MT VOID 02/08/02 (Vol. 20, Number 32)

MT VOID 02/08/02 (Vol. 20, Number 32)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/08/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 32

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper,
The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper,
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All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

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More on M&Ms (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I frequently comment on current events in the notice. I talked about the roots of Muslim rage, about biases in film, about national security, etc., etc. Rarely do I get much response from the readership. Obviously I have been writing about the wrong issues. Finally I have picked a subject that is controversial enough and that the readers find touches their lives. I got a storm of comment about blue M&Ms. It turns out this subject is extremely topical just now. I will get into why later. I mentioned that there was a 1995 poll to determine what would be a NEW color for an M&M. The tragic and hard-to-believe results of that poll were reported at [I will give you this on a separate line and put no punctuation after it for those who want to use it]
and these were:

"A 'mega' marketing event asked Americans to vote for a new color to appear in the traditional 'M&M's' Chocolate Candies mix. The choices included blue, pink, purple, or no change. Blue won by a landslide with 54% of the more than 10 million votes cast."

I discover that I am not the only person who finds this result shocking. I think it is a loss of traditional aesthetic values. Americans have come to believe that candy is little pieces of sugar-coated bubble gum in a little plastic garbage can. But a commentary I saw by one Donald Douglas indicates that the public may not have known exactly what it was voting on. Had the proposition been stated that whatever color was being chosen was going to replace tan, this person feels that the public would have rebelled at the concept. While not getting into issues of pregnant chad, this person suggests that the poll was fixed and that Mars already had barrels of blue dye before the poll was taken.

(Oh, a little known fact is that there never were any tan M&Ms. The M&Ms web page calls those M&Ms gold.)

I would say that M&Ms does know the power of public opinion and even prejudice. In 1960 there was a scare that red M&Ms were made with the cancer causing red dye #2. Any red food products were suspect, though M&Ms are now thought to have been innocent. If I remember right a Bit 'o Honey that was under suspicion for its red wrapper appeared before a congressional committee and while claiming to be innocent named both Atomic Fireballs and some M&Ms as being definitely red. Watermelon Stix and some Valentine hearts were implicated as being pink. There was even a suggestion that red apples had infiltrated traditional institutions as American as apple pie. At the height of the red scare, red M&Ms were purged. It is thought that some assumed false colors to continue working and the smarties went north to Canada. Red M&Ms did not did appear openly again until 1987. These days they are intentionally making a show of their traditional American values by appearing in Christmas packages of red and green M&Ms and in special patriotic packages of red, white, and blue M&Ms.

Actually, the company that makes M&Ms, Masterfoods, will sell them in a wide range of colors. The colors are listed at
But as I said, by coincidence this whole issue is topical again. Just the day before publication of our last issue, Masterfoods has again announced a public poll on colors. You can read the news article and see a picture of the nauseating colors at
The new color will be purple, pink, or aqua. Masterfoods is giving the public a choice. Some choice, huh? I think that that is more a dilemma than a choice. Do I want a color that will make me think of grapes (isn't that bait and switch?) or licking the side of swimming pool. I don't even want to consider licking something pink. That is a whole other thing entirely. Particularly because their current advertising paradigm shows M&Ms with Mr. Potatohead arms and legs. Putting that in pink does not bear much thinking about. If you want to register for the vote, you can go to


BLACK HAWK DOWN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: What was intended to be a thirty-minute mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, turns out to be an extended visit to battle hell. Ridley Scott very accurately tells the true story of a Delta Force mission that went very wrong. This is an action film that eventually is more wearying than exciting, but still is worth the trip. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4)

It is the idealistic policy of the crew of the Starship Enterprise that they will never give up on one of their own trapped by the enemy. Nobody gets left behind. Captain Kirk and his successors never compromised. That policy works out well in fiction where a writer is in full control. However that is also the policy of our military's elite, semi-secret Delta Force, the U.S. Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. That in some ways is a very good policy. It tells the individual soldier that he will not be abandoned by his compatriots. It improves loyalty. It fosters an "all for one and one for all" attitude. It also has its down side. That policy can be very dangerous. On October 3, 1993, a Delta Force mission to capture two lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu, Somalia, went very sour. As the soldiers were withdrawing after the mission a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Attempts to rescue the passengers only brought more killing, more deaths and injuries and the situation spread in a deadly chain reaction. What was intended to be a thirty-minute mission turned into twelve hours of deadly fighting. Though estimates vary, it is claimed that in the end eighteen Americans were killed and perhaps 3000 Somalis. Mark Bowden chronicled the fiasco in his book BLACK HAWK DOWN and Ridley Scott has adapted the book into a film.

As this film and the History Channel documentary "The True Story of Black Hawk Down" inform us, Somalia is a country essentially with no government and no laws. Starvation is widespread. In 1993 warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid had already been responsible for the deaths of 300,000 of his countrymen, many by hunger. Foreign shipments of food to ease the situation had been captured by Aidid and were used only as a weapon to strengthen his position. American Marines were sent in to make sure the food went to the right people, but Aidid found it easy to rally his followers into hatred of the Americans for their attempts to intervene.

Aidid had a heavily armed army, in large part teenagers who were paid mostly in a drug that as a convenient side effect brings aggression. A Delta Force snatch and grab operation to capture some of Aidid's commanders was scheduled, but at the worst time of day, about 2:30 in the afternoon. This meant that the raiders would not have cover of darkness and afternoons were when the army, under the influence of the drug, were at their most aggressive. This was a time of day when there was usually gun violence even without American raids. As the film shows there are several things that go wrong before the raid, but real hell does not break loose until after the mission when the troops are being withdrawn and a lucky shot from a Somali brings down an American Black Hawk helicopter. (See the site for accounts of what happened after that.)

Ridley Scott's version and the History Channel documentary are my sources of information as to the events of the raid and since they come from the same witnesses as sources, it is not surprising that they are very consistent and probably both are very close to what actually happened. Further, following the lead of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, some filmmakers are now more willing to show the violence of battle realistically and much less softened. That makes this a very harrowing film to watch. This sort of battle is when all the training or lack of training pays off and where soldiers lives depend on knowing "were we supposed to go to the humvee or was the humvee supposed to come to us?"

This is certainly a violent action film. There are very long sequences of shooting and a lot of blood, though if there is a good use for violent action, this is it. Scott does try to use a realistic approach, but I find that strobing with twelve frames a second does not improve the action and is only a distraction. Toward the end the photography tries to go a little stylized and poetic, but by then the viewer is so exhausted it is time to take a breath.

This is a film with a large cast and Scott takes his time letting us get acquainted with them, so that when the action starts we can keep them distinguished in our minds. This is mostly successful. There is a lot that is happening in a lot of different settings once the chaos sets in and it is not difficult to follow most of it. Still if we step back we find it as much of a mess as does the commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison (played almost aloof by laid-back Sam Shepard). The story follows several threads with the men ending up fragmented and scattered over Mogadishu. The only film cliche obvious is that underlying friction between some of the men in the early parts of the film is emphasized. Later in action it is more their camaraderie we see. The script written by Ken Nolan and Steve Zaillian shifts point of view in the course of the film. The United States' intervention seems clearly in right at beginning but the viewpoint becomes much more ambiguous later. Americans were there on what was unquestionably a mission of compassion, feeding people who were starving to death. But even with all our high-tech arsenal of weapons we were clearly in over our heads. Indeed, days later the United States pulled out of Somalia and left the country to its fate. As the History Channel documentary pointed out, in Vietnam the loss of eighteen soldiers would have been too small to even report. Also, a battle against a determined enemy in which 99.4% of the losses are on the other side probably can not be considered a total loss militarily. And Aidid's people needed to be stopped. With echoes of another part of the world this is an enemy who claims, "Without victory there will always be killing."

BLACK HAWK DOWN is a gritty and realistic film, often a hard film to watch, but a good confrontation of the issues. It is a somber reminder of the price of even humanitarian policies. I rate it an 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, 
           crime, cruelty, soft music. 
                                          - Vladimir Nabokov

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