Metropolis

Metropolis
Stirred by the visionary power of “Dark City,” I revisited Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and once again fell under its eerie spell. The movie has a plot that defies common sense, but its very discontinuity is a strength. It makes “Metropolis” hallucinatory–a nightmare without the reassurance of a steadying story line. Few films have ever been more visually exhilarating.

Generally considered the first great science-fiction film, “Metropolis” (1926) fixed for the rest of the century the image of a futuristic city as a hell of scientific progress and human despair. From this film, in various ways, descended not only “Dark City” but “Blade Runner,” “The Fifth Element,” “Alphaville,” “Escape from L.A.,” “Gattaca,” and Batman’s Gotham City. The laboratory of its evil genius, Rotwang, created the visual look of mad scientists for decades to come, especially after it was mirrored in “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). And the device of the “false Maria,” the robot who looks like a human being, inspired the “Replicants” of “Blade Runner.” Even Rotwang’s artificial hand was given homage in “Dr. Strangelove.”

What many of these movies have in common is a loner hero who discovers the inner workings of the future society, penetrating the system that would control the population. Even Batman’s villains are the descendants of Rotwang, giggling as they pull the levels that will enforce their will. The buried message is powerful: Science and industry will become the weapons of demagogues.

“Metropolis” employed vast sets, 25,000 extras and astonishing special effects to create two worlds: The great city of Metropolis, with its stadiums, skyscrapers and expressways in the sky, and the subterranean worker’s city, where the clock face shows 10 hours to cram another day into the work week. Lang’s film is the summit of German Expressionism, the combination of stylized sets, dramatic camera angles, bold shadows and frankly artificial theatrics.

The production itself made even Stanley Kubrick’s mania for control look benign. According to Patrick McGilligan’s book (ital) Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, (unital) the extras were hurled into violent mob scenes, made to stand for hours in cold water, and handled more like props than human beings. The heroine was made to jump from high places, and when she was burned at a stake, Lang used real flames. The irony was that Lang’s directorial style was not unlike the approach of the villain in his film.

The story tells of a great city whose two halves–the pampered citizens of the surface and the slaves of the depths–are ignorant of one another. The city is run by the ruthless Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), a businessman-dictator. His son Freder (Gustav Froehlich) is in the Pleasure Gardens one day when Maria (Brigitte Helm), a woman from the subterranean city, brings a group of workers’ children to the surface. Freder, struck by Maria’s beauty and astonished to learn of the life led by the workers, seeks out the demented genius Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who knows the secrets of the lower world.

What follows is Freder’s descent into the depths and his attempts to help the workers, who are rallied by the revolutionary Maria. Meanwhile, Rotwang devises a robot, captures the real Maria, and transfers her face to the robot–so that the workers, still following Maria, can be fooled and controlled. (The electrical arcs, bubbling beakers, glowing rings of light and mad scientist props in the transformation sequence have influenced a thousand films.)

Lang develops this story with scenes of astonishing originality. Consider the first glimpse of the underground power plant, with workers straining to move heavy dial-hands back and forth. What they’re doing makes no logical sense, but visually the connection is obvious: They are controlled like hands on a clock. And when the machinery explodes, Freder has a vision in which the machinery turns into an obscene devouring monster.

Other dramatic visual sequences: A chase scene in the darkened catacombs, with the real Maria pursued by Rotwang (the beam of his light is like a club to bludgeon her). The image of the Tower of Babel as Maria addresses the workers. Their faces, arrayed in darkness from the top to the bottom of the screen. The doors in Rotwang’s house, opening and closing on their own. The lascivious dance of the false Maria, as the workers look on, and the screen is filled with large, wet, staring eyeballs. The flood of the lower city, and the undulating arms of the children flocking to Maria to be saved.

The gaps and logical puzzles of the story (some caused by clumsy re-editing after the film left Lang’s hands) are swept away by this torrent of images. “To enjoy the film the viewer must observe but never think,” the critic Arthur Lennig said, and Pauline Kael contrasted its “moments of almost incredible beauty and power” with “absurd ineptitudes.” Even when the plot seems adrift, however, the movie itself never lacks confidence: The city and system are so overpowering they dwarf any merely logical problems. Although Lang saw his movie as anti-authoritarian, the Nazis liked it enough to offer him control of their film industry (he fled to America instead). Some of the ideas in “Metropolis” seem echoed in Leni Riefenstahl’s pro-Hitler “Triumph of the Will” (1935)–where, of course, they have lost their irony.

Much of what we see in “Metropolis” doesn’t exist except in visual trickery. The special effects were the work of Eugene Schuefftan, who later worked in Hollywood as the cinematographer of “Lilith” and “The Hustler.” According to Magill’s Survey of Cinema, his photographic system “allowed people and miniature sets to be combined in a single shot, through the use of mirrors, rather than laboratory work.” Other effects were created in the camera by cinematographer Karl Freund.

The result was astonishing for its time. Without all of the digital tricks of today, “Metropolis” fills the imagination. Today the effects look like effects, but that’s their appeal. Looking at the original “King Kong” not long ago, I found that its effects, primitive by modern standards, gained a certain weird effectiveness. Because they looked strange and unworldly compared to the slick, utterly convincing effects that are now possible, they were (ital) more (unital) evocative: The effects in movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Titanic” are done so well, by comparison, that we simply think we are looking at real things, which is not quite the same kind of fun.

“Metropolis” has not existed for years in the version which Lang completed. It was chopped by distributors, censors and exhibitors, key footage was lost, and only by referring to the novelization of the story by von Harbou can various story gaps be explained. In 1984 a reconstructed version was released, adding footage gathered from Germany and Australia to existing prints, and that version, produced by Giorgio Moroder, was then color tinted “according to Lang’s original intentions” and given an MTV-style musical score. This is the version most often seen today.

Purists quite reasonably object to it, but one can turn off the sound and dial down the color to create a silent b&w print. I am not crazy about the sound track, but in watching the Moroder version I enjoyed the tinting and felt that Lang’s vision was so powerful it swept aside the quibbles: Best to see this well-restored print with all the available footage than to stand entirely on principle.

“Metropolis” does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world. The ideas of “Metropolis” have been so often absorbed into popular culture that its horrific future city is almost a given (when Albert Brooks dared to create an alternative utopian future in “Defending Your Life” (1991), it seemed wrong, somehow, without Satanic urban hellscapes). Lang filmed for nearly a year, driven by obsession, often cruel to his colleagues, a perfectionist madman, and the result is one of those seminal films without which the others cannot be fully appreciated.

– Roger Ebert



I can say without equivocation that Friz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is in my Top Five favorite films of all times.

Planet Earth: Facts About Its Orbit, Atmosphere & Size

Earth

Earth, our home, is the third planet from the sun. It is the only planet known to have an atmosphere containing free oxygen, oceans of liquid water on its surface, and, of course, life.

Earth is the fifth largest of the planets in the solar system — smaller than the four gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranusand Neptune, but larger than the three other rocky planets, Mercury, Marsand Venus.

Earth has a diameter of roughly 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers), and is round because gravity pulls matter into a ball, although it is not perfectly round, instead being more of an “oblate spheroid” whose spin causes it to be squashed at its poles and swollen at the equator.

Roughly 71 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water, most of it in the oceans. About a fifth of Earth’s atmosphereis made up of oxygen, produced by plants. While scientists have been studying our planet for centuries, much has been learned in recent decades by studying pictures of Earth from space.

Orbital Characteristics

Earth spins on an imaginary line called an axis that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole, while also orbiting the sun. It takes Earth 23.439 hours to complete a rotation on its axis, and roughly 365.26 days to complete an orbit around the sun.

Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted in relation to the ecliptic plane, an imaginary surface through Earth’s orbit around the sun. This means the northern and southern hemispheres will sometimes point toward or away from the sun depending on the time of year, varying the amount of light they receive and causing the seasons.

Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, but is rather an oval-shaped ellipse, like that of the orbits of all the other planets. Earth is a bit closer to the sun in early January and farther away in July, although this variation has a much smaller effect than the heating and cooling caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis. Earth happens to lie within the so-called “Goldilocks zone” around its star, where temperatures are just right to maintain liquid water on its surface.

Orbit & Rotation

Some statistics about Earth, according to NASA:

  • Average distance from the sun: 92,956,050 miles (149,598,262 km)
  • Perihelion (closest approach to the sun): 91,402,640 miles (147,098,291 km)
  • Aphelion (farthest distance from the sun): 94,509,460 miles (152,098,233 km)
  • Length of solar day (single rotation on its axis): 23.934 hours
  • Length of year (single revolution around the sun): 365.26 days
  • Equatorial inclination to orbit: 23.4393 degrees
  • Earth’s formation and evolution

Scientists think Earth was formed at roughly the same time as the sun and other planets some 4.6 billion years ago, when the solar system coalesced from a giant, rotating cloud of gas and dust known as the solar nebula. As the nebula collapsed because of its gravity, it spun faster and flattened into a disk. Most of the material was pulled toward the center to form the sun.

Other particles within the disk collided and stuck together to form ever-larger bodies, including Earth. The solar wind from the sun was so powerful that it swept away most of the lighter elements, such as hydrogen and helium, from the innermost worlds, rendering Earth and its siblings into small, rocky planets.

Scientists think Earth started off as a waterless mass of rock. Radioactive materials in the rock and increasing pressure deep within the Earth generated enough heat to melt Earth’s interior, causing some chemicals to rise to the surface and form water, while others became the gases of the atmosphere. Recent evidence suggests that Earth’s crust and oceans may have formed within about 200 million years after the planet had taken shape.

The history of Earth is divided into four eons — starting with the earliest, these are the Hadean, Archean, Proterozoic and Phanerozoic. The first three eons, which together lasted nearly 4 billion years, are together known as the Precambrian. Evidence for life has been found in the Archaean about 3.8 billion years ago, but life did not become abundant until the Phanerozoic.

The Phanerozoic is divided into three eras — starting with the earliest, these are the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. The Paleozoic Era saw the development of many kinds of animals and plants in the seas and on land, the Mesozoic Era was the age of dinosaurs, and the Cenozoic Era we are in currently is the age of mammals.

Most of the fossils seen in Paleozoic rocks are invertebrate animals lacking backbones, such as corals, mollusks and trilobites. Fish are first found about 450 million years ago, while amphibians appear roughly 380 million years ago. By 300 million years ago, large forests and swamps covered the land, and the earliest fossils of reptiles appear during this period as well.

The Mesozoic saw the ascendence of dinosaurs, although mammals also appear in the fossil record about 200 million years ago. During this time, flowering plants became the dominant plant group and continue to be so today.

The Cenozoic began about 65 million years ago with the end of the age of dinosaurs, which many scientists think was caused by a cosmic impact. Mammals survived to become the dominant land animals of today.

Composition & Structure

Atmosphere

Earth’s atmosphere is roughly 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, with trace amounts of water, argon, carbon dioxide and other gases. Nowhere else in the solar system can one find an atmosphere loaded with free oxygen, which ultimately proved vital to one of the other unique features of Earth — us.

Air surrounds Earth and becomes thinner farther from the surface. Roughly 100 miles (160 km) above Earth, the air is so thin that satellites can zip through with little resistance. Still, traces of atmosphere can be found as high as 370 miles (600 km) above the surface.

The lowest layer of the atmosphere is known as the troposphere, which is constantly in motion, causing the weather. Sunlight heats the planet’s surface, causing warm air to rise. This air ultimately expands and cools as air pressure decreases, and because this cool air is denser than its surroundings, it then sinks, only to get warmed by the Earth once again.

Above the troposphere, some 30 miles (48 km) above the Earth’s surface, is the stratosphere. The still air of the stratosphere contains the ozone layer, which was created when ultraviolet light caused trios of oxygen atoms to bind together into ozone molecules. Ozone prevents most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth’s surface.

Water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun, warming Earth. Without this so-called “greenhouse effect,” Earth would probably be too cold for life to exist, although a runaway greenhouse effect led to the hellish conditions now seen on Venus.

Earth-orbiting satellites have shown that the upper atmosphere actually expands during the day and contracts at night due to heating and cooling.

Magnetic Field

Earth’s magnetic field is generated by currents flowing in Earth’s outer core. The magnetic poles are always on the move, with the magnetic North Pole recently accelerating its northward motion to 24 miles (40 km) annually, likely exiting North America and reaching Siberia in a few decades.

Earth’s magnetic field is changing in other ways, too — globally, the magnetic field has weakened 10 percent since the 19th century, according to NASA. These changes are mild compared to what Earth’s magnetic field has done in the past — sometimes the field completely flips, with the north and the south poles swapping places.

When charged particles from the sun get trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, they smash into air molecules above the magnetic poles, causing them to glow, a phenomenon known as the aurorae, the northern and southern lights.

Chemical Composition

Oxygen is the most abundant element in rocks in Earth’s crust, composing roughly 47 percent of the weight of all rock. The second most abundant element is silicon at 27 percent, followed by aluminum at 8 percent, iron at 5 percent, calcium at 4 percent, and sodium, potassium, and magnesium at about 2 percent each.

Earth’s core consists mostly of iron and nickel and potentially smaller amounts of lighter elements such as sulfur and oxygen. The mantle is made of iron and magnesium-rich silicate rocks. (The combination of silicon and oxygen is known as silica, and minerals that contain silica are known as silicate minerals.)

Internal Structure

Earth’s core is about 4,400 miles (7,100 km) wide, slightly larger than half the Earth’s diameter and roughly the size of Mars. The outermost 1,400 miles (2,250 km) of the core are liquid, while the inner core — about four-fifths as big as Earth’s moon at some 1,600 miles (2,600 km) in diameter — is solid.

Above the core is Earth’s mantle, which is about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) thick. The mantle is not completely stiff, but can flow slowly. Earth’s crust floats on the mantle much as a wood floats on water, and the slow motion of rock in the mantle shuffles continents around and causes earthquakes, volcanoes, and the formation of mountain ranges.

Above the mantle, Earth has two kinds of crust. The dry land of the continents consists mostly of granite and other light silicate minerals, while the ocean floors are made up mostly of a dark, dense volcanic rock called basalt. Continental crust averages some 25 miles (40 km) thick, although it can be thinner or thicker in some areas. Oceanic crust is usually only about 5 miles (8 km) thick. Water fills in low areas of the basalt crust to form the world’s oceans. Earth has more than enough water to completely fill the ocean basins, and the rest of it spreads onto edges of the continents, areas known as the continental shelf.

Earth gets warmer toward its core. At the bottom of the continental crust, temperatures reach about 1,800 degrees F (1,000 degrees C), increasing about 3 degrees F per mile (1 degree C per kilometer) below the crust. Geologists think the temperature of Earth’s outer core is about 6,700 to 7,800 degrees F (3,700 to 4,300 degrees C), and the inner core may reach 12,600 degrees F (7,000 degrees C), hotter than the surface of the sun. Only the enormous pressures found at the super-hot inner core keep it solid.

Recent exoplanet surveys such as NASA’s Kepler mission suggest that Earth-size planets are common throughout the Milky Way galaxy. Nearly a fourth of sun-like stars observed by Kepler have potentially habitable Earth-size planets.

Earth’s Moon

Earth’s moon is 2,159 miles (3,474 km) wide, about one-fourth of Earth’s diameter. Earth has one moon, while Mercury and Venus have none and all the other planets in our solar system have two or more.

The leading explanation for how the moon formed was that a giant impact knocked off the raw ingredients for the moon off the primitive molten Earth and into orbit. Scientists have suggested the impactor was roughly 10 percent the mass of Earth, about the size of Mars.

Species Overview

Earth is the only planet in the universe known to possess life. There are several million known species of life, ranging from the bottom of the deepest ocean to a few miles into the atmosphere, and scientists think far more remain to be discovered. Scientists figure there are between 5 million and 100 million species on Earth, but science has only identified about 2 million of them.

Earth is the only body in the solar system known to host life, although scientists suspect that other candidates — such as Saturn’s moon Titan or Jupiter’s moon Europa — have the potential to house primitive living creatures. Scientists have yet to precisely nail down exactly how complex life rapidly evolved on Earth from more primitive ancestors. One solution suggests that life first evolved on the nearby planet Mars, once a habitable planet, then traveled to Earth on meteorites hurled from the Red Planet.

Original article: http://goo.gl/YasqL

Or as I call it:

Home.

Hang Son Doong

NGS Picture ID:1361054

Hang Son Doong — which roughly translates to Mountain River Cave — is the world’s largest cave and it is so large that it could hold a modern-day skyscraper inside of its caverns, and has its own small jungle.

Located near the Vietnam-Laos border, the cave was found by a local man named Ho-Khanh in 1991. The locals, it is said, were too afraid of the cave to go exploring because of the sound coming from the fast-moving underground river, as well as the huge vertical drop.

In 2009, a group of scientists from the British Cave Research Association began an extensive survey of the cave’s depths.

According to Howard Limbert, the man leading the survey, the cave is five times larger than Phong Nha, which once held the title of the largest in Vietnam. The biggest chamber, his team found, is over five kilometers long and 200 meters tall.

The jungle found inside of the cave has formed underneath a collapsed roof in one of the caverns. After the roof collapsed, enough light spilled into the cavern that vegetation was able to creep in slowly from outside. As the vegetation took hold, larger and larger plants began to grow, and now hornbills, flying foxes, and monkeys dwell in its branches.

In 2013, public visits started to be offered by Oxalis that offer the chance to spend days inside exploring, as well as camping, in this massive cave.

Original article: http://goo.gl/D9vhxU

And from Nation Geographic, the interior of Hang Son Doong as seen from the back of a drone: http://goo.gl/bEZuWs

I am looking forward to visiting Vietnam later this year and seeing this natural wonder.

Awe-inspiring.

Mushrooms

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For thousands of years, Eastern cultures have revered mushrooms’ health benefits. Mushrooms have long been celebrated as a source of powerful nutrients, but they can also help Americans meet the dietary recommendations set forth in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Because Americans often eat mushrooms and when they do, they tend to eat a healthier diet, these positive benefits of mushrooms can have potential impact.

Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium (8%), riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.

Nutrition researchers, communicators, and government and industry organizations who participated in the Mushrooms and Health Summit in Washington, DC, in September, 2013 explored the current state of the science. Summit proceedings, published in the Journal of Nutrition provide a review of the research supporting mushrooms as a food to help Americans eat healthy, responsible, sustainable diets.

Mushrooms are fungi, which are so distinct in nature they are classified as their own kingdom – separate from plants or animals. While commonly placed in the vegetable category for dietary recommendations, mushrooms are, however, not a vegetable based on their cellular organization and composition such as chitin and ergosterol. In fact, as the authors of a recent Nutrition Today article noted, mushrooms’ nutrient and culinary characteristics suggest it may be time to re-evaluate food groupings and health benefits in the context of three separate food kingdoms: plants/ botany; animals/zoology and fungi/mycology.

Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. B vitamins also play an important role in the nervous system.

  1. Pantothenic acid helps with the production of hormones and also plays an important role in the nervous system.
  2. Riboflavin helps maintain healthy red blood cells.
  3. Niacin promotes healthy skin and makes sure the digestive and nervous systems function properly.

Mushrooms are also a source of important minerals:

  1. Selenium is a mineral that works as an antioxidant to protect body cells from damage that might lead to heart disease, some cancers and other diseases of aging. It also has been found to be important for the immune system and fertility in men. Many foods of animal origin and grains are good sources of selenium, but mushrooms are among the richest sources of selenium in the produce aisle and provide 8-22 mcg per serving. This is good news for vegetarians, whose sources of selenium are limited.
  2. Ergothioneine is a naturally occurring antioxidant that also may help protect the body’s cells. Mushrooms provide 2.8-4.9 mg of ergothioneine per serving of white, portabella or crimini mushrooms.
  3. Copper helps make red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. Copper also helps keep bones and nerves healthy.
  4. Potassium is an important mineral many people do not get enough of. It aids in the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance, which helps control blood pressure. It also plays a role in making sure nerves and muscles, including the heart, function properly. Mushrooms have 98-376 mg of potassium per 84 gram serving, which is 3-11 percent of the Daily Value.

Beta-glucans, found in numerous mushroom species, have shown marked immunity-stimulating effects, contribute to resistance against allergies and may also participate in physiological processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars in the human body. The beta-glucans contained in oyster, shiitake and split gill mushrooms are considered to be the most effective.

Mushrooms and Cancer

Scientists at City of Hope were some of the first to find a potential link between mushrooms and a decreased likelihood of tumor growth and development in cells and animals. City of Hope researchers now plan to apply this research to human clinical trials.

Mushroom Antioxidants and Immunity

Mushrooms are the leading source of the essential antioxidant selenium in the produce aisle. Antioxidants, like selenium, protect body cells from damage that might lead to chronic diseases. They help to strengthen the immune system, as well. In addition, mushrooms provide ergothioneine, a naturally occurring antioxidant that may help protect the body’s cells.

Mushrooms and Weight Management

Mushrooms are hearty and filling. Preliminary research suggests increasing intake of low-energy-density foods (meaning few calories given the volume of food), specifically mushrooms, in place of high-energy-density foods, like lean ground beef, can be an effective method for reducing daily energy and fat intake while still feeling full and satiated after the meal.

Sodium and Umami in Mushrooms

Mushrooms and ground meat blend seamlessly to add an extra serving of vegetable to the plate by enhancing or extending the meat. It works because finely chopped, umami-rich mushrooms look similar and take on the flavor properties of meat and other flavors. Add nutrients to America’s iconic foods without losing taste or satisfying texture.

Mushrooms and Vitamin D

When building your plate to maximize vitamin D, consider mushrooms – they’re the only source of vitamin D in the produce aisle and one of the few non-fortified food sources. In fact, the IOM recognizes them as the exception to the rule that plant foods don’t naturally contain vitamin D.

Mushrooms and MyPlate Recommendations

MyPlate – which replaced the Food Pyramid – is a simple visual reference and educational tool that reminds Americans how and what to eat to best meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Thanks to their nutrient-profile and versatility, mushrooms are uniquely suited to do just that. Fresh mushrooms can be added to everyday dishes to provide an extra serving of vegetables and deliver important nutrients including niacin, selenium, and riboflavin. Mushrooms also have vitamin D, ergothionene, and potassium.* Read on to learn more about mushrooms’ role on the plate.

Mushrooms Are Gluten Free

Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide several nutrients that are typically found in animal foods or grains.

Like all fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are naturally gluten free, and make a delicious and nutritious addition to a gluten-free diet.

Original article: http://mushroominfo.com/benefits/

All this sounds really glorious, but I have to admit I don’t like mushrooms… yet.

I am working on it.