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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/12/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 20 (Whole Number 1256)
Table of Contents
Number of Issues (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
You probably did not notice the addition to the header above, but we are now including a "whole number"--the sequential number for each issue. This was calculated by counting up how many issues we had published. The issues from mid-1984 were on-line, but those previous were only in hard-copy, and were physically counted. We do not believe there were any problems with hanging chads, and so will not entertain any requests for a recount. :-)
By the way, the numbering by volume and number started during the AT&T divestiture when American Bell was (briefly) separated from AT&T. That is why the volume number does not reflect the number of years the fanzine has been published (it is now in its 27th year).
Does anyone know of a fanzine with more issues? [-ecl]
The Limits of Multiculturalism (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was born in 1950. That is less than five years after the European Holocaust ended. Though I was not much aware of it myself the society I was born into was rife with racial intolerance and religious bigotry. Not surprisingly there were wiser heads in society decided that people had to be educated as to how destructive intolerance is. Movies delivered the message. We saw it on TV. We got it in school. It was an impressive piece of social engineering and it was largely successful.
I don't remember what year it was--probably when I was a teenager--I saw a film called THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY. It is a sensationalist account of a rather interesting chapter of history. The film is inspired by the novel THE DECEIVERS by John Masters. A later film THE DECEIVERS was more closely based on the book and was made by Merchant-Ivory and starring Pierce Brosnan. Both films are about the Cult of the Thuggee which flourished in India. This is a very interesting secret cult who worshipped the Destroyer Goddess Kali, and I could write much more about them than there is really room for here. For this discussion suffice it to say that it was a devout cult that believed in a religious obligation to murder non-believers in a ritual manner. They killed multiple million people before the British, who were ruling India at the time, uncovered the truth of their existence. I have heard it claimed that the only things that the (Asian) Indians had to thank Britain for was the building of railroads and the suppression of the Thuggee. Individual members of the cult are called "thugs," incidentally. The word has come into more general usage as any brutal ruffian or assassin.
Now my interest in the Thuggee is twofold. It is a fascinating basis for historical adventure. Notice that in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM there is a cult who also worships Kali. That cult is not the Thuggee and is fictional, but the Thuggee probably at least in part inspired it. There is a second reason they are interesting. Whenever anyone talked down to me and told me how important tolerance for other religions is the Thuggee came to mind and I knew they were oversimplifying. I felt that nobody has any requirement to be tolerant of any religion that treats murder as a religious requirement or even a pious action. I believe that anyone can believe what he wants in a religion, but nobody has a right to harm another for a religion. I decided I could not believe in any god who could sanctify an action that would otherwise be immoral. I could be deluding myself, but I don't think so. But I wondered about what would happen if this culture of professed tolerance collided with a religion that condoned murder. The idea was a sort of a philosophical plaything. I did not seriously believe that there was anything as dangerous as the Thuggee that still existed. I think perhaps I was wrong.
These are the very issues that are tearing apart the Netherlands just this week. The Natherlands is a country with a long history of inclusion, tolerance, and multiculturalism. ABC News reports, "Filmmaker Theo van Gogh [great grand-nephew of the painter Vincent van Gogh] was repeatedly stabbed after being shot as he cycled to work in Amsterdam on Tuesday. His throat was slit and a five-page letter suggesting a 'radical Islamic' motive was pinned to his body with a knife." They also report "several leading Dutch politicians have been threatened with death since the killing." Now some of the same questions I asked myself about the Thugs are being asked about the one million plus Muslim Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands.
See http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=228595 for the story, by the way.
Certainly not all Muslim immigrants are to blame. While probably nobody believes that a high percentage of Holland's Muslim immigrants are violent terrorists, I don't think anybody doubts that a high percentage of their terrorists are Muslim immigrants. The result is some very serious internal questioning of the Dutch traditions of free speech and multiculturalism. That is unfortunate. Even among radical Muslims the majority are law-abiding citizens who have a right to believe anything they want. And it would be a perversion of justice to punish the innocent.
The problem many nations face is that someone sufficiently radical can go from being an apparently law-abiding citizen, albeit a radical, to being a murdering terrorist in just a few minutes. That puts an impossible responsibility on the shoulders of law enforcement. The police had no reason to suspect the Oklahoma City bombing until it happened. What is the alternative? One possible alternative is surveillance of radicals suspected to be likely to attack. But how much surveillance is enough? We can never know and not knowing surveillance will inevitably grow to Draconian proportions. And don't we in the United States have constitutional protection from being so closely observed? We cannot expect surveillance to be sufficient.
Can we keep the weapons of destruction out of the hands of potential terrorists? Probably not. It is hard enough to keep nuclear weapons out of the wrong hands. And we have shown ourselves vulnerable to terrorists armed with modest weaponry like handguns and box-cutters.
No, we face some very serious problems. Do we know how to solve them? I don't think so. We don't seem to be very good at finding solutions. We are really good at finding people to blame. The Democrats blame the Republicans. The Republicans blame the Liberals. Lots of people blame Israel, probably for no more reason than that they were geographically the closest to radical Islam and were one of the first and most continuing flash points.
Radical Islam is not strong. It probably does not have a whole lot of real combatants and so far it does not seem to have very powerful weapons. If it is fighting a winning game, and for what it is worth, my opinion is that it is, it is because we just don't have very good defenses against it and perhaps never will. I think we have to make some hard choices and to just what boundaries we can afford to put on religious tolerance. We did not allow the Mormons to practice polygamy, so there is one precedent. We have to decide what limits we place on our multiculturalism.
That is my assessment of the situation. Comments are encouraged, though I reserve the right not to get into twenty different arguments. [-mrl]
Bishop Ussher (letters of comment):
We had several letters on Mark's comments about Bishop Ussher.
Bill Thacker wrote regarding the statement that Bishop Ussher took "the book of Genesis [and] started adding up the ages of the Patriarchs. Coming up with a figure and counting backwards he came up with the date and time of 6PM, October 22, 4004 BC." Bill says, "Ussher did not state the time. He reasoned that God would have created the solar system with the Earth/Sun relationship at a 'significant' point; one of the solstices or equinoxes. Since Adam and Eve awoke to find the Garden of Eden full of fruit, he figured it had to be autumn, and concluded the universe was created on the evening before October 22nd, 4004 BC. One could presumably estimate the latitude of Eden and thus, what time sunset on the 22nd would be, but Ussher apparently did not do that. The time was later added by Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge university. He concluded that Adam was created at 9:00 am (London time, I think) on the 23rd."
Bill cites http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/Writings/ussher/errors.html and http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/ussher.html as further sources.
He also responds to Mark's statement, "So really the first day of the world must have started at sundown. Or rather at when sundown would be when God later created the sun," but noting, "Of course. It would have been too hot to handle if he'd created it during the daytime. :-)"
Art Kamlet notes, "The ancient rabbis place the current year as 5765, not terribly far off, on some scale. Some of the more mystical rabbis are predicting all sorts of monumentous events for the year 6000, including the first coming of the messiah. And Rabbi Hillel the Younger, writing in Talmudic times, which is a long gone era not a newspaper, worked out a complex Hebrew calendar that inserts a leap month into the calendar in 7 of every 19 years, and adds additional days to certain months to make certain holidays occur only on certain days of the week. But he stated these calendar rules would work only until the year 6000, after which all bets are off."
He then muses, "I would assume part of the calculation of the biblical year, working backwards based on people's ages at death, would include Adam. And there might have to be some assumption of Adam's age on the day he was created. That is, if he died at age 930, did he spend 930 years on earth? If not how old was he at birth. I assume no one assumes he was a new-born infant, so how old was he? The rabbis assumed he and Eve were teenagers -- and I seem to recall a figure like 17 or so?"
Don Blosser asked about the calendar changes: "Wasn't there a calendar change several centuries back, that added several days to bring the official calendar back in sync with the solar (sidereal??) calendar. As I recall from history, Russia did not go along with the new calendar until sometime in the 20th century. That's why the October Revolution actually took place in November, in the rest of Europe and the New World? So, was that accounted for in Bishop Ussher's or the Geological Society's calculations, or maybe it doesn't matter?"
Well, yes and no. There definitely was a change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars. The change happened in different places at different times. Russia did not go to the new calendar until 1918 after the Revolution. In fact Napoleon's victories at the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz in Austria were because the Russians were still using the Julian Calendar and everyone else in Europe used the Gregorian. The Russian army did not arrive on time for the Battle of Ulm and the battle was lost. This was Napoleon's first major victory in the Austrian Campaign. His other big victory was at Austerlitz. That time he won because he had already destroyed the Austro-Hungarian army at Ulm so had to face little more than just the Russian Army at Austerlitz. This tiny regrettable mix-up in dates gave Napoleon two very major victories.
In Ireland the calendar was changed in 1752, so all of Bishop Ussher's calculations were with the Julian calendar.
But now comes the curious question of what do we really mean by an anniversary. In Ireland was Christmas, 1753 on the second anniversary of Christmas, 1751? Or do you count it by exactly where the Earth is when it is in its orbit around the sun? The latter might seem more correct, but recognize that then only part of Christmas, 2004 will be the first anniversary of Christmas, 2003. If the Earth will hit that position at noon GMT on Christmas, 2004, it will hit it at about 6AM GMT on Christmas, 2005. Four times around and you would lose a whole day had you not added one for Leap Year. So only 18 hours of that day would be true anniversary. Six hours would not be. Eventually you have to decide that you are going to do a lot of work or go strictly by whatever are the prevailing calendars. I think you go by the calendar date as poor a device as the calendar is.
[See also Evelyn's comments on Mary Gentle's use of the calendar in her novel 1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/VOID0220.htm#1610.]
OPTICAL ILLUSIONS (letter of comment by Nathan Justus):
Thanks for mentioning the "Optical Illusions" book in MT VOID. Even though I've been gone from AT&T for eight years--I left about six months after trivestiture was announced--it was a fascinating read.
There were several things that kept going through my mind as I read through it:
- These people killed what was once the best R&D machine in the world. Well, they presided over its final death. It was really already gasping its last by the mid-1980s. AT&T didn't handle post divestiture very well.
- The whole Telecom/Lucent crash nearly brought down the US economy. Does anybody realize how close we came to losing it all?
- Lucent is really a microcosm of the USA. Can a nation that chooses not to concentrate on things that matter, but instead lose itself in stupid maneuverings (political, legal, social, economic) and chooses not only to lose its competitive edge, but to cast it forth unwanted, survive for long? How can we outsource EVERYTHING and still remain viable?
- Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" has come to pass in the trappings of corporate America, not in the halls of a socialist government. The idea of productive industry creating wealth has been replaced by slash and burn economics.
On a personal level, I realize how much I miss the "bell system" (having worked at BTL and Bellcore I was on both sides of the fence). It's a pity that it's gone...
Anyway, thanks for the read. [-nj]
THE INCREDIBLES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Pixar does it again with a comedy/action film about a family of superheroes. Just when they thought they were out of the superhero business they get pulled back in. Of course, as a film from Pixar it is computer-animated, but that is just the gimmick. The writing is the real attraction. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
I think the creative minds at Pixar periodically just look around the office and see what their people's hobbies and interests are. Then they build their films around those interests. They have built films around toys, insects, tropical fish, and now comic book superheroes. I suspect this is different from other animation studios that probably start with a high concept. Pixar probably starts with a yen to play with some kind of gizmo (fish, insects, monsters, toys, whatever) and then let the gizmos suggest the story. Curiously it is a formula that works well. One really had the feeling with FINDING NEMO that the animation people wanted to play putting realistic looking tropical fish on a computer screen and that drove the story. SHARK TALE, Dreamworks's fish animated film, just seemed to want to retell "The Reluctant Dragon" with fish. (Probably they chose fish because Pixar was using them.) But SHARK TALE lacked the joie des poisson that FINDING NEMO had. With THE INCREDIBLES comic book heroes get the Pixar treatment.
In the comic books Superman never seemed to have much of a personal life. Out of the blue suit Clark Kent had about as much personality as a bowl of oatmeal. Originally none of the DC superheroes seemed to have much personal life of interest. That was the revolution of Marvel comics. In the Marvel Universe even superheroes have complex private lives and strong personal problems. THE INCREDIBLES is a film mostly about the personal lives of superheroes. We have a family of superheroes dealing with each other and deciding how they fit into society.
Fifteen years ago Mr. Incredible, secretly Bob Parr (voice by Craig T. Nelson), was a superhero at the top of his form. He spent his day doing super-good-deeds. But too often he found his good deed were getting him into legal problems. A superhero with a spandex suit is no match for a lawyer with a lawsuit. Bob quits the hero business and marries Helen, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). Together they go into something like the Witness Protection Program to be incognito and to try to have some semblance of a normal life even if they are very abnormal people. He becomes another frustrated cog in a giant corporate machine. They have two super-children: the aptly-named Dash (Spencer Fox), who runs like The Flash, and Violet (Sarah Vowell), who can make herself invisible and who can create impenetrable force fields, just what the Shrinking Violet in her needs to avoid the world. There is also the baby, but he is "normal," Helen insists. With everyone in the family trying to be normal, Bob can talk superhero only to his friend and confidant Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), formerly the superhero Frozone. Both would love to get back into full-time action and still an occasional heroic feat with the help of a police scanner. Then a mysterious offer from a secretive organization might just give Bob a chance.
The script written and directed by Brad Bird tells a real story. The Parr family goes through changes in this film. Essentially they learn the value of synergy and teamwork. Michael Giacchino's score is usually fun and when the action gets thick it lapses into a delicious pastiche of John Barry's "James Bond" action music. Previously Pixar seems to have been doing everything they could not to do human figures. The tropical fish look very realistic, but they probably could not fool a tropical fish. Pixar's few human characters just do not feel human. This is the first film they have done in which major characters are human. But still they are still exaggerated caricatures.
Pixar turns out one good film after another and each time they manage to make a film that can be appreciated by just about all ages. THE INCREDIBLES is subversive, heart-warming, and fun. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]
PHIL THE ALIEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Amateurish and low-budget skit on film has its moments, but mostly in its first half. The film outstays its welcome. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The Toronto Film Festival has an understandable de facto policy of encouraging new Canadian filmmakers. Rob Stefaniuk is a promising local talent. He wrote and directed this film as well as took the title role and then edited the result. That is a lot for a single young filmmaker. He manages each task with professional competence. He has a good wit and there are many clever touches in this film. But this extended skit more shows promise than really delivers.
PHIL THE ALIEN is a low-brow film about what happens when an alien invades a hard-drinking Northern Ontario town. The film is shot less than artfully on grainy 16mm. It has one redeeming virtue as a film. It is in genuinely funny. It wears thin in the second half, but I was laughing out loud in the first half.
The title creature comes from outer space as a horrible, ugly thingee, but quickly shape-shifts into looking (gasp) like a typical good-old-boy Canadian. After a run-in with a talking beaver he ends up in a bar sharing his depression with other typical good old boys. The film satirizes small-town life where the big entertainment comes in bottles. Graham Greene, the one actor of more than local stature, plays the bartender.
Phil makes several friends in town including an intelligent talking beaver. Things would go well except for the United States Government getting involved. From a secret base under Niagara Falls they send out agents to capture the alien. The film has more action later in the plot, but the humor wears a little thin. This film could be a lot more polished but the Canadian humor is genuinely funny. [-mrl]
BRIGHT FUTURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[This review originally ran in the 10/31/03 issue of the MT VOID as part of the Toronto International Film Festival coverage, but is being re-run now, since the film is finally getting a US release.]
Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
For quite a while I have been claiming that the two best horror film directors currently working are Guillermo del Toro and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. While other horror film directors seem to feed off of older ideas and styles, these two are inventive. And of the two Kurosawa is probably the more inventive. Truly his films are weird enough that they frequently leave the viewer behind. I have seen his SEANCE, CURE, and PULSE, and would definitely recommend CURE and PULSE. His new film is certainly a weird story, though not strictly speaking in the horror genre.
With A BRIGHT FUTURE Kurosawa says that he is making a non-horror film. However if this is not a horror film it is something very much akin. It certainly is bizarre.
Yuji and Mamoru are two workers in a laundry who are friends. As a hobby Mamoru has a project to take poisonous jellyfish and adapt them so that they can live in fresh water. Their supervisor at the laundry picks these two out to be friends in spite of their disinterest in them. He starts insinuating himself on them more and more. He visits Mamoru's apartment and watches sports on Mamoru's television. When he sees the jellyfish he wants to poke fingers into its water. Yuji is ready to warn him that the jellyfish is very dangerous, but Mamoru gestures to Yuji not to interfere. But nothing happens. The boss discovers that the boys almost let him be killed and realizes they hate him. He fires them both. Yuji is so angered that he goes to the boss's hose to kill him, but when he gets there he discovers that Mamoru has been there already and has murdered the boss.
Mamoru is convicted of the murder and sentenced to be executed. In prison Yuji and Mamoru's long-lost father visit Mamoru. Yuji determines to finish Mamoru's project to adapt the jellyfish to fresh water. Mamoru commits suicide in prison, but Yuji is still dominated by Mamoru's vision. The dead man's spirit still seems to dominate Yuji and Mamoru's father.
In spite of Kurosawa's claims and the title, this is a very bleak film. The jellyfish is filmed hypnotically and the film carries us to the conclusion that seems inevitable. This film may not have the appeal of Kurosawa's CURE or PULSE, but it nonetheless is like no other film I have ever seen. Kurosawa's greatest gift is his originality and uniqueness. [-mrl]
A WHALE OF A TALE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A whale vertebra found in Toronto? How did it get there? This film is a history of man and whale as the filmmaker searches for how the bone got where it was found. While the film seems mostly aimed at visitors to the Royal Ontario Museum, there is more than enough of interest along the way. The documentary seems a little more like a disorganized scrapbook than a real narrative, but it is an interesting scrapbook. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Documentary filmmaker Peter Lynch goes on a quest for the origin of a whale bone, a vertebra, originally found in Toronto. Found on April 14, 1988, in Toronto on dry land, it ended in the Royal Ontario Museum where Lynch found it and decided to go on a quest to find how a whale bone could get to Toronto. His quest turns into a study of the history and study of the relationship of man and whale.
He talks about the history and lore of displaying whales and whale skeletons in sideshows and in Barnum's museum. In that museum live whales were put on display and were killed by being put in fresh water. They were replaced and given brine. Then when the museum caught fire the brine was used to fight the fire and the whales burned to death.
Lynch gives us a description of various breeds of whale. He talks about Moby Dick in book and on screen. I have a few nits to pick with the film. Lynch narrates in a near monotone dropping his voice at the end of each sentence. The material is engaging enough but his delivery sabotages his efforts. At one point he says the early history of Toronto is mostly unknown. What does that mean? The history of Toronto yesterday is mostly unknown. Lynch goes everywhere carrying a plastic cast of the vertebra, regardless of whether it would be useful. Carrying it he looked like Diogenes with his lantern. He hopes to find a matching vertebra to identify the species. Lynch explores all sorts of possibilities for how the bone could have gotten to Toronto including the possibility of "red-lighting," or thrown as waste from a carnival train.
In the end he still has only theories to explain the strange discovery. Bones, Lynch concludes, last beyond our lives and live a life of their own after we are gone. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have begun the long slog through the complete LIVES by Plutarch (including the parallels he drew between pairs), and since that is 1296 pages, I will be occupied for a while.
But I never read just one book at a time. At any given point, I usually have at least three books in progress: a novel, a collection or anthology, and a non-fiction book. And there are also novellas and other shorter works that get slid in as well. (And my inter-library loan requests are starting to come in.)
For example, I read two novellas, L. Timmel Duchamp's "The Heloise Archive" and Michael Moorcock's "The Mystery of the Texas Twister", for the Sidewise Award. Both, alas, fell victim to political/social agendas.
"The Heloise Archive" (in LOVE'S BODY, DANCING IN TIME, ISBN Aqueduct Press, 0-974-65591-0) has Heloise (of Heloise and Abelard) have a visitation by an "angel" (apparently the image of either a time traveler or someone from another world-line or both). This visitation convinces her to reform the Catholic Church to be much more feminist. Since this feminism is of the sort that emphasizes a Goddess rather than a God, I cannot help but feel that the scenario is somewhat unlikely.
Moorcock's "The Mystery of the Texas Twister" is part of his Moorcock's "Multiverse". (A previous one featuring the same characters was "Sir Seaton Begg, Metatemporal Detective", which appeared in Michael Chabon's MCSWEENEY'S MAMMOTH TREASURY OF THRILLING TALES. The first story in which Sir Seaton appeared was THE WAR HOUND AND THE WORLD'S PAIN.) This might have been better had Moorcock not decided to use it as a way to attack current American politics and political figures. (I am getting really tired of authors creating names of characters by spoonerizing the real names of the characters they are satirizing. Harry Turtledove did it in his novel IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES with "Kurt Haldweim", and Moorcock does it here with "Wolfy Paulowitz".) This novella appeared as part of issue one of the new "Argosy" magazine (which has a UPC of 0-74470-57968-7, but no ISBN I could find).
J. D. Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (ISBN 0-316-76948-7) was a book that everyone but I seemed to have read, so I read it. I'm sure that in 1946 the frankness about sexuality, and the opposition to authority was quite new and arresting, especially when being read someone in its apparent target audience, teenage boys. But it's now 2004, everything in the book (and then some) has been on primetime television, and I'm a middle-aged woman. Which is a long way of saying that while I can recognize it was an important work, it did not do much for me. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Miller's Law of Strange Behavior: To understand any apparently baffling behavior by another human, ask: what status game is this individual playing, to show off which heritable traits, in which mating market?
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