Earth, 96 minutes, released April 22, 2009
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
By James Zimmerman
Disney attempts to recapture the success of their 1950s series True-life Adventures (their collection of multi-Oscar winning nature documentaries) with the release of Earth. Earth is the first in a line of proposed projects under the Magic Kingdom's Disneynature independent film label, created in 2008.
Striving to present events in chronological order over the course of a single calendar year, Earth has been billed as "following the migration paths of three animal families." But that's only part of the story, as the three families (polar bears, elephants, humpback whales) combined account for only about half the screen time. Interspersed throughout, Earth shows the mating rituals of New Guinean birds-of-paradise, the predator-prey relationship of wolves and caribou, the demanding search for water across the African continent and, in a humorous segment, a family of ducklings' first "flight" out of the nest.
Being Disney, the film-makers use every trick of the trade. With footage largely culled from the BBC program Planet Earth, we are treated to expansive aerial scenes of migrating throngs of animals, slowed down footage of great white sharks breaching out of the water to capture their meals (a taste of nature so captivating it deserves-and gets-repeated showings), time-lapse segments of a forest floor greening and flowers opening up their enticements to their unsuspecting pollinators. Filming took place in 64 countries, including Nepal, where the producers were given access to spy planes enabling them to record the first ever footage of aerial shots over Mt. Everest. The documentary covers the planet from north to south-it begins on the Arctic ice and ends on the shores of Antarctica. In between we are shown forests, waterfalls, oceans, jungles, mountains, and deserts and there is scarcely a moment when the screen does not amaze-from the small close-ups of a duckling scrambling to its feet to the low-earth orbit shots of the sun rising over the orb of the planet. All told, at $40 million, this is the most expensive documentary ever created.
James Earl Jones provides narration, and besides fawning over the beauty and light-heartedly commenting on the funnier moments, he offers several truly fascinating bits of information. While we watch the uneasy alliance between elephants and lions at a small, lone watering hole, Jones notes that the elephants, with their superior size, dominate by day, but the lions, with their legendary feline vision, dominate the night. He also points out that half of the world's oxygen is produced, not in the rain forests, but in the coniferous tree line where arctic meets temperate.
The narrator takes the opportunity to comment on environmental issues; not surprising as this film was released on Earth Day, and its subject matter lends it to such discussions. The warnings and respect the film's creators dispense, however, are subtle: the main message here is the planet's beauty, after all, and the dialogue is careful to not turn off those who do not consider themselves green. They are successful in this regard; it's much easier to win people over to caring for the earth when showing them footage of the precious and spectacular planet, rather than forcing them to listen to a politician.
Earth is appropriate for children, though some might be scared by scenes of animals capturing their prey. In true Disney fashion, the scene cuts before anything brutal happens, but there are brief shots of carnivores tagging their prey with the paws and clamping down on the necks of their victims. If you do go, and your little ones haven't gotten too antsy by the end, stay for the credits: a split-screen shows the audience how some of the unique and difficult scenes were captured on film (perhaps this is Disney attempting to preemptively answer the charges of staged shots that marred the True-life film White Wilderness). Both informative and humorous, these brief glimpses at the cinematographer's adventures is among the most entertaining of the entire documentary.
On April 19, the featured speaker at our public meeting was Jerry Dincin of Chicago, the new president of the Final Exit Network. FEN is a four year old organization that supports the right of individuals to choose the time of their death. Minnesota Atheists has supported this issue since 1999, when we presented an award in absentia to Dr. Jack Kevorkian after a Michigan court convicted him of second degree murder for assisting in the death of a man with terminal ALS.
Dincin told a story of legal persecution even more extreme than the Kevorkian case. While Kevorkian directly participated in the suicide by administering a fatal injection, the Final Exit Network meticulously avoids any active role in suicides. Although FEN provided the information needed to end one's life painlessly, the client alone was entirely responsible for every step in the process. They took care to avoid ever recommending suicide to a client. The only support the FEN provided was hand-holding, to provide psychological comfort. Kevorkian was a provocateur, who tried to win the battle over assisted suicide by daring the state to prosecute him. The Final Exit Network, to the contrary, meticulously avoided violating any laws.
But the state of Georgia saw things differently. In February they arrested four officers of the Final Exit Network for assisting in a suicide by a member who suffered from cancer of the throat and mouth. Most astonishingly, Georgia decided to shut the FEN down by prosecuting it under Georgia's Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) law. State and federal RICO laws were written to combat the mafia. In a coordinated operation, Georgia conducted raids in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Montana, and seized $550,000 in FEN bank accounts. The seizures forced them to raise $50,000 for legal expenses so far, and have effectively put the FEN out of operation.
Dincin expects the Final Exit Network and the arrested officers to be cleared of all charges, but that is not likely to happen any time soon. Unlike nearly every other state, Dincin explained, the laws of Georgia do not give defendants the right to a speedy trial. FEN may be kept in legal limbo, with their assets frozen, indefinitely.
An impromptu appeal from Steve Petersen collected over $200 for the FEN's legal defense fund. Members who wish to donate to their legal defense should call 866-230-2471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions.
Dincin stated that the Final Exit Network supports clients "who are suffering intolerably from an irreversible condition which has become more than they can bear." The program of Final Exit Network accepts members with cancer, ALS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's disease, congestive heart failure, emphysema, and other incurable illnesses.
by Crystal Dervetski
In the course of writing publicly about atheism, I have come across some questions, and many times opposition, regarding belonging to a formal organization for freethinkers. As with most questions, they are repeated multiple times by a variety of people, and oddly enough, many times they come not from religious persons but from fellow atheists. I plan on sharing a few great statements and questions I have received over the last year, and my answers to them.
Put the energy from the Day of Reason to good use on May 17, as Chuck Samuelson, Executive Director of ALCU MN drops by the Ridgedale Library at 2 p.m. for a presentation on ACLU MN's current lawsuit against a charter school in Apple Valley known as TiZA. Those who are not familiar with the case will learn about how this charter school has violated the separation of church and state and what steps the ALCU MN takes leading up to a lawsuit to attempt to resolve issues without litigation.
TiZA is accused of violating the separation of church and state on several issues. The school has a prayer posted at the entrance, girls are prohibited from wearing short sleeves, and school buses don't leave until the hour after school ends, which is when religious studies classes are held, which most students are enrolled in.
This case is important for several reasons. There
are clear concerns at the school, with regard to the endorsement of a
particular religion. However, when the Minnesota Department of
Education investigated claims, they did not see any violations, but
urged the school to better separate religious expression from the
school day. What this means is that the rules for Charter Schools in
Minnesota need to be written more clearly to protect the separation
of church and state so litigation becomes unnecessary. Other
religious groups are also watching the outcome of this lawsuit to see
how the court will rule. If ACLU MN is not successful, this could
mean that your tax dollars could be used to fund other schools with
shared religious service facilities, daily worship, and after school
religious studies classes.
After the meeting, we will be gathering for an early dinner to discuss the meeting further.
For more information, visit meetup.com.