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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/31/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 9, Whole Number 1717
Table of Contents
Speculative Fiction Lecture Series (NJ):
The Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library will be hosting monthly meetings of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers the first (open) Saturday of each month at 11AM beginning with September 8. A lecture by the guest speaker will start at noon. The schedule announced so far:
September 8: Ginjer Buchanan (editor at Ace Books)
October 6: Ellen Datlow (Hugo-Award-winning editor)
November 3: Michael Penncavage (horror author)
A Country-Western James Bond Title Song??? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A podcast I listen to reported that Johnny Cash submitted a song to Eon Film Productions for use at the title song in THUNDERBALL. I think we had a narrow escape. It seems totally out of character for a spy film.
The song can be heard at:
I think Cash might have thought it was a song for a Western or at the least a Bond song was outside of the range of his talents. In any case it has a full backup so it sounds like some serious care was taken to write and record this song. The information is corroborated at:
One More Reason to Know Math:
Russian physicist Igor Tamm won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1958. During the Russian revolution, he was a physics professor at the University of Odessa in the Ukraine. Food was in short supply, so he made a trip to a nearby village in search of food. While he was in the village, a bunch of anti-communist bandits surrounded the town. The leader was suspicious of Tamm, who was dressed in city clothes. He demanded to know what Tamm did for a living. He explained that he was a university professor looking for food. "What subject?" the bandit leader asked. Tamm replied, "I teach mathematics."
"Mathematics?" said the leader. "Okay. Then give me an estimate of the error one makes by cutting off a Maclaurin series expansion at the nth term. Do this and you will go free. Fail, and I will shoot you."
Tamm was not just a little astonished. At gunpoint, he managed to work out the answer. He showed it to the bandit leader, who perused it and then declared "Correct! Go home." Tamm never discovered the name of the bandit.
[From "Calculus makes you live longer", in 100 ESSENTIAL THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW, by John Barrow]
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for September (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is my monthly column on the interesting films coming up on TCM that you might otherwise have missed. All times given are East Coast time so either adjust or move east. Maybe next month I will give the West Coast times just to keep people on their toes. This month the pickings are a little scarce for interesting and rare films. There is a block of some interest to horror fans the second night of the month.
The night of Sunday, Sept 2, to Monday, September 3, the TCM theme seems to be hands that get out of hand. Hands seem to have a mind of their own in four films starting at 8 PM. The films are HANDS OF A STRANGER (1962) at 8 PM, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1946) at 9:45 PM, MAD LOVE (1935) at 11:30 PM, and the original 1925 THE HANDS OF ORLAC at 12:45 AM. Now a question: which of these films is different from the others and why? The answer is that THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS is the only one of the four *not* based on Maurice Renard's novel LES MAINS D'ORLAC. That novel was adapted four times into films. The fourth, which is not being shown, is THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1960). That is a French-British production with Mel Ferrer as Stephen Orlac. It also features Christopher Lee, Felix Aylmer, Donald Wolfit, and Donald Pleasence. Unfortunately, as I say, that one is not being shown. To confuse matters that version was also released under the alternate title HANDS OF A STRANGLER. So the title is one letter off from another adaptation to be made two years later. The version I would recommend is the 1925 silent adaptation, which stars one of the great under-appreciated horror actors, Conrad Veidt. Veidt was already one of the great horror actors of the silent screen--sort of the European Lon Chaney. He is best known in this country for playing villains in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD and CASABLANCA and perhaps THE CABINET OF CALIGARY and THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. In the last he played a man whose face had been carved into a constant grin, a look that was immortalized as that of the Joker in Batman comic books.
The four hand films are followed immediately by a fifth horror film, SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968), on Monday, September 3, at 2:45 AM. This was a grand project I think to show that Europe could make horror films as good as those of Roger Corman in the United States. Originally it was to be a film of what I guess was epic length in which seven directors would each direct a different Poe story. Each director had an international reputation. Each story would have major international stars. It was a great idea. However, four of the directors either dropped out or were not interested in the first place. That left it to a somewhat less epic omnibus of three Poe stories, each with a major actor. The stories chosen were to be ones not already made into major films. The directors would co-write the screenplays as well as directing. Roger Vadim took "Metzengerstein" with Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, and James Robertson Justice. Louis Malle had "William Wilson" with Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon. And Federico Fellini took "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" with Terence Stamp. The voice of Vincent Price narrates. It was an interesting idea, but Roger Corman had made Poe's best-loved stories already. In spite of prime directors and actors and an artistic approach, the public seems to have more appreciated unchallenging American adaptations of Poe's most familiar films. SPIRITS OF THE DEAD turned out to be an interesting failure and was soon forgotten.
The fantasy elements of GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE were a little creaky, even back in 1933 when it was released. But the political aspects of the film are astonishing today. The country is suffering economically under the leadership of a corrupt President. (The state of the country was about what you saw in KING KONG that year.) President Judson C. Hammond (played by the wonderful Walter Huston) is squeezing the country for the profit of his cronies. Then the President is in a near fatal car accident. While on the edge of death he is visited by the Archangel Gabriel. Controlled by the angel he recovers to become a good President, at least in the eyes of the filmmakers. What does a good President do? He fires his cabinet and takes over in the country as a benevolent dictator. With dictatorial powers he sets the government right and then goes after organized crime. Seen from the 21st Century the viewer does not know whether he is a good guy or a bad guy. I guess we are supposed to like him, because he is being guided by heaven, but his politics are just as strange today as they were in 1933. Actually the politics came not from God but from William Randolph Hearst who at one time was nearly as powerful and just a bit richer. (Tuesday, September 18, 8:00 PM.) Howard Hawks directed the science fiction comedy MONKEY BUSINESS to be shown Tuesday, September 11, at 8:00 PM. Before you start having visions of the Marx Brothers, that film was made in 1931. Howard Hawks' MONKEY BUSINESS is a science fiction comedy made in 1952 with Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Hugh Marlowe. Grant plays a research scientist unable to create an elixir of youth. One of his test chimpanzees gets the formula right just by chance and pours it into the water cooler. The result is adults acting like children. It is not actually as funny has Hawks expected, unfortunately. Today we see adults acting like children all the time. In 1952 attitudes were different. This was Robert Cornthwaite's 1952 science fiction film. He was in a better one the year before, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, and another the year after, WAR OF THE WORLDS.
I will not go into detail, but if you want a nice, amiable, and really enjoyable comedy try DESIGNING WOMAN (1957) shown Sunday, September 30 at 10:00 AM. The comedy was written for Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, but Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall do just fine with it. If you see it, give my regards to Maxie Stultz. [-mrl]
Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2016 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The Mindset List was created at Beloit College in 1998 to reflect the world view of entering first year students. It started with the members of the class of 2002, born in 1980. My ten favorite entries from the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2016:
7. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
9. They have never seen an airplane "ticket."
12. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman's job in the State Department.
23. Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
42. Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.
63. The Twilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.
64. Robert Osborne has always been introducing Hollywood history on TCM.
71. Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.
72. Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.
73. Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
The full list is at http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2016/.
Some of the items are a little out of the ordinary. The one is just snarky: "Slavery has always been unconstitutional in Mississippi, and Southern Baptists have always been apologizing for supporting it in the first place."
This one is attributed to iPods, video games, etc.: "A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss."
They also included "History has always had its own channel," but I've watched the "History" Channel lately, and I don't think it is true any more. [-ecl]
Correction to TRUE BLOOD Review (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola):
In response to Dale Skran's review of "TRUEBLOOD" in the 08/24/12 issue of the MT VOID, Susan de Guardiola writes:
Dear MARKLEEPER and EVELYNLEEPER,
The title of TRUE BLOOD is two words, not ONEWORD, as it repeatedly appears in the DVDREVIEW in this issue of MTVOID.
I blame the logo on the DVD case--it certainly looks like one word. [-ecl]
Jane's Guides (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):
In response to Evelyn's comments on "Jane's" guides in the 08/24/12 issue of the MT VOID, Bill Higgins writes:
Apparently the identity of the mysterious Jane has caused many people to wonder. Shane Stezelberger's 2001 posting to rec.arts.sf.fandom is unforgettable. [-wh]
[Unfortunately, the URLs Bill sent do not appear to work. This seems to be a problem with Google Groups. -ecl]
Shane Stezelberger wrote:
DUDE! When I was but a young military-aviation enthusiast growing up in the hinterlands, I heard vague but persistent mentions of this "Jane" character.
I mean, if you picked up a newspaper during the high Cold War, there might've been a sidebar about the jet fighters that the Russkies were shipping to Nicaragua. Details given of said fighters were invariably credited to "Jane's All The World's Aircraft," or "Jane's Defence Review." That sort of thing.
With very little to go on, I concocted the most elaborate of fantasies. Jane was a real person, you see--much like Santa Claus or Monty Python. She was a slender, well-preserved brunette in her late thirties who wore her long brown hair in a single braid. She ran a world-famous London-based organisation of military analysts, with computers and fax machines humming constantly, teletypes clattering out their global sitreps at all hours, harried ubergeeks scurrying to and fro. Her office was a large-windowed affair in the back corner, and her door was always open. She usually worked at a drafting table, sitting on a tall stool, poring over declassified intel photos. Upon her desk sat a single ornamentation: a 1/32-scale presentation model of a McDonnell-Douglas F-4J Phantom II, marked in the VF-197 "Shadow Demon" squadron insignia of the USS Kitty Hawk. [-ss]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Jorge Luis Borges, "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins"
[This is an expansion of a previous column. The new material is primarily that which deals with Umberto Eco's essay "The Language of the Austral Land", published in his collection SERENDIPITIES.]
Much has been written about the classification scheme that Borges, in "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins", purports to have found in a Chinese encyclopedia: "a) belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) sucking pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs, h) included in the present classification, i) frenzied, j) innumerable, k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, l) et cetera, m) having just broken the water pitcher, n) that from a long way off look like flies."
For many readers, John Wilkins probably seems as fictional as this purported Chinese taxonomy. But he was real, and I found a discussion of his analytical language in Umberto Eco's essay "The Language of the Austral Land", published in his collection SERENDIPITIES.]
According to Eco, Wilkins had "a system of 'Transcendental Particles' intended to amplify or alter the character to which they are applied. The list contemplates eight classes amounting to a total of forty-eight particles, but the criterion that assembles them is not at all systematic." The categories seem to encompass the grammatical, the rhetorical, the causal, the inclusive, and the functional. So "like+blood=crimson", but "place+metal=mine" and "voice+lion=roar". Wilkins apparently supplies a long list of these, but warns they are only examples, implying that there really are not systematic rules.
Wilkins also had a series of categories and subcategories which (theoretically) would partition (in a mathematical sense) the universe. Wikipedia gives the following explanation/example:
"Concepts are divided into forty main Genera, each of which gives the first, two-letter syllable of the word; a Genus is divided into Differences, each of which adds another letter; and Differences are divided into Species, which add a fourth letter. For instance, Zi identifies the Genus of 'beasts' (mammals); Zit gives the Difference of 'rapacious beasts of the dog kind'; Zita gives the Species of dogs."
Other people have attempted similar analytical languages; none appear to have caught on.
So while Borges's Chinese taxonomy does seem an odd set of categories, it is no odder than that of Wilkins. Of course, neither are "real"--but consider Japanese number classifiers.
In "The Story of Human Language", John H. McWhorter discusses number classifiers, which is where I discovered them. He used Cantonese as an example of a "number classifier language", but I was able to find more information on Japanese, so I will use that.
Japanese has a special classifier (a.k.a. counter word, a.k.a. number word) for counting flat things, a entirely different one for people, another for birds or rabbits, one for small animals other than birds or rabbits, one for small round things, one for generations (distinct from the counter for people in general), and so on.
For example, on a blog someone gave the example: "Thus in Japanese ni-hon no nasu means 'two-roundthing of eggplant', while ni-ko no nasu means 'two-longthing of eggplant', referring to two different varieties of eggplant--one round and the other long, natch. The number ni and the noun nasu are the same in both cases; only the classifiers hon (also used when counting apples) and ko (also used when counting pencils) vary."
(English has some counter words, e.g., "three head of cattle", "two pair of pants") but Japanese has a lot, and they are *always* required. There is a very long list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_ counter_word.)
So, really, is Borges's classification scheme any less sensible than the Japanese classifier scheme that divides animals into:
or has categories such as:
When James Franklin is talking about classification systems, in WHAT SCIENCE KNOWS AND HOW IT KNOWS IT, he mentions that "the Argentine fabulist Jorge Luis Borges imagined the 'Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge,' a Chinese encyclopedia that classified animals according to the scheme: ..."
Franklin then claims, "Michel Foucault and some of his followers made fools of themselves by appearing to believe the encyclopedia was real, leading to justified complaints about the degeneracy of the postmodernist academy." (This would have been in 1970, a quarter of a century before Alan Sokal's 1996 hoax article in SOCIAL TEXT, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformational Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".
Now, according to Keith Windschuttle, Foucault writes that, "thanks to 'the wonderment of this taxonomy,' we can apprehend not only 'the exotic charm of another system of thought' but also 'the limitation of our own.' What the taxonomy or form of classification reveals, says Foucault, is that 'there would appear to be, then, at the other extremity of the earth we inhabit, a culture ... that does not distribute the multiplicity of existing things into any of the categories that make it possible for us to name, speak and think.' The stark impossibility of our thinking in this way, Foucault says, demonstrates the existence of an entirely different system of rationality." Windschuttle goes on to relate that in one seminar, someone cited Foucault and the Chinese taxonomy. As Windschuttle puts it, "Didn't I realize, he chided, that other cultures have such dramatically different conceptual schemes that traditional assumptions of Western historiography are inadequate for the task of understanding them?"
Clearly the person at the seminar believed the Emporium to be real. However, what is quoted from Foucault above, and what else I can find of what Foucault himself actually wrote doesn't quite support the notion that Foucault was taken in. For example, Foucault says (of THE ORDER OF THINGS: AN ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE HUMAN SCIENCES), "This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I first read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought.... In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehended in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that. ... What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible. The animals '(i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush'-where could they ever meet, except in the immaterial sound of the voice pronouncing their enumeration, or on the page transcribing it? Where else could they be juxtaposed except in the non-place of language?"
Two points: Foucault refers to the Emporium as a "fable", and he says that some of the items on the list could only be juxtaposed in "the non-place of language," that is, the fictional world of literature.
In other words, as far as I can tell, there is not much evidence that Foucault actually thought the Emporium to be real, and without further evidence, Franklin's claim does not hold up.
Franklin gives his own critique of the Emporium from a scientific standpoint: it has too much "self-reference, wildly different sizes of categories, a combination of objective and human-focused principles, [and] a mixture of the existent and the nonexistent." I'm not sure all of these are valid complaints: the Linnaean system of classification has wildly different sizes of categories, and (arguably) a mixture of the existent and the nonexistent, at least to the extent that it encompasses extinct plants and animals.
And if one goes back to the Japanese number classifications, the categories there vary greatly in size and also do not have uniform determinants. (By the latter I mean, for example, a system of classifying animals based on number of legs, or on body mass.) That does not make the Japanese system any less real, and indeed, Borges could have put *it* in his essay with little change on the effect.
In his essay, Borges also claims that the Bibliographic Institute of Brussels has "divided the universe into 1000 subdivisions, from which number 262 is the pope; number 282, the Roman Catholic Church; 263, the Day of the Lord; 268 Sunday schools; 298, mormonism; and number 294, brahmanism, buddhism, shintoism and taoism. It doesn't reject heterogene subdivisions as, for example, 179: 'Cruelty towards animals. Animals protection. Duel and suicide seen through moral values. Various vices and disadvantages. Advantages and various qualities.'" [sic on capitalization]
The Bibliographic Institute of Brussels seems to be about as real as the Chinese taxonomy.
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Mathematical discoveries, like springtime violets in the woods, have their season which no man can hasten or retard. --Janos BolyaiTweet
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