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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/18/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 42, Whole Number 1489
Table of Contents
The Generation and Information Gap (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Beloit College each year prints a list of how differently people as young as their incoming freshmen see the world. For example people of that age have never known the Berlin Wall before it fell. This year's list is at http://www.beloit.edu/~pubaff/mindset/2011.php and you can see previous years' lists by going to http://www.beloit.edu/~pubaff/mindset/
I think, however, the freshmen should make their own list. I will start them with:
Your parents probably...
1. Think a "snitch" is someone who "tattles" (whatever that means). 2. Think that "hooking up" gets easier with wireless. 3. Have never held a Wii. 5. Cannot read Leetspeak (OR Geekspeak). 6. Don't know what benefits come with "friends with benefits." 7. Are NOOBs. CD9 G2G
A Modest Revision (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am getting up a petition to rearrange the titles of Jules Verne's best-known (in other words filmed) novels. Now what do I mean by that?
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA has been a problem for people for a long time. The title is the crux. First of all nobody is quite sure any more what a league is. Originally it was supposed to be [Note: little-known piece of erudition coming up] the distance a horse could travel in an hour. Depending on where you are that could be a different distance. In America we drive our horses harder so an American league is about 3.5 miles. In France they have formalized it. Their national league is closer to 2.5 miles (or 4 kilometers). This is the kind of horses they have in France and may be one reason that nobody brags that their horse's lineage is French. 20,000 leagues is about 50,000 miles. First of all, the people who thought that Verne was talking about depth are right out. You can't go 20,000 leagues deep on this planet without popping out the other side and still going some distance. Horse distance is measured in horizontal units since right after the time of Pegasus. Verne meant horizontal distance. It is two different thoughts. The characters go a horizontal distance of 50,000 miles and during that time they are under the sea. They are not 20,000 leagues deep.
But here we run into problems again. In the whole course of the novel the characters are never UNDER the sea. They are frequently IN the sea. If you submerge yourself in a swimming pool is it more accurate to say you are under the swimming pool or in the swimming pool? Right. You are in the pool. You could only be under the swimming pool if there were some sort of tunnel system underground beneath the swimming pool. At no point are Captain Nemo, his submarine, or his involuntary guests actually under the sea. To be difficult one could argue that the sea is water and they are under water. But then they are not under the sea; they are under only part of the sea. They are under the part of the sea that is over them. By the same token they are over the part of the sea that is under them. There is also part of the sea that is neither over nor under them and this part of the sea they are beside. It, in fact, seems unlikely that they are ever under even most of the sea. I doubt that the Nautilus could go very deep considering what we know to be the depth of the ocean and it was supposed to be a very early submarine. Most of the sea would be under them rather than it being them who are under it. And of course there remains the problem that a horse does not travel very far in an hour in the sea even if it is a seahorse.
Now we could correct the title of the book to be 20,000 LEAGUES IN THE SEA, but it might make more sense to give another Verne novel this title. The obvious one is one in which people actually are under the sea. The proper choice would be the book we now erroneously call JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. This book is also arguably misnamed. It is not at all clear to me that the adventurers here ever reach the geometric center of the earth. Nor is it even well-defined what that center is. Is it the geometric center by distance or is it the center of momentum for the mass of the planet. It does not matter; the travelers never actually reach either point. So to call the novel JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is a fraud and a sham. Because most of the most avid readers are teenagers this makes it doubly bad. Have you seen their hurt little faces when they realize the title of the book has sold them a bill of goods? It becomes one more fraud that the older generation has foisted upon them.
The one defense I can see is if you think the center the way you think of the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. A Tootsie Roll Pop is a sucker with a center that is of the same primordial material that originally formed the first Tootsie Roll. If one was very tiny or one had a very giant version of a Tootsie Roll Pop, one could burrow down to the (Tootsie-Rollish) "center" without ever reaching the (geometric) center or the center (of momentum). Actually at the true center there is not even Tootsie Roll but a stick of rolled paper waiting to disintegrate on the eater's tongue and to leave bits of paper in the mouth after the pop has been consumed. But this interpretation of center is still misleading if not an out and out cheat. No, the only honest thing to do would be to award the title of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA to the novel that is now called JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Now before someone complains about this proposal let me be perfectly honest with my readers and take my lumps. No, I don't know that the travelers in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (the novel formerly known as JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH) actually travel 20,000 leagues, but we never do get an accounting of how far they travel so it could have been. We would not know how far the travelers travel in the novel formerly known as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA if the distance did not appear in the (former) title. There is also the question of what part of the trip was actually under the sea versus what part of the trip was under dry land. I would say that for the whole trip the explorers arguably are under the sea in that the sea is on a level over their heads. One can say something is under the sun without the sun being directly overhead. So in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (the novel formerly known as JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH) we can say that the travelers are at a lower level than that of the sea so the title is now arguably accurate.
So while it obviously makes sense to rename JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH to be 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA that leaves the submarine story (once called 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) without a title. Well, the novel obviously needs a title. As of this writing I am giving serious consideration to calling it FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. [-mrl]
REFUSENIK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is the saga of the Refuseniks, Jews in the Soviet Union who requested to leave knowing they would be treated as enemies of the state and given harsh and at times barbaric treatment. A new documentary written and directed by Laura Bialis tells the story of the nearly thirty years of courage in the face of repression in the Soviet Union. This is polished and evocative filmmaking. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
It is spring. This is time of Easter and Passover and the time of year that it is traditional for television to run the film THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. This year there is another and somewhat parallel story being released, though this one is a documentary of recent history. The film is REFUSENIK, and it tells the story of Jews again held against their will in a country that will not let them go. The country was Russia in the last decades of the Soviet Union. Russia's tradition was to suppress and abuse the Jews with discrimination building to pogroms back in Tsarist times. The coming of communism to Russia brought only a short respite before the new rulers of the country continued with their repressive policies. Under Stalin the repression began again and it specifically targeted the Refuseniks--Jews who had requested to leave the country--for almost three decades. With American and the newly founded Israel ready and anxious to provide a haven for these Jews they needed only the permission of the government to exit. As a policy permission was never granted. Being refused the people came to be called Refuseniks, but their punishment went beyond merely being refused. Jews who requested to leave were treated with barbaric hatred. They typically lost their employment and frequently were imprisoned and even tortured. Many were exiled to the frozen Gulag. Others were treated as mentally ill for wanting to leave the "ideal workers' state" and were committed to mental institutions. With the fall of the Soviet Union and with pressure from the West and worldwide eventually the Jews of the Russia were allowed to leave. 1,500,000 of them did leave, most settling in Israel and the United States.
While in the 1970s and 1980s the Refusenik movement got some public attention, little has been said about it since. So as not to forget what happened Laura Bialis writes and directs this documentary about the story of the Refusenik movement. The style is mostly eyewitness accounts by participants, many of whom were activists in and out of the Soviet Union in the events of the movement. Their stories are illustrated with archival and newsreel footage. Best known among the activists is Natan Sharansky, who had requested and been denied an exit visa. In 1977 Sharansky was arrested and tried for invented charges of treason and spying for the United States. These charges have since been shown to be false. Sharansky was incarcerated in Leftorovo Prison were he remained under barbaric conditions for 16 months. He was then sent to a prison camp in the Siberian Gulag where he remained for nine more years as his wife desperately worked for his release. By 1986 the USSR was foundering and was anxious for Glasnost. Then President Ronald Reagan made clear that the treatment of Soviet Jews would be a strong consideration in the negotiations. Sharansky was released in 1986. His story and the stories of Kirov Ballet star Valery Panov and of physicist Andrei Sakharov, all Refuseniks, are part of the story.
Where the documentary falls down a bit is in not discussing the motives of the Soviets in repressing the Refuseniks. Michael Gorbachov is quoted as saying that these people were considered to be people of value to the Soviet Union, but they could make little contribution as laborers in the Gulag. It is more likely that he did not want to set a precedent of letting one group go when so many other groups might have wanted the same privilege. And eventually they as well as the Refuseniks got it.
REFUSENIK bears witness to the struggle of the Refuseniks and of the changes that their courage and that of the international community brought about. This film makes a good pairing with THE SINGING REVOLUTION (2007), which was released earlier this year and tell the story of Estonia's campaign to free themselves from the yoke of the Soviet's. Both have messages that we need just now. I rate REFUSENIK a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. REFUSENIK scheduled to be released in New York City May 9 and in Los Angeles on May 23.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1187354/
THREE CUPS OF TEA: ONE MAN'S MISSION TO PROMOTE PEACE . . . ONE SCHOOL AT A TIME (a.k.a. THREE CUPS OF TEA: ONE MAN'S MISSION TO FIGHT TERRORISM AND BUILD NATIONS ONE SCHOOL AT A TIME) by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
THREE CUPS OF TEA is the story of Greg Mortenson, apparently as told by Mortenson to David Oliver Relin. So to begin with, who is Greg Mortenson and why should the reader be interested in his life story?
Mortenson was a nurse whose hobby was mountaineering. He attempted to climb K2, the world's second tallest and most ferocious mountain. But that is not what the book is about. He failed in his climb and nearly died. (Nearly dying seems to have become a recurrent experience of his life.) Trying to save his life his two Balti porters took him to Korphe, their isolated mountain village there in the Karakoram mountain range of northern Pakistan. Grateful for the hospitality that saved his life he promised the villagers that he would return one day and build them a school so that the children and especially the girls of the village could be educated.
A big chunk of the book is how he got funding, how he got materials, and how he built that first school, first having to build a bridge. He became a local hero and soon other villages were begging him to build schools. It was just one thing sort of leading to another. He soon became the centerpiece of the Central Asia Institute, a charitable organization founded by a rich American. Its aim is to bring education and literacy to the youth of the region and especially to the girls.
Along the way he was arrested, kidnapped, and had fatwas declared against him. He stood up to more than a few self-serving religious leaders and gangsters wanting a share of the money going to the school. His adventures make fascinating reading but even more so do his observations of local life throughout the Karakoram Mountain range.
Mortenson and Relin give us a good feel for the texture of life in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan. The book is enthralling. Most of the people he meets are opposed to the power of the Wahhabis and the Taliban and their best weapon against them are the schools. The schools that Mortenson builds are an alternative to the madrassas that so often teach extremism and hatred.
Everything changed for the United States with the September 11 attacks, and this book is one of the things that changes. Late in the book Mortenson comes to the belief that the schools he is building, and more if they could be built, are an answer to terrorism. (Note the book has two subtitles indifferent editions, one aggressive and one not.) It should be only a very faint criticism of Mortenson to say that he probably does not really have the answer to terrorism. But it is the message that he is spreading in talks and in publicity for his work. And by the account in the book it seems that people are being convinced.
Why do I feel he does not really have the answer? (And here I admit I am expressing just expressing my own opinions.) First extremist Islam does not need huge numbers of recruits for its goals. Even if Mortenson won over all the people of the Karakoram, an impossible task, the extremist elements would still have no problem getting the numbers they need to wage their conflict. Consider how few people it actually took to execute the September 11 operation. How widespread a system of schools would be needed to starve the extremists of the numbers needed for such projects? Certainly more than could possibly be feasible.
That raises the question of the costs of this number of schools. Mortenson is able to build his schools at minimal costs. It is something on the order of ten to twenty thousand dollars per school. That is a bargain price, but it is still too high. The school-building project works on charitable donations. It is in competition for donations with Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, and just about every other charitable organization. Certainly in a just world there would be sufficient funds, but it is by no means clear there is. In the book we here about large spikes in the inflow of money when there is publicity for the work in magazines like Parade. The book itself is really one such plea for funding. Eventually that money will run out and he will need to get more still publicity. If Mortenson's organization is not self-sustaining it will be very limited.
The book glosses over the question of what sort of security his schools will have. The book shows over and over the power the Islamic extremists have in that part of the world. I suspect it still understates the problem. The people of the villages seem in the book to be very committed to keeping out the extremist forces. But these schools are a tempting prize for the Taliban. They are ready-built potential madrassas. The schools are too vulnerable to being taken by force and converted to the precisely the purposes that Mortenson is opposing. Mortenson and his organization will die one day, but the buildings and extremist Islam will go on. The schools are particularly tempting targets because of Mortenson's avowed (and fully-justified) mission to educate the girls. The girls certainly have never had any other opportunity for an education. But nothing makes the Islamic extremists so uncomfortable as the threat that women will become Westernized and liberated. (Consider how angry the Saudis were in the first Gulf War that American women were in the military and driving Jeeps. Saudi women's rights fall far short of the right to drive.) That belief alone on the part of the Islamists makes the Mortenson schools prime targets that will remain so long after the fickle West loses interest in them. If the Mortenson schools do not receive long-term military support from a government that has always ignored this region, the schools will eventually become more of a liability than an asset. One feels that the greatest challenges to Mortenson's program lie in the future.
Certainly there are any number of very good reasons to support the work of Greg Mortenson, but as a long-term strategy to combat terrorism it is questionable, regardless of the good the schools do in the short term. His book is an excellent view of that region of the world, a region of which we in the United States have little knowledge. [-mrl]
Rock Star and Guitar Hero (letters of comment by Richie Bielak and Jerry Ryan):
In response to Mark's article about Rock Star and Guitar Hero in the 04/11/08 issue of the MT VOID, Richie Bielak writes:
Both of these games are very popular in my house :-). The funny thing is that I play actual guitar, and have played in actual rock bands back in high school. So I get to make fun of my kids and their friends.
Their response is summarized by Eric Cartman (from the "South Park" "Guitar Hero" episode): "Real guitars are for old people" ;-)
But these games are actually small social happenings. The also introduce the kids to some classic bands: "Dad, did you hear this great song 'Sunshine of your Love'"? ;-)
I recently read few columns on cultural impact of technology and Moore's Law in particular. Take a look here: http://tinyurl.com/368ss6
This is a first in a series of three articles. One of the topics is impact of games on education... [-rb]
And Jerry Ryan writes:
Ah, Guitar Hero!
My sixteen-year-old son purchased this for himself and is obsessed with it.
The "game controller" is a guitar with buttons on the fretboard. The buttons correspond to strings and, thus, notes. While the game is playing, the screen displays guitar strings moving toward you. When you are to play a note, you see a colored circle glowing on the string ... and when that colored circle reaches you, you press that color button to play the note.
Points are given for clicking the right button at the right time. Bonuses are granted for successive error free button presses. High enough bonuses let you hit the whammy bar for even more points. You are penalized for missing notes. If you miss enough notes, the game gives up on you, and the scene on screen cuts to your character getting booed off stage.
Like most of these games, the player gets to select a persona and an appearance. Scores are remembered across play sessions, and cumulative scores are kept. You can increase your degree of difficulty if you like: simpler levels have fewer strings and notes for you to play, while harder levels are, well, harder. Same songs, more stuff that you are expected to play.
It *is* funny to watch my son and his friends on this game. Some kids come over just to watch the other kids play. Some bring *their* game controllers, plug in, and play Guitar Hero as a competition.
Yes, I've tried it. Yes, I'm awful at it. My wife, who plays guitar, says that ability to play guitar actually prevents you from playing the game well... [-gwr]
When I was young, kids wanted to be astronauts, winning some sort of silly victory for humanity. But it is nice to see that they have much more realistic goals these days. Most of these kids I think really could grow up to be rock stars. These days it seems like just about anybody can become a rock star. We are not nearly so obsessed with some different talents as we once were. Give these boys and girls a chance to grow up and we will have some of the greatest rock stars, football players, and kung fu fighters of any country anywhere. Then this country will have the future it deserves, I'll bet. [-mrl]
Shakespeare in the Nude (letters of comment by Fred Lerner and Mike Glyer):
In response to John Purcell's letter of comment about a production of MACBETH in the nude in the 04/11/08 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "Naked Hamlet, eh? I hope it turned out better than PROSPERO'S BOOKS. This is the only film I've ever seen that caused a palpable feeling of relief among the audience when it was finally over." [-fl]
And in response to Mark's comment ("As for the naked Hamlet [sic], was it done in modern undress or was it nudity authentic to the period?"), Mike Glyer asks, "'Nudity authentic to the period'? Did people have different birthday suits back then?" [-mg]
Mark replies, "Well, that was the point of the joke, but actually the answer is yes, at least with males. And not just Jewish ones. (No, as Evelyn points out the Jews would look the same. But again I don't think the Globe had many Jewish actors.)"
And Evelyn adds, "Besides, Shakespeare had only one Jewish role. Moving to a later period of English literature, though, John Sutherland includes the essay 'Is Daniel Deronda circumcised?' in his book CAN JANE EYRE BE HAPPY? In it, he notes that at least by the 19th century, circumcision was often performed in Britain for medical as well as religious reasons, even though it did not become widespread until the end of the that century." [-ecl]
The Black Legion and Historical Inaccuracy in Movies (letter of comment by Paul Chisholm):
In response to Mark's comments on the Black Legion in the 04/11/08 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Chisholm writes, "The Wikipedia article on the Black Legion ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Legion_%28murder_cult%29) is only a stub, but there's as yet no article at all on Charles Poole. There's enough information out there, especially since some news publications have opened their archives back that far. Some cost money, some not: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,756152,00.html [-psrc]
Mark replies, "True, but the Wikipedia was enough to show I was wrong about the film THE BLACK LEGION. The Black Legion was not a fictionalized version of the Klan, it was a real sub- organization of the Klan." [-mrl]
Paul continues, "When I saw http://tinyurl.com/ynkw5u ['10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies'], I immediately thought of you and Evelyn." [-psrc]
Mark replies, "I disagree with some of their choices only in that there are probably much worse historical errors in films. BRAVEHEART did have the error they mentioned but it also dramatized the Battle of Stirling Bridge without the river or the bridge. The English by crossing the narrow bridge cut their numbers in half. Half were on the far side of the river and could do nothing, the other half had the river behind them and no room to back up. William Wallace chose just the right moment to attack. In the film they dramatized the battle leaving out both the bridge and the river. To me that may be as bad as having a child seven years after he died." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE PIG THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN by Julian Baggini (ISBN-13 978-0-452-28744-0, ISBN-13 0-452-28744-8) is a collection of a hundred "thought experiments". A lot of them are science fictional in nature or origin, such as "Pre-emptive justice" from Philip K. Dick's "Minority Report" and whether "human rights" extend to aliens and/or intelligent non-human Earth species. Others are more mundane--should a Prime Minister accept a ten- million-pound bribe to provide clean water for hundreds of thousands of people in Africa in exchange for a knighthood? This is the sort of book that one cannot read straight through--you want to read one "experiment", then stop and think about it for a while.
PHYSICS FOR ENTERTAINMENT by Yakov Perelman (ISBN-13 978-1-4013-0921-3, ISBN-10 1-4013-0921-3) is a reprint of the 1936 edition of a book originally written in 1925 in Russia. (Perelman died in the Siege of Leningrad in 1942.) It consists of short articles about various aspects of physics, often tied in to science fiction. For example, Perelman discusses why Wells's Invisible Man would be blind, and why the occupants of Verne's space capsule would have problems cooking dinner. Others are straightforward looks at things like neat tricks with refraction, and why various "perpetual motion" machines aren't. This would be a great gift for a science-minded teenager. (It is also kind of cool-looking in a retro sort of way, because it uses the same plates as the 1975 Mir (Moscow) edition.)
FOLLYWOOD by Michael Hollister (ISBN-13 978-1-4208-5349-X, ISBN-10 1-4208-5349-X) shows a lot of research--in fact, that seems to be its main purpose. The book has three aspects:
But to do this, he has to re-write history to some extent. So when he reaches the climactic meeting of the Directors Guild, at which they are debating whether to require a loyalty oath, he has John Ford respond to Cecil DeMille's pushing of the oath by saying:
"I am a director of westerns. I am one of the founders of this Guild. I would like to state that I have been on Mr. Mankiewicz's side of the fight all through it. ... I don't agree with C. B. DeMille. I admire him. I don't like him, but I admire him, and without Mr. DeMille, your Guild is busted up."
What Ford actually said (according to all reports I have read), is:
"My name's John Ford. I make Westerns. I don't think there is anyone in the room who knows more about what the American public wants than Cecil B. De Mille. In that respect I admire him. But I don't like you, C. B. I don't like what you stand for and I don't like what you've been saying here tonight."
He also moved that De Mille resign from the board of directors-- hardly in keeping with what Hollister has him saying. [http://anecdotage.com/index.php?aid=2487 and others]
And Hollister also left off what DeMille was doing that was the proximate cause--reading off the names of people he thought might be Communists with a Jewish accent to emphasize that they were all Jewish.
Now, I obviously have the view that blacklist et al was a bad thing, so I may be somewhat biased here, but it seems to me that Hollister is not playing fair here. He has Ford saying, in effect, that he admires DeMille (in this debate) even though he doesn't like him, when in fact what he said was that even though he admired DeMille (as a director), he did not like him. And he leaves off some important information about how the blacklist was carried out.
Maybe I am expecting too much from a self-published book. But what we have here are recycled anecdotes, unlikely film treatments (one suspects Hollister has a secret desire to be a film writer), and a very slanted presentation of a critical period in Hollywood (and national) history. Not recommended.
Last week I wrote about how I had bought Cruden's CONCORDANCE to replace my Strong's CONCORDANCE, because Cruden's was about one tenth the size. I should have realized why. Strong's is the "*Exhaustive* Concordance of the Bible", while Cruden's is only the "*Complete* Concordance to the Holy Scriptures" [emphases mine]. :-( (Actually, part of the reason for the difference are the appendices to Strong's, which have the original Hebrew, Chaldean, and so on for various words.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement. -- Jim Horning
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