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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/18/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 34, Whole Number 1637
Table of Contents
Answer to Last Week's Word Puzzle and a New Puzzle (by Tom Russell):
Last week I gave the puzzle:
The five common vowels are A, E, I, O and U. One set of matching words using all five vowels is BALL, BELL, BILL, BOLL, BULL. (If you don't raise cotton then boll might not be a familiar word.) Find another list of five four-letter words with the same property. The vowel may be in any of the four positions.
The answer is last, lest, list, lost, and lust.
[Mark adds, "Another one is pats, pets, pits, pots, and puts." [-mrl]
This week's puzzle:
Our old dictionary has the two-letter word "jo" meaning "sweetheart." (See also http://www.yourdictionary.com/jo.) If you back up one letter in each place the 'j' becomes an 'I' and the 'o' becomes an 'n' (in the same way HAL relates to IBM), so "jo" becomes "in", another two-letter word. How many other such "ladder" pairs of two-letter words can you find? You should be able to find up to five more such pairs of words.
The answer will appear next week. [-tlr]
Buckle-Up Community, Beware (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We were driving in Montgomery Township, NJ, and noticed a sign that showed an unbuckled seatbelt and it said, "This is a Buckle-Up Community." Most people would just forget about it, but I started turning this over in my mind. What is a "Buckle-Up Community"? Clearly it cannot be just a place where the law says that you have to buckle your seatbelt. That is true all over New Jersey. What sets this community apart? How does a community of peace-loving people become a "Buckle-Up Community"? Clearly it is an issue that they must take pretty seriously. How seriously do they have to take it that it is necessarily to post warnings for strangers? I have images of people without seatbelts being thrown in the hoosgow--mobs of angry villagers outside the barred window yelling for blood, holding up nooses made of old seatbelts. [-mrl]
Hypotheticals (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Back in 1973 I saw the film THE PAPER CHASE. The film is about the nightmarish atmosphere of Harvard Law School for first year law students. The subject of the production is really the incredible pressure on Harvard law students. Especially heavy is the pressure from the Contract Law professor, Charles Kingsford (played somewhere between imposing and terrifying by John Houseman). At first the main character is so bullied by Kingsfield that he loses his breakfast on the first day. Later another student is driven to attempt suicide. One reason the film was so effective for me was that at the time I was a first year grad student in the Stanford Mathematics Department. We did not have anyone quite as scary as Kingsford, but otherwise the pressure was very high. I could really share in the scariness of the film because I knew what the law students were going through. (Side comment: Actually the plot of the film is a whole lot like that of the more recent THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, but it just takes place in another field of endeavor.)
Curiously one thing that contributed greatly to the film was not the plot but the arguing of legal points that went on in the classroom. I suspect I would hate law school, but the legal arguments were actually very interesting. They kept the discussion non-technical so the audience could follow, and that was a major attraction. The film was adapted to a TV series with Kingsfield a bit de-fanged, but the highpoint was again the legal discussion. As in CSI or NUMB3RS, there is a fascination to see how other people do their jobs.
Anyway, after seeing the film I have always been interested to see a little bit of what law students studied. Then a decade or so later at a used bookstore I saw a yellow box in a series called Law in a Flash. These are flashcards with definitions, facts, and hypotheticals for law students. There was one box for Torts-- Linzer for me, please--and Criminal Law. One of them came with a booklet of instructions on how best to cram--make that study--for exams. It has hints like "in between your last study session and your exam, don't take part in activities that will interfere with your memory like reading a newspaper or studying another subject (if you can avoid it). The less mental activity there is between your last study session and your exam, the more likely you are to remember everything you need to know. Naturally the activity providing the least mental interference is sleep. Barring that try to make sure your interim activities are as different from studying as they can be--perhaps sports or TV." Can you read between the lines and feel the desperation and panic setting in? I can.
So here I have a whole box of hypotheticals. On the cover of the box is "Jack attempts the rape of Jill. Jill screams and Jack panics and runs away. In his rush to escape, he accidentally knocks down an elderly gentleman, causing a blow to his head that results in death. As to the elderly gentleman: Felony murder?" In case you are dying to know, the answer is yes. Accidental deaths that occur as the result of committing a crime are considered as homicide under the law.
Let's try this one. "Juliet is pregnant. Romeo walks up to her with a knife and tells her, 'Once you have the baby I am going to kill you.' Juliet pulls out a gun and shoots him. Can Juliet defend on self-defense grounds?" In this case the answer is no. She can do that only if the force is imminent. Somehow getting a degree in mathematics, we never had fun questions like these.
"Gavrilo Princip hates Archduke Ferdinand and plans to kill him by throwing a hand grenade into his car when he drives by. Princip follows through with this plan, which also results in the death of Sophie, who was in the car with Ferdinand. At common law, what crime has Princip committed with respect to Sophie?" As you might guess from the first question the law is anxious to call any deaths resulting from a crime murder, so indeed Princip has murdered Sophie.
One last one. "David throws a stone at Goliath, while Goliath is sleeping, intending to injure him. He misses. Is David guilty of criminal assault?" Well, the law cannot have people around intending assault even if they are not competent enough to carry out the plan. David is guilty of attempted battery, which is criminal assault.
I would give you more examples, but I am afraid to do so. After all, the copyright holders are themselves lawyers, and you don't want a bunch of lawyers angry at you. [-mrl]
Girl Scout Cookies (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I just read an article in "The Arizona Republic" by John Faherty titled "No More Waiting for Girl Scout Cookies", available at http://tinyurl.com/gs-cookies-htm. It says, it part, "Just six types of cookies--only the favorites--are available: Thin Mints, Samoas, Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, Trefoils and Lemon Chalet Cremes. And ordering ahead is no longer the only way to get the goods at your door. Beginning next Friday, Scouts will also start selling cookies during what is called a walk-about. They will load up their wagons and, for the first time, sell them door to door. The traditional way of getting them remains, with 2.1 million boxes already ordered."
All I can say is that John Faherty must be very young. When *I* was selling Girl Scout cookies (in the early 1960s), selling door- to-door was the *only* way. And there were only four kinds of cookies: Thin Mints, Savannahs (now also called Do-Si-Dos), a sandwich cookie (like Oreos, except half were vanilla cookies rather than chocolate), and Trefoils (a shortbread cookie).
The process then was this: each troop would decide--well, guess, really--how many of each they could sell, and order that many boxes. These would get piled up in the troop leader's garage, and on the official start date, all the Scouts would go there and pick up some allotment of cookies. They would then put these in big shopping bags and start going door to door in their area. (I can't remember if we got assigned streets so that two Scouts on the same street weren't competing for sales.) As the boxes sold we would go home and get more, and so on.
Since each Scout had a fixed number of each type of cookie, if someone's house was towards the end of the route, they might find that there were none of their favorite cookie left. (Indeed, they usually heard that all that was left was the shortbread.)
Our bustling metropolis of Rantoul, Illinois, was fairly well covered by Scouts selling cookies. But the smaller towns nearby-- Paxton, Ludlow, and other, lesser-known places--had no Girl Scout troops. So our troop leaders would pile us and the cookies into their station wagons and drive us to these places, when we would fan out and sell cookies to everyone in sight.
That was the *traditional* way, not the new-fangled system of having your parents canvas all their co-workers to buy cookies. I understand all the reasons for the change, not least of which was that people decided that having ten-year-old girls ringing strangers' doorbells to sell cookies was not a good idea. Add to that the more spread-out suburbs--where a given distance down a street might have ten houses on a side in 1960, now it may have only three--and the distressing tendency of parents to do everything for their children, and the new method is not surprising. But the *best* reasons for the change might be financial--troops did not end up "on the hook" for cookies they could not sell and customers could always get the type they wanted. (Inevitably, the Scouts' parents ended up buying the unsold cookies. We ended up eating a lot of those wretched shortbread cookies.) [-ecl]
UNCORKED *film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A film crew captures a forty-minute monologue by a gregarious drunk in a park. Phil Hall wrote and directed the piece, much of which feels like it was invented impromptu in front of the camera. While doing an impression of a drunk is hardly the most ambitious foundation for a film, at least it can be said that the film never bores. Eric Michael Schrader directs. Rating: Good. (Full disclosure: Phil Hall is an acquaintance of mine through the On-line Film Critics Society who asked if I would want to see and review his film.)
Alan Bennett is the master of monologues in Britain and much of his work has been on British radio, TV, or the stage. His series "Talking Heads" is a series of one-act, one-actor monolog plays. On the surface they seem like pointless ramblings of flawed people, but generally they getting around to carving a character. That seems to be the sort of thing that Phil Hall was trying to do with UNCORKED. Hall wrote and performs the monolog. In fact, what Hall has here would make a better radio play than a film. The visuals' contribution is only a small one. The camerawork is intentionally crude, moving in for a close-up and backing away. When a squirrel comes by the cameraman's attention drifts to the squirrel. This all creates a feel of a quick, unplanned shoot.
Apparently the idea is that a camera crew has found an alcoholic (Hall) sitting in a public park drinking from a bottle and the crew just films what he says for forty minutes. His talk runs from his health and his wife trying to get him to stop smoking and drinking. He shares his reminiscences of a dwarf he knew and wonders is there a way to turn a dwarf into a bigger person. He flits from one subject to the next like a fly buzzing around a room. The intention is just to show the drunk's amiable personality as he talks about his experiences and his odd ideas.
In some places there are problems with the logic of the film. Either we are watching the encounter through the camera or we are watching it through the eye of a human observer. The director takes care to show us a sound boom so that we are supposedly watching through the camera, but when the observer nods yes or no the picture bobs up and down or right to left. At the risk of sounding like Dustin Hoffman's tomato diatribe from TOOTSIE, cameras don't nod. People nod; cameras do not. Also when a boy crossing in the background sees the camera he waves at it, and that was left in the film.
The film's production notes say that the film was made in an hour in a park in New Haven at the cost of $10. That apparently went for a prop bottle of cognac. At the end of the film we have been momentarily entertained, but our understanding the character has not changed much. We have a better feel for his personality, but that is about all. I generally rate the short films as: excellent (E), very good (VG), good (G), fair (F), or and poor (P). I would rate UNCORKED as Good.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1808627/
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart (ISBN 978-0-449-21301-8) was reviewed on a podcast I listened to recently, so I decided to re-read it. Written in 1949, it is often dated, but still well worth reading. Some samples:
Though in many ways progressive in terms of race, there is still some casual prejudice, e.g., "'Bad as a Mexican town,' he thought, 'everyone taking a siesta.'" And even more noticeably, when our point-of-view protagonist Ish finds out someone is "Negro" (to use his term), Stewart describes Ish's reaction: "Now everything came together in his mind--brunette complexion, dark liquid eyes, full lips, white teeth, rich voice, accepting temperament."
Stewart at times has an optimistic view of humanity, e.g., "On the whole, however, order had been well-preserved, possibly through fear." This was overly optimistic even for then, and now seems incredibly naive.
This is even more evidenced in the following passage. (Stewart interspersed his narrative throughout with this sort of poetic third-person-omniscient aside.):
"In those days when there had been death even in the air and civilization tottered towards its end--in those days, the men who controlled the flow of the water looked at one another and said, 'Even though we fall sick and die, still, the people must have water.' And they thought of plans that they had laid carefully in those times when men feared that bombs would fall. Then they set the valves and opened the channels, so that the water flowed freely all the way from the great dams in the mountains and through the long siphons and into the tunnels and finally to the reservoirs from which it would flow, all at the pull of the earth, through all the faucets. 'Now,' they said, 'when we are gone, the water will flow on--yes, until the pipes rust out, and that will be the time of a generation!' Then they died. But they died as men who have finished their work and lie down quietly, secure in their honor."
Another such aside is: "How long would the lights burn? What would make them go out in the end? What else would continue? What was going to happen to all that man had built up through the centuries and now had left behind him?" The BBC has an answer for this, in its series "Life after People". While the series becomes repetitive after a while, the original two-hour show would be an excellent adjunct to the book (and vice versa).
"It was as if there had been a blind man in a world suddenly bereft of light. In that world, those with seeing eyes could only blunder about, but the blind man would be at home, and now instead of being the one who was guided by others, he might be the one to whom others clung for guidance." This seems inspired by H. G. Wells's "The Country of the Blind", and in turn an inspiration for a sub- plot of John Wyndham's DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS.
Sometimes Stewart does not think things out very much. He writes of Ish's thinking, "Would he be ever able to figure out again just which day was Sunday? As for getting the proper day of the year, that should not be too difficult." Well, since it has been less than a year since the disaster, and he knows the date, even if he has not memorized a perpetual calendar all he needs to do is find a calendar, look up what day of the week that date is, and calculate from there.
"You and I, Joey, ...we are alike, we understand! Ezra and George and the others, they are good people. They are good solid average people, and the world couldn't get along withou having lots of them, but they have no spark. We have to give the spark!" And from this point on, Ish seems to be more and more focused on how superior he is to everyone else. Since the story is told from Ish's point of view (albeit in the third person), this makes the reader feel superior as well (by proxy), but on reflection makes Ish less ideal and almost a bit menacing when he starts talking about laws and trying to direct how things should be organized. And though he professes to not wanting to become some sort of god, he also wants to direct how things go and enjoy the prerogatives of being the leader.
One thing that struck me more this time than during previous readings is how Ish's society is much more capable of achieving some sort of recovery than ours is. If a prehistoric tribe had a plague, people could pick up and leave, go to a less populated area and resume their lifestyles pretty much the same. This was true through ancient Rome, the Renaissance, and even up until the Industrial Revolution. For that matter, even after the Industrial Revolution, there was still a lot that was simple enough that people could rebuild from a major disaster.
But now we are over-driving our headlights. Our society has advanced so much that no small group could even come close to rebuilding our technology. But worse, we have forgotten all the simpler technologies, so not only could we not build a new central heating system and the entire natural gas infrastructure to support it, most of us could not even build a working fireplace and know how to use it. Ish's generation still had a lot of people who knew something about farming; ours does not. All of which means, I suppose, that we really need to try to avoid global disasters.
[Stewart himself was a fairly interesting man. It was he who started the system of naming storms with people's names. EARTH ABIDES was adapted to radio in November of 1950 for the series Escape. It was done in two parts two consecutive weeks. You can find links for the two parts at http://www.escape-suspense.com/2010/07/escape-earth-abides.html. -mrl]
By contrast, THINGS WE DIDN'T SEE COMING by Steve Amsterdam (ISBN 978-0-307-37850-7) is a post-apocalyptic novel written in 2010. The apocalypse here is less well-defined than in EARTH ABIDES; at first it appears to be a Y2K breakdown (making this an alternate history, I suppose), but then there seem to be climate disasters (e.g., areas of never-ending rain), virulent epidemics, killer bugs from Brazil, and a host of other problems. Hence, I suppose, the title: THINGS WE DIDN'T SEE COMING--not just one thing, but many. And it is told as a series of vignettes/short stories, each one with a different explanation for the problems that are besetting our protagonist in that story. In classic post-apocalyptic fiction, the reason for the break-down of society is given, and usually some lesson is supposed to be learned from it. Amsterdam has a much more nihilistic approach: *something" is bound to get us, and there's nothing we can do about it, and everything will be a meaningless struggle. Amsterdam may be more accurate, but it does not make for a better story. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal. --H. L. Mencken -- author
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