MT VOID 05/09/03 (Vol. 21, Number 45)

MT VOID 05/09/03 (Vol. 21, Number 45)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/09/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 45

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

More on Psychics (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In our last issue I was talking a little about psychics and the fact that our rather rationalist publication has, of necessity, to get emailed out with an ad for psychics. We cannot even find out in advance to warn people since Yahoo chooses the ad at the time of mailing. To make matters worse we seem to get psychics' ads more often than we would by chance. Yahoo is probably looking at the content of the mail, via a software program, and the machine is saying to itself, "Ah, people with an interest in science fiction. They are likely to be interested in psychics." That probably means we will be specially targeted for that sort of ad, at least until someone comes along selling tapes of the alien autopsy. I was reminded of the public attitude of science fiction when the New Orleans science fiction Worldcon convention Nolacon shared a hotel with a Southern Baptist Convention. Ironically the two groups got along like Alan Dean Foster's humans and his amicable Thranx, and I suspect the science fiction people were the Thranx. I shared an elevator with an older gentleman who asked what our convention was about. I told him it was a science fiction convention. He nodded sagely and said, "That probably a good idea because, you know, you never can tell." I think the Yahoo software has the same attitude toward science fiction fans.

But it would not be surprising if a bunch of fans out there did believe in psychics. I know one member of my family pointed out how amazing the psychic powers of John Edward on the "Crossing Over" TV show are. (No, not Evelyn. I am talking about my larger family.) This is the program in which Edward gets up and tells members of the audience psychic knowledge he has of their family and passes on messages from the departed.

Michael O'Neill, a marketing manager, gave an account in "Skeptic Magazine" about his experience when he was an audience guest on the program. The whole experience of filming the show is about four hours long for members of the audience. There are two hours of just sitting and waiting for things to start, then two hours of the actual filming of the John Edward and the audience. Now a two-hour setup time may not be unusual for a television show, but it is very unusual that the audience has to sit there so long before the actual filming. The audience is given nothing special to do during this two hours so, of course, they talk among themselves. And since they are going to see a program with a famous psychic, they talk about the upcoming experience. They speculate about what Edward might see in their own family. Hey, Uncle Charlie just died; John Edward might see him. All the while production assistants mill around doing various tasks. It is not obvious that the audience is being spied upon, but there are all sorts of possibilities. The seats could be bugged; the production assistants could be collecting information; parts of the audience could be monitored with long-distance listening microphones, and there could be spies planted in the audience. O'Neill said that about fifteen people arrived in one van, and did not sit together in the audience, but scattered among other people.

The show is only thirty minutes on television. With introduction, commercials, end credits, Edward may be shown in front of the audience maybe twenty minutes a show. So why do they need two hours of filming? Well, according to O'Neill the real magician is the film editor. The session he saw filmed seemed to have far more errors than correct guesses from Edward. But when you can edit out 100 minutes of incorrect guesses you can make Edward seem a lot better. O'Neill claimed that the editor even intentionally falsified his exchanges with Edward, grafting in yes responses to questions to which O'Neill had answered no.

In moments of stress, do you forget who is in your family? I don't think I do. However, John Edward claims to think this is a serious problem. In his rules for attendees at he tells them "Don't get 'psychic amnesia.' John coined this phrase to describe what happens when he goes to someone in the audience and they all of a sudden forget their family tree. Bring a copy of your family tree to the show, just in case." Some percentage of the audience will finger these family trees prior to the show, possibly while a production assistant is setting up a microphone nearby. It is one more way that Edward can get useful information.

Then there are simple standard tricks on playing the odds. For example psychics know that a lot of male names start with the letter 'J' and female names start with 'M'. Does someone here have a father or brother whose name starts with "J"? Almost certainly.

And don't forget that psychology is on the side of the psychic. As a listener you are more interested in the right guesses. You instantly forget many of the wrong guesses. The right guesses take more discussion time and stand out in the listener's mind. Getting a half hour program together is easy.

Interesting reading on a related subject is the anonymous essay at entitled "My Nightmare Job as A PHONE PSYCHIC." It gives you a little more information on the modus operandi of the psychic help racket.

And now that we have used the word "psychic" dozens of times in this article, almost certainly the ad that will be paired with this issue will be for psychic help. Of course only people who get the notice by email will see it. [-mrl]


CAPSULE: This second film based on the X-MEN comic book is a better story and a more atmospheric production. I am told it is a better adaptation of the comic book. One does not come to this sort of film for a deep statement of the human condition, but for a summer action film, it is not too bad. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), low +2 (-4 to +4)

Sequels rarely capture the quality of the original story in a series, though there are notable exceptions. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was a better film than DR. NO with a more serious plot. Similarly X2 really is better than the original X-MEN film from Fox released in 2000. It still is not great, but it is better. The major characters have already been introduced and the science fiction war between mutants and humans is nearing and getting hotter. Brian Cox, one of the great sinister actors of the screen, plays General William Stryker, who believes that mutant humans put the rest of us at risk. It is a reasonable assumption considering how easily one mutant gets past the Secret Service and nearly kills the President of the United States. Stryker has had dealings with super-powered humans before and has his own plans for them, deciding that it takes a mutant to catch a mutant. He makes no distinction between Xavier's good mutants who want to be a positive force and Magneto's bad mutants who have been seduced by the Dark Side, so we essentially have a three-way fight.

Once again the leader of the good mutants and principal (and principle) teacher at the Xavier school for promising mutants is Dr. Xavier played by Patrick Stewart. His chief mutant nemesis is Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), also known as Magneto. McKellen is a great actor, and looks fine as a slightly evil mastermind. Unfortunately he loses his aura and looks slightly embarrassed when he puts on the helmet and cape of Magneto. The outfit makes him look like an oversized chess piece. Early in the film Magneto is not much of a threat since the government imprisoned him in the last film. But the Government is starting its move against mutants. On hand also are much of the same familiar team of mutants from the first film. We have Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Halle Berry as Storm, Famke Janssen as Dr. Jean Grey, Anna Paquin as Rogue, and James Marsden as Cyclops. Please don't ask me to list their special powers. Suffice it to say they get nifty powers that are just what they need in the right pinch, not unlike James Bond's gadgets. New this film is the modest Nightcrawler played by Alan Cumming who looks like a dark-blue-colored version of a comic opera devil and who can teleport and leave behind smoke. (Does this mean he gets lighter every time he teleports? Where does the smoke come from?) The McGuffin this time is a sort of magical board that can be used to locate and kill all mutants. (How does it work?)

I have to say that in rating this film I have a little trouble with the baroque varieties of mutant that nature seems to have created. Most real mutants are not viable and do not pass on their mutant genes. I am willing to accept the level of mutation we see in SCANNERS where, if I remember correctly, it is one drug that causes the mutation. These grotesque mutations we see in the X-MEN films are as absurd as the wirework acrobatics. For me they hurt the credibility of the film. Stil, I rate this mutant opus a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. Two additional points: Contrary to what the film says, Neanderthals did not interbreed and become our ancestors. See the article at . And I hope that the Skunkworks that designed the SR-71 Blackbird gets some sort of royalty for the use of their design in films like this and THE PHANTOM MENACE. [-mrl]

Why Taxes Need To Be High (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Whenever I review a film on the Internet based on a comic book I get a lot more comment mail. After reviewing X2 I got this rather flabbergasting statement in the mail:

"Just so you know, in regards to the Black Bird comment in your review. The U.S. government designed the Black Bird long ago (about in the 80s, might have been in the 60s) for the comic book. Though while designing the jet (they were trying to make it realistic) it was discovered that there was no oil available which would work for such a large and fast jet, and so they invented a new kind of oil never used before, which in theory would work for the BlackBird jet. They now use that oil in all American jets, and in honor of the X Men (who inspired its creation) they named the oil 'Marvel Mystery Oil'. You can buy it in your local auto parts store to this day.

And now you know, the rest of the story... Good day."

It is signed "daM rettaH" which might turn out to be appropriate.

I had no idea that the CIA was so fond of X-Men comic books. The first flight of an SR-71 was on Dec. 22, 1964, by the way. [-mrl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

This week we have a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

But first, I want to say that I misspoke myself last week when I said that Ronald V. Borst's GRAVEN IMAGES had posters from films through the 1990s--it goes up only through the 1960s. (That's what comes of reviewing something you haven't quite finished yet!)

Theodore Roszak is better known to me as a fiction writer, with his FLICKERS and the Tiptree-Award-winning MEMOIRS OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN. (He is also known to me as a writer whose name is hard to spell, since he uses "sz", while the composer Miklos Rozsa uses "zs".) Anyway, I ran across a copy of Roszak's 1986 book THE CULT OF INFORMATION, and skimmed through it. A lot of Roszak's fears--the possible misuse of information, the tendency of some to think everything can be solved by computers, and so on--have certainly been borne out. And all the amazing artificial intelligence accomplishments claimed at the time (fifteen years ago) which were touted as five, or at most ten years, away have not yet arrived.

But as with any older predictive book, there are a few statements that catch one up as just *wrong" (in retrospect, anyway). For example, talking about a plan Apple had to donate a computer to every school in California, Roszak wrote, "As the market for home computers sharply tapers off, . . . ." Well, if so, it was a temporary lull. Also, he talks about various schools that required the ownership of a computer for all students. (This was often a specific one--at Dartmouth, it was a Macintosh, at Clarkson, a Zenith.) Roszak finds this "a bold innovation," asking, "Has there ever been another instance of the universities making the ownership of a piece of equipment mandatory for the pursuit of learning?" Even if one doesn't include textbooks as pieces of equipment, I suspect that engineering schools usually required slide rules, and typewriters were usually de facto required.

Of interest to all us technical types is Leonard Dr Vries's VICTORIAN INVENTIONS. This book is even older than the Roszak, having been published in 1972 by the American Heritage Press, but since it is entirely about Victorian inventions, it hasn't become any more outdated than it was. Some of these inventions eventually succeeded. The most interesting to me was the red- green eyeglass system for 3-D movies--although the version here (1890) was for stereoscopic slides in a theater instead. There was also an inner-spring mattress (1871), and a child's "Picture- Book with Animal Noises" (1898), where the sounds are generated by means of strings that the child can pull.

But others never came to fruition. In many cases, this was a good thing. Consider the "Tricycle and Printing Press Combined" (1895), which allowed one to compose "short advertisements" on the tires such that (with the aid of the ink tank mounted on the frame), "the advertisement [could be] printed on a clean background to make it legible for a prolonged period of time." Just what we need--an automated way to produce graffiti on the roads! (Although the requirement that the surface be clean probably would have made it unusable.)

There was also "A Spherical, Transparent Velocipede" (1884) which apparently operated on a method similar to an acrobat progressing on a ball, except that the operator is *inside* a hollow sphere which contains some sort of ball-and-socket seat arrangement to stabilize it. My favorite part, though, was what happens when the sphere arrives at a river. "The sphero-velocipedist, propelling his vehicle with the utmost possible speed, rolls down the back with sufficient momentum to bring him to the other side of the stream. For the sphere floats on the water and continues to revolve until it has reached the opposite back." Even assuming it would work this way--of which I am exceedingly skeptical--one has to assume the sphere would actually arrive at the other side of the river considerably downstream from where he started. And if he misjudges the speed necessarily, he could easily end up floating downstream all the way to the sea--or the next waterfall. (I love the way the "river" changes to a "stream" in the description.) Oh, the sphere is also described as being made up of "some transparent, solid and not too fragile material." And what, pray tell, would this have been in 1884?

I mentioned a few weeks ago (03/28/03) that I was reading Sir Arthur C. Clarke's GREETINGS, CARBON-BASED BIPEDS! One selection I just read was a speech that Clarke gave to the Smithsonian Institution on April 24, 1990, for the Marconi Symposium. Speaking of innovation, he said, "I'm even tempted to say that large organizations not only can't make major innovations, but shouldn't attempt to . . . . Of course, there are exceptions--see for example Bell Labs and the transistor. . . . But Bell Labs was deliberately set up to encourage creativity, not to manufacture things."

How hath the mighty fallen! [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           We are slaves of the laws in order that 
           we may be able to be free.
                                          -- Cicero 

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