June / July 2004

badastronomy.com

http://www.badastronomy.com - hosted by Philip Plait

Phil Plait is an astronomer at Sonoma State University in California devoted to ferreting out examples of what he calls "bad astronomy" both in science and in the media, including the movies, TV and the news. His site is a treasure trove of information - and torn-apart mis-information - about science in general and astronomy in particular. There are mini-tutorials, debunkings of popular misconceptions and obfuscations (see in particular his many pages ripping a new one for Richard Hoagland, purveyor of most of the "face on Mars" silliness), links off to NASA sites, and lots more. As he himself says, "Recently I have become more interested in the history of science, including how science has been misused and misrepresented. As television and movies have become better and better at shaping our views of the world, it is becoming more and more important that we understand what it means to be scientific. Like it or not, those that understand science and technology will always have the advantage over those that don't. If everyone had even a basic grasp of scientific principles, this planet would be a better place." Amen to that.


RECENT RAVES:

My Architect: A Son's Journey
A film directed by Nathaniel Kahn
Starring: (in archival footage) Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, I.M. Pei.

A deceptively simple film that packs a wallop. Architect Louis Kahn built relatively few buildings during his career, but they are almost universally regarded by his peers and colleagues as being among the great works in architecture of the last century. But this film documents the efforts of his son, Nathaniel, who was only twelve when his father died, to try to come to grips with Kahn's enigmatic personality. This ends up being an intensely personal film about a man, Nathaniel Kahn, searching for his father by interviewing those who knew him and by visiting the buildings Louis Kahn erected, including the amazing capital of Bangladesh. Louis never married or even lived with Nathaniel's mother, who is also interviewed in this film - because he already had a wife and a daughter. In fact, Kahn maintained three separate families, all living within a few miles of each other in Philadelphia. In the end My Architect is about the compromises families must make if they wish to remain stable and how love and respect can triumph over contemporary morality. What emerges is that Louis Kahn, despite his love for his son, would not or could not make any compromises. This is at once sad and uplifting. Even those closest to him, his lovers and children both legitimate and illegitimate who could have been hurt the most by his inattention, display their love and admiration for him and the sheer joyous genius of his work. Now in his forties, Nathaniel is on good terms with his half sisters and even interviews them for the movie. If this were a work of fiction you'd throw up your hands and scoff. But it is fact, it's all true - and it's a remarkable film.

Official web site: http://www.myarchitectfilm.com/




MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge)
Thursdays at 10:) PM (EST)
Spike TV
John Cervenka - Guy LeDouche and Captain Tenneal
Christopher Darga - Kenny Blankenship
Mary Scheer - All Female Voices
Victor Wilson - Vic Romano

Remember Woody Allen's first film, What's Up, Tiger Lily? It was a Japanese spy movie that Allen overdubbed with new dialog, to frequently hilarious effect. That's the same technique that the producers of MXC - originally Most Extreme Elimination Challenge - have applied to a Japanese reality series called Takeshi's Castle.In the original show, contestants comprised of two teams are physically and mentally challenged and eliminated through crazy and challenging games. Like the Woody Allen movie, MXC has retained all the format. There are two competing teams per week such as City Kids and Country Kids, Dentists and Explorers, and Organized Crime versus Weight Loss Industry. The teams compete outdoors in a series of obstacle-strewn games such as the Log Drop, in which contestants have to make their way across a series of huge rollers, usually falling into a pool of scummy-looking water long before they reach the finish line, or Sinkers and Floaters, which involves running across a scummy-looking pool on a series of rocks, some of which are stable and some of which are just floating. This simply has to be seen to be believed.

The two original hosts, dressed up in some sort of weird quasi-historical robes that make them look like Carol Burnett doing Scarlett O'Hara curtain rod and all, have been renamed Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano. Kenny and Vic, along with special correspondent Guy LeDouche and Captain Tenneal, host the various sequences and provide often off-color deadpan voiceover remarks during the contests. And in fact it's the writing that really elevates MXC to the level of prime satire, because it's consistently clever and snappy. Timing is everything, and MXC's producers know it. If Firesign Theatre had ever been able to make it big on TV, they would have done something like MXC. This is the funniest show on the tube right now, IMHO. Don't get eliminated!

Official web site: http://www.spiketv.com/shows/series/index.jhtml?seriesID=10774&refID=mxc