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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/13/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 33
Table of Contents
It Feels So Good When I Stop (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Many of you have tried the Japanese delicacy of sushi. You may have noticed the fiery horseradish-like paste that is used to spice it, wasabi. Actually it is more closely related to mustard than horseradish. The Japanese use it very sparingly, but Americans seem to like the effect and use more than the Japanese would.
The real purpose of wasabi, I recently realized, is give the diner for a just few seconds the exact sensations and physical effects that are the symptoms of having a very painful and acute head cold. For some reason people like just a few seconds of the same symptoms that if they lasted longer would be considered a very uncomfortable malady. Some of us must like to suffer for just a few seconds if then they can come out of it. [-mrl]
Las Vegas (yet more comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing on my commentary on Las Vegas talking about some of the bargains I like.
When we go to Vegas we usually stay at the Luxor. This is a fabulous pyramid of a hotel with an Ancient Egypt theme for decor. Even the elevators seem lined with stone tablets to give the feel of ancient Egyptian elevators. (My, the Egyptians did marvelous things with sand, didn't they?) You can find your way there at night because it has a huge beacon aimed upward from the peak of the pyramid. It creates an interesting optical illusion. We see the stars directly overhead as being closer than those at the horizon because we have no benchmarks to measure the distance overhead. The sky looks like an inverted dish with the center much closer to you than the edge. It is the same effect that makes the moon look much bigger when it is on the horizon than when it is straight up. The dust and water vapor (there is some even in the desert) in the air in the path of the beacon is illuminated and we see it at a distance, but our minds interpret it as being projected into the top of the dish. It looks like it goes to a point almost right overhead since the horizontal distance to the column is much less than the vertical distance. The beam looks almost horizontal and right over your head wherever you are outside at night. It gives the almost mystical effect that the beam is following you around.
For a while the Luxor was King (Pharaoh?) of the Hill in Las Vegas. Then someone built a more fantabulous casino and it became just one of the majors. It is still luxurious, but now it is also an inexpensive place to stay. Luxurious and inexpensive is a pretty good combination. During the week we get a fancy room for $69 a night. That is competitive with the price of a Motel 6. I note, however, one minor luxury has gone away. The bath soap in the ornate bathrooms used to have sesame seeds embedded in it to make it more fancy. I don't know what the seeds are doing in the soap, but apparently is made the soap seem more fancy. Apparently the customers did not realize this was there to impress them. You are in big trouble when your customers do not understand your soap. Now there are no longer seeds in the soap. But the bathrooms are still very nice. That luxury costs only $69 a night during the week.
There is plenty of free entertainment for those who walk around. You can watch people gamble and that is almost a study in itself. You can watch the fake volcano explode every hour over at the Mirage. It has always been the popular sixth-grade science class project, making a volcano, but here it is done on a huge scale. Everyone likes natural fireworks (if they don't get too close). The Sirens of Treasure Island have replaced the pirate battle, which to me sounds like a mistake. Sirens are just not spectacular as a rule. I don't know what the siren show is yet, but the pirate battle was fairly impressive, including a sinking ship, all done large scale outside the casino. I think with the sirens they have thrown a little bit of sex. For those of a gentler nature there is the ballet of water streams at the Bellagio, played to sumptuous Italian music.
Everybody has his or her favorite bargain in Las Vegas. Some things are very expensive, but there are always good purchases hanging around. They are like loss leaders in grocery stores. The Luxor keeps its prices down in the hopes people will come and while here they will gamble. And they are right. Some people will. They are well aware that there are people like the Leepers who come and stay at their hotel and do not gamble, but enough people will use the casino and the house odds say enough of these people will lose that overall the Luxor's money-making machine works. They know that they could make more money if they could get rid of parasites like the Leepers, but there is no easy way for them to do that. They are content to let the gamblers subsidize both the owners and us parasites. (I would like to take a moment and thank the poor schmucks who sit down in that casino 7x24x365 (7x24x366 this year) feeding their dollars into those machines and, in part, paying to keep my vacation nice and cheap. Have a good time. Enjoy losing lots.)
I will have more of my favorite bargains next week. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Walter M. Mears's DEADLINES PAST is the reminiscence of Mears's forty years covering American Presidential campaigns and elections. I suppose I found it particularly interesting because these elections are precisely the ones I remember (I was ten years old in 1960). But certainly his descriptions of some of the older campaigns and how they differ from the current ones would be of interest even if you don't remember them. The "informality" of the earlier campaigns, done on buses with no security staff (or often any staff) to speak of contrasts sharply with the structure of today's campaigns. And this period is also that of the rise of television as a major force. Mears had to rely on his memory for what wasn't archived in his columns, however. He explains in his introduction that he didn't think it was important to keep his notebooks, but strongly encourages young reporters not to make the same mistake. (This may be an unnecessary warning: I was under the impression that the notebooks serve as primary documentation for the facts of a story, and the newspaper or magazine would probably insist that they be kept for several years any way.)
In 1967, William Goldman decided to write a book about the Broadway theater by covering everything that was opening in the 1967-1968 season, and he called the book (not surprisingly) THE SEASON. As part of discussing the various plays, he also explains what producers do, how plays are put together, how theaters are selected, how tickets are sold, and so on. Or rather, how these things *were* done back then, thirty-five years ago. At the time, for example, theaters were just starting to allow credit card purchases of tickets (rather than requiring cash at the box office). Goldman seems to have correctly predicted that the audience demographic was changing, and that the theaters did not seem to want to try to re-capture the people they were losing. The only drawback to the book might be the unfamiliarity of readers with most of the plays discussed (although Goldman's comments on "homosexuals in the theater" seem glaringly dated). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: If I had a hammer I'd hammer in the morning I'd hammer in the evening All over this land. I'd hammer out danger. I'd hammer out a warning. I'd hammer out love between My brothers and my sisters All over this land. --L. Hays and P. Seeger When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. --Anonymous
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