MT VOID 06/08/01 (Vol. 19, Number 49)

MT VOID 06/08/01 (Vol. 19, Number 49)


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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/08/01 -- Vol. 19, No. 49

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, mleeper@lucent.com
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218, eleeper@lucent.com
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, robmitchell@lucent.com
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, jetzt@lucent.com
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, njs@lucent.com
Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper.
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Birdsong:

I have often felt it a pity how the world is globalizing to the extent that you find the same restaurants, the same music, and the same movies show up wherever you go. Top 40 music stations, not that I listen to them, sound the same all over the country and even in Mexico. I had not realized how bad the problem had gotten. For a new sign of the times, how is this? This homogenizing of the world seems these days to be for the birds, literally. Wild birds will choose calls by listening to calls of other birds. Of late, however, there has been a marked increase in the calls of birds sounding like they came from pieces of popular human songs. The phenomenon was observed by ornithologists but was not treated seriously because it seemed so unlikely that the birds would have that much opportunity to hear human songs. The similarity was ascribed to coincidence and the subconscious mind's over- willingness to find similarities and order in chaos. The idea of wild birds singing human songs was classed with the canals of Mars as a figment of the imagination. The concept of wild birds singing human songs was just laughed off. It was just a bit Walt Disney- ish. Not any more.

The missing link in the process is now thought to be cellular phones. Cellular phone manufacturers license familiar popular melodies because their customers like them as ring tones for in-coming calls. Sadly, the cell phones do carry the music chimes even into the wild places. Birds pick up the melodies and teach them to other birds. The Danish Ornithological Association reports, "More and more singing birds are adding new songs to their repertoire, all thanks to mobile phones." Now you can feel proud that we really are a major step closer to having taught the world to sing in perfect harmony.

And while we are on the subject of human technology encroaching on nature, there is a visiting professor at MIT who has decided that the Internet can be a boon to the lives of American domesticated parrots. Not that it can be used to buy them bigger and better cuttlebones at cut-rate wholesale prices. No, she thinks that parrots actually have a need to be able to surf the Internet.

As Pepperberg explains, "In the wilds they live in flocks... People buy these animals as pets. They interact a lot with them in the morning and they interact with them a lot in the evening, but they leave them for eight or nine hours a day." Frankly I think she is understating the problem. Pepperberg is assuming the birds sleep all night. The birds probably sleep to alleviate the boredom during the day but then probably cannot sleep at night. In any case parrot probably would find time heavy on their hands, if they had hands. They become bored and often show it by screaming and chewing their feathers and in general acting like neurotic parrots.

But Pepperberg's solution is one that seems strange at first. The solution is to teach the poor lonely birds to surf the Internet. A colleague of Pepperberg, one Benjamin Resner, a research assistant, suggested that a parrot should be able to pass the lonely hours looking at wildlife pictures on the Internet. They have a gray parrot named Arthur. They have built a joystick controller that Arthur can manage. So far Arthur has shown no interest in either e-mail or chat rooms.

Resner has worked out a piece of software that will select out sites that have particular parrot appeal. I suppose it is kind of an extension of web software that censors the Internet for children. For now Resner can only guess what a parrot really likes to see. Eventually the restrictions will be taken off and the bird will be given a free hand or wing or something.

So bird culture is slowly merging with human culture. While the Danish Ornithological Association is bemoaning the birds picking up human tunes, Pepperberg is helping birds to use computers. I have been expecting it for some time now and I am happy to say that it is not all birds picking up human habits. Humans are picking up bird habits also. You should see the job Evelyn does with a pile of sunflower seeds. [-mrl]


MOULIN ROUGE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: MOULIN ROUGE begins with a sensory overload of images and fast cutting to create an exuberant and viscerally exciting view of the bohemian life in Paris of a century ago. The flush and excitement of experiencing 1900 Paris is surreally exaggerated. After thirty minutes or so the pace slackens a bit, but much of the style remains. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor star as an expensive courtesan and the young writer who loves her. The film is hypnotic and entrancing. The first half-hour is worth the price of admission all by itself. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)

In making love or in making musicals, you must never doubt your own abilities. Once you become self-conscious about how to do it, you probably cannot any more. The United States once was unexcelled at making musicals, from Busby Berkeley to Rogers and Hammerstein this made lots and most of the best. Now the feature-length musical has nearly died in the US except for some weak efforts in recent years to bring it back. Woody Allen's EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU was really a feeble attempt at dabbling in the genre. More recently there have been somewhat more successful attempts at the edges of the genre with SOUTH PARK and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? On the other hand, in Australia when it seems appropriate to make a musical they just dive into it with the apparent natural ease of Rooney and Garland saying, "Hey, let's put on a show." Baz Luhrmann, with the musical STRICTLY BALLROOM under his belt already, dives in with not just ease but gusto to make the fabulous musical MOULIN ROUGE. Set in 1900 Paris, the beauty of the women, the weird characters, the glamour the fin-de-siecle exuberance are presented in an explosion of sensory overload. Luhrmann does some really extraordinary things with this film. I like a director who does something unusual those now boring studio banners at the beginning of the film. It is a way to announce that this will be a creative film from the very first frame. Luhrmann has some fun with the Fox logo and theme and right away the viewer realizes this is a film that will have his eyes glued to the screen.

The plotting is somewhat familiar, but then most musicals do not have a really strong plot. Luhrmann, who both co-writes and directs, opens the film with a half-hour or more of high-energy excitement. We start with fledgling writer, Christian (played by Ewan McGregor) coming to Paris over his father's objections. Almost immediately he has an unconscious Argentinean fall through his ceiling and in moments is embroiled in writing for the film's title nitery a show called "Spectacular. Spectacular." The star of the show will be singer, courtesan, and toast of Paris, Satine (Nicole Kidman). The new show has been created by a small team of artists led by the diminutive giant Toulouse Lautrec (John Leguizamo) under the control of the impresario Zidler (Jim Broadbent having a field day). This first night Satine is scheduled to seduce the possible producer for Spectacular Spectacular, the Duke of Worcestor (Richard Roxburgh), but through a mistake in identity she seduces Christian instead. Being young and impressionable he stays seduced and in love. But the duke expects that he will get Satine as part of the deal of producing the play. From there the story borrows several plot highlights from Alexander Dumas's CAMILLE.

The film is marvelously inventive throughout, though after the first half-hour it slows considerably. Touches of that first rush include a terrific visualization of the Green Fairy said to live in bottles of that green (and literally toxic) intoxicant, absinthe. The film remains a tribute to Paris and the extravagant musical throughout, popular in Paris in the 19th and early 20th Century. Luhrmann uses music not from the period but more modern and familiar melodies choosing as the centerpiece a peculiar choice, "There Was a Boy" from the film THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR.

The film features a standout performance by Nicole Kidman in a role that seemed made for her. She is an icon playing an icon, and playing it to the hilt. Ewan McGregor, of TRAINSPOTTING and the screen's new Obi-Wan Kenobi is more than passable as the film's lead, though his singing is obviously overdubbed. Kidman does her own singing and does it as well as any professional. Jim Broadbent is delicious as the strutting and high-stepping impresario Zidler. Even the frequently irritating John Leguizamo does nicely as Lautrec. He does not seem French, of course, but then nobody else in the cast does either.

I can list on the fingers of one hand the set of musicals I actually like as musicals. I like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, CABARET, and very few others. Most musicals I bide my time and wait for the singing to be over. This is a bide- my-time sort of musical, but it has its share of other rewards. Even I can appreciate its tributes to the stage and screen musical. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

Quote of the Week:

    Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self
    expect applause; He noblest lives and noblest dies
    who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
                                   -- Sir Richard Francis Burton