MT VOID 12/19/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 25, Whole Number 1524

MT VOID 12/19/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 25, Whole Number 1524

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/19/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 25, Whole Number 1524

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

In New York City (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A friend lives in a New York City apartment. He picks up his car from the parking garage and finds a note on it that says "Merry Christmas... from the boys in the garage." He smiles warmly and puts the greeting in his coat pocket. A few days later he picked up his car and there was a new note. "Merry Christmas... from the boys in the garage... SECOND NOTICE." [-mrl]

One More Time (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

From Reuters: "BERNARD MADOFF ARRESTED OVER ALLEGED $50 BILLION FRAUD: Bernard Madoff, a quiet force on Wall Street for decades, was arrested and charged on Thursday with allegedly running a $50 billion 'Ponzi scheme' in what may rank among the biggest fraud cases ever."


I am waiting to hear that sure it is illegal and technically it is fraud, but it is such a huge Ponzi scheme that the government cannot afford to allow it to fail. [-mrl]

The Golden Decade of the Western (part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A while back I listed the five Western films I liked the best. They were:

The dapper John Hertz (convention-goers will know why I call him "dapper") asks "Is it true 4 of M[ark]'s Best 5 Westerns are from the 1950s, 1 from the 1970s, none earlier? If so, is this significant? What of the first 50 years? Tom Mix and like that."

So I did a little self-examination of just why I felt that way. This is all going to be very subjective. Different people have different values.

Let me quickly answer the specific question and go on to generalities. The very early Western films like the ones that featured Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, William S. Hart, etc. had simple and simplistic plots with bad guys (generally in black hats) menacing innocent ranchers (generally with attractive daughters) and being rescued by sharpshooting heroes (generally in white hats). Cinema was finding its feet and had enough trouble just getting a story across. The better Westerns were like THE IRON HORSE, directed by John Ford whose best work was to come. The Tom Mix sort of Western was good for its time, but as time past the Western became more complex and some became mature.

But let me extend John's question. Why is there such a strong showing among the 1950s films? I suppose in some ways the 1950s were the flowering of the Western film. To explain why let me put thing into a historical context: television. But more importantly TELEVISION!!! The film industry, one of the strongest in the country, has since the 1950s had the arch nemesis of home video in its various forms. The question that the film industry asked itself in the 1950s (and is asking itself today) is what can they offer the public in a movie theater that they cannot get at home. (Notice that now as in the 1950s one answer seems to be 3D.)

In the 1950s the Western was a popular genre and television started by offering old Roy Rogers theatrical films and then TV shows like "Wild Bill Hickok," "The Roy Rogers Show," and "Bat Masterson." By the end of the decade they also had higher quality Western shows like "Have Gun, Will Travel" and "Gunsmoke". The movie industry competed with this free entertainment by offering widescreen Cinemascope and Technicolor. Also, the musical score became a major feature since there was usually just not much time on television to shoehorn a good musical score into the a half-hour program. (A few television programs did pay attention to musical scores, notably "Twilight Zone", but that was a rarity.)

John Ford was probably the filmmaker who first realized how to make the setting a major feature of the Western film. His STAGECOACH is highly respected, but its greatest contribution was its use of the spectacular scenery of Monument Valley as a backdrop. Ford so fell in love with Monument Valley that he would use it as a backdrop even for films like the 1946 MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, his highly revised and fictionalized version of the notorious gunfight at the OK Corral. The setting is Tombstone, Arizona, whose topography resembles Monument Valley much in the way a flea resembles the planet Saturn. Ford recognized the value of the setting but preferred to work in black and white for its virtues, so never got the full effect of the spectacular setting.

By 1958, when William Wyler made THE BIG COUNTRY--what I consider the best example of the 1950s Western--Wyler could blow out the sides of the frame with Cinemascope and use brilliant color to really show that what he was filming really was, well, big country. And if you did not get that point from what was on the screen, Jerome Moross gloried in the bigness of the country with his big brash musical score. On top of this there was a fairly complex and timeless story of the conflict of appearances versus substance. Gregory Peck played a sea captain who has come west to marry the daughter of a cattle baron. He chooses to ignore the fact that his eastern ways brand him as effeminate and a coward from the first day. This story shows up as being empty the very virtues that the Western film had emphasized to that point. Today THE BIG COUNTRY is remembered merely as one of the "good" Westerns, which I think underrates it.

Next week I will continue and discuss some of the reasons that in my opinion the Western went into a decline after the 1950s and 1960s. [-mrl]

The Twilight of Good Literature (comments by Jayne Bielak):

This is the perfect time to explain why I read TWILIGHT, first book in the (hackneyed description alert) wildly popular series of the same name. God forbid you should think that I was bored one day, perused my bookshelf and said, 'Yup. Go with the four hundred and ninety eight page teen vampire romance.' Not. I had a PROFESSIONAL reason for reading it. I even had a very official looking piece of blank paper in hand while I groaned through the first few chapters, so I could make notes about a certain aspect of the book. More about that unnecessary paper in a moment.

You see, I recently made the ill-considered decision to try writing young adult fiction. Years of teaching English to middle-school kids has given me considerable insight into the frightfully mushy adolescent mind; I figure I may as well put it to use. What they want when they crack open a book poses no great challenge. Action. Angst, but no philosophy. A main character who is their age, but smarter than the grown-ups in the story. Romance of the sort that doesn't require the purchase or use of contraceptive protection. At least one character who turns up dead, preferably by means of violence. And no big words, because the effort it would take to look up, let's say, "ameliorate", would be just too, too much.

Did I say "no challenges"? I lied. The requirement that one keep the vocabulary simple is maddening. If most people knew how truly deposit-free the word-banks of our teenagers are, they would fear for the future of the republic. So when I learned that Stephanie Meyers had written a series that was being, not just read, but OBSESSED over by our young females, I had but one self-interested thought. What sort of vocabulary did SHE get away with using? I knew that if she'd riddled her book with polysyllabic hurdles, the kids would have snapped that sucker shut by page two. I sat down with a the aforementioned sheet, determined to list all the big, hard, or sophisticated verbiage I came across in TWILIGHT. After carefully searching six chapters, reality and incredulity met and mated. My paper remained pristine. There was nothing, NOTHING to put on it.

That's right. The books that have obsessed our youths, right up through those of college age, are written at approximately the fourth-grade level. Worse, the first two-thirds of the initial book is almost devoid of action, consisting of little more than a slog through the typical day of a high-school girl and her undead boyfriend. By page two hundred I was hoping I could survive it to the end. By two-sixty-five, I was wishing for death.

When Meyers finally awoke from her coma and realized that something of interest would have to happen before the book's end, she opened the taps full force, gushing forth a reverse spin on THE STEPFORD WIVES. Bella, you see, gets tricked into near-mortal danger by a recorded version of mamma's voice. As I mentioned irritably to my own daughter, THAT girl travels hundreds of miles and exposes herself to a snack-happy vampire to save her mom's life; I can't get YOU to make me a cup of tea.

Speaking of my kid and her friends; could somebody please explain to me how it is that girls who read Capote, Hemingway, Shakespeare, etc. can turn right around and spend a week wallowing in 'Eddie and Bella's Really Scary Adventure'? I've heard the explanations, and none of them is persuasive enough to get me over that highest hill- -the tediousness of the writing. Like beer, if you want humor at the TWILIGHT party, you'll have to bring your own. Of course, that isn't hard, since Stephanie Meyers's brain is a dedicated irony- free zone, and she sets up some delicious opportunities. Best line in the book? Bella, speaking of the vampire Edward, "I looked into his eyes, which were curiously dead." The screenplay writer provided some gems as well. When Bella is lured back to Arizonza, she is tormented by James with an old tape of her childhood ballet days. "I suck" she petulantly complains on it to her mom, and my synapses overloaded with bad jokes nearly to the point of blackout. But then, I'm not sixteen. Ask any adolescent what the story's big draw is, and she'll tell you with no hesitation. The girls all fall in love with Edward. And why is that? Because he bites people? No. Because he CAN, but he doesn't.

I didn't understand this when I had merely read the book--the pain of Stephanie Meyer's literary style having dulled my comprehension like repeated hammer-blows to the skull. It took seeing the movie version of TWILIGHT to make me realize just WHOM we were dealing with there in that Forks, Washington high school. I speak here of Edward only. Controlling ways, excessive protectiveness, delicacy of feeling, and, oh yes, fastidious sexual propriety? Material wealth, outrageous good looks, cultivated intelligence, almost effeminate good breeding? Self-deprecation? Tortured conscience? Did someone out there shout 'Mr. Darcy'? For if this guy isn't a plasma-loving riff on Elizabeth Bennet--s knight in brooding armor, I'll take my M.A. in Brit-lit and shove it in the coupon drawer.

Case in point. There he was, our lad, having just rescued Bella from a fate worse than death at the hands of a gang of street thugs, and what does he do? Sigh with relief? Give her a kiss? Grab his crotch and do an end zone dance? Of course not. Instead, he turns aside and whispers his pained revulsion for the VILE, FILTHY THINGS he had just heard going on inside the heads of the would-be offenders. Cads! Curs! Thinking about sex! SEX! This scene in the movie actually caused a part of A&E's "Pride and Prejudice" to scroll unbidden past my inner eye. I have not seen so profound a depiction of outraged prudery since Darcy stood behind Wickham in totem-pole rigidity and forced the latter's marriage with Lydia.

But this is exactly what makes the little girls love him. Forget his special-needs diet for a moment; it is essentially irrelevant to the love story. Edward's attraction is his nobility. He is the superior being who can have any girl he wants, in any way he wants, and chooses honor instead. He is the boyfriend who keeps it in his pants and doesn't bitch about it, the date who placates Dad with his respect and soft-spoken charm. In short, he is the guy these girls will never meet. That he's a vampire in no way impacts the fineness of his sensibilities; he could just as easily have been a Martian or a ghost. What he is NOT is someone your average female will actually encounter, unless she dates gay men.

As for the other characters in the book and movie, they're mere props for the Wonder that is Edward. Bella is a twitchy emo-kid, ready to martyr herself to mom's happiness at the drop of a fly- ball. In the movie she's vapid and curiously lacking a discernable lower lip. In fact, all the humans in the film version make mortals look bad, including one girl whose pontoon breasts blessedly distract from her face, and an Asian kid who needs to eat something.

On the other hand, the vampires are totally hot. I sat in that theater feeling like Mrs. Robinson, having these sudden insights into why high-school teachers sometimes risk it all to sleep with their students. Okay. Edward's eyebrows don't match his hair, and his lips give the impression that he's been sucking cherry ice- pops. But still. The whole Cullen clan looks like it might just have stepped off a Paris catwalk, except maybe the dad, who could use some bronzer. And they aren't even the sexiest of the undead-- that prize goes to the villains. When those three rogue vampires marched out of the woods in lockstep, the white guy, white girl and the black dude, I knew that The Mod Squad had been permanently punked. If teenaged boys had looked that good at MY school, I'd have stayed there until I was taking Algebra XXIII.

Which leads me to this curious endpoint. About midway through the movie I found my mind playing host to some disturbing thoughts. Given everything, immortality, intelligence, wealth, superior strength, the ability to know the cell phases of an onion at a glance (I swear) what then IS so bad about being a vampire? The Cullens had trained themselves to live on animal blood alone. So they suck the neck of a live chicken, and the rest of us eat it as nuggets. Big deal. Either way, the bird dies. The Undead Ones, you argue, get dangerously excited when they smell certain humans, so they can't go to school. Nonsense. They merely need special accommodations--like those kids that sit at a separate lunch table because peanut-butter makes them die. See? This is do-able.

Well, I warned you that they were disturbing thoughts. In the meantime, Stephanie, please bring back James. A girl can only stand just so much nobility. [-jb]

HORROR IN THE WIND (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This could have been a much more intelligent film. A chemical intended to be sprayed all over the United States to suppress sexual urges instead reverses everyone's sexual orientation. Somebody could have used this idea to make an interesting film, but instead we get a claustrophobic and unfunny piece of fluff. Rating: +0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

The year is 2017 and the reactionary government of the United States--headed by President Robertson and Vice-President Dobson-- wants to suppress all sex. Two biologists, Rick Holbrook and Ed Picante (played by newcomers Perren Hedderson and Morse Bicknell), have found a way to inhibit fruit-fly procreation and so save crops. The President wants a modified version that will be an abstinence drug for humans. When it is sprayed over the nation it works, but not the way it was planned. The chemical does not inhibit sex at all but simply reverses everybody's sexual orientation. Gays turn straight, and straights turn gay. Only white Christians will be given the antidote.

In addition, as a wholly different premise in the script, new scriptures are found in the Middle East that are somehow provably the authentic Bible. And in the new Bible homosexuality is approved of and heterosexuality is considered bad. Either one of these premises could be the basis for an entire and fascinating film. But Max Mitchell just seems to think that the joke of gay couples talking like they are straight and vice versa is funny enough to be repeated over and over. Holbrook and Picante fall in love and their partners fall in love and go in for naked yoga.

In addition, there are other running jokes inserted that never connect up with the characters of the main story line. A news announcer on the right-wing Fax Network and a really off-the-wall Evangelistic minister comment on the proceedings or just show how ridiculous they are. Actually, everybody whose point of view was different from that of the film was presented as an over-the-edge wacko. Mitchell does not realize that making the opposition all wackos makes them less believable and undercuts his own arguments. Notice how much more effective a film like TWELVE ANGRY MEN is because some of the opposition (opposing for most of the film) seem to be reasonable and well-intentioned, if wrong-headed. The film is pulling in two directions. If Mitchell wants the film to be a serious statement about how society treats gays, he needed to present it differently. If he wanted the film to be a wild farce, he needed a more imaginative sense of humor.

It would be too optimistic to expect that an inexperienced filmmaker like Max Mitchell could turn out a very good film on a minimal budget, though there are many examples of inexpensive first-films that were good. Mitchell seems to be endlessly amused by two males talking about their sex. They may talk about one putting his tongue in the other's ear. Or he may show the President of the United States has toenails painted black. This sort of thing might be amusing the first time it appears. But by the second time it is much less so. To repeat such jokes half a dozen times more is just wasting the viewers' time. The film becomes simply an unfunny ribald skit. Mitchell could easily go on to do much better things, but this film is not the most auspicious calling card. If I were to give him advice it would be to think about reusing this premise in a serious film. What would happen if everybody's orientation were switched? What benefits would there be? What problems would it cause? Once he has thought that out, he still could make it a comedy if he wanted, but it would be a much more intelligent comedy. A thoughtful or really witty treatment of the idea of mass reversals of sexual orientation would have been a good film and one worth considering. This film is just a piece of fluff and a burlesque that sidesteps having any substance. HORROR IN THE WIND is a film with a good idea for a thought experiment but never given its chance to develop. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

The publicity coming with the film proudly states that this film was "Banned in New Mexico." That sounds like it was some governmental organization saying the film could not be shown in New Mexico. In fact, it appears that a theater chain decided the content was too political and chose not to book the film. This is hardly the same thing as banning a film. But the film sounds more alluring if it actually has been banned.

Film Credits:


ADAM RESURRECTED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a bizarre surreal fantasy involving a man with psychic powers, a German Holocaust death camp, and people who are degraded to live and act like dogs. How does all that fit together? I vote for "not very well." Jeff Goldblum's performance is magnetic, but he has problems with the accent. Paul Schrader directs Noah Stollman's adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk's novel. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

ADAM RESURRECTED is a macabre fantasy that verges into surrealism and uses the Holocaust without being enlightening about what the experience was really like. It seems almost redundant to claim how unpleasant a particular film about the Holocaust is. But ADAM RESURRECTED seems to be unpleasant for no good purpose. The film is not enlightening about history, nor does it give us much insight into the unlikely title character. Here the Holocaust is just a literary device to explain how Adam had been degraded at one time in his life and to show the man that the experience made of him. And since he seems to have at times magical powers like telepathy or to bleed from chosen parts of his body voluntarily he is just to alien to give much of a feeling of realism. In a sense the film just takes the Holocaust in vain.

We see the story in a series of flashbacks. The dapper Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum) is taken in handcuffs to a sort of Israeli mental asylum for Holocaust survivors. He seems out of place as being perfectly normal. But as soon as he arrives he goes right to a bottle of liquor that the attendants had hidden. There is no explanation as to how he knew it was there. We find out he has had a history of faking ailments here in ways that fooled even x-ray machines. In flashbacks we see that in the late 1920s and early 1930s Adam Stein was the toast of Berlin. As a circus and stage entertainer he could perform mystical feats that really defy explanation. In one incident becomes a test of wills with an audience member named Klein (Willem Dafoe). Goldblum wins that test, but loses in the long run. When the Nazis round up Jews, Stein ends up in a death camp ruled by now-Commandant Klein. Klein recognizes Stein and rather than killing him straight out, he makes Stein a house pet. Stein will live as long as he walks on all fours and imitates a dog. These memories come back to Stein--if they ever left--because at the asylum in Stein's present day the staff keep a boy who was raised as a dog.

Jeff Goldblum's performance is mesmerizing in almost all regards. In only one aspect is it bad and that is his inability to maintain a German accent. One sentence will have a thick accent and the next will sound downright American. He does appear to be doing Stein's stage magic for real and without camera tricks. Derek Jacobi plays the doctor who is given Stein's case at the asylum. But he is as ineffectual in the role as his character is in the story. Willem Dafoe plays the Commandant with a dash too little command. It may be just that Goldblum steals the attention playing another character with an excess of personality.

The film is based on Yoram Kaniuk's novel. In a novel the author has time to lull the reader into a mood to accept what is going on. In a film it may not work as well. Director Paul Schrader has made his share of hypnotic films, notably CAT PEOPLE, but the task of getting the audience to accept all this may have been beyond his powers.

This is a really off-the-wall nihilistic fantasy that may please a small segment of the audience and perhaps even become a cult film. But I suspect it will not even be marketed to the general run of filmgoer. I rate ADAM RESURRECTED a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Film Credits:


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Mark's film reviews in the 12/12/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

Mark and I are on the same wavelength, more or less, this week. I also don't get the fuss over SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and have problems with the same plot contrivances as Mark. As for SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK I'm beginning to wonder if BEING JOHN MALKOVICH was a fluke, as it is the only Charlie Kaufman film I've ever really liked. One thing I learned, but couldn't fit into the review, is the pun of the title. "Synecdoche"--as you two erudite people may already know--is pronounced "sin-NEC-do-key" which makes it a near-homonym of Schenectady, where the story begins. It's that kind of arcane and not especially illuminating cleverness, along with the utter nihilism of the film, that makes it so frustrating and unsatisfying.

Overall it's a disappointing movie season although I like DOUBT and FROST/NIXON, and tolerated the DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL remake despite its numerous flaws.

One must see that may slip under your radar is the Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Catch it if you can. [-dk]

Mark replies:

[Regarding SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE:] Someone who writes to me says that in India the police are pretty bad and arrest and torture on flimsy evidence was not absurd. I am glad I didn't know that when I was in India.

[Regarding SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK:] I did like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, ADAPTATION not so much. I immediately picked up on the similarity to Schenectady when I first heard this title. Watching the film I assumed it was the kid's mispronunciation. And I made a mental note to see if synecdoche was a real word.

Similarly I always wondered if the title PET SEMATARY, never explained in book or film as far as I know, was a pun of sematic. Sematic features are warnings right on the animal. Snakes that have bright colors tend to be poisonous. Snakes that rattle also are dangerous.

I assume you know about the Yiddish origins of the word "gunsel" which has come to mean an armed henchman. Hammitt was not saying the kid was a hired thug, but these days that is what it means.

I don't think I got much of the point of the film.

[Regarding DOUBT:] I thought it looked good. [-mrl]

Forrest J Ackerman and Weather (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to Mark's comments on Forrest J Ackerman in the 12/12/08 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Very nice tribute to Forry Ackerman, Mark. Like you, I fell in love with monster movies--and sci-fi/horror flicks, too--when my age was still in the single digits. It is really amazing just how much of an influece Forry had on the field, and Hollywood, too, for that matter. His reach was extended, and he will be sorely missed.

As for the rest of this issue, I have no real comment to make except that it's actually getting cold here in SouthCentralEastern Texas to the point where it's actually SNOWED two days ago! I have lived here in College Station for seven and a half years, and only seen it snow once before here. By Wednesday night we had about an inch and a half on the ground in town. Of course, it's now all melted away, but still... The kids loved it, and I have never seen so many people--children and adults--outside not only watching it snow, but TAKING PICTURES of it, too! How surreal. And to think that I grew up with this stuff, and lots of sub-zero weather. It certainly puts things in perspective.

Mark replies:

I really think I owe a lot to Forry. He taught me that one big kid can make a difference. And I think that he proved that there was a market for horror and brought the genre back to life after it was floundering.

I envy anyone who lives someplace where they don't have to shovel the weather. [-mrl]

Degree Mills and Spanish-Language Books (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Mark's comments on spam from degree mills in the 12/12/08 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "I particularly liked the enterprising owners of one degree mill whose website offered both earned and (at a slightly higher price) honorary degrees. They also offered a complete package that included purple academic robes."

And in response to Evelyn's comments on reading Spanish-language books in the same issue, he writes, "Well, there's always 'Historia de las bibliotecas del mundo: desde la invencion de la escritura hasta la era de la computacion' (Buenos Aires: Editorial Troquel, 1999). And if that's too mundane, there's also a Turkish edition!" [-fl]

[Both books cited are translations of Lerner's book THE STORY OF LIBRARIES. -ecl]

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

At first glance, QUEST OF THE SNOW LEOPARD by Roy Chapman Andrews (no ISBN) seems to be a travelogue, recounting one of Andrews's expeditions to Asia for the American Museum of Natural History. But what it turns out to be is a novel. If it were written today, it would be marketed as a "young adult" novel because the main character is a seventeen-year-old boy on this expedition. (Indeed, the book is dedicated to the Boy Scouts!) Andrews claims that everything in the book really happened at one time or other, though not always to the same small set of people, and excluding the actual capture of the snow leopard(!). The capture he says *could* have happened that way, and he wanted to include it.

Actually, if it were written today, there would probably be much outrage over it, as Andrews gives instructions to his hunters that when they shoot a particular species, he wants them to get a male, a female, and a few young so they can make a nice exhibit of their stuffed skins back at the Museum. It is clear that the attitudes of 1916-1917 (when the expedition supposedly took place) or even 1955 (when the book was written) are not those of today.

MIDDLE PASSAGES: AFRICAN AMERICAN JOURNEYS TO AFRICA, 1787-2005 by James T. Campbell (ISBN-13 978-0-143-11198-6, ISBN-10 0-143-11198- 1) is about African-Americans' trips to Africa--some returning after having been kidnapped and sold as slaves, others visiting for the first generations after their ancestors were brought to America. Campbell does not present any sort of idealized picture. For example, several one-time slaves who were freed and then returned to Africa bought slaves of their own there, or even became slave traders. He writes how Liberia was funded before the Civil War by whites who hoped to get rid of "Free Blacks" so that the slaves would not have any role models to encourage them to aspire to freedom, and there would be no evidence for any argument that blacks were equal to whites intellectually et al. And the resulting society in Liberia was no "light unto the nations" either--the descendents of the emigrants from the United States set themselves up as a ruling class and the native Africans as basically, well, slaves.

The climax of all this is the reaction of Keith Richburg in the present who, after watching bodies from the Rwandan massacre floating downstream, said that while he realized the horrors of slavery, a part of him would be forever grateful to whoever brought his ancestors "out of Africa" to America and saved him from what Africa is like now.

Clearly, there is much to debate in Campbell's book, but his range, from the 17th to the 21st century, covering some of the best-known people in African-American history, is impressive and the book is certainly worth reading.

COUNTERKNOWLEDGE: HOW WE SURRENDERED TO CONSPIRACY THEORIES, QUACK MEDICINE, BOGUS SCIENCE AND FAKE HISTORY by Damian Thompson (ISBN-13 978-0-670-06865-4, ISBN-10 0-670-06865-9) is all about "fake knowledge", by which Thompson means creationism, pseudo-history, alternative medicine, and so on. The most interesting part (for me) was Thompson's description of how some of the pseudo-history came about. In 1982 Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln wrote HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL, upon which Dan Brown based THE DA VINCI CODE. In the 1990s the Priory of Sion upon which the premise of HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL was based was revealed to be a hoax concocted in the 1940s, which even Baigent and Leigh acknowledged. Yet even this did not seem to change the general public's mind--when THE DA VINCI CODE came out *after* the hoax was exposed, HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL was reprinted with nary a word about the hoax. And Thompson also describes how 1421: THE YEAR THE CHINESE DISCOVERED AMERICA was created and marketed.

However, I am not convinced that Thompson doesn't get some things wrong either. In his section on creationism, he writes, "Muslims are not young-earthers, since the idea that the world is 6,000 years old is extracted from genealogies in the Old Testament and is therefore explicitly Judaeo-Christian." (page 39) But Muslims also accept and revere the Old Testament, so I have no idea why I should believe what Thompson says. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Half the vices which the world condemns most loudly 
          have seeds of good in them and require moderate use 
          rather than total abstinence.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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