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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/18/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 25, Whole Number 1576
Table of Contents
Science Fiction Vs. Reality (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
"Renown physicist Dr Michio Kaku says that the world of science fiction may be closer to reality than fantasy." [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8221009.stm]
I thought that was the idea. Fantasy is further from reality. [-mrl]
The Lake Peigneur Disaster (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I read an article recently about the Lake Peigneur Disaster, which surely has to be one of the weirdest man-made disasters ever in the United States. Don't worry. There were no human fatalities. The whole thing was just an embarrassing mistake. It all happened in Lake Peigneur, near New Iberia in Louisiana, in the early morning of November 21, 1980.
It seems Texaco was drilling into and below the lake looking for petroleum. They were hoping there were some untapped oil reserves below the lake. There were none for quite a distance down. And whatever was down there was not as firm at the drillers had expected. Their drill bit had gotten stuck about 1200 feet down and the whole drilling platform was starting to collapse. Not to worry. The lake was only 11 feet deep. They would just pick up the pieces of the platform fell over. What could possibly go wrong?
There were people who knew better than they did what really was down where they were drilling, just other people. The people who were really the experts on what was below the lake were the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. They knew what was under the lake was salt. They knew because they had dug this big mine down there to take out the salt. It was not as dangerous as it sounded because there were large compacted layers between them and the lake above their heads. The roof above their heads was actually fairly secure under normal conditions. However, this big drill bit coming into the roof was not what they were considering to be one of your normal conditions. Back on the topside the drillers abandoned their shifting platform and made for shore. The platform was worth about five million dollars, but it couldn't go very far because the lake was so shallow. But then it dropped in the water out of sight, something that seemed impossible. And where it had gone down there was a whirlpool forming. Sort of like what you get when you un-stopper a bathtub. The whirlpool was about 1300 feet in diameter and it was spinning faster as time passed.
Meanwhile in the mine some 1500 feet below alarms started ringing, warning the fifty miners present to get out as fast as they could. Water was flooding in. The elevators only went down 1300 feet and when miners climbed to it they were blocked by water. There was only a 14-inch diameter hole at first, but it was a hole in salt. That's "salt" as in "water soluble salt." Miners made it out by mine carts and diesel powered vehicles as their mine filled with water. Apparently well-trained in evacuation techniques, all fifty miners made it home that day.
Meanwhile, the quiet shallow little lake sucked down another oil platform as well as a dock and about seventy acres of land. Previously a twelve-mile canal carried water from the lake to the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently the water got a better offer and started going in the opposite direction carrying gulf water to the lake and down into the mine. The water pulled in eleven barges with it. It took about three hours for the 3.5 billion gallons of water to drain from the lake into the mines. Salt water continued to flow from the gulf into the previously freshwater lake. It now was a 1300-foot deep saltwater lake instead of an eleven-foot deep freshwater lake.
Total casualties were three dogs who were caught up in the flooding water. No human injuries were reported. And of the eleven barges dragged into the lake, nine eventually popped to the surface and could be reclaimed.
There was not enough left to determine who had made the mistake, but Texaco and the drillers paid about $35 million in compensation.
My thanks to Wikipedia () http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Peigneur) and especially to Alan Bellows of DamnInteresting.com (). [-mrl] http://tinyurl.com/Peigneur-Lake). [-mrl]
Who Goes to College (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
There has been some discussion lately of the number of people who are going to college who are ill-prepared for it, or just not college material. This is apparently not a new phenomenon, as this excerpt indicates:
"I fancy'd I was travelling over pleasant and delightful Fields and Meadows, and thro' many small Country Towns and Villages; and as I pass'd along, all Places resounded with the Fame of the Temple of Learning: Every Peasant, who had wherewithal, was preparing to send one of his Children at least to this famous Place; and in this Case most of them consulted their own Purses instead of their Childrens Capacities: So that I observed, a great many, yea, the most part of those who were travelling thither, were little better than Dunces and Blockheads. Alas! alas!"
And who wrote this? Benjamin Franklin, writing as "Silence Dogood", in the 1720s. [-ecl]
CAPSULE: Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in Clint Eastwood's story of how Nelson Mandela used rugby football to unite a South Africa that some say was on the verge of civil war. Mandela urges the captain of the national rugby team, the Springboks, to mold his team into one that can win the World Cup. The story is just a little too straightforward and predictable with Eastwood apparently too anxious to concentrate on too much detail of the final game. Anthony Peckham's screenplay, based on the book by John Carlin, tells its predictable story without putting too much spin on the ball. But if the story is obvious, at least Eastwood makes it sufficiently rousing and at the same time a spiritual experience. Some viewers may have problems understanding the South African accents. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In 1994 Nelson Mandela, formerly an anti-apartheid political prisoner for 27 years, was elected President of South Africa. Many who supported apartheid believed that the country would fall apart under the race hatred between the blacks and the whites. Some even wanted or expected civil war. Mandela could have taken his election as a mandate and implemented a policy that would have been "winner-take-all". Instead he wanted desperately to unite his country. He refused to oust whites from their offices and chose to forget the past and continue the government in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is not mentioned in the film but Mandela made as his deputy Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former President, and Mandela's one-time political enemy.
One of the symbols of apartheid was the entirely white (with one exception) national rugby team, the Springboks. In the earlier days the whites of the country always rooted for the Springboks; the blacks, including Mandela, always rooted against them. His own party supported disbanding the team, at this point a losing team anyway. Mandela saw he might be able to use the team to unite blacks and whites. He encouraged Francois Pienaar, the team captain, to forge his team into a winning force that could take the Rugby World Cup the following year. INVICTUS is the story of Mandela's political efforts to heal South Africa and of the team's efforts to remold itself into a winning team.
There is no question at all where this film is going from the beginning. It is one of the most standard plots in film to show why it is important for the team of losers to win and then have the story build up to the "big game." In this case it really happened that way in real life. In MILLION DOLLAR BABY Eastwood took a standard sports plot and then did things entirely original with it. And in that film the fight sequences were relatively brief. Here he does little that would surprise anyone with a passing knowledge of Mandela's story.
Actually INVICTUS is two related films: one of Mandela's struggle to unite his country and one of the team preparing for and playing the World Cup game. The sports story is strictly by the numbers, building to an extended dramatization of the crucial game. This is a lot like any number of films about American football, but the sport is rugby so there is a real surfeit of shots of players piling up on each other with the camera filming their most unflattering angle. Pienaar (played by Matt Damon, who has the build of an athlete and does a good South African accent) brings little to the role that some deserving lesser-known South African actor could not have. Of course the real star is Morgan Freeman who just occasionally sounds like he slips out of his affected South African accent. He looks the role and does a good job, though probably not much of a stretch from his usual man-of-great- dignity characters.
The film follows three or four mixed-race groups of people. At the beginning each still has the spirit of apartheid, but as the film progresses they come closer together ignoring their racial differences. For example, we see Mandela's mixed-race team of bodyguards with the blacks and white wanting nothing to do with each other. But by the end of the film they are close friends playing ball together.
The story here is as predictable as would be another production of "Hamlet", but it is cogently told and rousing. In spite of its obvious, but historically accurate, arc I rate INVICTUS a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It is probably more than simple coincidence that Eastwood is making this film at this time. I think this film is more than Eastwood just giving us a profile in courage. There are obvious parallels to another man who is the first black President of his own divided country and who working hard to bring together his supporters and his former political rivals in a spirit that was perhaps inspired by Nelson Mandela.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1057500/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/invictus/
The title of the film comes from the poem that Mandela found meaningful and which he used to strengthen himself during his long years of confinement. For those who want the poem, here is "Invictus" by English poet William Ernest Henley. The title is Latin for "unconquered".
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
Logarithms (letter of comment by Dave Anolick):
In response to Mark's comments on Casio and logarithms in the 12/11/09 issue of the MT VOID, Dave Anolick writes, "I'm sorry, I can't resist the obvious response to 'Casio and the Fabulous Logarithm': Wow!! ... Doesn't this nerd have anything better to do?" [-da]
To which Mark responds:
I thought it was pretty impressive. Let me respond with two quotes.
"Senor Commander: I do not blame your disgust: a picture gallery is a dull place for a blind man." --Don Juan in George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell."
"My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement." --Patricia in John Patrick Shanley's JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO
Steeplechases (letter of comment by Kathy Robinson):
In response to Mark's comments on steeplechases in the 12/11/09 issue of the MT VOID, Kathy Robinson writes:
What is dangerous for one person/animal is not necessarily dangerous for another. I would break many bones if I tried downhill skiing, but many people love it and do it sucessfully. Also, just because you personally don't care for steeplechasing or horse racing in general is not a good reason to ban it for everyone. I happen to think that automobile racing is a great waste of resources ... but that doesn't mean that I think it should be banned. Believe me, I am very passionate about taking the proper care of animals and not abusing them. However, there is a big difference between animal welfare and animal rights, and the people who are forcing this type of legislation are animal rights people who do not actually care at all about animal welfare (although they are using people's desire to do the best for animals to their advantage). Perhaps "slippery slope" was not the best wordage I could have used, but it is very true that HSUS and PETA are working for a future in which no one owns or has any interaction whatsoever with animals. This can be easily discovered by investigating the actual philosophy of the leaders of these organizations. This is a very different goal than actually making sure that animals are treated humanely. Unfortunately, the Australia ban came about after people who didn't understand (and didn't care to understand) the sport forced a change in fence construction that was ostensibly safer but in fact just the opposite. Once it seemed that the sport was even more unsafe than before, that fact was used to justify banning the sport entirely. Thousands of people and animals are losing their livelihood and the trickle down will affect economically even those not directly involved (like the feedman, the farriers, etc). What do you think is going to happen to all the horses involved in racing? The lucky few will be retrained and re-homed, the rest will end up on the slaughter trucks. I don't think that most people who voted for the ban intended for that to happen, but the reality is that that is what will happen. I also do not believe that the voting populace will stop a trend that is getting out of hand ... it is too easy to manipulate people and even in the internet age, bad information or the "big lie" is too easy to make happen. It happened right here in the community that my library is located in. The new mayor was elected after he sent a letter full of disinformation and downright exaggerations about crime in the community. The fear-mongering and disinformation he spread were swallowed by just enough people that he won the election. I could also point to many instances in history where minority extreme views and behavior took over, but that is probably a discussion for another time. [-kr]
Kathy, you and I have been good friends for a long time, but this is an issue that I think we have to disagree on. As with most people, there are many sports I do not care for but which I do not oppose. When I made my comments about steeplechasing it was not because I did not care for the sport, but because it was an activity that endangered the horses and their riders. The following is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Steeplechasing:
"Jumps racing has been phased out in all states in Australia except for Victoria and South Australia. This was the result of a federal senate select committee inquiry into animal welfare in 1991, which concluded that jumps racing should be phased out on the grounds of cruelty. The NSW government banned jumps racing in 1997.
Since that recommendation, over 250 horses have been killed in jumps races in Australia. Three horses died in May 2009 during the Warrnambool jumps racing carnival. The 2009 season, which began in March, has resulted in five deaths in Victoria and two in South Australia, though only five of the deaths were directly the result of actual falls. Five occurred in hurdle races, one in a steeplecase and one in a trial. However the fatality rate has decreased from over 20 deaths annually before 2002 to an average of 8 up until 2008 since the introduction of new safety measures."
It may be that many of these fatalities were the result of a mistake in fence construction. I see very little reason to believe that another similar mistake cannot be made in the future or that is not even now being made or that even with the fence construction you advocate the horses are safe from danger in steeplechasing.
I am not writing this as an advocate for HSUS or PETA. I am speaking for myself. I am not presenting a plan for the what should be done with current horses being ridden in steeplechases. And I know nothing of your library system. But what am I saying?
I am merely pointing out that an institution in which horses are forced, encouraged, or coaxed to endanger their own lives by jumping over hurtles with the weight of a human on their back is to me (as one person) morally offensive. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A while ago I bought a couple of books in the "Yale Chronicles of America" series. One was THE SEQUEL OF APPOMATTOX by Walter Lynwood Fleming, on which I commented in the 06/12/09 issue of the MT VOID. The other was WASHINGTON AND HIS COLLEAGUES by Henry Jones Ford (no ISBN). It is not a description of the various people Washington knew, even though that is what it sounds like. The subtitle gives a hint: "The Rise and Fall of Federalism". It is in fact a study of the first dozen years or so of the United States and specifically how the Congress, the President, and the Cabinet interpreted their roles (and each other's) under the new and as yet somewhat ambiguous Constitution. For example, could the President remove a Cabinet officer without the approval of Congress? What was the Federal responsibility towards the debts owned by states, or to individuals by foreign entities? It is interesting to see Ford observations about what the hundred and thirty years between Washington's administration and Ford's time have shown about the decisions that were made, and even more to see that much of what troubled the Founding Fathers is still a source of contention today. For example, Alexander Hamilton had a lot of proposals, a lot of ideas and plans, while Thomas Jefferson seemed to fall into the position of nay-sayer: he never had a counter- proposal to solve a problem, but instead merely opposed what Hamilton suggested. Or as Ford says, "Hamilton was clear, positive, and decided as to what to do and how to do it. Jefferson was active in finding objections but not in finding ways and means of action. This contrast became sharper as time went on, and, as Washington was in a position where he had to do something, he was forced to rely on Hamilton more and more."
[I am reminded of a favorite quote from the film THE LIBERTINE. "Anyone can oppose, it's fun to be against things, but there comes a time when you have to start being for things as well." -mrl]
The Middletown science fiction group recently discussed the book and 1954 movie TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. I've commented on it before (in the 09/01/06 issue of the MT VOID), but will add that every time I see the breathing apparatus I think about how the basic item the prop people used was a rural mailbox. I also noticed what a poor design the brig was--*all* the door latches were within reach of the door's window. (Apparently they were not expecting prisoners to break the window, reach through, and unlock the door from the outside.) And the underwater tunnel had no currents (unlike that in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, and probably in just about any real-life oceanic underwater tunnel).
The Nautilus also made me think of some of the iconic film designs:
Can anyone come up with more? [-ecl]
[I would add:
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain. -- Jacques Hadamard
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