The Plastic Hippo

November 14, 2014

The size of a fridge

Filed under: Faith,Media,Transport,World — theplastichippo @ 3:22 am
Tags: , , , ,
Image via sci.esa.int and 300 million miles

Image via sci.esa.int and 300 million miles

There is a lot of fun to be had when filling in the equal opportunities monitoring section of an application form or a questionnaire. Unless required for the official census, details of age, gender and ethnicity are completely irrelevant and a little intrusive. Rather than ensuring diversity in any survey or in recruitment, the pigeon-hole questions are more of a marketing tool to identify a particular demographic.

Being a white, middle-aged English man who is a bit dim, a true and accurate description of my social status might lump me in with the sub-group that displays a disturbing obsession with the Farage creature and the Daily Mail. It is tempting, therefore, to complete this bit of the form erroneously just for a laugh. Pretending to be female wouldn`t really work but the ethnicity tick boxes provide endless equal opportunities for mischief. Ticking “other” and then adding Inuit or Amazonian Yawanawa or Ubangian Baka might just cheer up the poor soul tasked with doing the analysis. These days, however, in an atmosphere of toxic nationalism, I tend to tick “other” and then describe my ethnicity as either “Celtic” or, more often, as “European”. There`s more japes to be had in tick boxes regarding faith.

Before they were corrupted by old men greedy for power, wealth and influence, all the major world religions advocated that we should all be nice to each other. So, on one inconsequential questionnaire I ticked all the boxes including “other” but did not tick the one marked “no faith”. I mean, who on earth would describe themselves as having no faith other than an automaton with a brain considerably smaller than the size of a planet? This might explain why some folk on the census form enter Jedi Knight, or Klingon or even the more poetic Vogon. I am no expert, but given their formidable powers, I have yet to come across any evidence that suggests that Jedi, Klingons or Vogons managed to land a robot on a comet more than 300 million miles away from the launch site. We, collectively known as the human race, have.

I confess that back in 2004 when the Rosetta mission was launched, I offered a deep intake of breath and thought that ain`t never gonna happen. I was, of course, proved wrong and as I watched the European Space Agency live news feed describing the Philae Lander making contact with Comet 67P, I am not ashamed to say that there were tears. This is a truly astonishing achievement. Designed in the 80s, built in the 90s and launched ten years ago, for some of the scientists and engineers working on the project the landing is the culmination of a life`s work. It is not without irony that just as science is about to discover the origins of our home world, non-scientists in pursuit of power, wealth and influence are denying that through their greed we are about to destroy that same planet.

There are, of course, legitimate questions regarding the cost and relevance of such an endeavour when so much needs to be done on earth to address hunger, poverty and inequality. Costing more than one billion Euros, a wealthy planet can easily afford the Rosetta mission and, if it decided to, deal with the imbalance of wealth. In the UK alone, an estimated 35 billion is lost to tax avoidance and it will cost 45 billion and rising to take 20 minutes off a train journey from Birmingham to London. Those figures are pound sterling not Euros. Landing on a comet is an absolute bargain when compared to funding a replacement for Trident. Those rockets are not designed to fly very far, will cost 130 billion, will not be sending back any pictures and it is unlikely that we will see footage of scientists hugging each other after various cities have been obliterated.

With Philae clinging on in the shadow of a comet cliff, the media have again lost the plot and are lost in space. The BBC`s space correspondent became slightly giddy and stated that the achievement was all the more remarkable because 67P is a “moving” comet. This would indicate that there might be a gap in the BBC`s space correspondent`s understanding of the nature of comets. Impervious to accusations of dumbing down, BBC news informed us that Philae is “about the size of a fridge” presumably to set up a weak joke referencing a now defunct purveyor of white goods and other kitchen appliances. Fortunately, the joke was left unsaid and the corporation managed to resist the urge to interview the Farage creature regarding the “widespread criticism” of Ed Miliband`s leadership of the Rosetta mission which has been widely spread by the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Clangers on Asteroid Lynton Crosby and just about nobody else.

The next time I am required to fill in a questionnaire and am asked about my faith, I will remember the Rosetta project. The triumph of skill, ingenuity, curiosity, tenacity and determination will make me tick the box marked “other”.

I will add: “I believe in science and I believe in humanity”.

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