MT VOID 04/06/01 (Vol. 19, Number 40)

MT VOID 04/06/01 (Vol. 19, Number 40)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/06/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 40

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, 732-817-5619,
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.


Passover is coming up in the Jewish calendar. Back when I was growing up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts there were a number of Jewish families in my neighborhood. Most of them probably observed the holiday and followed many of the required traditions in the privacy of their own homes. One Jewish woman went beyond that degree of observance.

There are certain foods that may be eaten in a Kosher house other times of the year but are forbidden during Passover. Supposedly Passover is feast holiday, but the Jews are a contrary people and for reasons of their own when they have a feast, it is a feast of food restrictions. You eat fewer foods and not more. Most of the rules center around the story that the Israelites fleeing from Egypt, as the holiday commemorates, did not have time to let their bread rise, so took with them unleavened bread. In remembrance of this inconvenience we take a similar inconvenience on ourselves and eat only unleavened food.

I do not know where the tradition came from, but the really pious people supposedly go through special ceremonies to get rid of the last of the food that is not allowed so that no trace of it will be in the house. You hunt for it with a feather used as a brush. You search for the last crumbs of bread and other foods not allowed, you take them outside and you burn them. Most people look on this as only a quaint tradition. But when I lived in Longmeadow there was one woman in the next street who actually went through this ceremony. She would make a big deal of it and do it when other people would see her doing it. Now in other respects she did not follow the rules. She drove her car on Saturday. I do not remember what else she did, but there were other ways in which she broke rules that most of the rest of us did not follow.

Why did she decide to be so obedient to this one rule? It was easy for her to do and she could play at being really pious. It happens in any religion that you get competitions of one-up-manship. Look how pious I am, I follow this obscure rule and you don't. But does the rule really matter? The acid test I used at the time was this one: "Who is better off and who is worse off for the person having followed the rule?" To this question one answer is totally unacceptable. That is "God." In this regard we can leave God the Omnipotent to take care of Himself.

This Longmeadow woman's super-piety in this regard did not seem to be helping or hurting anybody. I must have forgotten about this woman for 35 years, but she came back to me when I was listening to the news recently. The news story was that the Taliban in Afghanistan announced they were going to destroy the ancient colossal Buddhas. Almost immediately there was international uproar. As soon as the news media got hold of the story the Buddhas were doomed. It was only a matter of time.

The question was just how much time it would be. Even in a country like Afghanistan the is readily at had the resources necessary to destroy a work of art and religious devotion that may have taken centuries to create. The Taliban could have gone our one night and quietly obliterated the Buddhas. That would not have served their purpose. They waited for the international news media to create the greatest possible audience for the action, then went ahead and brought the statues to the ground. The sad irony is that all of the attempts to stop the Taliban only made the action of destroying the statues more advantageous in their own eyes. It meant a bigger audience to watch the act. The truth is that where the statues were few people would be seeing them anyway. Afghanistan is not exactly a dream vacation spot. Once people being to believe that God's law, as they interpret it, is more than common decency, argument is useless. The desire to win points with God is just about the most powerful motivator in the world. Think what would take to convince someone to walk out of England, across Europe, and then fight a war in the Middle East. You could not pay someone to go through all that, but people in their hundreds did it for what they thought was the greater glory of God and a better seat in the life to come. If there was any hope in reasoning with the Taliban, and that might be a contradiction in terms, it would be to have some UN delegation go quietly to them.

I think that this is a lesson we would do well to remember when dealing with people with strong religious motives. [-mrl]


WIT (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: In spite of the title there is very little humorous but a great deal that is intelligent in this film that peels the layers off of a woman going through an aggressive therapy for insidious ovarian cancer. Even if other filmmakers commonly looked at the process of a slow and painful death, which they certainly do not, this film would still stand out for its intelligence. Mike Nichols has always broken taboos. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)

In the early and mid-1990s several consecutive years films made for cable made my annual top ten films list. That stopped happening, but there have still been some very good films being made for cable. WIT is very likely to return to that tradition. This film, directed by Mike Nichols takes a topic rarely handled in dramatic film simply because it does not appeal to filmgoers. This is a film about a slow and painful course of chemo-therapy. The main character is Dr. Vivian Bearing (played by Emma Thompson), a professor of English Literature specializing in the poetry of John Donne. Donne's metaphysical poetry looking at life and death has made Bearing an expert in those subjects in the poetic abstract. But they have left her totally unprepared to consider those issues in the concrete or for this world of hospital life. Highly eloquent in intellectual matters she finds she cannot even clearly describe the pains she is feeling. Further she is shocked at her total loss of human dignity. She complains to the camera, but rarely to other people. In the early scenes we are shocked by the frank language that the doctors use to talk to her, but it is minor compared to the indignities she will soon be facing. In one case she talks to the camera while she is vomiting into plastic tray, only to have the nurse come in and measure the volume she has produced. She makes ironic comments to the hospital staff and nobody ever appears to notice.

There is a little too much of the cliche in WIT. The hospital experience causes Bearing to re-evaluate her approach to teaching. Through her whole learning and teaching career, her approach to poetry has been abstract and academic. That also her attitudes about living seem much like those of her academic career. She has no friends to visit her in the hospital. She has used intellectualization as a refuge from emotions and now she is paying the price. She alternately disparages the intellects of her students and wishes she had treated them a little better.

Now she has to deal with a doctor, a former student of hers, who uses that same unemotional approach in medicine when she needs as much of the human touch as she can get but is treated as an object. She finds her passion for Donne's poetry is mirrored by her doctor's wonder at the processes of cancer. Her closest human relationship is with Susie, her nurse, whose knowledge of English literature is small, but who strongly believes in the personal touch and in treating patients as humans rather than specimens. There of moments in the object lessons Bearing gets in the hospital that makes this story almost feel like A CHRISTMAS CAROL or PASSION FISH. Through much of the film we see that Bearing academic and personal lives seem so dry and joyless, one wonders why early on she does not at least consider suicide.

WIT is a very powerful and frightening look at severe illness and death. Certainly it stands among the best of films I have seen this year. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    It is not cigarettes that are addictive.  It is
    contributions from the tobacco industry that are addictive.
                                   -- Sen. John McCain