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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/08/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 36
Table of Contents
America's Secret Weapon (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last November, shortly before the Enron scandal broke but there had beenplenty of business foundering, the cover of the management magazine "Business 2.0" had a cover that had the following words:
America's secret weapon: It's not smart bombs. It's not even special forces. It's cutting-edge management theory.
(I think I'm going to learn Arabic.) [-mrl]
Of Psychics and Tomatoes (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Deceptive advertising is in the news. This case in point is Miss Cleo the woman with the island accent who was a self- proclaimed psychic and whose ads were an unavoidable blitz on TV a few months ago. What you supposedly heard was a client at the other end and Miss Cleo knowing all sorts of strange detailed secrets about her. "How did you know that?" one would shriek in mock amazement and someone else would respond, "She's a psychic!!!" It seems that Miss Cleo had a range of methods to bilk the people foolish enough to call her. The government finally got sufficient proof that she was breaking the law and went after her. It is not sufficient just to be cheating the public, as I believe all psychics do. There are legal and illegal ways of cheating the public. It is tough on the government. How do you know when a psychic is a fraud? It is probably when they identify themselves as a psychic. But, of course, there is no proof that there are no psychics (or werewolves either) so the government has to wait until there are better indications that a psychic is a fraud. The government has a hard task because fiction abounds in claims that psychics are true. Going back to stories with the Oracle at Delphi and the Bible prophets psychics appear in literature and drama. And it seems an unwritten rule of drama that when a psychic makes a prediction it is true. Seers and psychics may be the oldest practitioners of deceptive advertising going back to prehistoric times and there is a conspiracy of credulity in the public to believe the hype. I cannot prove that all this is true and that there are no psychics, but--how's this?--the Spirits tell me that all psychics are frauds. I predict that anybody going to a psychic and paying for psychic knowledge will be cheated. Of course I do not know this from personal knowledge. Fortune cookies in restaurants are really my nearest contact with the world of foretelling the future through supernatural means and fortune cookies even there I am a skeptic.
I occasionally like to look at ads and see if I can figure out where they distort the truth with language. Occasionally they tell the truth and let the truth mislead the reader. The classic case was of the company that was selling canned salmon. Either because of the kind of salmon or their packing process the salmon was a different color than most canned salmon, being white rather than the usual pink. To avoid turning their customers off with a difference in their product that was harmless might have frightened customers away, they decided to turn the whiteness of their salmon into a selling point. They said in their ad, "will not turn pink in the can." Now that was a true statement. The government still got after them because it is misleading. But other cases like this abound and the government does not get after all of them because some are a lot subtler.
One ad did catch my attention recently. A soup advertisement is running in various magazines from a company that shall remain nameless in case Campbell's Soup Company is in a suing mood. It shows a smiling man, a Richard-Gere-look- alike, looking bemused at a juicy beefsteak tomato. This is one beautiful tomato, let me tell you. It is perfectly formed, a vivid red with no blemishes whatsoever. This has got to be the most alluring tomato you ever saw. This tomato looks like the highest work of art from American agriculture and the art of the airbrush. You know some tomatoes can look sort of deformed and squat. Some have what is called "cat face." None of that here. This is one beautiful tomato, let me tell you.
And the guy is the kind of look he would have on his face like it is love at first sight and he wants this tomato to have his baby. He clearly has a lot of affection for this particular tomato. The caption says (with its own peculiar rules of capitalization): "Diets Rich In Tomato Products May Help Reduce The Risk Of Certain Types Of Cancer." That is not as strong a statement as it seems since notice they equivocate by saying "May." But still it "May" actually be statistically true. It occurs to me, however, that that "May" not be such a good thing. Foods that have tomatoes also seem to have a lot of salt. And the more salt in your diet, the more chance you "May" have of high blood pressure and dying of heart disease. It is entirely possible that some people who eat tomato products "May" have their blood sodium elevated and as a result "May" die of heart disease when they might otherwise have died of cancer. It will have reduced the risk of cancer. That is true if sodium is dangerous for heart patients. Taken to its extreme you could really say that suicide will reduce risk of ALL kinds of cancer. Sky-diving without checking the parachute is a very effective way of reducing the risk of cancer. The truth is I am not looking to reduce my risk of cancer so much as looking for ways of increasing my risk of death by old age. [-mrl]
WE WERE SOLDIERS : (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: WE WERE SOLDIERS tells the story of the bloodiest three days of the battle of Ia Drang in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This is a moving and powerful account of the Vietnam War experience for once told with respect for the soldiers on both sides. Mel Gibson stars as the commander of the American Seventh Cavalry in Vietnam. Rating: 9 (0 to 10), +3 (-4 to +4)
I knew there was something that I hated about just about every Vietnam War film I had seen. It took WE WERE SOLDIERS to focus exactly what it was. Every major film about the war has had a very sharp ax to grind. Every major film about that war, with the possible exception of THE KILLING FIELDS, has been populated by war criminals and freaks. Probably the best is APOCALYPSE NOW, a film that I think paints the average solder as a stoner who wants little more than to get high and listen to loud music. They are led by commanders who are out of touch with reality and frequently also with sanity. Perhaps the critics are right that it is a great film, but even if it is, it is lousy history. The people I knew who had served in Vietnam, acquaintances, friends, and even my father-in-law, were not drug users and certainly not baby killers. Not all people who served, perhaps, but most were just average decent people who had gone though an unpleasant experience and survived it with their mental balance intact. These are not the characters of APOCALYPSE NOW.
The other respected films about that war all have their problems. The second most respected film about Vietnam is THE DEER HUNTER which has a nice portrait of American life, but there is really very little about the war experience other than this weird idea that captured soldiers were forced to play Russian Roulette. This one guy has survived a relatively long time always winning at a suicide game that gives him a 50% of surviving each round making the mathematics as bizarre as the history. PLATOON I remember as having a bad case of "the literaries" with dramatic scenes of people falling to their knees in slow motion as they discover the deep meanings of the war and the evil of their own side. FULL METAL JACKET is basically two stories about the war, one of Marine boot camp and a recruit driven over the edge, one about what it was like to take down one sniper. THE GREEN BERETS is about tall Americans standing up to a sub-human enemy. Not one of these films has a credible account of what the people I know must have gone through. Most filmmakers have shied away from saying the fighter was a reasonable, moral person getting an unpleasant job done and that that was pretty much true of the enemy we were fighting also. The World War II soldier got a much better break from cinema. At this moment of writing WE WERE SOLDIERS seems the only film about the war I can remember that approaches an honest and accurate look at the experience.
WE WERE SOLDIERS was written and directed by Randall Wallace, who previously wrote and directed THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK and wrote PEARL HARBOR. It is the true story of the Seventh Cavalry (no, it didn't die with Custer at the Little Big Horn), their preparation for the battlefield, and their actual fighting. It tells of their three days, November 14-16, 1965, in the Battle of Ia Drang. That was one of the bloodiest battles in American history. The Seventh was led in that battle by Lt. Col. Harold Moore and the battle was covered in part by war journalist Joe Galloway. The film is based on the book WE WERE SOLDIERS ONCE... AND YOUNG by (now) Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway. Historical advisors for the film are the same Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway who wrote the book and were present in the battle. Given that this is essentially the account of the American commander one might expect the possibility that it could be a whitewash of American military policy. It could have been another THE GREEN BERETS. To the contrary, in at least three major issues the story is fairly negative on how the military runs the war. And Moore is also critical of himself as a commander. The heroes are the individual soldiers. Once a soldier is on the field, he no longer is fighting for the commanders, he is fighting for himself and his fellow soldiers. This film is among other things a tribute to the soldier. It also shows more than passing respect for the enemy soldier. WE WERE SOLDIERS takes pains to show that the enemy is also made up of people hoping desperately to get back to their loved ones.
The approach of a close adaptation of accounts of the participants is the one Ridley Scott took with his recent BLACK HAWK DOWN. Where it differs is mostly in the way the soldiers are characterized and made real, even at the possible risk of sentimentalizing. We see their home lives as well as their professional ones. We see their wives and their children, so that when they are in battle we know whom they are hoping to get back to. We see something of their families' loss when some are killed. We get to know Moore's values and the love that he has for his men and the loss he feels when they will not be returning home. BLACK HAWK DOWN was a good film, but WE WERE SOLDIERS is a better one for that very reason. Be prepared. This is a realistic view of battle and people whom you come to care about are going to be killed. And some of the violence in the film is very realistic in ways that are not pleasant to watch.
Mel Gibson who plays Hal Moore is used to playing warriors after GALLIPOLI, THE PATRIOT, and BRAVEHEART. He plays very much the ideal commander here, worried mostly about his men and the possibility he might screw up. Sam Elliot stands out has Moore's grouchy second in command Sgt-Maj. Plumley. Chris Klein is as usual for him the archetypal sweet guy with a good reason for getting home, the type that Moore would most worry about. Where the film has problems is he may be a little too sweet. So is Moore's daughter. It reminds us we are seeing things from Moore's point of view rather than seeing a detached account. At times that view is more emotional than we want to see in a war film. But the scene of Moore leaving home and going to war is a poignant as the scene of Frederic March returning from war in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.
This will not be the most respected portrait of the Vietnam War on film. But it has what is unfortunately an unusual point of view about that war. It says that the men who fought it were human, fallible, and moral. It accords them the same respect that the men who fought in World War II got in the films of their time. For the originality of that approach I would rate this film a 9 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE GENESIS CODE by John Case (book review by Tom Russell):
After more than three years of semi and full retirement I've yet to finish reading the books I hadn't had time to read while I was working. (Is there an "MT-bay?") In spite of this I still hunt for science fiction that I enjoy - especially on "bargain book" tables. If a book isn't categorized as SCIENCE fiction, it might be anyhow if, for example, the author is a physicist.
John Case, so THE GENESIS CODE's dust jacket says, is a pen name for a Washington, DC, area private investigator. Case is not a physicist. But according to the teaser, a scientist's secret work is a threat to a major religion. I'm sold - THE GENESIS CODE is science fiction: 1. It's based on science - the work of a scientist. 2. It's fiction.
Ever since reading Mark Leeper's hint years ago, I get out a pad and pen whenever I start a book - to take notes about each character as I read along. Doing this helps with THE GENESIS CODE as some characters reappear later in new situations.
I should know about writing if I'm going to pretend to be a book reviewer, but I don't. But I can say this is one of those can't- put-it-down "page turners" that keep me from doing the projects my wife expects to see done when she gets home from work. What makes this book especially appealing to me: Its extrapolation from current science is plausible.
To make up for not reading THE GENESIS CODE when it came out, I've just read John Case's two more recent novels, THE FIRST HORSEMAN and THE SYNDROME. Both are also science fiction by 1 and 2 above. (But they're not a trilogy - Hooray.) [-tr]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If God did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent Him. -- Voltaire
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