Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Much To Consider in Eli Roth's "The Green Inferno"

A pair of bare feet walk on the green earth, followed by a smaller set of bare feet. The camera pans up to a middle-aged man and a young boy, both adorned in tribal jungle dress, walking through the jungle. A loud roar, and the camera shows us a yellow tractor destroying neighboring trees. These two contrasts of leaving footprints on the earth open Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno.
Eli Roth is one of the few horror directors who likes to address social issues while doing it through gut-wrenching, mind-bending horror and gore. His film The Green Inferno is no different. Whereas in Hostel I & II, he explored capitalism vs morality, here Roth examines activism vs preservation, as exampled against the backdrop of cannibalism.
            Lorenzo Isso plays Justine, a college freshman who becomes enamored with the older Alejandro (Ariel Levy), an activist who is raising a group to go to the Amazon rainforest to protest the destruction of South America’s virgin landscape. The plan is simple: gather some likeminded people, film the logging company and its militia (yes, militia) with their camera phones, and shoot the image simultaneously around the world via satellite.
            In order to sneak in so close to the logging team they have to get in unseen the best they can. They do this by acquiring similar looking yellow jumpsuits and hardhats. If they can accomplish this, these college students from New York will help prevent the destruction of the South American rainforest and show the world that preservation is worth facing death. What follows is an intense scene where the viewer wonders if these activists are ready to lay down their lives.
            Later the young people are on the way home in their jet when their only engine on the single-engine plane fails, and they crash. Soon after, the remaining survivors are captured by an indigenous tribe who bring the students—still wearing the logging-company yellow jumpsuits—into their village. Of course, neither the New Yorkers nor the natives speak the same language, but it doesn’t matter: what is clear is that the tribe is going to preserve their culture, even at the cost of the lives of these WASP activists who intended to do the same.
            It’s more than just miscommunication here, but misperception. Alejandro wants to feel important, like he’s making a difference, and although Justine comes along, the viewer is a bit unsure if she wants to go along to make Alejandro happy, if she really wants to make some change in a region she only reads about, or if she wants to shake the coattails of her senator father and be her own person. These are all noble ideals. However, so are all the ideals of young, impressionable college students who see their whole lives before them, and have to jump now at an opportunity that may never come again. The tribal village (who we soon learn are cannibals) know only the life they’ve ever known, and truly want to preserve, and seeing the latest newcomers wearing the all-too-familiar clothing of those destroying their civilization only enhances their resolve.
            Roth keeps the intensity goes by having the tribe painted red, which looks eerily similar to the blood on the survivors. When it becomes apparent that they are prisoners awaiting their turns at becoming the next meal, they are faced with desperation in the possibility of escape or being caught and tortured before being eaten. As stated earlier the idea here is that this isolated, uncontacted group of aboriginal people know their days are numbered, but are trying to keep their way of life. The cannibalism in the film is always aimed at outsiders threatening their civilization, and never turned at themselves. However, when the young protagonists arrive in the jungle, things constantly get worse for them because they really don’t know what they’re doing. They not activists so much as they are students projecting the idea of activism. If they knew this was the culture they were preserving, would they have been as ambitious to undertake this mission? Which one is deadlier: the logging company destroying countless numbers of precious trees, and hence ecosystems, for money, or a primitive people who not only approve, but desire the consumption of the flesh of foreigners who threaten their way of life? Like with Roth’s other films there is no easy answer, yet instead of just letting us ponder the result, he shows us in the most graphic, uncomfortable ways that what is at stake does not have an easy solution. He makes us think. The Green Inferno is visceral and disturbing just as movies sometimes need to be.

Monday, December 8, 2014

10 Christmas Movies For People Who Hate Christmas

Christmas is that time of year when we talk about giving to others less fortunate, goodwill to others, peace on earth, and then trample strangers in Wal-Mart for that last toy on the shelf that your kid will be bored with in an hour. Hollywood has tried to divert us from that trend by offering tons of movies each year about “the real meaning of Christmas,” which is either about estranged family members coming together, or how the solemn curmudgeon really has a heart of gold, or kids trying to get their divorced family members together, or how it’s the time of for miracles. There’s also the latest variation of A Christmas Carol. And there are those who actually say it’s about the birth of Jesus.

But what if you’re tired of the usual Christmas fare? Maybe (gasp!) you don’t even like Christmas. What can you do? Embrace your inner Scrooge, cry “Bah Humbug!” and try watching one of these Christmas movies for people who hate Christmas listed in no particular order.

1.       Lethal Weapon

Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” plays over the opening credits as we see the L.A. cityscape at night. Then a half-naked woman jumps to her death and we’re on the way to meet family man Murtaugh and burned out Riggs for the first time. This film launched the successful franchise, and features a climactic bare-hands showdown between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey back when both were not train wrecks. But the Christmas setting takes a backseat to all the 80s buddy cop action giving us the chance to witness the glory of a time when cell phones still came in portable bags.

2.       Die Hard

After Warner Brothers' success with Lethal Weapon in 1987, Twentieth Century Fox just the next year released this classic action story about… okay, with four sequels everyone knows what Die Hard is about. And yes, it’s set at Christmas (also in Los Angeles). Instead of showcasing Brenda Lee, Bruce Willis arrives at the Nakatomi Building listening to Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis” (a great Christmas song for people who don’t like Christmas songs, but that’s another story). There’s plenty of action and humor in the original flick including Argyle the limo-driver’s last line: “If this is their idea of Christmas, I gotta be here for New Year’s!”

3.       Friday After Next

Craig and Day Day (Ice Cube and Mike Epps) are back in this funny sequel to Next Friday. This time they have their own place and have jobs as mall security guards. When a burglar dressed as Santa Claus robs them on Christmas Eve they are determined to catch the criminal and get their stolen property (mainly their weed). Needless to say, hilarious hijinks ensue. The movie has a wonderful supporting cast including Terry Crews (The Expendables franchise, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) as an overly affectionate newly-released ex-con; Katt Williams as Money Mike, a pimp-ish store owner; and John Witherspoon, who returns for as Mr. Jones, who helps his brother make barbeque so good it makes you wanna slap your mama.

4.       Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Okay, this movie really isn’t that good. The most notorious thing about it is that TV ads for the film were pulled and parents protested outside movie theaters until the film was pulled after only two weeks. Why? Because the murderer was dressed like Santa Claus. The TV ads featured Saint Nick with an ax and that was just too much for some folks. Sure if the killer had a white-painted rubber William Shatner mask or a hockey mask, that was okay, but they drew the line at Santa. Yes, things have changed a lot in 30 years. The movie is about a boy left orphaned after a man dressed as Santa Claus kills his parents. He is put in an orphanage and snaps so he dresses as Santa Claus and kills people. Strangely, the movie went on to produce a few sequels.

5.       Silent Night (2012)

This killer-at-large-during-Christmas movie is actually pretty good, especially if you like low-budget horror films and Malcolm McDowell. The story is very familiar: Guy dressed as Santa goes around the town killing people. However, the focus isn’t on the killer as much as it is about the deputy (Jaime King) trying to bring him down. McDowell seems like he has a lot of fun as the town’s sheriff. Donal Logue has a small role as a smart-assed traveling Santa, which apparently is a profession.

6.       Wind Chill (2007)

Wind Chill is probably one of the best horror films set at Christmas you will find. There are no killers dressed as Santa Claus, no over-the-top bloody mutilations, no axes or knives although it does use Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” very ominously. So what makes this movie scary? It’s a psychological thriller that almost literally turns into something else. Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes (as “Girl” and “Guy,” respectively) play strangers sharing a car ride to Delaware from college over Christmas break. By answering an ad on a public bulletin board, Blunt accepts a drive home from a young man who knows way more about her than he should. When they turn on a snow-covered road as a “shortcut”, the two soon find themselves in a situation that finds them working together to survive, and the snow is the least of their problems.

7.       Any Doctor Who Christmas Special

If Lethal Weapon and Die Hard warned us of staying in L.A. during Christmas, Doctor Who shares the same trepidation about London. Seriously, the BBC science fiction series usually has a Christmas episode apart from their usual season run, and they’re often stand alone episodes so even people who aren’t familiar with the show shouldn’t feel too lost. You’ll find intrigue, laughs, and even the occasional good feeling. Past episodes have guest-starred Kylie Minogue, Claire Skinner, and Michael Gambon.

8.       Bad Santa

Bad Santa is the perfect movie for this list. A thief and his accomplice (Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox) pose as Santa Claus and his elf helper targeting department stores during the holidays. Everything goes well until their latest mark’s security guard suspects them of their plan. Hilarious and definitely not for kids. Check out the unrated version, which the DVD’s cover refers to as Badder Santa.

9.       Trading Places

Eddie Murphy’s second film is a modern spin on the classic Prince and the Pauper theme. Murphy plays a conman who is the victim of a secret bet between commodities brokers the Duke Brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) to see if Murphy can be just as successful as brokerage wunderkind Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). Soon Winthorpe finds out what has happened, and then things really get good. Although this film is set during Christmas it climaxes over New Year’s, and the New Year party aboard the train with Murphy, Aykroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis in disguises to fool a Duke Brothers spy (Paul Gleason) is not to be missed! Definitely one of the best films of the 80s.

10.  A Christmas Story

Okay, this may be a somewhat traditional Christmas movie, but you gotta love this story of little Ralphie, who only wants an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. This movie has it all: the Triple-Dog Dare, the Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring, the fishnet stocking leg lamp (“It’s a major award!”), and the trip to see Santa. The movie is based on the novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd, who narrates the film as Ralphie as an adult, and also has a cameo as a father waiting in the line for Santa who tells Ralphie “the line ends here. It begins there.” Definitely a movie to watch during the holidays even if you don’t like Christmas.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Official "Wisp" Launch!!

Today, April 13 (yes, the 13th) is the official book release day for my novel Wisp. It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and Barnes & Noble's website (www.barnesandnoble.com) in NOOK as well as on Smashwords in other ebook formats. So we're having a novel launch party for the rest of the week! Until Friday you can order a print copy of Wisp for only $13.00 INCLUDING shipping!

Let me tell you about Wisp: There is a psychotic killer on the loose in Ellerton. Sheriff Stan Murphy and his paranormal journalist nephew Alex Fiedler have their hands full trying to keep the townspeople calm while keeping the city officials satisfied with their progress. And the killer is not stopping. The bodies keep piling up and the physical evidence defies explanation. Something strange is afoot in Ellerton, and Alex isn’t the only one looking at other-worldly answers. Please feel free to comment, or check out my website at www.kevinrmaze.com. But this special price is only good until Friday, April 15. After that, like a wisp, they're gone...

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Non-Hiker Goes Hiking, Part 2

Before turning in for the night, my sister told me I may hear strange noises outside my tent: squirrels, birds, or some other woodland creature. I slept pretty well inside the tent in my sleeping bag and wool blanket and, kept fairly warm. After the three mile hike earlier in the day, I probably could have slept standing up. But I woke briefly at 3:00 AM and heard… nothing. Absolutely nothing. I live in the city so I am used to hearing distant cars, the occasional siren, a dog barking, something. But here there was nothing; no people, no vehicles, no birds, no wind, just silence. It was eerie.

I fell back to sleep and woke again just after 5:00 AM and heard a rustle in the leaves just outside my tent. In fact, it sounded as if it was just by my head. It breaks down like this: Something rustling; thin fabric of the tent; my head. So then my mind starts racing. What if whatever is outside the tent can smell my head through the tent, consider me an interloper, and attacks? Can I move fast enough to escape the slashing paw through the fabric and go for the door by my feet, undo BOTH the screen door zipper and front door zipper, and then escape before I’m eaten alive? Or would I emerge to find the rest of the coyotes waiting for me after having been driven from the tent per their plan? Or would I find the four members of the Manson family armed with their bloody machetes and no backpacks?

However, the rustling picked up becoming louder, and then I realized as the sun was coming up that the wind was growing stronger since the mountain was beginning to warm, and the cold and heat started to mingle. Nothing odd, just nature.

My brother-in-law had emerged, started a fire, and put a pot of coffee on a portable gas-powered heater. I had never had percolated coffee before, especially in the cool, crisp morning as the sun emerged and slowly poured onto the small town below. I also had no idea that it takes about an hour to prepare so standing atop a tall mountain while waiting for a hot cup o’ joe was a new experience for me. After being assured there was nothing like campfire coffee, we ate our breakfast of orange cranberry nut muffins, dehydrated eggs, and instant (as in just add water) pudding. It was very delicious. And there is nothing like campfire coffee first thing in the morning.

Shortly afterward we walked a little ways to what was the true summit, a slightly higher level maybe a hundred yards away where an old ranger outpost once stood. And near there was a little round disc on a stone (so many large stones that I felt like I was in “The Lord of the Rings”!). The disc was placed there by a geological survey confirming the elevation of Dugger Mountain. We were now, officially, on the second highest peak in Alabama. By the way, the first highest peak, Mount Cheaha, could be seen across the other side of the valley below.

We went back to the camp and packed up everything we had unpacked the evening before, and kicked dead leaves to cover our tent sites. Leave no footprint, they said. I should mention here briefly about the different types of plant life and insects there. The trip could have been a great nature expedition. Moss covered many of the rocks and fallen trees, much of it either faded or a different type of greenery. There were several purple violets, but the higher we went we saw violets with markings that could only be described as daisies; each petal had a yellow circle near the center with white stripes coming from it. In fact, when I first saw it I thought it was a tiny daisy on the violet. Nope, just the way it looked. There were also green plants that looked like a clover to me, but were purple on the back side. My brother-in-law made the observation of the assorted rocks—can I call them boulders?—that had emerged from the mountain, obvious signs of various stages of formation and development of this particular peak. We had to be careful where we walked; again, we were fortunate to have our hiking poles (which honestly, he didn’t need).

We begin our descent down the mountain, which was much quicker than the ascent the previous afternoon. As we hiked down, the weather became warmer, and there seemed to be more insects out. A few flies landed on me on the three miles down and I was surprised to see how big they were; about the size of my thumbnail. They landed and were not intimidated when I shooed them away. We also saw black butterflies with white stripes in the midst of several black moths with white dots; at first glance I thought they too were butterflies until I realized these tiny creatures, no bigger than my fifth fingernail, must have been born that small since butterflies come from caterpillars. There were also many other butterflies and moths, but the insect that amazed me the most was a dung beetle rolling dung (what else?). I’ve seen them on television shows, but did not expect to see any in the Alabama woods.

Finally, we reached the bottom and came to the side of the road where our car waited for us. A good sign. The Toyota Camry that had been in front of us was gone. Our car was fine. It had not been stolen or broken into, and we had not been mercilessly killed. Once again, a little more faith in humanity has been restored. And yes, I am embarrassed and ashamed for thinking the worst of those kind people. Maybe that’s why people go hiking. To get away from the hustle-and-bustle of the everyday world and get back to nature, to a simpler way of life. To realize that people are people, and that there’s a world that is cruel and harsh, but also very beautiful and wonderful. It gives us an opportunity to respect nature, respect others, and to test ourselves, to take us beyond our comfort zones and bring us to a place where we can step outside ourselves and be a part of something that existed before we were born and will remain long after we’re gone. To rejuvenate, to reclaim that part within us that lies dormant, thanks to the conveniences of our modern lives. To become one with nature and find what it means to be human.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Non-Hiker Goes Hiking, Part 1

This past weekend I climbed Dugger Mountain, the second highest peak in Alabama. I was invited by my sister and her husband, both experienced hikers, to make the 3 mile hike to the summit. Not sure what to expect, other than a fun time and a sense of accomplishment, I went.

Dugger Mountain is in the Talladega National Forest, approximately three and a half hours from Montgomery. My sister said she and her husband hiked it before, and that they love it because nobody else goes there. Perhaps other overnight hikers prefer other places to climb. When we finally got to the bottom of the mountain to begin our ascent we saw two automobiles; one Jeep with two backpackers (and a medium/large sized dog), and a Toyota Camry. My sister told me with a surprised expression that nobody ever comes here, but apparently other people couldn’t resist the beautiful sunny day perfect for a hike.

When we got out of the car, two men and two women, emerged from the woods and went to the Camry. And unlike us, and the couple in the Jeep, they did not have any backpacks or hiking gear. One of the men looked like a wild-eyed Sam Elliott, and the other (I kid you not) looked like Charles Manson, minus the swastika on the forehead. And they began asking us questions like “Where are you hiking? The north trail or the south trail?” “Are you spending the night?” And we’re about to climb three miles straight up with our car parked behind this Camry. By the way, my Kindle was in the car since I’d read stories from it on the way up (which I’ll not bring on an overnight hiking trip again). My sister said it was not unusual for hikers to ask others questions, just that it was unusual for other people to be hiking this mountain when they go. So I, the novice, wondered why these four people came from the woods without any gear and began a barrage of questions. Of course, there were three possibilities: 1) They were going to break into the car, steal my Kindle, and everything else not tied down; 2) They were going to steal the car; or, 3) They were going to follow us up the mountain and kill us all. Let the hike begin!

About 30 minutes into the hike—with a 40-50 lb. pack on my back—my left hip started to hurt, but there was still a long way to go. We had hiking poles, which looked like ski poles, and they were invaluable. So we continued our trek with my brother-in-law in front on “snake and spider web patrol”. About halfway up, he stopped, looked behind at us and smiled. “What is it?” I asked. “Snake,” he said. This black and gray snake lay right in the middle of our trail and was not going anywhere. To my untrained eye, I’d say he was about four or five feet long. But the snake did not react. So my brother in law went around it. And then, moments later (several moments later) my sister and I did, too. But the snake did not move, dart, spin, or react in any way. “Just sunning,” my brother-in-law told us.

We stopped a few times to catch our breath, drink some water, and eat some GORP for energy. GORP stands for “Granola, Oatmeal, Raisins, and Peanuts,” although ours had banana chips, almonds, coconut, papaya, and raisins. Finally, we reached the top of Dugger Mountain in about two and a half hours where we looked down on a tiny town below and had an almost 360 degree panoramic view (I say almost because trees obscured much of the view. Did I mention this was the wilderness?). We rested a few minutes and then began setting up camp. Remember, you bring with you everything you need (water, food, tent, toilet paper), and leave no sign of it when you leave. We set up our tents (which were blowing away in the cold wind that blows on top of the 2nd highest peak in the state), rolled out our sleeping bags, and gathered wood for a fire. We grabbed only good wood that had fallen down, which means we did not chop down any living trees nor use wet, damp limbs. Therefore, we had to chop limbs from fallen trees using a sharp knife that would make Crocodile Dundee proud (Search “Crocodile Dundee knife” to see the clip if you haven’t seen the movie). This was very exhausting, especially considering I just hiked three miles up a mountain with a sore left hip and then some (yes, I am going to keep saying how far I hiked). We saw four hawks circling above us. Maybe they were vultures. I told them to keep flying because we would be coming back down the mountain! Ironically (or because of this), they flew away.

Finally, it was time to start the fire, which we could not do with a lighter because that just wouldn’t be cool. Instead, we pulled out some cotton balls coated with Vaseline. Why? Because Vaseline is petroleum jelly, and petroleum does what? Yes, it burns. So we laid some kindling in the fire pit my brother-in-law made on a previous excursion, then put a pulled-apart Vaseline-coated cotton ball on top, and whipped out the flint and steel. I’m not joking. They make this flint and steel in an orange plastic box designed for camping. My brother in law, the former fireman, showed me how to use the steel to strike against the flint to spark onto the ball. Once the spark lit the mound, I blew into it to get it going, then added more sticks and—voila!—a campfire.

My sister told me this was a luxury trip, which means they brought meat to grill, coucous to warm up, French bread and Alouette cheese, and a bag of wine (which was in a box, but bagged wine is easier to pack than boxed wine). Yep, this made “roughing it” not so rough. Soon, the sun had set and the stars came out on a clear night. Although the trees obscured a lot of the night sky (although many of them had yet to bloom), we could still see several constellations. And while we sat around the campfire, eating our meals and drinking our wine underneath the stars, we heard a howling in the distance. My sister and brother-in-law looked at each other with wide eyes and deep affection, and said, “Coyotes! Oh, we’ve never heard coyotes before!” This was turning into a trip of firsts, but my inexperienced mind wondered, “Where are they? If they’re below us, are they coming up? Or are they in the woods waiting for a snack?” After being assured they would not harm us, and after the meal was over, we turned in for the evening.

Did I come home?! To be continued...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The End of an Era?

The three remaining video stores in Montgomery announced Tuesday they were closing permanently. One of them announced a week ago it was going out of business while the other two would remain open, but that changed Monday when Blockbuster cut the computer systems for all three stores. Now, the capitol city of one of these 50 United States will no longer have a video rental store.

My wife and I learned of this yesterday when we decided to rent The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton. We’d seen it before, it came up in conversation over lunch, so we went across the street when we finished eating only to learn the store was selling everything (cash only). Has Netflix and Redbox put such a stranglehold on the video market as to close physical stores and become the only game in town? On the surface, it would seem so. One of my friends who was a manager at one of the local Blockbusters said he had six paychecks to bounce. The local stores had not ordered any “new” releases in weeks, despite emails and ads announcing they had these movies 28 days before Netflix or Redbox.

I currently subscribe to Netflix, and have rented from Redbox, but neither compare with an off-the-cuff decision to rent a movie for the night. Our Netflix plan allows two movies at one time with many available to watch on computer (which doesn’t work for a family). So if we really wanted to watch The Incredible Hulk badly enough, I can put it in my Netflix queue and wait two days after we send one of our current DVDs back. Not a bad deal, except there are movies lined up that we haven’t seen before that we’d rather see instead; if the choice was between either waiting for Hulk or paying $2 for a few days, we’d go with the latter.

But that is not a choice now. No longer can we go down the street, see what’s available, and come home with a movie for the night. Instead we have to either plan ahead accordingly (my stepdaughter is out of town every two weeks so some movie time finagling is required) or find a Redbox, which specializes in only new releases with a few exceptions. Is this the future of movie rental stores across the country?

It’s amazing how availability and price (Netflix’s queues and price plans, and Redbox’s $1 per night) triumph over immediate satisfaction with a knowledgeable staff. For example, at this writing, two movies, The Tourist and Black Swan, were released on DVD this week. I received an email from Blockbuster today (a perk from joining their Rewards program that I will no longer be able to enjoy although we paid the yearly fee) proudly declaring “We’ve Got It 28 days before Netflix or Redbox!” This time two weeks ago, or even last week, I could go into the store and come home with one of several new releases, and see why these movies were as good (or not as good) as some say they are. Now, we’ll have to wait 28 days, and I can imagine the line will be long. How convenient…

But isn’t technology supposed to allow for progress and convenience? Aren’t these options supposed to make things easier? Am I just too spoiled, a product modern American conveniences already in place? I don’t think so. What is the purpose of releasing a movie unless it’s not meant to be seen? Why do you think video stores order so many copies of one title? Because they are aware of the concept of supply and demand. Can a little Redbox do that? There are only so many discs that will fit inside that vending machine. And apparently Netflix struggles with it as well since so many new releases are accompanied by the notice “Very Long Wait.” Ho-hum. Then I guess that’s what we’ll do: wait.

However, I for one do not believe everything is worth waiting for. For example, let’s go back to The Tourist and Black Swan. I saw Black Swan in the theater, enjoyed it, and would like to see it again. I heard The Tourist was terrible, but Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are great actors, so can the movie be that bad? I could rent it and find out… but not today. Not for at least 28 days. Will I want to see it again in about a month? Probably not. I’m not that curious about it. Maybe if it shows up in Redbox’s list, I may spend a buck on it. And there are too many movies in my Netflix queue that I haven’t seen that have priority right now.

So if my family would like to unwind with a movie tonight, what’s it going to be? Nothing from Netflix that hasn’t been preordered and sent to my home. Nothing from Redbox unless it’s a new release that seems mildly interesting, but according to their promotional emails, nothing does; and, I won’t be standing outside to see if they happen to have an older release from their slim selection. And I won’t be talking to any store-management friends with any new recommendations or any classic or obscure titles I may have missed. Unfortunately, that is no longer an option.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Guru of... Pluto?

Today I received an email from the website www.getglue.com informing me I had become the “guru” of Pluto. I don’t know how I became a guru, but several months ago I left a quote regarding the former planet where I said, “Dear Pluto, you’ll always be a planet to me.” Apparently, somebody else is pulling for the little guy because now I am the Pluto Guru (which basically means I get some stickers, so that’s cool). So I thought I’d give a little information about our friend, who for 76 years, was this solar system’s ninth planet.

Prior to 1930, astronomers theorized there was another planet just beyond the newly-discovered Neptune that also affected the orbit of Uranus. After much searching and comparisons of plates using a machine called a “blink comparator,” “Planet X” was discovered and officially announced on March 13, 1930. Three names were considered: Minerva, Cronos, and Pluto, the last proposed by an eleven-year-old girl named Venetia Burney. Each member of the Lowell Observatory, who made the discovery, voted on the name; Pluto was unanimously the winner. On May 1, 1930, the official announcement was made. Pluto became the ninth planet in our solar system. An unconfirmed rumor says Walt Disney introduced Mickey Mouse’s dog in honor of the new discovery. In 1941, Glenn T. Seaborg kept the tradition of naming elements after planets (uranium, neptunium) and introduced plutonium.

The cold, dark planet (aptly named for the Roman god of the underworld) has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. In 1978, a small satellite was discovered near Pluto. Astronomers have noticed an interesting relationship between Pluto and the satellite called Charon. For example, they are tidally locked to each other (they always present the same face to each other). In 2005, two more satellites—Nix and Hydra—were also discovered.

On July 29, 2005, a new “Trans-Plutonian Object” was discovered. Eris was initially called the tenth planet, but there were many who objected to calling it a planet. This led to many in the astronomical community to reevaluate the definition of the term “planet.” In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) stated that a planet is a celestial body that:

1. is in orbit around the Sun,
2. has sufficient mass to assume hydrostatic equilibrium (a nearly round shape), and
3. has "cleared the neighbourhood" around its orbit.

According to the definition, Pluto did not meet the third qualification, and was renamed a “dwarf planet” (along with Eris, Ceres, Makemake, and Haumea). The astronomical community has been divided on the issue since the decision became official. Coincidentally, in the same year NASA launched “New Horizons,” a research expedition to learn more about the pla…the dwa… Pluto. It is expected to arrive in 2015.

The public has also been vocal in its objection to Pluto’s reclassification. New Mexico’s House of Representatives stated that Pluto will always be a planet while in New Mexican skies, and even designated March 13, 2007 as Pluto Planet Day. In 2009, Illinois passed a similar resolution since Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh was born there. Several of us who were raised and taught that there were nine planets in the solar system will have a difficult time of letting go of the little guy.

Pluto, you’ll always be a planet to me.

(Consulted from Wikipedia.org)