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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/19/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 21 (Whole Number 1257)
Table of Contents
Turnabout Is Fair Play (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Seven score and one year ago today Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg address. [-mrl]
Further Thoughts on the Limits of Multiculturalism(comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I wrote about the trade-off of unrestrained multiculturalism and the threat that we could be inviting real enemies into our country. I said.
"I think we have to make some hard choices [as] 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."
Charlie Harris responded:
"This is one of the rare occasions when I don't have a clue what you're trying to say (or imply). What in the world does religious tolerance have to do with terrorist violence? What hard choices do we need to make about limits on multiculturalism? We already don't allow people to go around killing people, whether or not their religion tells them to. You say that Draconian surveillance of 'radicals suspected to be likely to attack' is unconstitutional, and anyway insufficient. So are you suggesting that a larger group--all radicals? all Muslims?--should be subjected to less intensive surveillance? The only new limit I can think of is proscribing the advocacy of killing--which of course would be unenforceable and ineffective."
Let me try to say it a little bit plainer. I am not trying to imply anything about anybody, but that there are people who have destructive agendas. Given that fact we should be thinking about what our policy should ideally be. If you allow into your country people who sincerely believe that it is right to kill all people who disagree with them you will have serious problems. You likely will have a war within your own country. If, in the spirit of multi-cultural inclusion, you invite such people into your country, the result will be murders and power struggles and very possibly internal war. The first attacks in this war are unexpected and so labeled terrorism.
Charlie says we don't let people kill other people, but I'm not so sure we can prevent it. Even without the multicultural aspect, when you see a headline that says "Man Shoots Wife Then Turns Gun On Himself" is that really an action our society does not allow? We don't condone it, but we can't stop it either. In what way could we not allow it? By the same token by what mechanism do you disallow suicide bombing? How do you punish an action that includes suicide? And even if suicide is not part of it and you arrest a few perpetrators seen by their own people as heroes and martyrs to Allah, have you really disallowed it? There are many in Europe who think not.
Deutsche Welle's European Press Review reported on these issues, "In Vienna, Der Standard observed that multiculturalism doesn't work where people are indifferent to it. Although one shouldn't jump to conclusions so soon, it's no coincidence that religiously and culturally driven violence has broken out in the Netherlands, of all places. For decades Dutch society was seen as the most tolerant in the world. That environment increased the already strong immigration from predominantly Muslim former colonies. For a long time, integrating the immigrants appeared to be not only problem-free, but even downright exemplary. The murder of [Dutch politician Pim] Fortuyn a year and a half ago suddenly made clear that this notion was based largely on a mixture of illusion and indifference. Multicultural Dutch society was so politically correct that hardly anyone wanted to take a closer look."
I am not advocating any policy but that people think about a very difficult issue that has to be resolved. The ideals of completely unbridled multiculturalism and inclusiveness may not be ideal for our society. Certainly the ideal of security is not either. There is an unpleasant trade-off that has to be made, as the people of the Netherlands are discovering this week. And there are people in this country who are making knee-jerk responses siding with one side or the other of this issue. I think I have been an advocate for multiculturalism more than most people. I have traveled a lot and seen and respected cultures all over the world. But there are historical precedents, like the Thugee, that convince me that I would not want to extent approval to all possible cultures. [-mrl]
Half-Tracks (letters of comment):
John Sloan writes: "Sunset Limos in the Denver area is famous for using stretch SUVs and stretch Hummers as limos (you'll know them by their license places, "SUNSET 2", "SUNSET 4" etc.). Can a stretch half-track really be far behind? How long would a stretch-Greyhound bus be?"
This prompted Mark to ask if John had ever seen the film THE BIG BUS, which did indeed feature a stretch bus. John replied, "Thanks a lot. I had managed to repress that memory along with all my other traumatic experiences . . . *until now*. Normally it takes a quack hypnotist to bring this stuff to the surface, but no, Mark Leeper does it with just one short code phrase, like something out of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. I feel a spree of some kind coming on. Probably a good thing you're in New Jersey. Did sorta like the automatic bus wash, though...."
Jerry Williams said: "I actually worked for somebody that owned several half-tracks and other armored personnel carriers. (He also owned some tanks, but couldn't legally import them, at least at the time.) You probably already guessed that he was an arms dealer (a legitimate one, I assure you). His US operations didn't deal with weapons (mostly army surplus and the like), but I learned quite a few interesting things during that summer job anyway (e.g., you can actually buy something very much like the RV featured in "Stripes"). One minor glitch in your plan: apparently, you need a permit any time you move a tracked vehicle over a road. On the other hand, you can own a wheeled APC as long as no machine guns are still mounted on it. My old boss used to keep one in his driveway (no doubt only because it wouldn't fit in the garage). He would use it for special occasions, such as Boy Scout trips with his son. :-)"
Long-time correspondent Bill Higgins suggests that there is a market: "You have struck a nerve. Ever since my teenage years, I have been a lover of halftracks. This sales pitch really speaks to me. So I may not be ready to become your partner, but if you can come up with a shiny red M3, I might be a customer. (Truth be told, I love the rakish lines of the Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251 more, but with an M3, I would at least be the First Kid On My Block To Own One.)"
Mark is tempted: "Uh, okay. Well, of course I was joking in the editorial. I was just being silly. But, uh, just to run the gag.... How much might you pony up, uh, what price range would you consider reasonable for one of these really nice half-tracks? I mean one really nicely appointed? In a sort of candy-apple red. Looking really nice. Delivered to your front lawn? Isn't the Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251 more a three-quarters track? I'm not an expert, but I know how to use Google."
RAY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: As a biopic RAY follows a time-honored formula. Jamie Foxx is magnetic as Ray Charles but does not show us enough inner conflict. The film is at its best showing the roots of the character. But the music is fine and is what will please audiences. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Bear with me a moment on this one. I watch movies from my exercycle. I recently watched a film recorded off IFC that I had never heard of. It was called TWO FAMILY HOUSE with Michael Rispoli. He plays a lower-middle class Italian-American. Over the course of three exercycle sessions on three different days his character had me chuckling, had me angry, and actually had me crying. While I was pumping away on the exercycle, his performance cut through all the interference and actually brought tears to my eyes. It is going to be a while before I will again think about whether a performance is really good and not compare it to Rispoli in TWO FAMILY HOUSE.
People are talking about Jamie Foxx for Best Actor for his performance in RAY. He smiles like Ray Charles and he swings his head like Ray Charles. With the makeup and glasses he looks like Ray Charles. At the right point in his career he is itchy-fidgety like Ray Charles was. His impression of Ray Charles is pretty darn good. But does he show us the inner man? What about his love for music? How can we tell what he feels about the music? Other people in the film talk about how much Charles loves music. At times the usual Ray Charles smile gets a little broader when he has just finished a nice piece of music. At one point in an argument with his girlfriend he spontaneously creates and bursts forth with an almost complete "Hit the Road, Jack." But none of this actually tells us much of the nature of the man or his ardor for music. How is his character developed? Charles as we see him likes sex and he likes drugs. There is nothing surprising about that. He has waking nightmares from an incident in his childhood. Still at the end of the film Jamie Foxx can truthfully sing "But You Don't Know Me." And really we don't except on a superficial level. In fact we probably get more emotion conveyed by the performance of Tequan Richmond playing the ten-year-old Ray Charles Robinson.
Still, while Foxx does perform the mannerisms it is hard to look at anything else on that screen. He really is magnetic, and that is acting of a sort. It is probably as much as the role allows, since without the use of his eyes to convey his feeling he has to remain something of a cipher. Foxx does as much as the script and conditions allow, so I think that he is good, but it is not really a great performance. He is at his best when he is haunted by memories of his youth or is being honest about how he detests the darkness and how it cuts him off from other people. But it does not add up to an understanding.
The film starts with Ray Charles Robinson leaving home to make a career of music. As he does we have flashbacks to his youth that taken together form a second story line. As an adult he is exploited by nearly everybody he meets, but nearly everybody recognizes that he has real talent. In spite of his blindness he seems to be able to function almost as if he can see. He cleverly gets around many problems of the blind by using his hearing and his memory. He insists that he be paid only in one-dollar bills to avoid the danger of being short-changed. But he gets along and eventually has contracts first with Atlantic Records and then with ABC-Paramount. People may not be impressed by his style but they are impressed by his talent. He refuses to be connected to one kind of music, frequently changing his style. Sometimes the strange combinations actually anger the public. When he mixes R&B lyrics with Gospel-style music he angers an audience that considers it blasphemy, but he quickly shifts gears and moves on to other styles. Meanwhile we frequently flash to his past to see the forces that formed him.
Those of us old enough can take the action of the film and peg it to the actual years. I was in seventh grade when "Hit the Road, Jack" was released. The period is recreated with camerawork that frequently looks a lot like faded 1950s and 1960s home movies. The background world may be at least as interesting as the biography.
Musical biography films have used this same template since THE JOLSON STORY. They show a lot of good in the person, a little bad, and they pepper the film with the subject's best-loved melodies. Then they show everybody (or everybody who counts) loving or coming to love those melodies. Maybe some people don't so much love the person who created that music, but everybody goes mad for the music itself. That is THE JOLSON STORY, THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, LA BAMBA, GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, A SONG TO REMEMBER, YOUR CHEATIN' HEART, and many others, including RAY. Taylor Hackford directed as well as co-produced and co-wrote the film. In 1980 he made one of the best films ever about the recording industry, THE IDOLMAKER (a fictionalized biography of Bob Marucci). And one reason it was good is that it didn't follow that formula at all. I am a little disappointed that this second foray into music industry films is less challenging.
It is hard to go wrong with a film that shows Southern discrimination, sex, and drugs, and glues it together with the soulful music of Ray Charles. This is not the most ambitious film around, but it is entertaining. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. [-mrl]
TRILOGY: THE WEEPING MEADOW (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The first of a trilogy of films by Greek director Theo Angelopoulos tells the story of thirty tragic years in a woman's life. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
This film is the first film of Greek director Theo Angelopoulos's trilogy of films simply called TRILOGY. TRILOGY: THE WEEPING MEADOW covers the life of one woman from 1919 to the late 1940s. During this period the Greeks flee from Odessa, are involved conflicts between the government and trade unions, enter World War II, and have a civil war between fascists and communists. The film runs almost three hours in length and uses an appreciable chunk of Greek history as a backdrop.
Eleni (Alexandra Aidini) is adopted as a refugee from Odessa when the revolution comes. In the family that adopts her there is a boy her own age. As the boy grows up he shows musical talent and Eleni is attracted to him, in spite of having been raised essentially as his sister. But when Eleni comes of age, it is the father of the family, Spyros (Vasilis Kolovos), who arranges to marry her. On the wedding day Eleni runs away from the ceremony where she would marry the father and runs off with the son. The two become fugitives from Spyros.
Angelopoulos's trademark are his very long takes, perhaps no shorter than those by Tarkovsky or Amos Gitai, but considerably more detailed and interesting. He will pan across showing an entire Greek village with its work and other activities. In another scene he gives us a visual essay of a Greek funeral on water. In this film water is always associated with pain and death. Since the usual connection is with the life cycle he may be saying that pain and death are just natural functions of life. They certainly are for Eleni. Angelopoulos says he wants his film to be a study of the human condition running with deep emotions and sincerity. Certainly the predominant emotion we see in this film is pain. It is a moving document, but not likely to get a wide release in the United States, where killing and dying are endemic in films but pain is a rarity.
I believe the next two parts of the trilogy will continue the story of Eleni's life, though it is hard to believe with all the experience and anguish in this film that she still has two-thirds of her story to go. [-mrl]
SALVADOR ALLENDE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an angry documentary about the rise and fall of the socialist and populist Salvador Allende who was toppled from power and committed suicide during a rightist coup in Chile. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Patricio Guzman takes a highly sympathetic view of the controversial leftist president of Chile Salvador Allende and documents the conspiracies against him. Allende was an intellectual and a populist with strong socialist leanings. This made him a threat to the Right Wing elements in his own country. While his policies were at first effective when he was elected president, he made powerful enemies, particularly among his country's military, and the country fell into unrest and chaos. At least twice there were attempts to remove him from office with coups d'etat by the Chile military apparently aided by the American Central Intelligence Agency. September 11, 1973 (another tragic September 11), there was a violent military coup in Chile and his palace was bombed. Allende committed suicide and Chile was seized by a right wing military government led by General Augusto Pinochet. The new government took control of the streets in a reign of terror and mass murder. (Readers may remember an account of those events in Costa-Gavras's film MISSING.) That military regime held power for eighteen years. In the hands of Guzman, Allende seems to be a president who had good ideas but who failed to unite the extremist elements in his extremely polarized country. By openly allying himself with Fidel Castro and by nationalizing industries he clearly frightened and provoked an extreme reaction from right wing elements inside (and unfortunately also outside) his country.
Guzman's biographical study is not tremendously innovative as a documentary. It is probably being chosen for film festivals because the story it tells is political and shocking. At least that is true if you have not heard before about what happened or about the United States intelligence community's involvement. The film's release comes at a time when ironically the American public seems to be leaning toward wanting a more effective intelligence community. The film shows the arts prospering under the first year of Allende's leadership. Murals and decoration of roadways has since been painted over by the new government. He seems to have a lot of good ideas. But he did not have the power to do what he needed to do, not unlike our own Jimmy Carter. SALVADOR ALLENDE is an angry look of what might have been but wasn't.
Chilean Guzman captures the populist appeal of Allende's campaign and the fervor many of the people felt for the candidate. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
"I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else along the way." --Franklin P. Adams
Dover Thrift Books started out as classics old enough to be in the public domain. Sometimes this took the form of new poetry anthologies, but containing entirely public-domain material. A second form has been added, the anthology of quotations. One advantage of the latter is that you can include quotations from current authors and personalities without having to pay royalties. I just finished BOOKS AND READING: A BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, edited by Bill Bradfield (ISBN 0-486-42463-4), and you will be seeing many of the quotations in weeks to come leading this column.
Helene Hanff is best known for 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD. People may also have heard of her books THE DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET and Q'S LEGACY, but she also wrote a few others, including APPLE OF MY EYE (a guidebook to New York) and LETTER FROM NEW YORK (ISBN 0-060-97543-1), which is a collection of short radio pieces that she recorded for the BBC. (The title is obviously patterned on Alistair Cooke's long-running "Letter from America".) They make a nostalgic portrait of New York of the 1970s; New York has changed a lot since then. It's not up to her better-known books, though.
Frank Gruber's BRASS KNUCKLES had a United States publication, but so long ago (1966) that it has no ISBN. Still, lots of copies are available used through bookfinder.com. You also might run across some of these stories in anthologies. Gruber wrote a lot of pulp fiction; this book collects some of his stories featuring "Oliver Quade, the Human Encyclopedia." Quade knows everything, apparently from having read a set of encyclopedias through--four times. And so he solves murders (or escapes from deathtraps) using all sorts of arcane knowledge, (The escapes usually involve chemistry and being able to construct an explosive from whatever odds and ends happen to be there.)
MURDER, MY DEAR WATSON, edited by Martin H. Greenburg (ISBN 0-7867-1081-0), is yet another anthology of new Sherlock Holmes stories. I am beginning to feel that these themed anthologies have run their course--the stories in this are rather pale and anemic for Sherlockian tales. This is not to say that no one is writing good Sherlockian stories--last year's Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" was great--but Greenberg does not seem to be managing to collect or commission them. I am glad I checked this one out of the library instead of buying it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Rennie's Law of Credibility: Scientists don't always know best about matters of science-- but they're more likely to be right than the critics who make that argument.
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