MT VOID 02/13/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 33, Whole Number 1532

MT VOID 02/13/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 33, Whole Number 1532

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/13/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 33, Whole Number 1532

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

Godlogic (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Evelyn saw a sign left over from Christmastime that said "Jesus is the reason for the season." She asks, does that mean we would not have snow without Jesus? I said that of course the person who put up that sign thought so. Here is the logic:

A) Jesus is God.
B) God is Love.
C) Love makes the world go 'round.
D) The world's going round the sun is what makes seasons.


The On-line Film Critic Society Annual Awards (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

January 19 the On-line Film Critic Society gave its awards for the best of 2008. For what is probably the first time, the majority of awards went to fantasy films (I indented the non-fantasy films):

	ACTRESS: Michelle Williams, WENDY AND LUCY
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: WALL-E, Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon
ORIGINAL SCORE: THE DARK KNIGHT, James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer

Who are the OFCS?


Stealing More Than the Company (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[Written January 30, 2009]

Back in the 07/15/05 issue of the MT VOID, I wrote an editorial () that reflected on lunchtime conversations I had in the mid-1970s when I was at the beginning of my career. I had an MA in mathematics and one of my co-workers who had an MBA was explaining to me how capitalism works. The CEO of the company we worked for was what seemed at the time to be hard on the employees, at least by the standards of those days. My coworker, Steve, was telling me that the CEO does not do what is best for the employees; he does what is best for the stockholders. What keeps him honest and in line? Well, he is a major stockholder. If he damages the stock value he stands to lose a lot of money himself. Being a stockholder he will do his best to help the other stockholders. And if a CEO did start to damage the stockholders, the other executives and the directors of the company would get rid of him.

Steve had almost as much to learn as I did. In my 2005 article I pointed out what was a loophole in Steve's reasoning. I had realized it long before, but I had waited three decades to go public, and by then it was not much of a secret. The secret was that while the CEO was feeding at the trough, he just had to let the various groups that were supposed to be watching him also feed. By taking the value of the company rather than just the profits from stock the upper management would make enough that they did not care if the stock price plummeted. They had their bonuses and if their stock became worthless they cried all the way to the bank (and it was a long flight to their bank in the Bahamas).

The people who had the power to do so just kept rewarding each other for doing such a superior job. And they got richer and richer even if the corporation was being sucked dry and the stock was becoming worthless. I dubbed this behavior "stealing the company." The high executives could fill their pockets without worrying about the stockholders. I think the strategy was not really old, but its usage became very common about that time. At the time I did not hear many other people talking about this form of malfeasance. That had to wait until more recent months. Right now corporate greed is starting to make real headlines. People are starting to sit up and take notice, though that may be all that they are able to do.

A few weeks back I wrote about how John Thain took over the reins of a failing Merrill Lynch a year ago, drove it right into the ground, and then expected a fifty-million-dollar bonus. (See He didn't get it, but he probably will not miss it all that much. It seems he is back in the news. He finally has been ejected from Merrill Lynch (or rather what is left of it), but not before he spent about 1.2 million dollars to decorate his office. This included features like a $1,405 trashcan, an $87,000 area rug, and a $35,000 "commode on legs." This was all while Merrill Lynch was failing and was putting its employees out to pasture in the thousands and thumbing its nose at stockholders. It should be noted that Merrill Lynch died with the year 2008. In 2009 Bank of America gathered up what was left.

But that decoration was only a million dollars or so. In order to make sure his friends had a Happy New Year he also gave a reported FOUR BILLION DOLLARS IN BONUSES in executive payouts to the people who were supposed to be watching him. (Remember what I said about how it was possible to steal the company right from under stockholders?) He stole from the stockholders and he stole from the employees.

Now you might be wondering who was stupid enough to give Thain four billion dollars to do with what he wanted. Well, I guess I have to confess. I did that. When I sent in a check for my income tax last year, I gave the money to Uncle Sam who obligingly passed it on to Merrill Lynch and to John Thain. Also I lent Uncle Sam more money to give Thain when I bought some Treasury bills.

I am afraid that my article on executives stealing their companies suffered from a failure of my imagination. I had assumed that their reach was only to suck their own companies dry. Thain figured out how to steal from me and you and your children and your children's children.

Now what is going on here is that some of the most successful people in this country have bought into the theory that they have a sort of Divine Right to huge incomes and all of the best life has to offer. They figure they are successful so they must be smarter than other people and have worked harder than other people and nobody can question they deserve a high-reward lifestyle. It leads to the kind of thinking, "Congress is offering money to bail out companies in financial trouble. I want a piece of that money. I have to go talk to Congress. Jimmy, fire up my private jet. Let's take the dark blue one."

The bailouts may be a necessary evil, but the money has to be carefully guarded so that it does not end up in the pockets of thieves. We have gone through eight years in which all the regulators at the top of the economy have been advocates of de- regulation. It would be nice to believe that the regulation was not necessary. But we have to understand a lot of corporate people who hold in their hands the fate of the economy and our lives and lives all around the world are from the "Greed is Good" school of economic philosophy. They have to be carefully watched and regulated, even if watching them is going to be expensive.

Postscript: On "Meet The Press" on February 1, Erin Burnett defended the bonuses, saying "The taxpayer money isn't being taken and paid out in the form of bonuses. It goes in a separate pool ... a separate account for banks." In other words the money the government was paying out did not go into the fund from which the FOUR BILLION DOLLARS IN BONUSES came from. Some defense. That simply means that the accounting at Merrill Lynch had been set up so the executives got their cut, to the tune of FOUR BILLION DOLLARS IN BONUSES off the top of the stack, regardless of what else was happening in the company.

A discussion of the above can be found at [-mrl]

CORALINE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: With charming images in 3-D animation we have the story of a girl who finds a tunnel to a parallel world where she has two "other" parents who just love her to death. Everything is wondrous in this world until she finds out that ... but that would be telling. This is based on a story by the incomparable fantasy author Neil Gaiman. Somewhere between Gaiman's writing and the rendering on the screen written and directed by Henry Selick, this film loses coherence with too little happening that makes sense. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

One thinks of fantasy as a genre in which anything can happen. Though it seems paradoxical to say it, this means that fantasy is very highly dependent on fixed, even if arbitrary, rules. The viewer has to know what the ground rules are. In DRACULA we know what kills vampires. If at the end Dracula gets up and we find that a stake through the heart really does not work, we would feel cheated. Suppose Frodo threw the ring into the fires and it turned into a dragon that kills him, and Sauron is as powerful as ever. What would be the point of the story? ALICE IN WONDERLAND is fun whimsy, but one never really empathizes with Alice. The real world does not have to make sense, but a fantasy really world does if the viewer/reader is going to buy into the plot. If anything can happen there is no point to the hero's striving.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a pert young girl who moves with her family into a strange house with some stranger tenants. There is an odd Russian (Ian McShane) in the third floor who is doing something unexplained with mice. There are two sisters who live in the basement. These people are all weird eccentrics. But when Coraline gets frustrated with her parents' lack of attention to her, she focuses her attention on a strange little locked door in the wall. After some effort she opens this unused door and find it leads to a mysterious tunnel into the head of John Malkovich. No, I am getting my movies confused. At the end of the tunnel is a house identical to hers with a mother and a father who look like her parents but they have buttons instead of eyes. It seems everybody in this world has buttons for eyes. These parents are just like Coraline's own parents, but they love her more. Where here the food her parents serve is something of a dog's breakfast, her "other" parents serve her delicious food, much of which seems chosen to be the short route to the diabetes ward. The Button World parents just love Coraline so much that they cannot bear to let her leave. So they may not. And why should Coraline want to go home to parents who are so indifferent and oblivious to her presence?

Neil Gaiman is fast becoming to the fantasy film with Philip K. Dick is to the science fiction film. His CORALINE in the film version is a story in dire need of just a few ground rules to make sense of what we are seeing on the screen. It is an interesting fantasy film done in a visual style reminiscent of Tim Burton animation. And the film's stop-motion animation is even more impressive in 3-D. But at a certain point it is just not clear what is happening and how the characters' problems have to be fixed. There are questions such as, who has multiple manifestations and why do not other characters? What does it signify that when Coraline collects certain artifacts, that the world around them suddenly seems to turn gray? Nor do we really know when the story is over. What makes this particularly puzzling is that the story is by Neil Gaiman, who usually is a master of the fantasy art form. I have not read the book, but my suspicion is that it would make a lot more sense. Henry Selick's previous fantasies, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, are good-looking films, but may not be completely engaging fantasies. Reportedly Selick makes some major revisions to the story adding a major character, Wybie, who is not in the book. And Coraline can slip between the worlds in ways she could not in the book. Perhaps my problems with CORALINE were just me being dense, but too often I was not sure what was happening and why.

Our second button fantasy of the season is visually lush and the stop-motion works as well as the emotional core of the film. But even so good an effort in so many different ways fails if the viewer is left confused by scenes that should be better explained. I rate CORALINE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. For those who sit through the credits there is a reward of a tour de force scene of 3-D that has nothing to do with the plot but is still nice to see. In fact it is worth some extra effort to see this film in 3-D.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE DECAPITATED CHICKEN AND OTHER STORIES by Horacio Quiroga (translated by Margaret Sayers Peden) (ISBN-13 978-0-299-19834-3, ISBN-10 0-299-19834-0) (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Last week I mentioned in my review of Leopoldo Lugones's STRANGE FORCES that the back blurb for it compares Lugones with Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Horacio Quiroga. Quiroga in turn has been described as an early 20th century Uruguayan surrealist, though he was the son of the Argentinian consul to Uruguay and actually spent most of his life in Argentina. His pre-occupation with death is undoubtedly the result of the tragedies of his life: his father was accidentally killed in a shotgun accident, his stepfather shot himself, in his early twenties Quiroga himself accidentally shot and killed his best friend, and Quiroga's first wife committed suicide. Quiroga himself committed suicide when he learned he had cancer.

Quiroga is not much anthologized in English. Alberto Manguel included Quiroga's story "The Feather Pillow" in his ground- breaking anthology BLACK WATER, and that story has been reprinted twice more (by Richard Dalby in DRACULA'S BROOD and in one of those Barnes & Noble "100 {adjective} Little {alliterative adjective} Stories" volumes. Another, "The Dead Man" appears in A HAMMOCK BENEATH THE MANGOES edited by Margaret Sayers Peden. However, in 1976 the University of Texas Press did publish THE DECAPITATED CHICKEN AND OTHER STORIES (ISBN-10 0-292-77514-8), translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.

Before I located a copy of that collection through inter-library loan, I could find "The Dead Man" only in its original Spanish ("El hombre muerto") in one of my father's textbooks, an anthology of Hispanic literature. I also read "La gallina degollada" ("The Decapitated Chicken") from that textbook, heavy on style, but predictable and bearing a marked resemblance to what must be a centuries-old urban legend that I heard in an old version in Scotland and have heard updated in the United States since then. But one suspects the story was less predictable and more surprising in 1909 when Quiroga wrote it.

THE DECAPITATED CHICKEN AND OTHER STORIES includes a dozen of Quiroga's best-known stories (along with pen and ink illustrations by Ed Lindlof), in chronological order. So it starts not with the title story, but with "The Feather Pillow" (1907). "The Feather Pillow" is a very short story (less than 1500 words) which works by building an atmosphere and then hitting the reader with the perfect final line.

Most of the stories have no fantastic content. "Sunstroke" (1908), "Drifting" (1912), "A Slap in the Face" (1916), and "In the Middle of the Night" (1919) are "stories of place"--stories that are about the atmosphere and feel of a particular geographical place and the people who inhabit it.

"The Pursued" (1908) has an important character named Lugones--one assumes this is an homage. It is a tale of paranoia, but somehow did not work for me.

"The Decapitated Chicken" (1909) I commented on above.

"Juan Darién" (1920) is definitely a fantasy story: a tiger cub adopted by a woman turns into a human boy, although still retaining some of his feline nature. I am a bit confused, though, about whether Quiroga talked about a tiger or not, since the story seems to take place in Argentina, and I did not think they had any tigers there.

"The Dead Man" (1920) is one of Quiroga's best-known story, but while people often claim some sort of fantastical content in the apparent stretching of time, I get the impression that is more a psychological trick than any sort of relativistic effect.

"Anaconda" (1921) is the longest story in the book. It is definitely the most Kiplingesque story, seemingly straight from THE JUNGLE BOOK, with only the names changed. In Quiroga, the various reptiles are named for their species, e.g., Ñacaniná. (That is also, by the way, one of the only forty-one words starting with the letter "ñ" in my 1500-page Spanish dictionary, almost all of which are South American or African in origin.)

I noted last week that Leopoldo Lugones's "Yzur" has a translation problem, in that in Spanish there is only one word "mono" meaning both "monkey" (tailed) and "ape" (not tailed). Well, in "Anaconda" there seems to be the reverse problem, where a distinction in the English translation is made between "snake" and "viper"--vipers are apparently not included in snakes. But I'm not sure if "serpiente" and "culebra" exclude "vibora"--or even if those are the words used, since I can't find the original Spanish.

I love Quiroga's turn of phrase in calling Coatiarita "the Benjamin of the Family". (This is one reason why people unfamiliar with the Western Canon cannot appreciate everything they do read.)

At times, Quiroga seems very current. One of his books was ANACONDA, described by one person as "stories about the fierce battle between reptiles and poisonous vipers." One wonders if the Sci-Fi Channel has discovered Quiroga as a source of movie ideas.

"The Incense Tree Roof" (1922) is a somewhat Kafka-esque story about bureaucracy, as well as about the jungle. And "The Son" (1935) is another non-fantasy piece, albeit with intimations of omens--but obviously the story most influenced by Quiroga's own past. [-ecl]

Second Best Versus Worst (letter of comment by Pete Brady):

In response to a comment in Mark's review of FROST/NIXON in the 02/06/09 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Brady writes:

You wrote, as part of your FROST/NIXON review, "There is an old question of which would the best swordsman in France more fear to fight, the second best swordsman or the worst swordsman. The answer is that he would much more fear the latter since the worst swordsman would be unpredictable."

You brought back a somewhat painful memory. In ancient times (early 1960s), when I worked at Murray Hill Bell Labs, there were several bridge players who formed into duplicate teams of four, that played during a few lunch hours a week. I was on one of those teams. I took the game seriously, but I wasn't really good at it, and the rest on our team may have been a little better, but as a team, we kept ending up in the middle of the twenty teams that played.

One of the teams was headed by someone named [Joe Smith], a person I had no other contact with and have long since lost track of. Everyone dreaded playing against his team. The players weren't especially good, but they were erratic. *Very* erratic. They would make bad bids, plays that went against all odds, and in a given noon hour, they would usually end up scoring brilliantly high or resoundingly low. I remember one season in which [Smith]'s team trounced the top-ranking team in one noon-hour session. Our own team did moderately well with them, but we got wiped out in one hand which led me on the way toward giving up the game. I won't go into details, except to say that they made a very bad bid, which led me to assume that the distribution of cards was exactly the opposite of what it was. Some might call this a brilliant move on their part, but it was not. It was simply a bad bid made from lack of skill.

At the end of the season, [Smith]'s team ended up right about where We were--in the middle of the ranking.

FROST/NIXON is on my list of "must sees." [-ptb]

Mark responds, "I wonder what would happen if other teams intentionally forgot what they knew and just tried to be unpredictable. [-mrl]

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

I picked up SHERLOCK HOLMES WAS WRONG: REOPENING THE CASE OF THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Pierre Bayard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) (ISBN-13 978-1-59691-605-0, ISBN-10 978-1-59691-605-2) at the library. More fool I--I hadn't noticed that this was by the author of HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN'T READ, about which I said, "My recommendation is to make this self-referential. The writing style seems aimed more at academics than at a popular audience, and at times seems quite divorced from the book's topic. Why, for example, does Bayard spend ten pages in this 185-page book describing the plot of GROUNDHOG DAY?"

Well, that applies to this book (except for the term "self- referential"). Bayard spends twenty-seven pages out of a hundred eighty-eight recounting the plot of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES in detail. And the writing style has the same problem: "The subjective incompleteness of the world in the work encourages us to suppose that there exists around each work, produced by the limited nature of statements and the impossibility of increasing the quantity of available information, a whole *intermediate world*-- part of which is conscious and another part unconscious--that the reader develops by inferences so that the work, completed, can attain autonomy: a different world, a space with its own laws, more fluid and more personal than the text itself. but indispensable if the text is to achieve, in the limitless series of its encounters with the reader, a minimal coherence." (page 67)

I'm all for achieving a minimal coherence--I just don't think Bayard manages it.

[This sounds like an academic book trying to look like it was saying something impressive. -mrl]

And speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I also read HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steve Hockensmith (ISBN-13 978-0-312-34780-2, ISBN-10 0-312-34780- 4). This is a combination mystery-Western, but it does not have Sherlock Holmes in it. Rather, it has a cowboy who has read and become fascinated by Sherlock Holmes, and then finds himself in a real-life mystery on the ranch where he is working. The Watson character (narrator-cum-assistant) is his brother. I thought this was fairly well done, except for the gimmick that some of the characters in the book turn out to be related to characters in one of the Holmes stories. This "making Holmes real" gimmick rather than just letting a cowboy like Old Red be inspired by fictional stories may have seemed necessary to Hockensmith. And I realize that any Holmes pastiche that includes Sherlock Holmes himself does this of necessity. But somehow when the story is about someone inspired by the stories, the necessity of maintaining the "reality" of Holmes seems weaker and more contrived--at least to me.

I also came across a book of cartoons by Cristóbal Reinoso, 230 DESPUÉS DE CRIST (Planeta, 1974, no ISBN). "Cristo" is an Argentinian (I think) cartoonist whose cartoons often have a science fictional content. Some are funny, but some I don't get. I thought it was a cultural problem, but someone mentioned that the editor of the "New Yorker" cartoons said that for many cartoons, they get lots of letters from people who either don't get them at all, or don't think they are funny.

And some of Cristo's cartoons are puns that are funny but really don't translate well. E.g, an interpreter is translating from a Plains Indian chief to a U.S. Army officer, "He says he is not interested in peace ('la paz') because Bolivia is very far away." Well, I laughed out loud. [-ecl]

[Leeper's Law of Jokes: Any joke that has to be explained to someone will never be funny to that person. -mrl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           There are more fools than knaves in the world, 
           else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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