MT VOID 09/12/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 11, Whole Number 1510

MT VOID 09/12/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 11, Whole Number 1510

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/12/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 11, Whole Number 1510

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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

A Case of the Biter Bit (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Steve Lelchuk points out to me that even viruses get viruses that prey on them. Amoeba have now been found suffering from attack by smaller viruses. See

I was going to be witty and quote Swift:

Big fleas have little fleas That on their bodies bite em And little fleas have littler fleas And so ad infinitum --Jonathan Swift

But it turns out just about anybody commenting on this discovery draws the same connection. [-mrl]

What Is the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Part 1: Humans) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

An old Frank Zappa song asked the musical question "What is the ugliest part of your body?" It answered, "Some think it's your nose, others think it's your toes. I think it's your mind." Well, that was Frank Zappa, and he made a living be being a little weird. But I have some thoughts on the subject. This may sound like an unpleasant topic for an essay, but bear with me. I think there are some interesting ideas to point out. Don't worry. I do not intend to get too explicit or vulgar.

First, we have to choose who gets to decide this issue? You can decide for yourself. But that would be just one person's opinion, albeit the owner of the body. You have grown used to your body. What is ugliest to you might not be what is ugliest to others. I have always had the opinion that we find the situation ugly that we have bodies at all. Humans are bodies that have minds. Most of the things that ennoble us are concerned with our minds. Many things that we find embarrassing are really reminders that this mind has this animal body hanging from it. The body makes bad smells and funny embarrassing noises. It is the part we need to use in order to reproduce. I believe we like to think of each other with minds but just do what we can with the bodies. The cosmetics industry and the perfume industry and so many industries are built around people not wanting to accept that animal body they have and trying to replace it with something that will be more acceptable or even appealing. On a different level the fashion industry and the jewelry industry are all about decorating this thing, which is also a sign of non-acceptance. When you get together with friends, you do not want your body to suddenly do something that will remind others that you have brought your animal body into their presence.

I am told most women who choose would say that it is their nose they would like to change about their body. There may be parts that are more off-putting, but generally they are hidden away from people. Unless you are a devout Muslim woman, odds are your nose sticks out there for the world to see. Basically our air passages, which carry ugly mucus, still are the front-most part of our faces. I think we are a little ashamed of our noses in a way we are oddly not ashamed of our ears, which also are usually visible. Our ears are a weird pattern of ridges and valleys that also vary a great deal. For most people our ears are not really an embarrassment, though they could easily be. They seem to have the greatest degree of variation of any visible part of the body. But for most people this weird almost arbitrary pattern does not seem to be what bothers them most. The most common complaint I have heard about ears is that they stick out. One part that is semi-private and semi-public is the armpit. Unless at the beach or for women on stylish occasions we tend to think of the armpit as being one of the private parts of the body. However, as people get elderly and have to be lifted and carried by others it is the first locus of privacy that has to become less private. If other people are going to help you out of a car or into a wheelchair the armpit is the obvious and most stable handle with which to lift you. It is probably the first indignity, the first privacy that the elderly give up.

All this is, I believe, somewhat universal. But what is there about us that is more culturally dependent? When we traveled in China us Americans thought that the local Chinese, who at that time had seen many Americans, would call us "round-eyes." That was the appellation we gave ourselves. We imagined they would say things like "this round-eyes tried to argue about the price." Well that was projecting our own prejudices on them. It is not that they do not have prejudices, but we were picking the wrong ones basing them on our own prejudices. We see them as being "slant-eyed" or at least notice their eyes have epicanthic folds. Since eyes are the first things we notice is different in their faces, we reason that is the first thing we assume they pick out about us. In fact it is not. As far as I know the Chinese never make fun of our eyes. If they pick out a feature about our faces that is different and to them bizarre it is--you were right, ladies--our noses. The Chinese think that Western people have big noses. Few Chinese have big schnozzles like we do. There was a little marginal joke to this effect in the film IRON AND SILK about an American teacher, the only Westerner, in a Chinese school. You see his dorm room where students visit him. On the door to announce that this is the room of the American he had hung giant plaster nose. There is no mention of it in the dialog. It is just a little reference to the fact that this is how he identifies himself to the Chinese. This is the guy with the big nose. I don't think that they call him big-nose however. The proper improper name for a Westerner is (I hope I get this phonetically correct) "gwei-lo" for a man and "gwei-muy" for a woman. The name means "white ghost." Apparently it is our paleness that calls attention to itself.

But is that really an alien culture. Well, it is more alien than most people realize. But next week I want to go really alien. I have made some observations about what animals find off-putting about the human body. [-mrl]

Macs (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Last week I wrote about our (hasty) transition to the Mac. This week I'll give my early observations on the Mac.

1) It's quieter. The old PC had constant noises coming from the tower (the hard drive, one assumes). The Mac is basically silent (except when the external hard drive spins up.

2) It's faster. It's much faster loading web pages, and it is *unbelievably* faster copying files. For example, copying 2Gb of files on the PC took at least two hours. It takes less than five minutes on the Mac.

3) It's darker. In part this is because when it goes to sleep, there are no lit LEDs on a tower, or backlit power button on the monitor. But it is also because we have only one external hard drive attached, and it is hidden *behind* the monitor/CPU rather than on the floor. Counteracting this, we still have the power light on the external speakers. The Mac has internal speakers, but to pipe the output into our cassette recorder and still get sound from the Mac, we need to use external speakers.

4) Did I mention it's faster?

5) It runs Unix. And it comes with vi. I hadn't used vi in seven years, yet within five minutes I was positioning and inserting and yanking and putting like old times. And writing shell programs comes back just as fast.

6) There's less housekeeping. We don't need to run virus checkers, spyware checkers, or additional firewalls. We don't need to defrag the disk every week.

7) Did I mention it's faster?

8) I can vacuum the floor under the desk. The PC tower (and all the cabling to it) made vacuuming there basically impossible, and dust bunnies thrived. Nothing in the iMac is on the floor.

9) I like the new thin aluminum keyboard. (Mark doesn't.)

[I don't know why I have this problem and Evelyn doesn't, but it does not register when I hit a key. This is particularly true of the space key. I frequently find words runtogether. ?mrl]

10) The CD burner works. I know, you'd expect that, but the CD burner in our PC died a year ago, and we've been struggling along without it. (We would do things like take an external drive with files over to a friend's house and burn disks there. :-( )

11) And now for the downsides. There are 5 USB ports, but the keyboard and mouse take up two, and the printer and external drive takes two more, leaving one to be shared among the card reader, the iPod, my MP3 player, the other external drive, and anything else that comes along. (We have a small hub, but it gets really hot, so I prefer not to use it.)

12) It's not cheap. You know the saying, "Cheap. Fast. Good. Choose two." (Many argue that with PCs you get only one.) Still, with the two of us sharing it, the speed is very useful.

13) And, as I noted last week, there are definite compatibility issues with our palmtops. MS Office 2008 for the Mac does not read Lotus 1-2-3 files (when did they drop support for these?), and does not export any format importable by the Lotus 1-2-3 on my palmtop. I can understand that it exports values, not formulas, but why can't I specify that *all* alphanumeric fields should be enclosed in quotation marks?

As for files, one can export text files from MS Word in PC-DOS format. It is a bit tricky writing/editing files back and forth between the two formats, but I think I'm getting the hang of it, and a couple of Unix filters should do the trick. [-ecl]

[I won't write a separate article, but I do like some of the services it provides as part of the operating system, but which are very different from PCs. It keeps track of every file for you. If I want to find an article I wrote about squirrels and cayenne I just tell its file program (finder) I want to find the file in which I use the words "squirrels" and "cayenne" and it finds it in seconds. That is a little spooky. There is much less emphasis on knowing where a file actually is located. It is definitely a Cadillac system. -mrl]

TRAITOR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: TRAITOR starts with the complexity and credibility of a John LeCarre spy story and transforms itself into an action thriller of the Frederick Forsyth mold. A man of Sudanese and American origins is recruited into a terrorist organization in Yemen. He works his way toward a large terrorist strike as two FBI agents struggle to track him down, confounded as much by their own organization as by the secrecy of their enemy. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Samir Horn as a boy saw his father killed in a booby-trapped car. As a man Samir (played by Don Cheadle) still does not know if Islamists killed the father if it was United States agents. Now as a man he has entered the same game. He sells weapons to terrorist organizations in Yemen. In the course of selling Semtex explosives to one group he meets Omar (Said Taghmaoui), a terrorist lieutenant. Omar at first distrusts Samir but becomes impressed by Samir's sincerity and his devotion to Islam. Soon Samir and Omar are partners in planning Islamist terror operations. Meanwhile the FBI and another organization--unnamed but very likely the CIA-- cooperate and compete to get information about the Islamist group and the operation they are planning. FBI Agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough) are in Yemen, well beyond their jurisdiction, to attack terrorist cells. They temporarily capture Samir and Omar. Meanwhile Carter (Jeff Daniels) from another intelligence organization tries to ace them at their own game. Samir and Omar work to put together a sort of super strike that will rival September 11 and strike even harder into the American Heartland.

Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who co-wrote the screenplay for THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, here directs as well as having co-written the screenplay with the many-faceted Steve Martin. The story is written with a strong feeling for the fog of war. The United States anti- terrorism organizations collaborate as a team, but only to the minimum degree that the government tolerates or just a little bit less. The terrorist cells they are investigating are little better and nobody on either side has any idea who they can trust. Both sides are riddled with incompetence and outright betrayal. Loyalties are divided and tested. Like a Bond or Bourne film the story hops over much of the world with settings in Yemen, Sudan, France, The US, and Canada. One peculiarity is that while much of the Islamists' dialog is their own language, they seem to use more English than one would expect. This relieves the audience of the burden of the subtitles, but it does not seem realistic.

Samir's character is very much at the heart of this story. Cheadle's performance forms the core of this film. Basically a good man, he is pulled into the vortex of the world of terrorism. He combines intellect and a sort of weariness. Clearly there is a lot going on under the surface of this man, and as the film progresses we get an understanding that there is even more than we realized. This is a man being torn by divided loyalties. It is hard to see him as a bad guy. The two FBI agents tracking Samir are a little more clich‚d as a slightly mismatched team. Max Archer is a big man, thoughtless and a little tactless. Roy Clayton is an intellectual and a Southerner (with a reasonably convincing accent from British/Australian Guy Pierce).

Much of the fascination of TRAITOR is the view of how the terrorists work and how FBI and CIA fail to cooperate. We also get a better feel for American vulnerability in this conflict. Occasionally things are a little more sugarcoated than one would want, but for most of the story the feel is realistic, up to but not including the climax. I rate TRAITOR a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:


The Science Fiction Book Club (letter of comment by Joe Karpierz):

In response to Evelyn's article on the Science Fiction Book Club in the 08/29/08 issue of the MT VOID, Joe Karpierz writes:

Both my wife and I had memberships for some reason, so I dropped mine years ago. I had originally joined the club back when I was in high school because the books were cheap and they were hardcover. These days, I don't see much price advantage to buying a book club edition, and by the time shipping is added on the books generally cost more than what I can pay at Amazon or even my local Barnes and Noble. Plus, as you allude to, the selection is very poor, at least in my opinion. The only reason I can see to hold on to our membership is to be able to buy an SFBC original, which I did recently when I finally bought Galactic Empires, something that's been on my "to buy" stack for quite a while now. [-jk]

Corrections (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):

In response to the 09/05/08 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

The "Second Galaxy" in the "Lensman" series was Lundmark's Nebula, not Andromeda.

The author of "Answer" was Fredric Brown, not Frederic. [-dg]

Jews and Chinese Food (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris) :

In response to Mark's article on Jews and Chinese food in the 08/29/08 issue of the MT VOID, Charles Harris writes:

If I'm remembering correctly, Arthur Schwartz offers an alternative (not very persuasive) hypothesis about Jews' fondness for Chinese food:

    The Leonard Lopate Show
    Revisiting Yiddish Recipes
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Arthur Schwartz talks about Eastern European Jewish home 
    cooking -    from cholent, to Hungarian shlishkas - and tells 
    us where in New York are the best places to get Jewish food. 
    His new book is Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish 
    Recipes Revisited.


Mark replies, "His explanation is very similar to Jennifer 8. Lee's explanation. I think one of them got it from the other." [-mrl]

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

Our science fiction group read the short story "The Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick. This tied in with the lectures on values Mark and I have been listening to, particularly those on the legal system and punishment. One of the big questions in the lectures was why the crime of "attempted X" almost always carries a lesser penalty than the crime of "X" and whether this is justifiable. I cannot remember if it discussed the crime of conspiracy as well, but that certainly fits in with Dick's notion of Pre-Crime, the Pre-Crime police force implementing what might be considered a very well- informed campaign against conspiracies, even those of which the person or persons involved may be unaware. Manzanar, Guantanamo Bay, ...,--all these seem like merely imperfect implementations of Dick's Pre-Crime. (And though Dick's hero makes sure Pre-Crime survives--for the good of society--it is worth noting that he himself manages to escape it and head for the frontier, where presumably things are more like the Wild West and Pre-Crime doesn't exist.)

Of course, the scientific (or rather logical) basis of precognition has some flaws. For the story to work at all, we must accept that precognition is accurate. Assume the pre- cogs see a murder and Pre-Crime arrests the (potential) murderer, thereby preventing the murder. But then their prediction is not accurate, because there is no murder. There seem to be only two possibilities. One, preventing the crime changes the timeline to one not seen by the pre-cogs. Or two, the precognition is merely probabilistic. Neither one sounds very convincing, although either explanation is consistent with Dick's notion of a minority report.

The original discussion group read CHRIST THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT by Anne Rice (ISBN-13 978-0-345-492739, ISBN-10 0-345-49273-0), and that also seemed to have a logic problem. It is the story of Jesus, told from his point of view. This volume covers his childhood, and is written as though by a boy of ten (or so). However, as someone pointed out, it was obviously written much later, when he was older, so it should not have the "voice" of a ten-year-old. But my complaint is deeper. The premise of the book is that the tenets of Christianity are correct. This means, as I understand that Jesus is basically God. And God is omniscient. So why doesn't the young Jesus *know* he is the Messiah, and what is in store for him? (I'm sure that the answer that Jesus started as fully and solely human and became divine only later is some sort of heresy--possibly adoptionism.)

(In one of the more interesting typos I've seen, this meeting was listed on the library's web page schedule as discussing CHRIS THE LORD: OUT OF EGYPT.)

For book-lovers, I have to recommend "Imaginary Books in Speculative Fiction" by Robert Bee ("New York Review of Science Fiction", June 2008). Jorge Luis Borges, Stanislaw Lem, and H. P. Lovecraft are the obvious authors to cover, but Bee covers many others as well.

I'm trying to brush up my Spanish by reading more in it. As a sort of warm-up exercise, I am trying a translation of Agatha Christie's MURDER IS EASY in Spanish (MATAR ES FACIL). I realize that a translation from English into Spanish is not the best example of Spanish literature, but it does refresh my mind on verb tenses and build up my vocabulary. However, I am having a strange problem. The book is a paperback, and all three of my Spanish-English dictionaries are paperbacks. So if I want to look up a word, I have to close the book and set it down, then pick up the dictionary and look up the word, then pick up the book and find my place again. The closest thing I have to a Spanish-English dictionary in hardback is a Portuguese illustrated dictionary--not Portuguese-English, but just Portuguese. It's not much help. The ability to have a book lie open on a desk without requiring any hands is really useful, and I'd be happy either way: a hardback novel could be set down open while I looked up the word; a hardback dictionary could be flipped through with one hand while holding the book with the other. [-ecl]

[Have you tried using bookmarks? -mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           You don't have to fool all the people all of the time; 
           you just have to fool enough to get elected.
				          -- Gerald Barzan

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