The Guardian 26 October, 2005
TV programs worth watching
Sun October 30 — Sat November 5
Have you noticed that those so-called scientists who try to reconcile science with the idea of the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent god also tend to favour science fiction concepts as if they were actually scientific?
One such is Adelaide’s Professor Paul Davies. In Time Trip (SBS 8.30pm Sunday), Davies happily declares: "Scientists have no doubt whatever that it is possible to build a time machine to visit the future."
However, although the program maintains that "the quest to travel through time has drawn eccentric amateurs and brilliant scientists in almost equal numbers", it has real difficulty in finding these "brilliant scientists".
One is Professor Frank Tipler of Tulane University. He has developed a time machine in theory.
It’s only problem is that, as he admits, it would weigh half the mass of the galaxy. Some refining is evidently called for!
The "eccentric amateurs" category includes Aage Nost, who actually "demonstrates" his time machine in front of the cameras. Surely anyone would realise that, if Nost had actually demonstrated a working time machine, he and his machine would be of the utmost military importance?
Nost would be a scientist in gilded cage, working for the Pentagon at an extremely high salary and kept under very tight security. The fact that he is not says everything you need to know about his "time machine".
The makers of the program, conscious that the scientific objections to their sci-fi thesis are just too powerful to ignore, try to get around them with the "Future Civilisations" ploy.
Future civilisations, they cry, could use computers to create exact replicas of the past. But that is the point and the problem: such replicas would not be the past, they would — and could — only be someone’s idea of what the past was like.
Who has sufficient knowledge of any period in the past to be able to create "an exact replica" of it? But, even if such a replica was possible, it would teach its makers nothing about the past since everything in the replica past would have been programmed into it by them in the first place.
You might as well try to deduce facts about the past from a historical novel you wrote yourself.
When the Chinese Revolution prevailed over Chiang Kai-Chek in 1949, the country’s population was 400 million, the largest in the world. About three years ago, it had ballooned out to 1.1 billion.
Despite the introduction of a socially disruptive policy of one child for each family — the "one child" policy — the population continues to grow. Two years ago, it was 1.2 billion; this year it has reached 1.3 billion.
A decimal point may not seem like a big deal, but 0.1 of a billion is 100 million people! An increase from 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion means China must provide health care and food for an extra hundred million people.
In five years the country must find schools, books and pencils for another hundred million pupils. In 15 years or so, jobs will have to be provided for an extra hundred million young people. In 20 years or so, housing may have to be provided for an extra 50 million couples.
Population growth normally slackens off and then falls when people attain a high standard of living. But that takes time, and as the above figures indicate, China does not have time to wait.
Hence the one child policy, but as the BBC investigation China Girl — screening in the Cutting Edge timeslot (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday) — shows, in a still predominantly Third World economy such a policy has major social drawbacks.
Despite Chinese women winning full equality under the law directly after the revolution, there remains widespread prejudice against having a daughter as your only child. Raising a girl is considered to be "planting a tree in another man’s garden", since a Chinese woman, once married, becomes part of her husband’s family.
China’s one child policy has seen the abortions of between 500,000 and 750,000 Chinese girls, with countless more girls killed once they’re born. The Chinese government now offers rewards to women who bear girls but it’s a tough sell.
The BBC of course has its own agenda with programs like this: while posing as an "impartial observer", it is in reality pushing imperialism’s anti-Communist line. "Look what the heartless communists have done to the Chinese people", it is saying.
Better by far to leave them to the poverty and malnutrition that would be their lot in a capitalist China, is the implicit message. Mind you, China Girl does have another solution to offer, if indirectly.
It notes that a recent policy paper, published in the US, warns that "China will end up going to war with its neighbours in order to control social unrest". Sounds more like something imperialism would do.
This week Auschwitz: The Nazis And The Final Solution (ABC 9.25pm Thursday) deals with the liberation of the camp and its aftermath.
Red Army soldiers liberated the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945. They were not warned about its existence in advance, so when they entered it, they were utterly shocked by the walking skeletons, the remains of the gas chambers and the piles of human hair.
A few months later the British were similarly horrified at Bergen-Belsen, where thousands of unburied bodies were strewn over the ground. There, 14,000 prisoners died in the first five days following their liberation; another 14,000 succumbing in the following weeks.
Whilst Hitler and Himmler commit suicide, frustratingly large numbers of perpetrators manage to remain hidden. Ex-Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss was captured by the British but they did not recognise him.
So they let him go and he found work on a farm in northern Germany. Subsequently he was hunted down by the British, tried in Poland and eventually hanged at Auschwitz.
Overall only a small percentage of the SS-men from Auschwitz were ever found and put on trial. Many of them found sanctuary, and eventually honour, in Adenauer’s West Germany.
The second and final installment of the compilation documentary World War II In Colour (SBS 7.30pm Saturday), demonstrates the inadequacies of limiting your choice of material to scenes shot in colour. With so much happening in the latter half of the War, one would think that even this restriction would leave the filmmakers with such an abundance of material that there would be no need to take up time with inconsequential scenes.
However, monopack home movie film became readily available in the 1930s, so the filmmakers can include footage of President Roosevelt on vacation at his country home, and later Eleanor Roosevelt with her daughter and grandchildren. There’s even Clark Gable, resplendent in his Air Force uniform.
Of much greater significance and interest is the footage, shot unofficially by a city resident, of the clean-up operation after an air-raid on Berlin, contrasted with a propaganda film about the offensive in the Ukraine.
There are excerpts from German films such as A Soldier’s Dream with the dancers Margot and Heidi Hoepfner, providing some insight into the entertainment provided by the Nazis for German soldiers. There is also footage of the US marines on Iwo Jima; and a kamikaze hit on the carrier USS Ticonderoga in 1945 . If you haven’t seen the kamikaze footage before, it is as shocking in its impact as the similar footage of planes flying into the World Trade Centre.