Archive for October, 2009

I think it’s gonna be a long long time

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I live less than 50 miles from Cape Canaveral, formerly Cape Kennedy, and formerly Cape Canaveral before that.  Talk about an identity crisis.

And now it’s going through another one: What’s the mission?

This week there’s a scheduled launch of an unmanned Ares rocket, which could replace the Shuttle, now on its last scheduled flights in … well, forever. NASA has submitted several mission proposals and budgets to the government, but the government’s got its own budget problems. How can we send a spaceship to Mars when we can’t get our own Earthship in order? Why should we go back to the moon when we’ve already been there? And are we content to just send astronauts up like janitors to regularly empty the Porta Potty on the Space Station?

I find these choices and questions somewhat sad.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, I was playing with my Cape Canaveral toy set as an excitable young boy growing up in Maryland and dreaming about our great big space adventures to come. Our rival superpower, the Russians, had beaten us to space with Sputnick, and now President Kennedy was promising we would beat them to the moon within 10 years.

And, by golly, we did. In the most amazing run of technological breakthroughs, NASA team dedication, personal sacrifice, and fast track government and popular support this world has ever witnessed, we went from stranded on Earth in 1960, to stepping on the moon in 1969.

But we dreamed much bigger than that.

Our favorite prime time television cartoon at the time was The Jetsons, where a family like ours lived in a penthouse perched in the sky and traveled around in their own personal flying saucers. They also had a cool robot pet dog that fetched the newspaper. (Paper newspapers? In the future? Now that’s science fiction).

Our favorite books were science fiction treats like The Martian Chronicles and R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury, who wrote of international space travel, aliens and other worlds as if they were already here, and a natural part of our daily life experience.

We went to the movies and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which evo-leaped us in the single tossing of a bone from raging primates to commercial passengers on celestial spaceships waltzing through the galaxy to “The Blue Danube.”

David Bowie sang about Ground Control to Major Tom in Space Oddity, and Elton John picked up on Ray Bradbury’s working stiff astronaut theme by singing as a Rocket Man, who punched a clock and did his job five days a week, but also had time to ponder why he was, “burning out my fuse up here alone.”

Star Trek, Space 1999, and Star Wars delivered us warp speed to a time where we had so distantly moved on to exploring (and fighting with) other worlds that living on Earth wasn’t even an afterthought anymore.

And beyond going to the moon … none of these things happened.

And none of them likely ever will. At least the way we’re headed now.

It was all just a fever dream fueled by huge leaps in rocket technology, hope, and great expectations.

My childhood imagination soared on those expectations.

And now, as an adult, I don’t even want us to spend one more dime to go anywhere else in the universe. I just want us to get Earth … right. I don’t want us to burn one more drop of ultra high octane rocket fuel further depleting the ozone layer and exposing the Earth to deadlier levels of radiation. I don’t want us to send one more man or woman into space unless it’s for some reason to really help us back here on Planet Earth, today. It’s not enough to live on the fantasy of what travel through the universe can deliver us anymore. We’ve got to deliver here, first.

This isn’t some tree-hugging idealist writing.

This is … merely a realist.

A realist who doesn’t think we need to completely abandon our dream of space, but just abandon the last century’s model and method of how we get there.

The next leap in evolution could be some matter-anti-matter dylithium crystal device breakthrough that beams us throughout the universe without burning fossil fuel or using any more precious resources, but it won’t be constructed from any blueprints left behind from the existing technology paradigm. It will be another great leap of imagination that re-invents the way we meet the stars.

You see, I’m still hopeful that we will explore the space beyond, and maybe even live there one day. But the realist in me now understands we must the find the way way out by better exploring the space within.  That’s where we’ll find even greater answers to the questions of what’s out there. That’s where the bigger mysteries wait to spark our inspiration and be revealed. And that’s where the next phase of space exploration can begin.

Maybe Cape Canaveral will still be the harbor for this new evolution and rename itself Cape Higher-Consciousness.

I can’t wait for that play set.

— A. Wayne Carter

When did we become so mean?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Go to any of your favorite websites and read the posts or comments to the original blog or article. Try not to get distracted by the illiteracy and just focus on the mood or the message:

“He’s like this weird combination of gay and white-acting black. It’s really unappealing.”

This one’s from Kitalyn posting on Defamer.com to a story about Justin Timberlake on Oprah.

“If only it was to death.”

That’s how Texas Tranny reacts to the Superficial.com headline, “Britney is starving herself.”

“good riddance, ya die hard commie.”

That love note from a sensitive poster known as government is killin, posted in response to this obviously provocative headline on Politico.com: “Walter Cronkite dead at 92”

And these are the polite ones.

When did almost everyone in this country develop a vicious, foul-tempered opinion about every other person or event, and feel self-importantly compelled to express it publicly? Is it just the veil of anonymity on the web that allows these putrid and toxic blossoms to flourish? Or have Americans really become that hateful and, well, mean?

In more than 30 years of passively monitoring the culture, I can’t remember a time when anyone and everyone seemed so impassive about contributing their own bile to the topic, or “target” of the day. Gossip or political websites that spew poisonous diatribe and serve as a platform for hundreds or thousands more to do the same are sprouting up faster than fungi on feces.

I’m no Mr. Manners – I’ve been on the cynical bandwagon before the theme song ever started playing, but there used to be some restraint and, dare I say … art to putting someone else down.  Now it’s just pit bulls fueled on Red Bull in an open field with fresh meat tossed out hourly.

I wish I could explain what happened or why, and offer some way out of this dark and ugly mess. But then no one can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan, either.  Some shit holes (and assholes) defy any meaningful comprehension.

Perhaps it’s enough, or at least a start, to just notice that it’s happening. To take a closer look, even in the mirror, and admit we’ve slid down into a slimy pit. We can continue to read and watch and surf the things that interest us, but must we contribute to the negative, bitchy meanness of it all? Does the simple right and access to post a comment mean we have to crawl onboard? It’s so easy to toss something cruel, cutting or vile out there when you’re hiding behind some anonymous user name in an online forum. Imagine if you were standing up, fully revealed, in a well-lit room full of living, breathing, sensitive human beings …

… like a town hall meeting on health care.

Would you really still make those same comments?

Oh. Shit. It’s much worse than I thought.

— A. Wayne Carter

That old black (& white) magic

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Whenever I hear someone say they can’t watch a black & white movie or television show, I cringe … with pity. No student, lover or fan of cinema ignores the 50 plus years of artistry and lighting evolution that went into perfecting the black & white image on film … before color became the common palette.  And all that brilliant contrast of light and dark went the way of that gold dust blowing away into the wind at the end of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Citizen Kane.  The Third Man.  The Maltese Falcon.  Casablanca. Strangers On a Train. Night of the Hunter. I’m sure you have favorites. And it wasn’t the lack of technology that made these classics black & white.  Color was around long before Dorothy landed on the Yellow Brick Road in 1939. In these and many other films, it was often the artistic choice of the director or cinematographer.

Many directors more recently have tried to recapture that look. Peter Bogdonavich with The Last Picture Show in 1971. Robert Rodriguez with Sin City in 2007. And even Hitchcock revisited it as late as 1960 with Psycho.  The very translation of the classic style of Film Noir is Film “Black.” Black as night. Full of inky black and veiled gray shadows, in alleys and across faces. There’s just nothing quite like it in color.

Especially for horror.

I wondered if my young son would ever watch black & white, let alone come to appreciate the gothic style horror lighting so perfected in black & white long before his time and even long before mine.

A few years ago, when my son was seven years old, he collected Yu-Gi-Oh bubble gum cards that included ‘monster’ cards. They reminded me of cards I collected as a kid from a science fiction horror TV anthology series in the early 1960’s called The Outer Limits. Each week a disembodied ‘control voice’ took over your television set and introduced a gothic-style horror or science fiction story with new characters, and featuring at least one new monster.

Because this was 1963 and most television sets could only play black & white, the show was filmed and broadcast in black & white. But this was the ‘perfected’ black & white shot by a master cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who would later go on to win Academy Awards. I was only about eight years old when the show first aired and I remember that it scared me out of my wits. I went to bed every Friday night with nightmares, and yet I couldn’t wait until the next Friday to have some new ones. Perhaps this was the beginning of an adrenaline addiction. I just know I wanted to be scared silly, and The Outer Limits never failed to do the job.

So I retrieved the treasured deck of monster cards I had collected back in 1963 to show my son. Each card featured a hideous creature from one of the episodes. There was the bug-eyed alien with the razor sharp boomerang from “Fun and Games;” the shimmering, negative image radioactive man from “The Galaxy Being;” and the one that gave me the worst nightmares of all … the over-sized crawling ants with human-like faces known as “The Zanti Misfits.” In this episode, these insect monsters crawled out of their spacecraft atop a military post headquarters in a deserted Western town named “Morgue” and attacked everyone in sight. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.

I went straight to my DVD box collection of the original series and put the episode on to show “The Zanti Misfits” in action. My son took one look at the rather primitive animation of the ants crawling out of their cheap, tin-looking aircraft and immediately scoffed in ridicule, “That’s not scary.”

I was crushed. What could be more terrifying than loudly buzzing, over-sized ants with human-like faces crawling up your leg and biting you with poisonous teeth?

I cued up another episode called, “The Mice,” that featured what appeared to be a man on two legs covered from head to waist with a huge blob of snot-like gelatinous material with two protruding, claw-like hands. It was obviously a man in a costume fitted with a huge glob of fake jelly slapped on top.

He watched this ‘Jelly Man’ picking up lake scum with its claws and stuffing it in what appeared to be a slit-like mouth. He watched the Jelly Man running through a forest back to a laboratory. He watched the Jelly Man use its claws to attack and kill one of the workers in the laboratory where the creature had first been transported to Earth. And he watched as they eventually captured and sent it back to the planet it came from in the same transporter. And that was it. No major reactions from my son. But somehow he couldn’t take his eyes off of the Jelly Man until he had seen its final moment on screen.

That same night he insisted his mom come and lay down with him in his bed when he prepared to go to sleep. He told her to leave the closet light on. And when he finally and fitfully fell to sleep, his mother came out to the living room with a sour look that and scolded me for scaring him with the ‘Jelly Man.’ She went to bed mad as hell. And, as soon as the bedroom door slammed closed, I found myself grinning from ear to ear.

An old black & white TV show that had scared me as a kid more than 40 years ago could still scare a kid today.

It may have been the ‘Jelly Man’ and not the human-faced crawling ants with poisonous teeth, but it still counted. That old black & white mojo still worked.

I shouldn’t be proud about scaring my son with this stuff, but when he so easily scoffed at one of my most powerful childhood fears with, “That’s not scary,” well, I couldn’t help but feel glibly vindicated. And so I grinned.

And a week later he was still insisting on sleeping with the lights on in the closet and secretly talking about the ‘Jelly Man’ to his mom (but never admitting his fear to dad, of course).  I apologize to him to this day. I’m deeply sorry.

But wait until he sees the episode with the space rocks that come alive and cover your face with smothering black goo.

— A. Wayne Carter