The Long View 2005-06-25: Show me the blueprints. Show me the blueprints

Hughes Glomar Explorer

Hughes Glomar Explorer

Howard Hughes was a remarkable man, especially considering he was also a nutter.

Show me the blueprints. Show me the blueprints

Last night I viewed the film The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the clinically obsessive-compulsive billionaire entrepreneur, Howard Hughes. (A supporting role was played by John C. Reilly, that potato-faced imposter whose sterling performances as a character actor ensure that my website will stay the second result from a Google search for "John Reilly" for the foreseeable future.) It's good to see that DiCaprio is not going to turn into Mark Hamill, but I would have been happier with more airplanes and less naked paranoia.

I mention all this not so much because of the film, but because renting the DVD involved a little outburst of paranoia on my part.

I had been going to the same video store for 15 years. When I took out a card there, all they asked for was a name, an address, and a dollar. My occasional attempts to try out Mandarin on the owners were rarely successful, since they spoke Cantonese. Actually, their English did not seem to improve much over the years either, but we got along very well. Earlier this year, however, the store went out of business (they tried to sell it to me). Last week, I finally got around to finding a new store.

It was a film-buff's store: a cult-film section, a classics section, a foreign-film section that did not feature punch-and-kick movies. I addressed the clerk:

Hi, I'd like to take out a membership.Sure thing. May I see a credit card?

Well, okay.

The payment for the film will be charged to this card. Now may I see a driver's license?

I guess so. Here, give me a pen...

I'll fill out the form, sir. Now, just look into this lense for the retinal scan. And please extent your arm...


That's probably all the blood we'll need. Was there something in particular you were looking for?

What I was looking for was Team America, which of course they had. That evening, though, I found I could not view the DVD for more than a few minutes before my PC froze. I had never before had a problem like this that I could not fix, but it was clearly my fault, not the video store's. Nonetheless, the glitch and the idea of giving all that personal information to a store in a modified garage rankled overnight. The next day I went back. Another clerk was there.

Look, I'll chalk up the $3.50 card charge to experience, but I think this may be more trouble than it's worth. Could you remove all my personal information from your system?Certainly, sir. [Zip Zip Ping! goes the counter monitor] All gone. Have a nice day.

But what about the paper form?

The form?

The one the other guy filled out yesterday, the one with my credit card and driver's license numbers. I want you to rip that up.



This was the first time he had been asked something like this. It made him uncomfortable. He said he could not do it, because the form was the store's property. Could I talk to the manager, please? He gave me a number. Rather than do a further imitation of Christopher Walken, I let the matter rest.

Yesterday, I walked into a less cerebral but better located video store.

Hi, I'd like to take out a membership.Sure thing. Can I see a credit card?

No, but you can have a name and address.

That will mean a $20 deposit.


Welcome to the store. Was there anything in particular you were looking for?

As for the PC glitch, I found that, as in so many other areas of life, most problems can be solved by uninstalling software from RealPlayer.

* * *

Speaking of movies, I see that a new version of The War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise, is going to premiere this week. This has special significance for my native New Jersey, because the famous radio-play version that Orson Welles broadcast in 1938 had the Martians landing at Grovers Mill, a real place in New Jersey, and then striding on to New York City. We remember the radio-play because a fair number of people took it literally, as this promotional piece in The New York Times reminds us:

The Morans tried to make their way back home to Princeton Junction, but the roads were jammed with those trying to locate Grovers Mill for a look at the Martians' spaceship. In Grovers Mill, they found a state trooper trying to direct drivers to go back home, with little luck.

I have heard the radio play. I can see how someone who heard a minute or two of it might mistake it for a news broadcast. My father, who was in his early 20s at the time, heard the broadcast live. He was in a building in a part of Jersey City with a good view of Newark. He had read the H.G. Wells novel, so he knew more or less what was going on. Still, when the story got to the attack on Newark, he looked out the window at the actual city to reassure himself.

If you have not read the novel, you should do so immediately. The text is available here. It can be tedious to read etext, I know. Things like this I often listen to using a text-to-speech program while I am doing exercise or any kind of donkey work.

* * *

On the matter of Jersey City, you must imagine my surprise in discovering that there is not just a Jersey City, New Jersey, but also a Jersey City, Wisconsin, a small town in Lincoln County. I must recommend to my mayor that we establish a sister-city relationship. Or at least charge them for the use of the name.

* * *

Though I have never been much interested in visiting Arctic Canada, I have always been intrigued by those big islands with no place names on them. Something that was marked on maps, however, was the magnetic North Pole. It was usually shown as being on land. I sometimes wondered whether there was anything remarkable at the site of the Pole: high radiation levels, doors into other universes; that sort of thing. Now I find the maps that show the Pole on land are out of date:

"I think the Pole has probably just moved past the 200-nautical-mile limit," said Larry Newitt, head of the Natural Resources Canada geomagnetic laboratory in Ottawa. "It's probably outside of Canada, technically. But we're still the closest country to it."

...In 1904 it was measured just off the northern tip of Nunavut's King William Island by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and since then has moved in a north to northwesterly direction at a stately 10 kilometres per year.

But in 2001, scientists discovered that it was picking up the pace, suddenly charging ahead -- and toward the edge of Canadian territory -- at more than 40 kilometres per year....Scientists have also been intrigued by a weakening in the pole's intensity: It has lost 10 per cent of its force in the past few centuries. That could be a sign that the poles are preparing to reverse

We will have no trouble dealing with the effects of magnetic reversal, provided we all uninstall RealPlayer beforehand.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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