In March of 2021, the brain scientist, inventor, and national security advisor Newton Howard erected two Transformers statues of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime outside his home in the District of Columbia's Georgetown neighborhood. His neighbors were furious and demanded that he take them down. Howard refused.
"With an abundance of real issues in the world…[why were] two sculptures…at the center of debate by such high intellectuals and high-powered people?" he asks.
They complained to the district's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the federally funded Old Georgetown Board, which oversees the historic neighborhood. Howard was fined $20,000 and ordered to dismantle them.
After 11 years in the intelligence community, during which he worked as an analyst for the CIA, dictating to him what he was allowed to put on his property, he says, was a violation of the principles he had dedicated his career to upholding.
"This is my property," he tells Reason. "I put something on it."
But why Transformers? He's not a toy lover or a fan of the animated movies or TV shows. Instead, he's trying to convey a philosophical idea about the nature of free will and the capacity of humans to remake the world around them.
Photo: Taylor Crul – U.S. Air Force via CNP/picture alliance/ Consolidated News Photos/Newscom
Music: "Helix" by Break of Reality via Artlist; "Source Code" by Jimmy Svensson via Artlist; "Guardian Angel" by Ian Post via Artlist; "Moon Travel" by Roman P via Artlist; "Plastic Breath" by Tamuz Dekel via Artlist; "The Undertake" by Borrtex via Artlist;
"Fury" by Ardie Son via Artlist
Written and produced by Noor Greene; edited by Danielle Thompson; shot by Isaac Reese, Mike Koslap, and Aaron Schwartz; audio by Ian Keyser.