MT VOID 04/20/01 (Vol. 19, Number 42)

MT VOID 04/20/01 (Vol. 19, Number 42)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 04/20/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 42

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.

Fat Food:

In the March 5, 2001, issue of THE NEW YORKER, Malcolm Gladwell has an article called "The Trouble with Fries." In this he talks about the origins of various McDonald's foods and examines them from the aspect of how healthy they are. He recounts the sorry history of the McLean Deluxe burger, which actually did better than their regular burger on blind taste tests. It was the result of a project at Auburn University to make a healthier and better-tasting burger. They developed the AU Lean, which tasted better and had less fat. McDonalds made the burger and sold it as the McLean Deluxe burger. In spite of the fact they were building a better burger, it did not sell and was soon off the menu. Gladwell concludes "People liked the AU Lean in blind taste tests because they didn't know it was AU Lean; they were fooled into thinking it was regular ground beef. But nobody was fooled when it came to the McLean Deluxe. It was sold at the healthy choice--and who goes to McDonald's for health food?"

Well, it is very possible that that is true. People really may want unhealthy food when they go to McDonald's. Somehow I don't think so. I would argue that is not really what is happening. Things are changing with time and healthy foods are getting more popular. There are three forces pushing in the direction of healthier diets. Those are esthetics, education, and experience.

The first of the forces is esthetics. Our taste in food is changing. Food tastes during the 1940s and 1950s were deadly. People ate fat and cholesterol in quantities that are vaguely nauseating today. It seems to me that in BACK TO THE FUTURE they made that point. One of the time travelers was offered a meal at a 1950s lunch bar that had enough fat to float a battleship and chose instead to have a salad and then asked for a diet soda. And to be honest, that really sounded better even to me in the audience. Our tastes have changed since the 1940s, 1950s, and even the 1960s. Food we now consider being very unhealthy really sounded good in the post-War years. It seems to me my father had eggs for breakfast most weekday mornings when I was growing up. That was regular cholesterol-filled eggs. Later he did have cardiac problems and it very probably was connected to the amount of cholesterol he had in his normal diet. Red meat was a standard staple of his diet. Sunday dinner was usually steak or barbecued ribs. Even as I write this I realize that it has been years since I had any kind of red meat in my house. Out of the house I eat it only rarely. But at home it must be years since I have had red meat. That is not entirely for health reasons, part is ethics. But attitudes about eating have certainly changed.

There are still signs in the media that we have the feeling that real men do not watch what they eat. In TWISTER the tornado hunters visit a friend because she serves them steak, eggs, sausage, and a meal that is a killer in every sense of the word. It looked so good and at the same time was more dangerous than the tornadoes they are chasing. Depending on your mood, if you thought about all the grease you were seeing, it could have been vaguely stomach-turning.

Reinforcing the change in tastes is the second force, education. Kids are being trained in first and second grade to have the right attitudes about food and drugs and racism and conservation. We've heard of stories like the little girl who came home and threw out her father's cigarettes. Societies have always indoctrinated the young with attitudes we have wanted them to have and called it education. It is done subtly, but every society does. Today children are learning earlier in some schools to cringe at the thought of unhealthy, fat-laden foods. That will probably exert a big force in people's decision of how to eat.

The third force will only come with time and currently it is probably pushing in the wrong direction. In fact it was probably the reason the McLean Deluxe failed. The reason people would not eat the McLean Deluxe is experience. In spite of everything Gladwell says, I still believe that everything else being equal people would have preferred the healthy burger to the unhealthy one. The fact is that we cannot bring ourselves to believe that everything else could be equal. The history of healthy alternative food is an inglorious one. It includes glubby Metrical milk shakes that taste more like barium cocktails. You have soft drinks sweetened with saccharine that leaves a bitter after taste. There are cardboard-like breakfast bars. There are foods made with weird grains that go pop in your mouth. We have whole generations that have grown up with diet foods that you would have to be starving to want to eat. Experience of bad diet foods is frightening people away from good diet foods like the McLean Deluxe. It will take some years of good diet foods to undo the damage done.

Those days are coming along. To me the new artificially sweetened sodas taste as good as real thing, though others I know disagree. And even when you have had diet foods that really taste as good as the originals, then the lawyers take over to make sure the public is warned about any possible side effect the company might be sued about. I have never heard of anybody ever getting a negative side effect from eating an Olestra product. Olestra is a fat substitute that has no fat effects on the human body. But just in case, the lawyers put a label on every Olestra product that is a little too nauseating to quote here, much less on a bag of potato chips. But in a few years people will have grown up who have never tasted primitive diet foods. Hopefully in another fifty years a healthy diet will taste as good as an unhealthy one. People will be used to food that is healthy and tastes good. Then a name like "McLean" will no longer be a kiss of death and will actually be a good thing. But for now we are still in the period when one makes a big aesthetic sacrifice for most healthy foods. [-mrl]

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: John le Carre's intelligence game story is adapted to the screen as a sly black comedy of the special relationship between a failing British spy, one with some suspicious parallels to James Bond, and a posh British tailor living in Panama City. A good cast is headed by Geoffrey Rush and the ironically chosen Pierce Brosnan. This is an intelligent and adult spy film with clever statements about both the intelligence community and the spy film in general. John Boorman directs. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Spy stories come in many types. While Ian Fleming very much defined many people's expectations of the spy story with what is essentially a sophisticated comic book hero and what is basically comic book action, John le Carre's style has tended more toward realism and creating good characters. His approach has always been one less of heroics and action. George Smiley is a complex three-dimensional man who is away from most of the action and who uses his brains rather than his fists. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, based on le Carre's novel is a devious little black comedy set at the outer edges of the spy game. Pierce Brosnan plays Andy Osnard, a British agent who has all the famous James Bond vices--sex, gambling, drinking, smoking--without ever having had the James Bond sort of successes. Osnard is given a rather unenviable posting to Panama. There is not much to do there, but at least, his superiors comfort him, there is a vital British interest in the canal.

In Panama, Osnard quickly latches onto a British tailor who knows the important people. Harry Pendal (Geoffrey Rush) represents the esteemed firm of Braithwaite and Pendal, a Saville Row Tailor. But Harry is not all he would have people believe he is. Harry is a bit down on his luck and Osnard had information he can use to blackmail Harry. Harry must provide Osnard with useful intelligence information that will be passed to Osnard's superiors. Each for his own reasons overlooks the fact that Harry's credibility has already been shown to be questionable. Meanwhile Harry introduces Osnard to a number of colorful people from Panama's underworld and from the previous resistance to Noriega.

One is a good long way into THE TAILOR OF PANAMA before any character seems so likable that you are hoping the best for him. The two main characters are each scoundrels and choosing between them is not much of a choice. One ends up rooting for the smooth- talking Harry, not a hero but a flimflam man with good instincts and the best of a bad lot.

THE TAILOR OF PANAMA boasts good characters played by a good cast. Harry becomes more interesting as the film wears on. He is a smooth talker and seems almost too poised and well-placed not to enter the intelligence game. His wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) in a position of responsibility with the canal. Harry knows people who really did stand up against Noriega, or rather knows what is left of them. Osnard gets some lessons in real politics, but still is more an more out of place in the real world of Panama and Intelligence work. His womanizing charm and his polished ways only make him look more and more like a fool. An almost unrecognizable Brendan Gleeson, plays Mickie Abraxas who is as much of a hero as Panama has, a man who speaks his mind regardless of the consequences. Mickie becomes the center of Osnard's plotting. Director John Boorman makes maximal use of the tawdry setting of Panama City, which the script describes as "Casablanca without heroes."

Whether or not it was consciously intended as such, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is sort of an adult answer to a James Bond film. It is about seedy agents in a seedy setting giving results to the secret service. Those results are not going to get any special thanks from the Prime Minister in the end like we have seen in so many Bond films. Osnard uses sex as a weapon as James Bond would, but to much less effect. Almost every convention of the romantic spy film is stood on its ear in this film. This seems like more what the spy business is really like. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    Just because the person who criticizes you is an
    idiot does not make him wrong.
                                   -- Roger Rosenblatt