The Long View 2004-10-25: Halloween Activities; Bad Book; Good Movie; Bad Software

I also hated Catcher in the Rye, I was glad to find that someone else did.


Halloween Activities; Bad Book; Good Movie; Bad Software

 

Here's a conference you might want to attend this Halloween:

Marseille, France (PRWEB) October 14, 2004: ICCF-11: The 11th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (Formerly the International Conference on Cold Fusion)...will gather on October 31, in Marseille, France, to present scientific research, exchange ideas, and debate this most controversial and engaging field of research...The worldwide cold fusion community [is] awaiting a conclusion from the U.S. Department of Energy's review of the field...

As are we all, no doubt, but when are we going to find out whether this alleged effect can be scaled up?

* * *

Even with cold fusion, there are some things you should not do on October 31:

CHURCHILL, MANITOBA -- Polar bear and seal costumes are definite Halloween no-nos in this northern Manitoba town. Costume selection takes on unique significance in the Churchill area, as Halloween coincides with the bears' migration to the ice. Seal costumes are especially worrisome, as seals are the polar bears' natural source of food on the ice. Officials fear the costumes could attract the unwanted attention of hungry bears. "I've never seen a kid dressed up as a seal -- but the message would be don't dress up as a polar bear or a seal," said conservation official Richard Romaniuk.

Readers will adapt this warning to their local fauna.

* * *

When I was 14, I found a dog-eared copy of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. I well remember settling down to read the first page, and then the second. Then I tossed the book aside, because the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, was such a jerk that nothing he did or said was going to be of much interest. I did read the book many years later, and confirmed my initial impression. I was recently pleased to find that my reaction as a youth was not unique:

Washington Post, Tuesday, October 19, 2004: J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracelessly
By JONATHAN YARDLEY

I shared Caulfield's contempt for "phonies" as well as his sense of being different and his loneliness, but he seemed to me just about as phony as those he criticized as well as an unregenerate whiner and egotist. It was easy enough to identify with his adolescent angst, but his puerile attitudinizing was something else altogether....

Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as "a symbol of purity and sensitivity" (as "The Oxford Companion to American Literature" puts it) when he's merely self-regarding and callow? Why do English teachers, whose responsibility is to teach good writing, repeatedly and reflexively require students to read a book as badly written as this one?

The "why" here is clear enough: it is more important to start kids reading fiction than to trouble overmuch about what they read at first. This is the reason for the promotion of the Harry Potter books. The difference is that the Potter books are good.

* * *

Over the weekend, I viewed the film The Day after Tomorrow. That's the one about global warming triggering a new ice age, all in the space of a week. As disaster movies go, this one is pretty good. It's supposed to be a commercial for global-warming anxiety, and maybe it is. Happily, it has so little to do with science, even speculative science, that you can just accept the flooding and freezing of New York City in the same spirit that you accept rampaging dinosaurs and giant monkeys lowering the quality of life in the same locale. An odd thing is that you also have to forget whatever you happen to know about the neighborhood of the 42nd Street Manhattan Library. There's a perfectly good restaurant attached to the rear of the building; people trapped there by a blizzard would have been in small danger of starving.

In any case, since the movie was released earlier this year, the state of Florida has been through the sort of unprecedented meteorological disaster that the film contemplates. The chief result of that seems to have been an increase in the popularity of Governor Jeb Bush, because of his management of the emergency. That had the collateral effect of increasing the reelection chances of his brother, George. As any ecologist in a disaster movie can tell you, the most important consequences are often unexpected.

* * *

My one problem with the movie, which I saw on DVD on my PC, was the glitchy and intrusive player-software, Hotllama. It made a great fuss about installing itself. It's one of those players that try to force users to go online, and it demanded demographic information and an email address before it would let me see the movie. Once it was installed, there followed 45 minutes of crashes and freezes (computer crashes and freezes: I could not open to the section of the disk that would let me see the damn freezes in the movie). Finally, I found an inconspicuous "Configure" option, from which I enabled some obscure script. The film then played, but the audio was out-of-sync with the video for most of it.

My assessment of Hotllama is best summed up by this passage from Lovecraft's The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath:

These latter [idols] did not, despite their material, invite either appropriation or long inspection; and Carter took the trouble to hammer five of them into very small pieces.

In other words, I used GoBack to remove the abomination from my harddrive.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

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