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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/22/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 47, Whole Number 1546
Table of Contents
Science Fiction Discussion Groups:
May 28: THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS by Frederik Pohl, Old Bridge (NJ)
Public Library, 7:00PM
"I can safely recommend Frederik Pohl's THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS to everyone with an interest in the history of science fiction and science fiction fandom. Pohl tells with a great eye to relevant detail about being a pulp editor, a fan, and an author and agent. The photos are great: especially the photo of Pohl with Gene Roddenberry and an actress in a kind of Star Trek swimsuit had me cracking up. The non-SF, autobiographical detail is also interesting." [P. Jorgenson]
June 11: THIS ISLAND EARTH by Raymond F. Jones, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, original film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story after film
Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This week's MT Void is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. Petroleum is getting scarce. Be sure *you* get *your* share. [-mrl]
Not Another Missing Link!!! (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is bad news on the science front. Norwegian scientists have found a fossil of a monkey they have called a "missing link". They have dubbed it "Ida". I wish scientists would quit finding these so-called "missing links." It only encourages the Creationists. Now instead of one missing link we have two, one on either side of Ida. So we have a net gain of one link that is missing. The sad mathematical fact is that the more of the evolution tree that is filled in the more missing links there are going to be.
Read about Ida: http://tinyurl.com/ida-nat-geo
Grades and Wiggle Room (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is an old "Peanuts" cartoon in which Charlie Brown is standing on the baseball mound asking, "How can we keep losing if we are so sincere?"
I help kids with mathematics in my spare time. I get some odd questions. But one stuck with me. A girl asked whether coming to my class shouldn't improve her grade. Of course it should. I was there to teach her what she did not get in class. Understanding the mathematics should get her a better grade. But no, she meant more directly. Shouldn't the teacher give her extra points because she gives up her spare time to come and learn mathematics? No, he should only improve her grade if she does better on her tests and homework. I think she wanted me to say that because she spent her Saturdays learning mathematics that I thought the teacher should automatically give her a higher grade. I have a very specific answer for just such a question. The answer is "No." This is really asking me if I think effort and sincerity should be part of a student's grade. All I can say is that effort is great, but that is not what she is being graded on in class. She is being graded on what she knows about the subject matter and how well she can demonstrate that she knows it.
I don't think students should be graded on effort; they should be graded on results. It is one of the sadder results of the "No Child Left Behind" philosophy that schools really need some way to pass children whose achievement does not measure up. If the student in seventh grade has worked really hard and still cannot multiply eight by five without counting on his fingers and/or guessing, that child really should be left behind. Even if the child is putting in a Herculean effort, if he cannot multiply better than that, he should not be passed on to the eighth grade. In fact, he should never have gotten into the seventh grade in the first place.
This all fits into the issue of grade inflation. Back when I was a graduate student at Stanford the undergraduates hated getting teaching assistants for courses. Not that they taught any worse than the regular professors. In fact, frequently they were more creative teachers. But teaching assistants were told that they had to issue grades in a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 distribution. A third of the students got A, a third got B, and a third got C. The professors would often give grades in a distribution of two-thirds of the students got A and one-third got B. But the students would come to me complaining that B is really a bad grade. I think since that time grade inflation has only been getting worse. Students who skip classes and do poorly on tests try to convince the teachers they worked really hard and deserve better grades for the extra work. And some teachers cave in and give these students special breaks. And something new is becoming a factor these days. Parents are entering the fray arguing for their children's cause. To some parents it is not fair that some people breeze through a course and get and A. Other students have to work very hard and can barely get a B. The parents argue that how hard the student struggles with the material is as important as measurable results like test grades. Also bad grades are bad for the student's self- esteem. (The whole self-esteem issue should be a separate entire editorial, but to make a long story short, I do not believe there is a necessarily correlation between self-esteem and future success. A student should not hate himself, but it is a bad idea to let the student lie to himself about just how good his performance has been.)
The practice of parents arguing for their children sets a bad example for the student. It makes it look like the right thing to do in a situation like this is not to buckle down and study harder, but to get better arguers on his side. It sends a message that arguing well can be as important and valuable as knowing the material. Mathematics is very exacting, and I think the assignment of grades should be just as exacting. There should be very little teacher discretion in a mathematics grade. Everybody's grade should be generated the same way. The less "wiggle room" the better.
That said, I do want to give the students who come to my classes an advantage over their classmates. I am working hard to give them the opportunity to actually understand the mathematics better than their fellow students do. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A few weeks ago I was in the minority in my opinion of Cory Doctorow's LITTLE BROTHER, and now I find myself in that position with THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant (ISBN-13 978-0-312-19551-9, ISBN-10 0-312-19551-9). The only reason I read this book was because it was chosen for our book discussion group.
Let me start by giving some of the reasons other people gave for disliking it and explaining why they are not my reasons:
Many have said it was not "Christian", which strikes me as besides the point (especially given that Diamant is Jewish). People also say it was advertised as "Christian fiction", which is like claiming Shakespeare is an American author. (After I read the dozenth or so description of this book about the daughter of Jacob and Leah, with its events taking place around 1800 B.C.E., as being "Christian fiction", I was ready to heave the book at the next person who said that.)
More generally, people have also said it was "blasphemous," or tried to destroy or belittle their faith. Whether that is true or not, an author is not obliged to write books supporting people's faith.
There was also the complaint that it was "disgusting" in its emphasis on blood, birthing, and sex. I would contend that those aspects seemed overdone to me, but I'm not sure that "disgusting" is a fair description.
No, my complaints are as follows:
First, Diamant supposedly bases her story on the Biblical account in Genesis. But she assumes that (almost) everything in that one existing account is a lie. If she's going to do that, she should just make up fictional characters. Other authors have written "responses" to stories, but they relied on the original stories being at worst mis-interpretations, not outright lies. (Examples would be Gregory Maguire's WICKED and others, or Stephen Baxter's THE TIME SHIPS.) Among other things, Diamant changes the genealogy around, assigning children to different parents and creating twins where none existed before. She also ignores all oral tradition (midrash) on Dinah (and everyone else involved). Most, but not all, of her changes seem to be aimed at attacking almost all the men in the story.
As one reviewer said (rather charitably, I thought), "Diamant penned an interesting tale, but she never let the Genesis account get in the way of her story."
It is similar to THE DA VINCI CODE in this regard, though the latter is even more clearly contrary to fact, given that it contradicts facts in much more recent and better-documented history. But it can be argued that both contradict their sources and by doing so, offend their readers.
Diamant also seems to misunderstand the religious dynamic of the time. The (pagan) wives would have been more accepting of their husbands' god (El); it is the (monotheistic) husbands would violently object to the gods (and goddesses) that their wives worshipped.
I am not an expert on the Bronze Age, but many who are say that Diamant's portrayal of it is completely inaccurate. (So it is definitely troubling to see reader's comments that say, "I must admit that this book was interesting as I did learn a few things about the traditions back in those days.") One example of inaccuracy is the mention of the Valley of the Kings--the first royal burial in that area was not until about three hundred years after this story takes place.
I do know something about menstrual cycles, and while the cycles of women *in the same house* may actually synchronize, they have nothing to do with the lunar cycle, do not always occur with the new moon, do not occur simultaneously for all women in the entire region (world?), and do not last the same length of time for all. Even if they did, that time would hardly be what appears to be the equivalent of a spa vacation. First of all, while all the women are lying around doing nothing, who is cooking and baking and drawing water? Since it can't be the men, but it must be someone, the only possibility I can think of is that there are a whole bunch of female slaves who don't get to share all this "sisterhood is powerful" monthly session.
And there is the rather obvious problem that all the men in the story are brutes. (The rare exceptions are not very realistic either.)
Someone wrote, "Not a surprise that one reviewer compared this book to [THE] MISTS OF AVALON--both books insert contemporary neo-pagan beliefs and sensibilities into stories set in earlier times, and both books delight advocates of women-centric neo-pagan spirituality."
And finally, and most importantly to me, nothing much happens. In the Biblical version, the events that occur are important because they are the will of God, and are the basis of the formation of his "chosen people." But THE RED TENT denies this basis, placing the people in a mundane situation with no special position, and no real evidence of a God guiding them, so what happens has no real import. That Esau sold his birthright to Jacob is important in the Bible is important because Jacob will become the ancestor of Israel. In THE RED TENT, Esau and Jacob are just two illiterate shepherds struggling for power in their immediate family. Having removed all historical reason for caring what happens to these people, Diamant has not replaced that with anything. (And had she changed the names of the people in this story to lose all Biblical reference, then I doubt anyone would read it.)
What I find most surprising is that this book is on high school reading lists. It clearly offends many religious people, the history (and biology) is bad, and nothing interesting happens. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Intelligence is characterized by a natural incomprehension of life. -- Henri Bergson, 1907
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