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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/12/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 50
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 2E-537 732-957-6330 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.
URLs of the week: http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/6960/turkey.htm and http://www.geocities.com/Athens/4824/turkey.htm. Our trip logs for Turkey. [-ecl]
Pat Robertson: I don't know if this article is going to go where you will think it is going to go. But some of the news has given me pause and something to wonder about. It seems that Disneyworld is caught between two camps. Gay Pride Month is being celebrated in Orlando, Florida, this year. Orlando would probably not do anything to stop the celebration even if it could. I think they would have some serious Constitutional problems if they tried to say that gay people could not come to Orlando or could not celebrate. Basically it is a First Amendment issue.
Now you may have heard that Pat Robertson--that's the Reverend Pat Robertson, minister and sometime Presidential candidate--has stated in that august public forum, THE 700 CLUB, that "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you." He suggested that tolerance of homosexuality "will bring terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor." I guess one can infer from this that he is a pompous zealot who presumes to speak for God, though he does seem to be keeping current on his movies. But the point of this piece is not to deride the Reverend. Frankly that is a waste of good typing. Why should I waste my time composing paragraphs to make fun of Robertson? Most of the country is doing that already, and even that is a waste since Nature has insulted Pat Robertson far beyond our poor means to add or detract.
But that is not where I am going here. The irony of the situation is that Robertson's real anger is at Disneyworld and as it happens Disneyworld is safe, at least from tornadoes. How can I be so sure? It's thermodynamics. Disneyworld is a place with a lot of heavy machinery, after all. And heavy machinery gives off a lot of heat. And heat rises. And cooler air comes in at the bottom. Now I don't completely understand the dynamics of a tornado, but from what I am told tornadoes, which after all are spinning funnels of air, cannot come too near rising columns of air. The two are incompatible. So if God indeed set of the laws of nature to work His will, as I assume the Reverend Robertson believes, then perhaps God does not reward intolerance to homosexuality. That would just be Robertson projecting his intolerance on God. Perhaps what God rewards is the generation of heat.
Okay, I can see that look on your face. Why would God want us to generate heat? As if all the other acts of God were completely comprehensible and this was would be the first mysterious one. Look, Moses came down from the mountain with ten rules and who were those rules good for? It just happened they were pretty good rules for running a society. I mean, things tend to fall apart with people murdering each other and coveting each other's asses. The Ten Commandments did a lot to hold things together and so were fairly self-serving on a societal level. They were just what the Israelites needed at that moment in time. It would be a pretty nifty coincidence if it were also what served God's wishes. What if Moses, in a good cause, made them up? I mean, he smashed the tablets and then reconstructed the whole list perfectly? Do you believe that? I can't even remember a shopping list. Maybe Moses was the author himself and wanted to attribute the laws to God to make them seem more official. Maybe God really loves people who generate heat. Perhaps the real message was not the tablets; it was the Burning Bush. I mean, from the early times in Egypt, what was the symbol of God? The sun.
And you don't have to go back to ancient history. The standard of living of the world increased during the Industrial Revolution. Life became more rewarding. You know what else was changing? We were building great factories that generated heat.
Look at the end of World War II in the Pacific. Both sides were headed for a protracted siege that could have killed a million on each side. And there was very little doubt about the eventual outcome, which was pretty much obvious after the Battle of Midway. But it was going to be very, very expensive to get the Japanese to submit to the inevitable. And God was not showing himself to put a stop to it all. But then what happened? Suddenly in Alamogordo, New Mexico, something happened that generated a great heat. Then the same people generated two more great heats. And fortune smiled on those who created that heat. Even today the world's most powerful country is the one that generates the most heat.
Why would God want heat? Who knows? Why do so many people think He wants us to live in harmony? "What is Man that Thou are mindful of him, O Lord?" Our prayers say all the time that we are insignificant. Maybe we are and he is not doing it for us. Maybe the universe is more comfortable for Him if it isn't so cold and dark everywhere. Maybe God comes to Earth and enjoys the creature comforts of warming up. And that is really what he wants, for us to make a warm place for him to rest when his current seventh days come around. It makes as much sense as anything else does. [-mrl]
Radio Astronomy: Detective's tale at Lucent Technologies leads to monument honoring the father of radio astronomy
HOLMDEL, N.J. -- A detective's tale, involving a Nobel Prize winner and a National Academy of Sciences member, has led to a June 8 ceremony at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs facility here that honors the first person to hear radio waves from outer space.
Karl Jansky's discovery in 1931, which was not publicly discussed until a 1933 page-one article in the New York Times, spawned the field of radio astronomy. When Jansky died in 1950 at the young age of 44, however, the Bell Labs scientist had received no formal recognition from the scientific community.
"The discovery was ahead of its time because in 1933, radio waves had nothing to do with astronomy, so it really fell between radio engineering and astronomy," said Bell Labs astrophysicist Tony Tyson, one of the two sleuths in this tale and also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tyson helped pinpoint the former location of Jansky's original 100-foot-long antenna, which resembled a box kite lying on its side, supported by Ford Model T tires. The location was a crucial finding because monuments--in this case, a 13-foot-long stylized replica--fittingly reside on historical sites.
"It didn't seem right to just go out there and pick a spot," said Tyson's fellow sleuth Robert Wilson, a Nobel Prize winner and former Bell Labs astronomer. "Because Jansky's antenna was the start of our science, we wanted to mark it appropriately."
Jansky's discovery actually was an offshoot of his work to find sources of static in overseas radio signals. While two clear culprits were local and distant thunderstorms, a third was a steady hiss of unknown origin that appeared daily at the same time and same location. By using a star map, Jansky discovered that the waves came from the center of the Milky Way.
"There is a clear message here," Tyson said. "Serendipity happens to those people who are both prepared and open minded."
Even though Jansky performed some follow-up studies on the extraterrestrial radio waves for several years--mostly in his spare time--he largely abandoned those efforts to pursue wartime research. Years later, other scientists continued developing the field of radio astronomy, which has led to such discoveries as quasars, pulsars, black holes and the expanding universe. In fact, near the site of Jansky's monument, Wilson and fellow Bell Labs scientist Arno Penzias discovered radio waves that actually were remnants of the Big Bang. Their 1964 discovery led to the Nobel Prize in Physics 14 years later.
About 10 years ago, Wilson and Tyson were talking about Jansky and decided they wanted to honor his contributions to astronomy, which were not fully understood until shortly after his death. Until that initial conversation, there had been relatively little recognition for Jansky, except when astronomers labeled the radio- wave measurement unit the "jansky."
Sometime during the 1960s, the state of New Jersey erected a road sign on an utility pole near the Bell Labs' Holmdel facility, which marks the site--roughly one half mile from the original antenna--as the birthplace of radio astronomy. Unfortunately, it's unsafe to stop along that section of the road. "You could hardly stop in your car and read the sign without getting hit from behind," said Wilson, now a senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., and a Bell Labs consultant.
Also during the 60s, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W. Va., dedicated a replica of Jansky's antenna, which was built by the same carpenter at Bell Labs who had worked on the original.
Wilson and Tyson began searching for Bell Labs records about Jansky, but they soon discovered Jansky's lab notebooks from 1928 to 1937 were missing. Those notebooks, they realized, would provide one of the crucial clues that would pinpoint the antenna's original location. The antenna itself vanished sometime during the 1950s.
A few years ago, a summer student majoring in archeology found an old box of papers at Bell Labs' former facility in New York City. At one time, the papers had been slated for a corporate museum, but they remained in the possession of a company executive who had corresponded with one of Jansky's colleagues.
One page in the notebook, Tyson discovered, provided the location of Jansky's office and also the antenna's angular position. Then, he and Wilson analyzed the other pieces of the puzzle: a survey of the former Holmdel building; an old map of Holmdel Township, which showed the building's location by a stream; and an old aerial photograph that faintly showed the antenna itself, the stream and a tree line that partially exists today. Eventually, with lots of geometric analysis, the two astronomers determined that the original antenna was 1,000 feet from the old building, placing it on a grassy patch near the current Holmdel building's main parking lot.
"I was just relieved that the actual location was on grass and not asphalt," quipped Tyson, who along with Wilson have devoted a few hours weekly to the Jansky memorial during the last several years.
For the June 8 ceremony, Tyson and Wilson were expecting many members of Jansky's family, including his sister, son and daughter, and also some of his former colleagues and friends. For instance, Jansky's former table tennis partner and Bell Labs engineer George Eberhardt attended. And Grote Reber, who confirmed Jansky's results in 1937 and later mapped the Milky Way galaxy in 1941, traveled from Tasmania to attend. Also attending were be Jesse Greenstein, who was one of the first scientists to attempt a theoretical explanation of Jansky's observations.
Lucent Technologies, headquartered in Murray Hill, N.J., designs, builds and delivers a wide range of public and private networks, communications systems and software, data networking systems, business telephone systems and microelectronics components. Bell Laboratories is the research and development arm for the company. For more information on Lucent Technologies, visit the company's web site at http://www.lucent.com.
THE TRUMAN SHOW (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A man lives his life not realizing that he is on television and an audience of millions watches his every move. But the game is starting to slip and Truman is beginning to guess that reality is not what he thinks it is. Jim Carrey stars in an old science fiction idea that is new to films. After several years Peter Weir returns to the weird. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4) SPOILER WARNING: The premise of THE TRUMAN SHOW is told in all of the trailers, but it is not fully revealed until well into the film. This review does discuss that premise.
There was a time when Australian Peter Weir made strange and quirky films like THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS, THE PLUMBER, and THE LAST WAVE. But Weir lost that level of creativity at some point. His films were more professional and perhaps more polished, but they were closer to Hollywood fare. At most they had just a small whiff of the strange his earlier films had. It has been a long time since Weir made a film as enthralling philosophically as THE TRUMAN SHOW. Weir looks at the media and what it is doing to both the viewer and the person under media scrutiny. The film also takes a playful look at the relationship between humanity and God.
Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carrey) is now thirty and through his whole life he has been off-camera only in his most private moments. In some unspecified number of years, in the future people all over the world tune in to watch THE TRUMAN SHOW and track how his life is progressing. As sort of a cross between AN AMERICAN FAMILY and CANDID CAMERA, "The Truman Show" follows one character through his every day and even his every move. Truman has no idea that he is being watched. If he knew it would spoil the entire project. And a phenomenal investment has been put into creating the huge domed studio the size of a town with cameras everywhere to relay to the world everything that happens to Truman.
The whole project is the brainchild of the godlike producer Christof (Ed Harris). No effort has been spared to build the unbelievable domed studio or to ingrain phobias into Truman so that he is afraid to stray too far from his home. As part of the latter effort we see a visit to a travel agent who has decorated her office with marvelous anti-travel posters. Christof has programmed nearly everything that has ever happened to Truman. Christof has cast the important people in Truman's life including his supposed parents and his wife Meryl (Laura Linney of TALES OF THE CITY). Meryl's responsibilities include keeping Truman in line and unsuspecting, delivering charming commercials for sponsors' products placed into Truman's world, and above all to keep smiling. But things are getting a little difficult for Meryl as Christof's production staff gets a little sloppy: lights fall from a clear sky and supposedly dead characters from Truman's past find their way back onto the show set. Truman is starting to get suspicious that there is something not right about his reality.
Does Jim Carrey do a good job of playing Truman Burbank? That is a very difficult question to answer. At first brush it would seem not. Carrey is his usual weird and does his trademarked brand of clowning around. Is this the way someone raised on camera with scripted experience would behave? Probably not, but it is unclear how he would behave. He almost certainly would lean to some form of weird. Whether this is one way he could be weird is hard to tell. The constantly smiling Laura Linney is at first charming and quickly becomes grating, but again these are unusual circumstances. She would not behave like an actress because this is like almost no acting job has ever been. She would have to be constantly improvising and be onstage 16 to 24 hours a day, year in and year out. Her role would have to be her primary life. Perhaps her little Stepford wife is precisely what would result. Rounding out the major characters is Ed Harris as the de facto god of Truman's world. Harris takes his role in a quiet understated manner and does a fine job.
I would have loved to have seen THE TRUMAN SHOW cold, having no idea what the film was about. Unfortunately the ads give much too much away. There is a slow build to where the viewer is told the information in the trailer. Much of the mystery of Andrew Niccol's script (as complex as his script for GATTACA) is lost. One of the big holes, however, is that this is a much less believable story if taken literally rather than as allegory. One must believe that there are thousands of actors in Truman's world who are just waiting months or years to be cued. There are probably parts of Truman's town that he never visits, but the actors have to be prepared if he does. Fantastic preparedness must be arranged for contingencies that probably will never occur. In addition, the number of cameras needed to produce THE TRUMAN SHOW must be literally phenomenal. At one point Christof estimates that 5000 cameras are used to cover all the places that Truman might possibly go. A little back of the envelope calculation will show that figure has got to be orders of magnitude low without a fair risk of losing Truman. The town as shown must be about nine square miles and then Truman goes off into the woods in the course of the film. The logistics of setting up and running this pseudo-town seem more and more complex the more one thinks about them. But again, this is more a religious allegory than a science fiction story to be taken literally. Niccol has a lot of fun playing with the various features of the artificial sky as a recurrent theme in the film, but also giving the film a sort of medieval cosmology.
Music is by Burkhart (von) Dallwitz and seems to consist mostly of easy listening and classical music on a sort of celestial, New Age theme. The idea for THE TRUMAN SHOW is one that has been done in science fiction several times previously. Then there are ideas borrowed from other sources like the 60s TV show THE PRISONER. I would rate THE TRUMAN SHOW a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. This is Weir's best film since THE LAST WAVE by a wide margin. [-mrl]
A PERFECT MURDER (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This is an updating and a remake of a great stage thriller. The new version adds some complexity to the story, but nothing that could really be called an improvement. This story did not need to be moved into the world of international finance and the ultra-rich. Director Andrew Davis has little grasp on what made the original characters compelling. He delivers a version that is dark, humorless, and violent. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
I did not care much for Alfred Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER when I saw it as a child. It seemed a set-bound and a rather dry exercise. Seeing it as an adult was an entirely different experience. It clearly is a stage play, but it has to be one of the most brilliant stage thrillers ever written. The entire play works like a well-oiled machine of surprising complexity. It was *the classic* stage murder thriller. Compared to DIAL M FOR MURDER, SLEUTH and DEATHTRAP are merely gimmicky. For DIAL M FOR MURDER, the playwright really sat down and sweated all the details. The one unrealistic touch is that main character Tony Wendes is just too brilliant to be fully believed. He has a mind like a computer, thinking out all possibilities and reconstructing his plans instant by instant. The play must have been rewritten over and over as Frederick Knott rethought the possibilities. The remake A PERFECT MURDER has some of the plot, but it loses a lot in the transition.
In A PERFECT MURDER, the Taylors are probably one of the top 100 prominent couples in the country. Steven Taylor (played by Michael Douglas) is an international commodities dealer who makes deals in the hundreds of millions of dollars every day. Emily Bradford Taylor (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is an heiress to one of the richest families in America. She has a position working as translator at the United Nations General Assembly and as an aide to the Unite States ambassador. But Emily has other positions she likes more, fooling around on the side with promising new artist David Shaw (Viggo Mortensen). Shaw has a future as an artist, but he also has a past, and that he would like to keep quiet. Unfortunately Steven Taylor knows all about Shaw's past and has his own plans for Shaw's future. The plans include killing Emily Taylor. Saying any more about the new and somewhat cluttered plot would really be telling too much.
Michael Douglas is something of a master at portraying quiet smoldering anger on the screen. He is a good choice to show rage, but he cannot bring to the role the kind of passionless thinking machine quality that Ray Milland had in the original. Luckily this script does not call for Steven Taylor to make the sort of quick rethinking of problems that Tony Wendes did in the original film. Paltrow really does have the sort of pristine good looks that are reminiscent of Grace Kelly in the first film. There are even scenes where she looks a bit like Grace Kelly. The problem is that the film insists on showing her in bed with her lover. 1990s audiences demand to see some flesh, I suppose. There clearly is passion going on though nothing is seen that really counts as nudity. But what we do see of the sex is enough that she no longer appears to the viewer to be an innocent. And that loses her the audience's sympathy. We are left with several cold and unsympathetic characters wandering around on the dark sets of this film. I should mention that Dariusz Wolski shot the film and if that name is unfamiliar, he also filmed THE CROW and DARK CITY. That should tell you that he likes under-lit sets to create a cold and dark feel. And this film certainly has that. Viggo Mortensen plays the third leg of the romantic triangle. He does not have much screen presence, but he does have a very realistic look. Rounding out the cast, but appallingly under-used, is David Suchet as Detective Mohamed Karaman. I suspect he had a bigger role in the original script. It is his character in the original play who does the real detective work. But rumors say that the end of the film was re-shot and presumably his role was cut down in size. Perhaps test audiences thought him solving the crime was a little too close to what he does in his TV persona as Hercule Poirot. But for whatever the reason Suchet had only a small part, and it was a serious waste to have such a good character actor in so tiny a role.
If you have seen the original film, there will still be plot twists to keep you guessing, but you will also get an appreciation of how good material can sour in the wrong hands. It takes a remake like A PERFECT MURDER to show the viewer how much has changed in the 1990s conventions of films and to appreciate the genius of an Alfred Hitchcock. This cold and dark remake gets a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Television is the first truly democratic culture-- the first culture available to everybosy and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what the people want. -- Clive Barnes