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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/04/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 49
Table of Contents
Ever Have One of THOSE Editorials?(comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I came over all contrite and said that nobody understood my editorial of two weeks ago, that turned out to be an over-statement. I got multiple people coming back to tell me they did understand my editorial. Among the people who understood it were Nick Sauer and Charlie Harris. There were others on the Net including one person who said he understood what I was saying perfectly, it just wasn't funny. Sigh. Oh, well. From now on, when I write about politics I will be writing about politics. When I write about pizza I will be writing about pizza. This issue I will show my resolve by writing about pizza. [-mrl]
The Identity of Self (URL):
See http://www.philosophers.co.uk/games/identity.htm for an interesting--and very science-fictional--quiz to determine how you perceive the idea of self. (Actually, the whole site looks like it's worth checking out. For example, http://www.philosophers.co.uk/games/whatisgod.htm to construct your notion of God from various attributes and get a report on the logical consistency and plausibility of these. [-ecl]
The Defense of Pizza Rules (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I generally measure the success of one of my editorials by the comments that I get back. If a lot of people were provoked to say something about my subject matter--and it is not of the "Leeper, you are a genuine, gold-plated moron" variety--then I figure I did a reasonably good job. Actually, where I do my worst job, based on the number of responses, is politics. When I have something to say that I think is earth-shaking, those usually are the editorials that nobody seems to comment upon. I think of my generalized reader as thinking, "Well, there goes old Leeper again, blowing off steam." Instead of shaking the earth I seem to be shaking people's heads. I get a lot more comments when I talk about film. That is a little more meaningful to my readers. One subject that almost always is successful is when I talk about food. While most people don't want to think too much about politics and only a few people like to talk about film, just about everybody understands the basic concept of food. (Dogs do too.)
Two weeks ago I fooled nearly everybody. I was writing about politics, but almost everybody assumed I was talking about food. This was the one in which I was satirizing the "Defense of Marriage Act" and the people who think that same-sex marriage is going to change the meaning of their own marriage, and rephrasing the arguments as arguments against putting pineapple on pizzas. My conclusion at writing time was that nobody really cares to control what other people put on pizza as long as they themselves can have their pizza with pepperoni and mushrooms. In spite of the fact that very few recognized that I was talking about the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, by the measure of how many comments I got it was my most successful editorial in months. It seems just about everybody has an opinion about pizza. In fact, it was a close analogy to the Defense of Marriage Act. There were some people who really thought that things like pineapple should never be on pizza for anyone. Not just that it wasn't right for them personally, but that nobody else should be allowed to put pineapple on pizza because it was not to the taste of the majority.
Were these peple serious? Would they seriously want to regulate something like pizza? Then Charlie Harris pointed out to me that, in fact, Italy's National Standards Body (UNI or Ente nazionale italiano di unificazione) wants to define what pizza is and what pizza isn't. Being fair, they don't say that they have a copyright on the word pizza, they are defining "Neapolitan Pizza." But that is really the dish that is sold at your nearby Italian restaurant. Until now I believe that was considered Neapolitan Pizza. But that may soon be a thing of the past.
How is pizza defined? The new definition is just a tad self- serving, since part of the definition is that pizza is not authentic if it is not made from materials that come from the Naples area. It is much like France claims that wine is not really Champagne if it does not come from the Champagne region of France. And if your Blue Cheese Salad Dressing does not have cheese that came from Roquefort, France, then how dare you call it Roquefort dressing, you Yankee barbarian? You want genuine Neapolitan pizza, you come to Neapolitans. But what do you have to get from them?
If you are going to have cheese on the pizza you have to get the genuine Neapolitan mozzarella. What is special about that? It is made from buffalo milk. I'm serious. I didn't even know they had buffalo in Naples. I don't know we have many here other than in zoos. Don't confuse buffalo with bison, by the way. Yes, the bison we do have and the species is even making a modest comeback. In part of the west they are even becoming troublesome. A buffalo is something quite different from what you might think it is. So is pizza. That mushroom-and-sausage thing you are eating it not really pizza, according to these experts. In addition to buffalo mozzarella, you must use fresh plum tomatoes cut into chunks. Forget pineapple, you can't even put pepperoni on a true pizza. No mushrooms, no onions, no anchovies. Just tomatoes and perhaps cheese. The crust is made from flour, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. No sea salt, no pizza. Your local pizzeria has twenty varieties of pizza? Sorry, there are only two varieties of real pizza. There is "Marinara" and "Margherita" Neapolitan pizza and, oh yes, there is phony imitation pizza, but that is suitable for the barbarian hordes. "Thin-crust pizza" is an oxymoron in Italy. All two (2) kinds of pizza are thick crusted, baked from dough that was kneaded for exactly thirty minutes by human hand--no rolling pins--and given exactly four hours to rise. The oven? It must burn wood for fuel. From this I learn that heat comes in flavors. Pizza Marinara doesn't have the cheese at all. It is tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and olive oil on a thick crust. The pizza Margherita has tomato sauce and buffalo-milk mozzarella.
Restaurants that meet this high standard will be allowed to display a logo that certifies that their pizza has been inspected and is the real thing. A restaurant will not be allowed to say they make genuine pizza if the pizza just tastes good. "All sorts of things pass for pizza these days. From now on, customers will be able to tell whether they are eating the real thing or not," according to Antonio Pace, who presides over the Association for the Real Neapolitan Pizza in Naples. Think what a comfort that will be. Pace has co-authored the "Pizza Discipline," a discourse on how to make genuine pizza. His partner in this endeavor is Professor Carlo Mangoni di Santo Stefano, a nutritionist at the University of Naples. Mangoni is working on a lactose-free mozzarella for pizza Margherita. If he succeeds it too will be considered to be "genuine" pizza. Why will his revisionist pizza be genuine and one little slice of pepperoni invalidates the pizza? I guess it is because Professor Mangoni makes the rules, I guess.
When it is no longer correct to use the name "pizza" for what you currently enjoy in Italian restaurants, what will the correct name be? Well, you could call it pseudo-pizza, but for the afficionados the proper name for that dish--currently called "pizza"-- is a "Leeper." "I will have a pepperoni-and-mushroom Leeper please. And don't forget the shakers of crushed pepper and that nice grated Leeper cheese." Luckily I got here in time to name it before anyone else did.
Further reference from cnn.com: http://tinyurl.com/2cw6v
(This editorial is officially certified to be about pizza and not about same-sex marriage.) [-mrl]
Letter of Comment (from Fred Lerner):
Thanks for an interesting issue. Here are some comments:
"Dover uses acid-free paper and binds in signatures." -- Is this still the case? I have noticed a decline in the physical standards of Dover Books over the past couple of decades.
[I'm not sure--I haven't bought a new Dover book in a while. I do know the price has gone up. -ecl]
"I can almost guarantee you that whenever you run into the story of the siege of Troy or the Trojan Horse, this film is what will come to your mind." -- That sounds like a very strong argument for not seeing this film.
I'm an ardent Kipling fan; and a friend at Dartmouth is co-editor of the collected letters of Joseph Conrad. So I have two reasons to explore Conrad's writing. I must say that I share Evelyn's disappointment: I just don't see what all the fuss is about. But I do mean to keep at it, even though I suspect my time would be better spent reading Vladimir Nabokov (another Slavic writer acclaimed for his mastery of English prose).
I also enjoyed "The Stone Reader", which I saw on DVD. The supplemental disk, and the associated website, gave the impression that the filmmaker viewed his work as decidedly secondary to that of the prose writer -- an attitude I have much sympathy for. [-fl]
Letter of Comment (from Joseph T. Major):
You made me fish out my copy of Lin Carter's "Tolkien: A Look Behind The Lord of the Rings". You see, one of the things Carter does is to discuss the "Posthomerica". Sharecropping and continuing works are hardly new. Carter lists an entire cycle of poems written by other writers; prequels and sequels to the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey".
The Trojan Cycle consists of:
"Cypria" by Stasinus of of Cyprus or Hegeisas (or Hegesinus) of Salamis (or Halicarnassus). Covers everything from the golden apple up to the beginning of the "Iliad". Fifty-five lines of this survive, and there is a summary existing as well
Then after the "Iliad" there is:
- "Aethiopis" by Arctinus of Miletos. This has Penthesilia the Amazon daughter of Ares. Unfortunately she is not accompanied by a bard and reputed lover, so only two lines of this survive, though there is a summary.
- "Iliasmikra" ("Little Iliad") by Lesches of Pyrrha (or Mytilene). This has Odysseus getting Achilles's armor and yes, the Wooden Horse. It also has Achilles's son Neoptolemos and a grandson of Herakles. Thirty-three lines survive.
- "Iliupersis" ("Sack of Troy") presumably by Arctinus. About what you'd think, ends with the Greeks setting off for home with their loot. Twelve lines survive.
Carter doesn't mention a Latin poem that does survive in a reasonably complete form: Quintus Symernaeus's "Fall of Troy", which covers yes you guessed it. Barnes & Noble has this in one of their bargain editions.
Interesting commentary. As you know, the three goddesses each offered Paris a bribe to decide in their favor. He took the bribe offered by Aphrodite; the most beautiful woman in the world, Queen Helen. Athena offered him wisdom enough to win all his battles, and Hera offered to make him ruler of all Asia.
Alexander the Great literally lived the Iliad. When he captured the treasure of the Persian kings and found a magnificent coffer to put under a bed, he put his most precious possession in it; his original scroll of the Iliad. (Also a dagger; Mary Renault's "The Quest for Alexander" lists the Macedonian Kings and most of them did not die peacefully.)
Well, as you know, Alexander 1) was so wise he won all his battles; 2) became lord of all Asia, and 3) declined to even see, much less take, the most beautiful woman in the world, Queen Statiera, consort of Darius, King of Kings of Persia.
By the way, going back to Homer for a moment, did you know that "Paris" was his nickname? His real name was --- Alexander!
Reading List: You do know that the original original title of that Agatha Christie book was "TEN LITTLE N****RS"?
[Yes, I thought I had hinted as much without stating it.]
The problem I had with the Universal Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies wasn't so much the "wrenching out of their context" but that the plots tended to be standard adventure movie plots, with detection only a minor part. Dash it all, I want to see Sherlock Holmes identify a man from a fragment of dirt left on a carpet, not slug it out with minions of Moriarty! [-jtm]
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Global warming launches a quick-freeze ice age, killing billions of people. Roland Emmerich brings us a special-effects-laden look at the human race reeling under the havoc caused by the worst natural disaster in 10,000 years, a super-cold cyclonic storm that covers the face of the planet. The story is compelling and plausible enough for non-experts. Much like a Jerry Bruckheimer disaster film, this film uses lots of CGI to create its images of colossal destruction. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Other writers' reviews I have read have compared THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW with disaster films of the Seventies. That might not be the best comparison. Most of those films killed off a few hundred people at most. They destroyed a mere ship, a tiny skyscraper, maybe one island. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW might better be called a super-catastrophe film in which nature kills maybe a third or a half the human population of the planet. I can think of no film in which the forces of nature are so destructive since George Pal's 1951 film WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. Indeed, some of the scenes of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW are just updated versions of scenes from WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. Each film shows Manhattan flooded by a torrential wave. And fifty-three years actually have brought us a better class of special effects and somewhat more believable characters, but much stays the same. Pal, who pioneered the special-effects-loaded catastrophe film, probably would have thrilled to see this film. It may not be perfect, but it was what Pal was aiming for. If THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW looks a lot like a Jerry Bruckheimer disaster film, there is some truth to that observation, though this concept was actually a pet subject of Roland Emmerich's. He wrote the story on which it was based and co-authored the screenplay.
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW opens with paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (played by Dennis Quaid) collecting data on a polar ice shelf when it cracks off under his feet. (This was actually a lucky guess on the part of the filmmakers. In March 2002, just a few weeks after this part was filmed, an Antarctic ice ledge, the Larsen B shelf, really did break off and float out to sea. Its size, like the one in the film, is about that of Rhode Island. Perhaps they are even the same shelf.) This is just the first sign that global warming has redirected the ocean currents and that change causes a new ice age. It is not just a new ice age, which would be bad enough, but one that comes upon us in a matter of a week or so preceded by the worst super-storm to hit our planet in 10,000 years. Los Angeles is hit with multiple tornadoes. One assumes that Podunk, Iowa, was also badly hit, but the film most concerns itself mostly with major cities. Some places columns of air at negative 150 degrees drop from the troposphere flash-freezing people below. Soon the destruction is planet-wide. The entire northern half of the United States is so badly hit by the storm that it is not thought to be worth the government's resources to even try to save them.
Experts think that perhaps this cataclysm repeats the conditions that caused the last ice age and the best expert the scientific community can offer on anything like what is happening is Jack Hall. The government at first ignores Hall's warnings, then comes to rely on them. Meanwhile Hall's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is trapped in the New York Public Library with his school's academic competition team. If the students leave the building they will freeze, if they stay they will eventually freeze anyway. Jack has arctic experience and decides to set out from Washington D.C. in a climatic Damnation Alley to get to his son and get him the Sam Hall out of the frozen hell that is the northern half of the country. Those from the parts of the country where it is still possible, migrate south to move to the comparative warmth of Latin America.
The film must have given a lot of frustration to cinematographer Ueli Steiger since so many of his images had to be muted in very dark and dismal color palate. Most disaster films are at least colorful. This may well be the coldest and grayest disaster film ever made. My wife pointed that Emmerich has little respect for the street layout of Manhattan. The most bizarre image of the film is impossible just because of the way the streets are positioned. But then in INDEPENDENCE DAY Emmerich showed the destruction of the Empire State Building from a non-existent side street just to give a better view of the demolition. The scenes of massive and powerful destruction are really the crown jewels of this sort of film. The human stories are just the background to hold the devastation scenes together.
There seems to be a lot of controversy as to just how possible the scenario we see in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Though scientific experts might cavil, certainly the premise feels a lot more conceivable than the game of cosmic billiards in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. And while I feel deep down that Pal's film is the better of the two and the one that I will remember, I am hard-pressed to say exactly why. People complain about the scientific accuracy of this film but accept the premise of a film like SPIDER MAN. I'll give this one a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. With all this cold weather, wouldn't you expect to see someone's breath freezing? [-mrl]
SINGULARITY SKY by Charles Stross (copyright 2003, Ace, ISBN 0-441-01072-5, 313pp, $23.95) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
We come to the last of the Hugo nominated novels that I will be reading (I won't be reading the Bujold--I will not go back and read the first book of a series just to read the second that is a nominee). And while I gushed over Sawyer's HUMANS in an earlier review, I'm positively overflowing with praise about this one. This book is full of fresh ideas (well, fresh to me, anyway), is self-contained, and actually has an ending that didn't disappoint me. Now *that's* a keeper.
The tag line on the book is "In the far future, information demands to be free". In this case, information takes on the form of the Festival, a non-human entity that goes around the cosmos gathering more information and while leaving chaos in its wake. In effect, it is an information virus or worm, if you will. It arrives at the planet Rochard's World, a planet of the New Republic, a colony of humans living in self imposed isolation that rejects most technological advances. The reason? They were placed there by the Eschaton, a self aware, sentient artificial intelligence that sprung into being sometime in the 21st century as an offshoot of the Internet (or some such gobbledygook). The "birth" of the Eschaton was followed closely by The Singularity, during which it (the Eschaton) relocated most of humanity offworld. And then went about the business of protecting its own interests by declaring that it was going to monitor human activity and make sure that nothing humanity ever did would threaten its existence.
Oh, yeah. Humanity discovered FTL travel, which led it along the path to time travel, which led it along the path to traveling backwards in time to change the course of humanity and thus wipe out the birth of the Eschaton.
Anyhow, the government leaders of the New Republic decided that they had to go take back Rochard's World from the Festival, and sent a fleet to attack it. Along for the ride is Martin Springfield, sent by Earth to add some modifications to a new Republic vessel especially for this mission. We also have Rachel Monsour, sent along by the UN to oversee the New Republic operation to make sure that no illegal time travel tricks are used by the New Republic in the process of taking back Rochard's World. You see, as I said earlier, the Eschaton gets picky about what goes on, and more than just whole planets tend to disappear when causality is violated. Rachel is there to make sure that nothing untoward happens during this military exercise.
No one and nothing is as it seems, however, and therein lies a good portion of the story. In fact, there were a couple of twists here that I did not expect at all, which made the story delightful in my eyes. And the idea of information itself taking over is intriguing to me. There are also the Critics to go along with the Festival, leeches, if you will, hangers on. They critique the planets that the Festival visits in exchange for passage throughout the cosmos with the Festival.
All in all, a very delightful book, and well worth the time spent reading it. I highly recommend it. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Jonathan Rauch's GAY MARRIAGE (ISBN 0-805-07633-6) seems to have been rushed into print following the Massachusetts Supreme Court's ruling last November on same-sex marriage. Rauch gives his arguments as to why gay marriage is a good thing, and why the arguments against it fail. Well, actually, he explains why the arguments against it are contradictory and inconsistent. One example: one argument is that marriage is about procreation and raising children. Yet Rauch notes that laws don't void mixed-sex marriages that fail to produce children, or after the children have left home--in fact, several states allow certain marriages (such as first cousins) *only if* the couple can not produce children! And, as he notes, when two octogenarians wed, the reaction is usually, "Isn't that romantic!" rather than "How dare they attack traditional marriage!" I won't cover all his points, but will note that a basic one is that those who support ABM ("Anything But Marriage") in the form of civil unions, are actually doing more to destroy marriage than those who support gay marriage. How? By providing options for couples other than marriage, and saying that these other options are just as good, these people are telling mixed-sex couples that they don't need to marry either--that there is nothing special about marriage, and that there is really no reason to marry rather than to cohabit. I somehow doubt that this is what those people really want.
(When the two octogenarians are of the same sex, one sees some people have very conflicted opinions. I know this, because my uncle recently married his partner of sixty years in Canada--and they're both in their 80s. People were truly torn between "romantic" and "unheard of.")
Last month one of the publishers who send me science fiction and fantasy to review accidentally packed their month's mystery releases by mistake. Ironically, I found more of these of interest than the science fiction and fantasy probably would have been. Of the four books, I read two (and tried a third, which didn't appeal to me).
Peter Tremayne's OUR LADY OF DARKNESS (ISBN 0-451-21221-5) is one of his Sister Fidelma mysteries, set in ancient Ireland. I enjoyed it, though with a lot of reservations. The most annoying was that Tremayne seems to have an axe to grind with 1) the suppression of the Irish Catholic Church by Rome, and 2) capital punishment. I also thought the red herrings seemed a bit over- done. And while the Irish background is a large part of the flavor of the book, Tremayne has filled the book with so many Gaelic titles, ancient laws, and other details of Irish history that I found myself lost at times. I suppose that's the same problem a lot of readers have with science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter), but I found myself wishing for a little less "alien" flavor. Trying to figure it out at the same time as I was trying to figure out the mystery was a bit much. On the other hand, this series is very popular, so maybe it's just me.
Martha Grimes's THE DIRTY DUCK (ISBN 0-440-12050-0) is not exactly a historical mystery. Set in modern Stratford, several of its threads involve knowledge of 16th century poets and playwrights, but Grimes wisely has the detective *not* be an expert in this, so there are "expository lumps" as the various characters explain what, for example, happened in an inn in Deptford. I find this period interesting, so I enjoyed all this "business", though admittedly if you don't, the rest of this mystery about a serial killer might not be enough. (This is a re-issue of an older book rather than a new one.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. -- George Bernard Shaw
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