Is Grandpa Safe?

One of the oldest themes in science fiction is time travel, and one of the oldest story lines in the time travel genre deals with the paradoxes of going back in time.  What if you went back into time and, like Marty McFly, did something that changed the future course of events so dramatically that you never actually came into being?

It’s called the Grandfather Paradox.  Specifically, what if you went back in time and killed your own grandfather before he had the chance to father your mother or your father?  And if you did, and your parents and, ultimately, you never existed as a result, then how could you have been here to go back into time and kill dear old Granddad in the first place?

Science fiction deals with this in all kinds of interesting ways — postulating, for example, the creation of parallel universes every time a back-in-time traveler messes with the existing continuum of events and offs an ancestor — but science isn’t so easily satisfied.  It’s clear that forward time travel actually can occur under Einstein’s theory of relativity and concepts of time dilation; tests have proven that as a spacecraft’s speed increases, a clock on board the ship runs more slowly than a clock back on Earth.  In short, blast off and travel fast and far enough, and you’ll return to a world where your children are older than you are.

Einstein’s theories also suggest that travel back in time is theoretically possible, because the interaction between gravity and spacetime means that if a sufficient gravitational field existed, a closed timelike curve could be created and the time traveler could travel along that curve to the past.  Some scientists, like Stephen Hawking, argue that the Grandfather Paradox means that backward time travel and therefore closed timelike curves cannot exist, and they puckishly argue that the fact that we aren’t currently besieged by future beings who’ve figured out how to journey back in time means such travel is not possible.

Other scientists, however, accept the possibility of moving along a closed timelike curve and have been testing theories that would prevent Grandpa’s untimely demise.  One theory focuses on consistency, and another on correlation.  The “consistency” theory argues that any object that enters a closed timelike curve must exit the curve with the same properties — which evidently means that, thanks to your self-directed consistency, you couldn’t go back and kill your grandfather and prevent your own existence.  Scientists have actually tried to test this theory, using polarized photons launched through a time loop simulator, and the tests showed that the simulated time-traveling photons had the same properties the theory would predict.  Another theory contemplates a kind of “post-selection” concept that (I think) means that you couldn’t go back into time unless you had already gone back into time and were therefore part of the causal chain that created the world in which you live.  The time loop is closed, and whatever you would do on your backward trip would inevitably be what you had already done.

Like everything in quantum physics, it’s all very weird and confusing, and of course the theoretical physicists don’t explain why anyone would want to go back into time and murder their own grandfather, anyway.  But the upshot of the theories and testing seems to be that, even if backward time travel could occur, Grandpa apparently is safe.  All grandfathers and potential future grandfathers can now breathe a sigh of relief.

To Boldly Charge Where No Man Has Charged Before

The good news:  a new Star Trek series will premiere on CBS in January 2017!  The bad news:  after the first episode, you’ll only be able to watch it on CBS’ video on demand channel, which has a $5.99 a month subscription fee.

I love the Star Trek franchise, so the idea of a new series — with new characters and plot lines — is very welcome, indeed.  But the idea of charging people to watch the series, rather than putting it on a free broadcast network, seems antithetical to the whole Star Trek egalitarian/United Federation of Planets/”we’re all in this together”/the future is about a united human race following the better angels of its nature message.  I don’t remember any Star Trek, The Original Series episodes — other than those featuring Harcourt Fenton Mudd, and maybe The Trouble With Tribbles — where material items or money seemed to play any part.  The fact that they’re charging for new episodes therefore seems kind of chintzy of me.

Will I watch the new series?  I’ll watch the first episode, for sure.  And if it looks good, maybe I’ll watch more and pay the $5.99 a month.  But I didn’t really watch much of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine or Star Trek:  Voyager or Enterprise, because they didn’t really grab me.  If the writers can come up with new characters of the quality of Spock or Jean-Luc Picard or Data or, of course, James Tiberius Kirk, I’ll tune in.  If not, I think I’ll probably save that $72.00 a year and use it to watch the next Star Trek movie.

Bridge Of Spies At The Arena Grand

Today, I wasn’t going to be gulled into watching the Browns.  It was a beautiful fall day, so Kish and I decided to walk down to the Arena District to catch Bridge of Spies at the Arena Grand.

It’s not easy to find a movie that we both like.  Kish favors romances and the kind of character dramas that fall into the “chick flick” category, and I prefer action-adventure and sci-fi films.  Bridge of Spies is one of those rare movies that we both can get excited about.  An historical drama with the always excellent Tom Hanks as its star, about Cold War incidents that happened during our lifetime, Bridge of Spies seemed to be the perfect choice for a Sunday afternoon movie.  And it was.

If you haven’t seen Bridge of Spies, you’re missing something.  Hanks is excellent, as always, but Mark Rylance’s performance as Rudolf Abel, the accused Soviet spy, is a stunning revelation.  Rylance’s bushy-eyebrowed, deadpan treatment of the stoic Russian secret agent (and talented painter), and his clear chemistry with Hanks, takes the film from the realm of an interesting period piece into a real tour de force.

The movie is filled with fine performances and little touches that will resonate with those of us who grew up in the early ’60s and remember “duck and cover” lectures and air raid drills during grade school.  And — for me at least — it was refreshing to see a movie treat lawyers with sensitivity and respect and depict them in a way that reflects honorably on our profession.  In his own quiet and determined and ethical way, Hanks’ depiction of insurance attorney James B. Donovan, who was charged with representing a man most Americans wanted to hang, is one of the most positive portrayals of a lawyer since Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird made many young Americans decide to go to law school to try to improve the world.

This is the first time I’ve been to the Arena Grand complex, by the way, and it’s a great place to watch a movie.  We sat in comfortable seats, split some chicken quesadilla, and had a great time reliving those tense Cold War days.

The Force Is Strong

The new Star Wars trailer is out, and even though the release of the movie is two months away people are already buying tickets.  From a look at the trailer, I can see why:  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens looks pretty cool, and may well reinvigorate one of the greatest movie franchises ever.  Han Solo!  Leia!  Luke Skywalker!  Chewie!

As for me, the coolest thing in the trailer is the rolling ball robot with the unmoving head.  How do they do some of that stuff?

Dire Forecasts Of 2015

This 1975 UPI article has been making the rounds lately.  It predicts, based on then-current usage rates and the reserves of petroleum known to exist at that time, that the “last barrel of oil” will have been pumped from the “last well on earth” in 2015.

Back in the ’70s, these kinds of dire forecasts and disaster scenarios were pretty commonplace — and all of them, incidentally, made predictions of what life would be like about 40 years into the future.  Whether it was oil crises, the “population bomb,” world-wide food shortages, air and water pollution poisoning the environment beyond redemption, or the ever-present possibility of global nuclear war leaving the Earth a dead, irradiated husk, there were catastrophes galore just waiting to happen a few decades into the future.  As a result, some of the popular fiction and movie scenarios of the day were pretty grim, with bestsellers like The Late Great Planet Earth and movies featuring Charlton Heston shouting to the world that “Soylent Green is people . . . people!”

So, here we are in 2015, at about the time when some of the worst stuff — overcrowded people penned up like goats in soulless camps being fed algae as the only reliable food supply, mass starvation, “nuclear winter,” a return to the Dark Ages due to lack of energy sources — was supposed to he happening.  Instead of pumping the last barrel of oil, however, we’ve discovered so much new oil and natural gas that the price of oil is plunging.  Instead of dirty-faced people overrunning the planet, we’ve seen a steady overall decline in global growth rates and, in some countries, concern that birth rates are so low that new citizens aren’t fully replacing those that are dying.  And while there is still hunger in the world, the Earth is producing an abundance of food.

You know, when you compare the calamitous predictions to the modern-day reality, 2015 really is pretty sweet.  Now, if only there were flying cars and cheap space travel . . . .

Thanks, Alfred!

When you’re staying in a strange, rural area, and you pass an old, gabled farmhouse, and happen to look up and see the unmoving outline of a woman backlit against a third-floor window, what thought comes to mind?


Psycho, of course!  Even though there’s no Bates Motel sign to be seen, you’re subconsciously scanning the landscape for a knife-wielding Anthony Perkins clad in an old-fashioned full-length dress.  No steaming hot shower is ever completely comfortable when you are in the immediate vicinity of such a scene, is it?  And that slashing, stabbing Psycho soundtrack music helpfully starts playing in the back of your mind to add to the creepiness factor, too.

l’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why a woman would be up in the third floor of a house, framed against the window.  Maybe it’s her favorite place to watch TV, or maybe that precise spot is where cell phone reception is inexplicably the strongest.  Or maybe it’s just a rotting, maggot-infested corpse kept there by a deeply disturbed murderer with a Mommy complex.

Thanks, Mr. Hitchcock!

Blowing Things Up

Let’s face it:  many of us like seeing things get blown up.  The entire Die Hard movie franchise is, effectively, based on that one crucial assumption about movie audiences.

When it comes to buildings being demolished, we might rationalize that we like to see the engineering wizardry, precision of the placement of the charges and the careful timing that allows the toppling building to fall just so — but really we just like to see things get blown up and collapsing in a huge, billowing cloud of gritty dust.

So it is with the implosion of the abandoned Park Avenue Hotel in Detroit, which was demolished a few days ago to make way for the new Red Wings arena.  As the hosts of SCTV’s Farm Film Report would have said, “it blowed up real good!”