Thursday, June 26, 2014

Loki Versus the Hulk Rematch for a Future Thor Movie

   My colleague Loren and I should definitely be plot consultants for superhero movies.  At lunch we broke down the Thor movies, and came up with our version for the plot for the next one. 


In our opinion, Loki needs to have a better motivation than sibling rivalry and a desire to take over the world.  Ho hum.


   The basic problem with Thor movies is that despite having a brilliant cast with excellent special effects and great directing, we don't really identify with Thor's home of Asgard, which is kind of a drinking establishment for super-powered aliens.  Why is it a cause for worry if Loki takes over the place or leaves it for old geezer Odin?  The traditional cliché bad guy motive of wanting to take over the world (either Earth or Asgard) doesn't seem to fit Loki.
      Here's what Loren and I came up with for the next Thor movie:

       Loki was badly humiliated after having been beat up by the human Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk.  The whole thing was witnessed and recorded by Heimdall, keeper of the Rainbow Bridge, so other Gods laugh their asses off when they see it on Asgard youtube. 


     He resolves that this will never happen again, and decides that he must find a way to infuse himself with the same gamma ray energy that transformed Bruce Banner into the Hulk. 

     Loki also despises Thor for being too obedient and too boring.  Chaos, he reasons, is the only hope for the Asgardians to save themselves from stagnation and eventual oblivion. This is another reason why he needs the Hulk.  Loki worships chaos, and believes that life is not worth living unless there is a certain amount of chaos present. The orderly path selected by Odin and his straight arrow son Thor leads to stagnation and spiritual emptiness and ultimately death. Yet Loki realizes that the Hulk seems to love chaos almost as much as Loki.  

    Thus Loki decides that, having been rejected by the Asgardians,  he will create a new race of DemiHulks on Earth.  He will use his godlike intelligence with the help of earth scientists to create a hybrid Asgardian and human race, and to reproduce and refine the gamma rays that changed the Hulk (talk about GMOs!).   He chooses earth subjects and modifies their DNA with Asgardian gene sequences.  For his friends, he wants other chaos worshippers:   Mixed Martial Arts fighters, athletes, drug addicts,  Hollywood sex symbols, musicians....anyone who has thoroughly indulged the sensual chaotic side of life.  Loki realizes that the genetically modified race he is creating might eventually exceed his own power, but he doesn't care.  Better to create a world in which chaos is present to drive change rather than be the ruler of a sterile and deadly boring universe. 

Can the Green Hulkster Gamma Energy change Loki and make him more powerful than Thor and the Hulk combined? 

     Soon Loki creates a gang and as a test kills some Asgardians he doesn't like and forces the rest to retreat from Asgard.  Others, including Thor's ex-girlfriend Sif (jilted in favor of wimpy human Jane Foster for reasons that never made sense), decide to join Loki.  Moreover, Sif wishes to kill Jane Foster as one side agenda. Now it is time to track down the Hulk.
  
   But while all this is going on, Thor and Jane Foster find out that something is up.  They try to join forces with the Hulk, who is very very angry.  So angry he goes in for a second dose of gamma radiation.  Thor and Jane are not convinced this is a great idea, but...


   You want a piece of HULK?  HULK SMASH!!

As for Jane Foster, the scientist also prepares a surprise for Loki and Sif. 


What kind of surprise?  Maybe something like this. 

   Now everyone is ready to do battle. Serious thunder, serious smashing.  Casualties on both sides. Intrigue as  Loki fools Thor by appearing to be Jane Foster, and then fools him again into thinking that the real Jane is Loki.  Thor might thus unknowingly injure or even kill Jane.  Oh dear, that is real mischief.  The angry Thor might find himself actually embracing chaos through his anger!


      Put it this way, Loki is in for more than a half minute pounding this time.  But who wins ultimately?   Stay tuned for Thor 4.  







Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review of Star Trek Continues Episode 3: Fairest of Them All

       Episode 3 of  Star Trek Continues, Fairest of Them All, has been released.  I think it is by far the best of the  three, and much better than the multimillion dollar movies in the Star Trek series.

    Star Trek Continues is made on a shoestring rather than the multibazillion dollar movies from the parent franchise.  But what sets apart the show is the writing.  Kudos to James Kerwin and Vic Mignogna for this one.    This episode takes place just after Kirk, Scott, Uhuru and McCoy were displaced in an evil parallel universe (in the original show episode "Mirror Mirror").  In that 1967 episode, good Kirk suggests that evil Spock should realize that the Terran Empire (i.e., the evil Federation) is headed towards an inevitable end, and should do something about it.
   
     The new show follows evil Spock's dilemma to remain loyal to his evil Captain, while also recognizing the logic of good Kirk's admonition to resist.  

     It is a brilliant concept, and the script writing was excellent, avoiding some of the minor logical disconnects of the first two episodes. 



In the evil universe, Captain Kirk is an oversexed member of the futuristic Tea Party, whereas Mr. Spock is a closet Liberal, and perhaps the only Democrat in the universe.  How can Spock survive in a world in which the ruler of the Terran empire is a direct descendant of Sarah Palin?


     The cast has really jelled for this episode.  In particular, Todd Haberkorn gives an incredible performance as the evil Spock, while Vic Mignogna channels his evil Kirk side with equal intensity.  The chemistry (or clash) between Kirk and Spock is absolutely terrific and causes both actors to step it up from what we had seen previously. 

     This is the kind of experiment that the movie studio would be terrified to undertake.  Because the movies are now hundreds of millions of dollars, the studios abhor anything with an element of risk. Hence every Star Trek movie made in the future will have the same old bad guys, and the movie will end with a stock ending.  I about choked when in the rebooted movie, Kirk dropped a nuclear bomb into the heart of the Deathstar, stealing from Luke Skywalker.  Yech.  
 
    What's great about Star Trek Continues is that you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next!  You don't know what the bad guys are going to do, or even who's on who's side in this episode.    


In the evil universe, Lt Smith (Kipleigh Brown) operates the helm and is forced to wear scanty clothing to please the males (exactly as in the good universe of 1967).   



Asia Demarcos plays Lt. Marlena Moreau.  In the evil universe, all beautiful women know how to navigate a Starship. Lt Moreau is also a Girlfriend for horny Kirk.  Come to think of it, good Kirk is also incredibly horny.  Maybe the two universes are closer than we think. 
   





Friday, May 2, 2014

Tom Mahefkey

        Tom Mahefkey passed away a few days ago.      
     Tom was my boss when we both worked at Air Force Research Laboratories.   I hadn't seen Tom for a while, since he has been living in Georgia. But back in the day we worked on advanced nuclear power systems for the Air Force and for President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.  Tom was involved in thermal management, which is one of those technologies that nobody knows what it is good for.  What is it?  Well briefly you have to figure out how you are going to keep your spacecraft at the right temperature.  That is easy enough on earth, but in space you can not simply open a window or turn on an air conditioner.  So there are a number of high tech solutions to transfer heat to a radiator so it could be ultimately dissipated in space.  Another problem was the Air Force always wanting to fly too fast, and actually burning up due to friction.  In that case, you have to call Dr. Mahefkey and see if there is some way to keep things cool enough to survive.


     That is how we spent our youth, worrying about such things.   
    Tom loved the Air Force and was very good at bring good people into his group, in including Jerry Beam, Joe Gottschlich, Pon Ponnappon, Jill Johnson, Ram Ramalingam, B.H. Tsao, Brian Donovan, John Leland, and many others. Eventually we started working with Dick Verga and Len Caveny at the Strategic Defense Initiative Office.  Later that work took us to the Soviet Union as part of a government effort to convert some of the technology from military applications to space exploration.  Unfortunately, that was only partially successful, as too many of the oldsters frankly liked fighting the Cold War better than cooperation. Maybe the next generation will figure out that we are better off working together, but so far that concept is kind of on hold. 
  

Len Caveny, cut off on the left, Sergey Timashev, Tom Mahefkey, Bonnie Somerville, Alla Eden, Joyce Caveny and Elliot Kennel in Saint Petersburg.   We produced a translation of a book by Sergey on spacecraft nuclear power.  Thanks to Len for taking the pictures. 


We travelled by train with Sergey from St Petersburg to Moscow.  Here Sergey models a Space Shuttle tee shirt.   I remember getting very sick from eating pickled eel; however those who washed it down with vodka survived without incident.  Lesson learned:  vodka = antiseptic.
 

     One of the things we did was to start and support international conferences on energy conversion.  This led to us getting invited to Russia (or at that time the USSR) and achieving some minor notoriety.  One one occasion, we thought it would be nice to have a conference in Sukhumi Gruzhiya (Georgia).  Little did we know that there would be a rift between Russia and Georgia and so the conference was held in a makeshift dormitory normally used to train athletes.  It was kind of funny at the time, and we used to call ourselves the Survivors of Sukhumi.  Unfortunately, that beautiful country had a civil war, and the survival of the people there was a real issue and so it is not funny anymore.   Suffice it to say it is such a beautiful country, and we hope it will in time become peaceful and prosper again somehow.  

    Off-work, Tom was a regular guy, raising two great kids in Suzy and Tommy.  No question, Suzy and Tommy were his greatest joys in life. Tom was not the type to brag about his kids, but I knew he was very proud of them and would do anything for them.  
     Next to his kids and family, Tom was very close to the people he worked with.  He encouraged all of us to continue our education and to constantly strive to improve.  Tom taught classes at the University of Dayton, and was also close to the faculty at Wright State (the other local university near the Air Force Base).   
     Tom was also an ardent sportsman.  He played tennis with a passion.  Frankly, I was scared of him, as well as his cohorts Ram and Tsao.  Those guys were trained killers on the tennis court. Tom also coached baseball for his son Tommy's teams. Tom was from Pennsylvania, and grew up rooting for the Pirates and Steelers, although from living in Ohio so many years he started to like some of the Ohio teams as well, especially the Reds.   

   Tom also liked music and in particular liked Buddy Holly and some of those old time rockers. He also liked country western.  A few times we played songs together, like Peggy Sue, That'll be the Day, and stuff like that.  I wish we could have gotten together more recently, as my friends in West Virginia have gotten me trained up some, and I could probably keep up a little better now.

     Maybe the last thing we did together was to study thermionic energy one last time for the National Research Council.  It was a very complex issue, but in the end it did not go forward. Perhaps there were too many political forces pulling in different directions.  I think Tom felt discouraged, and maybe I let him down.  But in the end, I didn't feel that there was a cohesive consensus, at least in the US, to build nuclear reactors for spacecraft.   

    


I think this is from the National Research Council study on thermionic energy conversion.  From left to right (Unfortunately, I don't recognize the first two fellows on the left or the woman in front right), Doug Allen, Len Caveny,   George Hatsopolous, Elliot Kennel, Harry Finger,  Tom Hunt,  Dean Jacobsen, Tom Mahefkey, Judy Ambrus, Robert Pinkerton. 





















Sunday, April 20, 2014

You Can Believe in Captain America




     Captain America 2:  The Winter Soldier is a great superhero movie.  It has dazzling special effects, continuous action,  handsome heroes and gorgeous heroines.  But what really makes the movie is the acting, in my opinion.  The character of Captain America presented the directors and actors with interesting challenges.  Should he be right wing screwball, for example?  Or an overgrown Boy Scout, like Adam West's Batman?  No doubt the filmmakers considered all these possibilities, but what they wound up with far surpasses the more mundane stereotypes of past movies. 

     Chris Evans scores points for being a leading man, but he really is a great actor.  He makes the implausible character of Captain America totally believable.  Likewise, Scarlett Johansson (the Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (the Falcon) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) succeed in bringing their characters to life.  Without these great actors, working with Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, this movie could have easily flopped.   
   
   In movies that were supposedly more down-to-earth, like Top Gun, I was put off by the stereotypic actions of the characters in the movie, who seemed to be to be totally unprofessional and two-dimensional.  Captain America, the Falcon, the Black Widow and Nick Fury may have been imbued with superhuman powers, but they act more like the real life military people that I have served with in my own modest military career.  They have had very human feelings and are thoughtful, moral and ethical people.   I give five stars for character development and acting.   Also, it should be mentioned that Robert Redford, Diana Rigg (yes, she of the TV Avengers) and others perform at a very high level.  Even Stan Lee got a great laugh in his cameo appearance (it may be that someone put him in suspended animation...can you imagine that he has been doing his thing since 1939??).  


Other than the super powers, I felt like Cap, the Widow and the Falcon acted like real people in the military that I have served with.  


Marvel is doing  better at portraying women as superheroes.  But the Black Widow still has to wiggle her hips while beating up bad guys.  


    Other parts of the movie were a little off.  This movie decided it was going to be like the X Files, so that it is hard to tell whether some of the characters are good guys or bad guys (Captain America to Falcon:  "If they shoot at you, they're bad!").  After a while the plot gets so contorted that it is hard for the audience to care whether they are good or bad, and even harder to say what the difference was. 

   Another problem I had was that the bad guys (Hydra) were lousy shots, every bit as bad as the Empire in Star Wars I, or Thrush in the Man from Uncle.  Put it this way, they couldn't hit water by falling out of a boat.  As a military guy, it pisses me off when the shoot-to-kill ratio falls below one out of a million.  I mean, really! What good are these high tech weapons if they never hit anything?  And be careful about having guys run down airplanes, catch them and then punch them out of the sky, okay?  Airplanes, tanks and stuff have to work and be effective or it is just not believable.  

    Another issue I had was with the camerawork.  I watched the 1-D version, but I noticed that they had a lot of camera jitter during the action scenes.  Maybe that helps to make the movie 3D, but for the 1D version it just gave me a headache.   

      Finally, I need to have somebody explain to me how it is that the military (or whomever) could leave important facilities abandoned with no one watching them and yet with all kinds of important stuff there waiting to be activated. That didn't make any sense, and was totally unnecessary to the plot.  I think they just threw that in because they saw it a Wolverine movie or something.  

     One of the best characteristics of Marvel movies is that the ordinary people have some kind of role to play.  It's not just the superhero duking it out with a supervillain.   In Marvel Comics, like the movies, ordinary people have to help the superheroes at some point.        

      Maybe that's the part that I like best about this movie. The average person in the movie knows Captain America's story, and for the most part, they are not jaded or cynical about him.  They believe in him, and most of all they are able to trust in him.   

     Perhaps it is that kind of trust, which allowed America to defeat the Nazis in World War II.   

     By the end of the movie, I felt like I believed in Captain America too.  Definitely worth seeing, and my 11 year old liked it although some of the fighting scenes were very intense. 




Captain America and the Falcon were determined to bring down the forces of Hydra. But who were they actually fighting?    Stay tuned....





Thursday, February 13, 2014

Star Trek Continues: Lolani. A Review from the Village Elliot




     The second episode of Star Trek Continues is available on Youtube (link at the end of this blog).
     First of all I love this show and it's commitment to continue the tradition of the original show.  It really does have the look and feel of Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley et al. 


Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy have a second chance to complete their original five year mission.  

    In its second try, the show's acting was noticeably improved as the cast has gotten more familiar with their parts.  In particular, Todd Haberkorn was much improved in his portrayal of Spock.  I believe the key to playing Spock is first of all to realize that Nimoy was not just an actor, but a genius, so give up trying to compete with him.  Also, the Spock character is said to have no emotions, but in reality Nimoy's Spock was perpetually struggling to suppress his emotions.  Yet one raised eyebrow might display more emotion  than an entire tirade by Dr. McCoy.   And by the way Larry Nemecek did much better with McCoy this time also.  McCoy used to talk out of the side of his mouth just a little bit, and in my opinion,  Larry was trying too  hard to copy his facial expressions.   This time he just relaxed a little bit and it worked much better.




   Lolani is brilliantly played by Fiona Vroom.  Lolani is an Orion slave girl who inadvertently crosses paths with the Enterprise.  Orion slave girls were  created as kind of an afterthought in the original pilot (the Cage), and I've often thought that the Orionite people deserved some more examination.  The Orionites might be a people with more active libidos than earthlings (if that is possible!). In this episode  we are led to view them as similar in many respects to earthlings, although perhaps earthlings are more attracted to Orionites than Orionites are to earthlings.  This is partly due to special pheromone love hormones that they give off.   Earthlings seem not to possess such hormones, or at least I don't.   
    So the Enterprise, after  finding Lolani, debates her status.  Is she property?  Or is she a person? 
     Here then, is my complaint.  The episode depends critically on believing that the Federation has some incredibly backward regulations for an advanced civilization. 
      One of the fantastic things about Star Trek, in my opinion, is that creator Gene Roddenberry provided a vision that humanity would someday grow and overcome some of the petty idiocy that we are currently afflicted with.  In short, Star Trek is prophetic vision of hope for the future.   I think this is summarized well in a dialogue between Alexander of Platonius and Kirk.  Alexander was born with a form of dwarfism (and an inability to inherit the telekinesis powers of his contemporaries) and thus has  been bullied his entire life.  Captain Kirk and his Federation colleagues from the Enterprise convince him that he is just as important as his normal sized contemporaries.
"Alexander, where I come from, size, shape or color make no difference!"

I invite you to read an excellent blog from Dan Madzen, who also was born with a type of dwarfism, and how this show made a great difference in his life. It's very moving, and lets your recognize just how powerful this apocalyptic sci-fi  stuff really is. 


Well, ok, so much for that.  We just don't see this Federation in this episode.  Rather, the Federation seems to be dominated by members of a futuristic Tea Party, which has decided to honor the 1854 Dred Scott decision, affirming that slaves are property.   

This is a horrible tactical decision. C'mon folks. Anything but that.  Perhaps what they could have done would be to have the Orionites offer some kind of tempting deal... like a cure for a dread disease or more powerful dilithium crystals in exchange for recognition of their eccentric social policies. But no.  Face it, this Federation is just corrupt and run by small minded individuals mired in the 19th century instead of the 23rd,  with Captain Kirk and his crew being the lone moral individuals in the Federation. 

    
 Similarly, there is a young officer who decides to violate orders in order to help Lolani.  This is also disappointing, although perhaps it was simply the Orionite pheromones that caused his moral failure (after all, we sell aftershave and colognes that are supposed to do the same thing). But I think it would be better if we could look up to people from the future the way Alexander did, at least for the most part, rather than finding that the future is populated by wackos and tea party fanatics. 

    Apart from those major flaws, there was much to like about the episode.  One saving grace was that Lou Ferrigno made a guest appearance, and he was terrific.  I had never heard him speak before, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he has a great voice and is very believable  in his character. It helps that he had several years experience in being green.
"Kirk, you are such a wimp!"

Definitely well worth watching overall.  I hope their five year mission is extended for a long time.

 
...and here's the link to the video:











Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Femi Olajide

My dear friend Olufemi Anthony Olajide passed away last week, much before his time.  

Femi was an amazing person, very talented.  He loved Nigeria, the land of his birth, and he also loved his adopted homeland America, and West Virginia and West Virginia University.  We was a skilled mathematician, mining engineer, and chemical engineer.   He was also one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet, always smiling and laughing.

Everyone knew Femi, it seems, from the University President to the hourly workers on campus.   It was widely assumed that Femi was actually immortal, because even when he was sixty, he could still pass for a graduate student.  



The Femmeister.  We will all miss you, buddy!



     He was a prodigiously hard worker, often staying late in order to work in the labs. Yet, one word he never learned to say is "no."   People would always be coming to him to help with different projects, and Femi could never turn them down.   

      What a lot of people don't know is that he would stay also till nine or ten o'clock tutoring students. As far as I know, he never charged anyone any money for it.  He just wanted to help people.  

     Femi worked with me for much of the past dozen or so years on a variety of projects ranging from coal conversion to pitch, coke and crude oil. We were always seeking processes that were cleaner than the current processes.   Our team really did develop a process for making heavy crude oil using coal.  

      We figured that coal is just a solid form of crude oil, and so if we could get it to flow, it could be processed more cleanly in an oil refinery, rather than burning it.  And we were able to do that, ironically with the assistance of biomass products that seemed to make the coal easier to convert to a liquid form.  

     When the BP Horizon explosion and oil spill occurred, Femi and I went with two graduate students to Texas in order to work with a company interested in remediating waste water.  We operated a centrifuge suitable for separating oil from water.  

    Femi saved my life on that trip.  We rented a truck to carry the centrifuge, and I was impatient to get started.  Normally I am a stickler for measuring tire pressure before travelling, but this time I said "We'll wait till we stop for gas."  Well, we never made it that far, as one tire burst after about an hour on the road.  Femi skillfully brought the truck to a stop, and we were able to make it to a garage and change the tire. I think what may have happened is that the person who rented the truck before us may have stolen the tires and replaced them with bald ones.   

     We learned something about real chemical engineering on that trip, working in 100 degree heat with 90% humidity.  I was very proud of Priyanka Dixit and Ravinder Garlapali, who endured those conditions just fine.  "It's easy, Mr. Kennel.  We're used to this in India!" they explained.  And so it was.  Femi led the team in setting up the centrifuge and got it working.    You can see him in action on this video: 

     (it's not all that exciting, but it shows that yeah, we actually did something).

     Back in the day, we assumed that a success would one day lead to us being financially well off or at least having steady jobs.  But instead, coal research has been cut back worldwide, as natural gas and alternative energy have become more popular.  Right now it is much easier to add to the nation's oil supply by using new discoveries in shale gas and oil.  So perhaps our ideas might have to wait for another opportunity.  


     Between 2002 and 2012, we worked on coal liquefaction processes, which basically convert coal to a heavy liquid crude as a first step, and then on to other value added products.  It is demanding, nasty work.  But we did it, believing that one day America would want to produce its own crude oil rather than buying more than half of it from overseas sources as we do now.  




Me, former Governor Joe Manchin and Femi.  The football jersey refers to the fact that the first oil we tested as fuel was rated at 134 Octane, which in some ways is good and other ways not so good.




Elliot, Femi and former Governor (now Senator) Joe Manchin discuss the importance of coal liquefaction to the state economy. 

     

Did we really make all that stuff out of coal?  Yeah, we did...(Joe Smith, Josh, Manoj Katakdaunde, Morgan Summers, Mike Bergen, Al Stiller, Liviu Magean, Femi, Abbas Assadi, Benson Njoroge, me.)



Femi also did some great work in coal cleaning and making products from clay and rock that accumulate from the tailings from coal wash plant. We figured that if this waste product can be used for any useful purpose, it must be better than storing it in some type of impoundment.  Femi found that the rock and clay residue can actually be very effective materials for construction materials.  Maybe we may yet see the commercialization of some of these processes.



Dick Wolfe, Elliot Kennel, Femi Olajide and Helen Cummiskey studied the use of specialized binders to produce metallurgical grade coke, used in the steel industry.   


Femi and Tony Golden.  I believe that the lady in the center was also from WVU. 



John Zondlo, Femi, Tony Golden, Elliot, Al Stiller in Charleston, about 2008.  



    Femi had a million stories, ranging from his time in Nigeria attending boarding school, to helping to load oil tankers with crude oil, to being an exchange student at WVU, being a tutor for football players, and delivering pizzas or driving the late bus back to the dorms on the weekends.   

     Femi was also a fan of West Virginia Old Time music.  I admit I corrupted him.  I play mandolin and guitar a little bit, and Femi liked to come out to our Wednesday Night Jam at the Morgantown Brewing Company.  Femi was my only fan!  People would come out to see the other, more talented members of our group, but Femi would actually come out to see me play with them.  

    Sometimes he would be the only person of African descent there.  He would get challenged a little bit.  "You ain't from around here, are you?" someone might ask.  "Oh no!"  Femi would reply.  "I am from Logan County!"  and everyone would laugh.  Yet some people figured he might really be from Logan County.  What are they like in Logan County?  Hmm.    

    I'm going to compile some of Femi's stories.  I hope his friends will be kind enough to send me what they know.  Here to get us started is one of the most famous stories, about Femi's first encounter in America with a wonderful juice from a mysterious fruit.  



Femi and the Wonderful Juice.

   One time Femi and four of his African friends (two guys and two girls) decided to go on a grand road trip to New York City.  They had only a vague idea of what America was like, in any case, one student had a car, and so away they went.  But on the way out of the state, they stopped at a roadside vegetable stand and bought a jug of fruit juice.  They had no idea what it was, but it was absolutely wonderful, one of the best tasting juices that any of them had ever had, they all agreed.  So, so they passed it around and quaffed the entire gallon jug between the five of them.  Well after several minutes, Femi started to beg the driver to please stop.  Soon the other passengers were developing abdominal cramps, and finally the driver realized that it was indeed time to stop the car, so they pulled over and ran into the woods. Soon there were five very sick African students in the woods.  What had happened?  This must have been some kind of terrible trick played on them, probably because the vegetable stand guy must hate Africans!
 
    Then a State Highway patrol car pulled up, and the young patrolman was treated to the sight of five Africans wobbling out of the woods toward him, getting dressed as they wobbled.  "What's this?"  he wondered.
 
       Well, Femi and his friends were by this time in a complete panic. "Officer!  You must help us! The West Virginians---they have POISONED us! You must take us to the hospital before we die!" The five students were understandably very upset, sincerely afraid that they were going to die. The Highway Patrolmen asked to see the fatal jug, now empty. Then when he figured out that it had contained prune juice, he started to laugh.  Soon he was shaking with uncontrollable laughter. 
 
     "What's so funny?"  the students demanded to know.
 
    "They never taught me at the Academy what to do about something like this!"  gasped the Patrolman.  Finally composing himself, the Patrolman explained what prune juice is and what its uses are.  Then he asked, "how did you come to have toilet paper in the car?"

    "We didn't--we used leaves!"  explained poor Femi.  More uncontrollable laughter.  

      Eventually however, the students got things back under control and went on their way, from then on a little more careful about sampling strange beverages.   

    The best part of the story, though, was watching Femi tell it.  He would always start laughing so much that he could hardly finish the story.  He would have to take off his glasses to wipe away the tears. But you know, I never did find out what happened on the rest of the road trip. That probably would have been the subject of another story. 
    

Femi and the Vermiculite


     Another time Femi was working for a certain Professor who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.  This professor is definitely a genius, and in fact one of the greatest chemical engineers I have ever met,  but he  has the habit of always building things that are too big to fit in the assigned space.  It didn't matter how big the space was, and in fact it could have been as big as Puskar Stadium, and this professor would always build something that wouldn't fit.  

    Well, anyway, this professor had designed a furnace or something that was too big and it needed some additional ventillation.  "Well, Femi, just drill a hole in the wall!"  suggested the Professor.

    "Gee professor, do you think it is okay to just drill a hole in the wall?"  Femis asked.     

    "Of course it's okay!   This is a very important project!"  So dutifully Femi drilled a hole in the wall, which happened to be about 20 feet high, only to find that the entire wall was filled with powdery vermiculite in order to provide insulation for the wintertime.  Well, all the vermiculite came pouring out of the wall, and Femi was soon covered in white powder.  Nothing serious, right?  Well, but it turned out that some of the vermiculite got airborne and was actually sucked into the ventillation system for the adjacent offices.   

    This happened to be about the time that there was an anthrax scare around the country because some kook was sending fake anthrax to politicians and famous people.  But in any case, imagine the reaction of the people when a mysterious white powder started to come out of the vents in all the offices!  As you can guess, they all thought they were being poisoned by anthrax. 

   The building had to be evacuated, and poor Femi thought he would surely be fired and probably deported.  
   
    But eventually everything was straightened out and the good professor was counselled to never again drill a hole in the wall without asking.  It didn't work, but it was a nice thought. 
Why Not Everyone Likes Gerber's Baby Food
    According to Femi, not everyone back home likes Gerber baby food.  The reason is that not everyone knows how to read, especially in the rural areas.  Accordingly, in order to sell packaged food in the stores, the sellers put pictures of the food on the label.  So, for example, a jar of beans has a picture of beans on the label.  A jar of pineapple has a picture of a pineapple on it.   Imagine how horrible it was, then,  when the people saw a can with a picture of a baby on it!  Why, those terrible Americans must be killing babies and putting them in a jar!

What is in the Gerber's jar anyway?  It's  pureed, that's all we know for sure....

I'm not sure if this story is completely true or if Femi was exaggerating, but you have to admit it is very funny.


Petroleum Madness in Nigeria


     Not all of Femi's stories were funny.  He told us that the people there would sometimes try to drill holes in the pipelines in order to obtain different amounts of crude oil.  You can read about this in the news media, by the way.  Some are medium sized crooks trying to steal thousands of dollars worth of crude oil and resell it.  But others are trying to steal a few gallons by drilling holes with portable drills or even cutting torches.  Sometimes these acts of petty thievery succeed, and sometimes they result in fires or explosions, and of course they always result in spilling of oil to the environment.  Sometimes the would-be thieves are killed in accidents.   Sometimes we talked about such things in a humorous way over chicken wings at Kegler's restaurant in Morgantown, but in reality it is not very  funny.

      What possible use could there be for crude oil?   This was something that was hard to understand on American terms.   But it might be that people want to use such fuel simply for cooking, as a "free" replacement of charcoal, which is still in use there.    

     Femi also explained to us that Nigerian ports would be open to all sorts of oil tankers.  The ones from the West, operated by major oil companies, were generally very efficient operations.  But other tankers were often in bad shape.  Femi told us that back in the day it was not uncommon for tankers to have severe leaks.  But if they could take on crude oil and transport at least half of it to a petroleum refinery somewhere, it was worth it.  Like wow, man, talk about water pollution. 

    

  
   


 
      

Friday, December 27, 2013

Star Trek: This Side of Paradise: Leila and the Tragic Spock


    One of my favorite Star Trek episodes was this Side of Paradise, which aired in Season 1, and perhaps more than any other defined Spock's character.   I started thinking about this episode after watching the new internet series Star Trek Continues.   How challenging it must be to play characters that others took to very high levels, especially the character of Spock.  




    In this episode, the Enterprise encounter an earth colony that had become infected with an alien spore, which made them physically healthy but which made them lose their desire to serve the Federation.

    Most importantly, Mr. Spock is re-introduced to Leila Kalomi, the only woman he ever loved.  They had first met at the Academy.  Mr Spock's stoic, emotionless demeanor prevented him from ever declaring his love for her.  Yet Leila apparently could see through Spock's outer shell and recognize beautiful inner qualities that no one else could see.  After all, Spock is one of the most truly noble and good characters in the universe. Leila continued to be in love with him, even after joining the Omicron Ceti III Colony led by Elias Sandoval.   



Because of the effect of the spores, Spock's emotional defenses are removed and he realizes for the first time how deeply in love he is with Leila.  

    Leonard Nimoy is brilliant as Spock.  It should be recalled that Spock's character was not formed instantaneously with the first show.  Rather there were a huge number of acting decisions that needed to be made.  What was Star Trek, anyway? Was it a kid's show?   Was the pointy eared alien character going to be a sideshow freak, or what?  

In the Star Trek pilot,  Spock was more like other members of the crew, displaying emotions.  He is shown here amusing himself with musical alien flora.   

     Ironically, Nimoy himself famously despaired of the ridiculousness of Spock, and only decades later realized that his legacy will be as one of the greatest actors in history.  Far from a mere children's fantasy, I believe that Star Trek will be regarded by future generations as a prophetic vision of the progression of the human spirit.

     I am quite sure that if we manage to avoid blowing our selves up, one day humans will leave the galaxy, and those colonist astronauts  will all have seen Star Trek. They may not recall their Shakespeare, but they will be intimately familiar with their Roddenberry.  

     Nimoy's sensitive portrayal reveals Spock's inner self, and how his life has been spent denying himself the ability to feel human emotions.  As he attempted to explain to Leila, "If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's."




To me Spock's repressed feelings are almost a metaphor for adolescence.   Perhaps for that reason we find it easy to identify with Spock and his terrible aloneness.

Nimoy's show of emotion was almost shocking to those of us who had become accustomed to Spock as an emotionless alien up to that point in the show. Yet when Kirk is able to return Spock to "normal," we can see that Spock is not totally comfortable with the result.  Part of him longs to return to state of being afflicted with the spores. But his friend Kirk seems oblivious to Spock's pain, concentrating only on the immediate task at hand. 

     Leila was played by Jill Ireland who tragically passed away years before her time due to cancer. Her performance was brilliant, playing a character that defied, um, logic, almost to the same extent as Nimoy's Spock. Consider a beautiful young PhD falling in love with an emotionless alien, and managing to live without male companionship for years until the same alien again halfway across the galaxy.  The odds against this are so high that they could only be overcome by television scriptwriters.   

Moreover, in the script Leila was supposed to have been Hawaiian, whereas Jill was a fair skinned blonde with an English accent.   Nevertheless, she turned out to be perfect for the role. 



Jill Ireland was totally convincing in professing (Leila's) love for Spock, despite the fact that Spock was utterly incapable of returning it. Likewise we feel her pain when she realizes ultimately that she has lost Spock again.  We can completely understand Spock's love for the intelligent, scientifically oriented yet very sensitive woman who supplies the emotion that Spock desperately lacks.  

     I'm glad that they didn't make Leila too overtly sexy, like many of the half naked women that populate the Star Trek universe.  In this case, Jill's portrayal of a highly intellectual and sensitive young woman was perfect as the lost love of Mr. Spock. 

     At the end of the show, Spock admits that the entire experience at Omicron Ceti III was quite unsettling and yet memorable.  "I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life...I was happy."

     We are left to ponder how that must have felt.