Healthy Skepticism and Critical Thinking

Posted on November 21st, 2006 in Commentary by EngineerBoy

When I was in middle school we studied about a new ship built by Howard Hughes that was going to harvest nickel and manganese nodules off of the ocean floor. We learned that volcanic and tectonic processes had littered the ocean floor with hardened globs of nearly pure nickel, manganese, and other various metals, and that harvesting them with a specialized ship would be cheaper and more ecologically friendly than traditional mining and smelting.

We learned that the engineers at Hughes’ ship company had developed radical new technology that could be lowered from a surface ship to the deep parts of the ocean floors, and to identify and snag said nodules and haul them to the surface. The prototype nodule harvesting ship was called the Glomar Explorer. It was all very cool and interesting to science geek like me, and the nerd factor combined with the always mysterious and reclusive Howard Hughes made this subject incredibly interesting to me and my cohorts.

However, a year or so after learning all about the Glomar Explorer and the natural forces that created metal nodules, I then learned that the entire story was a lie. Well, not all of it, just the purpose of the ship was a lie – the ship itself had indeed been built for the purposes of retrieving stuff from deep ocean waters. However, what it was designed to do was to retrieve a sunken Soviet nuclear sub so that US intelligence could get their hands on it.

The short version of the story is that the US knew that a Soviet nuclear sub called the K-129 had sunk in water so deep that conventional wisdom said it was forever lost. However, the CIA wanted to get their hands on the sub, but were unable or unwilling to go through normal governmental channels to try to develop the technology needed to recover it. So, they contacted reclusive, patriotic billionaire Howard Hughes, and he agreed to put his not inconsiderable wealth and the technical expertise of his engineers to work developing a way to snag the sub. You can read a lot more about the Glomar Explorer here.

To say I was flabbergasted to learn the truth would be an understatement. I had been taught about the Glomar Explorer in school by my teachers, for crying out loud. Authority figures. Trustworthy elders. But they had been duped along with me. Yes, manganese nodules existed on the ocean floor, but not in quantities that would make it worthwhile to harvest. And yes, Hughes built the Glomar Explorer to grab stuff from the ocean floor with a giant claw. But that was all a cover story, which cracked within a year or so and the truth came out.

To top it all off, during the time that all of this was happening the US was also losing its political innocence via the Watergate break-in and cover up. I won’t

Borat (***½)

Posted on November 4th, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Holy sacred cow, what a hilarious movie! I’ve never seen Da Ali G Show nor the character of Borat created by Sacha Baron Cohen (other than in all the ads for this film). We went to go see it tonight based on the universally positive reviews, coupled with the hilarity of the clips in the ads and talk shows, and the film definitely lived up to, and even exceeded, our expectations. To put it into context, we walked out of this movie and I immediately got on the phone with my friend Bruce to tell him to go see this film. I can’t remember the last time I did that, if ever, and Bruce is my movie-watching-hermano to whom I would NOT make such a recommendation lightly.

Borat (the film) is smartly dumb and dumbly smart, whereas Borat (the character) is a Frankenstein’s monster amalgamation of Christianity, Islam, Judaism (…NOT!), Eurasian, nomad, disco dancer, sex machine, journalist, pilgrim, and tabula rasa. The parts don’t fit together well, but through the sheer force of his laserlike dumbness, Borat manages to orchestrate his many facets into a compellingly hilarious and sympathetic whole.

I’m struggling in this review not to give away plot points and gags, as they should be experienced without preamble, but suffice it to say that I don’t believe there is a single major taboo that is not broken, nor a single demographic group that is not mocked in this film. And mocked effectively. Borat holds a mirror up to “America”, to our faults and to our greatness, and the dissection is as painful to watch as it is revelatory and uproarious. The theater literally screamed with laughter during the vast majority of the film, and there were times when I had to simply look away as my sensibilities couldn’t take any more, and I’m a pretty jaded, worldly, not-easily-offended movie-goer.

Almost lost in the film is the absolutely pitch-perfect portrayal of Borat by Cohen. Cohen reaches Spinal Tap levels of believability, where you easily forget that what you are seeing is a double fake-out…a mock documentary about a completely fictional character. When Borat and his producer scream heated gibberish at each other, I don’t know what they are saying, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with what’s being portrayed by the English subtitles, and it’s probably some amalgamation of nonsense and Hebrew (Cohen is Jewish), but it sure *sounds* like what I, as an ignorant American, would expect a Kazakstani to sound like.

Just to be clear about this review and film, I’m not the arrested-adolescent type who laughs at crude jokes simply because I find them funny. Borat is the offensive joke as an art form and as social commentary. If you go see this film, and you should, be prepared to be horrified and disgusted and to laugh yourself to tears and to walk out wiping your eyes and having conversations about human nature, bigotry, international relations,