February 26, 2007

Chicks On Film

Category: Entertainment — Cranky @

Watching the Academy Awards last night, I was very impressed by the candidates for actresses in leading and supporting roles.

I’ve always believed Hollywood is much harder on women than men, particularly those who are just entering the scene. If you aren’t young and attractive, it’s nearly impossible to crack. Once you’re in, though, the rules change. For the merely average, their careers often fade with their beauty. For the truly talented there is recognition, and the Academy proved it this year.

While comparatively young beauties Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet were represented, we also had such powerhouse performers as Judi Dench, age 73, and Helen Mirren, 61, whose portrayal of the Queen of England earned her the Best Actress nod.

We had Abigail Breslin, the wonderful performer from Little Miss Sunshine, who is all of 10 years old. She has a brilliant career ahead of her, I’m sure. Of course the classy Meryl Streep and Kate Blanchett were nominated. Meryl has earned her place, and she is universally respected.

Finally, we had Jennifer Hudson, the former American Idol contestant, who walked away with the Best Supporting Actress award on the strength of her performance in Dreamgirls. She’s proof that you do not have to be skinny and white to make it in Hollywood. Sheer talent will pull you through.

Maybe the lot of women in Hollywood in general is improving. It’s about time. The valuation of women based on physical beauty alone is a tired idea, and it should be allowed to die.


February 20, 2007

Going Down?

Category: Science And Technology — Cranky @

For decades we’ve looked outward, spaceward, yearning for the chance to leave the planet and strike out for parts unknown. The problem is there are no intermediary places to visit. We can go to the moon, which is right next door, or we can go to Mars, which is much, much further away. None of the other planets are hospitable enough for us to visit, and everything else is far too distant.

How many people have been to space? I did a little searching, and I discovered that some 450 people have been into orbit or beyond. 12 men have landed on the moon, and 12 more orbited it. That’s quite a few people indeed!

Then I turned my thoughts in another direction – towards the ocean. I remembered seeing grainy black-and-white documentary footage taken during a voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. What has happened since then? Have we explored the trenches thoroughly? How many people have been to the deepest parts of the ocean?

Only two.

Turns out we haven’t been back since 1960, when Jacques Piccard and Donald Walsh took their bathyscaphe, “Trieste”, to the bottom of Challenger Deep, which is the deepest known spot in the world. Imagine that. 47 years, and nobody has tried it since. Now that’s saying something! Usually as soon as one person does something incredibly dangerous, many eagerly queue up to follow suit.

The problem is certainly clear. The pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench exceeds 8 tons per square inch, and should the vehicle spring a leak it would undergo complete failure in moments. Indeed, the passengers would never know what had happened.

Regardless, I just find it hard to believe we haven’t gone back. The footage from 1960 revealed creatures living at the deepest depths of the ocean. What amazing forms of life can withstand such pressure? Why aren’t we falling over each other in a race to learn about life in these unexplored territories?

Maybe it all comes to money. Maybe it’s not financially viable. After all, there’s little profit in it, and such machines aren’t cheap.

Or maybe, just maybe, we haven’t gone back because there’s way to break the record. Short of stumbling across a deeper crevasse, all that one can do is tie a record set nearly half a century ago. There are few bragging rights to be had, so if we return to the depths it’ll have to be for different reasons.

The idea of descending seven miles into the blackness is one I find exhilarating and terrifying. I would love to go, but if the opportunity came I’m not sure I could step on board. But somebody should.


February 13, 2007

My Teacher, the Jackass

Category: Life — Cranky @

I remember sitting in science class in grade 7. The teacher was talking about toasters. I don’t remember exactly why he was talking about toasters, but he was. He asked the class, “You know that dial on your toaster that controls how dark your toast gets? Does anybody know how it works?”

Well, we were in grade 7. We’d never considered it, and analytical thinking wasn’t really something we’d become acquainted with. When nobody raised their hand, I decided to take a stab at the answer.

“Does the dial control the temperature of the metal rails?”

The teacher replied, “And how exactly do you think it could do that?” That might have been a real request for elaboration, had it not been for the sarcasm in his voice. I replied anyway. “By controlling the amount of electricity that goes through it?”

The ‘teacher’ said, “You’re nowhere near the answer”.

He turned from me, and addressed the class. “It works by changing the amount of time the bread spends inside the toaster.”

Of course he was correct. Simultaneously, however, he proved himself an idiot. I put the word ‘teacher’ in quotes because in retrospect he wasn’t much of a teacher. Henceforth I will refer to him by the title he earned: Jackass.

Jackass implied that what I had said was somehow impossible. Even in grade 7 I knew that wasn’t the case. Our oven at home managed to control the temperature regardless of time. I don’t know why he felt it necessary to belittle my response. When I consider it now, my answer was logical and well-considered, even if it was wrong. That kind of thinking should be nurtured, rather than disdained, and Jackass could have acknowledged it by simply saying, “That’s a very good guess, but in reality…”

I considered calling him on his bad behaviour and defending my answer, but I was having a hard enough time fitting in with students. There was no need to antagonize the teachers.

I like to think that the sad little man who was our science teacher never got any further ahead in life. He certainly shouldn’t have been a teacher. I can’t imagine he would have made a good father, either.

Why do you suppose he would act like that? I don’t really know.