Monday, July 20, 2009

The Great Flaming Chariot in the Sky

I figured I should start on an up beat.

Today as I write this it is the fortieth anniversary of the Moon Landing. A day I like to observe under the admittedly unwieldy name of "Greatest Achievement in the History of Human Endeavour Day."

I can't guess whether this blog is going to go in the direction of angry, philosophical, humorous or even petty. Probably some of each, but it struck me that busting out on a positive note was probably a good thing regardless.

Have a happy Greatest Achievement in the History of Human Endeavour Day everyone!

When Neil Armstrong stepped down on the lunar surface I was not yet born, in fact I was just starting to get the hang of that third trimester thing. I was born into a world that was still very excited by the wonder of out ability to excel. Science was seen as unstoppable. Mankind could do anything. That was a pervading tone of the world in my earliest days. I was encouraged to have faith in science and to dream big and think hard about everything.

I recall getting up early in the morning to watch the first space shuttle landing. I remember thinking how exciting that was and how at the same time there was no way it could match the awe inspiring feat of sending 12 men to walk on the moon.

I've never stopped being fascinated by it. I think my personal love for the Star Wars films (the orignal trilogy, not the childhood stealing ILM commercial that straddled the turn of the century) began with a love of the idea that man could stretch out well beyond the boundaries of out little blue marble. I read books, I saw Apollo 13 the day it was released. And watched From Earth to Moon in about as short a period as it would be possible to without overlapping the episodes. It's been far too long since I last watched The Right Stuff.
I've watched the entire NASA film collection and the entire CBS coverage of the moon-landing (which I just did this week, in fact I probably was watching Walter Cronkite commentate as he passed away). I revelled in watching a 72 year old Buzz Aldrin punch out Bart Sibrel.
And I am as appalled as anyone that 'we' have done so little to either go back or to push further. Though it looks as though a very real attempt is genuinely going to happen before I hit retirement age... how sad is that? It took less than a decade to pull it together last time, but now.... perhaps with the potential of commercial space-industry on the horizon that will pick up pace.
I managed to miss the Challenger disaster by almost a full day (long story, it was a weird day) and the Columbia disaster ominously occurred the day I moved in with my then fiancee... I wouldn't have referred to it as 'ominous' had we worked out as a couple. (Though I don't connect any real-world meaning to the coincidence.) I find it galling that the shuttle program is on the verge of ending with no replacement on the horizon. Again I look to the likes of the X-Prize and Virgin Galactic to become the new hope of extra-terrestrial endeavour. I believe Stephen Hawking was right when he said at the TED conference that space is our only hope of long-term survival as a speciecs and we are a LONG way away from being able to cash in on that potential.

I get chills thinking about how long it has been since Capt. Gene Cernan put an end to that chapter of human history.

If you'll forgive me a small dose of asshole skepticism...
When I listen to the arguments of Joe Rogan and the aforementioned Bart Sibrel, I want to do just what Buzz Aldrin did. Not because of the lies themselves, but because of the willful ignorance it takes to have each and every one of your arguments addressed with ration and demonstrable science (often science that can be replicated in a highschool classroom! - it's typically THAT basic.) and yet they keep arguing the same points as though they have never been debunked. The intellectual dishonesty and laziness that takes really makes me crazy. I may be an asshole skeptic, but these folks are ignorant asshole mother fuckers. Okay, rant over.

Skeptics are often accused of ruining people's sense of wonder, but this is one case where it is exactly the opposite. In my life there has been nothing real that has been more wonderous than putting a man on the moon.

Happy Greatest Achievement in the History of Human Endeavour Day everyone!


  1. I had the "science is just another religion" debate yesterday at a party with an artsy friend who can be a real asshole herself. One of those "I'm disgusted by people who haven't read War and Peace, yet proudly display my utter lack of basic scientific literacy as a badge of honour" types. She defined 'religion' as 'faith' and 'faith' as 'any kind of belief at all' which seems like a useless definition except in order to win this exact debate, which she claimed to have done. She said science is ultimately based on beliefs, so it's just as good as any other belief system.

    It being the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, I couldn't let that slip past, and I guess I let my emotions kinda take over. As I rained blows down upon the coffee table to punctuate my rant, I realized that everyone in the room had stopped talking, and had turned to look at the deranged lunatic hitting the furniture and yelling about Neil Armstrong. Asshole skepticism claims another victim.

  2. Lol.
    Getting attention is important... and it seems you did.
    My biggest conundrum is defining the boundaries where getting attention is more important than explaining the fine points. It's not an easily answered problem. No doubt "it's a continuum" will be the answer, but it's not like that is an easily dealt with data point.

    As to science as faith... ARGH!

    I will definitely try to answer that in a later post. Probably sooner than later. It's actually quite easily answered, the problem is people who already have made the initial argument are prone to not taking a rational counter-argument seriously.

    "You can't rationalize with Jesus freaks, otherwise there'd be no Jesus freaks." Gregory House, MD