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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/14/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 33
Table of Contents
Europe (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the American offensive against Iraq, one of the lesser-sung heroes is Turkey. As a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim, they have been an unwavering ally of the United States, even to the willingness to send troops to Afghanistan. Europe is not fond of Turkey for this reason and historical reasons. It goes without saying that most other Muslim countries are not fond of the freethinking Turks who have offered their assistance to the United States if there are going to be hostilities. This last week France, Germany, and Belgium acted together to block NATO from coming to the assistance of Turkey in the event that they are attacked by Iraq for helping the United States. This is being viewed by many as a total betrayal of the principles of NATO.
This all fits in with an article I read a few weeks back entitled "Power and Weakness", written by Robert Kagan of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. The article can be found at http://tinyurl.com/5ohe. I should add that what I have to say here about Europe applies mostly to continental Europe. It seems to be less true of Britain and certainly of Turkey, if you count Turkey as European.
Kagan explains the recent rift in political opinion between the US and Europe as being an outgrowth of the close of the Cold War. Western Europe, finding that it no longer needed to defend itself from the Soviet Union, plowed the resources it had spent on defense into improving their economy. In Europe the so- called "Peace Dividend" really was a dividend. In the United States there was no cutback on military spending. Now the United States has remained militarily strong and Europe is quite weak. This very much forms each area's political policy and each is, of course, obliged to defend its policy as moral. Kagan gives the example of a man in a woods threatened by a bear. If the man has only a knife to defend himself he is likely to see the bear as an acceptable risk and be willing to just leave the bear alone. He hopes that the bear will not attack him. If the man has a rifle he is more likely to try to end the risk of the bear. I have some thoughts on this situation.
Europeans think that Americans are too quick to use force rather than diplomacy. Neville Chamberlain's brand of appeasement of Hitler, even today, likely seems more reasonable to them than it does to Americans, even having seen the aftermath. There is a European belief that Americans should consult with Europe before action. On one hand if many countries act independently and unilaterally, you have chaos. If they all consult, you are mired in the same dynamics that make committees poor decision- makers. Nothing would be done. The decision making process would become mired in Pushme-Pullyou arguments.
The United Nations was designed to avoid this problem, but it has proven that even it is prey to hypocritical double standards and to a bigoted and discriminatory usage of its own powers. It has come to side very openly with factions that equally openly have dedicated themselves both to hatred and the teaching of that hatred to the next generation. That it has chosen the right side to lean toward in the Middle East conflict is a point of debate. That it continues to fail even to condemn the policy of hate indoctrination the principals apply to their own children is reprehensible and destroys any credibility that organization might otherwise have.
Europe this last century saw the United States as the dog of war with an inferior understanding and appreciation of the issues. Nonetheless, it is a dog that can be a potent weapon for their side when desperately needed. They see the United States as having been slow to be roused in two world wars but once roused was a powerful force to be directed against an enemy that they think most Americans did not fully understand as well as Europeans did. The Europeans, being weaker, are in favor of subtler and less forceful political strategies, but were probably frequently pleased that they did not have to rely on those strategies particularly when Europe was the battlefield.
Having the power of the United States was again useful in the Cold War when Western Europe felt threatened, as did the Americans, by Soviet imperialism. Europe saw itself as having a superpower enemy to its east and a power to its west to hold it off. Europe participated in NATO, but the majority of the resource in NATO as well as most of its control came from across the water. Europe felt when needed it could unleash the United States on the Soviets but had quiet doubts as to how much control that leash gave them. The United States was really the military and economic power behind NATO and Europe was happy to be able to marshal that power. Facing a common enemy, they also agreed generally with the goals of those with that power. Now with the common adversary and common interests in general removed from the picture, Europe is frustrated to find frequently the force is not in their control.
There was some possibility that when at the close of the Cold War Europe united as a single economic power, it would also become a military superpower. Instead, Europe spent their military budgets on their economies. As the conflict in the Balkans got worse the Americans stood aside giving the Europeans ample opportunity to show some determination and muscle and to enter and resolve the conflict. Europe refused to act. Instead, they formulated a policy to explain why it was more ethical not to intervene.Eventually the Americans stepped in to resolve the conflict. True, once the peace was won others cooperated to keep the peace, but as the Europeans themselves quipped, it was like the United States had made the dinner and Europe was doing the dishes.
What America wants is to exert its muscle and for Europe to stand back and approve. That isn't going to happen. America might possibly be willing to have Europe make no demands on America and each country to enforce its own policy with its own funding and the lives of its own soldiers. That probably won't happen either. Europe, on the other hand, would like to have a committee of European countries and (possibly) America decide on a policy that then America would implement with its own funding and with the lives of its own soldiers. That surely won't happen. What Europe will get is an American attempt at a resolution to problems and very little responsibility. Their influence will be just what they paid for, very small. This small amount will afford them a certain measure of protection. Countries like Iraq will not see Europe as a primary target or a battlefield. Their primary enemy and their restraining force is the United States. Europe will reinforce that perception by being increasingly negative on a United States that is beyond their control. They will be critical. And as they did this last week, they will exercise what muscle they have to show they have muscle to exercise. From their point of view, their subtle and peaceful approaches would have solved any conflict that has arisen and it is America's own propensity to enter into conflicts that is exacerbating these conflicts. From the American viewpoint, in the Balkans the United States eventually had to step in to end the massacre. From a European perspective the United States simply interrupted the process of healing. Americans may well ask if America, judged by the new philosophy, should really have bulled their way into the essentially European conflicts of two world wars. [-mrl]
Acceptable Risk (letter of comment from Fred Lerner):
"People could have decided at that time that exploration was too dangerous and it had to stop until it was made safer."
The Chinese made that decision in the 14th century. Look what happened to them in the centuries that followed. [-fl]
THE EIGHTH DAY by John Case (book review by Tom Russell):
Curbs are death traps for baby turtles trying to get across roads. (Hatchlings cross roads to get down to the pond from the upland spots their mothers pick for nests.) Curbs are no good in general. For some darkly mysterious reason, curbs suddenly started appearing in new developments sometime in the middle 1950s. Older suburban neighborhoods don't have curbs. I've been saying God must have had a senior moment on the two millionth day: "Let there be curbs!"
So . . . when I spot John Case's new "thriller" THE EIGHTH DAY on the New Books shelf at the library, I just gotta grab it. Perhaps once again he has a science fiction novel in a thriller cover? Perhaps it's as good as his New York Times bestseller THE GENESIS CODE? Should I review it for MT VOID???
In THE EIGHTH DAY John Case tells us about an ancient Middle East religion, the Yezidi. Yezidis believe that God had a much earlier "senior moment." Aha! (Case doesn't call it that.) This belief, our hero discovers, is central to a billionaire evildoer's schemes.
For more than half of THE EIGHTH DAY there are only occasional references to (undisclosed) secret experiments by scientists at "Very Small Systems" in Silicon Valley. As in the first paragraph of this review, there are horrible deaths, a bit of real(?) history and religion, some irrelevant science (maybe), a dark mystery, and, don't say I didn't warn you, some explicit "nesting." And a few good plot surprises. But after reading over two hundred pages I don't yet know if THE EIGHTH DAY is science fiction, fantasy or "thriller." Then . . .
Finally! The hero learns about the goings-on at the VSS laboratory. Since that comes so far into the book, I won't reveal what it's all about other than to note it is a current subject in science and technology publications. Will VSS succeed? Or will it create a monster? But John Case has tricked the reader (that is, me).
In the end, the hero's scientist friend must help him overcome the billionaire's devices. Otherwise the hero will never regain the fair maiden's hand. Will the plan succeed? And is THE EIGHTH DAY science fiction after all??? [-tlr]
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: This may be an authentic expose of conditions for penitents in convents, but really comes off like a women's prison film. What makes this film different from some is that it is no fictional imagining though the frequency of the outrages may be exaggerated. This film is made more meaningful after the various sex scandals in the Catholic Church that have occurred since the film was produced. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS won this year's top prize at the Venice film festival and the Volkswagen Discovery award at Toronto. Still, I find it to be in some ways hackneyed. Writer/director Peter Mullan claims that though the names have been changed to protect the innocent, everything we see in this film actually happened. Of course, it makes a stronger and perhaps distorted statement to have all these horrors happen to a small number of women over a short period of time. Nevertheless, it really is damning that they occurred at all.
This is a film is about life in a convent, but it is no THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S. The young women committed by their families to the Magdalene convents are essentially imprisoned without trial. They are totally subject to the will and apparently non-existent mercy of the nuns. Mullan suggests that the system is a corrupt and sadistic as any prison system anywhere.
Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff) was raped at a wedding by her own cousin. Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone) was attractive and was getting too much attention from the boys. Rose (Dorothy Duffy) was an unwed mother. None of these women in their late teens was criminal, but each was sent by her family or warders to the convent as penitents. There they seem to be part of a Dickens story where they are cruelly and brutally mishandled by repressed and hateful nuns. They are subject to beatings and abuse. They are essentially slaves with all choices taken from them. In one scene there is lesbian abuse. Even the local priests sexually abuse them with impunity.
There is no sympathy or any positive emotions shown by any of the nuns. Any humanity we see comes from the girls themselves. The help and support the girls give each other is the core of the film.
With only a few minor substitutions this could be the sort of women's prison film Ida Lupino could have directed. Instead it is about women committed by their families to work in convents as penitents. This is pretty strong stuff when you realize all the abuses in it are based on fact and actually happened to somebody. But the film still never really rises above prison melodrama or as lurid expose. This is a strong film about a shameful period in recent Church history, made all the more timely by events since the completion of the film. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Based on Jane Smiley's novella "The Age of Grief," the film has an intriguing title, but is just not very interesting overall. It is a character study of a not-very-believable dentist who suspects his wife, also a dentist, of infidelity. There is just not enough story to keep an audience interested. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
Most stories have a beginning that sets up the premise, a middle in which the plot develops, and an end in which the premise is resolved. This film is no different except that the plot stands stock still in the middle act.
In the first ten minutes we establish that the main character believes his wife--both are dentists--is having an affair. He sees her preparing for a performance of in an amateur opera company and imagines her making love to a man she is performing with.
Then we are to the middle act in which he toys in his mind with the possibility, he discusses the possibility with his worst instincts made corporeal, and he takes care of his family through a bout of the flu. But none of this advances the plot. Except for the adding of texture to the story this could have been a short. The greatest interest in the film comes in some philosophical voice-overs about the nature of teeth, but the film never overcomes its static plot. We see David and Dana Hurst at home, helping the family through a bout of vomiting influenza. And we see business as usual while David mulls over his fears. At first lets his paranoia get the better of him, getting his advice from his own worst fears, which he sees personified as a particularly unpleasant patient. He behaves strangely. Later he gets back into his routine. Mostly we just see his family life.
There is not enough humor to keep this film amusing and though there is texture there is very little substance here. I rate it 4 on the 0 to 10 and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The first thing is not exactly reading per se, but relevant to something observed on a panel at ConJose. A column in the "Boston Globe" at http://tinyurl.com/5lw8 discusses how "scholars increasingly dispute the idea that mass production threatens the existence of particular cultural identities, either abroad or at home. After all, regional cuisines are displaying an unexpected vitality in this age of chain restaurants and global brand-names. Why? Many people, it seems, are content to preserve their local cultures through food that is as processed and mass- produced as a Happy Meal." There is a discussion of this from ConJose at http://fanac.org/worldcon/ConJose/x02-rpt.html#cave.
Victor Hugo wrote three books as a triptych: LES MISERABLES (about humanity), NOTRE DAME DE PARIS (about religion), and THE TOILERS OF THE SEA (about nature). Of the three, the last is rarely read these days. But it is perhaps the most science fictional, since part of it has to do with sea monsters (though of the cephalapod variety rather than the saurian). I am not saying that one should read it *because* of this, however, but because it is Victor Hugo, and so far as I know he never wrote a bad book. At four hundred pages it's even slightly shorter than NOTRE DAME DE PARIS, and certainly shorter than the 1463-page LES MISERABLES. (I mention this because people are always saying they don't have time to read long books. They often say this while picking up Robert Jordan or Tom Clancy novels.) [-ecl]
And did you notice...? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I talked about Gary Westfahl's editorial saying that science fiction has raised our hopes too much about the safety of space flight. Here is a nice piece on how science fiction has raised our expectation about medical procedures and that is perhaps a good thing. One does not generally think about how science fiction inspires medical progress, but techtv.com's http://tinyurl.com/5del looks at this effect.
According to an article in the New Scientist, scientists are looking at the origin and reason for hiccups. It may be a holdover from the respiratory systems of our amphibian ancestors. http://tinyurl.com/5esr looks at this engaging possibility.
People who were amused or horrified by the high-tech advertising that was predicted in the film MINORITY REPORT might find the report at http://tinyurl.com/5kbq on digital advertising of some interest.
Bhutan in the Himalayas has joined the technological world. Imagine. Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper, tells the story. Up in those mountains people are actually getting on the Internet. And what are they finding? Their mailboxes are filling up with junk e-mail. It is the long arm of spam. No doubt there are people suggesting to them that huge sums of money purloined from Nigeria should be transferred to banks in Bhutan. See http://tinyurl.com/5kls.
I haven't gotten much feedback on this column. Are people enjoying it? Are the links usually in place? [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Fine words and insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue. -- Confucius