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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/02/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 18, Whole Number 1465
Table of Contents
The Science of the Supernatural (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This month the Skeptical Inquirer site has an amusing look at the mathematical and scientific logic of Ghosts, Vampires, and Zombies. How do these creatures selectively follow or ignore the laws of science?
There is also a piece on a St. Louis museum's exhibit on the science of super-heroes.
Why Do I Travel? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I find young people want to invest in "things." Things break. Things get obsolete and have to be replaced. What you really want to invest in is not "things" but in "experience." Experience lasts the rest of your life. Travel is a cheap way to get experience. [-mrl]
Hollywood and Vines (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In late September there was a news story release that said that it has been discovered that plants actually communicate with each other. It seemed to me that was something that the world already knew. But I guess this made it official. Researcher Josef Stuefer from the Radboud University in the Netherlands found that plants like strawberry and clover send out horizontal stems (a.k.a. runners) along the ground and the stems join those from other plants of the same species. And they communicate with each other.
So what do strawberry plants have to say to each other? Well so far, based on actual reactions that Stuefer has found the message has to be to something to the effect of "Look out! Look Out! LOOK OUT!" And then there is a sort of scream. At least that would be the human equivalent. The message is a warning and/or a cry of anguish. What is the subject of the message? Well apparently it is a caterpillar warning. The speaking plant is warning others that it is literally being eaten alive by caterpillars. It would be nightmarish if we were talking about something a little more advanced than a strawberry plant.
But what of the plants who get this horrific warning. Can they "look out"? Well, apparently they can. Fore-warned is fore- armed (or fore-stemmed or something). For example, the plants can start chemical changes that both make the leaves harder to eat, they also do not taste as good. It is not as good being able to flick the caterpillars off, but at least it is something. But the communication system does not come without a price. Viruses can also jump from plant to plant so I suppose you have to be a little cautious of whom you talk to if you are a plant.
As soon as I read the article I stopped and asked myself, is this not just old news. I seem to remember the dialog from the 1951 film THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD where it is discussed that plants can do just that:
Scotty: You mean there are vegetables right here on Earth that can think? Carrington: A certain kind of thinking, yes. You ever hear of the telegraph vine? Scotty: Not recently. Carrington: Or the...- Is it the Acanthus Century Plant, Dr. Stern? Stern: Yes. Carrington: Go ahead, doctor. That's your field. Stern: Well, the century plant catches mice, bats, squirrels, any small mammals. Uses a sweet syrup as bait, then holds onto its catch and feeds on it. Scotty: What's the telegraph vine? Stern: The vine, research has proven, can signal to other vines of the same species...vines up to miles away. Carrington: Intelligence in plants and vegetables is an old story, Mr. Scott. Older even than the animal arrogance that has overlooked it.
That was 56 years ago. So I decided to look it up. Google has exactly five references to the "Acanthus Century Plant". All of the references are talking about the film. There apparently are Century Plants, but Google can find no references to an "Acanthus Century Plant" other than in the film.
What about the "Telegraph Vine"? That one sounds really interesting. The major references are to the comment in the film. Anyone commenting on it in a context divorced from the film is mentioning it in informal comments on blogs. Someone commenting on another posting mentions it as an example of a communicating plant, but this is an unofficial author who could have gotten it from the film. Some people suggest that the Telegraph Vine may be another name for Kudzu. I can easily believe that there are no official references to either plant. I have been flimflammed by a science fiction film. Apparently most people who believe in these plants were similarly flimflammed. The plants that Stuefer studied have destroyed my faith in the science of 1950s science fiction films. I love 1950s science fiction films. So the plants may talk to each other, but I am not speaking to them. [-mrl]
GONE BABY GONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A young private investigator takes a job of looking for a little girl whose kidnapping has become a media event. This investigation will prove not just to be violent and shocking, it will also raise some complex moral questions. Ben Affleck's first feature film as director turns out to be a much better film than most of the films that he has acted in. This is a strong, well-directed film and the debut of what could be a very promising director. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In 2003 Clint Eastwood, one of our finest directors, made MYSTIC RIVER, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. It was set in the Boston area and was a complex story about crime, but more deeply it looked at moral issues. Ben Affleck, an affable but not heavily dramatic actor, is breaking into directing with GONE BABY GONE. (According to the IMDB, he directed a sixteen-minute short with the unlikely title "I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney".) Like MYSTIC RIVER, Affleck's film is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, also set in Massachusetts, also a crime film with deep moral overtones. Intentionally or not (and it probably is) Affleck is inviting comparison with a top director. That is a fair-sized gamble and it probably pays off. GONE BABY GONE is probably on a par with MYSTIC RIVER or nearly so. Like Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford and a few others, after establishing a career as a popular actor, Affleck may well have much more talent for direction. I have to say that I cannot think of any film that featured Affleck's acting that is as substantial as the film he directed.
Patrick Kenzie (played by Ben's brother Casey Affleck) is a young and inexperienced private detective. He really knows less about being a detective than he does just about his tough Boston neighborhood. The major news story, not just in his neighborhood but through all of Boston, is that three days before the first action of the film a cute little girl of about four years, Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien), was kidnapped from her home. The police, led by Chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) are investigating, but not making much progress. Amanda's Aunt Beatrice (Amy Madigan) wants someone inquiring who knows the neighborhood and the people who would not talk to the police. The first question that piques Kenzie's curiosity is why is it an aunt of the child and not the mother who wants his help. He soon finds that Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) is not the distraught woman she seems in front of the news cameras. Helene is more interested in alcohol and drugs than she is about her daughter Amanda. Her negligence of her daughter borders on the criminal. Amanda may well be better off kidnapped than at home. The trail to discover what has happened to Amanda will lead to several bloody deaths in an ugly low-class neighborhood. Meanwhile the police resent a private investigator, particularly one so inexperienced, "augmenting" their investigation. Also working the case are detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton).
Where does the film go wrong? I had a problem with the casting of Madeline O'Brien as Amanda, the little girl who was kidnapped. It creates a certain tension in the film that we are concerned for her. But a more average looking girl might have suited the authentic feel that Affleck works so hard to create. She is just a little too cute and a little too blond and a little too perfect. It feels a bit manipulative to have a JonBenét Ramsey in this lower class neighborhood. But what is good about the script and where it does do right by the viewer is that it all culminates in a large moral issue. In spite of the crime and the violence, the point of the film is a moral issue. And novel writer Dennis Lehane and scriptwriters Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard do not tie it all up with a pretty bow at the end. The film culminates in a moral dilemma. And it is a dilemma. Neither choice seems right and neither choice seems wrong. And a lessor story would have told the viewer what to think. And that would have been what made it a lessor story. Members of my audience were clearly unhappy with the ending. Affleck chose a story that took some chances for a first directorial film.
GONE BABY GONE has a strong feel of authenticity in its view of a lower class Boston neighborhood. It has an intelligent script that respects the viewer's intellect. It is a strong statement that Affleck wants to direct a film better than those in which he has been cast are. I think it was the right move. I rate GONE BABY GONE a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0452623/
Languages (comment by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the 10/26/07 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner quoted someone as having said, "Think how much more peaceful the former Yugoslavia would be if the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians all spoke the same language." In response to some letters we have received, I would like to point out that--except for some regionalisms-- these groups do speak the same language, and the speaker was making a joke. [-ecl]
Navajo (letter of comment by George Maclachlan):
In response to several recent issues, George MacLachlan writes:
Your recent series of articles on languages dying off, how the Navajo language has managed to survive and John Purcell's comments on WINDTALKER's reminded me of another incident where the Navajo language played a part in Hollywood.
I am reading several of Tony Hillerman's detective novels and just completed his "Sacred Clowns" story, which was written in the early 1990's. According to the story line, the Navajo people enjoy gathering for a showing of the movie CHEYENNE AUTUMN where the Cheyenne Indians are played by several actors from the Navajo nation. All of the on-screen dialogue from the Cheyenne characters is in Navajo (according to Hillerman) and the audience is kept in stitches by the many irreverent and often crude remarks that are directed at the officials from the U.S. Government during their face-to-face meetings.
Apparently no one associated with the movie production understood the Navajo language. [-gfm]
Mark adds, "I believe that. I have talked with Navajo and they have a good sense of humor. Just a bit cynical, but funny. I don't know that the makers of the film did not know what was going on. After all the film was fairly negative on the US government. They may not have cared. Interesting coincidence: The day just before this publication I heard the identical story. However it was Jean- Jacques Annaud in his commentary for QUEST FOR FIRE and he said it was Inuits voicing parts in his film. Perhaps it has happened more than once." [-mrl]
Languages, Curare, Klingon, and THE KING'S ENGLISH (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 10/26/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Brevity. The depth of true knowledge is in its brevity.
Unless you're talking about the dying off of languages, then it's time to get long-winded. But I shall try to be brief.
Actually, it was the reference to curare, which the Banawas make, that caught my interest. The linguist in me would like nothing better for Dr. Everett to preserve their language, which would thus preserve an intimate knowledge of the Amazon rain forest that might be forever lost. However, the movie-hound in me--in particular, the 007-fan part of me--picked up on the curare reference, which Louis Jourdan employs a derivative of for interrogation purposes in OCTOPUSSY (1983). Curare certainly sounds like a lovely substance that classy villains like Jourdan's Kamal Khan would use. At any rate, the language of the Banawas will hopefully be saved, and in the process, the identity of this tribe--and others, of course--will continue. There really is so much these relatively unsullied by Western Civilization indigenous peoples can teach us. Saving their languages is only one way in which we can save their heritage.
Since we're on the subject of languages, not only are people studying Klingon, but the Klingon Language Institute in Flourton, Pennsylvania (http://www.kli.org) has published various texts. For example, I have a copy of Shakespeare's HAMLET which the KLI has translated back into its "original" Klingon; it comes complete with introduction, end-notes, pronunciation guides, and has each left page of the play in English with the right page in its corresponding Klingon. Some year when I teach this play, I really do plan on coming into class in my Renaissance festival costume while wearing Klingon make-up, carry a skull with me, and launch into the "to be or not be" soliloquy done completely in Klingon. I think my students would love it.
Finally, it's funny that Evelyn reviewed Kingsley Amis' wonderful book, THE KING'S ENGLISH. Just like the Klingon version of Hamlet, this is a book that I found at the Half-Price Bookstore in town. Like Evelyn says, you may not agree with many of his arguments, but Amis writes with such verve--there's that word again--and panache, that it is a very enjoyable book to read. I haven't read it in a while, but it is worth a re-read some year. [-jp]
Mark responds, "Are you saying you learned about curare for the first time in OCTOPUSSY? Gad, that makes me feel old. Interesting that 007 and Kingsley Amis come up in the same piece of mail. Were you aware that Amis wrote a James Bond novel, COLONEL SUN? Amis was the first author tagged to continue the series after Ian Fleming died." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
ON THE ART OF READING by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (ISBN-13 978-1-42805-7487, ISBN-10 1-4280-5748-X) is a series of lectures on how reading is taught, or rather, mis-taught in British public schools of his time (the 1910s). His complaints that the method of testing students does not encourage students to read the great works for their own sake, but rather to learn about them what is required for the tests, are still quite relevant. But most intriguing is his discussion of reading the Bible as literature. First of all, he apparently has to defend this idea against the more religious people, who do not want the Bible read as literature, but only as a sacred text. Some may say that the tables have turned and now it is the religious people who are trying to get the Bible *into* the schools, but I suspect that many of them are trying to get it in as sacred text, not as literature.
In any case, Quiller-Couch goes on to explain the problems in reading the Bible as literature. First, he says, "Imagine a volume including the great books of our own literature all bound together in some such order as this: Paradise Lost, Darwin's Descent of Man, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Walter Map, Mill['s] On Liberty, Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, The annual Register, Froissart, Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Domesday Book, Le Morte d'arthur, Campbell's Lives of the Lord Chancellors, Boswell's Johnson, Barbour's The Bruce, Hakluyt's Voyages, Clarendon, Macaulay, the plays of Shakespeare, Shelley's Prometheus, ...,, Bailey's Festus, Thompson's Hound of Heaven." Now further assume, he says, that "most of the authors' names are lost; that, of the few that survive, a number have found there way into wrong places; that Ruskin, for example, is credited with Sartor Restatus ...; and that, as for the titles, these were never invented by the authors, but by a Committee?"
And further, poetry is printed as prose, paragraphs and even sentences are broken into short verses, and then we "pepper the result all over with italics and numerals, print it in double columns, with a marginal gutter on each side, each gutter pouring down an inky flow of references and cross-references."
In short, Quiller-Couch does not say the problem is the language. He is not calling for a new translation; he thinks the King James version is fine, and indeed what should be taught. He just wants the Bible that students read as literature to be printed like any other work of literature. And indeed, the purpose of the "Revised Standard Version", the "New English Bible", the "New International Version", the "Good News Bible", the "Black Bible Chronicles", or any of the many other translations is evangelical, not artistic. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: All my joys to this are folly, Naught so sweet as melancholy. -- Robert Burton, 1651, The Anatomy of Melancholy
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