MT VOID 04/23/99 (Vol. 17, Number 43)

MT VOID 04/23/99 (Vol. 17, Number 43)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/23/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 43

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.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-957-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


The following directive was recently brought to my attention:

[company deleted] employees who use restrooms:

[company deleted] no longer provides toilet paper in the restrooms in order to reduce costs. The custodial staff now charges $4 per 100 pack of toilet paper sheets. Members of the staff are requested to bring in their own toilet tissue from home to use in the restrooms. For those who find this inconvenient we may have a reuse plan where individual sheets will be shared among patrons. Also if you subscribe to newpapers or technical publications please leave them in the restrooms also so that others may obtain some use from them to relieve the tissue shortage. If in the move to Holmdel anybody is abandonning documents, these also may be pressed into service. However, please remember that proprietary technical documents should not be left in unlocked restrooms. Nor have the municipal authorities been bonded with [company deleted] to protect intellectual property found in the sewage system.

Thank you for your cooperation which will undoubtedly strengthen [company deleted]'s competitive position in the telecommunication market.

If you have any questions regarding this, please call me at x75619. Thanks. [-mrl]


I do not write a film review for every film I see. There are some films that I see that as I walk out I realize that I just did not relate to that film. I may not even be certain what I think about the film. Occasionally I am thankful that I am not a professional film reviewer who would have to review some films whether he can really relate to them or not. As an amateur I have the option to say I am just not going to review a film. One film that I felt that way about was Roberto Benigni's LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. One hates to be a spoilsport and say to that innocent if clownish face of Benigni's that the film does not work. But to my mind his simple fable saying that those who are loving and innocent can win a partial victory over evil forces is misplaced by choosing this particular evil force. The knowledge of how much Benigni had to distort the nature of the Holocaust to tell his fable on this background taints and even negates his conclusion. Simple, pure love does not conquer a Nazi with his luger aimed at your head as much as it would be comforting to believe that it does. Nevertheless it is extremely appealing to think that love conquers evil. So people have flocked to this film and have loved it. But at the time I saw the film the realization that that was what people were responding to did not occur to me and on some level I must have responded in the same way. I wanted to believe the film's moral as much as anybody did. So I was so ambivalent about the film I could not express why. My argument was, and it is still valid, that there are people who are willing to see LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL but who were unwilling to see a more realistic account of the Holocaust like SHOAH or SCHINDLER'S LIST. Their view of the Holocaust would be shaped by the images in LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, and those images would not be corrected by more realistic visions of the Holocaust.

David Denby, in the November 16, 1998 New Yorker Magazine says "... what's touching is not Benigni's ministrations to [his son who goes with him to a concentration camp in the film] but his own need to believe in comedy as salvation." In response Kristine Keese wrote a letter of comment as long as Denby's review in which she defends the film. This letter appears in the March 29, 1999, issue. She says, "[The Holocaust] is not one single historical event but millions of personal events. So anyone who says that it would never have happened this way is wrong. The Holocaust happened every way imaginable... Does Denby know the truth better than Benigni does?"

Yes the Holocaust is made up of many millions of events. So in some senses there is a wide range of those events. But it is a big jump to go from there to saying the Holocaust happened every way imaginable. I can, for example, imagine a camp commandant saying that he has decided the killing is wrong and releasing all of his prisoners. But I am sure that is not the way it ever happened. As to the question of does Denby know the truth better than Benigni does, she is asking it as if the contention is on the face of it absurd. I think it is quite possible that Denby really does know the truth better than Benigni does, but that is not really the issue. Much more at issue is does Denby know an absurd depiction of the Holocaust when he sees one, and the answer appears to be that he certainly does.

It seems to me that Keese suffers from one of the delusions of our age. She believes that everybody's opinion is equally valid, Benigni and Denby and she all have equally valid points of view. This is a bullet forged by our society, and perhaps aimed in the right direction, but made of entirely the wrong material. I do not want somebody else's opinion forced on me, so it feels really good to be told that nobody's opinion is any more or less valid than my own. That certainly would be a strong defense against people wanting to force their opinions onto me, as they would in a totalitarian state. The problem is that it is the wrong defense. It is a lie. And truth cannot be served by a lie. What is more, it can be a dangerous lie. If I believed that all opinions were equally valid would I ever need to see a doctor to get a medical opinion from him? I could just form my own opinion about what was wrong with me and it would be as valid as the doctor's would. But the perhaps-unfortunate truth is that some opinions are more valid than others are. Usually it is the more educated opinion that has the edge on validity. I would say that somebody who knows the Holocaust well enough has a right and even a responsibility to say that this sanitized and non-horrific view of the Holocaust is wrong.

One may ask, what about the film and TV-series MASH? Does it not equally misrepresent the Korean War? Should someone who objects to the unrealistic treatment of an historic event in LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL not equally object to MASH. Why single out the Holocaust over the Korean War for special treatment? And for that my answer is that the Holocaust has already been selected for special treatment long before Benigni's film. One does not hear of people seriously claiming that the Korean War never happened. I hear of nobody seriously putting forth the theory that there really was no slavery in the United States, even though there is nobody left alive who remembers it first-hand. But even while survivors of the Holocaust are alive there are people who are calling them liars and claiming that the Holocaust simply did not happen. I would prefer that whatever his motives, Benigni did not cloud the issue by misrepresenting the ferociousness of the Holocaust. [-mrl]

THE TRANSPARENT SOCIETY by David Brin (1998, Addison Wesley, 377pp, Hardcover, $25.00, non-fiction, ISBN 0-201-32802-X) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):

I was looking forward to reading this book for several reasons. First of all, as I'm sure you've all figured out by now, I'm a David Brin fan. Second, the idea of privacy and freedom of information is kind of near and dear to my heart (it's not a widely known fact that I developed portions of the Caller ID/Calling Name Delivery Features for AT&T/Lucent Technologies on the 1A ESS (tm) telephone switch, as well as other privacy related features). There are other reasons, but those two are the most important.

By the time I finished the book, I told my wife "I liked the book, but I'm not sure what Brin was saying." Well, the second part of that sentence isn't quite true, I suppose; I know what his message was. I just wasn't sure why he told it the way he did.

I'm being nebulous. Let me try to explain. Brin opens the book describing two cities in two different locations. In both cities, streetcrime has disappeared. Both cities have tiny cameras hanging from every lightpost and building, monitoring everything that is going on outside. In the first city, the images from these cameras are beamed to "Police Central", where the authorities keep a watchful eye on all goings on. People are well-behaved and civilized, knowing that any misdeed will be noted by authorities. In the second city, all citizens have access to all images via tiny receiving devices on their wrists. Furthermore, there are cameras in "Police Central" and other places of authority. In other words, while the authorities can watch the common folk, the common folk can also watch the authorities. He then asks that while both scenarios may seem chilling, is there any doubt which city we would live in?

The concept that he is talking about is "transparency" - where, in general, nothing is hidden from anyone (now, that's a very gross oversimplification, but you get the point). If you've got nothing to hide, why should you care if everyone knows everything there is to know about you? You can find out anything about anybody else just as easily. He relates this to the concept of accountability. If our elected leaders were to actually be held accountable for ALL they are doing, and in a truly transparent society everyone would be truly accountable, we just might have more effective leadership.

Where I have trouble dealing with the book is that it doesn't necessarily seem very coherent to me. He definitely tries to organize his thoughts and arguments into thematic sections and chapters, but I lost track of the supposed themes in and amongst all the information Brin throws at the reader. Now, that's not to say that he didn't do his research, and isn't convincing in his arguments, they just don't seem very organized to me. But maybe that's just me.

Brin spends all 335 pages of the main text giving us many tidbits of information, quotations, etc., that support his viewpoints. He also does present information on opposing viewpoints, and then argues against them. Pretty much a classic nonfiction book touting a particular point of view. He talks about freedom of information, the internet, government, hackers, cryptography, emerging technologies, and all sorts of other things that have an impact on privacy and freedom. And yes, he does devote two paragraphs to Caller ID, in the vein of its vulnerability to hacking. (As a side note, he was wrong about how Caller ID works. He stated in the book that criticism is the chief antidote to error, and under that pretense, I emailed him and politely corrected him. He emailed back, and politely thanked me, quoting his bit about criticism. He thought, however, that his point was still valid--and it still is. Still, it felt good to be able to have some input. I'll be interested to see if a later edition of the book has a correction in it.).

To Brin's credit, while he presents his viewpoint and a ton of supporting arguments, he also admits that he has no easy solutions, and certainly none that will work in the near future. He is a man who knows his limitations here. This is certainly different from a lot of other authors whom I've read who are certain they are correct, and have definite ways of implementing their viewpoints. Interestingly enough, he talks about people like that in the book.

I found the information that Brin presented very interesting, and as is usual when I read a nonfiction book, I learned quite a bit. However, it didn't seem coherent or well arranged. That's a never mind, though. Brin presents a very interesting topic that is well worth investigating and thinking about, because those cameras will be here before you know it. I know which city I'd pick to live in. Do you? Read the book and make up your own mind. I'd recommend it. [-jak]

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

Quote of the Week:

     The more I see of men, the better I like dogs.
                                   -- Madame Roland
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 Morality is the theory that every human act is right or wrong, and that 99 percent of them are wrong. -- H. L. Mencken