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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/12/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 37, Whole Number 1588
Table of Contents
Science Fiction Discussion Groups:
March 18: JOURNEY THROUGH GENIUS by William Dunham, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM March 25: STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (postponed from February) April 8: THE ILLUSTRATED MAN by Ray Bradbury, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and book after film
Color Diet (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The new ideas for diets is to get a variety of colors in your diet. (See http://tinyurl.com/CBS-color.) The idea is that if you have a variety of colors in your diet you will get a better balance of nutrients. It is very healthy. I am going out right now and buy myself a large bag of M&Ms. [-mrl]
End of the Line (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw a documentary recently. It is called THE END OF THE LINE. The topic is overfishing of the world's oceans. I remember years ago the claim was that the oceans had enough fish to feed the world's population for thousands of years to come. I think that must have been with the then current fishing methods. Humans fortunately and unfortunately are very clever. Fish have value as food and the more fish that can be caught the more the load is worth. If you catch twice as much fish you can make considerably more money, maybe twice as much. And the odds are good someone can make a big profit hauling in a catch. With that money new and more efficient means can be found to catch more fish and make more money and catch even larger catches.
So today there are much more efficient ways to take fish from the sea. With bigger boats and bigger nets and electronics and just plain human ingenuity more ways can be found to pull fish from the oceans and turn them into money. On the face of it that sounds pretty good, or at least might have in the 1950s.
However, it is obvious where this is going. Overfishing is severely depleting populations of fish in the oceans and driving species extinct. If not stopped, it will be very bad for our future. The film makes a compelling argument that that is exactly what is happening and all too fast. I could repeat the salient points of that case, but it is not the point of this article and I could not do justice to the case even if I tried.
THE END OF THE LINE is just one of many current documentaries that are in many ways very similar. The Oscar-winning THE COVE is about harvesting of dolphins. Then there is AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH about global warming. And there is FOOD, INC., about degrading food with factory farming. And this is just scratching the surface. They are all on the theme that someone is making a lot of money--legally
or illegally--and is not worrying about the damage that is being done to the world in the process. There is a subtext that they are getting away with it because the general public is for the most part just too apathetic to do anything about the situation. The films are intended to remedy that situation get people involved.
It sounds like I am being cynical about how similar these documentaries are, but the fact is that they tend to be well- documented and most seem to be pretty dead on. In each case something needs to be done. Activists are needed. I do what I can, but there are a lot of such causes, and I cannot put energy behind all of them.
But that is really the problem, isn't it? We sympathize, we want to do something, but second only to greed in these issues the problem is apathy and even self-delusion. People have lives to lead and worry more about the mundane. We hope something is being done on these problems, but that is about the best we allow ourselves to do.
A relative read an article about somebody making money from recycling something, and she concluded that saving the planet would actually be a profitable enterprise and everyone can do very well by doing good. I told her that was a little too optimistic. There are just too many trends that are going to be very painful to stop. It is going to take a lot of sacrifice. And some of these problems are just too far-gone to fix.
We carry our groceries home in cloth shopping bags and are told and tell ourselves we are saving the planet. The effort to shift to cloth shopping bags is a long, long way from what would be necessary to "save the planet." Well, truthfully, the planet will survive. I am less sure that that people will. The world will probably be a great deal different in the future and I expect it will not be very pleasant.
The problem is the people who are making the money doing the damage have the funds to fight the people trying to slow the destruction. The "Greed is Good" crowd have what it takes to lobby government and stymie efforts to preserve what we have. Even those who want to do something are fed misinformation. I am not saying that money is the root cause of all these problems, but it is for a lot of them. Money is not the root of all evil, but it makes a pretty good it.
The problem is that we have reached an age of power and empowerment. People can do more for themselves than at any time in history. In the 1940s the fish still had a fighting chance, and that meant populations survived. Technology has essentially taken most of the failure risk out of the enterprise of collecting that fish. If you want to get a huge catch of fish, the technology tells you just what to do. Without some restraint the fishers can now take huge chunks out of the sea life populations and not leave enough for the populations to survive. I doubt that as a people we have the resolve to do what needs to be done.
We desperately need that resolve. [-mrl]
AFGHAN STAR (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Just as Americans have their television program "American Idol," since 2005 Afghanistan has had its own popular music program "Afghan Star." It is the same and not the same. The difference is that religious fanatics like the Taliban can at any time decide singing a song is a capital crime. This is a country torn apart by those who want to bring in modern international ways and those who want to seal off the country with a fundamentalist fascism. This documentary follows four contestants on "Afghan Star" and what they experience risking their lives for a singing competition and for freedom. Havana Marking directs. AFGHAN STAR will be shown on HBO on March 18, 2010. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
It is hard to imagine an image more incongruous than "American Idol" together with the strife-ridden country of Afghanistan. Yet Afghanistan does have television and they have their own program inspired by "American Idol" (itself inspired by an early television program, "The Ted Mack Amateur Hour"). In 2005 the Tolo Television network premiered the TV show "Afghan Star". On the face of it that might not seem like such a courageous action, but everything that happens in Afghanistan is overshadowed by the extremism of Islamic fundamentalists who freely murder to enforce obedience to their fanatical interpretation of Sharia law. A television show is particularly dangerous. In 1996 it became a crime to listen to music, to dance, or to watch television. These restrictions were removed in 2004, but the three actions are still dangerous. The Taliban tentatively allows the singing, but any sign of dancing can--and in the course this documentary does--lead to more serious repercussions. Countering the fundamentalists is the overwhelming attraction of Music.
Popular music is a very strong force in the emerging Afghanistan. There are some people obsessively loyal to songs. Where else in the world would you find people explaining that music brings happiness and that it is worth fighting for? Mobs of people try to get to be the audience for the program's broadcasts. In addition, the viewing audience votes for who should win. For many in Afghanistan this is their first experience with democracy, the first time they ever could vote for anything. Some Afghanis are also being surprised to find that they are actually supporting people from other ethnic groups. People make the point that the lessons learned with the program could bring deep changes--social and political--to the country. They say they want to take the country "from the gun to the song."
Marking's cameras follow four contestants. Rafi is a handsome nineteen-year-old who says his goal is to help his people to awaken and find a little joy in life. Setara is two years older. She wants to adopt Western and Indian ways. Hameed trained to be a singer of Afghan classical music but easily made the transition to popular. He is from the persecuted Hazara minority and hopes that his popularity will help his people. Finally there is Lima. She had taken secret music lessons, which in itself could have had her killed by the Taliban. Now she also likes Western ways, but is a little more cautious than Setara.
The film is both optimistic and depressing. Afghanistan is in a state of constant change, and the viewer can only hope that it will be change for the better. This film is about a real war with real deaths that is going on in Afghanistan and one of the battlefields of that war is a pop music contest on television. I rate AFGHAN STAR a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. This film is in Pashtu, Dari, and some English, and it is entirely subtitled in English.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1334510/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/afghan_star/
Pi and Powers of 10 (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Mark's comments on pi and powers of 10 in the 03/05/10 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "Supposing your twelve-fingered aliens, or my eight-fingered ones (they look like us, but don't count thumbs as fingers), also amused themselves by working out the value of pi. Would the expansion of pi in base-12 or base-8 (or any other base--leaving out base-pi!) produce any more significant or interesting patterns than our decimal expansion?" [-fl]
Mark responds, "Probably not. Xenomorphic probably would not be any better than Anthropomorphic. There is no reason pi would like species with twelve fingers any better than species with ten. But to explore it as a continued fraction is at least species-neutral." [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE MARCH OF FOLLY by Barbara Tuchman (ISBN-13 978-0-345-30823-8) was the February book for the general discussion group. While I found her book THE GUNS OF AUGUST excellent, and Mark recommends A DISTANT MIRROR, I found most of this book less than enthralling. The best part was definitely Chapter One ("Pursuit of Policy Contrary to Self-Interest"), and overview of the subject. The topics examined in detail include the Trojan Horse, the Renaissance Popes' provocation of the Protestant Secession, the British loss of America, and the American loss in Vietnam. But Tuchman has a problem with them--she needs to pad each of them out enough to fill a hundred pages or so, but not enough to fill a whole book. The result is less than ideal; the British-lose-America chapter in particular is very hard to follow, with many digressions about who had which livings to give out and what the personalities of their ancestors were.
[Had we delayed reading this book one month, it could have also been the Folly of March. -mrl]
THE FRODO FRANCHISE by Kristin Thompson (ISBN-13 978-0-520-24774-1) is not about the film trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" as about the whole phenomenon that grew up around it, and how it changed Hollywood. For example, when they started filming it, the only actor with any real web site was Ian McKellen (McKellen.com). Studios and movie producers had no idea of what to do on their web sites. Harry Knowles of "Ain't It Cool News" said, "When I consulted with LucasFilms on StarWars.com, they asked me, 'What is it that fans really want?' And I said, 'Fans want to know if you're using Phillips head or flat-head screws on your set, don't you understand!? Fandom wants to know *everything*. There *isn't* enough information you can give them.'" I'll add that as proof of this, this book will be bought by lots of fans with only peripheral interest in the business end, but who are as completist as their budget allows. DVDs were just getting started; what extras to provide and how was a question still unanswered.
Something somewhat peripheral to the LOTR phenomenon was the comment made by an anonymous Disney executive when asked why so many leading directors make R-rated films when PG-13 films are the most financially successful: "You can't get directors of the caliber of Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino to work on movies designed to get kids to buy toys and drag their parents to theme parks. And these are the directors who win Academy Awards."
We're watching the Teaching Company course "Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations", taught by Prof. Brian M. Fagan. It is a good course, but 1) it could use more maps showing the topography at various times, and 2) someone needs to go over pronunciation with Prof. Fagan. He mispronounces a lot of words, including skeletal, motif, archetype, and diaspora. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech. -- George Bernard Shaw
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