Friday, July 22, 2011

Robot Nick talks about the Space Shuttle

It just so happens that the Space Shuttle’s return trajectory takes it directly over my home, here in Orlando.  Each time, it passes overhead, early in the morning, I am suddenly jolted awake by two loud bangs.  The sonic booms rattle the windows of my old house and scare the cat.  On every one of those occasions I smile briefly, roll over in bed and fall back to sleep, content.  I am content not only in knowing that a group of fellow human beings is now once again safe  on mother earth but also content in the knowledge that there is another group of brave people still in space.  Like most Americans, I find immense inspiration in manned space flight.  I believe that the trip to the moon was, hands down, humanities greatest achievement.  I am sorry to see the Shuttle program come to an end, which is why it is hard for me to admit that I also believe that the decision to end the shuttle program was the right thing to do.  Because of this emotional conflict, I will let my robot counterpart, Crank-o-Matic 3000 explain my reasons.  See Crank-o-matic 3000 is just like me, only it lacks sentiment circuits. 

Crank-o-Matic, why do you believe the ending of the Shuttle program is a good thing?

Crank-o-Matic : “BEEP, BEEP*, The United States Space Transportation System (STS) primary mission was to transport and assemble components of the International Space Station in earth orbit. This goal has been achieved. The Shuttle’s nearly 40 year old technology (it was designed in the 60’s) is now highly inefficient for just transporting humans, to and from space, BLURP.

Following WW1 the US government offered a number of financial incentives to private companies to nurture growth in civilian air flight technology. This included awarding private companies contracts for transporting airmail and sponsoring design competitions to fill niche markets. Companies were encouraged to design planes that could fly in freezing weather or land on water. This led directly to today’s modern aviation industry, BING, WHIZZ. The US is now employing this same strategy to spur the space industry and help develop the next generation of space transportation vehicles. History suggests that this is the most effectual way to move unworthy humans beings into space, VERRRR, CLICK*.

Although, an unemotional analysis shows that sending humans into space is highly inefficient for gathering information, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. Compare the scientific achievements of the manned Apollo Program with that of the sexier Voyager probes, REEEERRRRR, CLICK*. While Apollo helped solidify theories concerning the composition, and evolution of earth’s moon, the sweet little Voyager twins racked up countless more discoveries, PING, PING, PING! Those hot little robots gave the first glimpse of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere with giant hurricane-like storm systems. The probes discovered erupting volcanoes on Lo. They photographed evidence of a liquid ocean beneath the cracked icy crust of Europa and gave us a clear view of the fine structures of Saturn's rings. They photographed geysers erupting from the polar cap of Triton and let’s not forget that Pale Blue Dot photo, YEAH BABY.

All from a mission that was a fraction of the cost of Apollo, with its precious little human cargo, with their pathetic squishy bodies. Zero gravity makes my bones brittle. I can’t breathe in a vacuum. Oh, Gama radiation burns. What a bunch of crybabies! At least now the money that the Shuttle was sucking up will go to some real science, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. WHIRRRRR, KILL ALL HUMANS!”

Ok, I had to turn off Crank-o-Matic 3000. It got a little crazy there. Getting back to my original train of thought, I’m going to miss the Shuttle. Not for its many achievements (The ISS and Hubble alone testify to that) but because of the inspiration which that elegant vehicle generated in each of us. Without the human experience, knowledge alone (as fascinating as it is) is not worth much.

This morning I heard that double boom once again. This time though, instead of a feeling of happiness and contentment, I felt a little pang of sorrow. I know there are still people in space but something is missing. An old friend was saying its last goodbyes. Forgetting all the reason and all the logic, I truly am sorry to see the shuttle go. I’ll miss it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Missed Point

I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows part deuce. Loved it. It was much better than the last movie, Harry Potter and the Wandering Aimlessly for Two Hours. I’m going to talk specifics about the movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet put your fingers in your ears and sing “La, la la,” for a few minutes.

I just want to make a quick statement about a minor controversy going around concerning Potter and religion. No, I’m not going to address the fear some Christians express that J.K. Rollins books are bad because they contain magic. I’m going to brush that aside as quickly as if I had a flying broom. CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is full of magic and Christians don’t have a problem with that. So I’m calling poppycock on that controversy.

I’m talking about the other popular opinion going around: that Harry Potter himself is a Christ figure because he is willing to sacrifice himself for humanity (or at least for all of Wizard-dum.) On that observation, I’m going to have to say movie analysts are missing the point.

People sacrifice themselves in movies all the time. Consider this scene:

Hero: I’m going in there.

Commander: Are you crazy? Don’t you know it’s suicide!

Hero: Don’t you think I know that? But, I’m the only one with enough muscle attached to my arms to do it. Tell my wife I love her.

It’s not the fact that a character is willing to sacrifice himself or herself, that is important, in a story. It is the person whom the hero is willing to sacrifice himself too. I propose that it is the Sacrificee not the Sacrifer, that is important. In all those movies, Potter included, the hero is willing to die at the hands of the bad guy. You could almost say, that the villain is defined as the villain, because he requires the hero to die before him.

Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

Boo, hissss. The fable of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is unique in storytelling, in that, the hero sacrifices himself to the supposed good guy , the almighty – God himself (WTF). I think this says a lot about the Abrahamc religions, and why I do not support them. Doesn’t this odd fact cast God squarely as the guy wearing the black hat, wringing his hands and twirling his mustache, while giving out an evil “Wha, ha, ha” laugh? Am I the only one who thinks this is weird?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ten Great Humanist Films

Check out the the magazine The Humanist for July/August.  They were kind enough to publish two, count them TWO, of my articles.  I wrote Real to Reel, which is a list of my favorite Humanist films.  I also interviewed Andrea Steele, Founder and Executive Director of the Freethought Film Festival, held last month in Tampa.  I hope you enjoy the read.