Presently, our only tangible research into the cultural and societal impacts of extra-terrestrial life arriving on Earth seems limited to the fanciful concoctions from the Hollywood daydream machine. Will aliens greet us with a peaceful hand-gesture like they did to that pig-owner guy in the Star Trek movie? Will they fire up the blasters and devastate our cities like that movie where the Fresh Prince teams up with that jazz singer?
Actually, people – and I’m talking about educated people who probably wear business attire to work – have put time and effort into calculating precisely how our society would react to a party of interstellar visitors. Given the unlikelihood of this ever occurring, one could make the argument that the dude who stacks salad plates at your local Sizzler is contributing more to the smooth functioning of society than these educated folks, but I’m not here to make that argument. I’m just the messenger.
When it comes to the purported existence of our little green friends, I find it unfathomably selfish to believe we’re the only slabs of meat who have put together a society in this vast universe. I also believe it likely that someone else has fashioned some sort of tin can (or whatever they have in place of tin) and blasted into space. But to believe they’ll stumble upon us, or even care to say hi if they do? That’s where my credulity glides off the track. Still, it’s fun to daydream.
And always smart to keep some just-in-case signage lying around.
For thirty years, the SETI Institute (that’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence for you acronym-lovers) has been using science, research and speculation to look into the likelihood and nature of possible ETs who might drop by unannounced. The first part of the discussion centers around how they contact us. Do they send us a coded message like the ones we’ve launched into deep space? Do they take over our computer systems and implant a digital hello on Google’s front page? Or will they do a pop-in, no prior call, completely oblivious to the fact that we already made plans to watch the game with some old friends from college? Read more…
On June 29, 2009, District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernie Madoff to a whopping 150 years in prison for defrauding thousands of investors and ripping off more than $65 billion for his own pocket from people who presumably actually worked for that money. Madoff had committed an act of wickedness that would make any Bond villain shake their heads in filthy humbled admiration, but Judge Chin’s sentence was a headline unto itself. The federal probation office had suggested fifty years. Madoff’s lawyers had asked for twelve.
At the time, I questioned the reasoning behind sentencing a 70-year-old man to 150 years in prison. Fifty would have been plenty to ensure he died behind bars, even if Bernie had been spending giant globs of that $65 billion on youth-juice injection treatments. One hundred years would have been sufficient to deliver a message to any would-be Ponzi-cookers out there that the benchmark standard for such schemery was death in the joint, even with time off for good behavior. But 150?
It’s a glorious fuck-you to Madoff’s great-great-great-great grandkids, a permanent etching of shame upon the family name. But even as far as prison sentences go, Madoff’s lengthy booking is far from the longest ever handed down. His crimes may have been more despicable than those committed by some of the others on this list, but I guess it’s all a question of who you piss off.
Velupillai Prabhakaran had a dream. He wanted to create a peaceful Tamil state just northeast of Sri Lanka, a gift unto his people, albeit with himself as the corruptible, mustachioed leader-for-life. He founded the Tamil Tigers, an organization dedicated to achieving this goal through violent means if necessary (which, as it turned out, was constantly necessary). 32 countries called Velupillai’s organization a terrorist group. After an unsuccessful attempt at peace talks broke down, Velupillai was killed in a clash with the Sri Lankan army. Read more…
The secret to business success lies in making good decisions. I have no doubt that thousands of qualified individuals could offer monumentally wiser business advice than this, but in that most general, inarguable, obvious-even-to-a-schmuck-like-me way, it all comes down to decisions.
Some culture-shaping decisions were outright brilliant, like JVC and Microsoft spreading VHS and Windows around numerous manufacturers while Sony and Apple kept the Betamax and Macintosh systems to themselves, leading to one’s demise and the other’s miniscule 1990’s market share. Other business decisions, like my choice to devote at least two hours of each of my days over this thousand-day period to producing articles for free public consumption online – not so much.
That’s okay, I can live with it. So what if this project floats gratuitously among the ether, leaving no significant residue upon my personal net worth? It’s art. Art that is smattered with Cliff-Claven-esque trivia and poop jokes, so the best kind of art. And besides, as far removed from savvy fiscal acumen as I may be, at least I can pride myself on not having made the bonehead decisions these folks did.
Meet Dick. Dick was a successful producer in the 1950’s. By 1962 he was a proud A&R man (that’s ‘Artists & Repertoire’ – the guy who screens potential acts) at Decca Records in England. On a blustery New Year’s Day, Dick sat in the studio as a hopeful young quartet from Liverpool tried to dazzle him with their sound, one which had already billowed many a swoon into excitable young women (and even men) in the northern towns. Those men were John, Paul, George and Pete Best, and they proceeded to make Dick famous.
Famous for flubbery, that is. Dick Rowe told the group’s manager Brian Epstein that guitar groups were “on the way out”, and he turned them down cold. It would take a few months for the Beatles to become the biggest group in the country and years before Dick was able to scrape away all the solidified egg from his face. Read more…
For those of you who are already sick of hearing Star Wars news, I’ve got bad news for you: that incessant buzz is only going to get louder over the next 22 months. Also, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s Star Wars! My inner 8-year-old, the one who was allowed to cut school in the third grade to see Return of the Jedi at the old Westmount Theater will remain clasped between the sweaty palms of anticipation and hope until the opening swell of John Williams’ score blasts into my ears on opening night.
After that moment, it doesn’t matter. The prequel trilogy taught me that nothing is going to match the quasi-religious power those initial three films had on me as a child. And if you take out that floppy-eared Gungan and the insipid discussion of how sand gets everywhere, there’s a lot to enjoy in those prequels: the three-way lightsaber duel in Part I, watching Yoda kick some ass in Part II and the devastating Jedi slaughter in Part III for example. And J.J. Abrams has already given me the Star Trek films I always wanted to see – taffy-thick with action, thrills and explosions.
So I will line up for Episode VII tickets, and I will do so without expectation that it will bump in front of The Empire Strikes Back on my all-time list. I offer no apologies to you philistines whose eyes are straining mid-roll as I add to the noise of the pre-pre-pre-film hype. I’ve waited a long time for this.
While shooting the first film in Tunisia in 1976, George Lucas confided in Mark Hamill that he planned to shoot four trilogies. Lucas had already spliced his initial script into three movies, and had received a guarantee from 20th Century Fox that he’d get to make the two sequels for them. When Mark asked what his involvement would be in the later films, George told him he might have a cameo role as Old Luke in Episode IX, which George anticipated might shoot around 2011. Read more…
The trailer begins: “In a world… that looks strikingly familiar…”
We exist in a vacuum of repetition. No less than 35 sequels are plopping their predictable posteriors into theatres in 2013. This is bankable income for Hollywood studios – they know we’ll drop thirteen bucks on Grown-Ups 2, if only to keep Adam Sandler from making a sequel to Jack & Jill.
At what point does a series become ripe for mockery? When does another entry turn a film series into a flagrant violation of cultural decency, a transparent money-grab that soils the work that came before it? I don’t believe that the lesser entities that have followed The Hangover have demoted it from being one of the funniest films of the past decade, but they haven’t helped. Terminator 2: Judgment Day showed that a sequel could surpass its predecessor, but is anyone really looking forward to the fifth movie?
I’m not here to pick nits over every multi-film series out there. No, I’m just curious about the films with more than ten entries. Is this necessary? Is there such a dearth of original content out there? And most importantly, can we please as a society stop watching those Human Centipede movies before they reach this category?
If we allow TV movies to count, then the 1971 Richard Roundtree film Shaft was the first in a series of eleven films. CBS hoisted a softer, gentler, more police-friendly version of the character on seven Tuesday nights during the 1973-74 season before tossing the concept into the trash heap. Samuel L. Jackson’s 2000 reboot counts as number eleven in this series. Read more…
“Where is everybody?”
So declared physicist Enrico Fermi over lunch with some colleagues in the midst of a discussion about the possibility of extra-terrestrial life on other planets. The ensuing talk led Fermi to conclude that by now (or, by then, in 1951) our planet should be splattered with the tentacle-prints of far-off civilizations, or at least a minor tourist stop on the side of some interstellar highway. Here’s Fermi’s logic:
The sun is pretty young; there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our little yellow sky-ball. Some of those stars will have planets, and assuming Earth is typical and not a one-in-infinity happenstance, some of those planets may develop intelligent life. Since we’re looking into interstellar travel as the next (some would say ‘final’) frontier, we can assume folks on other worlds would feel the same. And once the hurdle of interstellar travel is conquered, the galaxy should be totally colonized in a few tens of millions of years.
So where the hell is everybody?
This is what Earl Holliman wanted to know in the first episode of The Twilight Zone
With all our years of star-scoping and Hubbling, we have yet to find any evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, and apart from the tales of some anally-probed farmers in the American Midwest, we have no trace of their presence here on earth. This is the heart of the Fermi Paradox – given the size and age of the universe, there should be a heap of intelligent beings scooting around, yet there is no evidence to support it. Read more…