Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. (October 2, 1935 - December 8, 1967) was a United States Air Force officer and the first African-American selected for astronaut training.
He was senior USAF pilot, accumulating well over 2,500 flight hours—2,000 of which were in jets. Lawrence flew many tests in the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter to investigate the gliding flight of various unpowered spacecraft returning to Earth from orbit, such as the North American X-15 rocket-plane. NASA cited Lawrence for accomplishments and flight maneuver data that “contributed greatly to the development of the Space Shuttle.” In June 1967, Lawrence successfully completed the Air Force Flight Test Pilot Training School at Edwards AFB, California. That same month he was selected by the USAF as an astronaut in the Air Force’s Manned Orbital Laboratory Program, thus becoming the first black Astronaut candidate.
Lawrence was killed on December 8, 1967, in the crash of an F-104 Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He was flying backseat on the mission as the instructor pilot for a flight test trainee learning the steep-descent glide technique. The pilot flying made such an approach but flared too late. The airplane struck the ground hard, the main gear failed, and the airplane caught fire. The front seat pilot of the aircraft successfully ejected upon ground impact and survived the accident, but with major injuries. By the time Lawrence ejected, the airplane had rolled onto one side and his ejection seat, with Lawrence still in it, struck the ground, killing him instantly.
Look, I don’t want to be the first guy to suggest he was probably killed by the CIA for being a black man in a white man’s game, but…
HE WAS PROBABLY KILLED BY THE CIA FOR BEING A BLACK MAN IN A WHITE MAN’S GAME
James Irwin was an astronaut on the Apollo 15 mission, and the eighth man to walk on the moon. Apollo 15 was different from the previous Apollo missions - NASA classified it as a “J” mission type, which was short for “joint”, because the plan was for the astronauts to just get super-baked and play lawn darts on the lunar surface.
Oops, sorry. That’s what the mission would have been if I had been in charge of NASA funding, a power which Congress has had the good sense not to endow me with, despite my REPEATED letters of request to the contrary. Anyway. The mission was a “J” mission, which was not short for anything, and simply meant that the mission was more science-centric than the previous ones. While Apollos 11, 12, and 14 also performed scientific experiments, the main goal of these missions had been to say to the world (and the Soviet Union in particular) “Hey, look at us, assholes, we’re dicking around on the motherfucking MOON.”
Geology was a big focus for Apollo 15, because if there’s one commodity the moon has a surplus of, it’s rocks. Among the rocks collected by Apollo 15 was a rock that became Sample #15415, dubbed later by journalists as “The Genesis Rock.” Why was it called the Genesis Rock? Because it is 4.5 billion years old, which careful observers will note is almost as old as the goddamn Solar System. It was like finding God’s baby tooth.
Speaking of God, we get to the thing I don’t understand about James Irwin. He certainly wasn’t the first religious astronaut - Apollo 8 broadcast a passage from Genesis from translunar space, and friggin’ Buzz Aldrin received the first Communion on an extraterrestrial body - but his particular circumstances and his particular beliefs make for a pretty bizarre combination.
You see, after retiring from the Air Force in 1972, Irwin founded a Christian ministry, the High Flight Foundation, devoted to - you guessed it - getting really high and playing lawn darts.
No seriously. I have no idea what the Foundation is devoted to. Their mission statement, according to their website, is pretty vague and unhelpful - “[to serve] as Global Goodwill Ambassadors facilitating aid and delivering a message of hope and peace to the nations” - but whatever, there are worse things for a religious organization to strive towards than a nebulous sense of “hope and peace.” One the concrete things the Foundation has done, however, is fund one of Irwin’s post-lunar obsessions: finding Noah’s Ark. Irwin, as a matter of faith, was convinced of several things:
The story of Noah’s Ark was neither allegory nor parable, but an actual historical event;
That the Ark, as described in the Old Testament, came to its final resting place on the slopes of what is now Mt. Ararat in what is now Turkey;
And that remains of this Ark could be found even today.
There’s certainly room for the argument that “improbability” means little to a man who has walked on the face of the moon and has beheld the Earth as a blue bubble fading into the distance. But, but, but - to read the story of Noah literally requires taking the context of the story of Noah literally, namely, the Book of Genesis, which includes that funny little story about a garden and an apple and the Earth being only 6,000 years old.
OK, fine - it never says in Genesis that the Earth is 6,000 year old, and the number is in fact based on an extrapolation made by the Archbishop Ussher in 1650. AND as far as I know, Irwin has never gone on the record regarding his beliefs about the age of the world. But as “evidence” of the Noachian flood, including the search for the remains of the Ark, is such a centerpiece of the Young Earth Creationist movement, well, it raises some distressing connotations. Consider that we have a man who has traveled as far from home as any human being has ever gone, and who plucked from those desolate shores - with his own hands - a rock which is one of the oldest things anybody has ever personally encountered, a relic from a time before dinosaurs, before microbes, before there was even any oxygen on the Earth. Is it not then at least a little bit incongruous that this man would later
narrowly escape death chasing after something even a good portion of Christians would say is probably just an old Jewish fable?
In the end, Irwin never found any evidence of the Ark, despite numerous expeditions, one of which ended for him with a relatively serious injury and a hasty horse-drawn evacuation to the nearest hospital. But unlike so many of his fellow Ark-searchers, he never felt compelled to lie or fabricate evidence. He came down from the mountain empty-handed but unbowed. Whatever else he was, he was an honest man.
Whether Futurism is merely the growing pains of a rejuvenated Italy, or whether it is a genuine manifestation of the old passion for violence which first showed itself on the day on which Cain killed Abel, it is difficult at times to say. Probably it is a little of both. “We wish,” says Marinetti,…
Look everyone, I know global warming is a big deal and all, but sometimes you gotta look around and ask, “do we really DESERVE to avoid extinction?”
Breast ironing is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts using heated objects, in an attempt to make them stop developing or disappear. It is typically carried out by the girl’s mother in an attempt to protect the girl from sexual harassment and rape, to prevent early pregnancy that would tarnish the family name, or to allow the girl to pursue education rather than be forced into early marriage. It is mostly practiced in parts of Cameroon, where boys and men may think girls whose breasts have begun to grow are ripe for sex. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers; other tools used include bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles, spatulas, and hammers heated over coals.
HEY LET’S SWITCH THINGS UP A BIT. Instead of telling you the terrible things the various religions have done to this wounded planet, I’m going to tell you something positive about being an atheist, something good that comes out of unbelief that you can’t find elsewhere. It starts, as these things do, with a sad story.
I had a friend who committed suicide two years ago. His name was Matt. We hadn’t been close for several years, but we had grown up together through elementary and middle school, and we had the same group of friends. Matt was a big kid - not fat, but larger and bulkier than the rest of us were at that age - and he had a passion that matched. He had a temper that could flare at a moment’s notice, and it wasn’t uncommon to find him at recess hurling invective across the blacktop at some perceived enemy. But more often, you would find him laughing. Of all my memories of Matt, that is what I remember him doing most. His laugh was loud and aggressive, and it had a blast radius of several feet - if you found yourself caught in it, you were in danger of being sent to your knees in hysterics.
We began to hang in different circles even before high school, but by the time the rest of us were preparing for graduation, Matt was getting into hard drugs. I stopped seeing him for a long time, but I heard rumors. Petty crime, a string of arrests, the big H word - heroin. And the J word - junkie.
About a year before he died, a friend of mine who was still close to his family heard that things were getting better for Matt. He’d gone to rehab, and it seemed to be sticking. He was going to church with his family, and had even found himself a girl. I ran into him briefly at one point during this period, and he was all smiles - but very, very thin. The bulky ten-year-old had been sucked out of him.
I got a call from my Mom one night, a few months after I graduated college and moved to Rhode Island. The great current of rumors that served as our only real source of information about Matt had produced a fresh nightmare: that Matt had taken his own life the previous day. I called the friend of mine who was still close to his family. The rumor became fact. Matt had died.
It’s believed among his friends (although I stress that his family has been quiet on the issue, and out of respect we’ve never asked them directly) that he had begun using drugs again before his death, and that his struggle with the addiction was what led to his suicide.
I don’t know what Matt’s religious beliefs were at the time of his death, and to be blunt, I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t matter. What I do know is that there is no shortage of faiths that, as a matter of doctrine, state with unequivocal and absurd confidence that my friend Matt is currently in Hell (or another similar netherworld) strictly because of the circumstances surrounding his death. This is not even an extremist belief of the God-Hates-Fags variety, one subscribed to only by fundamentalists or Internet-forum strawmen. This is a fairly common, and in a sense, reasonable thing believed by otherwise normal and functioning adults. Allow me to address those normal and functioning adults right now:
You are FUCKED UP.
I can understand the kind of perverted attraction that the concept of Hell has. I mean, if everyone goes to Heaven, that means guys like Hitler get in too, right? And if there’s no afterlife, then guys like Hitler get off scot-free with no more punishment than whatever pain they felt in their last moments. The idea of an ethereal penal colony where those who may have escaped mortal justice invariably end up is a nice mental equalizer when confronting a world that is, let’s face it, pretty fucking unfair. But like with most things religion has to offer, the concept of Hell comes with some unpleasant baggage that few believers ever stop to seriously consider because, well, it’s very unpleasant to seriously consider.
But cowardice is a poor excuse. I ask you to consider your belief in Hell, right now. Consider my friend Matt. Lips that once gave form to his contagious laughter can now only scream in agony. His body - what does his body look like? Is it the large frame of his ten-year-old self, or the thin ghost I saw that last time? Doesn’t matter. His body is burned, reformed, and burned again. Over and over. Forever. Think about that. Think hard. Picture it. If you don’t know who Matt was, picture someone you know, maybe someone you knew once and lost contact with. The torture never ends, their pain never ceases. When you read this, when you go home tonight, when you make love three weeks from now - during all these moments, that person is experiencing the worst agony that anyone can experience, ever.
But finally we come to the uplifting thing about atheism: there is no Hell. No one is tormented after they die. My friend Matt is not in pain, he is not suffering, his bright brown eyes are not stained with tears of regret. Whatever miseries drove him to the edge and finally overpowered him have been silenced, and are gone, gone forever. Hell is a myth, a horrid little fantasy doled out by perverted old men (and it is almost always men) in sanctimonious collars and hats.
Ironically, many people consider the idea that there is no afterlife a pessimistic hypothesis. I admit, it’d be pretty cool to chill out with Lincoln and Aristotle and Kurt Cobain (although let’s get real, none of these people would have made it into a Christian heaven), but if an eternal lounge club comes with the flip side of even ONE person being tortured without end forever, then I say take your wretched Heaven and shove it up your ass. I want no part of it.
My friend Matt is dead. I wish he wasn’t. The fact that he isn’t suffering anymore is only a cold comfort, and it lessens not one bit the tragedy of his death. But I embrace the tragedy. Let’s be sad. Let’s grieve and mourn. Let’s cry. And let us make our peace, and move on, but never forget. And if we should come across one who would take that tragedy from us, to use in his sick morality play, then let’s run the arrogant bastard out town, pitchforks sharpened and torches blazing.
Goodbye, Matt. I miss you buddy, but I won’t forget you.
So I guess I should do this now that Antique Evaluations has exploded? If you like what goes on here, and aren’t planning on using that weekly recommendation allotment anyway, consider clicking here. NOTE: I believe that link will recommend the Mother Blog… I’m not sure if you can recommend non-primary blogs? Anyone know something I don’t?
“The patient died April 17, 1861. At the autopsy, the dura mater was found to be thickened and vascularised, covered on the inside with a thick pseudo-membranous layer; the pia mater thick, opaque, and adherent to the anterior lobes particularly the left lobe. The frontal lobe of the left hemisphere was soft over a great part of its extent; the convolutions of the orbital region, although atrophied, preserved their shape; most of the other frontal convolutions were entirely destroyed. The result of this destruction of the cerebral substance was a large cavity, capable of holding a chicken egg, and filled with serous fluid.”—Pierre Broca describing the autopsy of a man who died from syphilis. Don’t get syphilis, kids. It will leave a chicken-egg sized hole in your brain.
OK, seriously. I don’t like Hitchens’ public persona at all, but come on. The guy has cancer for fuck’s sake.
But to our question: how can cancer be an example of God’s grace to this suddenly stricken intellectual, who has made a career of arguing the case for atheism? A cancer which God didn’t “give,” but certainly permitted.
The short answer is this: if God really wanted to “get” Hitchens, God would just ignore the man, and let him go his blissful way, unchallenged, to a peaceful death.
At which point Hitchens would stand, face-to-face and unreconciled, with that very God.
Unfortunately, a lot of Hitchens’ non-belief has a whiff of the village atheist about it. First off, there’s the title of his best-known anti-God book: “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Why the little “g” for God? It’s his name, after all, and we capitalize proper names. The little “g” feels like the gratuitous disrespect rebellious small children are fond of.
Here’s how I can tell you never read the book, reason #1: The opening salvo in your rebuttal is fixated on the grammar of the title. Also, what is a village atheist? Is that some sort of colloquialism I’m missing, like, “well now, I’m not one of them big-city atheists, but…”
And does religion really poison … everything? For example, I’m not really fond of rock music, but even that is not all bad.
That really just tells you all you need to know about the author, doesn’t it? “I’M NOT REALLY INTO THE WHOLE ‘ROCK-AND-ROLL’ SCENE, GUYS, BUT I COULD SEE MYSELF ‘GETTING DOWN’, AS IT WERE, TO THAT NEW OWL CITY SONG I HEARD ON MY COWORKER’S RADIO LAST MONDAY.” Jesus. It’s depressing because i recognize that at some point, I wrote like this. I remember the thought processes that went through my head and led me to construct obelisks of mediocrity of the caliber you see here. Of course, after 12th grade, I got better at writing. Guess this guy didn’t.