Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sci-fi and the Creation Myth

No form of fiction tackles the difficult subject of religion more than science fiction.  This might seem ironic to some, but science fiction has always been a good way tackle any subject, indirectly, because it gives the writer license to do whatever they want.  I once heard Ray Bradbury say that he used the Mars landscape as a setting so often not because he believe in Martians but that he was lazy and didn't want to do any research.  It was just easier to make things up.  Like Bradbury, a sci-fi writer can write about your religion without you even knowing it.  A writer can disguise a religious form of meditation in an alien religious group like the Bene Gesserit or Mentats in Frank Hebert's Dune.  They can write about a messiah like Robert Heinlein did with his character, Valentinen Michael Smith, in his Stranger in a Strange Land.  Millennialism and images of the devil are prominent themes in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.   Star Trek did it, Star Wars did it with the Jedis, ... heck... the latest Battlestar Gallactica series is just a very long religious elegy.  Every person that I know that is interested in religion also reads sci-fi.

Some consider Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a sci-fi novel.  The alternative title is the Modern Prometheus.  Like the Greek Titan Prometheus, Dr. Frankenstein creates a new form of life. Prometheus created humanity from clay and was punished for it, while his modern namesake, created life from the body parts from grave robbing. The creation myth seems to be everywhere in sci-fi these days.  Star Trek uses it with their android character Data and holographic character The Doctor where they confront their creators and fight for their rights as censured beings.  The Cylons in Battlestar Gallactica  rebel against their creators in what could be interpreted as a religious upheaval of the slave monotheists over their polytheistic creators.  The movie director Ridley Scott is not foreign to the creation myth, not only is his latest film Prometheus but his heady take on Philip K. Dick's Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Blade Runner) is all about a rebelling group of androids seeking their creator.  They are lead by Roy Batty (portrayed amazingly by actor Rutger Hauer) who seeks their creator so that they can remove the chip that  prevents them from being immortal.  

Scott's latest film, Prometheus, brings this to a new level. **spoiler alert** The so-called prequel to the Alien series gives us a married couple of scientists, Holloway and Shaw (who can't have children) searching for an alien species, called The Engineers, who they believe created humanity.  So they cannot create life themselves but they are obsessed with their creators who are not god but an advanced species from a distant moon.  The excursion is funded by an eccentric billionaire who never had a son of own.  He created an android son with the name he intended for that his biological son, David, much to the dismay of his daughter who may be an android as well.  The created is now, like the mythical Prometheus, the creator.  Like the gods of Olympus, the Engineers want to punish us or probably destroy us for what reason, it is not explained.  Shaw is also cast into the role of the creator.  She is somehow impregnated and gives birth a day later to the xenomorph species from the original series.  She freaks out and attempts to kill it ... again creator who is a destroyer and the created that creates. This film is full of plot holes, it is at times captivating and quite compelling but it is one of those films that you leave the theater thinking, "Did I miss something?".  It is clear that Scott was trying to say something about the creation myth.  What that is might be hiding somewhere in the fog of the 3D special effects or lost in one of the deep chasm plot holes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

US President Reelections - Electoral Votes

Throughout American history, every president (except Woodrow Wilson) that has ever been reelected, has gotten more electoral votes the second time they were elected than their initial election.

The following Presidents have been reelected:
Cleveland * (non-consecutive)
G. W. Bush

The first was Washington in 1792.  He was elected in 1789 with 69 electoral votes in '92, he received almost twice that with 132.  Only 10 states voted in the '89 election so our most popular President is the one elected with the least amount of electoral votes.

Jefferson did double his electoral votes by getting 169 in 1804.  In 1800, he received 73 which was a tie with Aaron Burr.  The US House of Representative broke the tie giving Jefferson 10 and Burr only 4 with 2 abstaining.

Madison went 122 to 128, Munroe went 183 to 231, Jackson went 178 to 219 in 1832.  Incumbents had it easy in the early days of our democracy.  Then we have to go all the way to 1864 with Lincoln getting 212 over the 180 he received in 1860.

If the 19th century had a personality with rock start status, it was U. S. Grant and he was reelected with a whopping 286 electoral votes in 1872 which is 72 more than his first term. If you count Cleveland because his two terms were non-consecutive, he went from 219 to 277 in 1900. McKinley, our first 20th century president, went to 271 to 292 in 1900.

Wilson was reelected but barely.  With the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in May 1915 by a German U boat, his peaceful isolationism was ripe fodder for the hawks of opposing party.  He was elected with 435 electoral votes in 1912 with the other three candidates only getting 96 votes combined.  But when he was reelected he only received 277, only 23 more than his opponent Charles E. Hughes.  We probably would have ended up joining the war in Europe much earlier than we did if Hughes had won.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was reelected the first time, he went from 472 in 1932 to 523 in 1936.  The following two terms the count did go down with 449 and 432 respectively.

Nixon went from 301 to a whopping 520 which was impressive, until you get to Reagan who went from 489 to 525 in 1984.  The 1984 total is highest amount of electoral votes any candidate has received, so far, in American history. Bill Clinton went from 370 to 379 and George W. Bush (our first 21st century president) went from 271 to 286.  I know some people still that say he was never elected but that is something for another day or another blog entry.

The reason I have found this so interesting that is that I realized today that if Obama does get reelected, it definitely will not be with more electoral votes than what he got in 2008 with 365.  Obama's safe states are considered: CA, RI, VT, HI, ME, DE, MD, MI, MN, MA, NH, NJ, NY, WA, WI and DC.  If my math is right that is 182 electoral votes. Romney's safe states are considered AL, AK, AZ, AR , GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, ND, NE, OK, SD, UT, WV, WY which (again with my math) is 117.  With 239 electoral votes up for grabs (the swings states), Obama would have to get most of them to get more than the 365 he received in 2008.  The polls currently show them to be very close.  If Obama does get reelected, it looks like he is going for a Wilson reelection.  When a president starts off their first term with such a high total like Wilson and Obama, it seems like it would be a difficult thing to do after four years in office.