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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/17/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 16, Whole Number 1515
Table of Contents
Concert (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I went to a classical chamber music concert. But when I was sitting down they slammed the door of the classical chamber and piped in "Classical Gas". [-mrl]
Great Minds? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just finished writing about product placements in films and the IO9 site just did a piece tracing the history of product placements in science fiction films:
The Financial Crisis for Dummies (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Of late I have been looking for sources that can explain this county's financial woes in clear lucid form. I am, after all, not an investment banker. (At least I am not one to my knowledge. Things change quickly these days.) Anyway if you listen to discussions and explanations you soon find yourself sinking in the La Brea Financial Technical Jargon Pit. I have found three sources that are trying to explain the crisis clearly and cleanly.
I listen regularly to Chicago Public Radio's program The American Life. They did a program explaining the mortgage crisis that I thought explained things as they stood at the time fairly lucidly. It can be found for listening online or for downloading a transcript at:
They have done a couple other programs since and they do have a talent for talking about financial matters in a way the listener can understand. (I will give you more links later.)
Apparently someone at National Public Radio International decided there was room for new program that on a periodic basis would explain finance for dummies. They named the new program Planet Money. Sadly for them they came on board just as the balloon went up. For now their periodic broadcasts are every weekday. Operating that fast they are losing the battle against jargon, but still much of what they say is interesting and comprehensible.
They recommended another good site, The Baseline Scenario. They have a good explanation and links to several of the above sites. It would be a good idea to explore these sites. They make this material really fairly interesting. That is at:
And check out the various links off this page.
I was considering turning all I learned from these sites into an editorial, but who would believe I knew anything about the financial crisis? Worse yet, they might assume I know more than I actually do and start asking me questions I didn't understand. I decided it was best to just tell people where to look. [-mrl]
Goya Come to Joisey (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Those readers who live near Rutgers University have an unusual opportunity. (But even if you don't live there I have links below so you can still have the same experience.) From now to December 14, 2008, the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (really the art museum of the Rutgers Campus) is having an exhibition (free with the $3 general museum admission) called "Dark Dreams: The Prints of Francisco Goya". The main part of the exhibit is prints from "Los Caprichos" and "Los Disparates".
These prints and I go back a long way. Back when I was fourteen or fifteen I loved monster stories. (Come to think of that, I never grew out of it.) I found a book called MONSTERS GALORE by Bernhardt J. Hurwood. This book collected classic stories, fiction, and folklore about monsters. The book was illustrated with pictures of monsters from folklore including Japanese prints of Yokai monsters, woodcuts of werewolves, penny-dreadful illustrations, detail from the work of Hieronymous Bosch, and five or six prints from "Los Caprichos" ("The Caprices"). The prints showed gargoyle-like creatures paring their toenails, people who were half-human and half animal, bird creatures, and witches flying. What is more they were considered to be fine art. It was the first inclination I remember seeing that fine art and my pet interests need not have been in separate worlds.
Dover Books had low-priced editions not just of "Los Caprichos" but also of the similar prints in "Los Disparates", so I got to own the complete set. And I think when I visited the Prado in Madrid I saw the original prints of the complete set (along with a nice collection of other surrealist masters such as Bosch and Brueghel). Being prints, there are more than one copy of "Los Caprichos" and "Los Disparates" going around to art museums, and this was a chance to see them in the original form.
The two sets of prints are really sort of political cartoons, but they are nightmarish images of grotesquely distorted people and animals and things that appear to be combinations of both and other monsters. People are often very ugly, but it is a beautiful and fascinating ugliness. "The Caprichos" often are on the theme that the imagination without reason produces nightmares and monsters. The individual prints, like the stories in GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, may have lost their contemporary context, but the images are unforgettable. See for yourself at the link below. With "Los Caprichos" Goya satirizes the Church, ignorance, class, courtship, marriage, and the Inquisition. Goya gives us eighty images that have a sort of evolution. He starts with distorted satirical pictures of the people around him. Some of the situations are just exaggerated and some are rather bizarre. About his 19th image he starts having creatures half human and half chicken. By his 37th he has anthropoid donkeys. One has a donkey looking at pictures of his ancestors to be certain they are of pure blood, much as Inquisition used to discriminate the pure-blooded Spanish from those who had Jewish or Muslim blood. At number 43 he has an illustration that the sleep of reason creates monsters. After that the images are perfect for the Halloween season. In one a person seems more goat than human. Winged gargoyles fly the night and trim their toenails. Witches ride brooms.
Goya first offered the set for sale in 1799, but the Inquisition was not happy about the way they criticized Spanish society in general and the Inquisition in particular. Goya had to remove them from sale. Instead he gave or sold them to the King, so few copies remain.
To see Los Caprichos see http://www.gasl.org/refbib/Goya__Caprichos.pdf.
For translations of the captions see http://goya.unizar.es/infoGoya/Work/CaprichosIcn.html.
Goya followed up this collection with 22 more etchings, "Los Disparates" ("The Follies"). These are in somewhat the same vein, but more reserved. These were drawn from 1816 to 1824. The prints were not published until Goya's death and even the order he wanted them shown or if the set is complete is unknown. The quality of some of the prints rivals his earlier work, but in general the set is not as well remembered. The sketches can be seen from links from http://eeweems.com/goya/disparates_01.html.
Or you can go to the art museum at Rutgers and see the real prints. Not a bad outing for the Halloween season. [-mrl]
Politics (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am reading a book about Jorge Luis Borges (and so yet another Borgesian column will eventually appear), but this quote from Borges is far too topical to hold until then:
"Creo que ningun politico puede ser una persona totalamente sincera. Un politico esta buscando siempre electores y dice lo que esperan que diga. En el caso do un discurso politico los que opinan son los oyentes. mas que el orador. El orador es una especia de espejo o eco de lo que los demas piensan. Si no es asi, fracasa."
Which I translate as:
"I believe that no politician can be a wholly sincere person. A politician is always looking at the voters and says what they want him to say. On the case of a political discourse it is the listeners whose opinion is expressed more than the speaker's. The speaker is a type of mirror or echo of what others think. If this is not so, he loses." [-ecl]
[This makes politicians almost God-like. I notice that God always seems to say exactly what his listener is pre-disposed to hear. What the audience loves, God loves. What the audience hates, God hates. -mrl]
WE ARE WIZARDS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The growing phenomenon of fandom of the Harry Potter books and films is examined in several of its manifestations in this documentary. From four-year-old "Wizard Rock" punk rock stars to the Warner Brothers battle to close down the web sites of fans of their own films director Josh Koury looks at the multiple threads of the Potter fandom movement. He goes back and forth among the threads, but he could have used a few more threads and his camera was not always on the most interesting material. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Somewhere in another part of the forest, where Muggles like me do not see it, there has grown a huge fandom for Harry Potter. I mean, if you think that "Star Wars" had a big fan base, it was Yoda-sized compared to Potter fandom. If you thought "Star Trek" had an active fandom, they were Hortas compared to Potter fandom. WE ARE WIZARDS examines the growing phenomenon of Harry Potter fandom, but sadly not nearly with the breadth that we might have hoped for. WE ARE WIZARDS is a new documentary that examines eight or nine threads of the Harry Potter phenomenon and follows people who are major figures in the subculture of fans.
The inspiration for WE ARE WIZARDS could have been Roger Nygard's TREKKIES. That film was an examination of many of the various breeds of Star Trek Fandom. But Nygard's film had a lot more scope and covered a lot more threads of its movement. This film is more diffuse and follows three or four Harry Potter rock bands, some people who maintain fan web sites, a religious zealot who is convinced that kids reading fantasy stories about wizards will destroy the fabric of the country, etc. They form a mosaic of the fandom that has come out of J. K. Rowling's books and people reacting to it.
One Harry Potter rock group is the Hungarian Horntails. They are made up of two children: Darius Wilkins, age seven at the time the film was made; and Holden Wilkins, age four. These two kids seems to be rock stars in spite of the fact that at this age they can do little more than scream songs like "Dragon Rock Rules" while Darius runs his hand over a guitar making sound but not music. The lyrics for that song seem to be just yelling the title phrase into the microphones over and over again. It is remarkable that they are rock stars at such a young age and have a large following, but it may say more about their fans than it does about them themselves.
Examples of their music can be found at http://www.myspace.com/thehungarianhorntails.
Another thread has self-appointed religious advocate and cult expert Caryl Matrisciana warning of the extreme dangers of children being seduced into the dark world of the occult by Harry Potter. Matrisciana made an anti-Potter film on what she calls "the dangers and realities of witchcraft." She does not specify here exactly what specific dangers she sees, but she seems to imply that witchcraft really exists and that letting children read the Potter books gives them over to what she calls "the dark world of vampires, lizards, serpents,..." Her world is more frightening than theirs is.
Director Josh Koury shows us other wizard rock bands including Harry and the Potters which offers not one but two Harry Potters, on a younger Potter and one an older one. Other groups are Draco and the Malfoys, and The Whomping Willows. And we meet Heather Lawver who ran Potter fandom website until Warner Brothers lived up to their name and threatened fans not to use copyright material, which is just about everything about Potter. Lawver responded by organizing an international boycott of Warner Brothers Potter materials.
There is probably much more material that Koury does not show us that would be more of interest than some of what he does. For reasons known best to him he chooses to have us see Darius and Holden playing like most children do and sometimes arguing in the backseat of their car. He cannot have been that surprised that the brothers behave like other children of their age even if they are rock stars. Why Koury thinks the audience needs to see it is a mystery. A little Wizard Rock seems to go a long way, and not unexpectedly did not do a lot for my Puccini-loving ears.
Koury far too much seems to have just let the camera run on his subjects. There is no story to the film as there is with a documentary such as HOOP DREAMS. Instead we just see people doing their thing. And their thing too frequently fails to seem noteworthy. I came away from the film wanting to tell cult-expert Caryl Matrisciana that just because these kids say they are wizards does not mean that there is really anything magical about them. And I think I would like to tell the kids the same thing. I rate WE ARE WIZARDS low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://tinyurl.com/weRwizards
Product Placement and ROLLBACK (letter of comment by Robert Sawyer):
In response to Susan de Guardiola's letter about the appearance of the Atkins Diet in Robert Sawyer's book ROLLBACK in the 10/10/08 issue of the MT VOID, Robert Sawyer writes:
First, Atkins didn't pay me a penny. I've never taken a cent from anyone to promote anything anywhere.
And I don't know any author who has ever gotten any sort of product-placement payment, and *especially* not in science fiction. Do you know why ANALOG and ASIMOV'S have so few pages of ads? BECAUSE NO ONE WILL BUY THEM, even at $900 (cost of a full page in one of those magazines).
That is, despite having a full-time ad sales department at Dell Magazines, they've never been able to convince, even once, any major advertising account outside of SF book and DVD publishers, to pony up what is a trivial amount of money by Madison Avenue standards for FULL PAGE ADS in a science-fiction magazines--and you have visions of big-bucks checks being cut for SINGLE-SENTENCE mentions of something that isn't even a product (you don't have to buy ANYTHING to do Atkins; it doesn't require special foodstuffs the way, say, Weight Watchers, does)? Puh-leeze.
Second, the word "Atkins" appears exactly four times in the novel (two of which are adjacent to each other); the brand name "Scrabble" appears 24 times. And, no, Hasbro didn't pay me a cent, either. And, by the way, "Coke" and "Pizza Hut" each appear twice, and no one found this remarkable, so I guess the threshold of suspicion is somewhere between three and four total mentions (out of 100,000 words) ... ;)
Third, the last of the four references to Atkins is a negative one: In reference to what the demonstrably more advanced Dracons eat, Sarah says, "I'm afraid Atkins didn't catch on beyond Earth; it's mostly carbohydrates."
Fourth, the choice of Atkins is in service of the theme of the book, and it's not even subtext; it's spelled out explicitly in Chapter 7. Atkins demonstrably works -- that is, it takes weight off, and does so quickly. But if you want to keep the weight off, you have to stay on Atkins FOR DECADES. It's the SETI of diets: it is NOT for the impatient, it's NOT something that you can do without a long-term commitment. You want to talk to the stars? Sure, banging out a signal, or picking one up, is quick and easy, but after that it's a lifelong commitment. You want to take weight off? Easy. You want to KEEP weight off? It's a lifelong commitment. In the book, Sarah talks the talk, and Don walks the walk.
Fifth, the fact that Don is slim in his eighties (and also when he appears to be in his twenties for the second time), but was not when he was actually young, is also in service of the book's story. He's not supposed to be a callous, bad guy, you know, and it was important to show that the notion of a beautiful twenty-something coming on to him was something he'd never had any experience with the first time around, and so he was unprepared for and caught off guard by Lenore's actions. [-rs]
AT&T (letter of comment by Steve Lelchuk):
In response to Mark's comments on AT&T in the 10/10/08 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Lelchuk writes, "Not to mention the consequences for AT&T of cooperation in illegal wiretapping (assuming no retroactive immunity, of course!)." [-sl]
Product Placement and the Disney Channel (letter of comment by Dave Anolick):
In response to Mark's comments on product placement in the 10/10/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dave Anolick writes:
I'm confused by your comment that: "The Walt Disney Company is considering the possibility of moving the Disney Channel to free broadcast. ... They make far more money from advertising than they make from Disney Channel subscriptions. "
Do you mean they are considering moving from basic cable to on the air free like NBC broadcast from NYC?
Disney went from paid subscription on cable (like HBO/Showtime/etc) to basic more than 10 years ago. [-da]
Take what I say here with a grain of salt. I do not know this business very well. I will give you my interpretation.
When you get basic cable you pay the provider a fixed rate and get many stations that the cable company gives you as a package they call "basic service." But I believe some of what they give you as part of their basic service they have to pay for (like a restaurant has to pay for the napkins they give you sort of "for free").
Disney is going to a new business model where they are "free-to- air." I believe that means that they will satellite-broadcast an unencrypted signal, charging nobody for it assuming they have the equipment to pick it up. They expect advertising, explicit and implicit, to foot the bill. [-mrl]
To which Dave answers:
That makes sense to me. I don't understand the business either. I do remember about ten years ago it was a big deal when they switched from subscription like HBO/Showtime to basic cable.
And my kids love the Disney Channel, but I never would have paid for it. [-da]
Product Placement in THE LAST MIMZY (letter of comment by Frank Leisti):
In response to Taras Wolansky's letter on product placement in THE LAST MIMZY in the 10/10/08 issue of the MT VOID, Frank Leisti writes:
I believe that the interesting part was that the corporate name was present at the microscopic level. I wonder if we will soon be building a world where everything created will have identification marks and serial numbers so that any and all parts can be identified and tracked through all transactions giving a complete history of the individual parts and the whole.
They currently have manufacturers putting in polymer markers in explosives, and printers are now getting setup to print on each page information about the printer--so that if necessary, government can track who bought the item. [-frl]
And Mark replies, "Now that you mention the placement, I remember it. Thanks." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently read a selection of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS (a.k.a. "Kitab Alf Laylah wa Laylah", a.k.a. "Mille et une Nuits", a.k.a. "The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night", a.k.a. "1001 Nights"), in this case the Barnes & Noble edition (ISBN-13 978-1-59308-281-9, ISBN-10 1-59308-281-9).
When talking about THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, one is almost obliged to talk about the various translations. The translation I read was by H. W. Dulcken (also spelled Dulken) (1863-1865) from Antoine Galland's French translation (1704-1712). As a sample passage, consider the beginning of "The History of the First Calender, the Son of a King":
"That you may know, madam, how I lost my right eye, and the reason why I have been obliged to take the habit of a calendar, I must begin by telling you, that I am the son of a King. My father had a brother, who, like himself, was a monarch, and this brother ruled over a neighbouring state. He had two children, a son and a daughter; the former of whom was about my age."
By comparison, Edward William Lane's translation (1840) calls it "The First Mendicant's Story of the Royal Lovers" and starts:
"Know, O my mistress, that the cause my my having shaved my beard and of the loss of my eye was this: -- My father was a King, and he had a bother who was also a King, and resided in another capital. It happened that my mother gave birth to me on the same day on which the son of my uncle was born; and years and days passed away until we attained to manhood."
And Sir Richard Francis Burton's translation (1879-1888) calls the story "The First Kalandar's Tale" and begins:
"Know, O my lady, that the cause of my beard being shorn and my eye being out-torn was as follows. My father was a King and he had a brother who was a King over another city; and it came to pass that I and my cousin, the son of my paternal uncle, were both born on one and the same day. And years and days rolled on; and as we grew up, ..."
Obviously, which one prefers stylistically is a matter of taste, but the consensus seems to be that Lane "toned down" some of the scenes, and Dulcken bowdlerized them even further, while Burton left it all in. On the other hand, Dulcken's translation stressed readability, which I think one might agree is not a strong point of the Burton translation. Even Jorge Luis Borges, in his lecture "The Thousand and One Nights", says that Burton writes "in a curious English partly derived from the fourteenth century, an English full of archaisms and neologisms, an English not devoid of beauty but which at times is difficult to read." (It should be noted that English, not Spanish, was actually Borges's first language.)
By the way, Borges confirms Burton's "raciness", saying that he loved THE ARABIAN NIGHTS when he was young, but, "La obra de Burton, llena de lo que entonces era considerado obsceno, me estaba prohibida y tenía que leerla a escondidas en la azotea. Pero en aquella época yo estaba tan entusiasmado con el mágico que no prestaba atención a las partes censurables." ["Burton"s work, full of what was then considered obscene, was forbidden to me and I had to read it secretly on the roof. But at that time I was so enthusiastic about the magic that I did not pay any attention to the censurable parts."]
Borges also says, "The Arabs say that no one can read THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS to the end." He adds, "Not for reasons of boredom: one feels the book is infinite," perhaps to head off anyone from responding, "That's because they are reading the Burton translation." Borges also provides an example of how one must be cautious of reading too much into a work from a translation. He describes the story of the fisherman and the genie as saying that the fisherman goes down to "a sea" and casts his nets. "Already," Borges says, "the expression 'a sea' is magical, placing us in a world of undefined geography. The fisherman doesn't go down to *the* sea, he goes down to *a* sea and casts his net." This may be true in some translations, but Dulcken says, when [the fisherman] had got to the sea-shore..." No indefinite article here (although no specific sea is named either). Lane says, "One day he went forth at the hour of noon to the shore of the sea..." Even Burton says, One day he went forth about noontide to the sea shore...."
Lane and Burton provided notes; indeed, Lane's notes are now considered the main "selling point" of his translation. My edition of Lane has 963 pages of text and 300 pages of notes--and the notes are in a smaller font than the main text--say 70% story, 30% notes. Burton's are not collected at the end of the book, but appear with each story, so the calculation is not as easy, but it appears that the division is about 80% story, 20% notes. Barnes & Noble provides no notes from Dulcken, and I don't know if he even published any.
However, the Barnes & Noble edition does include a lot of introductory material by Professor Muhsin al-Musawi, a renowned scholar of Arabic studies. He points out (among other things) that the tales of Aladdin and Ali Baba are not authentic to the "Kitab Alf Laylah wa Laylah", having appeared first in Galland's translation and apparently based on stories narrated to him by a Syrian, and not found in any written sources. But they are included, partly because they have traditionally been included, and partly because they are so enormously popular with readers (and filmmakers, I might add).
Now if someone would produce an edition combined the readability of the Dulcken translation with both Lane's and Burton's notes--I envision a sort of "Arabian Nights Talmud (*)"--that would be ideal.
(*) The Talmud (for those who don't know) consist of text and annotations from multiple sources, these annotations being arranged on the page around the text such that a given source is always in the same place. So, for example, one might put the text of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS in the center of three columns on a page, with Lane's annotations in the left column and Burton's on the right. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Never express yourself more clearly than you think. -- Niels Bohr
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