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1980-12-19 — Unpopular Science — Los Angeles Reader

Los Angeles Reader
Friday, Dec. 19, 1980; p. 6-9, 12-15


by Lionel Rolfe

Where the Golden State Freeway now streaks past the Los Feliz district near Griffith Park, once stood the laboratory of a brilliant, self-taught scientist named Jacque Fresco. Fresco had a circle of disciples who considered him next only to Albert Einstein, although the friends and relatives of those disciples often thought Fresco was a fraud and charlatan.

The laboratory was a prefabricated affair made of aluminum. An admirer had asked Fresco to make plans for building prefab industrial facilities and to construct an actual prototype, in which Fresco got to live and work free as payment for his work. In the early fifties people in Los Angeles didn't exactly cotton to nonconformists like Fresco, who was a dark little man of exotic foreign extraction who had the temerity to wear a beard. Invariably someone would bait Fresco by asking him why he wore a beard. And invariably he would reply, "Why do you shave?" Fresco believed that the burden of explanation should be placed on his questioners – the ones who shaved the natural hair off their faces.

Perhaps in conformity with the tenor of those times, Fresco was not so bold as to admit to the world at large that he lived in an aluminum house. So the laboratory was sprayed with a stucco paint and, at first glance, looked almost conventional. The inside of the lab was warm and rather dark, except where illumination was needed. The icebox was always filled with good things to eat. You entered the laboratory through its kitchen and then walked into the rest of the dwelling. Drafting tables were found in the living quarters as well as couches, which doubled as beds. Fresco's disciples often sat on those couches during marathon bull sessions with their guru. Behind the living quarters was the actual laboratory. It had a workshop, of course, but there was also a dark gallery full of strange things like oscilloscopes and an optically-produced three-dimensional image of a giant fly such as you'd see under a microscope. Unlike the 3-D movies showing in those days, you didn't have to wear glasses to get the effect. In a way the fly was a kind of early hologram, although Fresco's invention used a different principle than the laser beams used in modern holography.

The motif of all of Fresco's work, however, was the flying wing. The flying wing was Fresco's truth, Fresco's stamp. He built plastic models of the flying wing. He drew endless drawings of flying wings and even went so far as to patent some flying-wing configurations. In Fresco's many pictures of futuristic cities, you could often see flying wings circling overhead. Fresco had been drawing flying wings since the early thirties and when John Northrop was actually building flying wings for the Air Force in the late forties, he and Fresco would argue about their design. The Air Force patented but never used a radical wing structure that Fresco had invented, and Fresco felt Northrop should have used it in his flying wing. Northrop was the only early airplane builder that Fresco respected; perhaps the two men had a special rapport because neither graduated from elementary school. Fresco was not unknown in the early days of the aircraft industry. As a Douglas aircraft employee, he had argued with his chief engineer about an  airplane design. Fresco warned that it would crash during its first big test. It did, killing two people.

A couple of weeks ago Clete Roberts did a show on the Flying Wing for KCET. During the special, Northrop revealed for the first time how Stuart Symington, Truman's Secretary of the Army-Air Force, had ordered the destruction of Northrop's seven prototype flying wings
– despite promising test-flight results. Roberts also quoted from a recent National Aeronautics and Space Administration report that predicted the flying wing was about to be rediscovered. All of which reminded me of what Fresco used to say all the time – that airplanes were built wrong. He argued that if you needed to build a wing huge enough to support a fuselage for people and freight, why not just make the wing itself larger and stronger and put the payload inside the wing? He said that airplanes built in wing shape would be far more stable and efficient.

Fresco was a well educated man. Most of  his reading, and especially his writing, was accomplished by the disciples whom he always seemed to attract. Fresco not only looked different, but he also saw the world differently than most men. He saw everything in a very radical way, so radical that he boasted he made Communists look reactionary. In the early fifties I went to Fresco's laboratory every Saturday morning, supposedly to take lessons in technical illustration. But Fresco was more than just my drafting teacher – he was my mentor. Imagine how a man who told you that airplanes were built all wrong would make you look at everything else.

At one point during the Depression Fresco had been attracted to the theories of Karl Marx. But he finally decided – and was brave enough to declare as much at a public meeting of the Young Communist League, from which he was physically ejected – that Marx was all wrong. Fresco felt that Marx was no longer accurate in talking about human labor being the source of all wealth, for one day, Fresco said, machines would make human labor redundant. It was a matter of simple physics. A man working all day long is lucky to produce a third-of-a-horsepower's worth of work. Machines will one day do anything man can do, only better, Fresco said. Besides, he asked, what else was man but a rather inefficient machine at best.

Aviation and cybernetics were but a couple of Fresco's many interests. At the heart of all his concerns was a deep and abiding anti-mysticism. He was a disciple of the pioneer biologist Jacques Loeb, the original "mechanist."

Fresco made you look at the world through new eyes. The things Fresco told me seemed to make so much more sense than what my teachers said, so I was always arguing with them. In the nearly thirty years since I last saw Fresco, I have realized over and over again what a profound impact the man had on me. And I began to wonder. After all, I was hardly a boy of ten when I knew him. If he was as much a genius as I had once thought, why had I heard so little about Fresco all these years?

Some days ago, not too long before Clete Robert's KCET broadcast on the Flying Wing, all my questions got resolved. Now I can be as mystical as the next guy, and count myself at least as religious as Albert Einstein was, who sometimes sounded pretty religious in his own special way. But there's always been the clarion call of the mechanist approach in my mind, encouraged of course by my early exposure to Jacque Fresco. Things started getting sorted out when I got a call from Dr. Jack Catran, a scientist who wanted me to write about his new book, Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? To publicize the book, Catran has been on radio and television recently attacking astronomer Carl Sagan's theory that there is life on other planets we should be trying to contact. Earlier this month Catran's retort was published on the op-ed page of the New York Times under the title "NASA Scientists in Orbit."

Jack Catran, sixty two, has been many things in his career. He once even did a short stint in Yiddish theater. Most recently he's been billing himself as a space scientist, which isn't an unfair designation if you consider the different technical and scientific skills he's employed in years of working around Los Angeles's aerospace industry.

Catran is propounding a couple of at first seemingly unrelated theories. The first is that there is no intelligent life in outer-space – that, the astronomer, Carl Sagan, who's promoting the idea in the public's consciousness, is just plain wrong. Catran's second theory is that the source of all economic, social, and political ills on this earth is the money system, which is inevitably going to give way to a technocratic utopia unless we're wiped out in a nuclear war first.

As I leafed through Catran's book, something about his theories seemed awfully familiar. I read the book's acknowledgment page and quickly found out why. Among the list of Dr. Catran's mentors, including such luminaries as B.F. Skinner, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Alfred Korzybski, and Ivan Pavlov, was the name Jacque Fresco. Was this, I wondered with a powerful sense of amazement, the same Jacque Fresco I had known as a child? Could there have been another Jacque Fresco?

A call to Dr. Catran quickly confirmed we were indeed talking about the same Jacque Fresco. Fresco, Catran told me, had moved to Miami in the mid-fifties, after the State of California had destroyed the laboratory to make way for the Golden State Freeway. He became something of a local celebrity in Florida, and by 1969, a New York publisher had brought out a Fresco-inspired book entitled Looking Forward. The book didn't do well, and Fresco was not terribly happy with how his co-author had written up his idea of what the future would be like.

Catran said that Fresco had seen his book Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? six months
ago and wholeheartedly endorsed it, even through in Looking Forward Fresco had described as harmless hokum the idea that in the future we would communicate with intelligent life on far away planets.

When we met a few days later at his home in Sepulveda, Catran told me he had been worried. Fresco's phone in Florida has been disconnected. He hopes Fresco is all right. It might just be that Fresco is broke. He's always been broke. It's apparent that Catran fears something worse than being broke has occurred to Fresco.

Fresco was not just Catran's mentor – he was also his boyhood chum in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, where the two grew up together at the height of the Depression. Fresco was the first to leave the old neighborhood and come to Los Angeles, doing so in 1939. Catran followed in January, 1941, and was only one member of a "gang" of neighborhood chums who followed Fresco west. Most of the old gang went on to successful careers as lawyers and such. And most of them ended up rejecting Fresco as a great genius. Only Catran believes he has remained true to Fresco's dream of science. Loving science was a strict and passionate thing with Fresco, a love that was further distinguished by a corresponding hatred of mysticism, in which he included animistic projections of all kinds, from God to Santa Claus.

Guess who else came out of the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, only a few years later? Catran grim. Carl Sagan. Catran admits that he might feel especially strongly about Sagan because those were the same streets where he was first imbued with the vision of science as the great truth that vanquished all mysticism. Catran believes a gigantic error is behind Sagan's obsession with extraterrestrial life. You might call it a mixing of science with the camp of the Opposition
– the mystics, the religionists. Not only is Sagan in error, says Catran, but worse, he thinks Sagan is also committing "b.s.– what I call bad science." Sagan, Catran adds, has a basic problem understanding such terms as "life" and "intelligence" in a scientific manner.

"I expect to be sued by Sagan in the near future," Catran flatly declares, even though he's unsure whether Sagan is even aware of his existence. One national television show
is, however, trying to arrange a debate between Catran and Sagan. "He's an astronomer, a smart boy, well educated, quite bright. I really have nothing against him personally. But he's dealing out a lot of nonsense in the area of extraterrestrial life to the many readers of his popular books. Either he's doing it for book sales or, worse than that, he believes his own stuff at least partially."

Catran began writing his book nearly a decade ago as a rebuttal to an article by Sagan in Scientific American that suggested the possibility of intelligent life in outer space. Catran gave his article the title, "Is There Intelligent Life on Earth?" and over the years the rebuttal to Sagan grew into a book.
"You don't expect intelligent life in outer space for the same reason you don't come across a New York dialect in the jungles of Africa," he says. But even if there is life on other planets, "it could just be a pulsating blob o f protoplasm, belching radiation."

When Sagan assumes "intelligent life" would want to communicate with us
or even thinks in those terms – Sagan is suffering from nothing more complex than a case of "elementary anthropomorphic projection," Catran says. The best example of this occurred when Sagan succeeded in placing time capsules aboard Voyager 1, which recently concluded its historic close encounter with Saturn, and the earlier Pioneer 10. They were designed to tell intelligent space aliens in other solar systems what homo sapiens is like. Catran sneers when talking about the contents of Voyager's package, which include a phonograph (with instructions) and records that feature a message from President Carter and music from Bach to Chuck Berry. He's even more derisive of the six-by-nine-inch aluminum plate etched with a drawing of a man and a woman by Mrs. Sagan that was placed aboard Pioneer 10 in 1972. The couple have their arms raised in greeting to aliens. Catran points out that if one were to greet someone in this manner in the Middle East, the greeting would  be taken as an insult.

About the matter of communication with space aliens, Catran dismisses it with a laugh. Scientists who speak Chinese and English can't speak precisely to each other even with translators, Catran says. But Catran emphasizes he does not object to the space program itself. Catran did the human factors engineering on the Apollo project, the rocket that first landed men on the moon. Instead of spending billions of dollars on futile attempts to find intelligent life in outer space, he would rather see the money spent on solving man's problems here on earth, which is the second premise of his book. He argues that the money system is now in collapse and must be replaced with technology. A big premise
– and after a while we talk about it in great detail.

For the nonce, Catran wants to talk about how Sagan and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are thinking sentimentally, if not mystically, about life. "There is no soul for a surgeon to see when he cuts us open. What the surgeon sees is what is there
– blood and tissues. The very ideas of will and desire, of intent and motivation, are unscientific. We are controlled by natural forces just as much as a tree is. Our insides are just as much a part of the universe as the rings of Saturn. What appears  to be intelligence is really just a behavioral response to forces outside us. The intelligence differences between individuals is minor. What we all are is the sum total of our genetic endowment and our conditioning, our environment."

Catran is, obviously, a behaviorist. And, indeed, his academic degrees, including his doctorate, are in pscyhology. (Fresco is also a behaviorist – when I knew him, his language was full of words like "conditioning" and "tropisms" and so on.) Catran believes the only scientific work being done in psychology today is by the followers of B.F. Skinner of Harvard. Catran suggests that Sagan would be well advised to study his Skinner.

Sagan's assumption that one day all the scientists from the planets in other solar systems will gather "for a conclave of nice, thoughtful, pipe-smoking scientists is ridiculous," Catran harrumphs. "They are merely looking at themselves." In Catran's view, Sagan and company are not acting so very different from how "the anthropologists say our ancestors acted when they first invented God. Man started to believe in God thousands of years ago when he was walking along and suddenly there was thunder and he rain began to pour. Early man did not know about natural phenomena so he thought a guy up there was mad at him and that's why it was thundering and raining and lightning. So he got down on his knees and said, in effect, 'Lay off, I'll be a nice guy.' He would have been a whole lot better off if, instead of praying, he had tried to learn about natural forces."

Catran is proud his book is the first by a scientist that argues that "talk of extraterrestrial life is insufficient science" Indeed, he adds, it is the first book by anyone that argues against the concept of intelligent life in outer space. Catran says that Sagan is not aware of the recent discoveries in behavioral sciences that define knowledge and intelligence. "It used to be thought that a rock fell because it had a desire to reach the ground. That was animism, where one ascribes life to objects. The psychologists are the worst as they talk about spirits and desires in even more extravagant terms than the old Greeks did. The fact of the matter is the leaves of a tree turn to the sun because of photosynthesis. Caterpillars are geotropic where they go is determined by gravity." Similarly, says Catran, animals and people are tropistic. "We move by responding to natural laws," Catran says, although he later amends this slightly by saying that Jacques Loeb, the brilliant biologist who first propounded a mechanistic universe, did not prove to be right in all his particulars.

To Catran, Sagan's desire to communicate with intelligent life in outer space has as much meaning as attempts to talk to the sun or the trees right here on earth. "Why doesn't he want to try to talk to the sun? The sun is much older than we are
surely it must know the secrets of the universe. Or how about communication between us and trees? Even Sagan talks about chauvinism, by which he means the danger that we might use earth terms to describe life forms on other planets. He calls it oxygen chauvinism when people think that extraterrestrial life has to breathe oxygen. I agree with him when he talks about different biological chauvinisms – but he hasn't carried the idea far enough. For we also have life and intelligence chauvinisms to deal with."

To assume that extraterrestrial beings would have ears and mouths and ways of "communicating" is not to understand how evolution works, Catran says. "What Darwin was all about was about how change occurs by mutation and then survives. If the environment can support a particular mutation, it survives. If not, it dies. You could draw pictures of every conceivable kind of life that ever existed, and it probably did exist on this planet at one time. The configuration of our species developed over millions of years of mutations
– in other words, by chance, by accident. If you eliminated man and started all over again, he would not come out like we are now.

"It appears as if everything we have was designed for a purpose. But the truth is, if we had three arms, we'd find purpose for three arms." Catran also warns that man shouldn't give himself too much credit for intelligence because he thinks. "What we know as thinking is merely covert speech," Catran says. The vocal chords actually form words as we "think," he points out. He also disputes the prevailing notion that out brains are computers, with memories on a central file. "What is called memory is merely changed behavior. Behavior is not an expression of thinking. It is the thought. I know this runs contrary to everything people know, but we really are pushed and prodded through life. I know on a certain level it looks as if man has will, that a man is courageous and brave, but this is really not the case."

So what is the truth according to Catran? Men are machines and not very efficient ones at that. Men make machines that work better than man. "A 747," explains Catran, who early on worked for Douglas and Hughes as an aircraft engineer, doesn't imitate a bird and flap its wings. "It does a hell of a lot more. It flies through the air for thousands of miles carrying people and freight." The whole basis oc cybernetics
– the science of men and machines invented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Norbert Weiner shortly after World War II – is that anything man can do, machines can do better, Catran says. Both Fresco and Catran were enthralled with Weiner's cybernetics, for it fit in well with their theories of mechanisms, which had arisen on the streets of Brooklyn a decade or two before.

Catran allows himself to wax perfectly sentimental when he talks about the old Brooklyn neighborhood where intense discussions of things like science and technology, politics and culture, filled the air. "The Depression was a tremendous time to be alive in Brooklyn. There was so much intellectual ferment. The library was always full of people studying, trying to get out of the ghetto."

The Depression in a strange way was a liberating influence from not only the ghetto but also from religion. To Catran and Fresco, science was the new religion. Although Fresco was born in Harlem in 1916, both Fresco and Catran lived as a minority in a minority. They were Arabic Jews, members of a little pocket of Sephardic Jews among the East European Jews. Fresco's parents had come from Istanbul and Haifa. Catran's parents came from Damascus and Tangier. They spoke Ladino, not Yiddish. Ladino is Spanish with a little Hebrew thrown in. The Arab Jews were regarded as strange and weird by the East European Jews, Catran remembers. The religion of the Sephardic Jews was even more orthodox and superstitious than that of the most unenlightened East European ghetto Jew. Furthermore, the Sephardic Jews were even poorer than their East European counterparts. Catran says his father looked like "any old Arab."

Catran was fifteen when he met Fresco, who was sixteen. From the beginning, Catran looked up to Fresco, if for no other reason than that Fresco was a year older. They met when Fresco heard that Catran collected landing gear, propellers, and similar parts from World War I airplanes. Catran had just obtained an eight-foot propeller Fresco wanted. It had come C.O.D. $2, much to father Catran's annoyance. To get the propeller Fresco offered Catran all the balsa wood he could use, drawings of models of World War I airplane models that Fresco had personally designed, and one other thing. The "other thing" clinched the deal, Catran recounts. Fresco offered Catran a prized possession of his brother's – a metal, sheepskin lined jock strap. "I couldn't resist the offer," Catran says.

Then Catran received his first lesson in science from Fresco –  a lesson in physics. After agreeing to help Fresco carry the propeller home through the streets of Brooklyn, Fresco placed Catran at the middle; Fresco picked up the tip. Catran ended up carrying most of the weight. Catran hung around Fresco more and more. Not only did they talk science all the time, but Fresco also convinced Catran to drop out of school. Fresco never got past elementary school. "It was all bullshit to him, " Catran says. "He had been put in the back of the class, where he spent all his time drawing cities of the future."

Catran believes Fresco's lack of formal education may have been "a happy accident for him." It meant he had no great respect for textbook authority, Catran argues. "Education can be a kind of trap –  I described formal education as a trap in my book." I nod, remembering how Fresco's flying wing had first affected me. Here I was, an impressionable lad, even younger than Catran had been when he first met Fresco. And he was telling me that many things done by authorities were done wrong, that airplanes were designed wrong, that they should just look like great wings. Fresco had me questioning authority so often in school I was becoming known as a "discipline problem."

It was Fresco who gave me my first good, powerful dose of atheism, which I've modified only a bit on the inexorable road to senility. As Catran and I talked of Fresco, it was apparent how powerful an exponent of atheism he had been. Catran said his parents hated Fresco not only because he convinced Catran that school was a waste of time, but also because he had made an atheist out of their son. One fine day many years ago, it seems, Fresco had asked his brother Dave Fresco (who today is a character actor in Hollywood), what an atheist was. Dave told Jacque that an atheist was someone who denied the existence of God. Fresco went on to research atheism, and not only declared himself to be one, but tried to turn everyone else into one too.

Catran eventually went back to school after the war in Los Angeles, but his atheism was never lost. "Look at the Pope," Catran says today in high dudgeon. "Look at the starving people on the streets that he's dragged through. If he were a decent guy he'd be ashamed to go out there. They carry him on a throne – you'd think he'd take half of all that money and give it to those starving people." Adding real insult after injury is how those with religious and mystical views use the gifts of technology like television, microphones, and computers, to sell the opposite of science. And although Sagan is a scientist, Catran believes he has sold out and has made himself part and parcel of the mystical cabala.

The greatest indignity of all is that Catran's own daughter likes to attend witchcraft sessions in Hollywood, replete with candles and Tarot cards. "My own daughter," he repeats a couple of times, sounding
incredulous. To Catran, astrology, the occult, religion, gurus – it's all superstition. "I know why people are moving away from reality and rejecting science. Reality is a pretty horrible thing in the United States today. Our cities are slums. The air is poisoned. And people still believe in angels and devils in this world. Look at the millions out there in Latin America, still dominated by the Church. And then there are the Buddhists, the Mohammedans, the born-again Christians. The majority of people in this world really are lost. They're still seeing that thunder and lightning in the wrong way. The more aware we become of natural phenomena, the happier our lives can be."

For a long period in the thirties, the "gang" gathered at night on the roof of Fresco's building in Bensonhurst. The conversation was science. Of the original group, Catran says he is the only one who has remained true to Fresco's philosophy. The gang still meets from time to time for "nostalgic" reasons, and the last time they did they all wondered how Catran could have acknowledged Fresco in his book alongside Einstein. Catran unhesitantly replied: As great as Einstein was, Fresco is his equal.

Catran believed Fresco left for Los Angeles just a little too early – that he should have waited to see the World's Fair in New York in 1939. "It was the world of tomorrow where the future is very beautiful," Catran says. Fresco had always hated Brooklyn – it was too cold. Once as a lad he hopped a freight train to Miami and returned home to Brooklyn raving of the sun and palm trees. Similarly, all through 1939, Fresco sent
"the gang" letters from California extolling its warmth and palm trees. After a while Fresco also discovered technocracy and added that to the reasons Los Angeles was better than Brooklyn. And Catran understands why Fresco left here in the fifties. Not only had a freeway run down his home, but it was also getting smoggy. Fresco wouldn't live in the smog. He wanted to live in the tropics.

Catran remembers his first impression of Los Angeles as he alighted at the old Greyhound Bus Terminal downtown. It was January 1941. "I got out of the bus after a trip of four days and five nights, or whatever it was, and it looked like New York, which I thought I had left behind." Catran was greeted by a couple of Bensonhurst gang members who assured him Los Angeles was not at all like New York or Brooklyn. They told him to wait until they got to their house in Hermosa Beach to see what they were talking about. But first they warned Catran that, to make room for him, they had to kick out a young woman named Harriet. Before giving up living with five or six males, Harriet shook her fist at Catran. But finally she was literally thrown on the street, with her large diaphragm (in those days diaphragms were much bigger than they are now) right behind her.

Catran moved in and now all of the old gang around Fresco was ensconced in Hermosa Beach. But not for long. Since a number of people were living on one salary (one of the gang had a production job in an aircraft factory), funds were short. When the rent was due, the gang had to do a moonlit flit – goodbye, beach living.

The gang then proceeded to live in a number of houses around the Hollywood area. "Two guys would rent the place, and that night twelve would move in."

"We made a lot of noise. You could hear Fresco working all night long – he was working with Lucile, which was then a very new material. It sounded like we had a factory going. We did, actually." Catran also remembers one day when things got so bad the finance company came to repossess the car. But the car's battery was dead, and the repossessor had to push it down the street. As they did, Catran remembers Fresco looking at the odd scene, repeating over and over, "It's only money, it's only money."

The gang was finally undone by women (poetic justice when you look at it from Harriet's standpoint). Catran says that women almost invariably hated Fresco; they felt threatened by Fresco's monopolization of their men. Ultimately they forced their men to choose between them or Fresco – there was no in-between.

Like everyone else, the gang had to face the war. One day Catran was driving to work at Lockheed in Burbank, when he spotted Fresco, looking the saddest he had ever seen him look. Fresco was standing in an Army induction line outside the Warner studios. Fresco's talents, however, did not go unnoticed by the Army. He was assigned to a special futuristic unit of the Army's Air Force where he drew all day. Fresco didn't adjust to Army life and was eventually discharged, but not before the Air Force had patented one of his designs – a different way of building the interior structure of an airplane wing, the same structure Fresco thought Northrop should have used in the flying wing.

The way a wing is built hasn't changed since the earliest days of aviation. Cloth or metal is stretched over parallel ribs that go from the wing's leading edge to the rear. Fresco's design had a central forging, from which the metal ribs emanated like spokes of a bicycle wheel. In theory the load is then distributed back to the central forging, making the whole structure almost unbreakable. Fresco told Northrop he should put the central forging of the flying wing's structure near the cockpit, but Northrop who had himself been thinking of flying wings since at least 1929 – rejected this advice. Or so Catran tells it.

Catran says the closest Fresco ever came to being a public success was in the late forties when Earl "Madman" Muntz spent $500,000, which was a lot more money then than it would be now, on something called the Trend Home. Trend Homes, says Catran, were the gang's last hurrah. The idea was simply that a home of aluminum could be manufactured quickly and cheaply for all the Gls coming home from the war. Muntz regarded his investment as seed money – to have succeeded, Trend Homes would have needed federal money.

Fresco was not without his influential admirers. Forrest Ackerman, the well known science-fiction impresario, "who had a good scientific background himself," was always terribly taken with Fresco. "Not too long ago," Catran says, "Ackerman told me the country should just go ahead and make Fresco President to see if he really has the answers."

Not surprisingly, Fresco did make some money designing and building miniature scenes for "Project Moon Base," an early movie on space stations and moon journeys. He was the technical adviser on a number of other science-fiction movies. He made models in his Los Feliz laboratory, and as a youngster I remember how much fun it was to play with the ones that bad been used in the movies.

Catran took the basic skill Fresco had taught him –drafting and technical illustration –and developed his abilities from that. He gained practical experience as an aviation engineer at Douglas and other aircraft factories, but he also took advantage of the GI Bill and attended the old Chouinard Art Institute. So he came to make a good living as an industrial engineer by combining the two talents. Then Catran went back to school and ended up, after putting in time at USC and UCLA, with a master's degree in psychology. In the late fifties and early sixties Catran got involved in a new field that came out of the aerospace industry –human-factors engineering. Indeed, Catran became the editor of the journal in the field, Feedback. He ultimately obtained a degree in psychology from the University of London, and was tops in his field. It was a very logical career path for a former Fresco disciple.

Catran admits he's done a lot of unlikely things. He can't resist telling his Howard Hughes story, for instance. "In the early fifties, I was one of the few guys who saw Hughes every day. I was styling his 'cunt wagon.'
He had taken a Douglas A-20 and rebuilt the cabin so he could fly girls and booze between Arrowhead and L.A. I put a rug on the floor. Designed jazzy seats and put in bigger windows, which was a job. Bigger windows meant that the structure of the airplane had to be changed. I saw Hughes a lot but I can't say I had a lot of conversations with him. I'd joke with the other guys that Hughes had actually talked to me today. He had grunted at me to get out of his way. He was strange. He wore sneakers and often didn't bother to zip up his fly."

Later Catran helped design rockets for the Apollo spacecraft. His responsibility was to approve all engineering so that maintenance crews as well as astronauts could work most efficiently with the machinery. As a result of his work as a human-factors engineer, Catran says, "I found my interests expanding to the design of the whole system – fitting people into the environment. That's the big system that one day scientists and engineers will have to tum their attention to."

Admitting that his ideas might sound Cassandra-like, Catran says that within ten years he's sure the whole money system will have collapsed. The transportation system, based as it is on cars and trucks instead of trains, will also grind to a complete halt, especially here in Los Angeles. That means food riots will break out
and he thinks the military will then move in. But eventually even the military won't be able to cope any better than the politicians. The inevitable outcome  unless there is an atomic war  is that the scientists and technologists who are already manning the system anyway will be called upon to design new cities, in new locations. Most American cities are past the point of rebuilding. They grew up too , topsy-turvy, working on no design, no intelligence, mostly on luck. The silver lining, the light that Catran sees at the end of the tunnel, is the technology that already surrounds us.

The tragedy today is that our technology is ill used
Microcomputers, for example, weren't created for playing games on a TV tube. "We already live in a technological world but we have an archaic way of using the gifts of this technology-the money system." Catran argues that financiers, accountants, lawyers, and what-not, will not exist in the future because these are professions that essentially perform no real function. "The United States is wealthy. We are surrounded by material objects. We could automate overnight and have an abundance of everything. What's getting in the way is the money system. It's strange how there's a fuss every time there's an advance in technology and people are thrown out of work. That's good-we should be liberated from work. But in the money system we have now more technology only means more unemployment."

Catran dismisses the idea that there's virtue in the work ethic with the Fresco snort of "bullshit." He repeats: "We should be liberated from work. If anyone still really believes in the existence of the work ethic, they ought to stand outside the exit of a factory at 5 
 they'll get killed in the rush. Anyone would take more than two week vacation, right? What's wrong with three months? Catran says it is nonsense to say people would get bored without dull, demeaning work. Not if they could get educated and travel and learn and enjoy instead.

Catran contends that economists are useless. "Nobody even knows what money is. None of these guys
from Keynes to Friedman none has a clear explanation of what money is. Money is only needed when there is a scarcity of products. Technology could eliminate scarcity overnight. We have the factories to make the stuff but the problem is distribution."

Catran says that while placing the production of the country in the hands of engineers and scientists and other technologists might not appear democratic, the pilot of a plane isn't voted into office on the basis of a popularity contest among the passengers. Besides, Catran argues, "there's no worse dictatorship than the money system that limits what you can get. There's nothing more democratic than an equitable distribution system. For one thing, you'd eliminate 95 percent of all crime, because crime is the only way people who don't have anything in the system have of trying to get a piece of the action."

Catran says that economist Milton Friedman's argument that giant corporations are merely responding to the market is just nonsense."Look at television. They [TV programmers] create what they like. Art isn't reflecting society; in this case society winds up reflecting the art. In fact with all the promotion of sex and violence, television is destroying many people's traditional values. Your likes and dislikes are created by Madison Avenue. I know
I was an industrial designer. First we would create the design and at first people might balk, but eventually we'd find a way to get to them. The truth of the matter is that it is very easy to sell anything in the United States today for God's sake, look at the Pet Rock."

The fact that anything can be sold explains why mysticism is on the increase, he says. "The world of today is very painful. Our cities are slums and tenements full of poverty and pollution and crime. Mysticism is a beautiful retreat. Really, it's very tough being young today. I can see why dope has such a great attraction. Today everything is out of control. It is collapsing. Mysticism sells."
Bleak as this picture may be, Catran does not believe the country is reverting to dark age. "We know too much about electricity, aircraft, medicine, and surgery." Catran doesn't think you need look to history for answers either. ''What's so marvelous about the pyramids? They're a pile of rocks. Any corner gas station is a far more sophisticated structure than the pyramids." Suddenly Catran interjects the name of his old nemesis from Bensonhurst, Carl Sagan. "On one of those 'Cosmos' shows, Sagan talked about the marvels of Alexandria, Egypt, the library there. He unrolled some parchments. What the hell knowledge was in those parchments? Their astronomy was astrology. They knew nothing."

Catran says the society of the future would be a "very warm and human place, with far more freedom than we have today. There will be no dictatorship of things. People can have what they want. And there will be poets and painters and composers, entertainers, actors, and mimes. They will continue their work on an even grander scale, but it will be different. Our culture came out of the poverty era of man and that will not last, unless we're wiped out in a nuclear war first,which is also a very strong possibility. The future's art will be far different from ours, however."

And Catran laughs. He began talking about how as a youth he saw Fresco only a couple of nights a week. On other nights he went to Greenwich Village and spent time around the Bohemian scene. In the early sixties Catran was a habitue of various old Los Angeles coffeehouses such as the Xanadu and the Fifth Estate. He loved to argue philosophy and play chess with the crowd there. Catran thinks the coffeehouse period in Los Angeles's history was a real bright spot.

And he laughs again. "Frankly, I'll tell you something. I might not even be happy in the world of the future I'm describing. It might not be for me, but don't tell anyone that. That's off the record."