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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 12/04/98 -- Vol. 17, No. 23
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2E-537 732-957-6330 firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 email@example.com Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URLs of the Week: http://www.bibliofind.com and http://www.bookfinder.com. Both are databases of groups of used book dealers: the former has 3500 dealers and 8 million books; the latter doesn't cite numbers but is probably comparable and searches Amazon and Powells for new books as well. (They're also handy for figuring out if that old book you found in the attic is worth anything.) [-ecl]
Mayonnaise: We were at the Boston Fine Arts museum and we took a break and visited the cafeteria. I asked the cashier, "Do you have any mayonnaise?" She told me, "He's up with the Impressionists." [- mrl]
Holidays: (Being somewhat serious for once, I have been looking at why when I was growing up, the younger generation of Jews tended to take up more esoteric religions.)
Some of the reasons we lost people are forces that all ethnic groups face. Some of the reasons are more unique to Judaism. Now I am talking here about not just the reasons people leave one religion but leave it AND JOIN ANOTHER. I am not talking here about assimilation. Chinese immigrants express frustration that their children are not interested enough in Chinese culture. But the children do not come down to breakfast one day and say, "Mom, Dad, I have decided to become Latino." The children who assimilate just do not stress their own culture so much. But I am talking about the actual changing of religion.
You would think that the choice of a religion is a metaphysical decision. You would think someone changes religion because they really do think that wine turns into blood and their own religion claimed it was only symbolic. For the vast majority that is not it at all. There are a bunch of reasons why people change religion and metaphysical differences of opinion, the belief that one religion really is right and another is wrong, has got to be very low on the list. Some people change religion for the sake of convenience. If you marry a Methodist often you take up the practice, for example. Or if you deal with Catholics a lot you might think of yourself as part of the Catholic community. I don't know if there is a Catholic community in the United States, but there certainly is in countries like Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Poland. There becoming Catholic would almost be assimilation.
But part of the reason that a religion attracts people is that it seems like fun. You might not think that this is a really big factor, but then you have to explain why the Japanese have picked up so many Christian customs while it is still relatively low numbers them who actually consider themselves Christian. Christmas is a big holiday in a country where the overwhelming majority of people are Buddhist and Shintoist. Why? It is because the trappings of the religion are inviting. Christmas is a lot of fun for some people. And it is not that the metaphysics of believing in Christ imply people should put lights on trees. It is that these customs attract people to the religion.
For what is now many centuries Judaism has been one of the few religions that does not encourage conversion from other religions. There are darn few Jewish missionaries. And most of the rest of the religion thinks that the few Jewish missionaries are nuts. But after centuries of religious intolerance toward Jews, they have not wanted to look like competition to other religions. This has only brought about the accusation that Jews are cliquish, but Jews have had to walk the narrow path that would bring them the least amount of hatred. It is better to be accused of being cliquish than to be accused of trying to win converts from the dominant religions.
But being a religion that was not trying to win converts, Judaism never developed customs that people from other religions would consider particularly attractive. The brightly colored Christmas decorations we are starting to see this time of year bear much the same function as bright colors in flowers or bright plumage on birds. It is to attract attention. If you do not need to attract attention, you don't make yourself so visible. The Jews that had great or colorful celebrations of their holidays attracted the attention of intolerant non-Jews and were essentially weeded from the gene pool. Jews were left with a lackluster and somber set of holidays. Celebrations of holidays, those few that were pleasant, involved quietly lighting candles or eating special pastries. The candles were generally little tiny ones at that. But in making the religion unattractive to members of other religions, or at least never developing customs to make it attractive, we have succeeded in making it less attractive to our own younger generation. [-mrl]
Holiday Response: The following is a comment from a reader (not me) about my editorial started last issue. Name withheld at the request of the of the reader.
In your recent MTVOID, you wrote:
I guess that Christians really enjoy Christmas. Boy, do Christians enjoy Christmas.
I couldn't resist giving you an alternative perspective. As you know, I was not born Jewish. (Truthfully, I was born "nothing" - my family didn't bother with organized religion.) But, we celebrated xmas. Boy, did we celebrate xmas. So can you guess which holiday I despise more than any other? You got it....
It takes WORK to do xmas. Hours of dust-ridden, schlock-soaked, carol-howling, mind-numbing WORK to put the goddamned holiday together. Hauling out dusty old decorations that were tacky when they were bought, and are now positively hideous after several years of use. (Remember Portnoy's line: "For tastes that would shame a gorilla....") Cooking mountains of disgusting gelatinous xmas food (drop by my mom's house, and she'll treat you to some of her famous lime-jello-with- carrots-and-marshmallow-topping). Buying truckloads of inappropriate gifts for relatives you rarely see and can barely stand when you do see them ("all the stores are closed, except for the Pleasure Chest! I hope dear old Aunt Gertie is into bondage gear...."). Staying up night after night wrapping this junk, your eyes and fingers gummy. And then the holiday itself, which is by turns boring (watching dear old Aunt Gertie pretend to like her new manacles) and stressful (trying to discourage dear old Aunt Gertie from trying her new manacles out on you after she's had a few). And after it is all over there is the massive cleanup, the broken toys, and worst of all, the WAITING IN LINE AT VARIOUS STORES TO RETURN ALL THIS GARBAGE THE NEXT DAY.
As you've probably noticed, there is little mention of alcohol in all of this. That's because the whole alcohol thing is a topic onto itself. If xmas is such a joyous holiday, why do so many xians have to anesthetize themselves to enjoy it? "Jesus is born: let's celebrate by throwing up on our shoes." There was an ironclad rule in my family: no drinking at all during xmas. Period, end of subject. Without this rule, my family would have celebrated the birth of the "prince of peace" by beating each other half to death.
Shudder. The horror, the horror. By comparison, kashering for Pesach is a breeze. [-anonymous]
1998 Toronto International Film Festival: (film reviews and commentary by Mark R. Leeper) (part 9 of 10)
Breakfast was at McDonalds and was fully up to their standard of mediocrity. But we had to get to the movie. This is our last day. Much more so than a World Science fiction convention or even a foreign trip, this I am sorry to see come to an end.
TRANCE (United States)
CAPSULE: This is the kind of film you used to see in the 60s from small studios like Tigon. An American couple finds themselves in a huge old Irish house with a mad woman stalking the hallways, and, oh yes, a 2000-year-old Druid witch is also running around and shape-changing. Once it gets going it is entertaining but it would be hard to claim it is actually a good film. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
CAPSULE: Two computer hackers from Hanover, Germany, members of the Computer Chaos Club get involved breaking into the computers of major companies and of governments. What starts as a game turns into an international espionage incident. The (basically) true story is told here. This is the story of the computer criminals that Clifford Stoll caught as detailed in THE CUCKOO'S EGG. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
While we were watching the film it stopped and the house lights came up. We waited to find out if there was someone going to get the film going again. Someone put their head in the door and said it was not a real fire alarm. That was a relief since nobody had heard any fire alarm and if it had been real we could have gotten toasted.
Somebody came on the PA system and said "We are in an alarm situation. Please remain where you are." We remained. Some people left, as the film was nearly over anyway. Eventually the voice came on and said that there had been a false alarm, but it still took another five minutes before they could get the film going again.
When the film was over we stopped for lunch at an Indonesian restaurant, then back to the room to pack. Then to see a film not part of the festival, though it starred the same pair of actors who starred in CLAY PIGEONS.
RETURN TO PARADISE (United States)
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 and there are giant neon signs telling the viewer which side is right 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, 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 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) 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 Joquin 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 Bruce Robinson who wrote what I considered the best film I saw in the 1980s, THE KILLING FIELDS. And here he is connected with nearly the best film I have seen thus far in the 1990s. However the script was rewritten by Wesley Strict.
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.
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.
The other issue of where we are paying a heavy price is that 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 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. These are complex issues. Nobody is totally wrong or totally right.
[to be continued] [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org
Hilbert once had a student in mathematics who stopped coming to his lectures, and he was finally told that the young man had gone off to become a poet. Hilbert is reported to have remarked, "I never thought he had enough imagination to be a mathematician." -- George Polya