Sunday, November 23, 2008

Unexpectedly Great Movie

My wife and I rented The Visitor from Blockbuster because we thought it sounded interesting.  I didn't know anything about it.  I don't ordinarily enjoy movies with a message, but after watching this movie, I wholeheartedly recommend watching it.  Maybe you don't care about the plight of immigrants in America.  But you should.  Our nation was built by immigrants, and only selfishness and delusions of grandeur make us think otherwise.  If you don't care about the plight of immigrants, I beg you to watch this movie with an open mind.

I leave you with two quotes from two of the smartest men ever to run our country:

We set this nation up . . . to vindicate the rights of man. We did not name any differences between one race and another. We opened our gates to all the world and said: “Let all men who want to be free come to us and they will be welcome."

- Woodrow Wilson, July 4, 1914

America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.

- James Madison, August 13, 1787

I hope we never forget that we are a nation of immigrants, indebted to immigrants, descended of immigrants.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Late Night TV for All

Continuing on my Michael Crichton theme . . . A&E is airing a made-for-TV version of the Crichton classic The Andromeda Strain.  Although A&E bills it as starring Benjamin Bratt, fans of good television will recognize the faces of Christa Miller, fondly known as Jordan Cox on the great Scrubs, and Daniel Dae Kim, otherwise known as Jin Kwon in what may be the greatest television show of all time, LOST.

If you hurry, tonight's second airing starts in six minutes (as of this writing).

UPDATE: I am happy to announce that none other than Eric McCormack (Will of Will & Grace) and Rick Schroder (Nurse Paul Flowers for 4 episodes of Scrubs) are also on the cast.  Stay tuned for more excitement.

Crichton on Science

My junior year, I wrote a paper about C. Wright Mills's book, The Power Elite.  While writing that paper, I learned and thought more about power than I ever had before.  Power is a fascinating topic.  As always, Michael Crichton contributes to the discussion:

"You know what's wrong with scientific power?"  Malcolm said.  "It's a form of inherited wealth.  And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are.  It never fails."

Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"

Harding made a sign, indicating delirium.  Malcolm cocked his eye.

"I will tell you what I am talking about," he said.  "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power.  There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years.  Whatever kind of power you want.  President of the company.  Black belt in karate.  Spiritual guru.  Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort.  You must give up a lot to get it.  It has to be very important to you.  And once you have attained it, it is your power.  It can't be given away: it resides in you.  It is literally the result of your discipline.

"Now, what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely.  So that kind of power has a built-in control.  The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.

"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline.  You read what others have done, and you take the next step.  You can do it very young.  You can make progress very fast.  There is no discipline lasting many decades.  There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored.  There is no humility before nature.  There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy.  Cheat, lie, falsify---it doesn't matter.  Not to you, or to your colleagues.  No one will criticize you.  No one has any standards.  They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.

"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly.  You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it.  And the buyer will have even less discipline than you.  The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity.  The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."

Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"

Ellie nodded.

"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.

"I'll make it simple," Malcolm said.  "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands.  He does not lose his temper and kill his wife.  The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special.  And that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits.  And that is why you think that to build a place this is simple."

"It was simple," Hammond insisted.

"Then why did it go wrong?"

Jurassic Park, (New York: Ballantine Books 1993), pp. 306-07.

I quoted that at length just in case you, like me, remembered Jurassic Park as just an interesting book about dinosaurs.  There's some serious criticism of modern science in there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thought for the Day

I think all the professors who are banning laptops from their classrooms read Jurassic Park.  The movie is excellent; the book is even better.  Way back in 1990, Michael Crichton wrote:

In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.

Back then, people probably thought he was an alarmist.  Maybe some people still do.  "Laptops help you think by putting information at your fingertips!"  Or maybe they just help you take down every single word the professor says, which is way too much information to be helpful.

Or, and I'm walking out on a limb here, maybe you just want to chat with your friends and check your email.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

R.I.P. Mr. Crichton

Michael Crichton has left the planet.

I remember in fifth grade, watching my brother violently react when my mom interrupted his reading of Jurassic Park.  "Have you ever been so into a book that when somebody rips you out of it you feel like throwing up?"  I got the video game for Christmas that year and watched the movie a billion times.  Then in eighth grade, I finally opened the book and read for days.

In college, I branched out and read The Andromeda Strain.  I thought that I had read better books, but I also thought it had a really interesting premise.  I read Rising Sun, The Terminal Man, and A Case of Need before I stumbled on one of my favorite novels of all time: Sphere.  In my account, Sphere is one of only two books I honor with five out of five stars.  Later, I gave The Great Train Robbery and Travels four stars.

I'm in the process of reading the seven novels of his I haven't read yet.  They don't always rival Shakespeare, but they're always exciting and always interesting and always fun.  I can't say that Mr. Crichton was a good friend of mine, but I can say that I have enjoyed the hours I've spent reading his work.

If nothing else, I hope Mr. Crichton would be honored by my saying that he's the kind of writer who makes me want to write novels.