MT VOID 09/25/98 (Vol. 17, Number 13)

MT VOID 09/25/98 (Vol. 17, Number 13)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 09/25/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 13

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details. The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
       Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Extraordinary Times: This is just a side note. On the radio they were quoting some politician asking whether Clinton is really the right sort of President to have during these extraordinary times. I am not going to argue that point right now. But what struck me as interesting is that I was just listening to a speech by John Kennedy and he was saying that he was President during extraordinary times. Now my question is if those were extraordinary times and these are, just when were the ordinary times? Does it mean anything to say times are ordinary? And if the times ever do get ordinary, does that make the times extraordinary in and of itself? But I get a little itchy when someone tells me the times are extraordinary. They obviously are trying to strike some sort of sympathetic chord with their rhetoric. Don't trust anyone who uses that phrase. [-mrl]

Clinton: Well, I have to admit I called this one wrong. I did not expect the President of the United States, particularly this President who knew he was the constant target of scandal mongers, to do something as stupid as to have sex with a subordinate while in office. There are some people I personally know who do have illicit sex, and it seems a perfectly natural part of life--uh, other people's lives, that is. But I had thought this President was above that. Not that I thought he was above wanting illicit sex, but I expected he would mind his Ps and Qs until he was out of office.

I was at the Toronto Film Festival when the story was breaking. Frequently Canadians in line would ask us what we thought about our President and the scandal. It was clear that a lot of them thought that all Americans had gone crazy. I am not sure I don't think that myself. I would guess that fully half the festival films we were seeing were at some point about sex. And I don't remember a single example of sex between a married couple. (P.S.: Evelyn reminds me that in SHATTERED IMAGE the two main characters are on their honeymoon. Okay, one instance of licit sex.) Illicit sex is one of the primary fascinations of our society. We just generally don't like to think of our Presidents having sex just like we don't like to think of them going to the bathroom, though I am sure they do. But then when we find they have broken some rules it is hardly surprising. It is generally acknowledged that some Presidents had adulterous sex while in office. There was Kennedy with Marilyn Monroe, FDR with Lucy Mercer, Eisenhower with somebody or other. The Canadians we talked to were generally urbane enough that they did not seem very shocked about Clinton and generally they were more curious what the fuss was about.

We seem to have two kinds of reaction in this country. We have those who want to put this on the level of Watergate and those who basically shrug it off after hearing the details. For the most part the American people do not believe this is a Watergate-level offense. The split may be along party lines. But the last I heard the President's popularity ratings are not even suffering. This is after all is said and done a victimless crime, or if there is a victim it is Hillary. And the people who hate Clinton generally hate Hillary even more.

Watergate was very different. It was about a President who tried to cheat on an election. An election is how in a democracy the people get their voice in national policy. Cheating in an election is basically stealing from the people their voice in government policy. It was taking away their right to choose. Showing the bad character to lie in order to cover-up an affair seems pretty tame by comparison. Trying to sway elections much more directly does hurt the American people and they were not in a forgiving mood. What Clinton has done for the most part does not harm the American people. This is probably why, while the press is really angry with Clinton, the people are much more sanguine.

In MRS. DOUBTFIRE Charles Durning is obviously taken with Robin Williams's date. He asks Williams "Does she have a girlfriend?" "Well," Williams says apologetically, "this is the '90s." And that was just a throwaway joke. In most other professions or in most other countries what Clinton did would make for lukewarm gossip. And if the press is disappointed that it is not making more of an impact, well, this is the 90s. [-mrl]

RETURN TO PARADISE: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Wow! Pretty tough to imagine this not being the best film I see this year. Three buddies committed a crime in Malaysia, two left the country, and one was caught. If neither of the free buddies go back to stand trial the caught man will hang. Whoever goes back will be volunteering for prison under horrible conditions. An intelligent film about very tough moral decisions and their consequences. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), high +3 (-4 to +4). A very heavy spoiler after the review discusses the issues this film raises. This is a very good film but some of its issues cannot be discussed without disclosing plot twists.

This is an adult film in the literal meaning. It is a film that does not sugar coat its view of reality. Things do not happen in this film because of wishful thinking the way they might in a Frank Capra film. RETURN TO PARADISE is a film without a safety net. It asks the right questions and does not provide the viewer with pre- digested answers. In A FEW GOOD MEN there are some interesting issues raised, but there are giant neon signs telling the viewer which side to sympathize with on the issues. Independently of the Jack Nicholson character's ideas, the script makes him an insulting male chauvinist. The film entirely sidesteps the issue of whether Nicholson might be correct about defense, he clearly is a villain. RETURN TO PARADISE also raises issues. But it is not a morality tale. It does not tell the viewer what the answers are. There are no neon signs.

Tony (David Conrad), Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), and Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) are having a good time together in Malaysia. They are drinking beer, seeing the countryside, getting into trouble, and smoking cheap hashish. They throw out the hashish they have not used when Sheriff and Tony have to go home.

Flash forward two years. Sheriff is a limousine driver, and Tony is an architect. Lewis has spent the last two years in a Penang prison. Now the Malaysian government is going to hang Lewis as a drug dealer unless he can prove he was only a user. To do that he has to produce the people who shared the drugs with him. Informally the Malaysian government says that they will give a total of six years prison time to the one or two people who show up and will commute Lewis's term. Lawyer Beth (Anne Heche) is in New York and has the job of convincing Sheriff and Tony to go and take their prison sentences so Lewis will not be executed. But how does one weigh the greater evil when the prison is so bad that six years may be tantamount to a death sentence or perhaps be enough to permanently unhinge the prisoner.

Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix are perhaps better known as the leads of CLAY PIGEONS. Here they have a very different moral relationship but their fates are similarly connected. Anne Heche of SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS is the lawyer stuck with the task of getting two men to give up years of their lives to save the life of someone they hardly know. The script is based on the film FORCE MAJEURE by Pierre Jolivet. The original English language script was written by Bruce Robinson who wrote what I considered the best film I saw in the 1980s, THE KILLING FIELDS. And here he is connected with the best film I have seen thus far in the 1990s. Wesley Strict rewrote the script.

RETURN TO PARADISE is a rare film experience. It is an intelligent and adult look at people making hard choices in the real world. I give it a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Heavy spoiler.... Heavy spoiler....Heavy spoiler...

If this film were only about the heavy price Sheriff and Tony were being asked to pay to save Lewis's life, this would be a very good film. But it goes much beyond that. Unfortunately one only realizes the other issues of this film toward the end and I cannot discuss them in the main body of may review.

If one were to ask if freedom of the press is a good thing or a bad thing, I think most of us would vote in favor. We give the press a broad range of freedoms in this country in the hopes that it will help to topple dictators, or better yet never letting them get started. We do not want to let the government limit our freedom of expression, our First Amendment rights. If I were asked what is the downside of giving this much power to the press the first example that comes to mind is that we are giving the press the right to publish how to make dangerous devices. There have been issues in the past of magazines wanting to publish instructions for building your own atomic bombs. It is also very timely that this film comes out just as a media barrage is toppling a President. There are certainly good arguments that the press has overstepped its bounds.

Our First Amendment really hamstrings us in controlling dangerous information. There are laws that may let us use restraining orders, but deep down the First Amendment has given all the big guns to people who want to make information available, for better or for worse. In the case in RETURN TO PARADISE it was a lost cause from the beginning. The international press was going tell the world about Lewis's case. That would anger the Malaysian government and they would punish Lewis. Any nobility on the part of Sheriff and Tony would be misplaced. (And that really is something we rarely see in film. The ethical thing to do is rarely shown as being useless and pointless.) As soon as the press got hold of the story, it was out of the main characters' hands. Lewis was going to die, not because of his crime, but because the founding fathers felt the press had to be unrestrained.

Another issue is raised in the film, that that we are much more tolerant of drug use in this country than the rest of the world. The Malaysian judge has a very good point. In his country children are free from the risk of drugs. Malaysia has a much lower risk of crime. Our lax attitude on drug enforcement also has a heavy price. We walk a middle ground between either legalizing drugs or treating drug use as harshly as the Malaysians do. We are afraid to do the former and do not have the stomach to do the latter. And that middle ground of shadow tolerance is also what kills Lewis in this film. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     Geometry enlightens the intellect and sets one's
     mind right. All its proofs are very clear and
     orderly. It is hardly possible for errors to enter
     into geometrical reasoning, because it is well
     arranged and orderly. Thus, the mind that constantly
     applies itself to geometry is not likely to fall
     into error. In this convenient way, the person who
     knows geometry acquires intelligence. It has been
     assumed that the following statement was written upon
     Plato's door: "No one who is not a geometrician may
     enter our house."
                                   -- Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406)