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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/11/09 -- Vol. 28, No. 11, Whole Number 1562
Table of Contents
This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. There is more to life than the planet. [-mrl]
Correction (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Apparently we were inconsistent last issue in how we spelled Morris Keesan's name. We spelled it "Keesan" twice and "Kessan" once. They cannot both be correct, of course. The majority rules. The correct spelling, as noted above is "Keeson". We will try to proofread more carefully in the future and Morris has the personal apologies of Mark and Evelyn Lepper. [-mrl]
Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Some selections from the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013:
1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead. 2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons. 3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables. 6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup. 7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive. 13. The KGB has never officially existed. 17. They have never had to "shake down" an oral thermometer. 22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods. 23. The European Union has always existed. 25. Condoms have always been advertised on television. 35. Women have always outnumbered men in college. 36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time. 38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
I'm not too clear on number 3, since the class of 2013 was born mostly in 1991 or so, and the film SHREK came out in 2001.
The full list is at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2013.php. [-ecl]
The Internet (comments by Tom Brokaw and Tom Friedman):
From the September 6, 2009 MEET THE PRESS. Pass it on.
MR. BROKAW: Well, I've--one of the things I've been saying to audiences is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet. And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a new flat-screen television. You read the "Consumer Reports", you have an idea of what it's worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to do the same thing with information because there is so much disinformation out there that it's frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this is across the board, by the way. It's not just one side of the political spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David, and it's something that we all have to address and it requires society and political and cultural leaders to stand up and say, "this is crazy." We just can't function that way.
MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David, I just want to say one thing to pick up on Tom's point, which is the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, left, right, center, up, down, and requires that kind of filtering by anyone. And I always felt, you know, when modems first came out, when that was how we got connected to the Internet, that every modem sold in America should actually come with a warning from the surgeon general that would have said, "judgment not included," okay? That you have to upload the old-fashioned way. Church, synagogue, temple, mosque, teachers, schools, you know. And too often now people say, and we've all heard it, "But I read it on the Internet," as if that solves the bar bet, you know? And I'm afraid not.
The Viking Way (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We think of the Vikings as being terrible raiders, but that was just a small aspect of Viking society with very few taking part. They were what we would think of as criminals, but it was acceptable to do what they did to other cultures. It was akin to hunting. For large crimes and civil actions there was an annual meeting called the "althing". This was where local grievances were settled. The sagas tell stories of vengeance and grudges, but they may well have been highly exaggerated and were written down centuries after the incidents. In any case even if the althing was eleven months off Vikings with a large grievance would have to wait until the next althing. The plaintiff had to be satisfied with the famous adage that althings come to those who wait. [-mrl]
TCM Halloween Horror Line-Up (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Each year we wait anxiously to see what Turner Classic Movies will schedule for Halloween Eve and for Halloween. This year they have even found some films I have not seen. Here is the schedule:
30 Friday 7:15 AM Mask Of Fu Manchu, The (1932) A Chinese warlord threatens explorers in search of the key to global power. Cast: Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Myrna Loy. Dir: Charles Brabin. BW-68 mins, TV-PG, CC 8:30 AM Ghoul, The (1933) An ancient Egyptian returns to punish those who violated his tomb. Cast: Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, Ernest Thesiger. Dir: T. Hayes Hunter. BW-81 mins, TV-G, CC 10:00 AM Black Room, The (1935) An evil twin brother disposes of his enemies in a secret death chamber on his estate. Cast: Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Katherine Demille. Dir: Roy William Nell. BW-68 mins, TV-G, CC 11:15 AM Walking Dead, The (1936) A framed man comes back from the dead to seek revenge. Cast: Boris Karloff, Edmund Gwenn, Marguerite Churchill. Dir: Michael Curtiz. BW-65 mins, TV-PG, CC 12:30 PM Man They Could Not Hang, The (1939) A mad scientist uses an artificial heart pump he invented to seek revenge after he is executed. Cast: Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox. Dir: Nick Grinde. BW-70 mins, 1:45 PM Man With Nine Lives, The (1940) A doctor's attempts to cure cancer lead to a series of grisly murders. Cast: Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers. Dir: Nick Grinde. BW-74 mins, TV-PG 3:00 PM Before I Hang (1940) A mad scientist experiments with a serum tainted with a psychopath's blood. Cast: Boris Karloff, Evevlyn Keyes, Bruce Bennett. Dir: Nick Grinde. BW-62 mins, TV-PG, CC 4:15 PM Ape, The (1940) A mad doctor dresses as an ape to kill victims for their spinal fluid. Cast: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gertrude Hoffman. Dir: William Nigh. BW-62 mins, TV-PG 5:30 PM Devil Commands, The (1941) A scientist kills innocent victims in his efforts to communicate with his late wife. Cast: Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Anne Revere. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. BW-64 mins, TV-14 6:45 PM Isle Of The Dead (1945) The inhabitants of a Balkans island under quarantine fear that one of their number is a vampire. Cast: Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Helene Thimig. Dir: Mark Robson. BW-72 mins, TV-PG, CC 8:00 PM Gaslight (1944) A newlywed fears she's going mad when strange things start happening at the family mansion. Cast: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Angela Lansbury. Dir: George Cukor. BW-114 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS 10:00 PM Night Must Fall (1937) A charming young man worms his way into a wealthy woman's household, then reveals a deadly secret. Cast: Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty. Dir: Richard Thorpe. BW-116 mins, TV-PG, CC 12:00 AM Psycho (1960) A woman on the run gets mixed up with a repressed young man and his violent mother. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. BW-109 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format 2:00 AM Zaat (1972) A mad scientist transforms himself into an aquatic killer. Cast: Marshall Grauer, Wade Popwell, Paul Galloway. Dir: Don Barton. C-100 mins, 3:45 AM Swamp Thing (1982) After a violent incident with a special chemical, a research scientist is turned into a swamp plant monster. Cast: Louis Jordan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise. Dir: Wes Craven. C-90 mins, TV-14 31 Saturday 6:00 AM Woman In White, The (1948) Classic mystery about the adventures of a young tutor sent to a ghostly country estate. Cast: Gig Young, Eleanor Parker, Sydney Greenstreet. Dir: Peter Godfrey. BW-109 mins, TV-G, CC 8:00 AM Dead of Night (1945) Guests at a country estate share stories of the supernatural. Cast: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Michael Redgrave. Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer. BW-103 mins, , CC 10:00 AM Haunting, The (1963) A team of psychic investigators moves into a haunted house that destroys all who live there. Cast: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn. Dir: Robert Wise. BW-112 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format 12:00 PM Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971) A madman uses the plagues of ancient Egypt to avenge his wife's death. Cast: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Virginia North. Dir: Robert Fuest. C-95 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format 1:45 PM Diary of a Madman (1963) The body of a French magistrate is taken over by the soul of a murderer. Cast: Vincent Price, Nelson Olmsted, Nancy Kovack. Dir: Reginald Le Borg. C-97 mins, TV-14, Letterbox Format 3:30 PM Martin Scorsese Presents, Val Lewton: The Man In The Shadows (2007) This TCM original documentary looks at the imaginative producer who fashioned a lasting body of beautiful and unsettling films on meager budgets. Cast: Martin Scorsese Narrates. BW-77 mins, TV-PG, CC 5:00 PM Cat People (1942) A newlywed fears that an ancient curse will turn her into a bloodthirsty beast. Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway. Dir: Jacques Tourneur. BW-73 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS 6:30 PM Curse of the Cat People, The (1944) A lonely child creates an imaginary playmate with surprisingly dangerous results. Cast: Kent Smith, Simone Simon, Julia Dean. Dir: Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch. BW-70 mins, TV-PG, CC 8:00 PM Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941) A scientist's investigations into the nature of good and evil turn him into a murderous monster. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner. Dir: Victor Fleming. BW-113 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS 10:00 PM Murders in the Zoo (1933) A crazed zoologist uses zoo animals to dispose of his wife's suitors. Cast: Charlie Ruggles, Lionel Atwill, Gail Patrick. Dir: Edward Sutherland. BW-66 mins, 11:15 PM Body Snatcher, The (1945) To continue his medical experiments, a doctor must buy corpses from a grave robber. Cast: Boris Karloff, Henry Daniell, Bela Lugosi. Dir: Robert Wise. BW-78 mins, TV-PG, CC 12:45 AM Circus of Horrors (1960) A deranged plastic surgeon travels with a circus troupe. Cast: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur. Dir: Sidney Hayers. C-87 mins, 2:00 AM Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1932) Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a scientist who unleashes the beast within. Cast: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart. Dir: Rouben Mamoulian. BW-96 mins, TV-PG, CC 3:45 AM Son of Dr. Jekyll, The (1951) The son of the notorious scientist fights to clear his father's name. Cast: Louis Hayward, Jody Lawrance, Alexander Knox. Dir: Seymour Friedman. BW-78 mins, TV-PG 5:15 AM Mad Love (1935) A mad doctor grafts the hands of a murderer on to a concert pianist's wrists. Cast: Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive. Dir: Karl Freund. BW-68 mins, TV-PG, CC
And for those afraid that after this they will not show another genre film for months, on November 1 at 4:15 PM it will be FORBIDDEN PLANET.
Magnetic Monopoles Found???:
I cannot believe that one of the great mysteries of science seems to have been resolved, and nobody appears to be taking any notice. I am writing this on a Sunday, two days after the story hit the news and still nobody seems to be picking up on it. It seems to have been shuffled off to the back pages of the Internet and nobody is talking about it. When Fermat's Last Theorem was proved it made headlines around the world. Perhaps magnetic monopoles do not have the same fascination.
When I was growing up the monopole question was considered one of the great mysteries of physics, and it was even special because you did not need a PhD to understand the issue. Magnets are a popular science toy with most kids (and adults). Kids play with them at home. They see them stuck on the refrigerator. People know about magnetism so you would think the discovery would be meaningful to people.
What is this all about? You probably learned in grade school that all magnets have a north and a south region. If you magnetize a piece of iron you get two poles, a north and a south. The north pole attracts south poles in magnets and repels other north poles. The south pole attracts north poles in magnets and repels other south poles. But the two always come in pairs. Take a bar magnet, north at one end and south at the other, and cut it in half and you do not get two monopoles, you get two magnets each north at one end and south at the other. They always came in pairs. You cannot have one without the other, or so it seems.
Then one day I learned in physics class that in theory it did not have to be that way. You could have a magnet that had just a south pole and not a north pole. Or vice versa. These are called "magnetic monopoles." Magnetism and electricity are closely associated. You have a positively charged particle without a negative one. You have negatively charged particles without positive ones. Similarly you should be able to have north magnetic poles without south ones and vice versa. The theory says they can exist but they have never been found or produced. Maxwell's Equations seem to suggest it is possible to have existing monopoles, but all magnetic particles that have ever been found are dipoles. That is they have a north and south pole. Is this a universal constant?
In 1931 Paul Dirac studying magnetic phenomena said that magnetic monopoles theoretically could exist. Not only could they exist, they would help explain the existence of electrons. It all fit into the equations. Of course not everything consistent with mathematics really exists. Or some things that can be predicted by mathematical models could really be, but just be very hard to find. Tachyons may exist, particles that move faster than the speed of light and need an infinite amount of energy to slow them down to light-speed. But we will probably never know because there is a gulf between them and us, which is the speed of light. But there is some chance that monopoles do exist and we could find them. Scientists have hoped for years to find them. They have looked in moon rocks and they have looked at deep ocean rocks. Now it appears that there is a lot of chance. In fact, depending on whose account you read, they are either very close or they have already been found.
Jonathan Morris at the Helmholtz Centre for Materials and Energy in Berlin is part of a team that has found the strongest evidence yet for magnetic monopoles, in crystals about the size of the last joint on your little finger. Chill the crystals to near absolute zero; they seem to contain tiny single points of north and south. They are poles disconnected from any opposite poles. In other words they are tiny monopoles.
Monopoles show up occasionally in science fiction. In DRAGON'S EGG by Robert Forward they are used as part of the process. Larry Niven uses them in his Known Space stories. Wikipedia lists several places where they show up in popular culture including computer games. So science fiction fans do seem to know about magnetic monopoles and may be cheering quietly.
Background material: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_ monopoles
Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon (Part 3) (convention report by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This is the third part of my brief report on Anticipation, the Worldcon held in Montreal August 6-10, 2009. My full report will also include panel descriptions, but will probably not appear for some time (though I hope before the next Worldcon!).
The first week I covered our hotel, the convention centre, registration, and publications. Last week I covered the restaurant guide, dealers room, and art show.
The programming itself was fine, but the organization of it left something to be desired. The participants were sent their draft schedules about one month before the convention--at the same time as the programme book and grid went to the printer! This meant that there were a *lot* of changes to the printed programme that could have been avoided if the drafts had been sent out even a week or two earlier. So there were *seven* pink pages of changes before the convention even started. In addition, the grids had been laid out incorrectly, and starting times were often off by a half-hour. Signs soon appeared throught the convention centre (in English and French) saying that the grids were incorrect and to use the pink sheets. But the pink sheets had only the changes; the unchanged items were not listed there at all, so one needed to reference the grids as well.
One really major example: the conversation between Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and author Charles Stross was listed for three different times and two different rooms, depending on which piece of paper you looked at.
In addition, the film programme was not listed anywhere (nor were the hours for the Dealers Room). The filk programme was also supposedly grossly wrong.
"Plokteur" (the hoax newsletter) was not far off the mark when it said, "The Pocket Programme Convention Guide is the definitive source for programme items that were added to the programme database on Tuesdays or on Friday mornings, and the first edition of the Moose-Baiting and Franglais-Language programme streams, while the daily pink sheets will let you find items that have been relocated to an alternative space-time continuum, that other newsletter that doesn't exist will include all the programme changes that are now too late to be any use, the second edition of the programme grid is 23.2% more accurate than the first edition, and the bits of paper stuck to the walls will tell you how to avoid the filk, children's and WSFS programming."
There were also other problems. For example, Mark was supposed to be on an item where the convention would should the film PRIMER and then the panel would discuss it. When he walked in, someone from the back of the room by the DVD player asked him, "Do you have the film?" To make a long story short, no one on the committee had thought to arrange for the film. Now it turned out that when Mark heard he was on this item (only two days before we left New Jersey), he put the DVD in his luggage to watch on the trip. So he was able to say that if the audience could wait a half-hour while he ran back to the hotel room, he could provide the film. What are the chances of that?! (Slim--the other two similar items with other films were canceled.)
He also had the problem that whoever wrote up his origami workshops said that Mark would be teaching specific figures, but never discussed this with him. Additionally, when he asked before the convention who was supplying the paper, they sent him email asking him to buy it and they would reimburse him, this email arriving while we were in Newfoundland. Luckily, Michael's had branches in several towns we were going through later in the trip. (At the convention, no one seemed to know how to reimburse him.)
I heard that the Regency Dance had no sound system provided, and was given a room still set up for panels, so they had to move all the chairs out of the way themselves.
Now, I heard from someone that one entire department of programming quit fairly late in the game, and I know that programme planning started late, because one person told me when he was given names and panels and asked to start matching them up (late June, if I recall). Panelists who did not have or provide an email address sometimes found themselves left out in the cold regarding panel placement and so on. (One said that even a letter or phone call explaining that it was too difficult to try to work without an email address and could they try to get one would have been better.)
Whether the committee's convention centre liaison was inexperienced, or Canada is stricter, I don't know, but the Green Room had very little in the way of refreshment, probably because all of it was provided by the convention centre at inflated prices. There was coffee (usually) and tea, with some muffins and bagels in the morning, and a couple of small cheese and veggie platters during the day. There were no cold beverages (other than water), no chips, etc., and when there was food, it disappeared very quickly.
There was no clock. I doubt the convention centre would have insisted they pay a corkage fee if they had put one in. (Someone else claimed there was a clock. All I can say is that I did not see one, and I did look for it.)
The convention seemed to think all the people in the room were there for the next panel, and that all the panelists would show up. Announcements of changes in the "5-minute-warning" system were posted in the Green Room but nowhere else. Moderators, as usual, seemed ill-formed about the actual length of the panels.
FRAGMENT by Warren Fahy (copyright 2009) (book review by Tom Russell):
My first encounter with an alien life form took place at our home, almost four years ago. The previous night's thunderstorm had blown what appeared to be a small pile of purple sawdust up against one of our garage doors. On closer inspection it looked shinier, perhaps like metal filings. But when I went to clean it up with a little brush and dust pan, the pile backed away as though it were alive. When I came back with a broom with a *much longer* handle, "the blob" scattered and then disappeared. Must have been thousands upon thousands of very tiny little purple bugs? I'd never seen them before; haven't ever since.
Warren Fahy starts FRAGMENT with a prologue in which he reviews the terrible impact of some alien species, that is, species imported from their native territory to another part of the Earth. One of his examples: "In 1826, the H.M.S. Wellington accidentally introduced mosquitoes to the island of Maui ... twenty-nine of the island's sixty-eight native bird species have vanished forever."
The "fragment" in FRAGMENT is a small, unexplored island ("Hender's Island") in the remote south Pacific. It was broken off from a supercontinent about 500 million years ago. Page 234: "To put it in perspective, Mr. President, Australia was isolated seventy million years ago, and look how weird kangaroos and platypuses are. Life on Hender's Island has been isolated for almost ten times as long. For all practical purposes, it might as well be an alien planet."
FRAGMENT is on one level a good adventure story, easy to compare to JURASSIC PARK. On another level, FRAGMENT is a commentary on human impact on the other species of the Earth. On yet another level, it teaches biology and evolution. There are some things about FRAGMENT that critics may object to, but are fun: One of the creatures on Hender's Island reminded me of Han Solo's co-pilot Chewbacca, but with more arms. There's a map of Hender's Island and sketches of some of its inhabitants at the rear of the book. Neat.
I would enjoy seeing FRAGMENT as a movie. Perhaps Warren Fahy would as well. Filmed in Hawaii? The red sand beach where the expedition landed on Hender's Island is remarkably similar to the little red sand beach near the town of Hana on Maui. My wife and I walked the hidden, narrow, cliff-side trail to access that beach. That was later the same year that I had seen the aliens; hopefully we didn't accidentally take any of those tiny purple bugs to Hawaii. [-tlr]
Anticipation Art Show (letter of comment by Jo Paltin):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the art show at Anticipation in the 09/04/09 issue of the MT VOID, Jo Paltin writes, "In regards to the Anticipation Art Show, I would say that it was disappointing, with the notable exceptions of Jean-Pierre Normand's paintings and John Douglass' spaceships. These two artists had large displays of top quality work, but that's about it. Some of the regular U.S. fan artists had small displays of prints, which seemed to sell briskly and some even sold out. Otherwise, there was a noticeable dearth of master artists. I was expecting other Canadian artists (other than JPN) to take this opportunity to show their work, but I saw nothing memorable, and, if anything, only posters that were not for sale. In general, I'd say the Canadian artists missed a bet, by failing to gain exposure to new fans. Jean-Pierre Normand got it right, though, with a large aisle-end display of many original works (not prints). He also included images of some his other published art. He had several bids just before the Art Show closed, proving that the buying public still has an open wallet when faced with professional work of high quality." [-jp]
Christmas(tm) (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Christmas stories in the 09/04/09 issue of the MT VOID (where she wrote, "... all of these things have been trademarked and so you can't have a Christmas tree, you must have a Christmas Tree(tm) and pay a license fee for it. The same with Holly(tm), Mistletoe(tm), and so on."), Dan Kimmel writes:
Maybe that's where Bill Gates got the inspiration to file for such trademarks as Windows(tm), Word(tm), Access(tm), Bookshelf(tm), Arcade(tm), etc. [-dk]
Overtaking Technology (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "overtaking technology" in "Father of the Stars", David Goldfarb writes, "The concept of an STL ship arriving at its destination only to find the people in FTL ships already there dates back at least to Van Vogt's story "Far Centaurus", which the ISFDB dates to 1944. While I've read that Pohl collection [to which Evelyn referred], it was a long time ago and I don't remember that specific story; maybe he has some new twist--but he certainly didn't invent the idea." [-dg]
Multiverses (letter of comment by Steve Milton):
In response to Mark's comments on multiverses in the 09/04/09 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:
[Mark wrote:] "On the other hand a major multiverse story I remember, one that may even pre-date the concept of multiverse, is the 'Planet of the Apes' series. That starts with a world where apes hold humans in bondage and through time travel spirals around to a future where the apes and humans live together in harmony and mutual respect. The story is a little syrupy, but it has the concept that time travel has actually changed the timeline. That may have been just sloppiness on the part of the writers, but it created the interesting concept that there might be two different universes." [-mrl]
In the multiverse where I saw the movies, the apes and humans were living in harmony in 2600, but the statue of Caesar was weeping. By 3000 (or whenever the TV series took place) the apes were in charge although the humans living under them still had their wits about them. So, I don't think this is a good example. [-smm]
Mark replies, "I don't think of the TV series as canon. That may be our difference. I don't even know that the TV series is supposed to be consistent with the movie series." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
PLASTIC FANTASTIC: HOW THE BIGGEST FRAUD IN PHYSICS SHOOK THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD by Eugenie Samuel Reich (ISBN-13 978-0-230-22467-4, ISBN-10 0-230-22467-9) is of interest to anyone who worked at Bell Labs, which is an appreciable proportion of the readers of the MT VOID. That said, it is not the most engagingly written book about research I have read.
The book tells the story of Jan Henrik Schon's "discovery" of a way to make plastic transistors, and everyone else's discovery of how it was all a fraud. One problem is that Reich tries to cover both the science and the fraud in a single book. The result is that just as you are getting into the details of how the decreasing oversight in the process of producing technical memoranda at Bell Labs allowed Schon's fraud to continue, Reich switches to something like "Schon said that he had built the prototype laser by sputtering aluminum oxide onto opposing sides of a single crystal of tetracene. He had added gate electrodes, one on each side, to induce negative and positive charges using the field effect." (I picture these gates sort of like the foo dogs flanking Chinese buildings. :-) )
Schon was at Bell Labs in Murray Hill (NJ) from 1997 to 2002. Reich mentions a lot of people and places that readers who were in Murray Hill will probably resonate with, and talks about the changes that came first with divesture, and later with the spin- offs of Lucent Technologies and Agere Microsystems. However, I do not think he will convey much of this to people who were not there experiencing it firsthand, so this gets only a conditional recommendation.
A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME: THE RISE, FALL, AND CURIOUS AFTERLIFE OF THE GREAT BOOKS by Alex Beam (ISBN-13 978-1-58648-487-3, ISBN-10 1-58648-487-7) is about the "Great Books of the Western World" set (hereafter referred to as GBWW) produced by Britannica from the early 1950s until recently. If the people who came up with the idea (and the selections) come out as less than ideal, so does Beam himself at times. On page 50, when he is reporting stories from an issue of "Life" magazine in 1935, he says that the one titled "Eleanor Roosevelt Spends a Night in the White House" is "doubtless some arcane 'in' joke." If indeed it is a joke, it is hardly arcane or "in"--Eleanor Roosevelt was known for her traveling on behalf of her husband and in general for good causes. On the topic at hand, frequently Beam admits to be unfamiliar with various works in the GBWW. (Beam admits this, though, and he is not writing about the content of the books so much as the creation and marketing of a canon.) And Beam is generally quite snarky about the people involved in the GBWW project--the book is as much, or more, about them and their foibles as it is about the GBWW.
The people involved were Mortimer Adler, Robert Hutchins, and William Benton. Beam does occasionally (uncharacteristically) go out of his way to give them the benefit of the doubt, as when he attempts to temper the "all-white" image of the GBWW authors by describing the committee as "[having] chosen seventy-four writers, all deceased and primarily Caucasian males (St. Augustine's ethnicity is always in doubt)." But when a *1990* marketing memo for the GBWW says, "We have also answered an objection of more recency--namely, where are the women? We *have* come a long way, baby, and thus we have Jane and George, as well as Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf in the 20th century," what can one say? Beam gives us the answer, "To which one can only say: Ouch."
It gets worse, with Adler making pronouncements such as "[blacks] didn't write any good books" and (responding to a charge of Eurocentrism), "If [Asians] came to the West, they better learn Western culture. If they want to stay Japanese, they should stay in Japan." (A better answer would have been that the set was specifically titled "Great Books of the Western World".)
Beam takes the set to task (as did others) for including outdated works of science. Yes, Galen was important in the history of science, but it is not clear that today's readers will get any benefit from reading him--in a mediocre translation to boot. And the use of Galen as a basic text in St. John's College's curriculum defies all reason. (There are several other authors equally outdated; I chose Galen just as an example.)
Beam also attacks the translations used for the works, and rightly so. (Over half of the selections were originally written in languages other than English, including a dozen in Greek and another dozen in Latin.) The committee might have claimed to choose the best "available" translation, but "available" meant "available free". (There was a definite rift between the committee and those academicians who felt that if people were going to read the GBWW, they should do it in the original languages anyway.)
*My* primary objection to the GBWW set is that while it is nice as "furniture", it is expensive without being worth the price. Because Adler wanted no intermediaries between the reader and the book, there were no introductory or explanatory materials other than a one-page biographical note, no footnotes to explain arcane references to foreign phrases, and so on. In an inexpensive Dover edition, one understands that this lack is a cost-saving measure. For a set selling for $250 in 1952, this excuse won't work.
In addition, by the time *I* discovered the GBWW, I already owned several of the books. The big explosion of cheap mass-market paperbacks started right around the time the GBWW came out. Oh, there were paperbacks before this, but one started to see more and more, and by the 1960s, all the GBWW worth reading by the general public were available cheaply. (The scientific works are a different story.) So the target market may have owned some of the works already.
Regarding the pages themselves, Beam complains that they are hard to read because they are double-column nine-point type. Judith C. Kinney (in a review on amazon.com) says, "Beam measures the type at nine points. My point gauge measured it at ten points. The type seems small because the lines have no leading ... [the space between the bottom of a letter with a descender ... and the top of a letter with an ascender ... in the next line]. Most of THE NEW YORKER is set in ten-point type with two points leading. The leading makes all the difference." in addition, some volumes did have single columns, or less "packed" pages, in particular the science works. This seems like sloppy research on Beam's part, and indeed, several reviewers say Beam's knowledge of Adler, Hutchins, and Benton are based mostly on a few secondary sources.
So the GBWW is an opportunity to buy these works in bad, un- annotated, hard-to-read, expensive editions, rather than better, cheaper versions that, admittedly, would not look as uniform on the shelf. (There is an irony here, I think, that people who supposedly want to get people to learn to think for themselves about these books are promoting uniformity and conformity.)
Beam may seem too harsh on the notion of providing an opportunity for the average person to read these (or other) GBWW, but one must remember that the cost of the set did not make it readily available to the economically disadvantaged. There are two aspects here: the set as a physical object, and the set as a list of works. That the set was available in a variety of bindings, ranging in price from $225 to $1175, indicates that the physical object was considered as important, if not more so, than the list.
(Consider Clifton Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan" as an alternative approach. Fadiman gave you an annotated list, and assumed you knew where the libraries and bookstores were.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: What, after all, is mathematics but the poetry of the mind, and what is poetry but the mathematics of the heart? -- David Eugene Smith
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