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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/14/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 29 (Whole Number 1265)
Table of Contents
Disneyworld Grows Up (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Walt Disney built his empire on appealing to children and the child in all of us. For adults his parks are an escape to the world of the child. But when in Rome do as Romans do. When in the child's land I thought you were expected to do as children do. You should see the world as a child.
This is why I found it jarring that on New Years Eve the television showed scenes of people celebrating at Disney World. They were drinking alcoholic beverages that are not even supposed to be served to minors. I don't think I would want to go to a drinking party at Disney World. It would feel like a desecration. On top of which I would be a little afraid that somebody would slip me a Mickey. [-mrl]
The Seductive World of the Obsessive-Compulsive (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Hi, my name is Mark and I am an obsessive-compulsive. At least I think I may be. But not in a bad way. I mean I don't repeat phrases over and over the way Howard Hughes did or any of that sort of thing. (Actually when I think of a good pun it is hard not to keep repeating it to myself.) I am not even like Tony Shaloub, you know, Monk on television, though that is getting closer to my "problem." I think I am just systematic to an extreme. I like to use tools to organize myself. Even more I like to invent tools to organize myself.
Well, what can I say? By nature I am a slob, sort of like Oscar Madison in Neil Simon's THE ODD COUPLE. The world is made up of Felix Ungers and of Oscar Madisons. But I recognize I cannot live that way forever. And I am a lover of tools. So I like to create tools and mechanisms that compensate for my Oscar Madison tendencies. I have made a bargain with my tools. They will prevent me from being a slob and in turn I turn myself over to them. Well, let me give an example. I have a checklist of things I have to do each morning when I wake up. And this is no small checklist. I have something like 37 action items on the list. And I lovingly rearrange the order of the items on the list to make the routine faster and more and more efficient. Rarely do three days go by that I have not modified the list to fine-tune it. Well, the sort of thing I do is that when I am getting dressed in the morning I am also rebooting my PC. That way I don’t have to wait for the PC, it is ready when I am.
I have recorded on a cassette player a five-minute cycle where I read off the number of minutes that have passed on the minute, I say "30... 1 minute... 30... 2 minutes..." at the 30-second points. This way when I take a shower I can hear the improvised clock. I race it to save time and water. If I save five minutes a day for a week, that is more than half an hour I can spend doing something else.
In the morning I have to wash the mask of my CPAP (an air pump for sufferers of sleep apnea). This involves first carefully washing my hands. But the water takes a certain length of time to warm up so I start the water running earlier in the routine so when I get to wash my hands it is just getting warm. As I wash I sing to myself "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." To give yourself a really thorough washing you should wash for 20 seconds which is the time it takes to sing that song. There are 37 steps to straighten the house and reboot the PC and bring up the news pages I check each day, etc. etc. etc. I make a copy from my master list on my PDA and as I do items I remove them from the list. Every morning. Every morning.
What else? Oh, I have a card box with a divider for every day in the month. It reminds me about chores that I have to do. Things like cleaning mirrors. Every week I [disagreeable household chore deleted]. I will have a card in the card box telling me to do it and it has "+7" in the upper right hand corner. I add the chore to my To-do list and move the card back seven days in the card box. Okay, so far it does not seem too weird. Well...
The tasks that I have to do each are kept in a spreadsheet on my PDA. Each one is labeled with a zone in another column. Actually zone 0 is out in the yard. Each task line in the spreadsheet has a zone of the house that I have to do it in. I live in a ranch house that essentially is a long snake. So I can sort the spreadsheet by zones. Everything I have to do in the den, for example, gets sorted together. It organizes me so that I can move from room to room getting everything done that I need to do with minimal backtracking.
I do much of the managing of these lists when I am on the exercycle. I will be watching a movie or MEET THE PRESS, but that and the exercise are not taking my full attention so I will be organizing my life on my PDA at the same time. But I am not neglecting the exercise while this is going on. I have a separate spreadsheet that tells me at each instant of time how far I should have gone in pseudo-kilometers if I am going to reach my distance goal. If the odometer is reading lower than that I have to speed up until I am going at the proper speed to achieve the distance goal that I have set for myself. By the way, did you know that MEET THE PRESS has one long commercial break and a short one? The long one takes 23 seconds to get through with our VCR fast-scan. The short break takes 6. By knowing these numbers I can be doing something else when I am fast-scanning past the commercials. I just have to count down the seconds in my head. I have these numbers memorized just like I know that when I am making coffee for Evelyn and pouring water from the tea kettle into the coffee funnel it takes just four seconds of pouring to get the amount of water Evelyn likes. I can't see the contents of the cup but I know without looking into the cup that that is just about the right amount of water.
Oh, there is too much to tell you about here. Maybe I will make another column on the subject. I can tell about how I have a quota for a minimum average amount of reading time each day. I have a program on the PDA that keeps track of reading time so if I cut it short one day; I have to compensate for it the next day. And I could go on and on.
Anyway, I was looking at all the tools and processes I have created to manage myself and I realized that looking at them individually every single one of them seems like a really good idea to me and certainly makes sense. But I am coming to the conclusion that taken as a whole all these process and tools constitute a fairly large eccentricity. Somewhere along the line I have exited from that set of behaviors we consider normal and I am headed off into that region that most people would call "the unnatural." I looked at the whole set and just said to myself, "Myself, you have become one weird dude." I would cut back on all these peculiarities and foibles, but I hate to do that. Every one makes sense to me. [-mrl]
THE DA VINCI CODE and THE AVIATOR (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE DA VINCI CODE, Joseph Major writes:
You say in regard to "The Da Vinci Code": "(HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln is probably the best known book about the subject)."
The character Leigh Teabing is named after the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail"; "Leigh" is obvious and "Teabing" is an anagram of "Baigent".
Those books aren't the most extreme of Gnostic Grailism, either. Look for "Bloodline of the Holy Grail" and "The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland", books which claim that the Stuart kings of Scots were the heirs of Jesus by authority as well as by blood (the usual comment about Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, etc.) and that the direct descendant of the Stuarts is living in Edinburgh today. The second book is by the alleged heir, or at least his name is on the cover.
And in response to Mark's review of THE AVIATOR, he responds:
You complain about "The Aviator" not getting into Howard Hughes's thoughts. I've been reading books about him, and while there is a certain scandalous gosh-wow attitude about him, the impression I get is that there was no there there--there was no inside, just collection of phobias and compulsions.
His aversion to "germs" may have been exacerbated by his getting gonorrhea from one of his actress playmates. After he got the clap he destroyed all his clothing, for example. [-jtm]
On-Line Film Critics Society Awards:
The winners of the 8th Annual On-Line Film Critics Society Awards are as follows:
DOWNFALL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an excellent dramatic account of the last days of the fall of the Third Reich seen from the inside. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
There have been a lot of films about World War II but only a handful become part of the public consciousness. Mention the submarine warfare and most people will probably think of DAS BOAT. Mention D-Day and people will remember images from THE LONGEST DAY. DOWNFALL is certainly a very good film. Whether it will stand with the handful of great war films like DAS BOOT remains to be seen. This is probably by a wide margin the best film that examines Adolf Hitler and his close associates during the fall of the Third Reich. This is not the first time the story has been told. In 1981 Anthony Hopkins played Hitler in THE BUNKER and Alec Guinness played the role in HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS. In DOWNFALL it is Bruno Ganz as Hitler. But what sets this version apart is the detail, much of which was gleaned from the testimony of Hitler's personal secretary. The script is based on the 2002 documentary BLIND SPOT: HITLER'S SECRETARY.
The plot is no surprise to anyone who is familiar with WWII history. As the Russian troops inevitably close in on the city, Hitler will not allow himself to be evacuated from Berlin. Nor will he surrender. His feeling is now that it is the German people who have most betrayed him. Der Fuehrer considers those who will be survivors as traitors, people who sacrificed his dream for their own petty lives. To him the weak deserve to die. He gives impossible orders to troops hoping they will either miraculously prevail or be slaughtered. Either way he feels good will have been done. And still when he is not raging he is torn by self-doubts and conflicting emotions. The film generates a real excitement as it builds to its inevitable and harrowing end.
If the film has a weakness it is that it concentrates too much on what is happening in the bunker. Perhaps for budgetary reasons this film shows us too little of what is happening on the battlefield that is quickly becoming Berlin. We are told what is happening there rather than being shown it. Ironically at two and a half hours, the film is frustratingly short. There should have been another hour dramatizing the collapsing military situation and the futile defenses of the German people, military and civilian. That certainly would have made this one of the great war films on a subject that has not been sufficiently covered.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel previously directed THE EXPERIMENT. That was a film with a very interesting premise, but it fell into being a more traditional action film in the second half. This time he has a much more important subject and he manages to make it intriguing throughout. I rate the film a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. [-mrl]
TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The second film ever shot in Bhutan has two connected stories. One is about a Buddhist monk who wants to go to America. Within that story is the tale of an aspiring magician whose lack of character drops him into a world of deceit. The film is not profound and the resolution not entirely satisfying, but it a pleasant enough experience. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Six years ago Khyentse Norbu wrote and directed the first Bhutanese film ever made. It was PHORPA, or THE CUP. The story dealt with some Bhutanese monks who were enthralled with soccer. The film follows the whimsical and Olympian efforts to which the monks go in order to get a television and an antenna at the monastery to watch the World Cup competition. The film was a joyful look at the juxtaposition of the Eastern and Western cultures. Western culture seems both desirable and out of place. That relation is again Khyentse Norbu's theme in TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS. Norbu shot the film on 16mm and with steadycam. The film was shot in Dzongka with English subtitles.
Tsewang Dandup from THE CUP plays Dondup, a Buddhist monk with a secret. His secret is that he is fed up with the life of a monk in Bhutan. He dreams of going to America and of living life in the fast lane. The lanes of his native Bhutan are anything but fast, as we shall soon learn. It is not hard to spot the young monk's fascination because his walls are covered with ads for running shoes and with pictures of pop stars that, well, you might not expect to see at a monastery. Dondup is sent to a religious festival not far from his home, but he decides he is going to change his destination form nearby Thimpu and cross the waters to go to the land of his dreams. Soon he has missed a bus and is on those slow lanes of Bhutan--the ones that wind among forested mountains under the moody skies of Bhutan. Soon he is not alone and he is able to talk to the strangers on the road and to hear stories. Another monk tells him the story of Tashi (Lhapka Dorji), a man not dissimilar from Dondup. The stories of Dondup and Tashi run parallel and the story of Tashi has obvious morals for Dondup. Tashi wants to study magic and like Dondup wants to travel, but he gets stranded in the woods where he becomes the guest of an old woodcutter (Gomchen Penjor) and his attractive wife (Deki Yangzom) who is Tashi's age. Tashi's story unfolds to be roughly a Bhutanese retelling of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.
The viewer has a strong sense of where this story is going, but curiously it does not go there. In fact while Western audiences might find the story of Tashi a little cliched, the story of Dondup is more open to interpretation. It is really has an ambiguous ending where not all is tied up for the viewer. One had the feeling in THE CUP that Khyentse Norbu is cautiously embracing Western ways rather than rejecting them. In fact as a filmmaker he must be. In TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS his attitude is less clear and more ambiguous.
Perhaps this film is more a showcase for Bhutan itself than a well-formed story. Certainly the trip through the mountains is one worth taking. We get to see a little of the customs including some of a housewarming ceremony. The watching the film is a pleasant experience even if the stories themselves are not entirely satisfying. The film is valuable as an opportunity to see what life is like in the kingdom of Bhutan. It is more so that THE CUP which dealt mostly with monks. With TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS we have a better look at the common people. I rate TRAVELLERS AND MAGICIANS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Thomas L. Friedman's LONGITUDES & ATTITUDES (ISBN 1-400-03125-7) is a collection of Friedman's essays about the world situation, from shortly before 9/11 to the present. Friedman's position in brief is that the Arab world in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, needs to accept that the conditions in their countries are what led to the 9/11 terrorists, and that they need to start thinking about providing better living conditions for their people, which means better education, which will inevitably mean more freedom and democracy as well. He is strongly critical of Yasser Arafat because Arafat failed to work on any sort of infrastructure for a Palestinian state, but instead focused on the conflict with Israel. At the same time, Friedman says that it has been an enormous mistake for Israel to allow, or even worse, encourage, settlements in the occupied territories. Since all Friedman's columns were written before Arafat's death, it will be interesting to see how that situation plays out. The main problem with the book is that because it is a collection of columns written about the same subject, there is a fair amount of repetition. Whether or not Friedman is correct in his conclusions is impossible to say, but it is clear that he has studied and thought about the situation enough to be worth listening to.
And if you want a science fiction connection, how about this? You remember the Babel fish, about which Douglas Adams said, "If you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language. ... Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation." Well, Friedman writes, "Thanks to translation services like those of MEMRI or 'Middle East Mirror', you now get instant feedback on what commentators in Arab newspapers are saying about you and vice versa. The Saudi ambassador to London publishes a small poem in praise of a Palestinian suicide bomber in and Arabic paper in London, and I've got a translated copy in my e-mail the next morning. We are all right up in each other's face now, with no walls from behind which we can refine our messages at home, or scream to ourselves in private and then communicate calmly with each other. Instead, I write something in a white-hot rage and it gets right into someone's face in the Middle East or Europe, and then they write back in a white-hit rage, and we both end up angrier than we might have been had we not been so easily connected." Or as he summarizes, "It's as though God suddenly gave us all the tools to communicate and none of the tools to understand."
ANARQUIA by Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings (ISBN 0-918736- 64-1) is an alternate history set in Spain, Hollywood, and Germany in 1936 and 1937. The idea of an alternate Spanish Civil War is certainly promising, but it gets sabotaged by the heavy-handed approach all too common when authors try to write books with political agendas. (It seems particularly bad among Libertarian authors.) At times the book seems to be almost entirely expository lump, and it has two dozen pages of background material and another page of URLs. So the mistakes are even more annoying than they would be otherwise. For example, on page 9, in July 1936, pulp writer Howard Davidson is talking about Orson Welles's voice as the Shadow. The only problem is that Welles did not become the Shadow until September 1937. (And even the name Howard Davidson is a bit cutesy--a melding of Robert E. Howard, Howard Philips Lovecraft, and Avram Davidson.) When Kim Newman did Hollywood in "Coppola's Dracula", he got all the details right; I agree that Linaweaver and Hastings have a different agenda, but for a media fan, it's still grating. Add to this the authors' unfortunate use more than once of lines from the Tom Lehrer song in discussing Werner Von Braun (e.g., at one point they write, "'That's not my department,' said Werner Von Braun."), and you get a book that's more annoying use of famous characters than thoughtful alternate history.
Dorothy L. Sayers's LORD PETER (ISBN 0-060-91380-0) is a collection of all Sayers's short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. I'm not a big Wimsey fan--I guess the whole upper-class thing does not work for me, and she seems to feature less of the puzzle aspect than, say, Agatha Christie. However, I enjoyed the short stories more than her novels, maybe because of necessity they have a higher proportion of puzzle and less of the setting than the novels. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Smolin's First Law: Genuine advances are rarely made by accident; in fact, the outcome of a scientific investigation is usually less dramatic than originally hoped for. Therefore, if you want to do something really significant in science, you must aim high and you must take genuine risks.
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