Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Destination Loon

Being off work has given me the opportunity to catch up with some ancient films being shown on daytime TV that I'd otherwise forget to record, (and even if I did record them, I'd probably never get round to actually watching them). Yesterday it was Destination Moon from 1950. It's an age since I've seen this, and I'd forgotten what a thoroughly miserable piece of cold war propaganda it is, which shouldn't really be surprising, considering Robert A Heinlein's involvement in it's script. Quite apart from it's patronising approach - a dumb technician character who, despite being a communications expert, doesn't seem to understand the principles of rocketry, let alone basic physics, exists purely to be lectured by 'smart' characters, for the benefit of what the producers clearly think are an equally stupid audience - it seeks to promote the fantasy that only private enterprise can possibly drive scientific progress. Just like it apparently drove the war effort, according this film, anyway. "But the government picked up the bill for that", protests one character, when plans for a private moon shot are outlined. "They will this time, too, once they see that it's successful", another character reassures him. Dig those crazy fifties capitalists - expecting the taxpayer to bale them out. Nothings changed there, then.

The only role of the government in this film is to continually frustrate the project with red tape and unreasonable health and safety concerns. I mean, what's wrong with testing experimental nuclear reactors close to populated areas? By the end of this farrago I was left thinking how disappointed the film's makers must have been when it turned out that the real US space programme was entirely government sponsored. Which isn't surprising, as private industry was never going to take the risks, let alone bear the massive costs. It is also highly unlikely that it would have been able to properly co-ordinate and manage such a massive undertaking. At the end of the day, there was no obvious profit to be made. Which is precisely why scientific innovation is rarely driven by private finance. On an entirely unrelated note, good to see the Con Dem nation's Defence Secretary Liam Fox taking a moral stance - he's been condemning a computer game that allows players to take the role of the Taliban in an Afghanistan simulation. I'd be more impressed if he'd condemned it for promoting violence, full stop. However, he apparently has no qualms about people being able to pretend they're British or US soldiers, mowing down Afghans. Before leaving our good friends in the coalition, I'm disappointed to see that David Cameron hasn't followed any of my suggestions for naming his new daughter. When he said that he wanted her to have a name associated with Cornwall - where she was born - I e-mailed Number Ten to suggest 'Pasty' or 'Ginsters'.

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