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'97 Blue-Byes

[whitespace] Hale-Bopp cults, mad cows, and other delights

By Bob Harris

Nineteen-ninety seven turned out to be full of bizarre surprises. In just the last 12 months, we've had cloned sheep, Hale-Bopp cults, El Niño, mad cows ... and now it looks like Titanic might even turn out to be pretty good. You just never know.

Heck, Los Angeles has actually started locking celebrities up, one by one. Finally.

Now comes this latest weirdness: Physicists have figured out a rudimentary form of teleportation. It ain't "Beam Me Up, Scotty," exactly, but it's also a lot faster than Greyhound.

TV sci-fi teleportation usually means breaking stuff down into energy particles, shooting them in a beam toward their destination, and then rebuilding everything on the far end. But it turns out that's not practical, and the reason is cool to think about, especially while listening to Pink Floyd on the wrong speed: You can't build something without an exact plan, and at a small enough level, matter doesn't really have one.

Remember the atom they taught you about in school--billiard-ball protons and neutrons, electrons whizzing around in orbit? It's complete baloney, actually, but it's close enough for 10th grade, and who looks that close at a proton anyway?

The real deal--which was mostly figured out by a half-dozen guys with frighteningly Teutonic names ending in "grr"--involves something called the Uncertainty Principle. (Which pretty much explains my whole freaking life. But I digress.)

Subatomic particles aren't little billiard balls at all, but sort of, uh, probability zones where location and momentum can't quite be pinned down because--get this--when you get that small, that stuff simply stops existing in the exact sense you and I normally understand.

Which makes no sense, I realize. But then, if most physicists had any sense, they'd take off the goggles and go meet a girl. The new teleportation trick doesn't involve breaking matter down. Instead, there's this truly odd phenomenon called "entanglement," where distant particles mirror each other for (leaving aside a bunch of stuff you don't need to know, unless you're planning on building your next Buick out of a big pile of quarks) pretty much no damn reason. Even Einstein was freaked.

And what the labcoats just figured out is how to use this entanglement deal to perfectly reproduce stuff across space.

The bad news is, it's still not gonna replace Amtrak. For one, they can do it only with a single photon, and I don't care how much you dig that Spinning class at the gym, you're not gonna get there. Second, the original is always annihilated in the process. And that's already enough of a risk on public transportation.

So Star Trek is still science fiction. For at least a few more weeks, anyway.

Dictators are getting some pretty bad press lately. Cults of personality, sharply bounded groupthink, and savage attacks against ideological opponents just don't play all that well on TV. Although they seem to do OK on the radio.

So how does the up-and-coming young totalitarian try to polish his rep these days? Hey, it's the '90s, babe. How else? By advertising. And in the New York Times, no less.

That's right. I missed it myself, but the Reuters newswire says that if you flipped through the Times the other day, you saw a full-page ad from none other than Kim Jong Il, the new maximum leader of North Korea.

This I have got to see. It's hard to imagine the following in America's Newspaper of Record: a giant picture of Kim himself, dressed up in full military doodads, titled "Kim Jong Il Emerges as the Lodestar for Sailing the 21st Century."

(I don't know what a "lodestar" is, either. Apparently it has something to do with sailing. You learn something new every day.)

Kim wasn't elected, of course. He's just gets to be lodestar and all because his dad was Kim Il Sung, the previous dictator. That's the same reason Steve Forbes is rich, actually. But Steve Forbes doesn't run a totalitarian state, and probably wouldn't even want to. Kim Jong Il does.

So what the heck is the New York Times doing accepting this ad, anyway? Granted, $85K is a nice piece of change, but they've turned down ads for political reasons before. Heck, while they're at it, why doesn't the Times just go ahead and take ads from other Presidents for Life? You can see where this is going. ...

"Castro: This Is Not Your Father's Bolshevik." "Indonesia: We Do the Work, So You Won't Have To." "Saddam Hussein: Give Us a Week, We'll Take off the Throw-Weight."

North Korea's in the middle of this massive famine, but Pyongyang sees fit to pour $85,000 into a masturbatory ad, and the Times simply pockets the money.

Couldn't that cash have been used to maybe, oh, feed somebody? Wouldn't that be a better way for North Korea to get some decent press--and for the Times to provide it?

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From the December 24-31, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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