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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/10/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 24 (Whole Number 1260)
Table of Contents
A Simple Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
When I decide to lift my arm there is a first atom in my arm that moves. What force is acting on that atom and how am I creating that force? (No, I am not asking about muscles and nerves. On the level of the atom, what is happening? Is my mind creating some sort of electromagnetic force?) [-mrl]
A Simple Plan (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
As you probably know by now, in running for re-election President Bush promised a major overhaul of the Social Security system. He has said that one new feature would be the allowing of personal investment accounts under each citizen's Social Security. This will give people much more of the control they desire over what is essentially their own money. What could be fairer? Rather than letting the government make financial decisions for people, treat the people as adults. They can make their own investment decisions probably a great deal more wisely than some government official. They are worried about their own welfare and the government really is not. Who cares more about the people than they do themselves?
I have a friend who is really interested in this issue and I think what he said is enlightening. Here is our discussion:
Me: What do you think about the President's plan to partially privatize Social Security by allowing people to invest their own account money in Personal Investment Accounts?
Friend: That is privatizing Social Security?
Me: Yup. Isn't it?
Friend: Nobody thinks of it that way. But it is a good idea in any case. I like to make my own decisions about my own money. I mean what could be fairer? It will give people much more of the control they desire over what is essentially their own money. What could be fairer? Rather than letting the government make financial decisions for people, treat the people as adults. They can make their own investment decisions probably a great deal more wisely than some government official. They are worried about their own welfare and the government really is not. Who cares more about the people than they do themselves?
Me: I never thought about it quite that way. Okay. So how would you invest your money?
Friend: Oh, I got big things planned if they let me do it. I know a lot better than anyone else where to put my money. If I can invest the money wherever I like. I want to first of all make back all that money I lost on the 401(K) thing. Little Petunia [name changed to protect the innocent] wasn't able to go to college. Now maybe she can hang up that WalMart smock and go back to school. I think we can be living pretty good again.
Me: Oh, yeah. I do remember you got pretty badly socked by the stock market fall. I remember the bologna sandwiches you were bringing to work.
Friend: Well, I still do that, but these days, what the heck, I take two slices of bologna. I mean, life is meant to be enjoyed. Things are better. And they are going to get even better when I can make my own investment decisions with my Social Security money.
Me: What happens if your new investments don't work out? I mean it was you who decided to put your money into the 401(k).
Friend: That's negative thinking. You have to think positively. And on the 401(k) thing, well lots of people made the same mistake.
Me: Well, what if lots of people make the same mistake on your next.... Well, okay, I will think postively. What if a whole bunch of people definitely lose their shirts? Aren't we going to have a lot of people hurt?
Friend: Don't we have the government to bail us out? Isn't that why we pay taxes?
Me: Not actually.
Friend: Well, I have been thinking about that. How is this for an idea? What if everybody who gets a personal account also has to buy an annuity so that even if they lose that investment they still have money coming in? That way nobody starves.
Me: What would this cost?
Friend: Well, you got the 10% of Social Security you won't be paying each month. How about putting that 10% into this annuity? That pays off to fill in that 10% of your social security benefit you are not getting. You buy the annuity to make sure you are safe, you are free to invest the 10% of your social security any way you want.
It sounded good to me. I thought I would share it. [-mrl]
Letter of Comment on SALAVADOR ALLENDE (by Hugh McGuinness):
In response to Mark's review of SALVADOR ALLENDE in the 11/19/04 issue, Hugh McGuinness writes all the way from Australia to say: "I think the general consensus is that Allende was executed, rather than having committed suicide. The father of my cousin's boyfriend claims to have actually seen him dragged into a building by soldiers during the coup. The involvement of the Henry Kissinger also seems to have been downplayed, according to your description of the film. Another interesting angle is the innovative work that was being carried out by Stafford Beer prior to the coup; one of his projects was to automate an information collection system from all the factories in Chile, which would have given the government unprecedented information levels on many sectors of the economy. Some have surmised that this was too big a threat to right-wing factory owners who didn't want the government knowing how much money they were actually making."
Mark responds: "It is interesting that they did not mention such doubts in the documentary. I suppose it is possible that since the filmmaker was Chilean, he fell short of actually accusing the Pinochet regime of the murder."
Evelyn notes: "However, these days, accusing the Pinochet regime of murder is not exactly out of bounds."
RED DUST (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Taking the form of a courtroom drama this film looks at the atrocities of the South African apartheid government and at the possibility of reconciliation. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
This is courtroom drama (actually a hearing room drama) is set around a hearing of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tim Hooper directs a script by Troy Kennedy-Martin based on the novel by Gillian Slovo.
The film is set in the year 2000 in the Great Karoo of South Africa. Hilary Swank plays Sarah Barcant who grew up in South Africa but now practices law in New York. She is returning to the town of her youth to represent Alex Mpondo. Alex and his friend Steve Sizela were imprisoned and tortured several years earlier in the racial struggles. Sizela disappeared and never returned from that imprisonment. Now Alex wants to find the truth of what happened. He also needs to know if he helped in the death of his friend by breaking under torture.
Barcant is less than happy to return to a land where even as a liberal white she was persecuted. She is troubled by holes in Alex's account of his imprisonment: details he claims to remember that she knows were impossible. The viewer may be also troubled that in the name of reconciliation witnesses are pressured to name names of other perpetrators in return for lighter treatment. The chief person accused, Hendricks (Jamie Bartlett) really turns out to be the most ambiguous and complex character of the story.
My one objection is the film supposedly has a theme of the importance of forgiveness in healing the country, but the script really is into the getting of revenge on the real villains. It is not surprising that some of the good guys are not so forgiving, but the script just lets it pass. Barcant's efforts to get Henricks to lessen his punishment by naming names of others to blame had a chilling effect that may not have been intended. [-mrl]
BOLLYWOOD AND VINE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A low-budget film has its moments but insufficient emotional core. It makes enough mistakes along the way to keep reminding the viewer that this is not a fully professional production. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10. There are minor plot spoilers in this review.
BOLLYWOOD AND VINE is an ambitious attempt at a screwball comedy made on a tiny budget. The film comes near the mark, but just misses it. Edward Jordon writes and co-directs (with Donald Farmer) this uneven story about a Hindu tour guide in Beverly Hills. Bhuvan Bannerji (played by Jamey Schrick) leads van tours of star homes in Beverly Hills. But he lets his fixation with one actress run away with him. Delilah Leigh (Skye Aubrey) starred in a series of bad sci-fi and horror film in the 1960s and 1970s. Now she is an aging actress who hides from the public. When Bhuvan repeatedly brings his van around to Delilah's house she decides to give the tourists a thrill. Her cross-dressing gay son Devin (J. R. Jones) looks a lot like she did in the 1970s, so she has him dress like herself in the 1970s to excite the tourists. This has the same effect on Bhuvan that seeing Bela Lugosi had on Ed Wood. Bhuvan has dreams of making Delilah into a Bollywood star and he writes an unintentionally bad script for her comeback. He offers the central role to Devin, the man he thinks is Delilah. Bhuvan falls in love with Devin/Delilah. Then as a gift for her son, the real Delilah locks Bhuvan in an attic with the fake Delilah.
The film looks like an inexpensive videotape production without much polish in the filming or the sound recording. Jamey Schrick and Skye Aubrey are competent actors, but most of the other actors in the film seem more like they were drafted for their roles rather than chosen. Line readings are not up to professional standards. Bhuvan and particularly the sulking Devin have stereotyped mannerisms. There are too many hackneyed Indian or gay mannerisms. The bad actress neighbor is also a stereotype.
Bhuvan is supposed to really believe Devin is Delilah, but he cannot be convincingly Delilah because he is extremely unconvincing altogether as a female. He looks and sounds like a man in drag, which is exactly what he is. And Bhuvan never questions why he/she does not appear to have aged since the 1970s.
The film has a number of these small flaws, but one very big one: the major characters are only mildly sympathetic. Perhaps is it that they do not seem in any way noble or funny or even just likeable. The last part of the film requires a great deal of indulgence on the part of the viewer as the characters get out of their problems and find happiness. Jordon has failed to get me sufficiently invested in these characters. I don't wish them harm, but I don't greatly care if they find happiness either.
The plot does get strange, but not really in a humorous way. A host of additional characters are added, but they cannot really deliver the jokes written for them in a way so they are funny. Nor are the exaggerated satires of old horror films very funny or even on the mark.
The script, the characters, and the story could be made to work with more effort. But the film was probably shot before the script was ready. I would rate BOLLYWOOD AND VINE a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. [-mrl]
9 SONGS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Sex, ice, and rock and roll repeat over and over in this short but still very slow story of an doomed and very sexual romance. Rating: -2 (-4 to +4) or 1/10
Mike Winterbottom brings us a 65-minute film that tells the story of a short ill-fated romance between a London rock band member and an American girl. The scenes rotate among rock concert scenes, scenes about Antarctica (which is a fascination the guy has and may or may not be where he is remembering his affair), and very explicit sex scenes. This is sort of a signature film by Mike Winterbottom since "Mike" reminds us of the rock band singing. "Winter" reminds us of the scenes from the land of constant ice. And "bottom" . . . oh, well "bottom" . . . .
Seriously, I prefer a film that shows a little more effort. There are short stretches of dialog and a little voice-over narration. Even the dialog is in part just a reading directly from a book. The rock concert required camera setups but no real writing. It is hard to imagine much less effort going into creating a feature film. The characters are fairly flat and not well-developed. I mean that in the writing sense. The photography is murky and the rock music was for me unpleasant. This is a film short on storytelling. It is a real step down from Winterbottom's CODE 46 last year. That film was highly flawed, but it was far less boring and far superior to 9 SONGS. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This seems to have been the week for culture shock, or at least books set in other cultures.
First was Lisa Smedman's THE APPARITION TRAIL (ISBN 1-894063-22- 8), a fantasy set in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. The main premise is that native magic works, or works again, since the striking of the moon by a comet seems to have brought it back. It also seems to have made perpetual motion machines possible and changed the moon's rotational period (though Smedman keeps talking about how the "dark side" is coming around to face Earth). The native magic aspect would have been sufficient--I have no idea why Smedman felt she had to add the rest and they really detract from the story. I suppose it is possible that she thought they would set the book apart from all the straight fantasies about Native Americans (or, since she is Canadian, First Nations). However, if you concentrate on the main story, about the coming of the "Day of Changes", it works fairly well.
Victoria Abbott Riccardi's UNTANGLING MY CHOPSTICKS (ISBN 0-7679- 0852-X) is the story of the author's year in Japan learning "tea kaiseki", a very specialized cuisine style served as part of the tea ceremony. Riccardi explains the history and meaning of the tea ceremony, the various foods, the utensils and methods, and just about everything else connected with the tea ceremony, as well as a fair swath of Japanese culture as well. Recipes are included. My only complaint is that it may go into more depth about tea kaiseki than you really want to know.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EGYPTIAN WHODUNNITS edited by Mike Ashley (ISBN 0-786-71065-9) is a collection of mysteries set in ancient (and not so ancient) Egypt. As in Ashley's other anthologies, the stories are all well-written, although these are a little harder to follow because of the alienness of the setting, and the occasionally unwieldy (to modern ears) names. Recommended for mystery fans with an interest in Egypt (obviously).
Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (ISBN 1-592-40087-6) has been getting rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, and there is a lot to be said for it. But for all her vigilantism about punctuation, she manages to make mistakes. For example, she claims that Americans are taught to put all ending punctuation with quotation marks that occur at the end of a sentence, but that just is not true. Americans are taught to write, for example:
Did he really say, "If nominated, I will not run; if elected I will not serve"?We do *not" put the '?' inside the ending quotation marks.
Truss does make some interesting observations about Biblical inerrancy when she points out that punctuation as we know it did not appear until the 15th century. So consider Luke 23:43:
"Verily I say unto thee this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
Protestants render this as: "Verily, I say unto thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
Catholics render this as: "Verily I say unto thee this day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
(Yes, the originals are not in English, but they did not have punctuation either, and one presumes that either interpretation is consistent with the original text.)
Years before there was "Kung Fu" (with David Carradine), there was "Mad" magazine's humorous suggestion of "Frontier Buddhist". And years before there was Jerry Springer, Barry Malzberg suggested a similar show in his novel REVELATIONS (ISBN 0-380-00905-6). REVELATIONS is also one of Malzberg's novels that takes a cynical look at America's program, with an astronaut who seems to claim (at times) that the whole program was a hoax. Whether it all holds together is not clear, but Malzberg's observations about television seem remarkably prescient. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Rees's Law: As cosmological theories advance, they will draw more concepts from biology.
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