Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie Turn-Ons, Part 4.3 (Cheesy Sci-Fi: This Island Earth)

These entries, much like chapters in books on programming techniques, may be read in any order. Except for the first two posts - especially the second one, which sets the tone, has disclaimers, spoiler alerts, and also a link back to the first one - you may skip all the other entries in between.

I realise that, this being the third entry, the previous paragraph wouldn't have made much sense - there being no entries in between to skip. Still, since that is a header intended for all posts in this series, I feel obliged to include it here too, if only to appease the Gods of Consistency and OCD. You'll feel more at home with it at the start of the next post, you'll go "hmm..." on it when the fifth one makes its entry; and so on and so forth, until, by the 11th post, it should be a huge load off of anyone who wanders in here for the first time. 

This Island Earth (1955)

The title first. This Island Earth. Wonderfully evocative. Admittedly, I can't figure out how it relates to anything that goes on in the movie; but then again, I'm not known for being particularly perceptive. In any case, let's not quibble over irrelevancies. Titles are art too, and as Leo tells us before a Tom and Jerry episode, "Art for art's sake." Will Shakespeare shall have the final word with, "Good title."

It starts off with this strapping young scientist who pilots a military jet (that the Air Force has generously loaned him) into his research facility somewhere in LA. While horsing around with flybys over the control tower (sadly deficient in Admirals' daughters), his jet develops a technical glitch. If it were you or me, the fiery end would be about 30 seconds later, with bits of us strewn all over the Californian desert.

But since this is sci-fi, aliens (Metalunians, from now on) bath the whole jet in a fluorescent-green light that blinks in harmony to gratifyingly unbearable background noises (to paraphrase a quote I can't find anywhere now, just because a civilisation is technologically advanced, it doesn't mean they've made similar progress in matters of subtlety: you should see Metaluna; but wait, we'll get to that).

To cut a fairly short story shorter, the controls start operating all on their own, and the jet is safely on the runway. Since the Metalunians haven't yet made their big appearance, the characters aren't allowed to go jumping around with excitement, screaming, "Aliens! Aliens!" They instead do a lot of chin scratching with suitably puzzled expressions, and attribute the whole chapter to the unsolvable mysteries of life.

More mysteries are to follow. The scientist, Meacham, is working on the industrial applications of nuclear energy. The Metalunians, under the pseudonym "Electronics Service, Unit No. 16",  have taken sufficient interest in his work to give him a helping hand now and then - such as send him high-quality alien spare parts, when he blows up his stuff once too often.

And then they send him their version of a train set, complete with instructions; the word "interocitor" pops up quite a bit. Meacham informs us that, according to the manual, there are no limits to what an interocitor can do: "a complete line of interocitor parts, incorporating greater advances than hitherto known in the field of electronics."

Meacham and his assistant treat all this with a remarkable calm and stoicism that I find endearing. No undue excitement or paranoia. No breast beating on Our Place In The Universe. The closest they get to philosophy is when Meacham's assistant reflects that "an interocitor, incorporating an electron sorter" is something his wife could use around the house. Just how men of science should be. Calm, methodical, inquisitive.

They set about assembling the 2500-odd cross-referenced, irreplaceable parts with geeky confidence. This chapter though, in the end, educates us on the cultural differences that await us, should we ever make contact. For instance, if we humans wanted to conference with someone half-way across the globe, we'd send a meeting request. The Metalunians, apparently, just send a room full of parts, and a giant of an instruction manual to assemble what finally turns out to be a glorified web-cam (albeit one equipped with a destructive laser; I would've liked to meet the business analyst on that project).

Ah, wait. I knew I was forgetting something! Rewind. It's also a test, a recruitment drive. Those who build the interocitor successfully are invited to join Exeter's (Metalunian VP, Earth subsection) project. Meacham accepts, and is flown in to Exeter's facility. The way Exeter looks, he might as well have "alien from Metaluna" stamped on his forehead. Given the size of the forehead, you could easily fit in the sports-banner-sized font, too.

On arriving at the facility, Meacham is delighted to meet an old flame, Dr Ruth Adams. But she, in a fairly furtive manner, disavows knowing him. It later turns out that the other scientists at the facility (nuclear scientists from all over the world), have been subjected to some form of brainwashing, whereby they lose all free will. Losing free will, apparently, makes us behave oddly. I didn't see enough of them to make a judgment  myself (except that one of them can't stand Mozart; classical-music fans may drop me a line to tell me if this is clinching evidence); but Meacham informs us that they're behaving oddly, and I take him at his word.

The Metalunians believe lack of free will makes us easier to control, which probably was the subject of an award-winning thesis in Metaluna. Exeter, though, is something of a rebel, and doesn't agree with everything High Command tells him. He believes humans are more productive with free will. Therefore, he spares from this "thought transference" his brightest wards Ruth, Meacham, and another bloke - I would normally introduce him to you, but he dies a short while later without significantly adding to the plot.

In the meanwhile, Metalunian Mission Control calls in to inform Exeter that time is running out for whatever it is they're doing, and that he's to report to the home planet with Meacham and Ruth, to complete the project there. Exeter, being a gentle soul, leaves the evidence-removal bit to his sadistic assistant, who kills everyone in the facility with a series of badly-aimed-and-timed explosions; but no matter, he gets the job done. Ruth and Meacham are bundled into a flying saucer for the inter-galactic trip.

On the saucer, we get our long-awaited exposition. Meacham, justifiably outraged over the mass murder (he didn't know the other blokes too well, but is still a decent enough human being to feel for them) confronts Exeter, who replies mournfully, "We're not all masters of our souls." "I won't ask you to condone what we've done. All I ask is that when you understand the plight of my people, you'll try to have more sympathy for our deeds," he adds.

He also appeals to the scientist in Meacham, and to the woman in Ruth (she's just as much scientist as Meacham; evidence of sexism in Metaluna?). On that subject, I'd be grateful if someone could explain this line here, "Ruth, don't tell me that as a woman, you're not curious about our destination?" What is it about women that makes them more curious than men about their destinations, when kidnapped on alien flying saucers?

As an aside for the Trekkies here, the captain's bridge and the converter tubes (never mind what they are) look like predecessors to Star Trek. Anyway, the plight of the Metalunians is that they're at war with another planet named Zagon. They've tried to reason with Zagon, but to no avail. Zagon keeps bombarding their planet with meteors, forcing them to live underground. The only thing keeping them alive is an "ionisation layer" around the planet, keeping out most of the meteors. It needs large amounts of nuclear energy to keep running, though, and the Metalunians are running out of uranium. Aha, the penny drops! That's why they need the scientists.

The special effects on this movie were two-and-a-half years in the making, claims the DVD case, and it certainly seems to have paid off. Metaluna from space is just beautiful. But that's nothing compared to the visuals of the surface of the planet: it has me going through the latter part of the movie in freeze frame - several times. Considering the age of the film, awe-inspiring work.

On Metaluna, we finally get to meet El Presidente. He informs Meacham and Ruth that Metaluna is now beyond saving, and that they intend to relocate to Earth. "Peacefully," Exeter chips in. But Head Honcho does not have quite so high an opinion of earthlings.

"Our knowledge and weapons would make us your superiors, naturally."

Stung, Meacham comes back with, "Then why haven't your superior brains solved the problem of synthesising uranium?"

Big Chief is dismissive, "Most of our scientists are dead, our major laboratories destroyed. The war has reduced our population to a mere handful. It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass imagining the image you see is the image of your true size."

Meacham, never at a loss for words, draws himself up to his full height, and lets loose, "Our true size is the size of our god." Whatever that means.

No matter; he has a much better line a few minutes later, as he and Ruth are lead to the thought-transference chamber. Zagon has just begun an all-out attack, reducing the Metalunian population from the earlier handful to only Exeter and a few mutant thingies (similar to insects on Earth, but larger and more intelligent - they appear literally out of thin air; I suspect someone in the art department spent a lot of time on them, and the film makers felt morally obliged to bung them in at the end).

The mutants are apparently ordered to see to it that the thought transference for the earthlings goes ahead, but they're not smart enough to figure out that their masters are now dead. Exeter pleads with Meacham, asking him to believe that he's already defied his orders, and will not let the thought transference go through. "In this place, I wouldn't believe my grandmother," thunders Meacham, before punching Exeter in the stomach, stepping smartly around the mutant, and making off for the spaceship, with the planet disintegrating around him and Ruth.

Exeter, having got his wind back, follows them, and has his day turned from bad to worse when he's mortally wounded by the mutant; nevertheless, he offers to pilot them back to Earth. On the journey back, while they're still in the converter tubes (I said, never mind what they are) the same mutant, who apparently had smuggled himself on board, appears out of nowhere again and attacks Ruth. These mutants aren't the most sprightly of creatures, and this one is injured, to boot, but Ruth still manages to get caught by him. Not that it matters. Just when he's about to kill her, he falls down all of a sudden, and... evaporates. I'm not sure what the purpose of that scene was. Building tension, perhaps?

Having dropped them off on Earth, Exeter then takes a nice cooling dip in the ocean. The last few shots of the camera tracking the saucer into the ocean are extraordinary. Gives the same sensation of speed that the drivers'-eye camera on a racing car gives. But I felt sad for him, really. Easily the most interesting character in the movie.

On the whole, a riveting film. The pacing (though perhaps a bit rushed at the end), the visuals of Metaluna, keeping the story fairly consistent with no obvious contradictions, the fact that the Metalunians are sympathetically handled (in that they have a good reason for doing what they are), plus the character of Exeter, all get a thumbs up from me. Also, I like the way the whole alien intro is handled - there is none; it's just assumed right from the start that the characters know that these chaps are alien. Ever so matter of fact. Perhaps an indication that we believed back in those days that contact was imminent?

I like to read an anti-war message into films I like, whenever possible. Unfortunately, try as I might, I keep getting the reverse result for this one. Zagon is portrayed as an enemy that cannot be reasoned with. The only way to stop Zagon would've been to destroy them before they destroyed Metaluna, or hope for stalemate through mutual assured destruction.

Unless...

Remember the brain-washing bit? Isn't this what the Americans thought the communists did? - I'm admittedly basing the assertion solely on watching The Manchurian Candidate (I hope you read the disclaimer post). Which would make the Metalunians the Soviets, and that leaves Zagon as America. And the movie seems to side with the Metalunians (at least to the extent that it's told from their point of view, and Zagon is portrayed as a ruthless, relentless war machine). Sci-fi as subversive political comment? I think I like this one enough to stick to it as my interpretation of the deeper meaning of the film.

That was little more than a plot summary, but I promise you rather more with the next one - a film that, in a manner only good sci-fi can, points the camera right back at us: "It Came From Outer Space"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie Turn-Ons, Part 4.2 (Cheesy Sci-Fi: Introducing The Worthy)

As promised a few weeks back, here's a look at the ones that were; those that gave shape and form to the ones that are, and serve as beacons to them that will be. They represent sci-fi as it was, as it always should have been - in its naivete, in its righteousness, in its sense of wonder, in its paranoia, in its creativity, in its religiosity. They didn't deserve to be besmirched; not in the way That Movie did it. Let us try and roll back the years.

I spent countless hours of research, of toil in public libraries, of patiently going through link upon link of Google search results, of watching hundreds of movies online, sometimes in freeze frame, until my eyes grew bleary and red. Oh, for a soft pair of hands to massage them; oh, for a sweet pair of lips to whisper sweet nothings in my ear... which reminds me... time to put in a pitch for our sponsors.

You might happen to be invited to a friend's wife's birthday party, and, if you didn't know her tastes too well, you might well be the type to ask him what to get her as a gift. And he might reply, "A historical romance. She reads them all day." And you might go, "A what?" To which he'd reply, "They're the ones in which English chaps gallop in on white horses and get the girls. Don't worry, all the bookstore clerks know them. The stuff sells like hot cakes." Half an hour later, you'd be standing in front of a blank-faced clerk with, "Umm… so… there's this guy on this horse…"

Not anymore! You go instead to Historical Romance Writers: The Leader in Historical Romance. Unlike what idiot friends might tell you, historical romances are not just about Britons and horses. They include a wide range of subgenres, such as Viking, Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Pirate, Colonial United States, Civil War, Western, Native American, and Americana. This is where the site above comes to your rescue, much like a gallant knight on a horse, with precise cataloguing. There is, for instance, a blurb on the front page that tells me that Madame Bliss, of the Georgian period (1714 - 1810, it helpfully adds), by Charlotte Lovejoy, is a "story designed to titillate (pardon the pun) the reader", is rated nine out of ten, and has a nice pic on the cover, of (whom I presume is) Madame Bliss from the rear.

Right, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Today, we talk of the 9 movies I shortlisted - one for each of the seven seas, plus the two poles. They are The Worthy. Mind you, there could've been 14 of them - one for each day of the fortnight - had this colleague of mine brought back that collection of Ray Harryhausen films that I'd gotten delivered to her during her US visit. I hadn't wanted to spring for international shipping, and now regret the cheapness on my part. A lesson in there somewhere, no doubt. But hush, let's not speak ill of colleagues; she might be a reader, and peer reviews go a long way in determining salary hikes.

Oh, and as chance would have it, 7 of the short-listed movies are available in one set named Classic Sci-Fi. The other 2 also, miraculously, I happen to have DVDs of. Thanks to this spot of luck, I could watch them all just once more on the big(ish) screen, before writing these reviews. Just goes to show that if you're willing to put in the work, you often make your own luck.

Here's the plan. Each of these movies will have its own post, at 2 of them a week - Sundays and Wednesdays. At the stroke of midnight; when the children of the night make their music; when the creepy crawlies are out; when the undead make their rounds; when software engineers*, who have yet to learn to estimate correctly, swipe out; when Count Drakul, he of the vast real-estate investments in Transylvania, throws off the lid, scratches his balls, and asks for his cup of coffee; at this hour shall these posts make their way from the "drafts" section of my Blogger account to your screens.

I will describe their art, I will discuss their message, I will delve on their relevance to our day-to-day lives. At the end of it all, I hope to leave you with a love and a longing for the glory years of science fiction. Who knows, perhaps I may even inspire some of you to pick up the camera and pay your own homages to these monuments of our age? To quote Godard, "The best way to critique a film is to make another film." But then again, to quote someone else, "Watching a Godard film is as pleasant as being poked in the ribs with a sharp stick every 10 minutes." So, maybe you shouldn't, then. Pick up that camera, that is.

Disclaimer: These are all American movies of the 1950s. Films, like all art, are a product of their times. They're impossible to analyse without first knowing something of their creators, and also a deep understanding of the time and the place, of the social context, that spawned them. However, since I've never been in America at any time, much less the 1950s, and since, frankly, I'd never even heard of the makers of these films (except Howard Hawks and a little of Robert Wise), and since I can't be arsed with doing a lot of reading on another country just for a stupid blog, I'll simply rely on whatever little I already know, and make up the rest as I go along - as long as they sound plausible, of course, and are convenient (for me). I don't think I have any American readers; but this is the web - you never know. In case there are any of you lurking out there, I hope you'll understand and won't hold any grudges. I mean well.

Spoiler Alert: All posts will discuss complete plot points, with endings, in anal-retentive fashion. If your immediate plans include watching 1950s sci-fi flicks, with as virginal an experience as possible, I'd suggest you read just this disclaimer post (the irony, huh?), and call it quits on my blog until I wind up with these posts (in about 6 weeks' time, if all goes well). In fact, you would also do well not to read the blurbs at the back of the DVD cases, for these films. Some of them give out everything except the last 25 seconds.

As I'm still engaged in getting my notes in order, cross-checking my references, filing responses I got from surviving cast and crew, and a lot of other journalistic stuff, the kick-off will very likely be sometime next week, with "This Island Earth".

*While similar in several respects, software engineers are not to be confused with the undead of the previous phrase - the undead have more life and more taste, generally speaking.

EDIT: One of the tragedies of having my blog linked to my Facebook profile is that people tend to comment there, instead of here. Which is fine with me, mostly: the comments I get tend to fall far short of the "You blog, therefore I am" ones that I crave. Still, on the occasions that I get comments like these - "the undead also have a night life" - I wish there were some sort of auto-import feature for comments from Facebook notes. By the way, you can very easily make out that the commenter, Prashant, himself is a software engineer, from the fact that he has a list of 45 types of birds he's seen from some tower. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hearken, ye faithful, ye unfaithful & ye disfaithful!

Religion! Where do you start? Some baptism-related joke, maybe? Nah, those must've been done to death. I'll go instead with my memories of childhood church-going. Now you, dear readers, know me as a fairly easy-going bloke, with not a hint  of meanness or malevolence in him. I blog of this, I blog of that. Yet I'm rarely vitriolic. So it saddens me to report that I'll have to break with tradition about now. All in the name of art. "Setting up the scene." "Building atmosphere."

If I were a superhero - and my superpower were a superhuman ability to travel through Time, and bring back with me the best cricketers, at the peak of their abilities - what fun we'd have! A time would come, no doubt, when Gary Sobers and Sachin Tendulkar are at the crease, facing a spell from Harold Larwood and Shane Warne. Since my superpowers do not extend to the off-field commentary team, though, Navjot Sidhu could very well be on air. (And pay attention here, because this is where the scene setting comes in.)

Even with this most sublime of cricketing moments about to explode on the screen, I'd mouth a few profanities and switch the TV off. Why not just mute it? Because in my mind's eye, as the action unravels, I'd still be able to picture those eyes wide with childish glee, that gob like a particularly large lunar crater, as he prepares to unleash on a cringing audience yet another of those "Sidhuisms" - phrases picked up from one or more Indian languages, and translated to English with the effortless ease of one who, for years and years, has been perfecting the art of bringing out the worst in so many different languages.

I suppose what gets my goat most is the delivery. Practically a shout. He drowns out all ambient sounds, in the supreme self confidence of one who knows, with absolute certainty, that he's elevating his listeners to a whole other plane; that he's taking them places they wouldn't even be aware of - if it weren't for this linguistic genius in our midst, that is...

How all this ties in with the weekly church-services of my childhood is that if I had to choose between those one-and-half-hour services, and the same length of time with Mr Sidhu, I'd probably pick the latter. The Sunday church service was the absolute low point of my week, the pits, the sixth circle of hell. And from a kid whose week included enduring calculus classes, Sanskrit classes and compulsory sports, that's saying something!

On the way to church, I'd welcome every bus or truck that got in our way like a long-lost brother. "Ah! 30 seconds more in traffic. That's 30 seconds less of church." Unfortunately, at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, there's only so much traffic can do for you. In church, one doleful eye would be on the clock; willing it, urging it, pleading with it - with all the telekinetic powers of my soul - to get a move on. Sometimes, I'd close my eyes, recite a multiplication table or two, and take another hopeful glance at the clock. 20 seconds. Aaaaaaaaaaargh!

Is it any wonder then that since I moved out to live on my own, I haven't bothered with stepping inside a church (except when architectural curiosity strikes, or for weddings/funerals)? I think the last Sunday service I attended was in 2003. I was back home on vacation, during a semester break. Concerned that I was going the way of Lucifer, or whoever it is that the heathen go the way of, they dragged me out of bed, for church, early one Sunday morning. Three years of soft living, of the worst done to me being the occasional maths classes, had left me totally unprepared. To quote, "My gut turned over like a hooker right after she's earned her money and now she just wants to sleep, damn it." That tears it, I told myself. I spent the whole of the day, and a good part of the next, being so unpleasant to everyone at home that no one's ever asked me to attend church again.

But indelible marks had already been made. Years of religious persecution - and that, too, by people of my own religion - had left me an angry, bitter man. Not content with merely turning my back on religion, I became the most rabid of atheists. The Narendra Modis, the Bin Ladens, the George Bushes - they all aroused despair, as well as a strange sense of vindication. Religion! I'd known all along!

For the longest time, my view was that science - in its inquisitiveness; in its unsentimentality, in its willingness to question and, if necessary, discard the old; in getting us to open our eyes, look outward, and see the world as it is; in its emphasis on observation and data - reflects all that is the best of us. Religion, on the other hand, seemed the reverse. Here were people holding on to, sometimes word for word, these ideas and morals of aeons ago. How much of it would even apply now? So much hate, so much intransigence, over something that's so personal and should therefore, logically, be open to the most varied of interpretations. And yet, here are the factory outlets for the unalterable ready-made ware.

As is inevitable, though, with the passing of the years, I've mellowed. Reading the book "Bad Science" (a must-read if there ever was one), for instance, gave me a sense of how pervasive our desire for quick fixes and Messiahs is - even in matters of science. Then there's this hilarious Isaac Asimov short story, "Reason" (from "I, Robot") that elegantly emphasises a few core similarities between reason and faith; that is, even to reason, you have to start somewhere. The devil (pardon the pun) is in those little details called assumptions.

Religion breeds fanaticism, sure. But is it religion that makes us fanatics, or are we merely a species of fanatics? What of patriotism? Do we not glorify that; in schools/cinema halls/you-name-it? Does it not breed fanaticism?
What of the multitude of other prejudices we have? Didn't your pulse quicken, didn't you coo with delight, when those helicopters playing "The Ride of the Valkyries" butchered all those farmers? How about that moment, when the flash of insight finally hit Kurtz, and he scribbled, "Drop the bomb, exterminate them all"? And thinking about it never does any good. For instance, it made me write something like this here below a while back...

"There are two kinds of people in the world," began P.G. Wodehouse. Allow me to complete the thought as it was; as he really wanted to say it. "There are Them, and there are Us." They swarm into our paradise; their trail of slime behind them. They pervade our culture. Day by day, they erode it; we have no past and no future. They steal our jobs, our livelihood. They lead our children astray. They are terrorists. They are thieves. They can never be part of Us. They are Different.

That was probably incredibly corny. But on the off chance that it's some sort of a literary masterpiece, I wanted to put it in anyway. Moving on... Let's do some categorising. Categorising helps in generalising. And generalising probably saves a great deal of time. The problem, if you haven't caught on yet, is figuring out what to put as my "religious views" in the forms that we invariably have to fill up now and then.

Agnosticism? Nope. This guy had this (do follow the link and read the whole essay) to say,
"If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense."

I dare you to state, with a judicial tone - and a straight face - that "the truth value of certain claims - especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any porcelain, or, for that matter, silverware or toiletry, in outer space - is unknown or unknowable." Atheism? To state, as your position, that a celestial teapot definitely does not exist, and that you intend to spend the rest of your waking life arguing with anyone who believes it does, seems only slightly less silly.

Which leaves a term I picked up recently. Apatheism. Denis Diderot says, "It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God." And Eric Hoffer adds, "The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not." Beautiful, aren't they? And so it shall replace, officially, my current affiliations to Brianism. I'll be honest. "Look, you've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!" fits my beliefs to a T. But referencing a Monty Python movie for religion is just so passe.

Apatheism has weight behind it, a sense of proper nomenclature, of scienciness... It has luminaries as Bertrand Russell in its ranks (admittedly, I'm basing the assertion solely on the evidence of that one link I've posted above); though, perhaps he isn't lazy enough and seems to know far too much about history and religion to qualify. Apatheism wouldn't offend the gently religious, for you wouldn't be in their faces. But the real pleasure is the guaranteed spot under the skin of the zealots. Nothing annoys like indifference - they'd trade in 10 atheists for getting rid of one of you.

There's the matter of convenience to consider, too. One of the chief attractions of drifting away from religion is that you have more time for the books you really want to read. The only religious reading I've ever done is as a child; of this pictorial edition of the Old Testament. And it wasn't a bad read. Blood-letting, divine ego trips, the odd sleazy dame... What's not to like? (But this was before I discovered Literotica, and frankly, there's no going back.) The New Testament, on the other hand, didn't grip quite as much, plot wise. The upshot being, while I'm probably in the census books as a Christian, I know virtually nothing at all of Christ or his teachings. Buddhism is perhaps the only religion that interests me enough to want to read about it (if I can lick this phobia of the religion tag).

The point is, Christianity has the Bible, Islam has the Koran, Hinduism has... well, I don't know which ones specifically, offhand; but a lot of them. And that's just the Top Three. And new ones, like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - He who created the universe after a night of heavy drinking, and who weeds out the believers from the non-believers by altering scientific measurements (with a flick of His Noodly Appendage) - keep springing up every day. If you were to take a contradictory stand against each of these, you'd have a lot of reading on your hands; plus constant surveillance of the "current affairs" realm to keep up-to-date on the latest misdeeds of the believers. Exhausting. Sure, you may think that you can get away with arguments like that of the Lord Russell quote above, but sooner or later, you're going to have to enter the nitty gritties. Take it from one who knows.

Can you not see how liberating a "You bore me" is vis-à-vis a "You're wrong"? The latter comes with the responsibilities of a reasoned argument. The former comes with none. There is no riposte to indifference; and if coupled with just the right contemptuous sniff, or that languid drawl, the effects can be devastating. The next nutjob who comes up to you with a desire to convert, can be sent packing with a mere "Sure, your religion is interesting. But I'm afraid I've already signed up as a follower of this 3000-page tome on picking lilies. Maybe if you annotated every line in my book with a superior one from yours..."

Until next time...

P.S. - Here's another thought. The thing about celestial teapots is that they don't really raise questions of any significant import. The most that you can expect is a "How the fuck did that get here?" from a passing astronaut. And they probably wouldn't be of any great value, either, unless they dated back to the Ming Dynasty or something. But there are certain kinds of Gods that are, to me, plausible and in a whole other league from orbiting china. The ones of "2001: A Space Odyssey", or "Contact", for instance. And why not? We might even be Gods ourselves, one day.

Or, consider the God of "Amadeus". Looking back at my previous posts, I'm probably over-referencing the movie, but what the hell. It's a slice of heaven on film. An all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God? Yeah, right. Look at the world around you and tell me you really believe that. However... a God who would gladly kill your father to help you to your dream; a God who would fill you with the longing to sing to him, and then make you mute; a God who would instead choose an obscene child to be his instrument; a God who would destroy his own beloved, rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of his glory; a God who would spit in your face if you suggested all men are equal; and a God who is laughing at us - constantly - through an obscene giggle. Is there a more realistic explanation for our world? Does it not satisfy Occam's razor?

P.P.S. - Oh, and to the religious amongst family and friends - for all those atheistic years of mine spent simplifying your deeply-held views for the purpose of easy attack, for insulting your intelligence, and for generally being an annoying prick - here's, by way of an olive branch, a link to an article that hails Jesus as "clearly a very nice guy" and credits the Bible with describing the first-ever clinical trial.