Friday, February 06, 2004

No, James Lileks, YOU Have Jumped the Shark!

James Lileks is extremely overrated, and this latest rant of his provides a perfect example of what I'm talking about. You have to be pretty darned clueless to equate wasting public money on manned space programs with private expenditure on movies and theater productions.

"I would like to see us get this place right first before we have the arrogance to put significantly flawed civilizations out onto other planets," Stewart said.

Oh: right. Actor talking. “Get this place right.” What would that look like, exactly? And how would we know? If in 2079 there’s one monomanical Marxist sub-saharan leader starving his people for political gain, does this obligate other nations to shut down their rocketry programs until the guy dies and crop production returns to pre-tyrant levels?

Note the implicit stereotyping there: if in 2079 there's a monomaniacal Marxist leader in power somewhere, it can be taken for granted that he'll be "sub-saharan" (i.e, Black African). Nice work.

The 63-year-old British actor says manned missions are too expensive. "It would take up so many resources, which I personally feel should be directed at our own planet," he said.

Making movies takes up many resources which could be directed at our own planet. For that matter, millions of pounds are spent in England annually for theater productions – I propose a ten-year moratorium on all stage shows, with the money distributed directly to our own planet. And after we have gotten things right on this planet we can get back to such frivolous luxuries as theater. What’s that, you say – theater employs many people? Theater inspires imaginations, adds to our store of knowledge, helps us define what it means to be human?

This is so stupid I don't even know where to begin, and the worst thing is that it's coming from a so-called "fiscal conservative"! Listen buster, your childish daydreams about spacemen with shiny rayguns is in no way a justification for throwing American taxpayer money up into space. If your imagination so badly needs inspiration, I have a far cheaper suggestion for you - go find yourself some peyote or LSD and take a drug trip! I'm tired of listening to petulant morons like this guy whine about their precious Mars fantasies when real scientific research is being given the shaft to satisfy their delusional yearnings. Where was Lileks' ire when the abandonment of the Hubble was announced?

I don't entirely agree with Stewart's statements, but he is mostly right, and James Lileks is hopelessly wrong. From a scientific viewpoint, nothing could be more damaging to the search for life on Mars than contaminating (yes, Lileks, contaminating!) the place with the millions of germs any human traveller would inevitably bring along on the journey. That Lileks is unaware of such an elementary fact only goes to show how little his annoyance has to do with any real interest in scientific understanding per se, as opposed to living out the sort of nonsense imbibed by watching too many cheesy space operas. If public money isn't going to go to worthwhile scientific endeavors, it ought to be returned to the public, not burnt up in an exercise that will add little to our knowledge of the universe.