MT VOID 02/16/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 33, Whole Number 1428

MT VOID 02/16/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 33, Whole Number 1428

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/16/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 33, Whole Number 1428

Table of Contents

      El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Locus Recommended Reading List for 2006:

Pseudozoology (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A rather addictive list of beasties created for fantasy appears at [-mrl]

Megavote (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Now here is a site performing a very simple but useful service in a republic. I am surprised we do not know of more people providing the same service, including the United States government. (Actually perhaps it is not so surprising that the United States government does not do it.) Log onto Megavote and give it information about where you live and what your email address is and it will send you a weekly update on what bills were voted on in the United States Congress and how the officials elected from your district voted. So far my guys seems to always be voting with overwhelming majorities, but it is still useful to how they are voting.

The URL is [-mrl]

Death by Crow (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In last week's editorial I talked about distance metrics, in that case a so called "as the crow flies" metric verses a walking distance metric. Completely independently, the issue came up over the week. There is a web site that recommends local contractors for your area, whatever area of the US that is. They show only the top 20. I tried to use it for my central New Jersey home. They responded almost entirely with contractors in Staten Island, New York. In fact, as the crow flies Staten Island is not far away. But driving there would take an hour. By choosing the wrong metric for the task, the web site has made their service useless to me. [-mrl]

A Loss of Innocence (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

It is one of life's hardest moments for a cinema fan. You have a favorite film. Even before it was released you read about it knew you had to see it. You looked forward to the release day. Three weeks. Two weeks. One week. Two days. Finally you saw it, and it was a positive joy. You tell your friends all about it. You stayed up on a school night to see it on the late movie. You bought it on VHS when it is first available. You bought the DVD and savored it three times in the first week. And then comes the day your life falls apart. The movie you loved and savored and recommended to all your friends is there on the Costco counter. It is offered as free in a DVD two-pack for people buying JACKASS 3. [-mrl]

Who Needs the Quadratic Formula? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week I talked in my editorial about how the Pythagorean Theorem became important to a certain drug dealer in New York City when it was used to find how far he was from a school when he was dealing. I facetiously used this as an example of how the Pythagorean Theorem was applicable to a real world (very real) problem. The following response came from a reader.

Dear Mark,

As a 43-year-old graduate of the New Jersey Public School System, I can state clearly that I never mastered more than the basic operations of Arithmetic and have no use for the Quadratic Equation or the Pythagorean Theorem (or the rest of higher math [Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, etc.]) and I sincerely believe that most folks {with the exception of engineers or math geeks} could care less about that stuff as well. I've never understood what use higher math could have in real life except to perpetuate class division and an elitist pecking order.

[Name withheld]

Okay, let me respond to you.

First of all, the mathematics elite that you talk about is a figment of your imagination. There is no mathematics elite that laughs at people who do not have mathematics skills any more than there is a chemistry elite who laugh at people who do not understand chemistry. [There was a recent incident in which people laughed at Verizon because their staff did not have the quantitative skills to understand their own rates, but that is something quite different.] In our society it is considered very acceptable for people not to have mathematical skills. People openly admit to weakness in mathematical skills who would not admit that they always had problems reading or other basic skills. When you are poor in a skill it is easy to fall into the delusion that there are people laughing at you. They are a figment of your imagination. Arguably, mathematics is the *least* elitist academic field. Name me another academic area you learn in high school where help is more readily available. I myself give two hours a week of free help in mathematics at our public library. They do not have another room with a similar group helping kids to learn to write or to learn history, as much as it might be useful.

As for how useful mathematics is, this is an issue that I have discussed before in these pages, but it is worth taking another crack at it. The complaint that he had to learn mathematics skills and that you never used them again, perhaps in his case it is true. High school students ask this question frequently because mathematics requires reasoning skills that many are weak on.

But I assure you that many others did use mathematics skills, particularly if they went into any field that was scientific. But why pick on mathematics? After I graduated high school I was never again asked to do chemistry. I never had to play dodge ball. I never again needed to play a Flutophone. I never had to sing music from Broadway shows. I never made another science poster. I never wrote another report on Peru. I did do all these things in school and I was enriched by doing them, even if it was just building my mental capacity. Some of these things did I struggle to do at the time, but the learning experience is struggle. Go for the burn.

Why did I have to learn to do push-ups and to climb ropes in gym class? You know since the day I left school nobody ever asked me to do a push-up. (Though I did do them on my own occasionally.) I have never again had to climb a rope. For that matter I have never been in a Shakespeare play, but in school I had to read Shakespeare anyway. I had to first puzzle out what he was saying and later I appreciated the power of his language. (I guess I have also read the Shakespeare occasionally but it was never required of me.) I have never been asked to do these things once I left school. But I was taught to do them in school. Someone in the school system apparently decided that people had to be physically, culturally, and mentally fit as part of a good education. And they were right.

I surely have never again diagrammed a sentence. I cannot exactly say why that was useful even at the time. I wonder why I have never seen anybody question the teaching of diagramming of sentences. But one should understand the structure of a sentence, and you have to do that to diagram it. There is actually very little one does in school that directly prepares the student for the outside world. There is a great deal one does that indirectly prepares one. School builds aptitude.

Is it useful to learn mathematics skills? Being able to think quantitatively and spatially and to reach proper logical conclusions is a basic skill in this day-to-day survival. This is what the mental discipline of mathematics teaches. And there are a lot of people who are not learning to think that way.

I am not pointing any fingers but there are (a lot of) people out there who cannot think logically and who cannot see relationships at anything greater than a superficial level. Their hazy reasoning leads to erroneous and sometimes disastrous conclusions. Back when the Taliban was threatening to destroy priceless Buddhist statuary in Afghanistan I wrote an editorial saying I thought that the press covering the story was only making things worse, giving the Taliban publicity. A reader who is a journalist who is also a reader wrote me to say that press coverage always is a positive thing. He claimed to prove that assertion by giving three examples of situations that he claimed press coverage helped. It was from examples in mathematics classes that I immediately recognized that you cannot prove a universal principle by examples. Even is you can argue press coverage helps in three situations it is no proof it will work in a fourth instance.

When someone reads an editorial page and sees Iraq compared to Vietnam, to understand if the analogy is apt one has to compare the two situations and see what is the same and what is different. This is very similar to the process of reasoning you might do comparing two geometric figures and if what you know about one can be applied to the other. One asks what similarities do the two figures have and where do the similarities break down? Mathematics is, among other things, an education in what is and is not a valid argument and where lies the pitfalls of reasoning.

Nobody knows what physical challenges a student will face as an adult, but push-ups and sit-ups are a good way to be prepared. Nobody knows what cultural challenges a student will face, but studying literature and seeing how others think is good preparation for those. Nobody knows what conceptual challenges a student will face, but what one learns with mathematics-- understanding spatial relationships, quantitative reasoning and the principles, what errors in reasoning are possible--is probably the best way there is to prepare. [-mrl]

DRACULA (2006) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This may well be the least faithful and poorest adaptation of a novel ever to appear on America's "Masterpiece Theater". There is very little of the novel in this production and what is there is twisted. Victorians who thought there was little that could be done to make this story less subtle than it already was would be amazed to find how crudely it could be adapted. Nevertheless, I realized watching it that there was a way for the viewer to make it a much more pleasurable experience. Rating: +0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

DRACULA fans, there is a secret to enjoying the 2006 BBC version of DRACULA, showing in the United States on Masterpiece Theater. It is a deplorable reworking of the Bram Stoker novel with no fidelity to the source material and unworthy of the PBS Sunday night venue. Believe me, this is no masterpiece. But if the viewer mentally retitles it DRACULA RETURNS and ignores the character names, it becomes a moderately good sequel in the Hammer Films tradition. Dracula had returned to his homeland at the end of the original story only to be destroyed in sight of his castle. We may assume that (in the Hammer tradition) some loophole has resurrected him and he is back in his castle at the beginning of this film. This is then the story of how he is brought back to England a second time. The film is a little static, but it works much better as a follow-up to the original story than as an adaptation. I could easily be convinced that at some stage this story actually was intended to be a sequel and was retro-fitted inadequately to be a supposed adaptation.

The BBC has been aiming at (or perhaps pandering to) younger audiences of late. Their latest Quatermass is a handsome thirty- something rather than a man in his fifties or older as he is usually cast. The Doctor (a.k.a. Doctor Who) seems of a younger generation each regeneration. Now the BBC is making Dracula somewhat shorter in the tooth. He appears through most of the film as a virile man in his thirties.

Just why the BBC felt it was a good idea to remake DRACULA is a mystery. In 1977 they made COUNT DRACULA which was to that point the most accurate adaptation of the Stoker to a visual medium. The only version that really competes even now is BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. Both take some liberties but generally follow the novel reasonably closely. Fidelity to the novel seems to have been the furthest thing from the mind of Stuart Harcourt who wrote this most recent version. He is more interested in delving into the sexual hang-ups of Victorian England and replacing Stoker's subtle eroticism for much more obvious sex and vampire beefcake.

We have Dracula brought to England, albeit quite willingly, to use his special peculiarities as a possible cure for syphilis. Arthur Holmwood (played by Dan Stevens) wants to marry Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles) and lusts for her. However, he has inherited syphilis from his father and dares not have sex with her. He believes there is a cure for his condition somewhere in the immortality of Dracula (Marc Warren) and arranges for the vampire to be brought to England. However, once Dracula is in England he is not so easy to control. All this has little to do with the novel, but if one assumes these are all new characters it is at least an acceptable plot. If Hammer Films were resurrected, this is the sort of story they would be doing today.

The production is a little half-hearted, clocking at only about 85 minutes in length. But that is not a moment too short. Even at that abbreviated length it does drag a bit. The characters are not well developed and bear very little relation to our expectations of them from the novel. The acting is stiff, but this is a film set in Victorian times when people were a bit stiff and--dare I say it--bloodless by modern standards. David Suchet, playing Van Helsing, was a promising casting choice, but behind a bushy beard he is lost. He comes off less like Van Helsing than like Ben Gunn. If we are meant to think of this as Stoker's story it is less full of fright and more just frightful. It is not worthy of the place it will have in Dracula trivia. I would rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.



One-Way Streets (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In Mark's article on Pythagoras and the law in the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, he said, "I always said that civilization started going downhill with the invention of the one-way street. Until that point you could always leave the way you came. With one-way streets They (the big They) had a means of trapping you." [-mrl]

Fred Lerner responds, "It is a known fact that there is no legal way of leaving downtown Montreal in a motor vehicle. Anyone who consistently obeys 'no left turn' signs (or the pictographic equivalents actually used in Montreal) will be trapped there forever." [-fl]

The French Language (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):

In Mark's article on French in the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, he wrote, "I has been a while since my French class but shouldn't it be CASINO ROYAL? Don't adjectives have to agree in gender with nouns?" [-mrl]

David Goldfarb asks, "Is it an adjective? Perhaps it's just a name--the casino named 'Royale'?" I mean, it could hardly be a royal casino, there haven't been kings in France for many years." [-dg]

Mark responds, "I think they were saying it was the Royal Casino. The French do still use the word" And he quotes from PULP FICTION:

Vincent: And you know what they call a ... a ... a Quarter 
         Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules:   They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?
Vincent: No man, they got the metric system.  They wouldn't know 
         what the f*** a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules:   Then what do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese.
Jules:   A Royale with cheese.


LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (letter of comment by Lax Madapaty):

In response to Mark's review of LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA in the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, Lax Madapaty writes, "Didn't Spielberg also get flak from some critics for his use of red in SCHINDLER'S LIST?"

Mark responds, "True, and selective coloring in a monochrome (or nearly monochrome) film was a much newer effect then than it is now. At that point selective coloring has previously been done only by the film ZENTROPA and by a television drug ad as far as I know. Spielberg used selective coloring not for shock effect but to focus attention on one small piece of a complex picture. He could use more conventional means to keep our attention focused on the Christian Bale character through the chaos of Shanghai in panic in EMPIRE OF THE SUN. But there it was a character we already knew. In SCHINDLER'S LIST he wanted to draw attention to a character we were seeing for the first time. It was someone in a complex scene and we were seeing at a distance. Note that he uses it for a little girl's coat and notably not for the running blood in the snow shoveling scene. He used his selective coloring like a highlighter pen rather than simply as a means to amplify shock as Eastwood did. I thought that was a weakness in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and to a lesser extent in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Since SCHINDLER'S LIST, selective coloring has become familiar in films like SIN CITY and the Eastwood Iwo Jima films. Usually it is used drawing attention to something you could not have missed in the first place, but it amplifies the effect. ZENTROPA and SCHINDLER'S LIST have the most intelligent uses of the effect." [-mrl]

Syracuse (letter of comment by Charles Harris):

In response to Evelyn's comment in the 02/09/07 MT VOID that there were no alternate histories based on the Battle of Syracuse, Charlie Harris writes, "In Harry Turtledove's "The Daimon" the Athenians are victorious at Syracuse (with a little help from Sokrates)." [-csh]

Evelyn responds, "I missed that one, in part because the 'points of divergence' list I was using gave the year 415 B.C.E. for that story, rather than 413 B.C.E." [-ecl]

Conventions, the French Language, Pythagoras and the Law, and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (letter of comment by John Purcell):

John Purcell sends several comments in response to the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID:

"Well, Mark, with Corflu 24 now out of the way, I can get back to loccing zines and school work with renewed vigah (spoken like JFK)." [-jp]

Mark responds, "Too bad Vaughn Meader is no longer with us, nobody could speak like JFK like Vaughn Meader could." [-mrl]

To which John further said, " I still have the "First Family" record that Vaughn Meador recorded with Bob Booker and Earle Doud; kept it from my parent's record collection when they retired to Arizona. It's a great album. Probably worth a lot now, too, I bet." [-jp]

John futher writes, "Corflu was a great time. I am glad I went, being that it was a mere 1-hour, 45-minute drive from home; re- met lots of old friends and met even more new friends. It felt like being back at a Minicon or a really small worldcon with good friends. Nothing finer. You and Evelyn would have enjoyed it. Next year it's in Vegas."

Mark answers, "These days we don't get to a lot of conventions these days. We have reluctantly ended a long association with Boskone due to irreconcilable differences involving winter weather, expensive hotels and parking, and distance. The Boskone people have been intransigent about supplying space warps, cheap accommodations, and balmy [meaning non-blizzard] weather. Evelyn's statistics say that one in three Boskones in the past involved winter snow storms. We are also skipping the Worldcon this year because if we were going to Japan (which we have done once already) we would want to spend as much time as possible on Japan. No other country is as fascinating as Japan. And few are as weird to Americans. (Though India has them beat for weirdness. Japan is merely a country of culture shock, but India really is the only country that goes beyond that to actual culture hysteria.)" [-mrl]

In response to Mark's article on CASINO ROYALE in the 02/09/07 issue of the MT VOID, John writes, "I'm rusty on my French--my wife and two daughters are taking French classes at their respective schools--but in general, adjectives must show gender agreement with the nouns/pronouns they are modifying. But I don't know what the masculine form of 'royale' is. Wife? Answer, please." [-jp]

Mark answers, "I think it is 'royal'.' translates 'royal casino' to 'casino royal'." [-mrl]

In response to Mark's article on Pythagoras and the law in the same issue, John writes, "That was a very interesting lesson in practical geometry you recounted. You know, if more math and science teachers used instances like this in their classrooms they would engage their students in subjects that most kids find stultifying." [-jp]

Mark replies, "Actually math teachers have gotten in trouble for just that:" [-mrl]

John continues, "I really loved your closing argument here: 'He (Robbins) got a small lesson in geometry and he got the stiffer penalty.' It certainly makes me wonder, though, about the differences in how civil law imposes penalties for drug pushing in a school zone versus anywhere else. In my mind, drug dealers should get clobbered no matter where they are caught. End of discussion." [-jp]

Mark answers, "The natural inclination is to clobber them especially for selling near schools and then clobber them that much anywhere they sell. Then increase it near the schools again. And so forth. Perhaps we should just put a very heavy penalty on (illicit) drug dealing, but give a special discount if the selling is not near a school." [-mrl]

In response to Mark's review of LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA in the same issue, John writes, "My son, Daniel, is probably going to be a military historian when he grows up, so the Clint Eastwood films are two that he wants to see. When they're both out on DVD (I think FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS already is) I would like to get them and see them, too. We both like BAND OF BROTHERS; excellent recreated action and even better character development. The trend of war films to downplay the glory of war and emphasize the human stories of those who plan and fight in wars is one that I think is important. The Eastwood films are notable for their two sides of the same battle, and I am very interested in watching them for the cultural differences." [-jp]

Mark replies, "I really like ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MILITARY HISTORY by Dupuy and Dupuy. It is a great browsers' book. Though only a small part is military, another good browsers' book is EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY by John Carey. And BAND OF BROTHERS is great" [-mrl]

John concludes, "Interesting stuff all the way through this time, Mark and Evelyn. Thank you again for sending it my way, and I look forward to the next one." [-jp]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Edgar Wallace is considered a major mystery writer, but Martin Gardner has said that THE GREEN ARCHER by Edgar Wallace (no ISBN) is really his only novel that could be considered a classic. So I read it, and I am not sure I would agree that this is a classic. It is okay, but does not compare (in my mind) with contemporaneous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Dame Agatha Christie. (Okay, so Christie was slightly later.) I then tried his short stories in THE MURDER BOOK OF J. G. REEDER (ISBN-10 1-417-91483-1, ISBN-13 978-1-417-91483-8), which again are just okay. It is far too evident in many of them that Wallace came up with a very elaborate crime, and then had the detective figure it out without much evidence--or at least evidence that the reader is given. Reeder seems practically omniscient--then you discover that he had gotten some critical pieces of information that the reader was not told about until the end, or that he knew some arcane and unlikely piece of chemistry, making for a very unsatisfactory story. (In fairness, I guess that not every detective story has to be a "puzzle story" in which the reader has all the clues, but frankly I think most aficionados expect it.)

A PASSION FOR BOOKS by Lawrence Clark Powell (ISBN-10 0-837-16783-3 ISBN-13 978-0-837-16783-1) is one of Powell's several collections of essays and speeches on books, book collecting, and libraries. Powell was an early critic of the displacement of books as the focus of libraries: "Thus I view with alarm the invasion of the book world by barbarians who neither believe in books for their totality of being, their fusion and content, nor have any sentimental feelings toward the book as a thing-in-itself. ... [When] library school prospectuses are issued which run to thousands of words without once mentioning the word 'book', then the bounds of propriety have been exceeded. The appeal is to would-be housekeepers, analysts, probers, and planners, to unsocial scientists who can be led to literature but not made to read and who long to de-emphasize books, mechanize the library, and the name to 'materials center,' a term more properly applied by anatomists to the dissecting room." (from a 1956 article)

Powell is definitely a bookaholic. He writes, "On trips to New York my time is usually divided between bookshops and libraries. Only once was I foolish enough to go to a musical comedy. Halfway through the production--which I found neither musical nor comic--I came to my senses and asked myself, What am I wasting my time here for, when New York is stacked with millions of books for sale? I rushed out the theater and made a 'bookline' for the shops of Fourth Avenue."

Yet another example of synchronicity: Powell mentioned a "17th century treatise on human engineering, a manual for conduct for public people written by a Spanish Jesuit." Even before he named it, I immediately knew that Powell was talking about Balthasar Gracian's A TRUTHTELLING MANUAL AND THE ART OF WORLDLY WISDOM--a book I am currently reading.

MONITOR FOUND IN ORBIT by Michael G. Coney (ISBN-10 0-879-97132-0 ISBN-13 978-0-879-97132-8) is an old collection of nine of Coney's short stories that I was inspired to read by James Nicoll's review of it as part of his massive overview of DAW books that was posted to Usenet ( The lead story of a collection is usually assumed to be the strongest. But here the lead story, "The True Worth of Ruth Villiers", is a "gimmick" story, with the premises rather obviously set up so as to constrain the story rather artificially. "The Mind Prison" is also hard to believe, and predictable. I did rather like the idea behind "R26/5/PSY and I", even if it does not bear much examination, and similarly with "Esmeralda". I agree with Nicoll when he says, "[almost] all of these are competently written at the words and paragraph level even if some of the background assumptions don't seem to stand up to close inspection. This might seem like damning with faint praise but I do not intend to do so. It is a rare modern anthology which has this high a fraction of readable prose, and dodgy world construction is still just as common as in the 1970s."

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HINDU DEITIES by Sanjay Patel (ISBN-10 0-452-28775-8 ISBN-13 978-0-452-28775-4) is a quite charming introduction to Hinduism. Why charming? Because the illustrations (also done by Sanjay Patel) are delightful; they were inspired, as he says, by Sanrio's "Hello Kitty" designs. [See examples of the illustrations at and -mrl] The book covers the Hindu Trinity, the manifestations of Shiva, the Mother Goddess, the Ten Avatars of Vishnu, as well as the Hindu epics, the demigods, the nine planets, the animal gods, and the creation story. My only complaint is that Patel is often a bit too cutesy for his own good. For example, of Shiva and his family he writes, "The constant companion and vehicle of Lord Shiva and his family is the snow-white bull known as Nandi, on whom, it is thought, only those who have conquered their desires through yoga are fit to ride. Who needs a dog as a companion when you can ride a bull? That is, if you've done your yoga." I suppose this is because the book is somewhat aimed at a young adult audience, although the vocabulary used would put it at the upper end of that range. Still, for adults who have had no real exposure to the basic information about Hindu theology, this is a good introduction. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Nor has he spent his life badly who has 
           passed it in privacy.
                                          -- Friedrich Nietzsche

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