No Other Option

There’s an old (mostly apocryphal) story about Cortez, and how when he reached the New World, he burned his ships. This sent a clear message to his men, we make this expedition work, here in this untested, foreign world, or we die trying. No Other Option is a hell of a motivating force. For better or worse.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies are suggesting just this motivator be our guiding principal for settling Mars.[1]

A human mission to Mars is technologically feasible, but hugely expensive requiring enormous financial and political commitments. A creative solution to this dilemma would be a one-way human mission to Mars in place of the manned return mission that remains stuck on the drawing board.

I quibble with some of their specific recommendations but they are just that, quibbles. Sending geriatrics as your first wave of colonials is not perhaps the best way to ensure the longevity of the species. Mars needs Women! And Men! And young ones, willing to fuck for Science! Frozen already fertilized embryos and an assortment of surrogate mothers plus a nice wide assortment of genetically viable breading couples would be better.

Communications technology has already reached the point where they could send email and Facebook updates back to Earth  with only reasonable time lags, so it’d be even better than the first wave of European immigrants to North America, who were in a cultural and information vacuum once they got aboard the Mayflower.[2] Plus, once the colonials are there, we could just lob supplies at them on a regular basis,[3] shipping new waves of colonials every few years.

The two biggest hurdles are cost (this is where an eccentric billionaire would come in handy) and the psychological toll of knowing you’re on a one-way trip. But really, aren’t we all?

If we intend to outlive the slow demise of our own ecosystem, there may be no other option.

Link via io9.

1. I love that they titled their paper: “To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars.” it’s exactly this by-the-brass drive to take chances that Star Trek stood for. Plus it beats NASA’s current motto, “Meh. Let the Robot do it, Dancing With the Stars Is On.”

2. Which was be design. But that’s why we’d be sending hip young scientists to Mars, not xenophobic religious fanatics who think Protestant England in the 17th century is just too gosh darn liberal.

3. Unmanned supply drones would be a relatively inexpensive shot as well, costing less than Virgin Galactic’s proposed tourist trap in orbit deal. Heck, we get a few of those prefab printers in orbit, we could basically build the ships and launch them from a staging platform in a Lagrange Point.

Business Opportunities Involving the London Bridge

Of all the novels we could be living in, this is not the one I would have suspected:

Hansard is the official printed transcript of the proceedings of the houses of parliament — in other words, the working log of the British government.

It is an authoritative primary source, and records every speech made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Interestingly, it also records words spoken under parliamentary privilege.

So when an eminent member of the House of Lords stands up six hours into a debate and blows the gaff on a shadowy foreign Foundation making a bid to buy the British state, and this is recorded in Hansard, one tends to sit up and take notice. And one takes even more notice when His Lordship tip-toes around actually naming the Foundation in question, especially after the throw-away about money-laundering for the IRA on behalf of the Bank of England. Parliamentary privilege only stretches so far, it seems, and Foundation X is beyond its reach. I’m going to quote at length below the cut — if you want to read the original, search for “1 Nov 2010 : Column 1538” which is where things begin to tip-toe into Robert Ludlum territory.

This is Charlie Stross, shining light on the story that Lord James of Blackheath stood up in the House of Lords and explained how a shadowy organization had come to him with an offer of 6 Billion pounds, gratis, to help fix the British economy and that maybe someone should look into this because it sounds too good to be true and further, all the research he’s done suggests it’s genuine.

Due to having his server flash-mobbed by the entire Internet, Charlie had to take down the comments. However, yesterday afternoon when I read this story, there was much discussion as to the nature and identity of Foundation X.[1] Firstly, there can’t be many organizations with the sort of profile capable of making a credible offer of this size, especially since, according to Lord Blackheath, they explained how their organization was essentially still on the Gold Standard and that their multi-billion pound grant was backed by bullion.[2] One candidate floated was that Foundation X is a front for the Vatican bank, which is notoriously secretive as to the size and nature of its accounts and also atatched to an organization large enough and ancient enough to have that kind of hard currency sitting around. still, 6 Billion Pounds in gold bullion is a staggering amount of metal. Most countries don’t have that much gold just laying around, for various reasons but if anyone would, I’d suspect the Vatican. But where did the Vatican get all of it?

It’s long been suspected that the Vatican was the recipient of a large amount of purloined Nazi gold after World War II. This is significant because it’s not like you can just walk into a bank with a few metric tons of Nazi gold and exchange it for Pounds or Euros.This gold is hot and to say that it has some dubious legal and moral baggage attached is an understatement. It’s Nazi Gold, man. So for half a century, the Vatican may or may not have been sitting on a giant cache of evil currency that they have no practical way to launder. Until now.

As Charlie Stross pointed out in the comments (vanished temporarily) back in 2008 the IRA was in the process of becoming a legit political party in ireland but still had in their possession a large amount of tainted money, previously used for arms dealing during the Troubles. When the financial crisis hit and British banks were looking for some liquid capitol to keep civilization rolling, the IRA stepped in and said, hey guys launder our dirty money and we’ll call it even.

So this is like that, only with a shadowy cartel of Vatican bankers instead of the IRA and a butload of Nazi gold instead of dirty money.[3]

Of course one wanders just where the Vatican got all this Nazi gold. Then of course one remembers who the current Pope is. Which suggests the third act revelation for this tawdry story of corruption and international finance:

Berlin, 1945. A cabal of Nazi bankers come to the Vatican during the waning days of WWII and explain that they have all this gold and the Vatican can have it, for a price. In exchange for moving the Reich’s assets into safe keeping, these secret Nazi bankers are to be absorbed into the Vatican Bank’s hierarchy. Over the years, the key tot he vault full fo Nazi gold is passed aorund from bishop to cardinal of a secret group. Maybe the previous Popes don’t even know about the secret crypt full of Nazi gold,[4] at least until the current Pope, a former Hitler Youth member, took the throne of Peter. The ring of guardians to the gold crypt growing aged and scarce, reach out to a trustworthy member of the inner circle. after all, if things turn bad, who better to have on your side than the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who is now Pope? During his initiation, he was handed the old ring of iron keys, one to the secret crypt where the mummified corpse of Jesus rests and another to the crypt full of gold.

Of course, this would explain the pope’s recent visit to England. He was checking out the place, seeing where he’d like to have his statue built. Because once it’s made public that the Vatican solved Britain’s financial problem with a helpful donation of money (let’s not dwell on where it came form) this will reconcile 400 years of bad blood between the Anglican church and the Vatican. Soon, converts tot he Old Faith will be swelling the pews (and coffers) and the Church will be back on top, having reclaimed a long lost kingdom.[5]

It wouldn’t seem any less likely.

1. Assuming of course that it isn’t a giant hoax on His Honor. There was speculation that Foundation X could be
The Office of International Treasury Control (OITC), which I had honestly never heard of until this came up. Their Wikipedia entry is fascinating to say the least. That there exists int he real world a shadowy cabal claiming to manage the world’s finances is honestly not that surprising. Though they really need a more colorful name than OITC. Something like The Skeleton Key or Brotherhood of Midas would be appropriate.

2.This is where things start to sound like a cross between a Nigerian 419 scam and Glen Beck pilfering your grandma’s wedding ring on FoxNews. And if it turned out that Lord Blackheath was contacted by an organization headed by a deposed Nigerian Prince, would this story seem more or less likely?

3. Lord Blackheath casually mentioned in this speech, recorded in the Hansard, that he had helped launder IRA money through legitimate banks, which not only adds a bit of credibility to this scenerio, but also is probably why Foundation X contacted him in the first place. I’m sure there are worse ways to earn one’s pearage than being known as the Lord of Money Laundering, but not many. But Black markets are still markets and the line between legitimate and illegitimate business is blurring all the time (See: Cheney, Dick; Blackwater).

4. I’m guessing JP II, that wily Pole, would not take to kindly to the knowledge that he was sitting on several metric tons of Nazi gold and probably would have spileld th ebeans. Though, he apparently knew about the Vatican’s international pedophile ring as well, so maybe he was not quite the stand up guy popular opinion would have us believe. Either way, a stash of nazi gold is one opf those need to know secrets that could easily be kept from particularly liberalism Popes, especially in an institution of that size. So for th epurpose of our story, we’ll pretend JPII was ignorant of this little skeleton in St. Peter’s closet.

5. Ignoring of course that Britain is the second most secular nation in the world and the Brits in no real hurry to get religion any time soon. But all stories are allowed one implausible fact. OK, maybe in this case, two.