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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/20/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 43, Whole Number 1698
Table of Contents
Chinese Cresteds (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I read in an article, "People think a Chinese Crested is an ugly dog, but at the end of the day he is really a good match to my lifestyle." I guess that really does make sense to me. That's because at the end of the day he turns off the lights and then it is too dark to see how incredibly much his dog is UG-LEEEEEY. [-mrl]
Parallel Realities (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is interesting to see the course on "Can Zombies Do Mathematics?" I just recently read an article in Stanford Magazine on what zombies are really suffering from. It is Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome: http://tinyurl.com/void-ansds.
Meanwhile the CDC is publishing survival plans should there be a zombie apocalypse: http://tinyurl.com/void-cdc-zombie.
It is fascinating that we have these para-realities being invented. We now think we know a lot about what makes zombies tick without ever having examined a zombie.
We seem to create parallel realities for ourselves. Worlds we take seriously and by mutual consent ignore the elephant in the room that none of this has a real basis in reality. We also have Klingon Language studies. STAR TREK also spawned military types arguing out issue like are phaser blasts more disruptive than photon torpedoes.
I guess this whole thing goes back at least as far of everybody by mutual consent accepting that there is/was a real Sherlock Holmes. [-mrl]
Language Creep (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My father used to complain all the time about what I would call "language creep." In language when an error was made frequently enough, it becomes no longer an error. It becomes the general usage. I never thought it was a big deal. As long as people understand each other language is doing its duty. But I find, as I get older, I also find myself irritated when people hear a word used wrongly so frequently that other people come to accept it. It becomes a personal bugaboo.
The real source of some of the problem is that people hear the word used correctly, do not know what the word means and try to infer the meaning from the context. And "infer" is one of the words. "Infer" is not the same thing as "imply". If I infer something I draw a conclusion for myself. I may imply something and from that someone else may infer my meaning. But the question "Are you inferring that the murder weapon was dental floss?" means "are you concluding that the murderer used dental floss?"
Occasionally the source of the misunderstanding can be traced. In Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON Sam Spade calls Wilmer Cook a "gunsel". People assumed that a gunsel was a gun-bearing hoodlum. It was really Hammett trying to get a sexual reference past his editor. Gunsel is a Yiddish word for catamite. I won't explain that further because we have to get this issue past people's nanny filters that might decide any more explicit explanation would need to be censored. But ever since there have been people who assumed that a gunsel was a hood who was armed.
I caught Evelyn making this mistake. The ultimate book in a series is the last one written. If the author writes one more book that really, really is the last, that previous last is the "penultimate". That is somehow the most ultimate you can have, right? Wrong. Penultimate does not mean last at all. It means second to last. The penultimate month of the year is November. But it is hard to tell from context that penultimate means supremely ultimate (if there is such a thing). Few people would guess from context that it means second to last. It is actually a synonym "not last." By the way, if something is really extreme some people call it "ultimate". The greatest nachos anyone could make are called "Ultimate Nachos". Actually, if you order "Ultimate Nachos" and then next week you see someone else eating Ultimate Nachos, technically the restaurant is guilty of breach of contract. Ultimate Nachos are not the best ever made, they are the last ever made, or so the name claims.
A word that NPR seems not to understand is "epicenter". It is coming to mean absolutely the very center. They said, "[Romney] would have proved that he can win in a conservative state and he has yet to win in the Deep South, which is the epicenter of the GOP base." Just like "penultimate" taken literally means "not ultimate" the word "epicenter" means "not at the center". The word seems to have come from discussion of earthquakes that happen deep in the earth. Shaking and damage radiate out from the center. The point closest to the center that can actually be visited is the "epicenter". It is the point directly above the center that is the epicenter. I guess geometrically it is possible to have a closer point accessible. If the epicenter was next to a cave, assuming that is geologically possible, you could get closer to the center than the epicenter of the earthquake. But the epicenter is really what you would want to know if you were studying the strength of the quake.
The thing is that this misuse of words with specific meanings is literally demolishing the language. Well, no it isn't, even if it is modifying the language. "Literally" means in a strict sense, to the letter, without exaggeration, inaccuracy, or figure of speech. People have come to believe that the word "literally" just adds emphasis. I heard a feminist claim that for a woman to rise to the top in politics, like Margaret Thatcher did, she literally has to become a man. I think that would have come as a real shock to Denis Thatcher.
I am inferring that sloppy language users are literally the epicenter of a penultimate threat to our language, gunsel. (Okay, I got four out of five. Forget gunsel.) [-mrl]
Friends of the Library (and Others) Book Sales (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It's that season again, when buds burst forth on the tree, and Friends of the Library (and other) book sales are seen through the land. This year's crop of book sales have come and gone, but with some major changes. Added to my list is the Matawan Friends of the Library (FOTL) and the Court Jester, but dropped is JR Trading (which has gone out of business) and the visit to Half-Price Books in conjunction with either the JR Trading sale or the Bryn Mawr sale.
This year started earlier than usual with the Friends of the Matawan/Aberdeen Public Library sale. Well, that is unless you count the closing sale of Half-Price Books a couple of weeks earlier, when I had to buy enough from their deleted store stock to use up my store credit.
I had already talked about the closing. Most of the better books were gone from the store, to be the starting inventory for its on- line incarnation. We did find a few science and history/travel books. The latter is really a single category, including such items as Leon C. Metz's ROADSIDE HISTORY OF TEXAS, part of the series of "Roadside History" and "Roadside Geology" books. We already had the "Roadside History" books for Arizona and New Mexico, and the "Roadside Geology" for Utah. In a sense they seem to be related to the WPA guides for the various states, written back in the 1930s.
I also got Tim Severin's IN SEARCH OF MOBY DICK and Nathaniel Philbrick's IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. The former is about Severin's travels around the world learning about whales, whaling, sea creatures, etc. The latter is about an 1820 whaling ship disaster that probably inspired Herman Melville's MOBY DICK. (I guess that Philbrick and Melville makes a companion pair to Michener's MEXICO and MY LOST MEXICO.) But you can see why Metz, Severin, and Philbrick all straddle the line between history and travel. For that matter, Severin is also science. All this makes shelving the books a bit tricky, and frankly, the rule about cross-genre" books often seems to be that they go in whichever category has space. David A. Traill's SCHLIEMANN OF TROY goes in archaeology for sure-- that box is half-empty. (I would combine it with history, but the history shelves are too full already.)
The total here was 7 books for $39 store credit.
But back to the Matawan/Aberdeen Public Library sale. As happens every time they have a sale (they have several small sales a year, lasting only three or four hours on a single Saturday rather than one big one), we start by picking individual books, but inevitably decide to go with the $5 a bag option. At 50 cents a paperback and $1 a hardback, it does not take many to make the bag a good deal, especially considering that we got 25 books in the bag (two hardcovers, the rest paperbacks).
So what did we get? The most interesting (pair) was James A. Michener's MEXICO and MY LOST MEXICO, the latter being his journals about the writing of the former. We also found THE VENGEANCE OF THE WITCH-FINDER by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Nothing else was a real stand-out: nine miscellaneous science fiction books, an anthology of humorous horror stories, a couple of cartoon books, four historical fiction novels, and some odds and ends. We also got a book on CD, THE TIME SELLER by Fernando Trias de Bes, which sounded suitably off-beat.
And we heard about the problems the library is having. Their current building is bursting at the seams. As just one example, they cannot accept books for the book sale except for the month immediately preceding it because they have no place to store them. (They do have an on-going sale from a dozen shelves near the Circulation Desk, so they must have some storage space.)
At any rate, there has been much discussion about building a new library, but not much action. First, it seems to be a library jointly funded by Aberdeen and Matawan, so there are two local governments involved. One of them--Aberdeen--wants the new library to be in the proposed "Transit Village" (a complex to be build near the train station. The other--Matawan--would presumably prefer it to be somewhere near where it is now, in downtown Matawan. I tend to agree with the latter. Matawan's downtown is currently in a downturn, but removing the library would be another nail in the coffin. The closing of the dollar store downtown and its replacement by "Discount Depot" is another. The dollar store at least had a decent dollar-store-type selection; Discount Depot has no selection to speak of and prices that are often considerably more than the items are worth. But even so, the downtown has the library, the Post Office, a couple of banks, a Chinese and two Mexican restaurants, a laundromat, and a few other stores. What is needed is a grocery store. There was one, but because it was family-owned it was not unionized, and was picketed by the unions whose members worked at nearby supermarkets, and my suspicion is that this is what did it in.
The "Transit Village", on the other hand, is not even built yet, and is nowhere near anything else (in terms of walking distance). True, people could get to it easily by train, but the people who want to go to the Matawan-Aberdeen Public Library are people who live in Matawan and Aberdeen, not those who live in other towns along the train line.
Total was 25 books for $5 (which included a few books for other people).
Next was the Court Jester. Now, people who live in the area are probably asking themselves, "Isn't that a restaurant and bar?" Yes, it is, but their decor is walls of bookshelves and books. These are the sort of books that are left over at the end of book sales, or seen in thrift shops week after week without ever selling. But as we were leaving, we started looking at the books, and saw a couple we wanted: a beat-up hardcover of THE WILBY CONSPIRACY by Peter Driscoll and an ex-library copy of THE WORLD OF SPACE by Robert Silverberg. We asked the greeter if we could buy a couple of the books. She called the manager and he said as long as we brought in books to fill the space, that was fine. This works out well, because I have a couple of books of that sort (e.g., Hubert Herring's HISTORY OF LATIN AMERICA, a textbook with highlighting inside, but a perfect fit for the decor on the outside).
The big sale of the year (for us, anyway) is the Bryn Mawr sale in Princeton. This year they had about 95,000 books (up from 80,000 last year). They are so popular that the preview day not only has a charge to attend, but there is a lottery to be eligible to pay the charge.
I talked to a couple of the volunteers working there. One was explaining to someone what a scanner was, and said that the organization running the sale is now using them so that they can price the books more effectively. The default pricing was a dollar for mass-market paperbacks and two dollars for trade paperbacks and hardbacks. But the trade paperback about British crime cinema that looked interesting was marked $10.
Another volunteer was complaining about the rude dealers who show up on previous day. He said that all the fiction, literary classics, and biography were nicely alphabetized and organized when they opened, but after the dealers had been through, books were scattered around in piles all over the room. Even worse, books were just dumped back into other categories where you could not even tell they were out of place without looking at every book. This is less of a problem at the other sales we go to, because when there are only a few thousand books, there are fewer dealers and also less opportunity to make a mess.
One book I was looking for but could not find was Edward Gibbon's unabridged DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Oh, well, I figured I was just being optimistic in looking for. But when I got to the check-out, I *swear* the person right in front of me was buying ... you guessed it, a three-volume unabridged DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE!
In spite of the higher prices for better books and the Gibbon "debacle", I did find some books. Our discussion group is doing Russell Banks's THE SWEET HEREAFTER in June, and I found a copy of that. (While I could always check it out from the library, it is more convenient to have a copy, particularly if Mark and I are trying to read it at the same time.)
I picked up a couple of books about television: Keith Devlin's THE NUMBERS BEHIND NUMB3RS and Richard Greene's THE SOPRANOS AND PHILOSOPHY. The latter is part of another ever-growing cross-genre category, philosophy and entertainment media. (I just recently read William G. Smith's SOCRATES AND SUBTITLES.) The former is the only entry I know of in the not-growing cross-genre category of mathematics and entertainment media. There are, however, various books about science in entertainment media, e.g. Robert Jenkins's THE BIOLOGY IN STAR TREK, and I suppose John Allen Paulos's A MATHEMATICIAN READS THE NEWSPAPER could be considered mathematics and media, if you use the term "media" in its broader sense.
We found a copy of a Frederic Brown mystery, THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT. Brown is known (to us, anyway) mostly for his science fiction, but was also a well-known mystery writer.
We bought a couple of ... well, they're not graphic novels because they are not novels, but "cartoon books" does not sound right either. There is Larry Gonick's A CARTOON GUIDE TO PHYSICS and Stan Mack's THE STORY OF THE JEWS, both done as black-and-white comic books. And to all these Michio Kaku's PHYSICS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE and two books of science essays from 2005 and you can see that we spent a lot of time in the science section!
(Mark initially said that there was no math section, but that was because it was a fair distance away from the science section, rather than right next to it as you might expect.)
I got something called PALM-OF-THE-HAND STORIES by Yasunari Kawabata. These seem to be very short stories (four or five pages each), but I will have a better idea when I actually read it.
Total was 12 books for $27, plus a Teaching Company course "Why Evil Exists" (36 lessons on CD) for $18. They had a couple of other courses on VHS, but they were more focused on Christianity specifically.
The Bryn Mawr sale was the day before we flew to Arizona for a visit. The East Brunswick Friends of the Library sale started the day we got back, but I did not get there until the next day. It is not clear that it was worth the trip. There were only half a dozen long tables, meaning that it was really only a little bit larger than the Matawan-Aberdeen sale. (Admittedly, they did have books underneath the tables that got moved up as space became available.) One entire table was media: DVDs, audiobooks, and CDs. They no longer sell VHS tapes, and almost all of the audiobooks were CDs. Pricing was similar to Bryn Mawr.
So what did I buy? A Modern Scholar course entitled "Six Months That Changed the World: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919". Modern Scholar seems to be similar to The Teaching Company (which is now called "The Great Courses" by the company, but everyone I know still uses "The Teaching Company"). It was priced like an audiobook at $5, which meant it was cheaper than it would have been at Bryn Mawr; there they were $2 per disc, so this would have been $14.
There was also a Teaching Company course, "The Other 1492". The problem was that it was on cassette and one of the cassettes was missing. I took it up to the check-out to point out that a cassette was missing and they might want to tag it thus, but the woman said if I wanted it to just take it for free. Given that the booklet with the lesson outlines was there, we can still get the gist.
And that was it. I could not find a book I was interested in. Mark said we bought more books at the Dollar Store later that day (one book--MR. GATLING'S TERRIBLE MARVEL) than we did at the East Brunswick FotL sale. I pointed out we got more books at the *Court Jester* than we did at the East Brunswick FotL sale.
It is true that I did not go until the third day, but the tables did not have a lot of empty space, as though they had been picked over. The science and math section, for example, was full--but over 90% of it was SAT prep books and other thick study guides. There were maybe a dozen or so books about science that were written to be read like a book. The travel books were almost all outdated ex-library annual travel guides. And so on.
I talked to one of the volunteers a bit about why the sale was so small. She attributed it to two factors:
- The library's budget is much smaller this year than in the past. Since they are buying less, they have to get rid of less to make room. And one of the things they are buying less of are multiple copies of popular fiction. A lot of the stock in previous years came from this: they might buy ten copies of a very popular book, but after a year or so, demand would die down and they would sell nine of them.
- People are not buying as many books. Some of this is that people are spending less money on books; some is that they are buying e- books for their Kindles, or Nooks, or whatever. In either case, they have fewer books to donate to the sale. And it is cutting into the sale at the other end as well: people who are economizing are not buying as many books at the sale; people who have e-readers are buying e-books instead of books at the sale. This is particularly evident in the classics area, where the works are available for free on-line. [-ecl]
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Drew Goddard directs a film he wrote with Joss Whedon and takes the viewer over a lot of very strange territory even for horror films. While the film is funny and frequently at the same time scary, it also looks at what makes horror films work before it dumps the viewer on the doorstep to one of the great master horror writers (who shall remain nameless). The American horror film has been impoverished for ideas for decades now, but this is a fabulously creative horror film which takes a lot of pieces that should not fit together and forces them into a whole with a high energy plot that binds them together. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Spoiler warning: I do not think I gave away anything that should bother a viewer, but this is a film that it is best to see knowing as little as possible of what is to come.
Hiding behind a lackluster title, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is an audacious, intelligent, and gutsy horror film. It raises a whole lot of questions. If it is a standard teen horror film of five college students facing angry spirits in the woods, why are there technicians secretly tracking the proceedings? Are the returning dead of the forest real or man-made or both? Who is pulling the strings for all that is happening?
I like the kind of mystery that does not ask a question like "Who is the murderer?" but instead asks, "What the heck is going on here?" Rarely does a film that asks that question provide such a fantastic answer. We are given two plot lines that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In one plot, five college students are going for a weekend in a mysterious cabin out in the woods. They want and expect to do some serious partying. But there are strange things happening in the house. This sounds a whole lot like THE EVIL DEAD. But we keep cutting away to some sort of technical control facility that could be launching a missile, except for the fact that they seem to be looking at television displays of what is happening at the kids' party in the cabin. The cabin visit seems to be secretly controlled by a clandestine high-tech project. And that is not all. Another team in Japan seems to be following and controlling a scene that looks like it was borrowed from THE RING. Why? What are the experimenters looking for? What the heck is going on here? Why would someone want to use high-tech to put people through situations from horror films?
In the early parts of the film THE CABIN IN THE WOODS seems like a cross between THE EVIL DEAD and THE TRUMAN SHOW. When people start getting killed and the technicians at Mission Control seem to be cheering it as some sort of success, the mystery only deepens. Most of what I tell you here might be the conclusion of some horror film. That would be strange enough. In this film you know all this from the very start. The real question is what is the connection.
This is co-writer and director Drew Goddard's first attempt to direct, but he has written and was a major creative force for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Alias", CLOVERFIELD, and "Lost". Co-writer and producer (and second unit director) Joss Whedon is one of the most creative talents in film and television these days. This may be the most creative American horror film in decades. While telling its own horror and science fiction story, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS also looks at what makes a horror film tick and perhaps some of the mythic similarities and the basis of what scare us. It can function perfectly well at one level while examining itself and other horror stories from another level. Not just a surprise package, it is a package full of surprises. I rate THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1259521/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_cabin_in_the_woods/
Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration (museum review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Currently the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is hosting an interesting exhibition titled "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration". The exhibit runs thru August 12, 2012. It has been on my list of things to do for a while, but I was re-motivated to go by reading the following on-line SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN article by Justin St. P. Walsh: . http://tinyurl.com/void-amnh-space.
This article is a strong attack on the exhibit, and on the idea of space development in general. As a long-time advocate of space development, I decided to attend ASAP. I admit that as a museum member, I got into the exhibit for free as part of my membership, so I'm not sure if you will feel that what you see is worth what you pay if you walk in off the street. With that warning, I was generally impressed by what I saw. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a non-NSS/L5 exhibit at a major venue that reflected space development ideas so well.
The exhibit begins with a brief history of the space program to date. My thirteen-year-old daughter seemed like a good match to the exhibit--for so many kids today, space is just part of the furniture, and this exhibit provides a bit of context. There is a model of Sputnick, Vostok, and a big Mars rover, ending with a large picture of the ISS, which, is turns out, started construction in the year my daughter was born (1998).
The historical section is followed by a model of Space Ship One and a display on space tourism, along with a movie on the solar system. Next comes a large model of a Bigelow inflatable habitat and an even larger model of a lunar colony built using Bigelow modules. There are good discussions of lunar ice and mining. Something new to me was a model of a liquid mirror lunar telescope, surely an interesting idea. Further out was a large model of a lunar elevator. I give the curators a lot of credit for showing how space could, with technologies such as a lunar elevator, someday be easily accessible. There is a very small plaque on mining lunar helium 3.
The next section focuses on asteroids, including asteroid impacts, a giant map of NEO orbits, asteroid deflection, and asteroid mining, as well as the real missions to the asteroid Itokawa. This was a great section that covered all the major asteroid-related ideas well. Immediately following was a model/display of the proposed deep-space exploration vehicle Nautilus (see the wiki article for more info, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAUTILUS-X.
We now entered the Mars section, which includes a large mock-up of the Curiosity Rover, now on its way to Mars. My family had the privilege of seeing Curiosity under construction at JPL when we toured the facility. The centerpiece of the Mars section is a large display on terraforming, including a terraforming game. This game seems to have really offended Mr. Walsh as it transforms polluting activities on Earth into tools to terraform Mars.
The final sections of the exhibit deal with the exploration of Europa and the possibilities of life there, and also on exo-planets found by the Kepler observatory. Overall, this is a wonderful exhibition, with a good balance between history, space development, and exploration. Unlike most museum exhibits that focus either on the past or on far-out future things like space colonies, we see a series of reasonable steps leading to an extensive future in space. I applaud the American Museum of Natural History for putting on this exhibition, and thank Lockheed Martin, Con Edison, and Lila Wallace for funding it.
Mr. Walsh's long article attacking the "Beyond Planet Earth" exhibit (henceforth I'll call it BPE) is typical of the deep green environmentalist viewpoint. It starts from the idea that the natural world is good, even if, like the moon, it is uninhabited and lifeless, and must remain pristine and that humans are bad, and so must be restricted to the Earth and forced to clean up their mess. From this starting point, BPE is obscene. The very thought of acquiring unlimited (or practically so) resources in space is highly upsetting to deep greeners like Walsh.
Walsh focuses his fire on two fronts--helium 3 mining and terraforming Mars. His attack on helium 3 mining is a bit of a fish in the barrel exercise. This is very small part of a large exhibition, and something that most space advocates would agree is either a long shot or very long term. The real source of helium 3 in the solar system is the gas giants, not the moon, so it is hard to imagine the moon being developed mainly for this reason. Walsh is right to point out that demonstrating clean helium 3 to helium 3 fusion is very hard, and will probably come only after DT fusion has been mastered and is in widespread usage. My suggestion to space advocates is to focus instead on mining lunar oxygen/hydrogen and using it as rocket fuel, or even generating solar power on the moon and beaming it back to Earth.
Walsh then takes to task the idea of terraforming Mars, another very long term project, as being just another example of a large scale human intervention likely to go wrong. Walsh has done space advocates a service by writing an essay that encapsulates the deep green case against space development, a case the deserves extensive refutation by space advocates, hopefully in many books and articles. Walsh's article serves as a reminder that some of the most difficult obstacles we must overcome to develop space lie not in space, but here on Earth.
In any case, I strongly recommend "Beyond Planet Earth" to everyone of all ages, and I wouldn't begrudge the price they charge if it encourages the museum to create more exhibits of this sort. Ad Astra. [-dls]
FROM THE OTHER SIDE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: FROM THE OTHER SIDE does not follow the style of most documentaries. Rather than giving the viewer a collection of facts, it is more a compilation of the statements of people involved with the issue of illegal immigrants coming from Mexico to the United States. The statements are punctuated with long, drawn- out several-minute-long takes of subjects like a street in a border town, hikes across the desert while being tracked by helicopters, sequences of waiting in line at border crossings, etc. It is clear the director Chantal Akerman feels a strong sympathy for the immigrants and feels for their plight, but in making her film she made stylistic decisions that may get in the way of making her statement effectively. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
In FROM THE OTHER SIDE, Belgian documentarian Chantal Akerman gives us a minimalist view of the issue of Mexican would-be immigrants crossing the border from Mexico to Arizona. Akerman shows us the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants by simply letting them speak for themselves about why they or their family members risk death to cross over the border. Akerman does this without narration or text explanations or commentary. There are no screens with facts and statistics; there is no narrator talking over the visuals. Akerman chooses what the viewer will see, of course, but shows it without additional comment. She gives us the arguments from both sides, the Mexicans who cross over and some Arizonans who are opposed to the immigration, but it seems clear that Akerman's sympathy is for the immigrants. Recurring images in these scenes are the road and walls and fences. These are the staples of the immigrant's life and would-be immigrant's life.
Akerman goes back and forth between interviews, subtitled where necessary, and long languid outdoor landscape takes--most several minutes in length--giving us a feel for the environment and conditions in Mexico and across the border in Arizona. Akerman stresses the slow pace of life and the lay of the land. She will show a street in a Mexican border town with an occasional pickup truck driving down the street, and just lock down the camera letting the scene run for several minutes. This approach is an interesting stylistic decision. It conveys what may be an emotional truth of the experience of life in a Mexican town, but one has to ask whether showing these scenes to the viewer at such length is really the best use of the time the viewer has invested in the film. And is the viewer's reaction to such a portrait of the town even the same reaction that a local would feel looking at the same road?
By giving us these long takes with very little changing Akerman is going for an emotional impact rather than using the more common fact- and text-based approach. This lets the viewer come away with a feeling for the issues and perhaps with some sympathy, but not knowing enough of the scope and depth of the problem. The focus moves as a progression. Akerman first looks at families of immigrants passing over and the topography of their home territory. Then at some of the people themselves, self-admitted illegal immigrants reading a statement apparently written to be read in the film where they tell why they have come and the pain and suffering they have to endure. The scene shifts to the Mexican Consul to present the Mexican government's point of view. Finally there is an interview of a couple with fears of invasions from the other side of the border.
It would be more effective to have a good an compelling documentary depicting the plight of both the immigrants from Mexico and the Americans who oppose them. This film goes for more of a stylistic effect leaving the political impact secondary. A more effective approach would have made this much more the film that was needed. I rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317321/
What others are saying: http://tinyurl.com/void-otherside
Counting Countries (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on counting countries in the 04/06/12 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Evelyn had noted, "Yes, I've been to England--Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were 'countries' I said I could add to the list, which already included the United Kingdom. If I listed England, then I would have to remember to deduct one from the list first." -ecl]
One either counts the United Kingdom as a country and discounts the claims of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or one counts England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as countries and considers that the United Kingdom is a state with a government which consists of three countries and a part of another country. Don't shilly-shally around. [-tb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE ERASERS by Alain Robbe-Grillet (ISBN 978-0-8021-5086-8) was a book I had been seeking for a while. It was on the syllabus for "The International Legacy of Jorge Luis Borges", a course I "took" in 2010 in the sense of reading all the works on the syllabus and writing about them (see http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/jlb_legacy.htm). But there were a few works that I was unable to find easily, and since there was no time limit, I figured I would just wait until I could find them used rather than spend a lot of money ordering them on-line, and so gradually I have filled in the gaps. And finally THE ERASERS showed up. One reason it is hard to find is that it is Robbe-Grillet's first novel and not considered among his best works. (I would not know--I have not read anything else by him.)
But it definitely has Borgesian elements. The main character, Wallas, is trying to find his way to the police station, but the streets of the town seem to be like a labyrinth, or more precisely, but less Borgesian, a maze. (In Spanish, "laberinto" covers both terms, which is not surprising, given that while "labyrinth" is from Greek through Latin, "maze" is from Middle English and would not appear in Spanish.)
For example, on page 43, "the other riders informed him, with some difficulty, of the stop nearest this Rue des Arpenteurs, of whose existence most of them seemed quite unaware; someone even said that it was not in this direction at all." On page 49, he leaves the Boulevard Circulaire, but when he crosses the street to turn right in a new direction, "he reads with even more surprise the words 'Boulevard Circulaire' on the building at the corner. He turns back, disconcerted. He cannot have been walking in a circle, since he had gone straight ahead ever since the Rue des Arpenteurs..." (Of course, in some towns this would not be at all surprising. In Greenwich Village in Manhattan, West 4th Street crosses West 12th Street!)
And on page 80, it is even more explicit: "Wallas has returned to the square and walked around the prefecture on the right side, intending to come out onto the Boulevard Circulaire near the Rue des Arpenteurs; but he has lost his way in a labyrinth of tiny streets where the sudden turns and detours have forced him to walk much longer than was necessary."
On page 208, Robbe-Grillet adds a digression with a long description of items reflected in a mirror (one of Borges's standard tropes)--and one of the items is a statuette of a blind man.
There is a scene where Wallas is supposed to meet someone at the train station "between the telephone booths and the snack bar." He arrives and sees "the chromium-plated stand ... where a man in a white apron was selling sandwiches and soda pop." He waits here, but just as he is going to give up, the other person appears. "He had been waiting at the other end of the hall, where the real snack bar and a whole row of telephone booths [were]." Somehow the telephone booths and snack bar where Wallas had been waiting seemed to me like the "hronir" (copies) in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"-- copies get less and less accurate.
There are also the ambiguities of the premise: Daniel Dupont has been murdered--or was it suicide? But he is dead--or is he? Is the series of murders a terrorist plot or not? This was Robbe- Grillet's first novel, and as his career went on, his novels became more and more enigmatic and cryptic.
DEBT-FREE U by Zac Bissonnette (ISBN 978-1-59184-298-9) is an explanation of how you (or your child) can go to college without ending up with massive loan debt or bankrupting your family. Many of his suggestions seem reasonable, but I cannot say I agree with all of them. (Disclaimer: I went to college from 1968 to 1972, when in-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts was $100 a semester, and the most expensive textbook was a forestry text for $23. Coincidentally, Bissonnette is also going to the University of Massachusetts.)
For example, Bissonnette talks about how to improve your chances for merit scholarships and grants, which are outright gifts, not loans. He explains the formulas used for various financial aid applications--for example, why using your liquid assets to pay down your mortgage might make more sense than holding onto the cash. He feels that campus tours are (*at best*) a waste of time and money. And so on. His basic message is that you should go to a school you can afford (which may mean working part- or even full-time) rather than take out a lot of loans that will take the rest of your life to pay off.
His major contention is that going to college is more important than going to any particular college, and he spends a lot of time doing marginal cost and marginal return calculations on public state colleges versus Ivy League colleges.
But Bissonnette makes a few claims that I do not think are true, or certainly not universally true. For example, he claims that there is no reason for students not to take their core requirements (English, history, French, etc.) at a community college and then go to a four-year (state) college for the courses in their major. But another book I read recently, IN THE BASEMENT OF THE IVORY TOWER: CONFESSIONS OF AN ACCIDENTAL ACADEMIC by Professor X, the author describes his experiences as a teacher at a community college. Bissonnette claims that while at four-year colleges, students are likely to find themselves taught by graduate students, at community colleges they will be taught by real professors. "Professor X" (that's a pseudonym, not a real title) says that most of the courses are taught by "adjuncts", or low-paid part-timers. Bissonnette claims that the quality of learning at a community college is equal to that at a four-year college. Professor X describes composition classes where students are barely literate, cannot write a real sentence, and are totally unprepared for any sort of college-level work. I defy Bissonnette to get a college- level education in a class like that.
He also seems to think that a full-time college student can work full-time (or close to it) as well. For example, he claims that the average college student spends 24 hours per week watching television, 10.2 hours drinking, and 4.1 hours on video games. He then says that these hours could be spent on a job. Well, yes, but he does not take into account that this results in no "de- compression" time--the student ends up running on high all day. (He also does not figure out how much time will be required to get to and from a job.) I do not disagree with the notion of working to earn money for college, but I think suggesting that students can carry a full course load (actually he recommends an *over-full* load so you can graduate faster) *and* a full-time job is a way to end up with more students dropping out.
And although Bissonnette keeps talking about how great an education one can get at a public university, when he describes astronaut Sally Ride as "the first woman in space", he does not help his credibility. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Sir, I admit your general rule, That every poet is a fool: But you yourself may serve to show it, That every fool is not a poet. --Matthew PriorTweet
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