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NHNE News Brief 56
Friday, April 11, 1997
"A thought-provoking exploration
of the extraordinary times in which we live."
995 days until January 1, 2000
Total Paid Subscribers: 124
Total Online Update Mailing List: 836
"Where Do You Think You Are?"
Huge Flare Erupts on Sun
Heaven's Gate Movie Deal
New MSNBC Cyberstudio
AOL Poised to Buy COMPUSERVE?
Digital TV Coming
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
A MESSAGE FROM THE PUBLISHER:
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
A Chance to Step Outside Our World
The Concept of Sharing
No-Nonsense Web Site
Millennium Countdown Contest Results
The Hundredth Monkey Revisited
CMI Blasts Distorted Science
A New Spirit in Hollywood
Fingerprints in Cyberspace
ABOUT NHNE & HOW TO JOIN US
"WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?"
There was a man who died and found himself in a beautiful place, surrounded by every conceivable comfort. A white-jacketed man came to him and said, "You may have anything you choose -- any food, any pleasure, any kind of entertainment." The man was delighted, and for days he sampled all the delicacies and experiences of which he had dreamed on Earth. But one day he grew bored with all of it, and calling the attendant to him, he said, "I'm tired of all this. I need something to do. What kind of work can you give me?" The attendant sadly shook his head and replied, "I'm sorry, Sir. That's the one thing we can't do for you. There is no work here for you." To which the man answered, "That's a fine thing. I might as well be in hell." The attendant said softly, "Where do you think you are?"
---Margaret Stevens, from the book "Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart," Edited by Christina Feldman & Jack Kornfield
HUGE FLARE ERUPTS ON SUN
(Sources: ASSOCIATED PRESS via CNN ONLINE 4/10/97; Dick Wilson, CNN ONLINE, 4/8/97, REUTERS, 4/9/97)
On Monday, April 7, 1997 a giant shock wave of electrified gases called a "coronal mass ejection" resulted in a huge solar storm on the surface of the Sun. SOHO, a relatively new NASA satellite, photographed the whole event, producing the first close-up photographs of a solar flare. "Basically, it's a tsunami going across the surface of the Sun," said Art Poland, Senior Scientist with THE SOLAR & HELIOSPHERE OBSERVATORY (SOHO) at the GODDARD SPACE CENTER in Maryland. The resulting immense bubble of superheated gas raced toward Earth at about 1.5 million miles an hour. While scientists originally predicted that the huge magnetic cloud, which measured some 30 million miles across, would strike the Earth, scientists later said the cloud missed the planet. This solar flare was about the same size as the one that destroyed a broadcast satellite in January and in the past, and similar events have triggered power outages on Earth. There were no reports of damages this time. This event apparently is a sign of things to come -- solar activity is expected to increase and peak in the next four to five years as part of a regular 11-year cycle. (JG, DS)
HEAVEN'S GATE MOVIE DEAL
(Source: CNN ONLINE, 4/4/97)
ABC has signed a deal with former Heaven's Gate cult member, Richard Ford, to produce a TV movie based on his experiences with the group. It was Ford, also known as Rio DiAngelo, who first discovered the 39 dead cult members. A network source termed the agreement "strictly a development deal," meaning there is no guarantee that the project will make it to the screen. It was not revealed how much money Ford would receive. (JG)
NEW MSNBC CYBERSTUDIO
(Source: Brendan Intindola, REUTERS, 4/2/97)
MSNBC, the joint cable television-Internet news operation of NBC and MICROSOFT CORP., has just opened a futuristic studio in Secaucus, New York across the Hudson River from Manhattan. The $65 million studio is equipped with the latest communication technology and is a tangible comment on what MICROSOFT and NBC see are the prospects for interactive news in the future. MICROSOFT's Vice President for News and Commentary, Peter Neupert, comments, "This facility is the next step in the implementation of our shared vision of how to change the way news is delivered. Sometime in the future, personal computers and television will merge. That is a medium we want to own." At the new facility, news reporters, writers and producers work side by side with Internet specialists, allowing for a more efficient integration of the various media, including online, cable and broadcast, encompassed by NBC's news operation. Launched last July, MSNBC now reaches 35 million homes, already exceeding the penetration initially forecast for the year 2000, according to David Zaslav, President of NBC CABLE DISTRIBUTION. With that goal surpassed, he said, the cable companies now are guaranteeing a reach of 56 million homes by the end of the century. (JG)
AOL POISED TO BUY COMPUSERVE?
(Sources: Daniel McGinn, NEWSWEEK, 4/14/97; WALL STREET JOURNAL via REUTERS, 4/7/97)
Rumours are flying that AMERICA ONLINE (AOL) is poised to buy out rival COMPUSERVE. Terms are still being negotiated but it seems that AOL will have to issue about 26 million new shares to buy COMPUSERVE from H&R BLOCK, which owns 80 percent of the company. H&R BLOCK's only comment is that it is discussing a "business combination" with AOL. Executives familiar with the talks say that a deal is imminent. The estimated price: $1.2 to 2 billion. Even if the two companies can come to some sort of agreement, bridging the membership gap might take some cybermagic. AOL members tend to be young and love to chat; COMPUSERVE members are older and more serious. Instead of chatting, they participate in public forums and do research. (JG)
DIGITAL TV COMING
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 4/14/97)
Digital TV (DTV) has finally been approved in the U.S. by the FCC and should be coming to a box near you within 18 months. Trouble is that you will have to buy a new TV or at least an expensive converter to enjoy it. One other hurdle still to be negotiated is the standard. The TV industry just regards DTV as a better-looking cousin of the status quo, while heavyweights in the computer industry, namely MICROSOFT, INTEL, and COMPAQ, are pushing for an interactive standard that will be compatible with computers. If the TV folks drag their feet on this one, says COMPAQ Senior VP, movers and shakers in the computer industry will concentrate on shifting video services over onto the Net. (JG)
THE LIGHTER SIDE:
(Source: REUTERS via CNN ONLINE, 3/21/97)
In a recent poll commissioned by U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, while only 67 percent of Americans were certain there was a heaven, 87 percent believed they were going there when they die, including 20 percent who were apparently hedging their bets. Mother Teresa is heaven-bound, said 79 percent of those questioned in the poll; talk show host Oprah Winfrey trailed the celebrated missionary, with 66 percent. President Bill Clinton got the heavenly nod from just over half of those surveyed. That was a little worse than Hillary Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, but ahead of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who grabbed only 40 percent of the vote. And even though O.J. Simpson has been acquitted here on Earth of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, only 19 percent of those polled predicted that the heavenly courts would rule in his favor. (JG)
(Source: UTNE READER, Mar-Apr/97)
If you think doing business in the U.S. is tough, check out the latest fashion craze among Russian capitalists -- bulletproof underwear. Manufactured by the same folks who supply Boris Yeltsin with protective vests, these elegant boxers contain seven steel plates to provide discrete protection for that other vulnerable area of the body. The shorts, which cost $55, are designed to stop an Uzi at 15 feet. Hand wash only. (JG)
(Source: NEWSWEEK, 4/14/97)
So Junior is not quite ready for a pet, but he is begging you for something soft and cuddly to call his own. Consider this: now you can give him a virtual pet, like Fin-Fin from FUJITSU ($60). Half bird, half dolphin, Fin-Fin responds to people through a SmartSensor (included), which detects movement and sound, so when you sit down in front of your computer, Fin-Fin flies to greet you. A new owner has to gain Fin-Fin's trust by playing with it and feeding it virtual food. Once befriended, Fin-Fin will do tricks and may even sing one of 60 songs it knows. Not quite cuddly, but then again, it comes already housebroken and you don't have to take it for a walk in the rain. (JG)
A MESSAGE FROM THE PUBLISHER:
We've tried all kinds of things to generate money to keep NHNE going: Subscriptions, donations, producing and selling maps, videos and books, investing in network marketing companies, launching essay contests, bartering, selling advertising space in our publications and on our Web site -- you name it. Recently, we also seriously considered encouraging everyone who is really interested in our work to become subscribers by no longer freely publishing all of our material on our Web site. We published the opinions of several subscribers in previous News Briefs, and include a couple letters from non-subscribers in this issue (the letters from non-subscribers are late because they didn't find out about this discussion until recent News Briefs were posted on our Web site).
After careful consideration, we've decided that the information we publish is too important to limit only to people who can pay for it. We've also felt, from the beginning, that subscriptions will probably never provide NHNE with all the money we need to do our work. Instead, serious funding will probably come from being able to use our growing network to generate presently unforeseen opportunities. NETSCAPE (and a number of other software companies) is a good example of this line of reasoning. They provide two flagship Web browsers: a stripped-down version that is available to everyone, and a fully-loaded version that is only available to paying customers. By allowing everyone on the planet who is interested to use their product, they end up having millions of users -- which gives them the ability to reach vast numbers of people whenever they want to and, in their case, create a growing number of business opportunities.
We like this idea and can also see that it is one of the few things that is actually working in the Wild West of cyberspace. In addition, we think we've got a product that is destined, sooner or later, to catch the attention of the planet at large. We are, therefore, going to follow the lead of NETSCAPE and other successful Internet-based companies by continuing to publish all of our material, free of charge, on the Web, while still offering our subscribers current issues of all of our material, as well as fast-breaking news, updates, press releases and other information that non-subscribers won't receive.
While we have decided not to withhold information as some of our subscribers suggested, we have taken to heart another suggestion: From now on "lighter side" topics will be included in regular News Briefs, rather than published as separate issues.
In the meantime, we are also exploring other ways to generate the financial support we need to survive. One is to create an NHNE syndicated news service that can provide both the alternative and mainstream press with important news about the growing planetary transformation movement. And the other is to gather together a committed core group of NHNE supporters who would take on the task of providing regular, behind-the-scenes financial and moral support to our growing network. You will be hearing more about both of these ideas in the future.
Finally, I've been busy finishing up a lengthy Special Report that deals with many of the issues generated by the Heaven's Gate situation. Consisting of letters from many of you, and a couple overview articles by me, there will be plenty of food of thought when this report shows up in your email.
Until then, I send you all my best and continue to ask for your prayers, financial support, thoughtful suggestions, and positive thoughts. With your support, we've already gone further, and done more, than many thought we could -- and our ship hasn't even raised its sails yet.
With Love & Best Wishes,
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
A CHANCE TO STEP OUTSIDE OUR WORLD
"I love the News Brief -- I literally wait with bated breath for the new issues to be posted on your Web site. However, I am just coming off maternity leave after having had twins, and my husband's work is seasonal, so things are tight for us right now. With all these pressures and demands, your News Brief is a chance for us to occasionally step outside our normal world. I would like to contribute, since I think what you are doing is very valuable, so when we can afford it, I will subscribe. Removing the News Brief from the Web would deny those in our circumstances the opportunity to see what it is all about. Not much is free on the Web anymore, and it is nice to see someone who doesn't demand money for something that is actually of value."
---Monique M., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
THE CONCEPT OF SHARING
"I am not a paying subscriber -- I get the News Briefs from your Web site and am very happy to be able to do so. I am glad your entire News Brief is accessible to me on the Web. I collect your News Briefs and hand out interesting articles to people who don't have access to the Internet. The discussion as to whether only a reduced version of the News Brief should be posted on the Web makes me sad because it seems to be a issue of money and not of sharing. I thank all your paying subscribers who make it possible for me to share your information with others. I would like to remind them that their subscription might be a statement as well -- a statement on the concept of sharing."
---Manon Richard, Haarlem, The Netherlands
NO-NONSENSE WEB SITE
"Your interview with Ted Daniels in News Brief 52 was fascinating and led me to check out his Web site at some length. Reading through Mr. Daniels' work really helped me think more deeply about issues of end times, especially since the Heaven's Gate incident. His is a no-nonsense Web site, not about visual stimulation, but about getting to the core of this intriguingly universal theme. Particularly noteworthy to me was the lengthy introduction from his book, "Bibliography of the Millennium" found at: <http://www.channel1.com/mpr/Intro.html>. Nothing to breeze through, this is scholarly yet colorfully-written stuff, with the author doing a honorable job of trying to stay objective in a very subjective field. As I read it, I found myself actually smiling at the author's boldness in exploring such dramatic themes. The "Press Kit and Contact Information" section with background information on the author, helped me get a better sense for the man behind the writing. Worth noting also, is the section "Information and Selected Articles," where back issues of his newsletter are available for review. I could go on and on about what I found interesting amongst all those articles, but will simply say, "Plenty!" and recommend that others visit his site too. I'm looking forward to his next book, which will highlight his research to date, and promises to be written for a more general readership."
---Steve Haag, San Jose, California
MILLENNIUM COUNTDOWN CONTEST RESULTS
(Source: Philip Bogdonoff, THE MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE Press Release, 4/3/97)
On April 6, prizes totaling $1,000 were awarded to the four winners of the worldwide "1000-Day-Countdown-to-the-Millennium Ideas Contest." The contest, conducted by the MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE of Arlington, Virginia, invited people from around the world to submit ideas for what they would like done in their communities to best prepare for the next century and the next millennium (News Brief 51). April 6 marked the beginning of the 1,000 day countdown to the beginning of the year 2000. Dr. Gerald O. Barney, President of the MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE, commented, "2000 will be a very special opportunity for people everywhere to think about the world they want to leave to their children and grandchildren, and to consider how their own actions can affect that legacy."
The four contest winners were:
-- Dr. Bonnie Morris, Professor of Women's Studies at GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in Washington, D.C., who proposed that young people should be assigned the role of oral historians in order to "amass the collective memories of our 20th-century elders, whilst training the present generation to observe, record, and respect the past."
-- Ms. Judith McCardle, an employee of BELL CANADA in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, who suggested that in preparation for the Millennium, people could begin "giving one hour each day for 1,000 days to a cause that demonstrates love of the Earth and all living things."
-- Mr. Jay Moor of the UNITED NATIONS CENTRE FOR HUMAN SETTLEMENTS (HABITAT) in Nairobi, Kenya, who submitted a proposal "aimed at the millennial issue of good governance and leadership, considering that perhaps two-thirds of all our development problems are a result of some form of corruption." He suggested that foundations, governments, and private businesses be asked to demand ethical behavior and reduce corruption.
-- Mr. Ronald Stamper of the UNIVERSITY OF TWENTE, the Netherlands, who suggested that governments replace the GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT (GDP) with the INDICATOR OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC WELFARE (ISEW) "which would reveal the bad news about the costly damage we are doing to future generations as well as our own."
20 honorable mentions were also awarded.
Full-text versions of the winners' ideas, and abstracts of the honorable mentions are available from the MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE. Summaries are posted on the Institute's Web Site (http://www.igc.org/millennium), along with information on how others are preparing for the Millennium. (JG)
THE HUNDREDTH MONKEY REVISITED
(Sources: Elaine Myers, IN CONTEXT, Spring/85; Markus Pössel and Ron Amundson, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, May-June/96)
Most people are familiar with the story of "The Hundredth Monkey." Lyall Watson first told it in "Lifetide," but its most widely-known version is in the book "The Hundredth Monkey" by Ken Keyes. For those of you who don't know it, the story goes like this: The Japanese monkey, Macaca fuscata, had been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years. One of their favorite foods was the sweet potato. In 1952, an 18-month-old female named Imo on the island of Koshima found she could solve the annoying problem of sand on her potatoes by washing them before eating them. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way from her and they taught their mothers. Before the eyes of the scientists, this cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys, and by 1958 all of the young monkeys on the island had learned to wash sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable. In the autumn of 1958, a critical number of Koshima monkeys, estimated at 99, were washing sweet potatoes, and on the day that the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes, something startling took place -- the habit of washing sweet potatoes jumped over the sea and instantly colonies of monkeys on other islands and on the mainland began washing their sweet potatoes as well!
Elaine Myers, a writer living in Washington State and a regular contributer to IN CONTEXT MAGAZINE, found the premise -- that an ideological breakthrough occurs when enough individuals in a population adopt a new idea or behavior allowing this new awareness to be communicated directly from mind to mind without the connection of external experience -- to be very appealing and believable. The concept of Jung's collective unconscious, and the biologists' morphogenetic fields offer parallel stories that help strengthen this strand of our imaginations. The more widespread these fields are, the greater their influence on the physical level of reality. We sometimes refer to the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon (HMP) when we need supporting evidence of the possibility of an optimistic scenario for the future, such as a future based on peace instead of war -- if enough of us would just think the right thoughts.
However, when Myers went back to the original research cited by Watson, she did not find the same story that he tells. Where he claims to have had to improvise details, the reports are quite precise, and they do not support the "ideological breakthrough" phenomenon. At first, she was disappointed; but as she delved deeper into the research, she found a growing appreciation for the lessons the real story of these monkeys have for us.
Up until 1958, Keyes' description follows the research quite closely, although not all the young monkeys in the troop learned to wash the potatoes. By March, 1958, 15 of the 19 young monkeys (aged two to seven years) and 2 of the 11 adults were washing sweet potatoes. Up to this time, the propagation of the innovative behavior was on an individual basis, along family lines and playmate relationships. Most of the young monkeys began to wash their potatoes when they were one to two and a half years old. Males older than 4 years, who had little contact with the young monkeys, did not acquire the behavior.
By 1959, sweet potato washing was no longer a new behavior to the group. Monkeys that had acquired the behavior as juveniles were growing up and having their own babies. This new generation of babies learned sweet potato washing behavior through the normal cultural pattern of the young imitating their mothers. By January 1962, almost all the monkeys on Koshima Island, except those adults born before 1950, were observed to be washing their sweet potatoes. If an individual monkey had not started to wash sweet potatoes by the time he was an adult, he was unlikely to learn it later, regardless of how widespread it became among the younger members of the troop.
In the original reports, there was no mention of the group passing a critical threshold that resulted in the idea being imparted to the entire troop. The older monkeys remained steadfastly ignorant of the new behavior. Likewise, there was no mention of widespread sweet potato washing in other monkey troops. There was mention of occasional sweet potato washing by individual monkeys in other troops, but Myers thinks there are other simpler explanations for such occurrences -- if there was an Imo in one troop, there could be Imo-like monkeys in other troops.
Instead of an example of the spontaneous transmission of ideas, Myers thinks the story of the Japanese monkeys is a good example of the propagation of a paradigm shift, as in Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Truly innovative points of view tend to come from those on the edge between youth and adulthood. The older generation continues to cling to the world view they grew up with. The new idea does not become universal until the older generation withdraws from power, and a younger generation matures within the new point of view. It is also an example of the way that simple innovations can lead to extensive cultural change. By using water in connection with their food, the Koshima monkeys began to exploit the sea as a resource in their environment. Sweet potato washing led to wheat washing, and then to bathing behavior and swimming, and the utilization of sea plants and animals for food.
What does this say about morphogenetic fields and the collective unconscious? Not very much. There may well be a "critical mass" required to shift a new behavior from a fragile personal idiosyncrasy to being a well-established alternative, but creating a new alternative does not automatically displace older alternatives. It just provides more choices. What the research does suggest, however, is that positive ideas are not sufficient by themselves to change the world. We still need direct communication between individuals, we need to translate our ideas into action, and we need to recognize the freedom of choice of those who choose alternatives different from our own. (JG)
CMI BLASTS DISTORTED SCIENCE
(Sources: CSICOP Press Release, 2/8/97; Kendrick Frazier, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, 4/3/97)
The opening salvos in the new COUNCIL FOR MEDIA INTEGRITY's (CMI) campaign to improve the treatment of science in television entertainment programming were fired recently in Los Angeles. The Council, established last June by the Committee for the SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF CLAIMS OF THE PARANORMAL (CSICOP), was formed to closely monitor and quickly respond to distorted treatments of science and uncritical presentations of paranormal and fringe-science claims in the media.
In its first meeting and first news conference on January 9, the Council attacked the major television networks for running two or three pseudoscientific specials almost every month. "Recently there have been programs on prophecies, astrology, psychic powers, creationism, Noah's Ark, angels, and alien abductions," said the Council. All of them posed, in some way, as being based on scientific fact. The Council also criticized the many talk shows devoted to the paranormal in which claims favorable to the paranormal are given a platform but the scientific viewpoint is rarely allowed.
The Council's two co-chairs, entertainer and author Steve Allen and Nobel laureate nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg, called for the television industry to exercise greater responsibility toward science and truth. "We are talking about shows that are presented as if they are true," said Allen, creator and host of the original "Tonight Show," producer of the award-winning "Meeting of Minds" television series, and author of nearly 50 books, including "Dumbth" and "81 Ways to Make Americans Smarter." Allen has been a long-time advocate of critical thinking (News Brief 46). He and other speakers emphasized that series like "Star Trek" and "The Twilight Zone" never crossed that line and are not of concern. But a recent disturbing trend is "reality-based" TV programming in which fictional dramas or pseudodocumentaries claim or imply that they are based on truth and scientific fact. "I call them damn lies," said Allen. Seaborg, discover or co-discoverer of eleven elements including plutonium, former Chairman of the ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION, and current Associate Director of the LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY, pointed to the discouraging state of scientific literacy in American society. "We have a problem with regard to the amount of pseudoscience facing us. One solution is increasing the scientific literacy of the general public." Unfortunately, much of the current television programming has the opposite effect.
Council member Eugenie Scott, Director of the NATIONAL CENTER FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION in Berkeley, California, said the concern is that science be portrayed honestly. "You don't have to present the crackpot stuff to be interesting." CSICOP staff member Tom Flynn showed excerpts from NBC's notorious 1996 pseudoscientific, documentary-style "Mysterious Origins of Man," which presented, as Flynn put it, "the utterly baseless idea that dinosaurs and man lived at the same time. This program did probably more than any other to reinforce the idea that dinosaurs and man co-existed." The day after the NBC program aired, science teachers throughout the U.S. were deluged with questions from their students about dinosaur-human coexistence. Scott said this single program set science education back by decades.
CSICOP founder and chairman Paul Kurtz said the media have now virtually replaced schools, colleges, and universities as the main source of information for the general public. "We do not wish to censor the media. We only ask that they provide some balance and some appreciation of the scientific approach." The Council will continue to monitor such programs and attempt to persuade producers, directors, writers, and the general public to leave room for the appreciation of scientific methods of inquiry.
To provide leverage for its response to the television networks' lucrative commercial marketing of fringe science and pseudo science, CSICOP is seeking to acquire common stock in media conglomerate companies, in order to take part in shareholder meetings, where it can question the infatuation with the paranormal increasingly demonstrated in television programming. Deliberately targeted are the four major television networks, which is to say, the well-known media conglomerates WESTINGHOUSE (CBS), GENERAL ELECTRIC (NBC), NEWSCORP (FOX), and DISNEY (ABC), as well as TIME-WARNER. As a 'shareholder,' CSICOP will have opportunities to submit viewpoints to shareholder publications and sponsor shareholder resolutions. (JG)
A NEW SPIRIT IN HOLLYWOOD
(Source: John Dart, LA TIMES, 4/1/97)
From the early days of film, Hollywood and organized religion have regarded each other with deep suspicion, and sometimes open hostility. "Perverts" in the movie business had a hidden agenda to "paganize the nation," railed Joe Breen, the Catholic layman who headed the PRODUCTION CODE OFFICE that held censorship power over virtually all American films from the early 1930s to the 1960s. Churches routinely condemned movies and the people who made them as being sinful and devoid of morality.
But strangely, ever since the furor nine years ago over Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," the relationship has warmed. Many religious leaders now prefer to work along with producers and artists to influence the themes of films and television shows, and are more likely to congratulate than condemn. This new social and professional acceptance in Hollywood of things religious seems to be an offshoot of a nationwide upsurge of interest in spiritual pursuits.
"Until very recently, pathetically few people of either Jewish or Christian background have taken their faith seriously in Hollywood," said movie reviewer Michael Medved, whose 1992 book "Hollywood vs. America" harshly criticized the industry for having an aggressively secular tilt. "There is now more of a constructive religious presence in Hollywood than at any time in the last 10 years," said Medved, co-founder of the Pacific Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue in Venice.
For example, "in the last five years, it's become acceptable to thank God in speeches at the Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards," said Howard Suber, Co-chairman of the UCLA's PRODUCERS PROGRAM. "If anyone did that in the 1970s and 1980s, it would not have been taken as a genuine expression of faith." Tim Robbins, who wrote and directed "Dead Man Walking," explained his movie-making philosophy earlier his year while accepting a Humanitas award. "I believe strongly that what you see on the screen as a child helps provide a moral path for later years. You really can effect change through television and movies." Christian activist Ted Baehr, who publishes MOVIEGUIDE for Christian readers, confirms the trend. When he began the magazine 12 years ago "the number of movies aimed at family audiences was at a low point of 6 percent. In 1995, 40 percent of the movies were aimed at families."
Without necessarily claiming credit for all or even much of the shift -- money is still the ultimate god in Hollywood -- religious leaders say many current movies reflect the moral values they preach. They cite family movies about forgiveness, hope and other uplifting themes, such as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "The Preacher's Wife," "Toy Story," "Babe" and "The Lion King" and the treatment of repentance in "Dead Man Walking," an Oscar-winning film that portrayed a contemporary Catholic nun. Baehr suggests that value-laden movies can make money and receive critical acclaim. Two examples he cites are "Mr. Holland's Opus," which showed that the true worth of a man depends on caring for others, and "Forrest Gump," which contrasted a simple but good soul with the slick, worldly, and empty people he encountered. And even though last year's winner of the Oscar for best picture, "Braveheart," was a violent battlefield epic, it impressed some evangelicals as a sermon extolling liberty over injustice.
Perhaps the ultimate coup by a religious enterprise was the long-shot success last year of "The Spitfire Grill," produced for a comparatively cheap $6 million by a Catholic charitable group in Mississippi looking for a way to bring religious values to film audiences. "Spitfire," the tale of a young woman just out of prison who rejuvenates the spiritual outlook of a small town in Maine, was a hit at Robert Redford's SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL and took off from there. In giving "Spitfire" its Spiritual Quest Award in Film in November, the Los Angeles First Congregational Church called it a "startling story about healing and the renewal of a community."
The increasingly lusty films of the 1920s generated a backlash from moral crusaders which resulted in the major studios setting up the PRODUCTION CODE OFFICE. Its censoring efforts were entwined with the clout of the LEGION OF DECENCY, which could slash a scene or raise a neckline by threatening to condemn a film as immoral, driving away millions of Catholic customers. As those restraints faded with the old studio system amid the social revolutions of the 1960s, filmmakers felt freer to portray life realistically and explore mature subjects without worrying about religious concerns. They often challenged long-observed taboos and sometimes offended believers by depicting, among other things, gay priests and a lustful Jesus. It was the furor over the latter -- in "The Last Temptation of Christ" -- that many say gave rise to the new rapprochement. Conservative evangelicals and Catholics spent months urging UNIVERSAL PICTURES not to release "Last Temptation," calling it blasphemous and anti-Christian, particularly a dream sequence in which the film's Jesus succumbs to sexual desires. The studio and its allies denounced the effort as censorship. And although some theater chains refused to carry the movie, many leaders in organized religion came away feeling that their protests had done more to publicize the film than alter its content.
Margaret R. Miles of HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL says Hollywood now appears to be doing religion's traditional job. In her 1996 book "Seeing and Believing: Religion and Values in the Movies," she wrote that believers and nonbelievers alike "now gather about cinema and television screens rather than in churches to ponder the moral quandaries of American life." That is a concept not lost on those with a foot in both worlds. Randall Wallace, who dropped out of DUKE UNIVERSITY DIVINITY SCHOOL to write films, won the Writers Guild Award and an Oscar last year for "Braveheart." Said Wallace: "The well-intentioned efforts of many groups to eliminate violence, racism, profanity, immorality or sexism from television can result in anti-artistic impulses to force artists to portray characters without flaw and without opinion. I fear that efforts to restrict the profane can all too easily become efforts to restrict the holy. 'Braveheart' was best sermon I could have ever preached." (JG)
FINGERPRINTS IN CYBERSPACE
(Sources: Steven Levy, NEWSWEEK, 4/14/97; Russell Blinch, REUTERS, 4/7/97)
Despite some claims to the contrary, business is booming on the Internet these days. A study released in March by COMMERCENET/NEILSEN MEDIA RESEARCH reports a "startling increase" in the amount of actual products and services being purchased on the Net, and FORRESTER RESEARCH estimates that the Net will be logging $6.6 billion in sales by the turn of the century. One Internet success story is computer manufacturer DELL which is racking up more than $1 million in online sales A DAY! A number of media giants are counting on people being willing to pay for content: the electronic version of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL now has 70,000 paid subscribers and DISNEY has just launched a subscription-only Web site called DAILY BLAST. Comments Jake Winebaum of DISNEY, "The time is ripe for us to be launching our [online] products." And although FEDEX does not charge for their online tracking services, they calculate that it saves them $1 million a month in people-hours. [It cost NHNE $1.50 to retrieve the article by John Dart from the LA TIMES which we used as a source for the Religion an Hollywood story in this News Brief. It was worth it. JG]
But not everyone is comfortable with sending their credit card numbers out into cyberspace, where security remains a big concern. Now a small Toronto-based company has developed a technology where your fingerprint may be the key to unlocking the door to safe electronic commerce on the Internet. MYTEC TECHNOLOGIES is has come up with a patented fingerprint verification system based on what it calls "Biometric Encryption," which uses a fingerprint as a way of scrambling a person's vital personal information.
In the future, buying a product online could be as simple as touching your finger on an optical device on your mouse or keyboard to release an encrypted version of your credit card number to an online merchant. The merchant would send the encrypted number to the credit card association, which would use its proprietary pattern to release a secret key, unravel the credit card number and validate the purchase. The merchant would not see the actual credit card number and the encrypted information would be useless without positive matching of a finger pattern.
"The process is very convenient and easy to process," said Dennis Hollingshead, co-founder and President of MYTEC. "The user will find this type of service virtually seamless." COMPAQ COMPUTER is considering implementing the device on its keyboards and financial companies keen on beefing up the security of their electronic payment systems are also expressing strong interest. MYTEC hopes to release its own commercial optical computing device by the end of the year at a retail cost of under $1,000. (JG)
David Sunfellow (DS)
James Gregory (JG)
Gail Rossi (GR)
Joya Pope (JP)
Palden Jenkins (PJ)
Kathleen-Blake Frankel (KBF)
Karol Ann Barnett (KAB)
Mary Koch (MK)
Robert Perry (RP)
Steve Haag (SH)
Chris Czech (CC)
Sandy Ezrine (SE)
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