The Real Tomorrow

The only advantage to getting old is grandkids.  Of course, I’m sure there exist grandkids from hell but as a general concept, grandkids are a great idea.  They allow us to have fun, hang out with young people and then send them back to the people who have the real work of attempting to civilize them.  All plusses.  No minuses.

Every year at about this time the local engineering school, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) sponsors a science exhibition for kids.  The call it “Touch Tomorrow”

( http://wp.wpi.edu/touchtomorrow/the-festival/wpi-research-exhibits/ ).  WPI is affiliated with NASA and provides robotics and other expertise for Mars rovers and robotic components that dig and manipulate objects and sense light and other functions.  So, there are exhibits and presentations on many subjects involving spaceflight, robots and futuristic technology of all sorts.  For my oldest grandson this is like being in heaven.

And it’s pretty good stuff for me too.  Being an engineer and an inveterate fan of science fiction many of the topics are highly interesting and even answer some of my questions about the whichness of what.  So, this event is an annual win-win for me and my descendant.

But, of course, being in New England and the bluest of blue states, the fair has its share of pc virtue signaling and progressive biases.  I won’t go into all of them but suffice it to say that the celebration of women in science and technology is just a little too loud and a little too shrill.  That being said, I noticed a couple of things that gave me some small reason for optimism.

The first was at the forensic medicine exhibit.  A woman who had worked for the coroner had a table full of bones.  She was explaining to the kids how physical parameters of skeletons could allow a coroner to estimate very accurately the age of a child based on evidence from a skull.  This had to do with the stages of dentition.  Then she had a skull of Neanderthal Man.  She was able to relate the difference between Neanderthal and modern humans based on the differences in skull shape and bone thickness.  Finally, she was able to point to the differences in skulls based on sex and also race.  She had skulls for the three major racial families (Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid) and for men and women.  I was shocked that a pack of screeching SJWs had not driven her out of the hall for espousing these hate crimes.  That not only were there physical differences between the races but that men and women were divided along anatomical lines.  Such an outrage.

The second thing I heard was during a presentation by a physics professor on the Universe.  He described the scientific method and very pointedly declared that no scientific fact was ever settled.  He stated categorically that a theory that was refuted by evidence was false.  And he further stated that a true scientist is always hoping that experiments used to prove a theory refute it in some way because these differences from theory are the basis for an increase in knowledge.  He said that when the Higgs Boson was confirmed last year, the disappointment was that it was exactly as calculated.  Even though the discovery was a great triumph of the standard model, the fact that nothing new was learned was a let-down to those hoping for new information.  I was tempted to ask what he thought of global warming data but I didn’t want to get this faithful acolyte of science burned at the stake by adolescents.

After the presentation, I spoke with this physicist and pinned him down about one particular “fact” that he showed during his presentation.  When describing the size of the universe he stated that the universe was potentially 93 billion light years wide.  I asked him whether the universe is currently believed to be bounded or unbounded.  He stated it was believed to be unbounded.  So, I asked him what the physical reality of this edge of the universe at 93 billion light years was.  He said all that it is, is the current guess at how far we’ll be able to observe based on the light after the big bang.  And he continued, “beyond that be dragons.”  Now that’s my kind of scientific answer.

After this presentation, we were finished with the exhibition and headed to a steakhouse for beef and potatoes.  I went with the ribeye and baked potato while this younger fellow heretically opted for sirloin and french fries.  Youth is wasted on the young.

During dinner, we continued our debate of the impossibility of producing a machine to endlessly produce electric energy from a single input of mechanical energy to a dynamo.  He wasn’t having any of it.  To prove my loyalty to the laws of thermodynamics and electromagnetism I agreed to fund his project and purchased a number of components for his machine on (of course) Amazon.com.  In this way, we could provide evidence to confirm or dispute his law of perpetual motion.

When we got to my house, his grandmother provided ice cream and I provided classic horror movies, specifically, “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”  Being a purist I strongly disapprove of TCFTBL being included in the Universal canon.  But we live in disordered times and allowances must be made.

After I returned him to his parents it occurred to me that the name Touch Tomorrow could also be a description for older people spending time with their grandchildren.  They literally are tomorrow and by influencing them we make probably the most lasting effect we will have on the future.  Considering all the negative influences on our children from the forces of progressivism I thought about how good it is that we can impact them directly and have fun at the same time.  So, family actually is good for something.  Who knew?

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 1 – Dandelion Wine

 

When I was a kid back in the third quarter of the twentieth century I came upon science fiction in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.  And so I read Heinlein’s and Asimov’s juvenile sf stories.  As I got a little older I was able to borrow from the adult collection and soon discovered all the golden age authors and some of the newer, edgier writers.  But at a certain point I discovered Ray Bradbury.  I remember he had two collections called R is for Rocket, S is for Space.  But when I read them I found out he wasn’t writing space opera.  In fact, some of his stories didn’t seem to be science fiction at all.  At the time, I didn’t know what fantasy was.  They just seemed to be strange stories.  Later on, I found some of his stories showing up on “The Twilight Zone” TV series and this helped me categorize them as something weird and fun.  But whatever I called him Bradbury was different from the other writers I knew.  Each of his stories had to be evaluated on the merits.  Some of his stories lacked fantasy plot elements and at the time these stories seemed lacking in interest.  Others were almost horror stories and these kept my attention best.  Even his most externally identifiable science fiction stories, “The Martian Chronicles,” didn’t feel like other science fiction stories.  Even if there were ray guns and aliens and space ships it didn’t seem as if these were the point of the story.  They were more like parables or morality tales.  And to a kid this was perplexing.  But I always considered Bradbury as something worth reading.  He was high value.

Fast forward twenty years.  It was the late nineteen eighties.  I was in an old used bookstore in Boston during my lunch hour from a design engineering job I had.  I hadn’t read any science fiction in a while.  I was browsing through a pile of books that had been displayed earlier in the year as summer reading.  There was a used hard cover book with a mylar library-type jacket cover on and a cover painting of a little blond haired boy virtually covering the pavement with his chalk drawings of lines and shapes.  The book was called “Dandelion Wine” and the author was Ray Bradbury.  It was a novel length book and it surprised me because I didn’t remember Bradbury writing many novels.  At the time “Fahrenheit 451” was the only one I could think of.

On a lark, I bought it.  I put it on my bookshelf and figured I’d get to it when the project I was on slowed down.  Well I forgot all about that book and before that project slowed down I had changed jobs and was too busy for reading.  It was about nine months later in July, when I picked it up again.  I was going on vacation with my wife and kids to Old Orchard Beach, Maine for a week.  It’s a very working class old beach resort where middle class people go to sit by the ocean and let their kids dig sand castles and swim.  And later on, you can go down to the pier and buy bad pizza and ice cream for your kids and let them get fake tattoos or go down to the amusement park and watch them be centrifuged in the dozen or so kinetic devices that are used to extract dollars from parents and regurgitated food from kids’ stomachs.  The several years I brought my young family there are among the happiest memories I have.

Anyway, when the family settled in the beach house at night and the kids settled down to reading or watching the TV I picked up Dandelion Wine.  And I was surprised to find I had already read it.  But wait, not really, I’d read parts of it.  What Bradbury had done was patch together a number of his older stories along with transition scenes that tied them together, and make a narrative about a summer for a boy and his family and neighbors in Green Town, USA circa 1928.  What it really was, was an ode to the boyhood Ray Bradbury had lived and imagined in Waukegan, Illinois.  He used the memories of his childhood home and passed them through the story writing algorithm in his head and invented a world that struck me as remarkable.  Here were the mundane short stories that as a kid didn’t click with me because there were no monsters or space ships.  Now they were knitted together to talk about what was magical about being a twelve-year-old boy in a small mid-western town in the early twentieth century with three months of summer vacation ahead of you.  They are stories about family and friends and growing up and living and getting old and even dying.  And they are mostly about being a kid.

Since that summer I’ve re-read that book a dozen times in whole or part.  I mostly read it when I have some vacation time in summer.  This year I’ll be sixty.  When I read that book I’m not even sixteen, I’m twelve.  It’s remarkable.  I didn’t grow up in a small town.  I grew up on the relatively mean streets of Brooklyn, NY.  And I was born forty years after him.  But I can understand what he’s saying and feeling in his alter ego character.  He’s captured the essence of boyhood in its quintessential form, summer freedom.  And the setting is a simpler time and place.  It’s idyllic.  Not realistic but almost archetypal.

I imagine there are many for whom this type of story has no appeal.  It’s not high adventure or technical fun.  But if any of this strikes a chord try the book out.

The Shrieking Calliope of Rage

I think Steampunk exists because the steam powered devices of the 19th century were so impressive to the senses.  A steam locomotive fairly writhed with barely latent explosive potential.  Even the safety relief valves that prevented the whole thing from rupturing into a multi-ton shrapnel device assaulted your ears with a screeching shriek that hardly spoke to any sane person’s mind of safety or relief.  This impressiveness transfers well to the written page.  A good writer can weave a word image of the sights and sounds and the feel of the vibrations and even the taste and smell of steam coming off one of these mechanical monsters.  Off the top of my head, I can think of two examples from imaginative works.  The first is the Calliope and Carousel from Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”  The other is in the final scene in the boiler room from King’s “The Shining.”  In both cases the steam powered engine is almost an entity in itself.  A manic energy emanates from it and powers the action of the scene and drives the protagonist to attempt to disarm the menace of his shrieking foe.

So, where am I going with this? Oh come on, you know me by now.  The hissing, sputtering, shrieking machine that threatens at any minute to explode from apoplectic rage is the MSM and its faithful audience.  In the last week or so we have had any number of the usual suspects screaming, crying, cussing and threatening disaster over every and any action of the Administration.  In some ways it is impressive.  To keep up a hissy fit this long is no mean feat.  Some of these individuals are not young and so you’d think the risk of stroke is not negligible.  I’d say the most noteworthy instances to list were Stephen Colbert and Maxine Waters.  Colbert had a meltdown over Trump disrespecting a CBS reporter named Dickerson.  Colbert went into a rant against Trump and used some extremely derogatory sexual comments that even partisans of the left found offensive.  Following that a few days later, he extemporized to his studio audience on the breaking news of FBI Director Comey’s firing and was chagrined when the crowd cheered the news.  He claimed it was the result of a pro-Trump audience.  More likely, his constant attacks on Comey for harming Hillary’s election chances temporarily confused the audience into forgetting that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.  I’m sure he straightened them out on that right away.

Waters took the Comey firing as the one hundredth excuse, to once again, call for the immediate impeachment of Donald Trump. When asked if she would have supported Hillary Clinton firing Comey she said she definitely would.  Wow.

In the olden days B.T. (before Trump), a republican president or Congress would quail and jibber under the endless assault of the outrage machine. A Bush or a McCain would waffle and kowtow to accusations of racism or sexism or just plain ism.  They were a hapless bunch and the Media and the dems knew it.  That’s why they are still hitting this play so hard.  It always yousta work.

We may be in a golden period. A place in time where the libs are still using tactics that no longer work but before they figure out that they actually do real harm to their case.  If this is the case then the trolling of Trump may actually be a very effective way of turning the public against the public positions of the left.  Someone like Colbert blowing a fuse on screen might have a truly revelatory effect if at the same time an unapologetic President is managing to get things done in Washington at the same time.

As the inimitable Vox Day has noted SJWs always double down. If that is the case, then there may come a point when even the somnambulistic public wakes up to the fact that the Left has become a shrieking steam engine whose relief valve has been overwhelmed in furtherance of doubling down.  And with any luck the Left will blow the whole thing sky high or run it right into a brick wall.  If so I can make one last steam analogy reference, “God He stole the handle and the train won’t stop going, no way to slow down.”

Tolkien: A Very, Very Long Story – Part 1 – On the Screen vs. the Mind’s Eye

Okay, The Lord of the Rings, the big enchilada. Tolkien wrote about a half a million words about his war of the ring. His son Christopher has made a cottage industry of publishing every scrap of draft paper that his father ever scribbled and analyzing them as if they were papyrus palimpsests of the lost plays of Sophocles. In the last sixty plus years an unending stream of analysis both professional and personal has been generated about these books. Everything that could be said has been said and about a million times. So, what possible justification is there for me to add to the ocean?

Well, it’s my damn blog and I want to. So, without further ado…

I read the Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve. I was highly impressed. Obviously as I matured my opinion of the story was based on an evolving baseline of experience with fiction and personal experience of the world around me. Over the years my personal preferences among the various characters and scenes have altered somewhat. But my overall opinion of the work is still very high and very enthusiastic.
Over the course of the time I have been a fan of the Lord of the Rings, Hollywood has from time to time attempted to produce motion picture versions of it. Some of these were animated films. One was drawing superimposed over live action frames of film (Ralph Bakshi’s film). Recently a sophisticated live action and CGI combination was produced by Peter Jackson and managed to win the Academy Award for best picture. The relationship between these films and the text is the subject of this post.
I will state categorically that none of the film versions of the Lord of the Rings before Peter Jackson’s version ever succeeded (except in very small sections) in capturing the feeling of the book. The inability to draw the viewer into the reality of the story was always too strong. But in the Jackson version it succeeded.

Okay, here come the qualifiers. Do not confuse the above statement with an unconditional endorsement of every aspect of the movie. There are any number of things about the movie that I object to (some extremely strenuously). For instance, Denethor is rendered as a terrible man. I do not think that reflects Tolkien’s intent or description. Also, some aspects of the treatment of Frodo and Sam’s friendship is oddly portrayed and off-putting. The super human abilities of Legolas seem exaggerated and some of the silly treatment of Gimli are annoying. A hundred little and not so little problems exist.

Getting that out of the way I will say that Jackson’s movies bring the Lord of the Rings alive. In a certain sense these films will give Tolkien’s work a chance to become part of the mythology of the whole human race. Because although millions of people have read the books, billions of people will see the movies. Not every viewer will be impacted deeply by the story but enough of the books comes across in the films that the films will act as an amplifier of the story in the digital realm we now inhabit. So, on balance the Jackson films are a net positive for the Tolkien lovers of the world.

I’ll cut this first Tolkien post short here. After all this is an endless pursuit. Best not to drone on too much. But I’ll end with my opinion on the best scene in the Jackson films. And I’ll specify I’m talking about the extended versions. The best scene is the Ride of the Rohirrim at the Battle of Minas Tirith. It was stirring and well done. Feel free to leave your opinion on the best scene in the comments.

Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer – A Very Short Review (by Proxy)

 

I have a relative, a boy in seventh grade, who is a ravenous reader of science fiction and fantasy (among other things).  Being a conservative and being allergic to anything smacking of political correct narrative fiction I have made it my practice to pass along the older stuff that I grew up on back in the time before fun was banned.  He digests these old books at a rate that seems almost supernatural.  But recently I bought something modern to see how that would fly.

I had heard good things about Dave Freer’s “Changeling’s Island.”  I ordered it on Amazon but instead of the usual two days, it took about two weeks.  I guess it had to be printed on order.  I did a quick read of the first couple of chapters and found it engaging and appropriate for my young reading machine.  I dropped it off a week ago and hoped he would like it.

Well, I spoke with him today and discovered that not only did he like it, he wanted more of the same.  Apparently, this was good stuff.  I told him I didn’t have any more at the moment but would check for more stuff from Freer.  He was unpleased at my unpreparedness to feed the machine with its new fuel of choice.  In desperation, I foisted off a set of the Foundation trilogy on him that I had been holding onto since 1970, and told him I’d try to do better in the future.  So now I have to find out if Freer has any other young adult sf&f available.  If not I’ll be responsible for disappointing the next generation.  Wish me luck.

The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review

Back on March 14th 2017 I reviewed favorably Mr. Vega’s novella “The Pink Beetle”.  That was the third installment of his “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series.”  The Eclectic Prince is the first installment but the grouping is only thematic and not sequential so you may sample in any order.  As I noted in my earlier book review, Mr. Vega has a very distinct writing style.  He makes sudden transitions and violent plot shifts.  His characters are not introspective but very impulsive and action oriented.  The plot progresses rapidly but rarely linearly.

The first piece of information to convey is that this is an adult book.  There is a fair amount of sexual content that would be entirely inappropriate for even teenagers (in my opinion).  And there are some situations that are fairly disturbing from the point of view of conventional social mores.

Now for some personal information as a point of reference on my taste in books.  Full disclosure, I’m not typically a consumer of dark fiction.  I mostly inhabit the sunnier climes of story-telling.  I will indulge in something like Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs if it’s very well written but it’s not my usual fare.

The Eclectic Prince is relatively dark.  There aren’t any good guys to cheer.  The protagonist at various times indulges in violent assault of a stranger and murder of a family friend.  And there are even darker doings that I will not mention so as not to spoil the story.  Suffice it to say he’s not such a nice guy.  And he’s not even justified in the sense that he’s getting revenge on someone who committed a terrible wrong against him.  He’s just a sociopath.

The outline of the story is episodic and consists of different vignettes that are tied together by the fantasy mechanism that underlines the story.  This mechanism isn’t entirely clear from the text and this vagueness adds to the seeming randomness of the plot.

Let me sum it up.  It’s a dark disturbing story of an unsympathetic protagonist, a kind of story that I would not typically choose to read.

But it’s well written, original and engaging in a transgressive way.  Once again Mr. Vega is in the tradition of a noir type story with a fantasy framework to remove the bizarre story from the realm of reality.  This allows some justification for suspending a very heavy bias against such a disagreeable protagonist.  For those who seek out this type of story I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is not for the faint of heart.

I haven’t decided whether to delve deeper into his quartet.  This type of story is, as I stated above, not my typical choice.  But maybe when I’m in a darker mood I’ll venture in again for another dose.

Morning Shmoe 2 – Trump Hates Bannon!!!  Just Saying.

Chris Buskirk over at American Greatness is fast becoming one of my favorite reads.  He had a great article ( https://amgreatness.com/2017/04/15/foolish-choose-morning-joe-crowd-bannon-voters/ ) that has once again inspired me to revisit our friends at Morning Shmoe.

 

Scene: Studio Set at Morning Shmoe

Shmoe Browfurrowed (AKA Morning Shmoe) (MS) – It’s three and a half minutes before the quarter hour and we’re back.  Lycra have you heard the latest evidence about how Trump has already eliminated Steve Bannon and is about to replace him with Barney Frank.

Lycra Spandexy (LS) – No Shmoe, tell me all about it.

MS – Well it’s obvious to anyone paying attention.  Trump is wearing ties.  And as you all know Bannon doesn’t wear a tie.  You do the math!

LS – That’s so true!  Well now that Barney Frank is the virtual president what wonderful changes do you forsee?

MS – As first order of business, Melania will be eliminated as First Lady, either by divorce or deportation and Caitlyn Jenner installed in that position.  Next Ivanka will begin the slow, deliberate process of becoming Ivanko.  After that Trump will begin his transition which will culminate in him grabbing herself.

LS – It just writes itself, doesn’t it Shmoe?

MS – Yeah, sort of.

LS – Shmoe, what do you think caused the original loss of trust between Trump and Bannon.

MS – Well Lycra, we may never truly know but we can speculate.

LS – Can we?

MS – Oh, not only can we but we will.  We’ve still got several hundred words to add before this post is full.

LS – Post?

MS – Nothing, nothing.  Anyway, if you remember during the election it was rumored that Donald Trump had become a werewolf or possibly a loup garou.

LS – Yes, that was definitely a theory that swirled around the press corp.

MS – Well, I recently heard from someone (or possibly from a voice inside my head) that Bannon had become a vampire or some other type of undead.

LS – Well, that would explain a lot of things.

MS – Yes it would Lycra, yes it would.  After all, if Underworld has taught us anything it’s that lycanthropes and vampires are always enemies.  Also, we haven’t seen Bannon during the day recently.  And he is obviously suffering from a skin condition brought on by his vampiric aversion to sunlight.

LS – Of course, why didn’t I realize this before?

MS – Because it’s only obvious after a great mind points it out.

LS – Oh Shmoe, you are wise.  But where do we go from here.  Now that progressives are firmly in charge of the US executive branch again what is the next order of business?

MS – There are so many Obama initiatives that are languishing and that need a few trillions of taxpayer dollars to really perk up.  I would say that a new cabinet level department is the first order of business.  The Department of Black Lives Matter is the unofficial name I heard mentioned (by a voice in my head) but the name is secondary.  The important thing is eliminating this whole law enforcement and justice concept that has somehow infected our government for too long.

LS – Shmoe, that’s marvelous.  And to think, the Trump administration hasn’t even acknowledged Bannon’s departure yet.  What are they waiting for?

MS – I would guess it has to do with the cycles of the moon.  Lycanthrope/vampire interactions are far from an exact science.  My guess is the announcement will occur at the new moon.  That’s April 26th to you normals.

LS – Shmoe, isn’t it great to be living in this best of all possible worlds?

MS – Yes it is Lycra, Yes it is.

 

The Last 1360 Days of the Trump Presidency

Bring ‘em Back Alive by Frank Buck – A Short Review

I’m going to reference this post under both Science Fiction and Fantasy and Current Events.  Under either category an error is being committed.  But that’s the great thing about being the proprietor.  You can break the rules when it suits you.  Frank Buck was a wild animal importer back in the nineteen twenties and thirties.  He brought back never before seen creatures to Europe and America for zoos and circuses and other exhibitors.  He brought in the first Indian rhinos out of Nepal when that country was as isolated and inaccessible as the Moon is now.  His stories are full of hair-raising escapes from tigers and cobras and he fills them with exotic people from India and Southeast Asia.    The language and the characterizations of these non-western people is extremely politically incorrect even by the standards of fifty years ago.  But they are probably closer to reality than the current over-sensitive portrayals of non-western customs in the “thou shalt not offend the non-westerner” popular press.

Now the case for putting this under sf&f is because it ties into the movies King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.  These movies are demonstrably some amalgam of sf&f.  The fantasy of an adventurer heading off into the uncharted jungles of the still partially untamed world and bringing back some fantastic and almost mythological creature is in part based on the popularity of Frank Buck’s stories in “Bring ‘em Back Alive.”  He goes into these jungles and using contacts with the local inhabitants locates and captures these legendary creatures.  Now granted, capturing a verified man-eating tiger or the largest orangutan is a lot less spectacular than fighting dinosaurs or shooting a fifty-foot gorilla off the Empire State Building.  But in the imagination of kids in the 1930s both were more exciting than going to school or working at a shoe factory.

Reading these stories recently, I am struck by the certainty that many of the details have been exaggerated to make the story more exciting.  This is especially true of the poetic justice that catches up to a cruel Maharajah in the story Tiger Revenge.  Also, it is amazing to see how primitive the methods for transporting these amazing creatures were back in the 1920s.  Tropical primates like orangutans were loaded onto freighters that took weeks to cross the Pacific Ocean and the conditions in the hold or on the deck were pretty bad.  Add into this equation storms or even typhoons and it’s amazing that he got anything “back alive.”  If any of the practices employed in those times were used today the ASPCA and the local animal welfare agencies would call for the death penalty for the importers.

But the stories are interesting and exciting on their own terms.  In one story a tiger trapper is caught in his own leg trap.  He is trapped out in the jungle at night with mosquitoes torturing him, ants attacking his wounded leg and the threat of jungle predators all around him with nothing to defend himself with if they attack and no way to escape.  Is the story true.  I doubt there is any way to know.  But the tale is compelling.

There are about twenty of these stories.  Most linked only by the presence of the author and a few other supporting characters like Frank’s Malay “boy” Ali (actually a man in his fifties) who assists him in his adventures and the directors at the zoos and circuses that were his clients.

My father read this book in the 1930s.  He gave it to me in the 1960s.  And I’ve given copies to my grandsons and nephews in the 2010s.  It seems to have a universal appeal to the male animal.  I recommend it highly.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

In the first installment of this post I documented my education into the real world of scientists, how they saved the world from giant mutated insects and invented important stuff like flying cars. That time period was the 1960s. It was a carefree time full of youthful high jinx such as race riots and the Manson Family. Fast forward thirty years to 1993. A little movie came out called Matinee. It was about the 1960s. The movie employs a device that I like to call “a movie within a movie.” It’s called that because within the movie you are watching there is a movie being watched by the characters in the movie! It’s a wild concept.

The name of this internal movie is MANT. That’s a portmanteau for man-ant. The eponymous victim of this movie has been transformed from a man into a hybrid man/ ant creature. Once again radiation is involved and eventually the MANT reaches gigantic proportions. And right on schedule arrives the scientist that has glasses and a beard and explains all the technical jargon about this scientific problem. And by an amazing coincidence it’s our old friend Dr. “You’re Wiser Than We Are” from “The Thing from Another World” (Robert Cornthwaite). I mean, what are the odds? He makes such valuable pronouncements as “human/insect mutations are far from an exact science” and “My friend, you’ve suffered some of the worst that our little friend the atom has to offer. It can power a city or level it!”

I was fascinated by the changes I noted in Cornthwaite between the time he was in “The Thing” and “Mant”. No longer was he sympathetic toward the monsters. His allegiance had shifted back to humanity. I attributed this change to the smoldering resentment he felt after the Thing back-handed him into a wall in the earlier movie. Such ingratitude by the monster pushed our friend back into the Humanity First camp once again. I knew this was valuable information. I wrote it down!
Outside of the movie Mant (but inside of Matinee) a teenage girl (played by Lisa Jakub) is swept up in the drama surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the premiere of Mant) in the southern Florida town of Key West. This girl is the daughter of beatniks and she has her world view changed by exposure to a young Navy brat who also happens to like horror movies. When the movie ends Lisa has gotten over her prejudices against military families and monster movies. What does this have to do with this post? Well it does link us back to the military but hang in there. I have another half-baked segue coming up.
Fast forward to 1998 and a blockbuster called Independence Day erupts onto the cinematic stage. Now it just so happens that there is an ex-Navy pilot named Russel Kay and by a strange coincidence (or is it) his daughter is played by Lisa Jakub! But her love of a navy brat in the last movie has landed her in this movie in a family headed by a delusional alcoholic ex-military flier. Although it’s not apparent how she feels about horror movies she definitely suffers some of the worst of what our friends the aliens have to offer. In Independence Day, the role of scientist is handled by Jeff Goldblum. He is an environmentalist computer scientist who’s always worried about recycling and is totally opposed to nuking the aliens. He’s worried that fallout is worse than extermination of the entire human race by death rays. But by the end of the movie he comes around and cheerfully nukes the aliens on their home base.
I was thinking of dragging this forward by following President Whitmore forward into Lake Placid (well the crocodile is very large) or following Jeff Goldblum into Jurassic Park and Independence Day 2 which has all kinds of scientific mumbo-jumbo and giant creatures but I’m getting tired.
Suffice it to say that even really stupid people and fat-headed scientists can see reality if monsters and giant insects start slapping them around.
And now my patient readers, the payoff.
All of this research has allowed me to formulate a unified theory of scientific behavior. Apparently all scientists are morons and can only learn about reality by being hit over the head by it. Therefore, I propose a new policy. Whenever a scientist dictates a policy based on fat-headed stupidity he should be forced to endure the solution himself until he either sees the error of his way or dies from the paradox of settled science.
For instance, if a climate scientist declares CO2 the death of the planet then he should not produce any of it himself. Now, I don’t propose that he cease breathing. Even though technically respiration is nothing but exchanging O2 for CO2. Let’s just let him slide on the breathing. But that’s all. No internal combustion engines or heating systems or electricity. In fact, nothing produced by technology supported by the industrial revolution. So that also eliminates batteries and solar cells and everything else made in a factory. And finally, I remind everyone that burning coal or oil or even wood produces CO2. So, this scientist is telling us to give up every bit of science going all the way back to the paleolithic age. So, let us limit our friend the scientist to killing fur-bearing animals and eating their flesh and wearing their pelts for warmth. Of course, he’s probably a vegan but we all have to make compromises when inconsistencies crop up.
That’s my plan in a nutshell. It should be amusing to see Al Gore dressed like Fred Flintstone and trying to catch a squirrel for breakfast.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 1

On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid I used to watch Million Dollar Movie on Channel 11 and was able to enjoy such science fiction classics as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”  Right away I figured out that really big creatures that had been exposed to atomic radiation really liked to attack.  But as I became more sophisticated in my sci-fi viewing I eschewed such childish cinematic offerings in favor of more cerebral tales.  No more ridiculous giant crab stories.  I graduated to “Them” which is the realistic depiction of an attack by giant ants exposed to atomic radiation.  In this classic of the fifties I learned that scientists were old and wore glasses and looked like Santa Claus (except for the girl scientists who were young and didn’t even look like Mrs. Claus and tended to end up with the FBI agent who starred in the film, who in this case was James Arness of Gunsmoke fame).  And the best ones had British accents (or at worst New England accents).  Also, no matter what their area of specialization (e.g., physics, botany or myrmecology) they were all equally adept at battling giant creatures exposed to atomic radiation.  And they were full of esoteric and valuable information.  I found out that the plural of antenna wasn’t antennas but rather antennae!  This inspired in me a life-long love of the classical Greek and Latin languages.  And the most important characteristic of scientists was their love of knowledge.  Because of this thirst for knowledge, they were willing to venture into tunnels and basements where even the ubiquitous soldiers in their WWII vintage uniforms were afraid to go.  It also meant the scientists were very likely to be munched on by the mutant du jour of the story.  But you know, science.  So that is how I came to admire scientists.  They were cool and smart too.  And they always, always, always figured out how to kill the monsters.

But one Saturday, Million Dollar Movie was playing another sci-fi film, “The Thing from Another World.”  I was suspicious at first.  If it was from another world how did it get here?  Had it been exposed to atomic radiation?  Would there be enough scientists?  These doubts plagued me.  But I decided to give it a whirl.  Encouraging signs emerged quickly.  The creature was indeed radioactive and there was a whole passel of scientists assigned to this movie.  One of them even had a New England accent so things seemed to check out.  And reassuringly the US military was available for monster eradication duty once the scientists had done the heavy lifting of analysis.  Early on a problem arose.  This creature was man shaped.  He was bald and had strange hands with hypodermic finger nails.  But he was no more than eight feet tall.  This was highly irregular and seemed to throw into doubt his qualifications for his own movie.  Also the scientists in this movie were extremely assertive and gave the military officers a lot of lip.  And it seemed they didn’t know their primary function, figure out how to kill the monster.  This was very confusing.  The leader of the scientists kept saying that regardless of how many humans the creature killed, science demanded that no force should be used against it.  He kept saying (in a really annoying intonation) that the creature “is wiser than we are” and that “it’s our duty to die to preserve the knowledge this creature possesses.”  Even as a youngster I intuited that this head scientist was what we called back then “a loser.”  How could this be?  He was a scientist!  He had the answers.  I found this very puzzling and dispiriting.  I searched for some reason for this failure on the scientist’s part to want to kill the monster.  Eventually I developed an hypothesis based on a detailed comparison of “Them” and “The Thing from Another World.”  At first glance nothing jumped out.  But once I checked the cast members it all became clear.  As mentioned above, in “Them” the part of the FBI Agent and eventual boyfriend of the scientist’s daughter is played by James Arness of “Gunsmoke” fame.  It turned out that the part of the Thing was played by none other than James Arness!  Well obviously if Arness was the prospective son-in-law of one scientist, then it stood to reason that a fellow scientist would not turn on him.  What was at work here was the kind of professional courtesy that, for instance, police confer on each other’s family members.  Now it made perfect sense.  Crisis averted.  I could become a scientist without becoming a loser.  But I was troubled by all that talk of monsters being wiser than us.  And not killing them but instead letting them kill us.  It was very strange.

Fast forward forty years.  I work as an engineer.  I am surrounded by R&D PhDs.  They all look and sound like the head scientist in “The Thing from Another World.”  They drive Priuses and have Tolerance and Coexist, Bernie and Free Tibet bumper stickers on their cars.  And suddenly it all makes sense.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2