The Power Of Light Works
July 2019
LightSail 2 is changing its orbit using only the power of sunlight. The Planetary Society announced this week that their LightSail 2 solar sail is working well, and actually raising the orbit of the spacecraft as it travels around the Earth. According to mission managers, they've been able to raise the orbit of the spacecraft by about 2 kilometers at the high point of its orbit. Unfortunately, they'll only be able to go for about a month before the sail dips into the atmosphere at the low point of its orbit and it crashes.
Sci-Fi Writers Include Religion
October 2018
At his appearance at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, John Scalzi said that it is important that science fiction writers include religion in their universes, "When 5 billion people out of 7 billion very strongly have professed religious belief of some sort or another, to ignore it, minimize it or just say it doesn't matter is foolish," he said.
When Will We Learn?
James C. Rocks (originally published, Nov 2001)
September the 11th, 2001 left both the world & I stunned.

I was at work in London when rumours began to filter through that a plane had hit the World Trade Centre in New York. We laughed, why shouldn't we have? It wasn't real! Things like that didn't happen! Not to us! Not in the west!

As it happened it was lunchtime and a couple of managers were around so we went out to lunch. We sat outside a café and talked, naturally enough, about the plane crash. How had it happened? A pilot must have flipped! Some of the planes navigation or control systems must have failed!

At about 1:30 p.m. I phoned my wife and asked her if she knew anything about an air crash in America ... she didn't. She switched on the television to check Teletext and an extended news bulletin was on ... she confirmed that one tower of the world trade centre was, indeed, on fire. She began to check for further information. At one point, in a shocked voice (she was watching at the time), she informed me that a second plane had hit the buildings.

When Will We Learn? I told my colleagues and said it must be a terrorist attack ... some of my colleagues felt it couldn't be but I was, by this time, convinced. Still no one knew for sure what had happened.

We returned to the office ... news that hijackers were involved and that there was smoke over the Pentagon (a presumed third plane) filtered through to us.

I e-mailed colleagues:

"This isn't a joke ... did you know that two hi-jacked planes have crashed into the world trade towers? Another plane got hi-jacked and there are rumours that it has hit the pentagon!"

By this time, we all, I guess, accepted that what was happening was terrorist related. Rumours surfaced of a "missing" fourth plane! More news ... offices near my work place were being evacuated and that the local rail system would soon be closed down. I admit I was scared and began to think about going home. I called my brother who owned a small business nearby and told him (he hadn't heard anything yet) ... he decided to send his staff home.

Momentarily, all power to the building failed and that was it! My colleagues stared as I switched off my portable (no power down) packed it and a few other things in my bag and left saying "I'm off!" I caught the train and headed out of town instead of in (as I would usually do) and went home ... it took me twice as long as normal!

For months afterwards, I watched with near addiction the news on TV, listened to it on radio, read about it by e-mail and on the web. For well over a week I watched very little else ... there were other programs on but I felt guilty and it didn't seem right to watch anything else. The plight of these strangers about whom I knew almost nothing seemed to be the most important thing in the world! It seemed like, as many said at the time, a Hollywood movie gone mad!

There is little doubt in my mind that the world has changed for the worse ... maybe this is just a readjustment period but it no longer felt safe! I would hear planes overhead and look up. For a long time, I was paranoid about biological warfare! Even now, I feel the world has changed.

Over the weeks following the attack, the world seemed to turn in on itself and focus on its strength of community. Americans joined together in their time of need (no foreign agency had ever struck so hard or so brutally at the US itself since Pearl Harbour and that, at least, was a largely military target) and I was immensely proud to say that my country and its leaders reached out immediately not only condemning the attacks but standing side by side with the US as a terrorist target and committing without hesitation to concerted action against the perpetrators.

Within days it was understood that Osama Bin Laden (ironically once funded by the US) and his Al Qaeda network, an Islamic extremist terrorist group who had vowed to attack the US, were responsible. Perhaps such irony will one day teach us something? Apparently, the UK funded Afghan "freedom fighters" too but I am told these were a less radical group and if they were going to turn on us, they had little chance and their leader died, assassinated by rival factions, before the opportunity presented itself.

The military preparations started and action, which I supported with few reservations, began. As Colin Powell put it, the US would, "bring Mr Bin Laden to justice or bring justice to him".

And in the US & the UK the sense of community grew stronger. Whilst I was, and remain, unconvinced that George "Dubya" Bush was the correct man to lead America in such a crisis (Clinton, despite his reported sexual transgressions, would have been far his superior) I believe that Blair was nothing less than superb in his leadership of the UK. I am not a royalist by any means but I was deeply moved by the changing of the guard played out to the American national anthem at Buckingham Palace.

Church services started fairly soon after the tragedy in both US & UK (especially the latter) and, with hindsight it seems, unsurprisingly, the worst of humanity began to surface. American right-wing evangelist Jerry Falwell announced that "God will not be mocked", he went further to say that:

"The pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way? All of them who have tried to secularise America," Falwell continued, "I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

Fellow right-wing evangelist Cliff Robertson and host agreed ... both were forced to withdraw and apologise for their remarks after President Bush referred to the comments as "inappropriate!" Kathleen Parker's editorial, in "USA Today", viciously attacked those lacking belief saying there are "no atheists in foxholes" (in other words in time of crisis all people turn to God) and others have used this event to callously promote their own personal views, benefits & religious convictions. Falwell, Robertson & Parker are not alone in making such irrationally pathetic statements.

Did this awful event not teach us anything?

Literal Islamic believers carried out the terrorist attack apparently under the impression that such acts of "martyrdom" (or stupidity, depending on your point of view) would earn them a place in their idea of heaven! Even while "Dubya", his government and allies were trying to hold together a coalition to fight the terrorist foe and, I hope, minimise the chance of such occurrences in future, the nation of Israel (a nation characterised by a literal belief in its scriptures, the Torah) prosecuted further aggressions against Palestinians because a right-wing politician was assassinated ... I could mention the atrocities of Palestinian terrorists (more literalists) and prior Israeli state terrorism acts and ... the list goes on! Around the world young Islamic men were (still are) signing up to fight against the "American Infidels" who dared to set foot in and attack the holy lands of Islam (the same lands where, in the name of literalist Islamic beliefs, women were not (still aren't) allowed an education, a job, or freedom or ... and, again, the list goes on). The Muslim world was (still is) protesting the violence and people (on both sides) still comes together in religious communities to condemn the "infidel".

And I ask again, did this not teach us anything?

If there is a god up there (and I do, indeed, have serious doubts) she seems too busy, too despairing or simply uninterested in our activities below and this event simply represents the most recent in a long, long line of religious literalism motivated atrocities, bloody events that the world could have done without.

Just look at the scriptures of these two great cults (seek and ye shall find):

In the Christian bible (the scripture claimed to be a "moral guide" & divinely inspired by a loving & caring god) it does, indeed, say "thou shalt not kill" but it also says (from Judges 19):

"... the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go. Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light. And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold. And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place. And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel."

In the Islamic Koran, the scriptures of a religion claimed by many of its followers to be non-violent (presumably distancing themselves from the more literal elements such as Bin Laden & The Taliban) and yet in the Koran it instructs its followers to:

  • Fight non-believers (IX.123)
  • Kill non-believers (IV.89)
  • Kill Idolators (IX.5)
  • Smite the necks of unbelievers (XLVII.4)
  • Severely punish atheists (X.4, V.10, V.86)
  • Severely punish non-believers (XXII.19-22, LXXII.23, XCVIII.6)

There's much more.

It is also. I understand, a rule in both Islam (and Judaism) that women who commit adultery are to be stoned to death.

There's more in both scriptures and I have yet to hear of a religion that does not promote some concept that is abhorrent to our modern day way of thinking.

The world seems to be continuing its policy of divvying up the spoils along the lines of West vs. East, Judeo/Christian vs. Islam, White vs. Non-white.

On the face of it, it would seem that this "war" was initiated by literalist religious believers of one religion and, despite the shock & horror expressed by many Christians, one is forced to consider the possibility that it may have simply been a case of who struck first.

It seems to me that the one vital lesson that we should all, by now, have learned is that religion is, at best, divisive and at worst an illogical & horrendous power we could all do without.

I am atheist and I don't believe in ultimate evil or ultimate good but if I did, I think I'd point at religion and say, in true fundamentalist style, "that, Sir, is evil!"

    UK Atheist, 2020    

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