Category Archives: Uncategorized

Space Habitats and Planetary Chauvinism

It is a natural human bias to assume that the way things are is the only way they can be, and everything else is inferior, or even wrong somehow.

As a species, we’re adaptable, and if a kid grows up in a hovel in Calcutta, he just naturally assumes everyone has that experience, and it’s the way things should be. If a rich little girl from New England grows up with servants, she just assumes everyone has servants, and that’s the way it should be. If left unchallenged – as most natural human biases are – then it becomes one of those tent-poles that our entire personality ends up based around, the things we’re given at birth that we never question: Our language, our nationality, our politics, our religion, and our favorite baseball team.

These can be changed, but because they’re such inherent and inherited things, since so much of what we become hinges upon them, it requires great effort to really haul these poles out of the ground and inspect them and maybe replace them without risking bringing the whole Tent down on you.

And this is why people still like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Anyway, if you go out and ask random people on the street – and I’ve done this – what they think of the idea of space colonization, you tend to get a few standard responses. Number one on this list is, as always, “Get the hell away from me, you whackjob,” but you get a few others. This isn’t a scientific survey, of course, but the people I’ve talked to tend to be of the following opinions:

* It’ll never happen.
* Mars is great.
* We shouldn’t be wasting time in space until we’ve fixed all the problems on earth.
* There’s no real point in going in to space until we have starships and can magically find planets that are exactly like earth orbiting other stars and have a Star Trekian society, so what’s the point?
* Someday humanity will colonize all the planets and moons in our solar system (but we’ll all be long dead by then).
* Space merely distracts us from our sacred earth mother, and therefore is sinful.
* God doesn’t want us in space, and therefore it’s sinful.
* Asteroids are great (This one always degenerates in to a discussion of Larry Niven’s Known Space stories. I mean *always*)
* Venus is great (

There’s really only two choices for terraformable planets in our solar system, and both of ‘em suck. The discussions about colonizing the moons are based on a lot of enthusiasm and very little actual knowledge, and obviously the “Star Trekian” aspects are so bluesky as to be not even worth discussing. Really people purporting that view don’t really want space, what they want is in a place exactly like here, only somewhere else – the Science Fiction equivalent of going to Canada, really – without any of that hardscrabble stuff about building a civilization or terraforming or what have you.

So let’s look at earth objectively, shall we?

Earth’s total surface area is about 196,935,000 sqare miles, of which 137,875,500 square miles is uninhabitable right off the top. (That’d be the oceans.) Of the 59,089,500 square miles remaining, we can knock out the entire continent of Antarctica, which brings us down to 53,589,500. Another 8 million square miles – about 14% – are “Hard Desert” which is effectively uninhabitable, which brings us down to 45,589,500 square miles if we’re just talking about Arabia and the Sahara, however if we’re literal in our definition, 30% of the earth’s surface is desert, meaning it gets less than 10 inches of rainfall a year, which is capable of supporting relatively small amounts of human life, but which is obviously only marginally habitable at best. This brings us down to 37,512,650 square miles of useful land on the whole damn planet, and if we factor in the arctic, that’s another 8,733,993 square miles right there, which brings us down to 28,778,657 square miles.

Think about that for a minute: Less than 29,000,000 habitable square miles on a planet of about 197,000,000 square miles. What is that, about 14%? Objectively, it’s clear that Earth isn’t really what you’d call an ideal world. It’s marginally habitable at best. It’s a crazy thought to realize, but if you think about it for a while…it’s disturbingly true. 

The vast majority of people assume that our way is the only way to be, when in fact, something like 85% of our own world is more-or-less useless to us, unpleasant, undesirable, and sometimes actively deadly. So if earth sucks then why would we be so all-fired excited about finding other planets orbiting other stars that, presumably, would be just as bad, or about terraforming planets in our own solar system that, would be much, much worse. If you could terraform Mars in some stable fashion you’re only going to get 2 or 3% of the planet to be what we’d call ‘habitable’, and even then, you’re basically talking about subarctic or arctic climates, high radiation, low air pressure, and God knows what kinds of biological effects from the low gravity. Venus would be even worse, excepting the gravity.

It seems an awful lot of work to go through for very little payoff, when you can accomplish as much by just sticking up a pressure dome and building a nice little 1950s style Analog Magazine cover styled town inside it. That’s cool, right? Artificial pockets of niceness inside the vast, cheap, uncaring void? That’s what colonization is all about, right?

The mania for Terraforming in the ’90s wasn’t so much about colonization, it was ultimately about taking a strange place and turning it in to a new earth. 

We see the same thing in the early age of colonial exploration: People didn’t like the New World because it wasn’t just like home. Spanish Explorers found the Grand Canyon to be ugly beyond belief because it was new, Spanish Explorers declared Virginia to be “Too hot for human habitation,” Generations of colonists referred to the Midwest – best farmland in the world – as “The Great American Desert” because it didn’t look like the farmlands they were used to, and they ignored it for 300 years. In our present age, the smelly hippies can’t see any use for space, so we threw it away just like the Vikings threw away North America a thousand years ago – again, a failure of imagination. “Oh, a whole new continent you say? No, no, don’t like it. Not in that color, it doesn’t go with the curtains.” It takes centuries to get over these kinds of biases, centuries of Englishmen and Spaniards and French looking down on their poor addlepated kin in the colonies. It’s frustrating and senseless, and, again, kind of a failure of the imagination. Presumably the other fish made fun of the Coelacanth when it started eyeing the land lustfully, and condescended to our coelacanthoid ancestors for as long as their tiny, unevolved fish brains could concentrate on doing so.

Which brings up my fundamental question of why you’d even want to live on a planet, anyway?

You ask, “What options are there?”

Good question!

While I’m all in favor of exploring the planets and setting up outposts, and maybe even giving small-scale colonization a go, just to see what’ll happen, I have to tell you that I wouldn’t want to risk my kids on something like that. I’d go with the safer, more conservative, yet more counter-intuitive option: the Space Habitat which has a zillion advantages over a planet.

For starters, they’re in space. Why go to all the trouble of climbing out of Earth’s gravity well just to climb back down someone else’s gravity well, and spend the rest of your life there? You don’t need to contend with low gravity like on the moon or Mars, just spin the station, and you’re set, which eliminates any biological problems from arising. We know we can reproduce in O’Neil colonies. We don’t know that about anything else. We don’t even know that we can live healthily or even have babies on Mars. If you can’t have babies, it ain’t a colony, sorry. 

And of course the Space Habitat concept is beautifully efficient – you’re not forced to contend with 85% or 100% uninhabitable mudballs here, the entire internal space is usable, functional, biologically active. They can be customized to any climate you want – Mediterranean, Midatlantic, Desert, Polynesian, Jungle – whatever floats your boat, and they can be maintained like that forever. You can stock ‘em with any kind of animals and plants you want, and there’s no reason to assume some of them couldn’t become very elaborate preserves for endangered animals here on earth, which, to me, seems a far better idea than, say, hauling whales off to an ice-choked barely-habitable Mars and just hoping they’ll be able to cut it. And they can be HUGE! Using the constraints of building materials as they existed in the 1970s, Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill suggested the upper limit of colony size would be a cylinder about 20 miles long, about four miles wide, and with a population of about twenty million people, living in a state of crowding far less than most major cities. That was more than thirty-five years ago. We know of much, much better, stronger construction materials nowadays. They could be made vastly larger.

Thirdly, poetically speaking, you’d be halfway to any point in the solar system you wanted to go. By that I mean that since your habitat/city is floating in space, you can easily hop a ship to another planet, an asteroid, a comet, or another colony, without all that mucking about in gravity wells, with huge rockets pounding against the ground using 95% of their fuel just to get to the weightlessness that you can get to just by hopping out a door. It’s simply efficient, and much safer. And of course there’s industrial advantages: power from the sun is virtually free in space, you’ve got easy access to near-absolute vacuum and near-zero gravity, which are very useful for industrial processes. You say you’re serious about wanting to clear up the earth’s environment? Well, it seems to me a very good way to do that would be to move as much of earth’s industrial processes in to orbit as possible, where the Earth would be out of harm’s way.

And there’s cash crops in space, if we’ve only the mind to go after them: Helium 3 on the moon (Though I place little stock in it, it’s trendy to mention it), volitiles, metals, and fissionable in the asteroids, more volitiles on the comets to replace what we loose in the habitat/colonies over time. Reckoning it in mass instead of area, If we had 10 megatons of Solar Power satellites, we could convert the electricity they generate to microwaves, beam ’em to earth in non-ionizing form, convert the microwaves back to electricity, and we’d have enough electricity to power any four American states. More than that, if they were smaller states. Once the initial investment is out of the way, at present electrical rates, you’re looking at something like 8 million dollars of income a day, every day, literally until the sun burns out.

You think an energy-starved industrial Japan would be willing to sign a contract for say three billion dollars a year so they’d never have to deal with OPEC again? Especially with them being all touchy about Nuclear Power nowadays.  How about China? I’m willing to bet they would.

Think about it: You can live in a pleasant, interesting, comfortable, homey habitat with millions of your closest family and friends, living a productive, mostly normal life, with relatively easy access to the rest of the solar system, away from disease and famine and war and terrorism – or – you could live on a crappy 85%-uninhabitable mudball full of disease-ridden megalomaniacs who mostly want to kill you for reasons that haven’t made much sense in 400 years? You can never know a less-than-perfect day, or you can contend with earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis, the inevitable rampaging mobs that follow those things. You can live an idyllic existence in something like a new eden, or you can convince yourself that the way things are is the only way they can be, and content yourself with a life in this great big Calcutta slum we call “Earth.”

So that’s what I’ve got. If you’ve read this far, thank you. If anyone’s got any opinions, I’d love to hear ’em.

What does Ronald Reagan taste like?

Five minutes ago:
Me: “Hey, look, I got us some Mexican coke-a-cola! Now we can drink it as a family, and return to the glory that was 1984!”
Sandra: “Where’d you get it? Dollar General?”
Me: “No.”
Sandra: “Mexico?”
Me: “No. I go-“
Sandra: “Mexico in the past?”
Me: “I went to the year 1984, ok? Hey, Bey, c’mere and look at this!” [pulls out bottle opener and pops the caps off the bottles] “Ever seen that before?”
Bey: “Not outside of old movies.”
Sandra: [Clinks bottles together] “To us! To a good family.”
[Everyone takes a swig]
Me: “Oh my God, yes!”
Bey: “I taste no difference.”
Me: “Really?”
Bey: “Really.”
Me: “Here, try a regular one.” [Grabs normal coke out fridge. Bey takes a swig of it, then a swig of the Mexi-Coke.]
Bey: “Oh, yeah, this is way the hell sweeter.”
Sandra: “Thank you for getting a nostalgic beverage!”
Me: “I CAN TASTE RONALD REAGAN! I CAN TASTE RONALD REAGAN!”
Sandra: “That is just wrong on so many levels.”
Me: “What? You’d rather I taste Jimmy Carter? Walter Mondale?”
Sandra: “I don’t want to talk about your taste in men.”
Me: “I don’t *have* a taste in men, I’m talking about what certain men t— oh, yeah, I can hear it now. that’s much worse.”
Sandra: “I bet you’re really glad you didn’t finish that sentence.”
Me: “Yeah. A little grossed out, too. Anyway, the point was the taste of nostalgia, of the old days, of…”
Bey: “Can we please not talk about what elderly men taste like?”
Me: “Well, I’d imagine Reagan would be a little gamey, what with having been dead for so long…”
Bey: “Father, I have a glass Coke bottle, and there is nothing preventing me from acting out that one scene from ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ on you.”
Me: “I’ve pushed this bit too far?”
Bey: “Quite a while ago, yes.”
Me: “Ok. Still: Good coke, right?”
Bey: [shrugs]

What awful thing do you have to do to get kicked out of Paganism?

“What do you call it when you get kicked out of a religion?”
“Most commonly, ‘Excommunication,’ though that’s mostly a Christian term. It differs from religion to religion. Why?”
“I got kicked out of Wicca.”
“What?!”
“Yeah.”
“What do you have to do to get kicked out of paganism?”
“Yeah, I know, right?”
“No, I’m serious: What the hell did you do? Did you stab someone or something?”
“No, but I did argue that we should stab people.”
“Lemme stop laughing here. Ok: Please explain?”
“Well, you remember when I joined and why, right?”
“Of course.”
“Well, it turned out not to be what I expected. It was really political. You have to be a Green or Democrat to worship the earth, I guess, and they won’t shut up about it in the services. And they’re always talking about women’s rights and protesting the protestors who protest against abortion, and lesbian stuff. So many lesbians.”
“I thought that was part of the appeal?”
“I’m Bi, not lesbian.”
“Anyway…”
“Yeah, anyway, so it really was basically like my Women’s Studies class stuff, except that we sat on the floor in a circle and hummed a lot.”
“[Laughing]”
“So after a year and a half of this I was getting frustrated. I raised my hand in a meeting, right before the service, and I said ‘When do we sacrifice the goats?'”
“[Laughing really hard]”
“So they said, ‘what?’ and I said, ‘when do we sacrifice the goats? Or bunnies or whatever? I mean we’ve got the athame [sacred ceremonial knife] right there but we never slit anything’s throat with it.’ So high priestess explained that we don’t sacrifice animals, and that we’ve grown beyond the need for that because we have a fuller understanding than the pagans of old did about the importance of life and stuff. So I said, ‘so we’re not pagans?’ and she said, ‘No, we are pagans, we’re just more in tune with nature than the pagans of old.’ So then I asked if we somehow thought were were *better* than the real pagans…”
“I imagine that got some angry spluttering.”
“Yeah! So she told me to sit down, and she’d explain it all later, and I demanded that she explain it to me now, and then I said that she’s basically said that we weren’t *real* pagans, we were just playing dress-up pretend. So everyone was really mad by then.”
“I’m sure.”
“Finally I said, ‘look, if we’re pagans, and we’re not nailing seven men to seven trees on the seventh day of the seventh month in worship of Odin, then what the hell is the point?”
“[several minutes of laughing, then gasping from both of us.]”
“So I walked out and they yelled not to come back, and called the other covens to warn them about me.”
“[Laughing] You see, this is why I keep you on the payroll.”

Why I named my son Beyowulf

Twenty years ago today, (as of 11:11 AM), my wife and I had our first and only kid. he was a couple weeks past due, so we had to go in and get him. For various reasons, we opted for a C-section. “Grande!” A nurse said during the operation.  He was a big kid. I don’t remember how big, cuz I’m bad with numbers, but pretty big. Ten pounds? That sounds right. The doctor’s first comment was, “It’s a linebacker!”   We were very happy.

My wife got an infection, so they decided to make us stay overnight an extra night  in the maternity wing, and then he crashed. SIDS. Fortunately we were in the hospital, and they caught it, but if my wife hadn’t gotten sick, if they’d let us go home, he would have died.

They rushed us by ambulance to All Childrens in St. Pete, and he spent a week in the NICU while we stayed in the Ronald  McDonald House a block away (seriously: give them money. They do great things)

For various reasons, only one of us was allowed in the NICU at a time, so the wife and I took shifts. I talked to him constantly, sang him The Might Be Giants songs, and told him how strong he was and how much fun he’d have if he’d just get well and come home with us. I held his tiny little hand and prayed pretty much every moment I wasn’t talking or singing. My folks came down to see him in his little Lucite crib with all the IVs sticking in him and monitors attached to him and so forth. The four of us looked at him for a couple minutes and cried, then the nurses told us that they’d already looked the other way as long as they could, and three of us would have to leave. I took my folks out.
“I don’t see why we had to leave,” one of them said, “that other kid had six people visiting.”
“that other kid is dying,” I said. “that’s the family saying goodbye.”
“Oh,” the folks said, chagrined. They knew how bad off we were, they didn’t realize how bad off everyone else in there was.

All the other kids died. All of them. Mine lived. I attribute that to God, but you can say it was just dumb luck if you like. I won’t argue with you. This isn’t a sermon.

What this is, I guess, is me ruminating on that time. I’d like to say it was a fairly tale after that, but in fact it’s been a pretty hard couple of decades for all concerned. Additional medical conditions, awful, awful, awful schools that have no idea how to work with special needs kids, poverty, my own ineptitude as a parent, the list goes on and on. It really wasn’t until a little over three years ago, maybe four,  when it finally began to settle down, and feel like the train might actually stay on the track.

Through it all, though, my kid has been a treasure. He is the reason I am alive, the reason I keep on going. With all the odds repeatedly stacked against him, he’s kept fighting and, well, I suppose nothing’s going to change there. The fighting continues. Some people get a normal life, others have to claw and scrape for it. But the important thing is that we’re all still here, the three of us, we all still love each other, which is better than most people in our predicaments.

I could brag about that, I suppose, but I’m humble. I’m fully aware and ashamed of how outclassed I am. if I was twice the man I am, I wouldn’t be a quarter of what my father was, and it pains me that I haven’t been able to be nearly as good a dad to my son as he was to me. He was superhuman, that one. And my son is superhuman, too. All the times he’s faced death and made it back off…well, a hero is someone who keeps on fighting, right? someone who doesn’t give up, and just keeps slugging away when the odds are frankly abysmal?

There’s a moral dimension to heroism, too: like my dad before me, my son has always done the right thing, if he’s been aware of what it is. He is that rare person for whom there is no difference between what he should do, and what he does. He’s moral, he’s smart, he’s ethical, and he’s braver than anyone I’ve ever met in that there are times when he’s abjectly terrified, but he just keeps on going, fighting, striving, winning less often than he loses; but then “victory” isn’t the measure of heroism. A willingness to risk defeat is. I could see all that in his eyes the very first instant after his birth. He was born with them open expression was like someone desperately trying to make sense of the situation, and figuring out what to do next.

(am I reading too much in to that instant? Of course I am. I was overwhelmed then, and now. Just the same…it’s real to me, and it feels real to my wife and him.)

If those qualities aren’t the universal hallmarks of heroism, well, they should be. There is no one in this world that I am prouder of, no one I love more, no one I know who cares more, who feels more, who tries harder. despite all he’s had to fight against, he was, is, and evermore shall be the bravest, most noble person I know.

There’s a reason I named him Beyowulf.

I ruin movies by making them better…in your mind!

I tend to ruin movies by making them better.

See, I’m one of those annoying people who, for entirely selfish reasons, tries to get his friends to watch movies I’ve already seen. The reasons? Mostly so I can have someone to talk about it with, and of course, validation. (“Yes, Randy, that was a good film that I would not have seen were it not due to your incessant nagging. You have good taste in film, and hence are a good person, and you can stop hating yourself now.”) I have a lot of issues on that front.

Anyway, the problem is that I’m a pretty shallow man and hence have pretty narrow tastes. Mostly I just watch Science Fiction films. Current ones, old ones, classics, sclock-fests, I don’t really care. I also like anything by the Coen brothers, up to and including that bootleg of a very drunk Ethan puking his guts out in a toilet, while his sibling is laughing so hard that he can barely keep the shot in frame. (“[Rowlf] For God’s sake, Joel, why aren’t you helping me? [Rowlf]) I also claim to like everything by Terry Gilliam, but I’m lying about that. I really only like three of his films. Some war movies are cool. I mostly pretend they’re happening in space, anyway. Theoretically I like any western that’s more than two hours long, but watching a marathon of Terrence Hill films a couple years ago has made me question that. Oh, right, and I used to like some foreign art films up until I turned 40 and suddenly started finding them all disturbing.

So, really, not a lot of depth there, if I’m honest. Which I just was.

Bottom line: Nobody is interested in the movies I’m interested in, nor have they ever been, nor should they be. Yes, everyone will go to see Star Wars IX: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, but everyone was going to see that anyway, right? I’m grateful to have something to talk to them about, but it’s completely lacking in the ‘validation’ thing I mentioned above. It’s not like I talked them into seeing Colosus: the Forbin Project, or The Andromeda Strain (Both of which are super-rad and bitchin’ by the way). Do you know how hard I had to work to get anyone to watch Blade Runner in the decade between its release and the time it spontaneously became popular? And now everyone thinks it’s the 2nd best SF film of all time, and half the people reading this were born after 1992, so you’ve never known a world in which it was just me and Ridley Scott saying, “No, honestly, it doesn’t suck! And it’s pretty!” And Ridley, honestly, didn’t seem that interested after “Legend” also bombed. (That one totally deserved it. It sucks)

Since nobody likes what I like, I have to kind of oversell it in order to pique their interest. I’m sort of bad at this, in that I tend to be honest. “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is, unquestionably, the most original and important thing to happen to the vampire mythos in 50 years. However all that important stuff is in the last five minutes, and you also have to suffer through a pre-acting-lessons Bruce Campbell, which, as you know is painful, but here’s a list of concepts that, while poorly executed through the rest of the movie, are still sort of interested. And again: the last five minutes are the absolute best thing in the entire history of best things themselves!”

Needless to say, my batting average is pretty low.

Which brings me to the way I ruin movies for everyone.

See, I grew up in a semi-abandoned citrus grove that only had three other widely-spaced houses, and the occasional biker gang. Oh, and rattlesnakes. Lots and lots of rattlesnakes. Needless to say I didn’t have a lot of friends to play with. My dad was a dad, and hence mostly interested in sports, and relaxing after a hard week at work. Movies were low on his priority list. My mom…wow. My mom worked as a ticket girl in the box office of a movie theater in the ‘50s, but never bothered to go in and watch any of the movies. In 1977 the last film she’d seen in a theater was “The Sound of Music.” That movie was two years older than I am, and I’m half-convinced that she only went to see it because she used to work for the Von Trapp family. (It’s true! She did!) There was absolutely no chance on selling her on seeing anything, ever.

I had a shot with my dad, though. The problem there was that his attention span for things he wasn’t already interested in – like football – was fairly short. It was even shorter when football was actually on TV while I was making my pitch. This meant I had a very narrow window of opportunity to make my sale. I’d wait for the extended commercial break between quarters, and I only had 15 minutes. Less if he needed to use the can.

Basically I’d stand directly in front of him, and run through the whole plot of the movie at lightning pace. I’d jump around to give an impression of any cool action scenes. I’d deliver dialog in different voices so there wouldn’t be any confusion as to who was speaking – because, remember, I didn’t have time, and he was only half-paying attention. I would quote any cool dialog I could remember, and other dialog I couldn’t quite remember verbatim I’d punch up on the fly. Sometimes I’d hum or whistle theme music. I would describe in glorious detail any cool visual scenes, and then, hopefully, I’d get to the conclusion before “…and we’re back. It’s the fourth quarter, and the Bucs are down 21 points against the Dolphins. For the third time in three seasons.”

I never had much luck with my dad, but I got really good at my weird little presentations. Being constitutionally incapable of selfconsciousness, I started doing them at school. I had a better memory in those days, so I could just launch into one whenever the opportunity arose. These were always extemperaneous, always tailered to whatever the person I was talking to would find cool. Spoilers? Pfeh. Here’s the truth: most people won’t watch movies if they don’t already know how they’re going to end. Audiences are lazy. Particularly with old films, and remember, there wasn’t much Science Fiction in theaters in those days, so much of the time I was just trying to get people to watch, “It: The Terror from Beyond Space,” or “Fantastic Voyage,” or acting out why people shouldn’t watch, “Creation of the Humanoids.” Yeah, that’s right, I could use my skills to plug or kill a movie. I’m just that good.

It got so people would ask me to explain a movie just becaue they wanted to watch my floorshow. My pitch for “Outland” was referred to by a teacher as, “A one man show stage version of High Noon.” Which is pretty apt, really. I did this in college, I did this after college, heck, I still do it now. It’s become reflex. As society’s attention span dropped ever-lower, I got more effective.

Which brings us to the part where I ruin movies:

At some point, people started saying stuff like, “Yeah, ‘Brazil’ was pretty good and all, but I liked your report on it better than watching the movie itself.” Or, “Honestly I think the death scene in ‘The 9th Configuration’ was better the way you did it, then in the film.” or “Your rendition of ‘Forbidden Planet’ didn’t really prepare me for how corny and stiff the dialog in the movie was.”

Eventually, “I liked the Randy version better,” became a common complaint.

Why?

“Well, you get so excited about them, and you’re so energetic, and you emphasize stuff they don’t and downplay stuff they emphasize, and some of your mis-remembered dialog is cooler than theirs, and you leave out the scenes that don’t work. I end up with a picture of the movie in my head, I go in expecting that and I get…just a movie. Not The Randy Version of the movie, which is more fun.”

“And shorter?”

“Oh, yeah, way the hell shorter. I really don’t have the attention span for a three-hour movie.”

The Creation of Man: Greek Style

My son was just discussing the Prometheus legend with me, and it struck me that it’s one of those things everyone has vaguely heard of (“Don’t tamper in the gods’ domain, or they’ll kick your ass”), but most people don’t really know. So here’s the deal:

Titans outrank gods. The Titans ruled the universe. They were pretty awful, though, so the gods rebelled and overthrew the Titans and took over the universe. Several of the Titans recognized that this was for the best, so during the course of the war, they abandoned their own kind and joined the gods.

Among these turncoats were Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus. Their names mean “Forethought” and “Afterthought,” respectively, but I prefer to think of them as “Jerkass” and “Dumbass,” as as Prometheus was a trickster, and Epimethius was, well, dumb.

(“Tricksters” are like Anansi in African mythology, or Loki in Norse mythology [which has nothing to do with the depiction of him in Marvel]. They’re not evil, they’re frequently chaotic and always unpredictable. Think of Prometheus as Daffy Duck.)

Because they’d been allies in the war, the brothers were allowed to live in Olympus. Prometheus was a little paranoid of the gods because they’d just overthrown their more-or-less rightful leaders, and also because they were notoriously fickle. As Epimetheus was kind of a dope, they said, “You there! Go down to earth and do something to make it pretty so we have nice views. We really don’t care what.” Epimetheus then created nature. (Up to this point, earth was just a rock with occasional water)

Prometheus saw this and thought, “Cool! I want to try!” As his brother had already created animals, he decided to make the best animal ever: Man. Mostly he did this to piss off the gods.

The gods were super-pissed, and were looking at wiping us all out, but eventually they realized we were useful insofar as we made the whole ‘offerings’ thing easier. How were offerings done before there were people? Who the crap knows. It’s mythology. It’s drunken and sloppy at the best of times. So the gods allowed us to live, but they refused to let the brothers back into Olympus as punishment. Also, humans were limited to not being immortal, nor having any supernatural powers.

Time passes, and Prometheus has grown kind of fond of his practical joke, so he decides to give them something that will lift them above being mere animals. He sneaks into Olympus, steals fire from the gods, and gives it to man, thus starting civilization. Yay! This was not entirely humanitarian, though. He was still in large part motivated by a desire to piss off the gods.

Which he did. They chained him to a rock, while a giant monster bird would peck his liver out of his body every day and eat it. Prometheus’ liver would grow back every day, and get eaten out again. Because the gods are jerks. This, by the way, is where earthquakes come from: Prometheus convulsing and yanking on his unbreakable chains.

The story continues: Civilization is starting, and while he’s a dim bulb by divine standards, he’s a bright light to cavemen everywhere. The gods decide to punish the thing Epimetheus loved, rather than him directly. They created Pandora from scratch, specifically designing her to be curious. Then they sent her down with her jar full of plague and disease and said, “Don’t open it. Yo! Epimetheus! Marry this chick!” “Gosh, thanks, Zeus!” “Don’t mention it, kid.”

So of course she opened the jar (It’s not a box, it’s an amphora) and let out just every awful thing on earth, torturing humanity for all existence.

The funky thing about this is that Prometheus was a prophecy god. He did all this *knowing* full well what would happen. Talk about committing to a gag! And we’re left to think that even with all the plauges and crap, mankind was still better off than it was before we had fire.

Amnesty International has been protesting for several years, trying to get Prometheus released, but thus far nothing has come of it.