this blog, I have already published several translations of his articles. Here's two more about the Libyan situation, and a possible Italian role in it, after the war. This one instead is about the role of al-Qaeda in the Syrian rebellion, an on the same page you will find links to other translations of Mr. Gaiani's articles on this blog.
The article you just read appeared originally on the Italian on-line newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana , and was published here by permission. (I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text). 
Your comments will be greatly appreciated. Thank you,
Leonardo Pavese
                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravity

Robert McCall



Green of Fear at 0 g.
By Roberto Dal Bosco 
(Translated from Italian by L. Pavese)  

There is a great motion picture in the theaters: Gravity. Just for once, at the top of the box office there is a work of absolute great quality. Gravity is one of the most emotionally stirring movies of recent times. The story tells of the feats of two astronauts who, shipwrecked in orbital space, try in some way to get back to Earth. We should not reveal anything more, to avoid spoiling a movie that deserves to be seen. Although this is a motion picture with a budget of US$ 100 million, the movie --- which is a sort of cosmic chamber play --- features only two actors, George Clooney (very well cast in the role of the gung-ho self sacrificing American) and Sandra Bullock, who, these days, is a little marred by plastic surgery and too much physical exercise but is still able to move the audience as only great actresses can do. The director is Alfonso Cuarón, who is a leading figure in the new movement of Mexican directors that flooded the United States and the world with their work of refined workmanship.




In his career Cuarón directed several successful projects, such as an adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations, an animated short film featuring anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein which illustrated her book, The Shock Doctrine, and a chapter of the very fortunate Harry Potter’s saga. But Cuarón is most pleasantly remembered for Children of Men, a motion picture adaptation of the dystopian novel by British aristocratic author and member of the House of Lords, Phyllis D. James, which tells of a future world in which women have entirely lost their ability to conceive children, condemning humanity to a sterile and gloomy despair. Although Children of Men was a wonderful piece of cinematography that demonstrated Cuarón’s superb skill, Gravity is perhaps his best movie. An intimist but fast-paced plot is complemented by a gamut of special effects which have practically no equal in any movie that has been made so far - including bigger budget colossal productions. The rendering of life in space among artificial satellites, space stations, shuttles and, above all, the spectacle of Earth viewed in its minute details are a true visual miracle. The mastering of computer graphic techniques and compositing (that is, the matching of real photographic material to digitally created environments and objects) allows the director to accomplish out-of-scale virtuosities, such as constantly varying shots that never change framing and subjective points of view that are awesome to say the least. To call Gravity a movie-making masterpiece would not be too far from the truth.
Nevertheless, to remain totally indifferent to the underlying message would be impossible. It is a message that concerns not only Christians, Catholics, but also humanity as a whole. In fact, it is very unlikely that one could leave the movie theater with the idea that space still had a role to play in human life. Actually, the impression is that space is an environment of horror, destruction and death. That is not only an emotional inference; it is the planned intellectual outcome of a movie whose tagline is: “life in space is impossible.” That sentence is repeated at the beginning of the picture, along with other data that are supposed to prove that space is uninhabitable.
The female protagonist, who has problems “keeping her lunch down at zero g,” after having painfully reached the halfway point of the movie, even lets slip a very telling statement: “I hate space.” It must be said that if there were a prize for astronautical bad luck she would win it hands down, but coming from an astronaut her statement amounts to outright condemnation. And the movie can’t help but follow along those lines.



The age of optimism: 15 December, 1965; Gemini VI and Gemini VII show off in formation flight  
The problem is that behind the denigration of the various space programs there always lurked something else. Those who would like to anchor humankind to planet Earth - and they are many - have been working since the beginning to undermine the achievements of the space era. In the frame of not even two decades, we went from the enthusiasm for the feats of Yuri Gagarin and the Apollo missions to a mentality that envisions Earth as the only suitable place for human proliferation, and that perceives any attempt to move beyond as hubris deserving the maximum divine punishment - which is, in a nutshell, the theme of Gravity.
This way of thinking is by now very widespread, and it has degenerated into a kind of pseudo-religion. It is the Gaia Hypothesis. According to British scientist James Lovelock, who theorized it first, Gaia is the holistic entity that is one with the Earth, whose cult would be etymologically correct to define as pagan. Man is nothing but a beast among beasts: just another component of Gaia - and actually a dangerous, turbulent element, potentially carcinogenic for the whole system of Mother Earth. (A ghostly composite advertising image of Earth, made up of smaller frames à la National Geographic magazine, actually appears at the end of Gravity.)  It would be futile for Man to look for his destiny outside the maternal globe, so natural and beautiful. The cult of Gaia constitutes part of the ideological armamentary necessary for the eco-fascist sealing-up of the planet. Man must remain in his Mother’s womb forever - or potentially even be aborted. In Gravity, this closure is represented materially by the Kessler effect, which is the true deuteragonist of the film; that is, a chain reaction of cosmic debris that renders the orbital environment so “polluted” to eliminate any chance of space exploration for many generations to come.

The Neo-Pagan age: Gaia

As  it will be obvious to the reader, all theories about “the limits of economic development,” and the exhaustion of natural resources - which are so dear to the Club of Rome as well as to environmentalist movements and even to freak-political parties like the Italian M5S of comedian Beppe Grillo - remain moot before the possibility of space colonization. The zero-population growth programs and the lie of the demographic bomb and its apocalyptic overpopulation prospects suddenly become worthless currency for human beings convinced that, one day, they will be able to live on Mars, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, or on the space colonies in Earth’s orbit, envisioned by Gerald K. O’Neill - which were represented in cinemas by 2001: A Space Odyssey and by the more recent Elysium, which is also, in its own way, an anti-space exploration picture.
The enthusiasm that, in the 1960’s, greeted the beginning of the space adventure and the idea of a new frontier for humankind was very different, and was shared even by important Catholic thinkers like Italian Giorgio La Pira, the late mayor of Florence (who is about to be beatified). On April 10, 1961, the mayor greeted the conventioneers of the World Space Scientists Convention in Florence with the following words:
“With your message, in a sense, you proclaim the opening of all the gates and all the ways to the visible Heavens, and the measurability of the celestial space....Your scientific message is an invitation to the peoples of the world - like Abraham’s biblical invitation! - to raise their eyes to the skies and to undertake that great space adventure that has already inaugurated a new era, which will define more and more the structure and the aspect of the history and the civilization of the future. Your scientific message changes radically, and at every level, the history of the world; from the elemental basis of technology and economics, to the highest levels of culture, politics and spirituality. It opens hopeful perspectives of happiness on the destiny of the human family of such amplitude that inscribe, unpredictably, in the actual history of the peoples of the world the most famous prophecies  of peace and hope that were left to the world by the prophets of Israel....And it reveals, even more, the infinite value of the human person - the microcosm! - who is made more and more capable of dominating the universe.
“Finally, your message redefines the historical weight of the nations, which will be as great as their ability to measure the skies and to venture in the oceans of celestial space....Your scientific message, examined in the historical context of Florence, acquires a new meaning...it becomes a message of beauty, and it introduces the human person, peoples and civilization, in the high orbit of religious and artistic contemplation....”
Fifty-two years later, it seems impossible that a politician could deliver such a speech.




But not everything is lost. Groups of private investors - for example the Google’s duo and even movie director James Cameron - are directing their attention towards space. The most relevant example is Elon Musk (the creator of PayPal and founder of Tesla Motors, the maker of electric cars). In 2002, Musk created SpaceX, a private company that builds rockets and launches payloads into orbit for the armed forces, NASA and private clients and is incredibly generating profits. Notwithstanding the fact that the eco-fascist anti-space exploration propaganda is now being nominated for the Oscar, the hope of human space colonization is not yet dead.

Roberto Dal Bosco is an audio-visual artist and author based in Vicenza, Italy. I have translated in English his book Contro il Buddismo (Against Buddhism), which was quite successful in Italy, and we hope to make it available very soon.
The article you just read appeared on the Italian on-line magazine La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana . The translation was posted here with permission. (Many thanks to J.J.P. for reviewing the English text).
Your comments will be greatly appreciated. Thanks,

Leonardo Pavese