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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/24/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 26 (Whole Number 1262)
Table of Contents
Children's Games and the Universe (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
As you may have guessed from my question of a couple of weeks ago, I am looking of questions of determinism and whether what happens on the particle level is pre-determined or if the human mind actually intervene on the atomic level. Well, in some sense we know that it can. When I decide to move my arm there is a first atom that moves and I must be moving that with my mind. Now whether that decision was predetermined is another issue.
I guess there are breeds of determinism. Each is actually a different level of determinism, which we could call Eeny-Meeny determinism, Chutes-and-Ladders determinism, and Go-Fish determinism. Each of these games illustrates one of the levels of determinism.
When we were kids we sat in a circle and went "Eeny-meeny-miney- moe. Catch-a-tiger-by-the-toe. If-he-hollers-let-him-go. Eeny- meeny-miney-moe. My-mother-said-to-pick-this-very-ONE." The person who was pointed to at the end was chosen. That looked to my little kid's eyes as a sort of random choice. Of course, from the beginning it was determined who would be chosen. He would be the 24th person pointed to. There was no strategy involved. Eeny-Meeny is strong determinism. (As an aside, those were the words we used and we knew nothing about the racist version of the same chant. It did strike me odd that a tiger could holler, but I wasn't as into asking questions then as I am now.)
Then we played Chutes-and-Ladders. You rolled a pair of dice and they told you where to put your piece. Went the indicated number of squares forward and it much have a ladder that would advance you further or a chute that sent you back. The winner was not determined at the beginning, but there was not really a strategy or any free will either. Chutes-and-Ladders is a sort of weak determinism.
Then there was Go-Fish, a card game. The order of the cards after the shuffle made a big difference, but you also had the choice to play one way or the other and it would affect the outcome. This is more an example of non-determinism.
I think people feel intuitively that the model of the Universe is Go-Fish. I decide when to move my arm and can move it. I decided to marry Evelyn. If I had not, it would have made all the difference. It feels like I had free will. But it is not entirely clear I could have made any other choice. Here I was a callow but inexperienced naif. An attractive young woman was throwing herself at me. What am I likely to do? What I thought was free will may well have been just doing what I was programmed to do.
Quantum physics leans toward the Chutes-and-Ladders level of determinism. But because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle you will never be able to distinguish Chutes-and-Ladders from Eeny-Meeny.
Einstein said God does not play dice with the Universe. Stephen Hawking says He not only does play dice, but He throws the dice where they cannot be seen. But the outcome of the throws might be predetermined. Heisenberg says we cannot see enough to know. This question of determinism versus chance is and old one. Classic fantasy writer Lord Dunsany begins his THE GODS OF PEGANA, a sort of a fantasy creation myth, with the passage:
"In the mists before the Beginning, Fate and Chance cast lots to decide whose the Game should be; and he that won strode through the mists to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and said: 'Now make gods for Me, for I have won the cast and the Game is to be Mine.' Who it was that won the cast, and whether it was Fate or whether Chance that went through the mists before the Beginning to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI -- none knoweth.'
Dunsany may be nearer the scientific truth than he could have known. We won't know which and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says we cannot ever know. As an aside, Heisenberg does NOT say we cannot observe something without affecting it as people often erroneously interpret it. What it says is that there are limits to observability and measurability. We cannot observe atomic particles closely enough to see if they operate by chance or if their movements are predetermined.
I always believed in an Eeny-Meeny Universe because I see the atomic level as having particles careening off each other like billiard balls. There was no way I could see that we could stop these particles from their predestined course. But because my mind can move the atoms of my arm, I realize I do have some control on the atomic level.
If our minds can manipulate matter on the particle level, I have less faith that what is happening on the atomic level is purely mechanistic and predetermined. What is happening on the billiard table may not be purely mechanistic if I can put in my hand and redirect a ball. Maybe I am also redirecting my mind. If I really can redirect some matter with my mind, there is some possibility for a Go-Fish Universe after all. [-mrl]
Letter of Comment on Canada and Clarification (letter of comment by Frank Leisti):
In the 12/03/04 issue, Mark wrote about the upcoming miniseries RENE LEVESQUE, saying, "This is a miniseries being made for television in Canada about Levesque the founder of the Parti Quebecois political party and the Prime Minister of Quebec."
Frank Leisti wrote to say, "As a Canadian citizen (still after 25 years here in the USA), I wish to point out that there is only one Prime Minister and that person is over all of Canada. For each province, of which Quebec is one of, the leader for the province is called a Premier, not a Prime Minister."
However, Mark notes that Wikipedia says, "The Premier of Quebec (in French Premier ministre du Quebec, sometimes literally translated to Prime Minister of Quebec) is the first minister for the Canadian province of Quebec. The Premier is the province's head of government and de facto chief executive." Marks adds, "Technically his title is 'Premier Ministre', but that can be translated more than one way. Google lists 969 pages that refer to the Prime Minister of Quebec."
Letter of Comment on ALEXANDER (by Fred Lerner):
In his review of ALEXANDER, Mark wrote, "Just why they have Val Kilmer affecting an Irish accent to play an ancient Macedonian is beyond me to know."
Fred Lerner responded, "There's an old tradition in translating Greek plays of using Scottish, Welsh, etc accents to represent regional Greek accents occurring in the original. Perhaps the film is following in this tradition." Asked for more information, he adds, "I don't know more about this. I remember remarking on this when I read Aristophanes in my freshman year in college. (In Jack Lindsay's translation of 'Lysistrata', a Scottish accent was used to represent the speech of the lascivious Spartan Lampito. I asked the instructor if this reflected a characteristic associated with Scots -- forgetting for the moment that he was named Angus Fletcher...) Moses Hadas says nothing about it in his introduction to 'The Complete Plays of Aristophanes'." [-fl]
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J. K. Rowling (copyright 2003; New York Listening Library; 23 CDs; 26 hours, 30 minutes; performance by Jim Dale; ISBN 0-807-22029-9) (audio book review by Joe Karpierz):
When I found myself employed at a job which would require a commute of an hour or more one way every day, I decided that the only way to catch up on my reading would be to listen to some audio books in the car. My daughter had been hounding me to read ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, and while I wanted to do so, I have been so tired of massive doorstop novels (see my review of the recent "Dune" books) that I dreaded the idea of picking up the latest Harry Potter installment. The commute and the audio book gave me the perfect opportunity to borrow the audio book from the library and get started.
Any review of an audio book must have two parts: the review of the book, and the review of the reader's performance. So, I'll start with the review of the book.
The novel follows Harry and the gang through their fifth year at Hogwarts. The fifth year is no ordinary year, as it is the year that the students sit their O.W.L. exams - the Ordinary Wizarding Levels. The results of their O.W.L.'s will go a long way in telling what careers the students will embark upon after they leave Hogwarts (oh yeah, seventh year students sit the N.E.W.T.'s--I asked my daughter what that stood for, and even she isn't sure.
Harry Potter is fifteen now, and of course the hormones are raging and the body and emotions are undergoing all sorts of changes. To her credit, Rowling does not shy away from this aspect of Harry's character development. We see Harry's short-fused temper on any number of occasions, as well as his struggles with his feeling for Cho Chang and how she acts toward him. We see his resentment toward other people when he feels he has been wronged, and we see the sudden emotional swings as well. In short, Harry is a typical teenage boy, and that theme runs throughout the entire book.
The story starts out with Harry back with the Dursleys, as usual, trying to get through another summer, but this time waiting for news of Voldemort coming out into the open, as Harry saw him return at the end of GOBLET OF FIRE. He and his cousin are attacked by Dementors, right out in the open in muggle land. Harry uses magic to drive them off, and of course this gets him in trouble with the Ministry of Magic.
Meanwhile, the Ministry is trying to discredit Harry and Professor Dumbledore, saying that Voldemort is not back, and that Harry and Dumbledore are fabricating stories. There is a movement afoot to get Dumbledore out of Hogwarts, let by the head of the Ministry and by Professor Umbrage, who is a very hateful and conniving woman.
The story then follows the standard path of the school year, with all the usual twists and turns and surprises and revelations that we have come to expect from a Harry Potter novel. If I were to start even the briefest outline here, this review would go on for ages. The final big revelation at the end from Dumbledore to Potter is the one that is most intriguing, and those who have read the book already know what it is, and I'll leave the discovery of it to those who haven't read it yet.
All in all, a nice light story. Lots of fluff, and lots of good stuff for the kids and HP fans in general. Rowling does a decent job of flushing out the characters, having them all grow into teenagerhood and all the baggage that comes with that. She also does a decent job of growing the mythos around Hogwarts and all that surrounds it. My complaint is that it was too long--again. The HP novels continue to get longer and longer, and there is a major feeling of padding to it, although I have to admit that Rowling tied it all together at the end. I believe the book itself was some 800+ pages long, and it could have been less.
Anyway, a nice story, but nothing to write home about. It's too late to stop reading the HP stuff now, with only two to go, but it wouldn't have been the end of the world if I'd skipped it and gotten the summary from my daughter.
As to the performance by Jim Dale--it was outstanding. Mr. Dale reads all the parts, and changes voices with each character in stride during the reading. That had to have been a difficult thing to do in scenes that had a half dozen characters or more. And his interpretations sounded right for each character. I was never jarred into thinking that a particular character wouldn't have sounded the way he read it. In fact, there were times that Mr. Dale's reading was the *only* thing that kept me going through some very rough patches. He was excellent.
Next up will be a review of a non-SF audio book--MONEYBALL. [-jak]
HOTEL RWANDA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This moving dramatization of the true story of how one man saved the lives of 1200 people marked for genocide is certainly one of the best films of the year. This is a film that shows humanity at its best and at its worst. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
The Rwandan people are composed largely of two tribes: the Hutus and the Tutsis. When the Belgians ran the country they gave most of the political power to the Tutsis. After they left the enmity of the Hutus boiled over and some powerful Hutus wanted to rid the country and the world of Tutsis. The president of Rwanda, who wanted to make peace between the Hutus and the Tutsis, is murdered and the Tutsis are blamed. It is used as an excuse to start racial purification. In a reign of terror the Hutu military attempted to murder all Tutsis. People were commonly being machine-gunned on the street. Families were murdered in their houses.
HOTEL RWANDA tells the true story of one man whose courage and intelligence saved the lives of over a thousand Tutsis. Caught up in this upheaval and massacre was the Hutu Paul Rusesabagina. He was the manager of the Hotel Milles Collines, before the outbreak the posh international hotel in Kigali. Though he professes loyalty to his family alone, the manager gives a few Tutsis refuge in his hotel. Well, one thing kind of leads to another, doesn't it? Rusesabagina was one of the great modern heroes. He saved the lives of 1200 people at great risk to his own.
Terry George directs the drama starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina. Nick Nolte has a very much smaller role as a United Nations peacekeeper from Canada. Rusesabagina desperately hopes for an international intervention, but soon it is clear none will come. (The UN has are peaceKEEPERS not peaceMAKERS, as Nolte's character points out cynically.) Britain and the United States have no interests in getting involved. France is supplying the Hutus.
HOTEL RWANDA is a film of epic proportions that puts a human face on the disaster. One possible complaint is that it is a little too much like THE KILLING FIELDS. That film, released twenty years ago, was the best film I saw in the 1980s. Saying HOTEL RWANDA is a lot like it is not entirely a complaint. The film is also a good introduction to the Rwanda Genocide for people who like me knew less than we should. It also raises important questions at a time when many Americans want to see our country intervening less on the world stage. The film suggests the price that policy can cost. (Interestingly I saw this film at its world premiere attended by Michael Moore--who might have interesting perspectives on the film--and also by Paul Rusesabagina.) [-mrl]
THE OVERTURE (HOM RONG) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Emotional drama based on the life of a great composer of music for the ranad, the Thai wooden xylophone. We see in parallel how he overcame his personal devils to rise to greatness and how he courageously used that greatness in the cause of preserving classical Thai music. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The Thai film THE OVERTURE was inspired by the life of Luang Pradit Phairao, one of the great composers and players of the ranad-ek. The ranad is a large wooden xylophone held together by strings and hung from a rack. The character based on Luang is here called Sorn and played by Anuchit Saphanphong. The film starts with Sorn on his deathbed and then flashes to his early youth where he learns his instrument. Then the film forks to the stories of the two great victories of Sorn's life. One victory was as a young man overcoming his fear of competition. The other victory was as a master overcoming political obstacles by the Thai government. The film flashes back and forth from one story to the other.
As a boy Sorn first had to overcome the resistance of his father to his interest in music. Sorn's older brother is killed in a fight over music competitions and Sorn's father does not want to see the incident repeated. Sorn develops as a great musician but he lives in fear of the time he must compete against a phenomenal musician he once heard. Later a Thai government bent on modernization suppresses his music.
One problem the film may have with Western audiences is that Ranad music is just not familiar. That would not be a problem since the music is agreeable enough, but the film assumes the viewer will know the difference between merely good ranad music and really great ranad music. The nuances will likely go right over westerners' heads. But the drama will not. The film probably loses some of its effect when it is brought to a Western culture, but it is still captivating.
Occasionally director Ittisoontorn Vichailak goes in for hyperbole as in one seen in which one musical piece is played so frenetic it literally plays up a storm. Sorn's chief rival seems a dark enemy with a little Darth Vader in him.
The film (and Sorn) calls for Thailand to protect its musical roots in the face of modernization. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
John Allen Paulos wrote A MATHEMATICIAN PLAYS THE STOCK MARKET (ISBN 0-465-05481-1) after he lost a lot of money (he never says exactly how much) on WorldCom stock. Paulos talks about various "philosophies" about how the stock market works, and what strategies (if any) would be used in support of the various philosophies. These strategies are based on statistics and probability, so expect equations and calculations. His overall conclusion, not surprisingly, is that one's plans should always provide insurance against losing more than one can afford to. This struck me as a good explanation of a lot of the basic workings of stocks and the stock market, but then, I was a math major.
Our discussion group read Franz Kafka's THE TRIAL (ISBN 0-805- 21040-7) and everyone seemed to have a different opinion. One thought it surrealist, one thought it an attempt to describe a dream, one thought it a commentary on Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy, and so on. My comment was that undoubtedly some high school student will get their chronology confused and write that it is a commentary on the Nazis. (For all I know, some high school student already has.) My feeling was that it was designed to be dreamlike, but incongruous aspects may have underlying meaning. For example, the fact that the court seems to meet behind people's laundry room and so on may be a way of saying that the courts and the legal system and the government are all- pervasive.
CRIMINAL KABALLAH edited by Lawrence W. Raphael (ISBN 1-58023-109- 8) is the follow-up to his MYSTERY MIDRASH (reviewed in the 09/17/2004 issue). This was not quite as good an anthology, but that was in part because several stories were not mysteries but just stories about crimes or wrong-doing. (It's the problem with the Sherlock Holmes story "The Veiled Lodger"--there is no detection involved.) Not a total miss, but not up to the first. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Sapolsky's Second Law: It's okay to think about nonsense, as long as you don't believe in it.
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