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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/17/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 34, Whole Number 1322
Table of Contents
Flaming Turtle Anatomy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In case you were wondering how it works, see http://www.asianart.com/exhibitions/littleboy/9.html. [-mrl]
Hindsight (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It could be I am showing some species chauvinism, but I think Humpty Dumpty would have had a better chance if the king's men had their try *before* the king's horses. [-mrl]
Curtis Goodman's Summary of Top Ten Lists (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I would like to welcome a new member, Curtis Goodman. Curtis and I have sort of been helping each other. It started when Curtis wrote me to point out that I made an error when I uploaded my Top Ten Films list for 2006 to my public web site. The link was failing so the list was not available there. I fixed the problem and asked him some friendly questions. He told me that he collects "Top Ten" lists at the end of each year and combines them into one large list that summarizes what films were most selected.
Now, I will see maybe ten or twelve lists of different critics' choices for the ten best films. Curtis finds a lot more lists than I ever could--currently more than 300. I immediately recognized that this could be a very useful list to me at least and sent copies of his list to a few other friends.
One friend is Massachusetts film critic Dan Kimmel. I find Dan a particularly useful friend because his tastes are quite different from mine. He has insights about film that I would not have and I would like to think the converse is also true. We have some great arguments. Uh, make that discussions.
As no surprise he disagreed with my viewpoint that such a list would be valuable. Dan's background is not mathematical and he distrusts overly quantifying subjective critical opinions. He has a point, but I think I trust numbers more and know much of what numbers do and do not say.
For example, what does a political poll tell you? Does it tell you who is the candidate most desired? No, it is an aggregate of subjective opinions. If 50.1% of the population is mildly in favor of a candidate and 49.9% are dead set against that candidate, then there really is more feeling against the candidate than for him. What the poll numbers indicate, if the poll was taken properly, is just what candidate the most people wanted on one specific day.
Another principle is that large numbers can wash out some problems with the data. For example suppose I work for a company that has people fill in time cards and assign their time to projects. I am working on two projects and sometimes I will give 30% of my time to one and 70% to the other. Some days the other the allocation of time is reversed. I am too lazy to keep track to that detail so I just say on my timecard that I give each equal time. Perhaps each timecard is inaccurate but if I do not exhibit a consistent prejudice over the course of a year things will probably even out.
Similarly some critics may show personal prejudices in their "Top Ten" lists, prejudices that are different from my own. But if one collects a lot of data from many different critics those individual prejudices will be diluted out. This is also why I trust a site like www.rottentomatoes.com more than the opinions of any single critic. Large numbers wash out the prejudices of individuals. One can pull good data from a large number of individually unreliable data points.
There is another aspect of what I can get from Curtis's list. I distinguish among 1) films I like, 2) films I think are good, and 3) films that are important. I don't think I would trust Curtis's list to tell me what films I will like. I trust it a little better to tell me what are good films. But I cannot think of a better guide to what are the important films of the year. I would trust Curtis's data even more than box-office figures or Academy Awards.
Certainly no single critic's "Top Ten" list is as good a guide. If a lot of people liked BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN I want to at least give it a try. I may not initially consider it a film I would enjoy, but I would know it probably would be a film that is worth seeing and the critical response makes it an important film.
In any case, this set of lists told me several films I should (and did) add to my Netflix queue. Many of the films were from previous years. That made them easier to get from Netflix.
I don't know how big was the audience for Curtis's lists before I heard about them. But I strongly urged him that if he was doing the data work, he should put it in a public place and made some suggestions of what I thought people would want to see at the site.
I don't know if other people will find Curtis's site as interesting and useful as I do, but I will certainly check it each year at this time.
Curtis's site is at
If you are interested in what are the well-regarded films, give it a look. And we welcome Curtis to our list of MT VOID subscribers. [-mrl]
Freedom of Expression (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
Regarding Mark's editorial in the 02/10/06 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph T. Major writes:
The argument of the Iranians is that there really isn't "freedom of expression" in the West, since it is forbidden to discuss the Holocaust. Thus, they intend to give back what they have been given, or at least that's how they see it.
Official statements were made to the effect that the Danish government should have banned the cartoons. Trying to explain that they could not, or that in fact Denmark does not have Holocaust denial laws, got nowhere.
This is the same reasoning as the Iranian's President's planned "Holocaust Conference"; the argument that this is a topic which is forbidden to discuss. Already at least one Western Holocaust denier, Arthur Butz of Northwestern University, has indicated support of the "conference". Whether others will show up (e.g., David Irving, at present in prison in Austria for illegally entering the country) is still up in the air.
Whatever will happen when the sensitivity industry gets into gear on this matter is not yet clear. But then, no major American newspaper has reprinted the cartoons. [-jtm]
[I will admit that the whole issue hit me in assembling last week's editorial. The first draft included an internet link to where readers could find the cartoons on the Internet. I stopped myself when I started hearing of people actually getting killed in the name of Allah instead of just being protested against. If fear of the possible actions of extremists of Islam is Islamaphobia then I guess I am phobic. The issue is being used by people who are saying that disrespect for the Prophet is what Democracy and Freedom of Expression brings. Just as elections show the solidarity of the pro-Democracy people in the Middle East, these riots show the solidarity of those who are against it. -mrl]
Portrayals and Idolatry (letter of comment by Don Blosser):
Regarding Mark's editorial in the 02/10/06 issue of the MT VOID, Don Blosser writes:
A cartoon of Muhammed, how shocking?
Let's see now, the "official" hue and cry seems to be the rule? prohibiting any portrayal of Muhammed because it would lead to "idolatry".
What it the cartoon(s) had portrayed a Muhammed surrounded by children of all races, similar to portrayals of another prophet, messiah, son of God, etc. Or a Francis of Assisi--like Muhammed surrounded by all sorts of animals, and birds?
Would the out-cry be the same?
It should be, right? After all, those cartoons would risk "idolatry" correct? The publishers of those portrayals should be beheaded!!
Are the hundreds of millions of Islamic people protesting the "idolatry" or the images that a supposedly miniscule group of Islamic extremists has created in the minds of the non-Islamic world?
And whom are they blaming, the "cartoonists" and free-speech cultures, or the extremists and bombers?
Makes one think of what one of the Pope allegedly said before one assault against a Huguenot's city, ".... them all, let God sort them out."
Maybe Allah will have to sort this one out? [-db]
Actually even in the Islamic world there have been believers who have depicted Mohammed in art, and Egyptian newspapers that reprinted the cartoons several months back are not being protested. It sets a particularly ominous precedent for a religion to say its rules have to be obeyed by non-believers--even those in other countries. That would be bad enough, but at the same time those rules need not be enforced on believers. I am told the rule is not even in the Koran, but is instead simply a tradition that is accepted by parts of Islam. -mrl]
My suspicion is that that is that radical leaders are using this because it is a convenient cause to focus and galvanize support.
As to whether it would have made a difference if Mohammed had been placed in a positive light, you can't tell. It might not have been as convenient an issue. [-mrl]
SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The new German-language film SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS tells the powerful and moving true story of the arrest, interrogation, and trial of an anti-government student activist in Nazi Germany from her last day of freedom. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In World War II Germany, White Rose was a relatively small and secret organization mostly composed of students who after the battle of Stalingrad felt the war was lost for Germany. They tried to convince others that Hitler had to be removed as a step toward ending the war. The merciless German government quickly eliminated them. Central to White Rose had been Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister who wrote and distributed anti- government leaflets. SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS is just what the title indicates.
Sophie, when we see her, seems a typical young Munich woman, one who enjoys American music. At the same time she works within White Rose, of which we see only little in the film. Sophie speaks of wanting to ignite the campus in protest. However, when Sophie is seen distributing leaflets she is quickly arrested on a charge of treason and of troop demoralization. The film follows her interrogation and the events that follow. Sophie at first tries to claim innocence. When that fails she tries to take full responsibility to save her brother, then to save her friends. Her interrogator is Robert Mohr (Fabian Hinrichs) efficiently finds the truth. Mohr is a strange man with bow tie, a party pin, and affected mannerisms in the precise way he holds a cigarette. Under Marc Rothemund's direction the viewer looks for some humanity and sympathy in Mohr, but we are never sure if we see it. Julia Jentsch as Sophie also gives a very controlled performance, bottling her emotions with her interrogator and nearly as much with her cellmate who purports to be prisoner because she is a communist.
Michael Verhoeven's 1983 film WHITE ROSE told the story of the organization up to the arrest of the Scholls. SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS is a sort of complement to that film, telling mostly what happened after the arrest. In 1983 the script details of the interrogation Scholl would have been a matter of speculation. However, in 1943 the methodical Germans made a detailed transcript of the interrogation. Those records were stored in what became the Communist sector and were never made available until the end of Soviet control. Now that the transcripts are available a more accurate picture of the interrogation is possible. The interrogation passages are reportedly taken directly from those transcripts. That adds authenticity and still makes for intriguing drama with a dialog of ideas. These are the best moments of the film. Where possible the authentic sites were used for the recreation. Another German film, THE LAST FIVE DAYS (1982), may have covered much the same material as this film, but I am not aware of any United States release.
The telling of the story is restrained with no blood or physical mistreatment. Any abuse is intellectual or at least verbal. The score by Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil pulsates when tension is needed and is contemplative when that is called for. Photography director Martin Langer opens the film out with external shots when he can use them in the early parts of the film to counterbalance the claustrophobic scenes after the arrest.
When people think of the evils of Nazi Germany the first set of victims they think of are the Jews. Statistically that makes sense. Of eleven million people murdered in the Holocaust, six million were Jews. But SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS is one of the rare anti-Nazi films that does not focus on the Jews or even the Holocaust. It focuses on courageous students who opposed Hitler and the war. Framing Nazi oppression as just a part of Jewish history casts it adrift from the rest of humanity and is the first step of first minimizing it and then denying it. It is important to remember what Nazism did to the German people to understand that experience. Parallels to other totalitarian and tyrannical regimes will be obvious.
Sophie Scholl's courage and personal morality in standing up to the evil and the force of the Third Reich make this film a moving experience. I rate SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
LOOKING FOR JAKE by China Mieville (ISBN 0-345-47607-7) is a collection of fourteen of his shorter works. I had hoped to find these more accessible than his novels, but I found almost all of them just as impenetrable. I can, however, recommend "'Tis the Season". In this short story (which appeared in "The Socialist Review"!), the worst fears of the Religious Right have come to pass, and the celebration of Christmas is prohibited. No parties, no holly, no mistletoe, no trees, .... But it is not political correctness gone wild. And it has nothing to do with the First Amendment and the separation of church and state (in part because Mieville is British, writing for a British audience). No, it's because all of these things have been trademarked and so you can't have a Christmas tree, you must have a Christmas Tree(tm) and pay a license fee for it. The same with Holly(tm), Mistletoe(tm), and so on. "It felt so forlorn, putting my newspaper-wrapped presents next to the aspidistra, but ever since YuleCo bought the right to coloured paper and under- tree storage, the inspectors had clamped down on Subarboreal Giftery." Frankly, Mieville's "nightmare future" seems far more likely to me than the nightmare future of Christmas being forbidden becaus eof political correctness. After all, one cannot now sing "Happy Birthday to You" in public without owing royalties on it! Speaking of which, a good companion piece for this would be Frederik Pohl's "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus" (written a half century ago and depressingly prescient). Both of these stories get added to "Newton's Mass" by Timothy Esaias in my mental list of stories that *I* would put in a Christmas anthology, were I ever to undertake such an unlikely task.
In JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO DATING (ISBN 1-4013-0117-7), Lauren Henderson seems to have been inspired by THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB. In that novel, the author draws parallels between the plots and lessons in Austen's novels and the lives of the members of a book group reading those works. In JANE AUSTEN'S GUIDE TO DATING Henderson tries to write a dating guide based on Austen's plots and lessons. I should offer the following disclaimer--my dating experience is 1) extremely limited and 2) extremely outdated, having occurred almost forty years ago. (That's about 20% of the way back to when Austen wrote, if you care.) At any rate, Henderson puts forth such rules as "If You Like Someone, Make It Clear That You Do", and "Don't Fall for Superficial Qualities", and "Be Witty If You Can, but Not Cynical, Indiscreet, or Cruel". Pretty bland suggestions, I would say. Obviously this book is not aimed at me; if I had any doubts, the choices in the quiz to determine which Jane Austen character I am frequently were all wrong. For example, one question is "Your favorite movie star is;" and the choices are:
a. Anyone dark, French and sexily brooding b. George Clooney c. Colin Farrell d. Matthew McConaughey e. Viggo Mortensoen f. Harrison Ford
Whether by "favorite" they mean the actor I think the best, or the one I think the most attractive, this list doesn't do it for me. As far as I can tell, the book is gimmicky and is probably not going to solve anyone's dating problems, but if someone more knowledgeable about dating wants to dispute this, feel free.
THE BRONTE PROJECT by Jennifer Vandever (ISBN 0-307-23691-9) is another book possibly inspired by THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, though there seems to be very little Bronte content. I will admit that I gave up after a couple of chapters when it seemed to be pretty much a novel of present-day relationships, and not a discussion of the Brontes.
ROMANITAS by Sophia MacDougall (ISBN 0-75286-894-2) is set in the present, but in a world in which Rome never fell. (MacDougall conveniently provides an appendix with her altered timeline, and it is the foiling of the assassination of the emperor Pertinax in 193 C.E. that makes the difference.) Rome now rules most of the world (except for the Sinoan Empire, the southern half of Africa, and Australia, which is either completely ignored by everyone or part of Nionia--the map is unclear). Christianity seems to have have failed to take hold, and slavery is still the rule of the land. The only problem is that the story could take place anywhere--it is full of political intrigue, but of a sort that could be transposed to just about any empire. It is well- written, but I found myself wishing that there had been more dependence on the world that MacDougall had created. For example, though Rome controls "Terranova", this is only mentioned in passing a few times. This is a British book, so it is not surprising that it focuses on Europe rather than "Terranova" or Asia (and of course Rome is there and not here), but I suspect that in spite of the popularity of alternate histories in the United States, this may be an obstacle to getting it published over here. [-ecl]
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