Category: Capitalism Is Good

The (other) Conquest of Space

Robert Conquest, one of the greatest and most important historians of the 20th Century, died earlier this week at the age of ninety-nine. His most lasting legacy, of course, was his exposing the fraud of communism to the intelligentsia and the public, although sadly many still remain in denial of his findings regarding Stalin’s body count. I am reasonably certain most readers of this journal are not among those that need to have Conquest’s evidence presented to them; I am in fact quite certain that most of them know his name, and even if they have not had the chance to read his monumental works The Great Terror and Harvest of Sorrow, have read other credible sources that have cited them as impeccable sources on the topic.

But how many of you are also aware that he was a science fiction fan?

As mentioned near the end of his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Conquest was an early member of the British Interplanetary Society, persuaded to join by his friend Arthur C. Clarke.  Another close friend was Kingsley Amis, with whom Conquest edited the five-book Spectrum anthology series for Gollancz Publishing; in addition to collecting some of the best science fiction written up to then for British readers, Conquest provided some essays published in the anthologies and elsewhere in which he provided some of the earliest-and strongest-arguments for the already-existing literary merit of the genre. And like Amis, he ventured into SF writing himself, publishing at least one genuine science fiction novel, A World of Difference, in which he “Tuckerized” Clarke as “Sir Arthur, President of the Interplanetary Society.” Perhaps his most lasting legacy to the field was this charming ditty, included in the second volume of Spectrum:

Sf’s no good,”
They bellow till we’re deaf.
“But this looks good.”
“Well then, it’s not sf.”

As revealing as it may be of the attitude towards science fiction by much of the intellectual and literary elites (and is still held by many to this day; try explaining to some people how Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go are full-fledged science fiction, and you’ll get lots of pushback), it is also revealing of the nature of Conquest himself.  Like so many other words and terms, “speaking truth to power” has been badly distorted and stretched so that it has nothing to do with its original meaning; nowadays, it simply means giving people what they want to hear, a complete inversion of its original intent. No matter what the subject he addressed, he was never afraid to speak the actual truth, reveal the actual facts, and use them to form a cogent, fully reasoned argument. We can best carry on his legacy not just by ensuring his books are read and remembered, but by continuing his methods and approach to both the real world and imagined ones alike.

Ender’s Game: Why You Should Not Boycott This Movie

Ender’s Game: Why You Should Not Boycott This Movie

I was having a conversation at lunch with a friend about his plans to boycott the Ender’s Game movie.

My first thought was why do I care if an older, white, and religious man dislikes gay marriage, or even gays? My own father doesn’t like gays and certainly disapproves of gay marriage. I still show up at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July even though I disagree with his stance on that issue. I certainly have more reason to boycott these events then I do anything dealing with Orson Scott Card.  It isn’t as if Card is a politician who has power to change laws, neither is his movie actively promoting an anti-gay agenda…

 

When I replied to my friend that I was planning to see the movie anyway because I don’t care if Card has an opinion contrary to my own. My friend answered by saying , “Because Card is a famous person his beliefs can sway public opinion. That makes seeing this movie wrong.”

OK, I understand his point. Does that mean I need to boycott everyone famous I disagree with if they speak openly about their beliefs?  I find Mark Zuckerberg’s politics disgusting, but I still use Facebook. I find Jim Carrey’s beliefs about  guns disquieting, but I will still go see Kickass 2. Do I have an obligation to boycott people because they have opinions I don’t agree with and who are famous? I think the right answer is that … I should argue my own beliefs in public if I have a chance, even publicly challenge Card when possible. Go out of my way to make my own opinions as public as his, but boycott? No. If I boycotted everyone I disagree with I would never get to see another movie, or read another book again.  No-one shares my opinions 100% of the time or even close to 100%, everyone has an opinion someone else wants to boycott. We live in a marketplace of ideas. Ideas should be in as much of a laissez-faire environment as we can make it that is the beauty of freedom of expression.

On the other hand, I would boycott any movie or book Orson Scott Card writes if it preaches that gays are part of a demonic conspiracy to destroy America….Yes. Here is the level that meets the boycott criteria. Direct and open preaching of something I find reprehensible. I would not pay money to encourage that sort of behavior so by default I would be boycotting it. However, I don’t recall  anything of that sort in Ender’s Game. Also, as far as I know Card is not using the money he makes from the movie to prevent gay marriage or to make being gay illegal. That might be another valid reason to boycott.  In the same vein if someone on the Left makes a movie advocating socialism, I will boycott something like that because they are directly supporting in that work something I find to be ethically wrong.

If Ender’s Game is as faithful to the book as I have heard, then boycotting it will harm the future of science fiction at the movies. Do you want to continue seeing movies that totally change the premise of an author’s work? Remember…..Starship Troopers. I think we need to step back and realize that not everyone is going to share your opinions, and that it is alright to eat food at their restaurant, watch their movies, or even read their books when they don’t.

Card himself has weighed in on this controversy. I think it is a sufficient explanation  of his position and one I can live with.

“Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Orson Scott Card

 

The Greatest Challenge to the 1st Amendment: A Follow Up

The Greatest Challenge to the 1st Amendment: A Follow Up

3D-printed-gun-modelsThe Government has forced Cody Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed, to take down his designs for 3D printed firearms. I can’t say I’m surprised, and if you had read my other article earlier in the week you would understand why: This is a blatant attack on the first amendment. Forget, for a minute, that these plans can be used to create guns. What is the difference between banning these plans from distribution, and banning a book? There are quite a few books out there that could be considered just as dangerous. I downloaded a PDF book on building machine guns last night. Will we see books like that banned next?

Just this week Obama gave a speech in which he said, “Reject voices that warn about government tyranny.”

Let me quote the words of a document that president Obama would have you reject.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”

Is this computer file any more dangerous to the government than the words of the *actual* Declaration of Independence? Will these words also be banned?

I am not saying that we need to rise up in armed revolt, and I am not saying that we have become a despotic state. I am saying that, when a government feels it has the right to censor public information and ban the people from looking at what are, at their most basic,  just “drawings” of an item that the government fears, we are not far away from the very tyranny that the founders warned about.

I quoted the movie Serenity at the end of the last article, “You can’t stop the signal”. The file was downloaded over 100,000 times before it was taken down. I was able to find the file in about a minute with an online search this morning.  The real irony is not that the government is helpless to stop the signal. The irony is that the government has the gall to even try. Banning knowledge is the hallmark of desperation and a stepping stone to true tyranny. So, yes I am one of those voices warning you about tyranny, but don’t listen to my voice, listen to the much more eloquent voices of history…

 

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives.
Robert A. Heinlein

 

Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day
Thomas Jefferson

 

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
Maximilien Robespierre

 

The Framers of the Constitution knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.
Hugo Black

When I researched these quotes, I did not look for quotes that linked censorship and tyranny. I merely typed in tyranny and hundreds of quotes linked the two. Try it for yourself. Tyranny and the suppression of knowledge are invariably linked. Censorship is ever the companion of despots.

Why the 3D Printed Firearm Will Be the Greatest Challenge Ever to the…..1st Amendment?

Why the 3D Printed Firearm Will Be the Greatest Challenge Ever to the…..1st Amendment?

3d gunYesterday when I saw the picture of the first fully 3D printed gun (I realize the firing pin is a nail and was not printed) I almost wept for joy. This is a first important step away from the dominance of the state over their citizens in many parts of the world.  Americans enjoy the protection of Second Amendment, but many places that purport to be free countries have banned all guns outright or have made ownership so restrictive that getting a firearm is almost impossible. Other parts of the world are not so free as even that. Firearm ownership for people in places like China or North Korea could mean the death penalty. This new technology makes it possible for anyone anywhere with access to a certain level of technology to take the power of the state and place it into the hands of the people. The 3D printed gun is either the beginning of the end to those repressive regimes or the beginning of one of the largest and most sweeping crack down on civil rights in the past fifty years.

The argument to restrict these rights will not be over firearms. Oh, guns and violence will be used as an excuse, but the argument will be over the right to freedom of speech and expression. This 3D printed weapon and each subsequent generation of it is a triumph of information technology. It has been made possible by the revolution in information sharing that has taken place in the last thirty years and in the ease and ability to pass information about technology freely between people. This ability of information to be exchanged will become a battleground and the government’s goal will be limiting the freedom of speech. This goal will at first be packages as only limiting information that the state finds dangerous, but it is the ultimate slippery slope. Never underestimate the willingness of government to push its subjects down that hill.

The battle lines are already being drawn and in the United States. Don’t immediately expect the Republicans to side with freedom. They have often been much more willing to censor information available to the public than the Democrats (although Obama has certainly given them a run for their money). Both sides will ultimately unite against 3D printed weapons. This is a prediction you can take to the bank. You can expect them to see this in more broad-reaching terms than just firearms. If either side can convince the public that this information is too dangerous to be allowed to freely be passed from hand to hand, and they are able to limit it, then expect them to broaden the definition of what is dangerous over time. Enjoy your internet while you have it. The government has long been trying to find an issue that resonates with the public so they can use it to limit information on the web. The public is also likely to fall for any and all scare tactics the government decides to employ.

The good news is they will not win. This is a genie that will not go back into the bottle easily. This is a Manhattan project level event in terms of personal self defense and the ability of a people to arm themselves. This simple one shot pistol is just the tip of the iceberg. In the long run there is just about no small arm that can’t eventually be build with a 3D printer. One might equip an entire army with a combination of plastic and metal printers. I foresee a day not too far off in which our own military will print their weapons as they need them…that is the future reality. We are living in an exciting time. This must be similar to what it felt like to those first peasants in Western Europe that figured out that firearms made them equal in power to the most well armored knight. The day we moved from the strangle hold of feudalism to just a hint of representative republic. It is not something to scorn. This is a technology that embraces freedom and puts power back into the hands of the people. How many police state Nazi bullies would have had second thoughts about dragging the Jews out of their homes had they known that the citizens of the Warsaw Ghetto had armed themselves and would resist? How different would the civil rights movement have been had blacks in the South had access to quick cheap 3D printed guns to defend themselves from corrupt local sheriffs? Would there have even been a need for a civil rights movement at all?

The government can try to stop it. They can shut down the internet at the risk of global economic collapse, or they can try to limit the spread of this information in other ways. If they think that people can’t find a way around any restriction the government tries to put into place to limit data….then they don’t know much about computers or those that program them. They will also try to restrict the physical 3D printers, but even that is folly. They might slow down the growth (don’t bet on it), but the technology is far to useful to be stifled for long. It is also a technology that will eventual be able to replicate itself fully. That technology is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to the metal and computer parts, but it will not be long before even that hurdle is overcome. 3D printing is the future and it is going to change the world in ways that the government and those who want control can’t even yet imagine. I often quote this line from the movie Serenity, “You can’t stop the signal.”        So why even try.

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

848aWith today’s review of Destination Moon, we begin a three-part look at three of the most important science fiction movies of the 1950s, films that have had an immense impact on  genre cinema since their release, and are also united by their conservative political leanings, either explicitly stated or in the form of subtextual undercurrents. And just to make it clear, the approach I take to film criticism is one of strict formalism; in other words, I do not care a wit as to what the politics expressed in a film are, or the politics of the artists involved are, as long as the final product is good. Unfortunately, such an approach is not shared by many left-leaning critics who feel it is their imperative to knock a film either down a peg or several notches for not adhering to their progressive ideology, or reflecting attitudes of the day that seem regrettable in hindsight, while in turn ridiculously overpraising any movie that does conform to leftist bromides. These reviews are an attempt to redress that imbalance, and provide intellectual criticism of fantastic cinema that is politically provocative while avoiding demagoguery.

 

Produced by George Pal and directed by Irving Pichel, Destination Moon is usually regarded as the movie that instigated the SF movie boom of the 1950s, although it wasn’t first, having been beaten to the punch by the cheaply-made (and quite awful) Rocketship X-M, the same year. Moreover, the two major SF films from the following year, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing From Another World, would both prove to be just as if not more influential over the coming decade as well as those to come. As Bill Warren has noted in his outstanding book on 50s science fiction movies, Keep Watching the Skies! , it’s very easy to overrate or underrate the film, both in terms of quality and influence. The name of Robert A. Heinlein on the script means that many literary SF fans will overrate it, and still others will underrate it, given his polarizing nature among the science fiction community. The explicit pro-capitalist message of the film means, of course, that many of those on the left will unfairly excoriate it while an equal number of those on the right will praise it somewhat more than they should. Sensible viewers across the political spectrum, however, will try to evaluate fairly based on whether or not it succeeds as a movie and how successfully it manages to get its message across, whether the viewer agrees with it or not, and from that perspective, one may cautiously consider Destination Moon a success.

 

When you try to look at it with an unbiased eye as possible, Destination Moon is a good film, not a great one, but still consistently intelligent and interesting in its ideas even if it doesn’t quite manage to maintain that consistency in its execution. With a single exception, the acting is fine, the seeming lack of energy or enthusiasm among its capable and well-seasoned cast is more due to the failure of the script to provide adequate characterization than any fault in the performances. Although Irving Pichel had a more memorable career as an actor than as a director, and the film does suffer some problems in pacing, he does manage to direct the space and moon scenes with a genuine sense of wonder. The film’s greatest flaw is that it suffers from a very obvious three-act play structure, and each act is progressively weaker and less interesting than the next, when they should develop and grow stronger. Certainly, the first act is the most interesting as a reflection of not just the political thought of the day, but Heinlein’s own political thought, and that’s what I’ll concentrate on here.

 

The film opens with the disastrous testing of a government rocket. Scientist Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson) suspects sabotage, given that four years of research and evaluation meant that the test should have been flawless, but as General Thayer (Tom Powers), who initiated and guided the project solemnly, tells him, they won’t have a chance to find out. “Things like this mean military cuts, boy. Research is going back to the laboratories.” Nonplussed, Cargraves simply replies that he is as well. We then cut to industrialist Jim Barnes (John Archer) returning to his civilian job at his self-owned eponymous aircraft company. When General Thayer drops in for a visit, he wastes no time getting to the point: It is absolutely essential that the United States not just get to space first, but be the first to land on the Moon, whether it be by atomic or chemical-fueled rockets. At first, Barnes displays the expected skepticism: “I’m just a plane manufacturer, not the Department of Defense. The answer’s no. N-O no.” But he suddenly shows interest when Thayer describes the new atomic engine Cargraves has been working on. When he asks why the government hasn’t tried to take it over, Thayer gives him a straight answer, and it is here that the main political message of the film is most forcefully expressed: “It’s peacetime Jim. The government isn’t making that kind of appropriations. When it needs the rocket one of these days, and it’s not ready, then government will do the job. And they’ll turn to you, to private industry, to do it! Government always does that when it gets in a jam, it has to! This time, I figured we might be ready for the government. Preparedness…isn’t all military Jim.” The problem, as Thayer sees it, isn’t the lack of money, but the lack of brains, a need to pool research and resources to meet the challenge. “But combined American industry, sparked by Jim Barnes,” he says “could put America on the Moon within a year.”

 

A successful pitch is made at a gathering of potential financial backers, with the aid of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon explaining the physics of rocketry (which clearly influenced David Koepp and Steven Spielberg when they used a “Mr. DNA” cartoon the explain the genetic engineering of Jurassic Park). Once Thayer establishes that the first nation to make a foothold on the Moon will be the first to be able to use it for military purposes, all arguments are settled, and the attending parties agree to finance the construction of the ship and the planned expedition. The ensuing montage of research and manufacturing, leading to the construction of the completed rocket, is halted when a predictably pesky fly lands in the ointment: the government announces it is blocking the scheduled rocket launch on grounds of safety concerns. They sneak by this simply advancing the rocket launch ahead of schedule. When their radio operator is felled by a bout of appendicitis, mechanic Sweeney (Dick Wesson), who has already been trained in the use of the equipment, is hurriedly assigned as his replacement. Even after the launch, not all goes smoothly, as mishaps both during the voyage and after the landing threaten both the success of the mission and the lives of the crew.

 

You may have noticed that the plot synopsis of the film concentrates mainly on the first act and that each subsequent act gets less and less discussion and description. This is not accidental; even though the first act of the film is relatively brief, it’s also the most interesting, and it’s also the section that’s the most decidedly Heinleinesque, featuring dialogue and themes redolent of Heinlein’s previous stories. It’s fascinating to watch the interactions between scientist-engineer Cargraves, industrialist-entrepreneur Barnes and military veteran Thayer, who together represent the classical Heinlein Trivium of Science and Technology, Business and Industry and The Armed Forces, whose collaborative efforts are not only necessary for a Moon mission, but for the survival of civilization (a similar message is made in the even more classic The Thing from Another World where the military and science must overcome differences to work together to save the world from a common menace-in this case, a deadly space alien). Of course, conservatives and libertarians will likely appreciate the film’s ideas and approaches more than most left-of-center audience members, but even they will still hopefully enjoy the fact that this is the rare science fiction film to even engage in such provocative discussions. Destination Moon is one of the most avowedly pro-capitalist films ever made, remarkable for its optimistic view of the eventual triumph of the American Way of science and industry at a time when the national mood, still shaken by the Atomic Bomb, tended towards skepticism on the issue. Government is viewed not as a collaborator in Destination Moon but as a roadblock to technological and entrepreneurial progress; the best thing it can do to help the Space Race is get out of the way and let the Big Brains and Hard Workers do what they must to get the job done. Nor can even “The People” be trusted as shown when public protests over the alleged safety of the rockets threaten the program; one is reminded of the protests over the Cassini-Huygens space probe which threatened an invaluable scientific research project but fortunately failed. Although a collaborative effort, the success of the Moon project is shown to ultimately depends on the individual initiative and efforts of its members, and rigid collectivism is depicted as a roadblock to progress.

 

Additionally, Destination Moon takes the Jeffersonian or Whig stance of viewing the free market and other American institutions as intimately bound to science and technology. Ten years before Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address warning of the supposed emergence of the “military-industrial-science complex,” Destination Moon postulates such a convergence as a not entirely undesirable outcome of social and economic evolution. As Barnes tells the gathered businessmen, “To stay in business, we have to build this ship.” His words are certain to send shivers down the spines of both advocates of an entrepreneurial approach to space exploration and ideological purists lamenting the intrusion of the free market into the same, for completely different reasons. When someone interrupts to ask why the government doesn’t take charge of such an important and expensive project, he explains: “The vast amount of brains, talent, skills and research facilities necessary for this project are not found in the government. Nor can they be mobilized by the government in peacetime without fatal delay. Only American industry can do this job, and American industry must get to work now, like it did in the last War.” When someone points out that government footed the bill for World War II (part of Heinlein’s genius lay not only in letting views opposing his own a fair hearing, but in demonstrating those instances when they were equally sensible), Barnes replies “And they’ll foot this bill too, if we’re successful!” The argument it makes for the free market taking initiative in space exploration is not only an eloquent one, but seems to reverberate even stronger in these days of massive NASA cutbacks. Today’s Republican party might do well to study the rhetoric of this film to see how they might win back the votes of the nation’s scientists and technical professionals.

 

Ironically, although it helped to instigate the science fiction boom of the Fifties, Destination Moon’s most notable descendants aren’t science fiction at all. Both The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995) may be dramatizations of real-life events but they owe as much if not more to Destination Moon as any science fiction film that has followed. The Right Stuff, needless to say, does a far better job of depicting the details and nuances of the real-life drama and politics of the actual Space Program in its three-hour running time (and I admit to a bias here, as it is one of my all time favorite films), but Destination Moon still manages to do a fascinating job at portraying the inner dynamics of a potential space science research team (as did Arthur C. Clarke’s underrated novel Prelude to Space). In Apollo 13, which starred real-life Heinlein fan Tom Hanks, much of the suspense and drama comes not from the question of “will they make it home?”-we already know the answer-but watching the intellectual drama of technical problem-solving unfold, and seeing sparks fly as friction develops between extremely bright people in a highly tense, life-threatening situation with the entire world watching. A similar drama takes place in Destination Moon; in both movies, some of the most thrilling scenes come not from watching the heroes drift about helplessly in the void, but carefully whittling out math problems with the use of a side rule and comparing their results. The crises in Destination Moon are not solved through brute force but rationalism and resourcefulness, and in both films, these are traits that shown to be not just human virtues, but American values, ones which Heinlein extolled throughout his work, particularly his juvenile novels.

 

Even if one wishes the three primary characters in Destination Moon were better developed, they still have distinct and recognizable personalities that make them appealingly human; this is another characteristic of Heinlein’s writing that likely managed to survive the studio’s subsequent revisions. Unfortunately, we have that fourth character to worry about, and it is here that the rockets start to sputter. Seemingly intended as an everyman persona whom audiences would supposedly identify with when the need for a technical explanation arose, the cliched character of Sweeney instead winds up being abrasive, even insulting at times. Depicted as a stereotypical blue-collar Brooklynite obsessed with beer, baseball and hot dogs, Sweeney is played by Dick Wesson, who hailed from Boston, not Brooklyn, and sounds like it. As a result, he comes off as Milton Berle doing a bad imitation of Humphrey Bogart, and although it’s more the fault of the script, he’s a character that most audience members will react negatively towards instead of viewing as sympathetic. I suspect most New Yorkers will find this character as endearing as most Southerners find their similarly condescending depictions throughout much of the media.

 

The other three actors, John Archer (father of actress Amy Archer), Tom Powers (forever immortalized as Barbara Stanwyck’s ill-fated husband in Double Indemnity) and Warner Anderson fare much better in their parts, especially considering the conditions under which they laboured. Of course, they have the advantage of also having more likeable and interesting characters, and despite the criticism levied against the film for their lack of dimension, there’s more depth to them than one might realize. It is clear at the gathering of investors, for instance, that Barnes has more scientifically pure motivations for embarking on this venture than providing another notch on his financial portfolio. “I want to do this because it’s never been done. It’s research. It’s pioneering! What’s the Moon, another North Pole?” One wonders if he was Richard Branson’s hero growing up. Cargraves is one of the most realistic early scientist characters on the screen outside of biopics; he’s a family man at heart who has the most reluctance to go up on this mission, because it means leaving behind his wife (fifth-billed Erin O’Connor, who has about two minutes of screen time) and kids who he barely gets to see enough of as is. Most fascinating of all is General Thayer, the Prime Mover behind the Moon project. He’s the most clearly Heinlenesque of all the characters in the film, the archetypical “Old Man” who turns up as a motif throughout Heinlein’s stories who encourages competent individuals to turn their intellectual talents to tasks and achievements which will have long-lasting social good. At times, his semi-poetic musings are reminiscent of Rhysling, the bard of “The Green Hills of Earth.” It’s easy to understand why Cargraves and Barnes insist that he be one of those allowed to return to Earth even though he reasonably insists that as the oldest he should be left behind; it’s his soaring rhetoric that convinced them to go to the Moon in the first place and will convince others to return. Powers gives by far the best performance in the film; he plays his part with dignity but without pretension, so that his character comes off as inspiring and reasonable in his motives instead of strident or overbearing.

 

Once we get to the Moon itself, we start to see where the contributions of Heinlein ended, and those of other writers began. It’s not that the subsequent two acts are badly written in any way, but they are far less interesting given that the provocative political drama of the first act all but disappears for the rest of the movie. The astronauts actually do very little of dramatic interest during their trip, other than the soon-to-be cliched scene of a mid-flight crisis where one character starts to drift away helplessly while trying to repair a carelessly-greased radio antenna (it’s not surprising to find out this was one of the movies Arthur C. Clarke screened for Stanley Kubrick while they were writing 2001: A Space Odyssey), and even less once they reach the moon, besides the overlong climax where they find they don’t have enough fuel left and must lighten the load if they are to ever get home. Although the sets and backdrops are primitive by today’s standards, Chesley Bonestall’s matte paintings have lost none of their Sense of Wonder and the Moon landing itself is hauntingly photographed by Lionel Lindon (who would later win an Oscar for Around the World in Eighty Days and whose other genre credits include Pal’s Conquest of Space, The Black Scorpion, and episodes of Thriller and Night Gallery). There’s even some effective stop-motion animation used in the scenes of the astronauts walking on the exterior of the ship. Pal would make up for the lack of garish spectacle in this film with his subsequent films When Worlds Collide and War of the Worlds, and continue over the next two decades to produce some of the most memorable films in the science fiction and fantasy genres.

 

For the most part, scholarly analysis of Destination Moon has, like much writing on science fiction cinema of the 1950s, focused on the Cold War background of the film. With the recent shift in the space industry from public to private investment, it’s time for a reassessment of the film’s relevance to current events, as well as its other often-overlooked virtues. In spite of numerous flaws, the film is intelligent enough and assertive enough in conveying its message to merit serious attention from thoughtful audience members, and may also serve as a useful starting point for discussion on the roles both government and private enterprise have to play in the next step in The Space Age.

Disney Buys Star Wars

Today will be remember in the annals of history for two events. First the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and second the salvation of Star Wars from the death of a thousand cuts it has suffered under George Lucas. Here at the Freehold we are huge fans of the juggernaut capitalism of Walt Disney. The man and his legacy were genius. Today I have just heard word that Disney has purchased Lucas Films which include the rights to the Star Wars Universe for 4.05 billion dollars. A few years ago Disney bought Marvel comics to get the movie rights and If the Marvel movies are any indication the new Star Wars movie… yes you heard that right “NEW STAR WARS” movie that Disney is planning for 2015 will be epic.

We can all be thankful that Star Wars is out of the hands of that horrible hack George Lucas.

May the Force be with Disney.

Highbrow? – Hey, It Just Comes with the Territory

Perhaps there are some who visit this site and read our articles and make the accusation that the site is too highbrow.  To them I wish I could apologize but it just comes naturally for us conservative / libertarian types.  To be both you have to cut against the grain and that means you are going to think differently from everyone else.  It is very easy look at entertainment like we do and offer up criticism or praise if you are going to simply say what everyone else is.  It is much harder to look at it with a different point of view in mind.  Particularly if you are going to be judge entertainment based on a particular point of view that people do not find popular.

The entertainment industry is largely liberal and those who review it are also liberal.  I do not think this is in any way a stretch, it is simply so.  Unlike those liberal reviewers who deny this is true of themselves, we here at The Freehold do not.  We make it our stock in trade to say “I am a conservative and a libertarian and I think this movie, book, tv show, website, etc. is a bunch of liberal trash” or the opposite.  This is simple plain honesty.  It also simply comes with being conservative and libertarian.

As a conservative, I look at science fiction and fantasy with an eye to what I think works economically, socially or politically.  I am not interested in someone presenting an idea that in real life would not work in these areas.  It is interesting that liberals do feel that we can just spend our way to prosperity, but at the same time it is interesting that they never promote this idea in their fiction.  If you are going to present an ideological system for the public in science fiction or fantasy wrapping paper, then it still better be practical.

As a libertarian, I think books and movies that promote the idea that too much freedom is a bad thing for the individual are wrong.  Hey, I understand duty and honor, but those are things people should have to embrace because they have chosen to embrace them.  I understand law, but laws should be used to protect individual rights not restrict them.  It takes thinking to divided the line in the right place.

Notice the last two paragraphs, I do not judge a book or movie about what I FEEL about it, but what I THINK about it.  This is the classic difference between liberals and conservatives.  I have to think about things. Feelings are not right or wrong and therefore they are not a judge of right or wrong.  Feelings do provide passion, but they should never form the basis of what we do.  We should think about what we are going to do and then put our feelings behind that thought.  Science Fiction and Fantasy’s purpose if done right, does not just entertain, it should cause you to think and thus look at things differently.

This is why I don’t think this site can escape the label ‘highbrow’  Highbrow simply means that it is done with a scholarly mind.  A scholarly mind that thinks about what the issue at hand is and offers an opinion on that thought, not on what is felt.  Feelings may be there but to the scholar, they should be shaped by thought, not the other way around.  Highbrow is then simply just a product of being conservative and libertarian – it means you think first.

It is a moniker I will gladly accept.

 

When Heinlein Was A Liberal

 

I have to admit, the book For Us, The Living by Robert Heinlein is a real puzzle.  As a piece of science fiction literature it is an obvious failure from the standpoint of story telling.  It is more of a lecture with a story to fill in the blank spots.  The lecture however is even more disappointing because of the fact it is loaded with liberal tones and to be honest seems very anti-libertarian because of the government being the source of all prosperity.

The economic system proposed is one where each person gets a check from the government and then spends it on their needs.  The system that Heinlein proposes is even backed by a game that the characters not only play in the book but the system is given as an appendix so the reader can try it out themselves.  I did try it once and it does indeed work but it has some fatal flaws; the greatest of which is rampant government spending.  It also has the flaw of thinking that economics is a closed system.  You really cannot create wealth in the system when you look at it nor does it take the creation of wealth into account.

The greatest flaw of the whole book is not the discussion of economics so much as a belief in human nature.  The book seems to say if people did not have to worry about their financial needs, they would naturally want to work and produce for enjoyment sake alone.  With our current welfare state, this does not work out to well.  If we have learned anything about just giving money to non-producers, it is that it encourages more non-production.  Need; like it or not, is what propels people to act and work.

The other part of human nature I don’t buy in this book is that how someday psychology will rid the world of jealousy, greed, strife, etc.  So far, this is still a fantasy.  All these emotions may simply be a part of human makeup because of the needs of humans to survive.  While I respect Heinlein’s belief that man if left to himself can do great things, I reject the idea of some sort of psychological utopia.  That better belongs to the unrealistic Star Trek fantasy.  Great entertainment but not a possible reality.

The book was originally rejected and Heinlein did not resubmit it in his lifetime.  It was eventually published posthumously.  I often wonder if an older, wiser Robert Heinlein decided it was a failure on a lot of levels for himself.  I wonder if he looked at it and said: “Oh My God!  What an idiot I was!”  I personally think it did do his writing some good.  Stop lecturing and start storytelling was a lesson I believe he learned there.  Sift the philosophy in subtlety and tell a damn good story instead.  In the end this played out very well over a great and wonderful career.

It seems in the final analysis, that For Us, The Living was the failure that Heinlein needed to learn from to ultimately be successful.  It moved him from trying to hit the home run right out the gate to the simple success of building his craft over time.  The home runs came later but they were far more significant and it was probably because of this failure. Utopia is nice, but in the end it never happens.  Heinlein learned this lesson in this book from a lot of standpoints and it in many ways became a turning point of sorts for him.  A good turning point, I might add.

Megatraveller, Megacorporations, and Misplaced Corporate Hatred

Sorry, the mindless drivel of the political ads about corporations has gotten to me.  You know: “He will take on the big corporations and get back what is rightfully yours,” drivel.

In 1987, I was visiting a hobby shop in Kalamazoo, MI and ran across Megtraveller the RPG (original pen and paper stuff) and bought the original boxed set.  I had already been playing Traveller so the transition to a more complex and expanded Megatraveller was a natural fit.  In the world of the star spanning Imperium anything was possible.  You could be any science fiction type role and play multiple different styles of campaigns.  It was a great system enhanced by the fact the record keeping and game mechanics were simple but still allowed so many different actions.

The world of Megatraveller had one other feature, it employed the as part of the world of the Imperium – the megacorporation.  These giant of industry were enormous.  They had an office on any civilized world of the Imperium and often had a home world and star system of their own as a central office.  They employed their own everything including armed forces and fleets of ships.  They wielded tremendous power because of their shear size and wealth. Sometimes this power was used for good, sometimes for evil.  Mostly it was simply used to make more money.  Characters often needed them because they produced products and technologies that could be found nowhere else.  They also were able employers who everyone knew ‘the check would not bounce’ so to speak. The currency of a Megacorporation in Megatraveller was hard currency.  In fact, after the Imperium collapses in the game system, it is the megacorporations that still have value after all else has become worthless.

I point out the benefits because I think in our real world we miss the benefit of corporations.  Businesses become corporations for one simple reason — to make more money.  In reality a corporation is just a vehicle in which people expand their existing business by adding more capital.  By doing this they are able to do more.  Among these benefits: hire more people, expand the business to get more products and services to people, give more to charity, develop new ideas and technologies that benefit people, etc.  I wonder how charities; for instance, would do without corporate sponsorship? Corporations exist to create and generate wealth which they use to generate more wealth.  If left alone, this brings prosperity to everyone involved with the corporation to one extent or another.

When people simply label corporations as bad I am not sure which is at work: stupidity, prejudice, envy or jealousy.  The idea that if we stick it to the rich or corporations that I am going to benefit is intellectually vacant to me.  Just because someone  or something else loses in prosperity does not necessarily mean I am going to benefit.  Sorry all your hatred toward corporations will not get you a single nickel from them. If they are brought to failure by the governing bodies of this country, you will gain nothing. More than likely, it will actually have the opposite effect.

In truth, the poor and middle class like to blame corporations and rich people because it takes the focus off their own failures.  Blame never has once solved a problem, it is a tool for those who do not want to take responsibility for themselves.  To be truly free, you must take responsibility for yourself.  It was not corporations, that caused people to spend more than they earn or have debt levels so high they can’t see a way out.  That was a product of each individual’s choices.  Greed may exist but it is a human problem, not just a rich people and corporation problem.  It is a greedy decision to make plans to live off welfare and thus the prosperity of others through taxation. It is just as greedy as any decision that the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world have ever made.

*Sigh*  My rant is over but to say this.  If you want freedom, true freedom, you must take responsibility for yourself.  Blaming anyone for where you are will not help you move forward in your life. I also don’t believe we will go forward as a nation by looking for someone to blame.  We instead need a vision where everyone can profit if they take responsibility for themselves and let things be free to do what they need to do.  That includes corporations by the way.

Capitalism – The Key to the Stars

I have a bucket list and one of the things on my list is to stand on the surface of the Moon and look down on Earth.  You can’t die if some thing on your bucket list isn’t done right?  Robert Heinlein was the first I think to postulate that space would be better reached through corporations rather than government agencies.  I believe he was right.

Some would argue –  look the moon was reached by NASA.  My response is — did they stay there?  The answer is of course is NO.  This is very different from how a corporation or entrepreneur would have handled it.  Once they got there such corporations or individuals would have tried to figure out how staying there would generate them money.  They would have discovered something and made it happen.

Government agencies like NASA are for the most part goal driven but they have incredible difficulty redefining goals to achieve new and better results.  There is also the issue funding. A government agency is purely at the mercy of the government to fund it to a certain level.  The problem is funding can change depending on the goals of the administration involved in the government.  This can mean you can be reaching for a goal and then suddenly – Bam! – your funding as been cut and you can’t achieve your objective and have to throw out everything you have done to that point.  This is how government waste happens.

By contrast, a corporation is not  at the mercy of others in these issues.  They set their goals, get their funding and execute.  If funding runs short, the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the people running the company come into play.  From an ethics point of view corporations are not tied down in some cases to what technologies or philosophies they can use to achieve their results.  This can be alarming to some but the fact is governments are much more concerned with how they are perceived than corporations are.  It is this freedom that will ultimately allow them to lead us to the stars.  It is the ability to create wealth and not be stuck with only one source of income that gives them this edge.

People ultimately act in their own best interests.  If it becomes the best interest of humanity to colonize other worlds, they will be colonized.  The most likely scenario is that humanity will reach out with an eye on profitability.

I hope in the near future to be standing on the moon and looking down at earth, but I strongly suspect that it will not be the NASA logo on the lunar rover that brought me to the vantage point to do so.  More than likely, it will be a corporate logo that has figured out how being on the moon is profitable.