MT VOID 03/29/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 39, Whole Number 1747

MT VOID 03/29/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 39, Whole Number 1747

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/29/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 39, Whole Number 1747

Table of Contents

      Mulder: Mark Leeper, Scully: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

The MT VOID Marches On (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Neither rain, nor wind, nor staying at remote cabins with no Wifi, nor travel to South Africa, nor week-long power outages after post-Hurricane Cyclone Superstorm Sandy will stay the MT VOID from its appointed rounds. To this you may add a broken hip--the last MT VOID was sent from a hospital bed where I was recovering from a broken hip. This one is being sent from a rehab center.

Details may be found at [-ecl]

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):

	Clearing House" by Israel Zangwill , 
	Middletown (NJ)	Public Library, 5:30PM; discussion after 
	the film
April 18: FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier (some subset TBD), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
May 2: TBD, Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM; discussion 
	after the film
May 23: THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
June 20: FLOATING OPERA by John Barth, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
July 25: TRSF by the MIT Technology Review, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
August 15: [canceled]
September 26: THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
October 17: THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM
	K. Dick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
December 19: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures:

April 4: Linda Addison (Editor, "Space & Time Magazine), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
May 11: Alaya D. Johnson, "Doing Historical Research",
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
June 8: Leanna R. Hieber, "Directing Your Book", 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for April (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Spring is coming again and it is the time of the month when I make suggestions for films to see on TCM. So what is up this month? (All times given are for the Eastern Time Zone.)

When I review a film I usually to not let it count against the movie that the special effects are not as good as they might be in other films. After all I grew up with films by the likes of Bert I. Gordon with horrid matte lines around the giant creatures Gordon liked to feature. But there is one film that I think really ruined its impact with the bad dinosaur special effects in that the film employed. That film would be the AIP and Amicus production of Edgar Rice Burroughs novel THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975). The script was written by popular science fiction and fantasy author Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn. The film is generally fairly faithful to the novel with one major exception. In the novel the character Captain Von Schoenvorts is a treacherous, evil villain. The screenplay makes him (played by John McEnery) really the most complex and interesting character of the film. He has good reason for what he does. The book he torpedoes hero Bowen Tyler's (Doug McClure) ship as just a black and nasty deed. In the film Von Schoenvorts is given a chance to explain that the ship was carrying weapons that would have been used against his countrymen. When they get to the lost island of Caprona, it is Von Schoenvorts who is the most anxious to take advantage of the opportunity to study the unique fauna of the island, including the dinosaurs. The script is as complex or more than the novel would allow it to be. Really the best part of the film is the submarine warfare before the main characters ever get to Caprona. The dinosaurs are of the man-in-suit variety and *very* unconvincing. Worst of all are the pterodactyls that seem to be entirely rigid at the ends of their wires. If you can ignore the terrible effects the film is really better than you would expect. Depending on your attitude toward JOHN CARTER this might be the best Edgar Rice Burroughs film ever made. (Friday, April 12, 6:15 PM)

Early morning Sunday, April 21, Turner is showing a very find double feature of British horror films. I have discussed BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962, aka NIGHT OF THE EAGLE, shown at 2:15 AM) in a previous month summary so I will not go into detail about BURN, WITCH, BURN. I will just say the screenplay is by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont based on the novel CONJURE WIFE by Fritz Leiber. That is one terrific line-up of talent. The film they made is a semi-classic. Afterward, at 4 AM TCM will show Hammer Films' THE WITCHES (a.k.a. THE DEVIL'S OWN). This was Hammer's first of their three Black Magic horror films. The other two are based on somewhat better novels by Dennis Wheatley. This one is not quite as good but still worth seeing. THE WITCHES probably takes too long to establish that there really is such a thing as Black Magic, a mistake avoided by the later two films. Joan Fontaine play Gwen Mayfield who after in Africa nearly falling victim to what might have been Black Magic comes to a little English village to teach. Little does she know that there is very similar skullduggery in her new location. The screenplay is by Nigel Kneale and based on a novel by Norah Lofts.

All that seems to be missing from THREE STRANGERS (1946) is Humphrey Bogart. It was written by John Huston who wrote THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and by Howard Koch who wrote CASABLANCA (1942). It stars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet both of whom were in CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON. The very dark THREE STRANGERS may or may not have a fantasy element. That is left up to the viewer to interpret. Central to the plot is wishing on a Buddhist idol. The film has a sort of a film noir feel crossed with supernatural currents. For its positive credits, it is still very little known. But that is why it is the sort of film I like to draw people's attention to. (Wednesday, April 10, 2:30 AM)

Mostly just for fans of William Castle there are two rare films. ZOTZ! (1962) stars funny man Tom Poston in a fantasy about a magical coin that gives people super powers. It will be on (Friday, April 12, 3 PM). Even rarer is the Western THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST (1955). This Castle-directed Western involves cavalry and Indians. I have not seen it and reputedly is not all that great, but William Castle completists might find it of interest. (Tuesday, April 16, 1 AM)

If people promise not to think I am too silly, I would say that my pick of the month is THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, and if you have seen it I would go for THREE STRANGERS.

Also note that on Sunday, April 1 there will be a mini-festival of Lon Chaney films and on Tuesday April 16 there will be a mini-festival of Charles Chaplin films.

April 1: Lon Chaney

6:00 AM Hunchback of Notre Dame, The (1923)
In this silent film, a deformed bell-ringer gives sanctuary to a beautiful gypsy accused of witchcraft. Dir: Wallace Worsley Cast: Lon Chaney, Ernest Torrence, Patsy Ruth Miller. BW-117 mins, TV-G.

8:00 AM He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
In this silent film, a scientist flees his tragic past to become a circus clown. Dir: Victor Seastrom Cast: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert. BW-72 mins, TV-G.

9:15 AM Monster, The (1925)
In this silent film, a mad scientist engineers car wrecks so he can experiment on the survivors. Dir: Roland West Cast: Lon Chaney, Gertrude Olmsted, Hallam Cooley. BW-87 mins, TV-G.

10:45 AM Blackbird, The (1926)
A benevolent bishop helps the needy during the day, but runs a crime syndicate at night. Dir: Tod Browning Cast: Lon Chaney, Rene Adore, Doris Lloyd. BW-86 mins, TV-G.

12:15 PM Tell It To The Marines (1926)
In this silent film, a tough drill sergeant and a spoiled recruit become romantic rivals. Dir: George Hill Cast: Lon Chaney, William Haines, Eleanor Boardman. BW-103 mins, TV-G.

2:00 PM Mockery (1927)
A peasant saves a countess during the Russian Revolution. Dir: Benjamin Christensen Cast: Lon Chaney, Ricardo Cortez, Barbara Bedford. BW-70 mins, TV-PG.

3:15 PM Mr. Wu (1927)
In this silent film, a Chinese patriarch goes mad when his daughter falls for an Englishman. Dir: William Nigh Cast: Lon Chaney, Louise Dresser, Rene Adore. BW-91 mins, TV-PG.

5:00 PM Unholy Three, The (1930)
A ventriloquist, a strong man and a midget form a criminal alliance. Dir: Jack Conway Cast: Lon Chaney, Lila Lee, Elliott Nugent. BW-72 mins, TV-G, CC.

6:15 PM Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces (2000)
This documentary reveals the secrets of the screen's first great horror star. Dir: Kevin Brownlow. BW-85 mins, TV-PG, CC.

April 16: Charles Chaplin

6:00 AM Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)
In this silent film, a con man dupes a wealthy country girl into marriage. Dir: Mack Sennett Cast: Marie Dressler, Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand. BW-72 mins, TV-G.

7:30 AM Sunnyside (1919)
In this silent film, an overworked farmhand dreams of marrying the farmer's daughter. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Albert Austin. BW-29 mins, TV-G.

8:00 AM Gold Rush, The (1925)
In this silent film, a lost soul in the Yukon seeks love and wealth. Dir: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Georgia Hale. BW-72 mins, TV-G.

9:15 AM Circus, The (1928)
In this silent film, the Little Tramp joins a circus to hide from the police. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Merna Kennedy, Betty Morrissey. BW-72 mins, TV-G.

10:30 AM Modern Times (1936)
The Tramp struggles to live in a modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. Dir: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman. BW-87 mins, TV-G.

12:00 PM Chaplin Today: Modern Times (2003)
Filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Darenne share their impression of Charlie Chaplin's classic Modern Times. C-26 mins, TV-G, CC.

12:30 PM Great Dictator, The (1940)
A Jewish barber takes the place of a war-hungry dictator. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie. BW-125 mins, TV-PG, CC.

2:45 PM King in New York, A (1957)
A European king loses his money while stranded in the U.S. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Dawn Addams, Maxine Audley. BW-105 mins, TV-PG.

4:30 PM Chaplin Today: A King in New York (2003)
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch discusses his impressions of Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York. C-27 mins, TV-G, CC.

5:00 PM Limelight (1952)
A broken-down comic sacrifices everything to give a young dancer a shot at the big time. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce. BW-138 mins, TV-G, CC.

7:30 PM Chaplin Today: Limelight (2003)
Director Bernardo Bertolucci shares his impressions of Charlie Chaplin's classic Limelight. Dir: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Sydney Chaplin. C-27 mins, TV-G, CC.


Kaffeelatsch with Jordin Kare (interview by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Science fiction cons have an interesting custom of allowing fans to sign up for hour long "kaffeeklatsches" with famous and not-so-famous authors and guests. Recently at Boskone 2013 I had the opportunity to attend one of these with Jordin T. Kare, the science guest of honor. As it turned out, my wife and I were the only people who signed up for the last-minute event, with the result that it was more of an interview than a discussion. Kare is a fascinating figure, and one of the world's leading experts on solar power satellites and laser launch. He may be better known for his invention of the laser mosquito fence, which you can read about at Kare is also widely known in SF fandom as a filker. If this isn't enough, he is also employed by Intellectual Ventures, perhaps the biggest firm that focuses on the development and monetization of intellectual property. This is a fancy way of saying Intellectual Ventures is a patent troll with an R&D wing that also spins out companies to exploit inventions made by people like Kare, who claimed to a be a named co-inventor on over 100 patents, with 300 more in the application pipeline.

Since I didn't record the meeting, I'm going to be paraphrasing what Kare said. Thus, please *don't* extract some of my words and attribute them to him. If you want a quote from Mr. Kare, please contact him directly. However, I think the article will be easier to follow in question and answer format. All mistakes are my own, and I apologize in advance to Mr. Kare and anyone else who may have been wronged.

[Dale] Recently NASA has announced that they will pay for an experiment with an interferometer designed to show whether the Alcubierre Warp Drive might actually work.

[Note to reader] You can find the wiki article on the Alcubierre Drive at and the wiki article on the experiment at

[Kare] I'm not familiar with the details of this experiment, but I am and remain skeptical of the underlying physics behind these kinds of warp drives.

[Dale] I've been interested in potentially leading an effort in the ITU-R (International Telecommunications Union--Radio) to reserve a microwave frequency for SPS usage. My takeaway from your earlier panel on space solar power is that the near and medium term future of SPS (Solar Power Satellites) lies with laser power return, and hence there is no need to (for 50 years or so anyway) reserve any microwave frequencies.

[Kare] Yes. The only scenario where microwave receiving antennas make sense is in the relatively distant future where there is a large industrial infrastructure in space already (created for some non-SPS reason) that allows large SPS to be constructed without a high up-front cost.

[Dale] From a practical planning perspective, what are the next steps in SPS research? In other words, what are the obstacles to a small "demo" SPS with laser power return? What are the obstacles to a "production" SPS with laser power return?

[Kare] It is important to understand that the only advantage SPS has is that there is no need for power storage, and that the power can be beamed to "transient" applications, i.e., military camps, disaster sites, or remote locations. Jay Penn at Aerospace Corporation did the closest thing to a real demo study a few years back. It used 60KW fiber lasers to return power to the ground. It would take about $10 million in research and a few more million in production costs to build an orbiting demo SPS. Launch costs are extra. After the orbital demo it is all about scaling and focusing on the needs of the main customer. Lunar power is a real application. There are two weeks of darkness on the moon, which make "lunar surface" solar power impractical due to the large storage requirements. An alternative approach is to have solar cells on the lunar surface and build a reflector in space. This may be cheaper than SPS, but possibly also less reliable.

[Dale] What about using SPS to support spacecraft?

[Kare] Transportation using power from an SPS turns out to result in a major advantage, i.e., think of an ion drive ship with very small solar panels receiving energy from a remote SPS. The SPS could also be used to provide both electricity and thermal energy to the rocket, but the laser for each application would need to be different--thermal requires a tighter beam.

[Dale] In the earlier solar power panel, you mentioned that you used XCOR piston pump rocket motors in your most recent laser thermal design. Could you say a bit more about this?

[Kare] John Whitehead invented piston pump rocket motors for SDI's "brilliant pebbles" project while at Livermore. The idea was tested as part of the ASTRID project in the early 90s. Somehow Whitehead hooked up with XCOR, and XCOR started using piston pumps in their rocket engines. The exact licensing arrangement is unclear, but XCOR seems to use piston pumps in all their rocket motors. Their piston pump looked good and they were willing to sell it at a reasonable price so I incorporated the design as part of my laser thermal system.

[Note to reader] You can learn more about XCOR piston pump technology at If you want to know more about the ASTRID project there is a paper at It appears that at long last we are seeing some non-military benefit from all the money spent on SDI.

[Dale] Can you address the issues with SpaceX/Blue Origin/DCX style re-usability?

[Kare] SpaceX is doing a 2-stage reusable design. Everyone agrees that it is possible. However, it is less clear that it is worth doing. The first stage may not be worth recovering since it is the less expensive of the two stages. The second stage tends to be the more expensive, and hence more worth re-using. However, the extra weight in the second stage needed for recovery is taken right off the payload. In any case, it is clear that 2-stage reusable rockets will work if there is a big enough market.

[Kare] Single stage is harder but has lower operation costs. It's unfortunate that the X-33 used the least likely to succeed of three competing single-stage to orbit approaches. Of course, the X-33 had the most advanced technology, and that's what NASA wanted to fund.

[Dale] Thanks very much for your time, and the best of luck in your research!


Technology and Its Discontents (comment by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Technology: When it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid.

I like my GPS, but after the last software update it decided that it would start only one time, then after it was shut off the batteries had to be popped out and replaced to be able to start it again.

I like my printer, but it has decided it no longer likes its print cartridges and it takes 15 minutes to print a single page.

I like our Kindle, but after the last software update, it has not re-indexed many of the books on it, so there is no way to search them (which is, of course, one of the main advantages of e-books).

I like the improved picture quality of Blu-ray discs, but the menus on them are often impenetrable, and figuring out how to skip the previews is often impossible.

All in all, it seems as though lately "technology" is just another word for "more things that can go wrong." [-ecl]

FAMILY WEEKEND (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A teenager, fed up with her counter-culture family, takes her parents hostage to give them a crash course in traditional family values. The story could have been taken from a 1970s family comedy, but actress Olesya Rulin gives the film a fresh crispness. The film is directed by Benjamin Epps from a screenplay by Matt K. Turner. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Are there limits to personal freedom in a family to keep that family together? Are traditional values necessary to make a family work? These are the questions that screenwriter Matt K. Turner wrestles with in FAMILY WEEKEND.

Pert sixteen-year-old Emily (played by Soviet-Russian-born Olesya Rulin) is from a family that really respects individuality. In fact, everyone is so individual that it seems that they barely even relate to each other. Emily's father (Matthew Modine) has devoted his life to art--the kind that does not pay. Her mother (Kristen Chenoweth) is a successful businesswoman with more time for her work presentations than for her family. Emily has a gay brother who sees himself as an underground filmmaker with the self-selected moniker "Thor". And Joey King playing Lucinda is a younger sister who rather humorously takes on the personalities of familiar film characters.

When nobody in the family has enough interest to attend Emily's playoffs in the state speed-rope-jumping championship, Emily decides to take her own parents hostage, tape them to chairs, and give them a crash course in traditional family values, parental aptitude, and in how to fix a dysfunctional family.

The plot of taking parents hostage could easily have fit a 1970s teen TV movie. Emily has certain ideas of what she thinks her family should be like and of what each person's responsibility is to the family. The interesting reversal here is that what Emily wants is basically a return to "Leave it to Beaver" sort of values. That may be a hard sell in the 21st Century. The screenwriter's dialog is funny and a pleasure to listen to, but it is wholly unconvincing as spontaneous exchange. Of course that is not necessarily a fault if the wordplay is good. The dialog in HAMLET does not sound natural either.

FAMILY WEEKEND is hard to take seriously even when it lapses from comedy into some emotional drama. Here Emily's school adversary Kat (Chloe Bridges) shows unexpected insight. But what makes the film work is Olesya Rulin, best known for the "High School Musical" series, and her nursed-on-Jolt-Cola, energetic performance. Born in Russia, she is a pleasure to watch as an American girl about a decade younger than the actress really is. Even playing against the more familiar actor Modine, she handily holds viewer attention.

One wonders how Emily was born into a family with so many different personality types, but she does seem to have inherited from her mother her motivated drive and a sense of organization. The film opens on her placing post-it stickers all over the house to remind each person of their promise to attend her competition.

In the end it is not clear what this story was saying. Emily finds her strategy wrong as are some of her goals. It is rare but realistic that in the end what she achieves is something of a compromise. But the film is amusing even if its lessons are indistinct. I rate FAMILY WEEKEND a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Comments on David Leeper"s Puzzle Answers (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):


David wrote:

On #4, I first note that there are no terms in theta in the integrand, so the outermost integration can be replaced by a scalar multiplier of 2pi. The integrand can be re-written rho3 cos(phi)sin(phi) which is the same as rho3 2 sin(2 phi). And the integral of sin(2 phi) from zero to pi/2 is 2 (I think).

So that puts another scalar out front equal to 4.

Finally the integral of rho3 is 1/4 rho4 evaluated from 0 to 4 = 43 = 64. So I get (2 pi) (4) (64) = 512 pi for a solution. That also took about 15 minutes. Ugh. [-DGL]

Walter Meissner wrote":

David recognized that (cos(phi) sin(phi)) can be simplified by using the Double Angle Formula "sin (2 phi) = 2 sin (phi) cos (phi)" so
    sin (phi) cos (phi) = 1/2 sin (2 phi)
but not
    2 sin (2 phi)

The integral d phi becomes
    integral (1/2 sin (2 phi)) d phi = - 1/2 * 1/2 sin (2 phi)

The extra 1/2 is due to the derivative of 2 phi

If he used the same limits as I did (0..pi/4) then he would have gotten the same result (64 pi)

If I had used the limits (0..pi/2) then my answer would have been 128 pi instead of 64 pi.

However the limits are hard to read, I zoomed in on the comic page and it is really just a blur. Zoomed out it looked more like a 4 than a 2, but its anyone's guess. [-wm]


David wrote:

The solution to #3 is u^n ln(u) / (n+1) assuming I did the algebra correctly, but that took over 5 minutes, not 5 seconds.

Walter writes:

Since the solution steps aren't spelled out, I can't tell how he got the extra 1/(n+1) factor, which is incorrect.

If someone tries to do this just in their head, without pencil/paper, then mistakes are easy to do when juggling multiple terms and/or factors.


David wrote: I couldn't find a closed form solution to #2, but it the summand can be rewritten (-1)^(k+1) / (k + 1/k2). That summation is bounded from above by the alternating harmonic series 1--1/2 +1/3--1/4 +1/5 ... = ln(2) which comes from a Taylor (McLauren?) series for ln(1+x) where x = 1.

Walter writes:

I like his approach, but there is a misstatement here.

Here he used an alternative method, numerator and denominator were divided by k2 to get 1/((k + 1/k2). Presumably, it was done this way to make it easier to do this in one's head.

The series is 1/2 - 4/9 + 9/28 - 16/65 + 25/126 - 36/217 ... = 0.5000 - 0.4444 + 0.3214 - 0.2462 + 0.1984 - 0.1659 ... so it does seems to be a good approximation for [ 1- ln(1+x) ] evaluated at x=1.

As [ 1 - ln(1+x) ] = 1 - (x - x2/2 + x3/3 - x4/4 + x5/5 ...) = 1 - (1 - 0.5000 + 0.3333 - 0.2500 + 0.2000 - 0.1667) = 0.5000 - 0.3333 + 0.2500 - 0.2000 + 0.1667

So [ 1 - ln (2) ] = 1 - 0.6942 = 0.3069 which is less then the converging sum of 0.239561...

He should have said 1 - ln (1+x) instead of ln (1+x)n but it is indeed an upper bound on the given infinite series.

Using ln (2) = 0.6931 would have also given an upper bound, but not as close. Interestingly, using 1/3 ln(3) = 0.231049 would give a surprisingly close answer, off by only 0.0085

Wolfram's note on Foxtrot's comic, problem 3 ... "It arose from a convergence testing problem in a calculus book by Anton, but was inadvertently converted into a summation problem on an alleged final exam by the strip's author:"

So this problem was inadvertently made almost unsolvable (analytically) by Bill Amend.


Walter writes:

Same limit reduction as stated in MT VOID.


Boskone (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Dale Skran's report on Boskone in the 03/15/13 issue, Dan Kimmel writes:

First, while I was not influenced by his views on the sad state of the media Hugos--I think the two categories are irretrievably broken--we are much in agreement. I appreciate that he did not feel I tried to take over the panel in that regard but I thought it was an important statement to make at the outset. I think his solution is a bit too complex and unlikely to ever get through a Worldcon Business Meeting (which struggled with merely splitting the category in two). My solution would be to simply have "best movie" and "best TV series." That way "Dr. Who" gets *one* nomination. "Game of Thrones" competes as a TV series, not an entire season against movies. And if I'm granted dictatorial powers I would add that any entry containing an appearance by Gollum is automatically disqualified.

Second, I do not attend Boskone on Sunday because of my commitment to the annual SF Movie Marathon, and so I missed the panel he rails against about SF television. I cannot answer his description of what went on at that time. However I do want to come to the defense of Jennifer Pelland. Like me, she has strong opinions and is not shy about expressing them. I was on a panel with her about the "John Carter" movie at Arisia and had a great time. We engaged in some banter as well as discussing the topic at hand. Perhaps the problem was that the two Bobs (Devney and Eggleton), while very knowledgeable and eloquent, both have somewhat different speaking styles. Having been on panels with both of them I can say they may have hesitated to more fully engage because they did not know her well. I don't know. I do know that you ought to give her another chance, as she is smart and a superb writer. Her novel Machine made my Hugo ballot even if it's unlikely to make the final cut. [-dk]

Guns (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to Mark's comments on guns in the 03/22/13 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:

I agree with your interpretation of the Second Amendment although I never seen a gun opponent use it. I think there would have been a lot more qualifying language if the writers had envisioned a 100-plus increase in the rate of fire of a hand-held weapon.

I kind of agree with Heinlein's comment, but I think he stated it poorly. Societies are polite when there is a segment of the society that is a) armed and trained in weapon use b) has an implicit right to use those weapons on anyone they feel like

I believe the Samurai with their two swords have a lot to do with why the Japanese are so polite. Also I don't think its a coincidence that the parts of the United States where people put more emphasis on manner tend to be the ones where regular citizens are fond of guns. [-smm]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Quite a while ago, I started an article to cover the books in University of California at Berkeley's "Philosophy 6" course by Professor Hubert Dreyfus. I then got totally sidetracked by MOBY DICK and never finished it, but now with my broken hip, it is a good time to publish what I had managed to write up.

The course is variously titled "From Gods to God and Back" and "God, Man, and Society in Western Literature". There are two versions of this floating around in the datasphere: a podcast version (from 2007) and an iTunes U version (from 2010). The podcast version seems to have more lectures, but a couple of them are only fifteen minutes long, indicating some technical difficulties. (It turned out that even the full-length lectures sometimes had problems. The most common was that Dreyfus had the wrong kind of mike, or was wearing it wrong, or *something*--the sound is awful, frequently dropping down to inaudible and then, just when you have cranked up the volume to the max, it recovers and blasts your eardrums! This is not just Dreyfus--other podcast live courses have the same problem. Another problem is questions from the class--almost always inaudible and rarely repeated by the professor for the benefit of the listeners.) Just to see how different the two instances were I listened to the introductory lectures of each--and discovered that in the intervening three years, the course had undergone major changes.

The 2007 syllabus included:

In several cases, only parts of the work were included (for example, THE DIVINE COMEDY). In most cases, I read the entire work unless noted. Although Pascal's PENSEES was on the syllabus, Dreyfus dropped it halfway through the semester, when he realized that he was spending more time on each book than he had intended, and would run out of time, and it was not on the 2010 syllabus at all. Both versions of the course are about thirty hours long.

(Dreyfus at least has an understanding of student finances et al. He is not too picky about which translation of THE ODYSSEY they use--other than warning them away from Fagles for reasons I will discuss later--but he says for MOBY DICK it will be important to have everyone's page numbers matching. However, he said he found the perfect edition: the Dover Giant Thrift Edition. It is inexpensive, and printed on lightweight paper so it is not difficult to carry in a backpack.) And for "Paradiso", he provided photocopies since they were reading only about 10% of the book. (In the 2007 version, he still was unclear on what would be included, so he started by saying that he would cover just Cantos I and XXXI-XXXIII, and would hand out photocopies so people did not have to buy the entire book. Then he decided to add some other cantos, which he handed out, but did not clearly name in the podcast; they seemed to include IV and VI, but I was never sure if I had read the complete syllabus.)

The basic thing the course is looking at is what people show up as in various eras and societies. In ancient Greece, there were heroes and slaves, in medieval Europe saints and sinners, more recently as rational beings, etc. This is not the same as what people are "essentially", and it is not a belief system. It is more basic than that, and starts in infancy (e.g. distance standing, active versus passive). This "basicness" is embodied by William Butler Yeats's statement, "Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it," if we substitute "understanding of being" for "truth".

Dreyfus's plan is to read these works for the specific (and different) "understandings of being" that the authors had, rather than the universal truths to be found in them (the humanist approach). In other words, the ideas is to see how the ancient Greeks, the medieval Christians, and the 19th century Americans are different from each other (and from us) than how they are the same. As he observed, the man admired in medieval Europe was a saint, but someone with the traditional saintly qualities who lived in ancient Greece would be at best a slave, but quite possibly considered insane. (This is of science fictional interest in terms of time travel. Mark Twain captures this in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT, where his beliefs of what constitutes admirable behavior is at variance with everyone else's.) Conversely, Odysseus was a hero to the Greeks, but placed in the eighth circle of Hell by Dante (though frankly this seems to be more because Odysseus opposed the Trojans, and the Trojan Aeneas found Rome and hence was an Italian hero). This is why Dreyfus has warned against the Fagles translation of THE ODYSSEY--Fagles's goal was to make THE ODYSSEY seem very current and immediate, and his method was to smooth over any differences between the Ancient Greeks and us.

(Dreyfus mentioned that St. Augustine wrote about how St. Jerome could read without moving his lips, and how unusual this was. I had been looking for this reference to approximately when silent reading was invented/discovered, and was glad to finally find it.)

Dreyfus distinguishes between "articulating" works of art (descriptive) and "reconfiguring" works of art (prescriptive). In specific, he describes "The Gospel of John" as a reconfiguring work of art, but since that seems to be the only reconfiguring work of art he mentions, I am not sure how applicable the distinction is here.

First off was THE ODYSSEY. I had forgotten how much of this was *not* concerned with Odysseus's doings, but with Telemakhos and the suitors, or with Nausicaa, or with other characters. For those into trivia, of the three great "Trojan" epics (THE ILIAD, THE ODYSSEY, and THE AENEID) the only one which does not tell the story of the Trojan Horse is the one actually about the war, THE ILIAD. In Book IV of THE ODYSSEY we get the story, told by Helen. She may be a bit of an unreliable narrator, because first she says when she discovers Odysseus spying within Troy, "My heart sand--for I had come round, long before, to dreams of sailing home, and I repented the mad day Aphrodite drew me away from my dear fatherland, forsaking all--child, bridal bed, and husband--a man without defect in form or mind." But Menelaos then says to her that later, when the Horse was outside Troy, "Three times you walked around it, patting it everywhere, and called by name the flower of our fighters, making your voice sound like their wives, calling." (This almost made the soldiers in the Horse call out in return, but they managed to stifle it.) This does not sound like the actions of someone repenting her flight with Paris and wanting to go home with the attacking Akhaians.

Dreyfus claims that "repented" is really the wrong word, and "regretted" would be better, and in fact that Helen was not responsible for her actions in going off with Paris, because she was overcome by Aphrodite's will. Dreyfus's premise regarding the world view of the Homeric Greeks is that they believed that people did things because the gods decreed it. Helen went with Paris because the gods made her do it--she was actually blameless. The question of whether the Greeks believed that anyone ever had free will, or for that matter, did the gods have free will, was discussed in the class, but not resolved. Dreyfus did seem to feel the suitors had free will and did what they did of their own accord. Given that what they did was bad, it did not make a good case for free will. But if all the heroes did what they did because of the gods, why are they deserving of admiration?

Dreyfus also seemed to think that asking if they gods have free will was a meaningless question (he compared it to asking if they had athlete's foot) because the gods are exemplars of moods (lust, domesticity, war, etc.) rather than actual beings. But that does not sound right to me; in fact, it sounds almost diametrically opposed to the caution not to try to see the Homeric Greeks' worldview in terms of ours. We think of the Greek gods as embodiments of different aspects of our internal states, but did the Homeric Greeks? It seems more likely that they thought of their gods in more tangible, or at least more anthropomorphic, form. Clearly the gods' physical state is mutable and ambiguous, but that to them the gods have an independent existence apart from humans seems clear. For starters, the gods have conversations with each other. If Athena is supposed to represent some interior aspect of Odysseus and Aphrodite is an aspect of Helen, how could they have a conversation?

And to return to Helen, what does it mean for Helen to say she regretted doing it at one point and then later doing something that could only betray Menelaos and the Akhaians?

The idea of compulsion by the gods is not unique to the Homeric Greeks. In the Haggadah, we have the following:

Jacob went down into Egypt.
Why did Jacob go down into Egypt?
He was compelled by God's decree.

And later, God "hardens Pharaoh's heart," forcing him to act contrary to what he had been planning. The former might indicate that Jacob chose to do what God said, but the latter seems to indicate force or actual compulsion.

A question: If plugging their ears with wax will block out the Sirens' song from Odysseus's men, how could they possibly hear him asking to be released, or know when they are past the singing and may release him?

In Book XIII, Alkinoos tells all the guests to give Odysseus gifts, adding, "We'll make levy upon the realm to pay us for the loss each bears in this." I guess this makes him the original "tax-and-spend" guy, or at least an early example.

And speaking of contemporary issues, how about Antinoos's speech in Book XVII: "Who would call in a foreigner?--unless an artisan with skill to serve the realm, a healer, or a prophet, or a builder, or one whose harp and song might give us joy. All these are sought for on the endless earth, but when have beggars come by invitation? Who puts a field mouse in his granary?"

By the way, Fitzgerald uses some unusual spellings for the Greek names. He uses a "K" where we are used to seeing a "C", such as "Kirke" (Circe), "Akhaians" (Achaeans), and "Klytaimnestra" (Clytemnestra). He also adds accent marks, umlauts, and other pronunciation clues, such as an accent over the second 'e' and an umlaut over the last 'e' in Penelope;. This is a little distracting to a reader familiar with the usual transliterations, and Seirenes (with carets over the last two 'e's) instead of Sirens is particularly odd, since the name has passed into English as an ordinary word.

[to be continued]


                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          I sometimes think it is because they are so bad 
          at expressing themselves verbally that writers 
          take to pen and paper in the first place.
                                          --Gore Vidal

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