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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 10/10/97 -- Vol. 16, No. 15
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4824/lsc2.htm. Evelyn Leeper's LoneStarCon 2 report. [-ecl]
Well, so there we were at a friend's house having dinner and meeting our friend's mother. Our friend did not really like dealing with her mother, but considered it her responsibility. I am not really sure why her mother was the way she was. It may have been some sort of mental imbalance; it may have been just bloody- minded insistence on being overly frank. It did not stop her from being a bank teller--she had not been committed--but her mind was not quite like ours either. Her frankness about how much she disliked our friend's father had been expressed with a pair of scissors at one point and the woman had to be restrained. Care for a mother she disliked had a wearing toll on our friend and she had apologized in advance in case her mother said anything nasty.
Our friend introduced us to her mother and said that Mark was a mathematician. (I am, though not professionally, but it was a nice thing to say.) The mother responded "Oh, I don't like mathematicians." "Why not," I asked. "I think they have lost touch with humanity." I fought the urge to ask her how many mathematicians had she known. But what she said was probably perfectly true. She did think that. That is the stereotype of scientist and particularly mathematicians. Scientists are the guys who are ruining the world, that is the impression you would get from the media. How often do you see a scientist positively portrayed? Almost never. On the new OUTER LIMITS, for example, one scientist after another is portrayed as risking the common good for a discovery that will mostly benefit only himself.
Back at Stanford I first noticed that the mathematicians I ran into there seemed to have a very broad set of interests. One of my professors went into the courtyard each lunch time and played the recorder. I remember discussing science fiction and classic literature with other math students. When there was a classical concert in San Francisco, people would go in for it. ("You really should take advantage of all the culture you can. You could end up some place like Buffalo," one of the guys told me.) I wonder if bank tellers are so fascinated with art and literature. The woman probably considered gossiping with her friends and going home and watching TV as being in touch with humanity. I would be willing to give heavy odds that the mathematicians I knew, myself included, know more about art, about literature, about classic music than almost any liberal arts people know about math. Forget the big painters like Picasso and Van Gogh, I can picture paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Chagall. Ask the average liberal arts person what sort of thing did Euler do, and how about Gauss, you will probably get blank stares. Or you get, "Well, heh-heh, I never was very interested in math."
I was in my college honors program and we used to get together in the honors lounge and just shoot the bull. One guy who was very proud of his great erudition--you get some like that in the honors program--saw I had a book on Group Theory. "That sounds very interesting." (His stock shot up a few points in my estimation.) "What is that about?" (Up another few points.) "Well, it's a structure in mathematics." "It's a math book?" (Back down a few points.) "I thought it was psychology or sociology." (Down a few more.) "I guess you can have groups of numbers." (His stock took a nose-dive.) I offered to explain to him what Group Theory was, but he said if it was math he wasn't that interested. (The bottom fell out of the market.) This was someone who expected to be a leader of tomorrow but he didn't want to learn math along the way.
People, educated people, back away from having anything to do with reading about math and science. Sometimes they give themselves political reasons. Our book discussion group at our library reads some Ibsen, some Steinbeck, and books about social problems. I suggested we read the book INNUMERACY, about this very problem. "Is that about how women can't do math?" "Well, no it's about how PEOPLE don't understand math." In the vote it was resoundingly defeated.
When you come right down to it reading Melville, seeing a van Gogh, seeing a ballet, these are just elevated forms of entertainment. We are called on to make decisions on nuclear power, on the Hubble Space Telescope (which a friend of a friend in all seriousness calls the Hubble Space Telephone), biological and medical research, funding for the supercollider. Now, if you have no better mind than to think of the supercollider as a big icky expensive toy that some male chauvinists want to play with, how good a decision can you make on whether we need one?
I guess everybody has to feel superior to someone. And I guess it should be obvious from this article that I am as guilty of this as anyone. But I doubt I would ever feel superior to someone because they know something I don't. And that is what this anti-math and science thing is. [-mrl]
And here's a guest editorial from retired member Pete Brady:
Being an almost Senior Citizen: some moral problems.
I am now 60 years of age, and qualify for senior citizen discount in some, but not all places.
I went to the movies recently and the price for adults was $7, ie $14 for two, or, for senior citizens, $4.75, ie, $9.50 for two. I asked for two tickets and gave a $20 bill to the young woman selling tickets. She gave me two tickets and $11.50 change.
As I was walking away from the booth, I realized she had given me the senior citizen rate, but I didn't spend much time thinking about it, and I certainly did not try to misrepresent myself to her. She had decided that my wife and I qualified for it.
A week later, with a different ticket seller in the same theater, I bought two tickets and handed the clerk a $20 bill, and she gave me two tickets and $6 change. This time, I looked at the rate posted on the sign, and realized that the threshold age was greater than 60 (I think, 62). Then, the clerk looked at me and mumbled almost inaudibly, "Do you get a discount rate?" I said no, and that was that.
But this makes me realize that the clerk is routinely, many times an evening, put on the spot. Does she ask if a person qualifies, only to insult, say, a person 52 years old by thinking that he or she looks 10 years older? Or, does she fail to offer the discount only to be chewed out by a genuinely old person? And, let us say that from this point forward, I simply hand the clerk a $20 bill each time, and just accept whatever happens. I of course am stealing from the theater, but many people would think I am not; I am just benefitting from their mistake. After all, don't people take pencils and other, more valuable, items home from work?
U-TURN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: Oliver Stone gives us a story that would have been good had it not followed RED ROCK WEST and LONE STAR. This film might have made a decent low-budget film with a nothing cast. Instead it under-uses several major stars who brought little special to their roles. Sean Penn plays a small-time crook who is trapped in an Arizona town and becomes a pawn in conflicting deadly games. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4), 5 (0 to 10)
There is nothing superior about Superior, Arizona, an all but dead town with a few people living in the carcass. Small time hood Bobby Cooper, played by Sean Penn, has engine trouble and must pull into Superior to get his car fixed. The one garage near town is run by a desert rat of a mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) who gives more trouble than service. Cooper leaves his car and goes into town and after a bizarre interchange with a blind half-Indian beggar (a well-disguised Jon Voight) he gets himself involved with attractive Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez of SELENA). Too late he finds she has a husband Jake (Nick Nolte whose performance owes a lot to Bruce Dern). Soon Jake and Grace are each trying to embroil Cooper in a plot to kill the other. If that were not enough of a problem there are people coming to town to collect on a bad debt. And to further complicate matters a local bully wants to show how tough he is by beating up Cooper. Cooper cannot expect too much help from the town's unfriendly Sheriff Potter (Powers Booth). This seems to be a fly-speck town where everybody either has a dark secret or is working full time on getting one, and too many of these plots involve Cooper. Most of the plot twists are telegraphed as the film wends its way to a rather bloody and violent last reel. But by this point we do not care particularly what happens to Cooper who is not particularly likable, even less smart, and who basically floats like a cork and generally is acted upon rather than acting himself.
In general this film is top-heavy with style touches that add to uneven effect where less might have been considerably more. John Ridley's script based on his novel STRAY DOGS might have made a more effective as a low-budget independent film with fewer self- indulgent style experiments. Oliver Stone has just a bit too much fun here laughing a little too hard at exaggerated eccentrics for us to really take the story seriously and the light-hearted score by Ennio Morricone is a little too flippant. Stone under-utilizes expensive actors where unknowns might have worked a lot better.
Since NATURAL BORN KILLERS weird camera effects have been a Stone hallmark. Even NIXON had to have a few weird visual effects and here there are more than the story needs. The film opens with Cooper driving down a road under credits that look like they were scratched into the film. There are repeated images of vultures showing how little sympathy this corner of Arizona has for the weak or unprepared. Robert Richardson's cinematography experiments with film stocks as much as it does with light. He will drop into black and white and then jump to a grainy super-saturation of color. None of this does much to help the mood of the film.
U-TURN is one of those films in the middle ground. Its flaws are in large part ones we could overlook in a new filmmaker and still say he is promising. From a now major filmmaker like Oliver Stone, it probably must be considered just a minor effort and perhaps a false step. I give it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com