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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/15/03 -- Vol. 21, No. 7
Table of Contents
Readercon 15 Convention Report Available:
My convention report for Readercon 15 is at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/reader15.htm [-ecl]
Campus Anti-Jewish Movements (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Some members of my family have written me discussing the number of anti-Jewish incidents on campuses. Earlier this week there was a report of a Berkeley professor telling his classes that he was 100% sure that THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION were authentic. (PROTOCOLS is a notorious fraudulent document purporting to be a Jewish plan for world conquest. It was used in the 1930s as a justification for the Holocaust.) The conversation was a continuance of one I had last December we were discussing the incident at Concordia University in Montreal that went to far as to ban the Jewish Hillel organization from campus http://tinyurl.com/ja6e. I have my opinion about what is happening on college campuses. I think I have some understanding from what I have been reading. At least this is my take. The anti-Jewish element is ironically mostly in the liberal movement.
The liberal movement is not traditionally anti-Jewish. Back when I was in college it was in large part Jews who led the liberals. They were kids from Jewish liberal families. It had people with origins like those of Abby Hoffman. But the policy of the radical end of the movement is counter-culture and anti-US-government. It is ironic to see that it has become anti-Jewish and at Concordia I believe there was at least one Jew on the governing committee who voted for the banning of Hillel. For some Jews the ties to the liberal movement is stronger than their ties to other Jews.
There is a lot of liberal movement on college campuses in North America and even more in Europe, some very radical. The liberal movement pretty much has to find ground to disagree with the power structure or they do not exist. If they agree with the power structure they don't have anything to offer. The United States government leads the power structure. They don't have to disagree with all United States policies but they have to disagree with enough that they are offering a choice. They need something to oppose. The strength of the opposition will be much greater and will get much more support if it looks like the military will get involved enforcing United States policy. This is not surprising because it is people the college students know and can identify with who will be getting involved and perhaps getting hurt or killed. The opposition will be much stronger still if it looks like the conflict will be protracted and there is some possibility of a draft. Then the college kids are not just worried about friends; they are worried about their own skins. The liberals on campus are going to oppose any policy that looks like it leads to a situation in which Americans might get killed overseas.
Right now the most visible aspect of United States's foreign policy is its Middle East policy. And it looks like there is a good chance of a long and protracted conflict in Iraq. The United States government has many policy goals in the Middle East but the most visible is the protection and preservation of Israel. Not surprisingly that policy gets us a large share of own enemies. And in the Middle East (and elsewhere) people who oppose the United States for other reasons will also claim to be doing it for the support of the Palestinians. That way no matter what they do they are right at least in the eyes of the local audience. The Al Qaida who were led by people mostly trying to oppose the United States presence in Saudi Arabia, but they came around after a while and claimed one of the important reasons for their attacks was the United States support of Israel. Yassir Arafat even accuses Al Qaida of exploiting the Palestinian cause. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2576741.stm.
So the most visible policy of the United States is its Middle East policy and the most visible aspect of the Middle East policy is the support of Israel. The campus liberals are more or less forced to oppose Israel if they are to oppose United States foreign policy. They cannot be the opposition and not take a negative stand on Israel. In the beginning it probably was just opposition to the United States government, but there is so much anti-Israel propaganda the anti-Israel movement picks up its own momentum. Also it is a very fine line between being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. The anti-Israel people quickly find pre- established allies, left and right wing, who are anti-Jewish. And there are Arab radicals on campus who--to nobody's surprise--are strongly anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. The groups all flow together like pools of mercury. And they influence each other.
In Northhampton, Massachusetts, I am told that the liberal radicals are plastering up anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian propaganda all over town. These are women from Smith College who are almost certainly feminist. Politics makes strange bedfellows. They are siding with Palestinians who are no friends of feminism. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/766003/posts reports "The Society for the Advancement of the Palestinian Working Woman, in conjunction with The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion Polls, conducted a poll under the supervision of Dr. Nabil Kokali, on the topic of violence against women..."
"56.9% of Palestinians feel that it is a husband's right to hit his wife if he thinks she hurt his manhood..."
"59.1% of Palestinians feel that it is a husband's right to prevent his wife from working outside the home..."
"66.4% of Palestinians declare that the crown of success of the Palestinian Woman is devoting herself to the care of her children and her husband above devotion to herself..."
Yet among the liberal movement in and around Smith College these are the good guys.
It is irritating and frustrating to see the liberal movement take stands like this. I consider myself a liberal, and that makes it only more so. For years I have thought that the moderate liberals had to disavow some of the radical liberals. It never happened to any great degree. The anti-Jewish radicals would have been a great place for them to do it. I would have liked to see the moderate Muslims disavow the radical Islamists. That never happened to any great degree either. It is getting to be too late. [-mrl]
KOI... MIL GAYA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Billed (inaccurately) as the first Indian science fiction film, KOI... MIL GAYA mixes elements of many films, especially E.T. and CHARLY. A boy in a man's body befriends a friendly alien. While groundbreaking as a Bollywood film Americans may find it rarely transcends American cable fare. Nevertheless it is amusing and entertaining. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4)
Okay, let's get this out of the way at the beginning. This is not the first Indian science fiction film. This may be the first exclusively Indian science fiction film, but in 1952 there was the Tamil-American co-production KAADU (a.k.a. THE JUNGLE). It was about an expedition to find why the animals in one region are behaving strangely. It turns out their area has been invaded by living wooly mammoths. The film starred Americans Caesar Romero and Rod Cameron as well as Sulochana, a popular Indian actress. KAADU is mostly an India travelogue made to fit in with the 1950s science fiction film cycle and is now quite a rarity. Also, the Hindi film MR.INDIA (1987) used an invisibility formula gimmick.
Rakesh Roshan (who wore the hats of producer, director, co-writer, and actor) plays Sanjay Mehra, a scientist doing his own work on searching for extra-terrestrials. His method is to transform Hindu religious symbols into a musical string and then use this melody to try to get a response from alien races. It works and he makes contact with aliens. When he brings his results to the members of the scientific community they laugh at him and his claims. However, while he is returning home by car, a UFO arrives responding to his signal and finds him. Not paying attention to his driving, Rakesh is in an accident that kills him and injures his pregnant wife.
Eighteen years later his son Rohit (Rakesh's son Hrithik Roshan) is physically developed but mentally arrested at age eleven. Nevertheless Rohit is likable and is the leader of a group of boys physically younger but about his mental age. They live in a small hilly village, what is called in India a hill station. Rohit is happy with his young friends but is tormented by some local bullies and is humiliated by the teachers at the Catholic school he attends. He wishes to be normal. To the village comes Nisha played by the extremely Western-looking Preity Zinta. (I initially thought that she was supposed to be American or European.) Rohit is smitten with her, but does all the wrong things and has a difficult time winning her over. But win her over he does. Together the two dust off Sanjay's old computer equipment and they inadvertently summon interstellar visitors. One of the visitors is accidentally marooned on Earth. What happens then is strongly reminiscent of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL crossed with bits of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON.
One fairly interesting aspect of KOI... MIL GAYA is the emphasis on religion. The Bollywood films I have seen have generally not had religious messages beyond peaceful coexistence and Ahimsa. In this film there is a good deal of attention paid to religion. Rohit is taught wisdom and kindness from the Bhagavad-Gita. Later when Rohit founds a basketball team they call themselves the Pandavas. Rohit calls on Krishna for help. But Rohit goes to a Catholic school where the teachers are insensitive and unkind. The camera carefully picks up crucifixes and religious paintings as decoration. Perhaps Rakesh Roshan did not want to appear to be siding with science over religion, much as 1950s American science fiction films would carry religious messages.
The music, always an important element of a Bollywood film, is provided by Rajesh Roshan, the director's brother. While in some reviews people who know Indian soundtrack music seem to be saying that the score is groundbreaking, I am not enough of an expert to pick up the subtleties. The choreography frequently uses wirework, which hurts the spontaneity. Wirework is even more obvious and unnatural in fight and athletic scenes. The Roshans wanted to have special effects that would match Hollywood films and hired Marc Kolbe (who worked on GODZILLA, INDEPENDENCE DAY, and the Indian DEVDAS). Still, this film cannot be said to have a lot of special effects. They are used sparingly by American standards. There is extensive use of an alien suit with an articulated (probably wire controlled) face.
This is a film that is full of small homages to American films. Besides those mentioned already we see little bits of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, and STAR WARS. The latter gives a strange effect as the opening credits flow backward at an oblique angle over a starscape. That can be effective but when the credit is "Bankers" it seems incongruous. I wonder if this also is the first Bollywood film to seriously go in for product placements.
While science fiction is really still very new to Indian domestic films, American science fiction films have traditionally been quite popular in India. Unfortunately they have traditionally been less accessible since they are almost always subtitled. There was some protest when JURASSIC PARK was released in the various regions of India dubbed into the local language. There was an accusation that this was unfair competition. But there is a ready market for science fiction films in India and if KOI... MIL GAYA is successful, as it almost definitely will be, perhaps there will be more science fiction films from India. This film may have more to offer to Indians than to Americans who can get most of what this film has off of cable. But it is a pleasant fantasy and rates a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recommend to everyone the article "A Medley of Mysteries: A Number of Dogs That Didn't Bark" by Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff (from "The Modern Researcher"), reprinted in THE HISTORIAN AS DETECTIVE (edited by Robin W. Winks). Its discussion of how to judge the truth of what one reads, and how to investigate statements further, is one that people could benefit from. It would prevent believing in spurious speeches purported to be from "Julius Caesar" that don't even scan like Shakespeare. Or that Seabiscuit got more press coverage than either Roosevelt or Hitler. Or that a billion people watched the Oscars one year. Or that Senator Tom Daschle doesn't know which hand to put over his heart to salute the flag. These are all claims we have seen in recent months.
Or consider the following story recounted in an article about Hal Clement in the Readercon Program Book: Clement was a bombardier during World War II. The article says that at the Heidelberg World Science Fiction Convention, someone asked him if he had ever been to Heidelberg before. Clement supposedly responded, "No, but I've been within a few miles of here" (meaning up above the city in a B-24). The main problem with this story, according to Clement, is that he wasn't *at* the Heidelberg Worldcon, as a check of the membership list would show.
I also referred last week to an essay that said (in passing) that Sabbatai Zevi and his followers feared the end of the world in A. D. 1000. As I noted, this is wrong on three counts: 1) Zevi lived in the 17th century. 2) He and his followers were Jewish and didn't care about A. D. 1000. 3) Pretty much no one else cared about A. D. 1000 either; the notion that there was any sort of widespread belief that it signaled the end of the world first surfaced about six hundred years later.
Barzun and Graff also recommend a perpetual calendar, which will tell you that a statement that talks about "Saturday night, December 31, 1959," is just flat-out wrong. (Luckily, I have Mark for this--he can do this sort of calculation in his head and tell me when fake newspaper dates in movies get it wrong as well.)
Barzun and Graff state at one point, "No interesting or important question, though, can be settled without detailed knowledge, solid judgment, lively imagination, and the ability to think straight." And as Hal Clement said in his Guest of honor interview at Readercon, a lot of his stories came because, as he put it, "I had already developed the notion that whenever I heard the words 'of course', I should immediately be suspicious."
Coincidentally (really!) to the whole theme of historian as detective, I read Sarah Smith's CHASING SHAKESPEARES. The main characters are literature researchers trying to determine (you guessed it) who wrote Shakespeare's plays. For those who accuse science fiction of having too many "infodumps", I commend this work (although one might claim that it's only one giant infodump). Josephine Tey pulled this sort of thing off in THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, but I found CHASING SHAKESPEARES too confusing to follow completely. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: There is no argument in the world carries the hatred that a religious belief does. --Will Rogers
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