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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/26/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 13, Whole Number 1512
Table of Contents
A Fun Quiz:
Try to name all fifty states in ten minutes: http://www.ironicsans.com/state22.html.
Polish Film Posters (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Poland apparently releases international films but does their own film posters. This may be for many reasons, but one is that they are a lot better than the official film posters. Come to that they are probably frequently better than the films they're meant to advertise. Take a look at http://tinyurl.com/54wkh8. Also explore http://www.polishposter.com/. [-mrl]
Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A particularly apt item in THE ONION: http://tinyurl.com/6m9ssy. [-mrl]
This Is No Joke (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
For years the Republican Party has painted itself as the party of small government. It wanted to let financial institutions regulate and police themselves. This week we have seen where that has led. Now they are admitting that some of these institutions might just need a tad of a government handout and a little regulation to go along with it. But just in case you think this a step back toward big government they have wanted to cut the number of regulators way down. I mean *way* down. They have proposed to cut the treasury decision-making process to one person, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. In their proposed Troubled Asset Relief Program they suggest the following. (This is true!)
"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
"The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this act -- without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts."
"Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure."
How much money would Paulson have uncontrolled use of? It is seven-tenths of a trillion dollars. Does Paulson seem like the kind of person we should trust with seven-tenths of a trillion dollars? Well, after being appointed by the President he has run the treasury for the last two years and we can see what a spiffy job he has done to this point.
In ancient Rome when a crisis seemed big enough the government would just suspend itself and democracy and allow a dictator to run the empire for the duration. Now a single dictator running everything is a really small government. That may have been their best remaining option at the time. And the really scary thing is that this may be the best of our remaining options. [-mrl]
Sword and Sandal Films (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Whatever happened to old Steve Reeves movies?
Turner Classic Movies was running three "pepla" together. It gave me a sort of nostalgic feel. This is a genre of film that seems all but forgotten. I do not see books written about them. You do not see revival houses playing the films. I am a little surprised that Turner saw fit to show them. How many people today even know much about the sub-genre of historical fantasy called "pepla," or in the singular "peplum"? Taken literally, a peplum is a sort of clothing worn in ancient Greece and Rome. It is draped over the shoulder and then wrapped around the loins. In ancient Rome a peplum was a robe of state. In Italy the films are also known as "fusto" films. "Fusto" means muscleman. In this country we tended to call these films by the English name "Sword and Sandal" films. When applied to films it is a genre of film set in (usually) classical historic times with a muscle-man hero.
Today there are just a few rare little revivals. But back when I was a teenager there was a lot of pepla on Saturday night television. I think the local station called their program "Medallion Theatre." The pepla were a sort of film we associate with 1960s Italy. Actually most were made in the years from 1958 to 1968, and they were made in the hundreds. But pepla actually go back well into the silent era of filmmaking. CABIRIA (1914) was probably the first true peplum film. It had a muscleman hero named Maciste. Most of these films were not seen outside of Italy until the late 1950s.
What really got the ball rolling was Joseph E. Levine finding the film HERCULES in Italy. He dubbed it into English and released it in the United States. It had cost him next to nothing and he made a financial killing. It was not his first coup of that sort, by the way. He had previously bought the American rights to show a big-budget Japanese film called GOJIRA and which he re-cut and released as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. Hoping that lightning would strike twice he tried to repeat the trick with Hercules. And surely enough he made another killing at the box-office. HERCULES and the shortly following HERCULES UNCHAINED were the first real hits of this genre in this country. They played separately, I believe, but when the appeal died down they played together on a double feature. How anybody could stand to sit through two of these films back to back is still a mystery to me. The films tend to be these terribly uninvolving stories of not very high quality. It does not help that they are so poorly dubbed into English. The plots are mostly incoherent and usually just end up with the muscleman hero being imprisoned by a tyrant and then the hero gets angry and tears apart the kingdom. He does things like pulling trees out of the ground by the roots and bopping the tyrant with them. He then gets the girl, but he never seems to get very close because these huge inflated biceps and pectorals seem to get in the way.
When pepla proved profitable as an international product the Italian film industry started grinding them out one after another. We got a lot of the dubbed peplums over here. Only a few did I ever see playing in theaters. Perhaps they played in drive-ins. However, most went directly to television where stations could show them on programs like my Medallion Theater. Many seemed to start American body builders. Hercules was played variously by Steve Reeves, Mark Forest, and Gordon Scott. Other heroes would be named for famous strongmen of myth, history, and folklore like Samson, Goliath, Colossus, and Atlas. Then there were some with a hero known mostly only in Italy called Maciste, the fellow from CABIRIA.
Americans did not know Maciste, so frequently he got other names in the translation. He might get a name like Colossus or the Son of Samson. But if you saw the titles, he was really Maciste. Initially only Joseph E. Levine could legally release a peplum about a strongman named Hercules. But eventually it must have been decided that he did not own the name and there were several Hercules films among the pepla. For example, there was that classic HERCULES AGAINST THE MOON MEN. I know what you are thinking. That sounds to you like a silly idea for a film. The truth was, no, it was not Hercules fighting actual men from the moon. That would be ridiculous. It was Maciste fighting actual men from the moon.
In waves the Italian film industry would pick a genre that they thought would be popular and they would just make dozens of films in that genre until the market was worn out. When there was no more demand for muscleman films they moved on to other genres. I seem to remember some spy films that were a sort of an imitation of James Bond films. In 1977 and 1978 they re-geared and made a lot of space opera films. They had been making them since the early 1960s, but STAR WARS gave them a real boost. However, what they eventually made their big genre started in 1964 with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. That film basically killed the pepla film and directors like Sergio Leone and Mario Bava who had been making beefcake films switched to making Westerns or horror films.
But somewhere out there are moldering a bunch of really bad but fitfully fun films. I am hoping that Turner Classic Movies brings more of them back. [-mrl]
Macs Redux (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A few weeks ago I talked about our new Mac and its differences from the PC. Almost all the ones I listed then were favorable towards the Mac, but in fairness I now need to list some of the downsides. (I will observe that while the positive aspects are mostly immediately obvious, the negative ones seem to trickle in over time.)
As a reference point, our PC had been running Windows XP; the Mac is running Leopard.
1) As I did note, the Mac is more expensive. One friend says that it is not expensive for what you get, so this can be interpreted as Apple selling only high-end machines. If you are looking for a cheap machine for travel or whatever, the Mac isn't it.
2) It is complicated to share files between the Mac and a DOS machine. Our palmtops are DOS-based, and one has to remember to save all text files destined for the palmtop as DOS-compatible, or one loses all the line feeds. (Mac uses CR, DOS uses CR/LF.)
3) On the PC, one can selectively empty the Recycle bin. On the Mac, emptying the Trash is an all-or-nothing thing. One might ask *why* might want to selectively empty the Trash (our friend says if you're not sure you want to delete a file, then don't delete it), but nevertheless this is a capability that the PC provided that the Mac doesn't.
[If you want to keep files around for a week after having removed them, just in case, your might want to remove only the trashed files that are more than a week old. Of course you can always go back in time with the Time Machine automatic backup application. -mrl]
Luckily, UNIX can come to the rescue--you can go into the Trash directory and remove items "by hand."
4) On the PC one could plug in USB drives and then unplug them without any fuss. On the Mac, plugging in a device mounts it; one must explicitly unmount it before unplugging. I understand why this is--one must tell the Mac to flush the write cache for the device--but it was something that was done automatically on the PC.
5) And speaking of USB devices, the Mac has a bad habit of dumping all sorts of cruft on flash cards, MP3 players, etc. Whenever a USB memory device is plugged in, the Mac creates a "Spotlight" database on it to make searching it easier, and a Trash directory structure. Frankly, I don't want this stuff on my 128-megabyte MP3 player--there's little enough space as it is. I want it even less on my friend's MP3 player if she wants to download a file from my machine.
Once again, UNIX can come to the rescue--if you remember to go into the drive and remove all this stuff. For drives you keep inserting, you can tell the Mac not to "Spotlight" them and have to live with only a small file on the drive, but there is no way to tell it that the default on USB drives is no Spotlighting.
6) The Trash situation is particularly galling, because it means that when you delete files on a flash card, it just moves them to a .Trashes directory on that drive, so you don't free up any space, until you empty *all* your Trash (when the flash card is plugged in!), or until you go in with Unix to clean up the mess.
7) In addition to Spotlight files and Trash files, the Mac puts other hidden files on the USB drive. When you copy a file called xyz.csv to the drive, it also creates a hidden file called _xyz.csv in the same directory. Among other things, this means that I can't remove the directory later on the palmtop without using the MKS Toolkit programs.
8) The Mac provides a backup program, Time Machine. It works great--except when it runs into a problem during backup. Then it gives you a pop-up window that says an error occurred, and a button to click on that says "OK". There are no other choices. But clicking on the button does not make it okay. You will get this same error every hour--until you fix it. This entails going to the backup directory, finding the "in-progress" file, and dragging it into the Trash. This is, however, not documented anywhere; I found it by Googling and finding a bulletin board where someone had posted this.
9) As noted before, Office for the Mac 2008 cannot read Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, which is all my palmtop recognizes. I can export spreadsheets from the Mac to the palmtop by saving them as CSV files, munging them with sed, and then importing them into Lotus. Why do I have to munge them? Because Excel puts quotes around alphanumeric fields only if they have embedded commas, while Lotus expects any alphanumeric field to be in quotes. (Oh, and Excel treats fields formatted as currency as alphanumeric rather than numeric.) In any case, what are exported are values rather than formulae, so the exported spreadsheets are good for reference only.
[Well, MS Office problems are with MS Office and not really the Mac. There are no programmable macros. The Mac version of office tools is much weaker. The interface seems less logical and harder to use. -mrl]
10) There are programs that do not run on the Mac. The most critical (for us) is the Garmin GPS database. There is supposedly a conversion program to convert the database to a Mac, but it requires a PC to run it on (which we don't really have), and I'm still not clear on how to access the database on the Mac after that. Luckily, before we left on vacation, I created several datasets ready to copy to the GPS unit that collectively cover all of North America, so it is not critical. I suspect at some point we may buy/get a cheap laptop PC for travel, and that could handle this.
11) This last may not be a Mac thing, as I had started to notice it even on the PC. I save a web page for reading on my palmtop, only to discover that the quotation marks, apostrophes, dashes, and such show up as either "?"s or wacko character combinations (e.g., an o with an umlaut, followed by a c with a cedilla, followed by an e with an acute accent). The former is very annoying, since one cannot do global replaces to fit it--*all* the "real" characters map to the same thing: "?". The latter at least is amenable to semi-automatic correction. [-ecl]
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: One of the nearly forgotten films of the German (actually in this case Austrian) Expressionist period is the Conrad Veidt version of THE HANDS OF ORLAC. This is a seminal horror melodrama about a pianist whose hands are destroyed in a train crash and are replaced by hands taken from an executed murderer. The hands come to have a life of their own. This film was remade as the until- recently also rare MAD LOVE with Colin Clive as Orlac and with one of Peter Lorre's juiciest roles. This original version runs a little slowly by modern standards, but it has one of the great performances by the under-appreciated Conrad Veidt. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Some of the very best horror films of all time came from Germany between World War I and World War II. The German Expressionist movement gave us films like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, NOSFERATU, THE GOLEM, WAXWORKS, METROPOLIS, and M. The films of German Expressionist movement are characterized by distorted atmospheric scenery was used to reflect the twists in the minds of the characters in the story. The style was applied to other social dramas like the so-called "Street Films," but some of the great classic horror films were the mainstay of the movement. The influence of German Expressionism can be felt in the Universal horror films of the 1930s, many of which were made by German Expressionist filmmakers who fled the politics of Europe.
One of the classics of Expressionism that has not until recently been available in a watchable form is THE HANDS OF ORLAC starring Conrad Veidt. Most of us know Veidt mostly as playing villains, especially Nazis like Major Strasser in CASABLANCA. Veidt was actually a great horror actor. He was Germany's equivalent of Lon Chaney, Sr. He was not Jewish, but his wife was, so they fled the Nazis and came to the United States. But Veidt never had the career in the United States that he deserved. One of his best films after coming to the US was THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, in which his face is carved into a permanent grin. He had to convey emotions with his eyes, while the view of his whole face denied them. But getting back to THE HANDS OF ORLAC, this one of his great horror roles from his period of making films in Europe. This was the first film to use the idea that body parts might take on a life of their own, an idea used several times since. The film was remade as MAD LOVE with Peter Lorre. The story was again remade in 1960 under the titles THE HANDS OR ORLAC and THE HANDS OF A STRANGLER. But its influence can be felt in many films like THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS.
Veidt plays a concert pianist who is in a train collision. He loses his hands, but while is unconscious a notorious murderer is guillotined and Orlac's doctors transplant the hands from the corpse onto Orlac's wrists. Orlac awakes with the hands of a killer at the end of his arms. What is more, the hands seem to have a life of their own. Orlac is fixated on these hands. The Conrad Veidt version goes a little slowly as Orlac's obsession with the hands consumes the man. There are long sequences of Veidt just staring in horror at the hands on his wrist. The films picks up a little as he becomes fascinated with a strange knife, supposedly that of the killer who provided his hands. But the knife is now the murder weapon in new crimes where the fingerprints left behind are those of the guillotined killer. Veidt plays the role so that the hands seem to be the biggest thing in the frame. They seem to dominate his entire body and the hands distort the entire posture of the body. The hands seem twisted almost to suggest tarantulas.
THE HANDS OF ORLAC was based on the book LES MAINS D'ORLAC by Maurice Renard. Robert Wiene four years earlier directed THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920), really the first film of the German Expressionist Movement. That film was written Carl Mayer among others and its star was Conrad Veidt. THE HANDS OF ORLAC reunites the director, actor, and writer of that film.
The story is bizarre enough for modern audiences, but the pacing is a little slow. While it is Expressionist, it uses very different visual approaches than did THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. In the earlier film much of the psychological distortion is in the geometry of the sets. Doors were strange irregular geometric figures. Buildings leaned. There were no right angles in any of the sets. In THE HANDS OF ORLAC the buildings would fit into the real world, but they are overpoweringly big at times. Orlac's father lives in an imposing castle with high doorway arches. Hospital scenes also seem to be in rooms of infinite dimension. Much of the mood comes from atmospheric lighting.
The Criterion Collection contains an interesting account of how there are two different negatives. One made for domestic release and one for international. Some scenes were shot at the same time of the same performance but at a slightly different angle because the negatives came from two different cameras set side-by-side for the filming; other times they used two different takes. In some cases they were edited differently so some scenes are actually quite different in the domestic and international versions. In any case, this is one of the great pivotal films of early history of the horror film and it has been too hard to find for too long. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10, though comparing it to modern horror films is very much an apples-to oranges sort of comparison.
Film credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0015202/
IRRELIGION: A MATHEMATICIAN EXPLAINS WHY THE ARGUMENTS FOR GOD JUST DON'T ADD UP by John Allen Paulos (ISBN 978-0-809-05919-5) (book review by Mark R. Leeper):
This is the sort of book that was needed eventually, even though what it does is not all that difficult. John Allen Paulos is one of the county's leading essayists on the topic Mathematics and Society. Like David Krumholtz's character Charlie Eppes in television's "Numb3rs" he finds a surprising array of applications of math in everyday life. He will look at mathematical issues raised by political advertisements or the stock market or the effects on society of "innumeracy." The latter is a word of his own coinage, I believe, and is the numerical equivalent and parallel to illiteracy.
In IRRELIGION he looks at the pseudo-logical arguments believers give for the existence of God and shows the flaws in each argument. This is immediately certain to make him persona non grata in a certain sector of the religious camp. Many of these are people who consider a flawed and misleading piece of logic that still might convince someone at some level that they are right about God as being far better than an absolutely correct proof about prime numbers. By explaining the flaws he is really doing a favor for those who have accepted the arguments and/or those who use the proofs to convince others. Experience suggests, however, that the favor will not be one that is appreciated.
It should be noted the Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, is not here arguing in any way against the existence of God, though he does declare (I almost said "admit") that he is an atheist. His purpose is to show that some logical arguments, even some that some people have an emotional attachment to, are flawed and do not stand up to scrutiny. In IRRELIGION he examines twelve popular (if that is the right word) arguments used as supposed proofs to convince the credulous that there are correct and logical proofs for the existence. This is a short book, about 150 pages, and the purported proofs he examines are mostly familiar.
I admit that this whole subject has been a personal interest of mine since in High School English we read Thomas Aquinas's supposed proofs of the existence of God and claims he made that were vaguely mathematical were dead wrong. (For example he said that if something is infinite there could be no room for anything else. I knew that a line split a plane into two half planes, each of which was infinite. He said that a chain of causes could not go back infinitely but it is quite possible just as every integer on a number line is one greater than the integer to its left and there is no leftmost.) I do not blame Aquinas for not knowing the mathematics, but even today his arguments are still used to convince the credulous of the existence of God.
My rebuttals are not necessarily the same as those of Paulos, but they frequently amount to being much the same. There are limitations on what Paulos can hope to do. Showing that twelve of the most popular arguments are false lines of reasoning does not show that there does not exist someplace a logical proof. Further, even if he could show that there can be no logical proof it would still not prove the non-existence of God. The Universe just may not give us the tools to decide the question.
Paulos says what needs to be said. This book is certainly less pointed than is the recent THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins or GOD IS NOT GREAT: HOW RELIGION POISONS EVERYTHING by Christopher Hitchens. This book will not endear Paulos to the religious community. They certainly will not abandon their positions because they do not hold those positions for logical reasons in the first place. But I suspect that it will not get the rebuttals that those books got either. To correct his logic, a critic would have to be better at logic than is Paulos. That does not seem likely. [-mrl]
THE BEAT GENERATION (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's review of THE BEAT GENERATION in the 09/19/08 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein writes, "Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom was a professional boxer, not a wrestler. He was actually the Light Heavyweight world champion for a while. (So he was even more miscast as a wrestling beatnik than you thought.)" [-pir]
And Taras Wolansky notes, "It seems you left out reviewed movies' release dates this time. For example, it would be useful to know that the camp classic, The Beat Generation, was made in 1959. And not only because there was another movie with the same title in 1987. It is, indeed, embarrassing to see once-proud MGM trying to compete in the exploitation market with Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures. [-tw]
Mark responds, "You are right about the missing date in the BEAT GENERATION review. It was my editing error. The year made it into the Internet posting, but I did not catch it in time to get it into the VOID version. I too found it strange that MGM was making a film so like an American International film, but I suppose they needed to fill the bottom half of double bills." [-mrl]
Blatant Prejudice (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's question, "Why is it always Christmas" and not a Jewish holiday in World War II movies like A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977), Taras Wolansky writes, "According to 1942 War Office statistics, the British Army was 98.5% Christian and 1.1% Jewish. See GOD AND THE BRITISH SOLDIER by Michael Snape (Routledge, 2005) in books.google.com." [-tw]
Mark replies, "I cannot verify your figures for the British army, but they sound about right. And far fewer of them get much advancement. I guess that is a holdover in one way or the other from earlier times. The Jews wanted to set up Jewish Brigades, but Chamberlain would not allow it. Churchill was less resistant and toward the end of the war the percentages went up. There are a lot more Jews in the American military. My brother-in-law is a colonel in the Army Reserve. My uncle fought in Europe in WWII." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In THE VALLEY-WESTSIDE WAR by Harry Turtledove (ISBN-13 978-0-765-31487-1, ISBN-10 0-765-31487-8), Turtledove is definitely falling into bad habits. A family with a teenage daughter is sent to a parallel world which seems safe at first. Then war breaks out and they are threatened. But their return to their home world in the middle is too easy and the return to the now-dangerous Valley- Westside world *with the daughter* makes no sense. But even more annoying: how many times does Turtledove need to say that they add brandy to the water to avoid the runs, or that they have to kill and prepare their own chickens? I swear he does each at least three times. This seems left over from those multi-volume books, where he repeated all the background in each book, but here it's one short book. And there is no real resolution at the end. I don't *think* he's going to write a sequel, but it sure looks like it's set up to allow it.
PLAYBACK by Raymond Chandler (ISBN-13 978-0-394-75766-7, ISBN-10 0-394-75766-1) is the seventh and last Philip Marlowe novel. Written in 1958, well after the other six (THE BIG SLEEP, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, THE HIGH WINDOW, THE LADY OF THE LAKE, THE LITTLE SISTER, and THE LONG GOODBYE--and, yes, he wrote them all in alphabetical order!), it is, alas, a pale shadow of Chandler's peak. It is remarkable to realize that Chandler's reputation is based on such a small number of novels, but then Jane Austen only wrote six novels and Oscar Wilde's reputation as a dramatist is based on nine plays, of which only five have achieved classic status.
Anyone who has seen the movie CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman should read the original play by Tennessee Williams (ISBN-13 978-0-811-21601-2, ISBN-10 0-811-21601-2) to get some idea of how restricted filmmakers were in 1958. Among other things, one could see the entire movie without understanding why Scooter committed suicide. On the other hand, we recently watched AIRPLANE!, a movie that got a PG rating in 1980, and would probably get an R rating now! [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you." -- attributed to Ronald Reagan
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