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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/02/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 5, Whole Number 1765
Table of Contents
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ) (UPDATED):
August 1: THE COOLER, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 6:30PM August 8: CYPHER and UBIK by Philip K. Dick, Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM, discussion after the film August 22: [no discussion] September 26: THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 24: THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT by Steven Pinker, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 21: DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Philip K. Dick, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 19: THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by W. Somerset Maugham, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM January 23, 2014: THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures: August: [no meeting] September 7: Ellen Datlow, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N October 5 or 12 (the sheet has contradictory information): Nick Kaufman, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
Who Do They Think They Are Fooling? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I went to get a bottle of blue cheese salad dressing. Every one of them on the grocery shelf calls itself chunky blue cheese salad. Every one. They conjure up memories of large lumps of soft, pungent cheese in the dressing. And every one has you pour it through a hole at the top of the bottle. And that hole is at most a quarter-inch in diameter. What do they expect you to think, the cheese tidbits are going to organize themselves into bigger lumps once the dressing is out of the bottle? Do they rejoin each other like the robot parts in IRON GIANT? [-mrl]
What Podcasts Do I Listen To? (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
More than I would like to admit, my iPod Nano has become part of my lifestyle. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I probably am wearing the iPod eighteen hours a day. If I am ready going out and Evelyn is not ready, it is no problem. I will just listen to a little more of a current podcast. I go to sleep listening to Old Time Radio programs and audio plays. Thaasophobia is fear of boredom. I probably am a borderline thaasophobic and carrying an iPod helps a lot. Frequently even when I look like I am not carrying my iPod it is hanging from my neck inside my shirt. Podcasts are a big part of my information input.
I was comparing notes with Evelyn as to what podcasts I hear on a regular basis. She suggested I publish a list of my most-listened-to podcasts. So here we go.
Most podcasts that I listen to I do not get directly through iTunes. I go to the website and download the podcast files (usually .mp3 files) to my desktop and then place them directly in playlists on my iPod. That limits me a little, since not all podcast sites allow direct download, but usually that is not a problem. And for some websites that did not provide direct download I have written to the podcasters, and they have usually been happy to amend their website to provide a direct download capability.
On each webpage below there is either a download or a link that can lead you to a place to download, though you may have to poke around a little.
*News and Information*
The Planet Money Podcast
This is National Public Radio's twice-weekly program discussing economics. Their charter intention is to uncomplicate economic issues, to avoid unfamiliar terms, and to explain money matters simply enough that almost any listener can understand. They sometimes do get a bit too technical, but more often they err on the side of the silly and frivolous.
Council on Foreign Relations: The World Next Week
The very serious Council on Foreign Relations takes a weekly look not at the current news so much as what will be making news in the week ahead. It is a primer to prepare the listener to understand the news and the implications of the news coming.
This American Life
This is mostly a news and journalism magazine-style podcast that each week chooses a theme and one or several stories that can be sort of rationalized to fit the theme. Some fiction is mixed in. Downloads are free for the week the program is broadcast on National Public Radio and then they become available for a price.
This is much like This American Life, but it tells single stories of varying length. Also the subject matter is more often science and philosophy. Radiolab is produced by my local PBS station WNYC. Their trademark is to have some listener apparently picked more or less at random read the credits for the show.
Each weekday the podcasters do a one-minute science story, but this page gives you all five most recent stories and you can download the ones you want. I pick only the ones that sound interesting. And if they turn out not to be interesting, well, I have wasted only a minute.
"Oxford-style debating on American Shores." These are monthly hour-long formal debates on a topics of current public controversy. Recent topics include "Is Cutting The Pentagon's Budget A Gift To Our Enemies?", "Is The FDA's Caution Hazardous To Our Health?", and "Will The GOP Die If It Doesn't Seize The Center?" You can pull any of the debates off the archive.
Each week host Brian Dunning debunks urban legends, myth, quack medicine, pseudo-science, and paranormal claims.
"The program that questions everything... except your intelligence." And sometimes even that. These are weekly discussions of philosophical issues done in a not very convincing dialog style. Still the issues are frequently of great interest. John Perry and Ken Taylor, two Stanford philosophy professors, discuss issues between themselves and with special guests. (Actually I do not go to the page. I get their download service bulletin every Friday morning than that has links to allow download.)
BBC Comedy of the Week
The shows chosen by the BBC are always humorous, or at least intended to be, and that is the only thing they have in common. There is no special rule about what sort of humor program they will have. The NOW Show can be obscure for Americans or it can be very, very funny.
BBC News Quiz
Fans of National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" Will be chagrinned to discover that the Brits do this sort of program on a higher level. Contestants seem more intelligent, have better background knowledge, and are a LOT funnier on short notice.
Next week I will continue with the podcasts I listen to that involve film reviews, reviewing, and commentary. [-mrl]
THE WOLVERINE (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Hugh Jackman reprises his role as Logan/Wolverine, an immortal warrior with healing powers and an adamantium skeleton in THE WOLVERINE. This adventure takes place after the events of XMEN: THE LAST STAND, and deals in part with Logan's difficulty in handling his role in the death of Jean Gray/Marvel Girl/Phoenix. If you are avoiding THE WOLVERINE because you saw WOLVERINE: ORIGINS and didn't like it, I'll start out by saying what you have probably already heard--this is a much better movie.
There is a lot to like here. THE WOLVERINE takes place mostly in Japan, and features a top cast of Japanese actors. Rila Okamoto is spot-on as Yokio, a deadly assassin working for the Shingen clan, who first finds Wolverine for Shingen, and later allies herself with Wolverine. Tao Okamoto plays Mariko Yashida, Logan's love interest and the heir to the Yashida fortune, quite authentically. The movie is at its best early on, at first with Logan drinking himself into a stupor in an isolated cave, and later as he finds that his healing powers have been artificially limited, opening up the possibility that for the first time, he might really die. The cinematography in Japan is excellent, and compares favorably with the Bond movies set in Japan.
Unfortunately, there are some changes from the comic that I didn't like much. Part of the charm of Wolverine in the comic is that although at first he appears merely a simple roughneck, he is in reality a finely trained Samurai/Ninja fighter who speaks fluent Japanese and is well versed in Japanese customs. This is completely upended in THE WOLVERINE, where now Logan is a backwoods Canadian who needs to be schooled in all things Japanese, even how to hold a sword. This leads to a ludicrous Wolverine vs Ninja fight scene which it is impossible to imagine would ever occur in the comic.
Another weakness in the movie lies in Sventlana Khondchenkova's portrayal of Viper, a mutant who is immune to toxins, and who has snakelike characteristics. More or less based on the Marvel character Madame Hydra/Viper, she is quite different from, more powerful than, and much less interesting than the comic version. Rather like Dr. Doom, Madame Hydra is interesting in part because she has no super powers. The fights between Viper and Yukio in the latter part of the movie are not well thought out, and don't show how Yukio is able to overcome Viper's many toxins. Sventlana seems like an actress stuck in a green leather suit, but in a big rush to get on to the next movie. The contrast with the excellent casting (and costuming) of Yukio and Mariko is striking. It is my understanding that they wanted Jessica Biel for the Viper role but couldn't get her--Biel would have been a much better choice.
You may also have heard that Famke Janssen appears in numerous dream sequences as Jean Grey wearing a negligee. These scenes are in fact not gratuitous, nor are they especially revealing. If you are a big fan of Janssen, I'm sure you'll like them, but she doesn't do much for me.
If THE WOLVERINE was just a bit better, it would be a really great film. Sadly, I have to rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. A must see for male comic book fans, it should also appeal to a wider audience, including women who either find a shirtless Jackman or the romantic aspects of the film appealing. Apparently, shirts are in short supply in Japan for some reason. This is a PG-13 film with lots of violent action that is too intense for younger kids.
One final note--this is one of those Marvel movies where you really want to sit thru the credits all the way to the very end. 'Nuff said. [-dls]
ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN' (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The fabulous art of counter-culture artist Robert Williams and the art he creates is the subject of co-directors Mary C. Reese's and Doug Blake's study of the art, life, and influence of Williams. Whether his subject is classic cars, underground culture, motorcycles, nudity, LSD, alien invasions, scientific hoax, or whatever his paintings are a collision of fantastic images that leave the viewer stunned. ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN' is the highly entertaining introduction to the art of a deceptively sane-looking mad man. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Wait. Stop. Before you go any further, if you have access to the Internet, go to Google Images and have it do a search on Robert Williams. Particularly do this if, like me, before this film came along you had no idea who Robert Williams was. If you do not know what his art looks like, you cannot appreciate a review of the film about his work. He is a remarkable artistic talent.
Most often a painting of Williams will have one major image and several smaller images commenting on it. His style is a distillation of art from EC horror comics, ZAP comics, hot rod magazine art, early surrealistic Mad Magazine, and the old 1940s pulp magazines. On could look at one of his paintings for hours and still not guess what it says, but the would be most enjoyable hours. Though his work had many influences it became a genre of art all its own and he became a champion for counter-culture art. He was one of a small group of anarchic artists who founded "Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine".
In interviews in front of the camera Williams talks about his youth and his professional life. Growing up in New Mexico he found himself in several vocations that were not to be to his liking, but from an early age he had been deeply involved in graphic art. He moved to California to be where art was being re-invented and began re-inventing some himself. Williams first gained serious attention as the art director for hot rod celebrity Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Soon he became interested in the underground comics. A friend showed him ZAP Comics #2 and by ZAP Comics #4 he was part of the ZAP comics collective of artists along with notables like R. Crumb.
Williams became the center of controversy when his art started turning a little salacious and featured nude or barely dressed women. Accused of creating sexist art, he explained himself and defended his choices as freedom of expression.
The directors' style is one of showing images in rapid-fire. However, since some of Williams's paintings could be studied for hours, no amount of time would be enough to digest the message of a painting. The interviews with Williams are full of amusing observations like "the only thing that stops your pet cat from eating you is your size." Elsewhere Williams talks about his painting [paintings?] of the Piltdown Man, the supposed fossil man that was proven to be a hoax.
Along for the ride are many other artists and notables like Deborah Harry, Axl Rose, Rat Fink, and Big Daddy Roth. Also his wife, Suzanne talks about her relation with her husband and how he got her to share his hobbies like riding a unicycle. Most of those interviewed love his art. As one fan says, "[Williams] is the Beatles of Lowbrow [art]".
ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN' turns out to be a joyous introduction and a wild ride through the life and art of Robert Williams. I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Incidentally, the reliable snoops.com site completely debunks Deborah Harry's abduction claim.
ROBERT WILLIAMS MR. BITCHIN' will be released to retail outlets and on VOD July 30, 2013.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1245098/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/robert_williams_mr_bitchin_2013/
NAPOLEON'S BUTTONS: HOW 17 MOLECULES CHANGED HISTORY by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson (book review by Greg Frederick):
This is a review of a unique science history book titled NAPOLEON'S BUTTONS: HOW 17 MOLECULES CHANGED HISTORY by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson. The book is written by two organic chemists and details the way human history was changed by certain molecules. A recurring theme is that very small changes in molecular structure have profound changes in the way molecules react and eventually affect us.
Though we enjoy using spices in our foods, plants did not create them for our cooking. Oil from Cloves and Nutmeg for example are produced by plants as natural pesticides since plants cannot run from grazing animals and insects. Humans can ingest small amounts of these spices and the liver will handle them with a detoxification process so we are not harmed. Eugenol is the molecule from Cloves and Isoeugenol is the molecule from Nutmeg. They are very similar molecules and only differ in the location of one double bond. Pepper and other spices like Nutmeg and Cloves were especially important before refrigeration. Meat was salted and dried before refrigeration and sometimes the meat was rancid if not dried properly. In order to disguise this bad taste and to add a pleasing favor to meat which could be heavily salted; pepper and other spices were needed. Venice became rich trading in spices from Asia and then selling them to the other countries of Europe. By the mid 15th century the Portuguese and the Spanish began looking for other routes to Asia to get into the spice trade. This was part of the motivation for Columbus to sail West toward what he thought would be a shorter route to China. So these spice molecules helped the Europeans to discover more of the World than ever before changing World history in the process.
The penicillin molecule is amazingly effective at stopping the growth of many bacteria. It can effectively kill some bacteria even when diluted to a rate of one to fifty million. It stops bacteria by attaching itself to a key bacteria enzyme molecule which is needed in order to create cell walls. It deactivates the cell wall forming enzyme of bacteria and this prevents the growth of more bacteria. Our cells have cellular membranes and not cell walls which are therefore not affected by this cell wall deactivation process. In other words, we usually do not experience any major side effects from penicillin. First sulfa drugs and then later penicillin have helped to extend human life. In 1856 before these wonder drugs, life expectancy in Britain was about 45 years. A century later life expectancy increased to the 70s.
Oleic acid which can come from animal fats or from certain plants is a key molecule needed to make soap. Soap would eventually become a necessary product to help reduce infant mortality and improve sanitary conditions for people in general. A typical soap molecule like sodium stearate which comes from beef fat has a charged (polar) end on one side of the molecule and a non-polar carbon chain on the other end. This allows the polar side of the molecule to dissolve in water and the non-polar side to dissolve in grease. Many of these molecules surround a grease particle causing the particle to separate from the larger grease spot and to float away with the water. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the practice of bathing declined in much of Europe. The remaining Roman baths that still existed in the Middle Ages were closed because authorities thought communal bathing helped the plague to spread. By the 16th century bathing was considered dangerous or sinful. If you could afford it body orders were covered by scents or perfumes. Soap was in demand by the rich during these times but for washing cloths and linens only. In the 19th Century attitudes toward bathing changed and more efficient methods were developed for making soap. Better hygiene by washing with soap became common practice again. Soap is an effective way to reduce infection and disease especially among people living in close proximity to each other. Its importance to human history can easily be seen.
I enjoyed reading this well written book about the connection of human history to these important molecules and if you have an interest in scientific history you will enjoy this book also. [-gf]
Captain Hornblower (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):
In response to Mark's comments about Captain Horatio Hornblower in the 07/26/13 issue of the MT VOID, Pete Rubinstein writes:
[With respect] to the Hornblower comments, a more direct adaptation are the Honor Harrington books by David Weber. I remember the first one I read (not the first in the series) and thinking it was a blatant rip-off. I later read the first and saw that the series was dedicated to C. S. Forester. [-pr]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero, ISBN 978-0-156-99693-8) is set in Portugal in 1936 when Portugal, and indeed all of Europe, is in turmoil. Ricardo Reis has returned from Brazil to Portugal where he meets a woman of the same name as that in his poems, and is also visited by the ghost of the author Fernando Pessoa. Since Ricardo Reis is a pen name for Fernando Pessoa, there is clearly more going on here that might be obvious. And it is certainly true that I would have gotten even more out of the novel had I been more familiar with Portuguese politics of the time. Still, very well-written and poetic in its own right.
It is purely coincidence, I believe, that the next book I read was THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (translated by Daniel Hahn, ISBN 978-1-4165-7351-7). Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel was originally written in Portuguese. Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel has a literary figure as one of the characters--or more specifically, the spirit of a literary figure. Like THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel is a magical realist view of life. THE BOOK OF CHAMELEONS is about an Angolan albino who does what everyone describes as selling memories to people, and is narrated by a tiger gecko who turns out to be the reincarnation of Jorge Luis Borges. What the albino does seems more like the selling of new identities than the selling of memories, but that may be because when I hear the phrase "the selling of memories," I take it much more literally, probably because of my familiarity with science fiction. It reminds me of the discussion of the different modes of reading the sentence "Her world exploded." In a "mundane" novel, this is read figuratively. But in a novel set on Alderaan, this is a literal statement.
Unlike THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, this novel does not require a knowledge of Portuguese history. Instead, it seems to require a knowledge of Angolan geography. Sometimes you just cannot win. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Every man wishes to be wise, and they who cannot be wise are almost always cunning. --Samuel JohnsonTweet
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