MT VOID 09/20/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 12, Whole Number 1772

MT VOID 09/20/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 12, Whole Number 1772

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/20/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 12, Whole Number 1772

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: 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

Yes, Virgina, There Is a Heat Ray:

"Who, what, why: How does a skyscraper melt a car?

A London skyscraper dubbed the Walkie-Talkie has been blamed for reflecting light which melted parts of a car parked on a nearby street. What happened?"

The full story is at <

Mr. Insect, You've Got Gears!:

"A species of plant-hopping insect, Issus coleoptratus, is the first living creature known to possess functional gears. The two interlocking gears on the insect's hind legs help synchronize the legs when the animal jumps."

The full story is at

Freqy Sex (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

CBS News reports that people who have frequent sex are more successful. Sounds like a tautology, but they really mean having a higher salary. I wonder which could be the cause and which the result. [-mrl]

National WWII Museum (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We recently went on a 26-day road trip from New Jersey to the World Science Fiction Convention in an San Antonio and back. This took us through New Orleans and we just scheduled a few days of seeing the sights. Highly-rated was the National WWII Museum. This was interesting because though I had been in the city twice before sightseeing I had never heard of it. Well, it could easily have been founded since the last time I was in the city. In fact, it was established in 2000, three years after my most recent previous visit. Now this museum is considered the seventh best museum in the country. Not the city, but the country.

Apparently it initially was the D-Day Museum. They decided to extend it to the whole war. And it shows in the museum as it stands today. It divides the war between the European and the Pacific War. The European part has a lot of material on D-Day, what led up to it, and the aftermath. I would say that while the European theater section has much about D-Day, it had way too little on the rest of the European theater. They have surprisingly little about the Battle of the Bulge, for example. They have some, but it is not the detailed coverage they give to D-Day. Further any Allied invasion in the Pacific War they call "a D-Day." The United States invasion of the Solomon Islands they call a D-Day. They cover what they call a D-Day Saipan. Some historians, especially Donald L. Miller, do say that there were 126 D-Days in the Pacific. But if every initial island landing is a D-Day, it sort of devalues the drama of a D-Day.

Get a visual picture of the museum:

Right now they have a special exhibit on Bob Hope. He is considered a part of WWII because he entertained the troops. I would have thought that the space could have been used for something more integral to the war, but it is a only temporary exhibit and apparently popular.

We took a museum tour and that was a pretty good overview of the European part of the museum. It had less about the Pacific War material.

Something I had not realized: Apparently the United States came out of World I War as an isolationist country. We (I include myself, though of course I was not born yet) neither had nor thought we needed a big army. There were two oceans that insulated us from major conflicts. We had, in fact, only the 18th largest army in the world (!). Only if we were attacked would we even need an army. Romania actually had a bigger army than the United States. It was very different from today. Only if we were attacked would we even need an army, or so we thought. Most Americans think of the war as starting December 7, 1941, after hostilities in Europe. Many who think better of it say it was 1939. Evelyn thinks that is very Eurocentric. The real start of hostilities was the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.

The museum covers how we were drawn into war and our mobilization. (I won't go through the whole history of the war for this description.) There is a big subsection on wooden boats like PT Boats and landing craft. It just happens that the company that made those boats, Higgins Industries, is located in New Orleans and it made major contributions to the museum in return for the positive publicity.

Perhaps the best features of the museum are the eyewitness accounts by actual participants. There are frequent panels with four accounts each that give the visitor a choice, by pushbutton, of which accounts the visitor wants to hear.

When the war gets to D-Day they have many rooms full of D-Day explanation with eyewitnesses telling what it was like to be in England before the invasion--the American point of view and the English point of view. Then there was the decision to invade June 6 and the last minute jockeying for the best date. We learn what it was like in the landing boats and the gliders. What it was like to land in gunfire. What it was like to be on the beach, etc. Once they get past the week after the invasion they go back to less detail.

They had a little more material on the Battle of the Bulge, as important as that was. They quickly go through events of the war to get to the surrender of Germany. Then you leave that part of the building and go to the section devoted to the Pacific War.

Again I will not go through the whole the whole set of displays.

On the Pacific side one of the most interesting features is a collection of each side's cartoon racially dehumanizing the other side. Our side: The Japanese are shown with little spherical heads and big buck teeth or they are given ravening faces:

Their side: FDR is drawn very much as a Japanese demon: The cartoons drawn by our side seem more mean-spirited, but that is perhaps because they were intentionally fine-tuned to our psychology.

There is another area to visit across the street where they have a few airplanes suspended and military vehicles on the floor. They also have some sophisticated computer displays where you can see battles explained.

There are some problems, but it is a good way to spend a day in New Orleans. [-mrl]

Shout It from the Rooftops (a Hugo rant by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

The 2013 Hugo awards were recently announced, and I was pleased as punch to discover that no Dr. Who episodes won ANYTHING!!!!! The GAME OF THRONES season 2 episode "Blackwater," written by George R. R. Martin, won out over three (3) Dr. Who episodes and a FRINGE episode. GRRM has won a number of Hugos (5 so far) including a long form Hugo for the first season of GOT, so it can't be said that his contributions have been neglected by fandom. However, he has transcended SF as a genre, with GOT becoming popular outside fandom and TIME magazine declaring him "One of the Most Influential People of 2011." GOT has received a lot of high-quality critical ink, much of it related to the political insights found in GOT. The net of it is that I'm delighted to see GRRM carry home another Hugo for the excellent GOT, and even more delighted that he received it by trouncing some Dr. Who episodes and a sadly declining FRINGE.

Looking forward to the 2014 Hugos, I urge you to run out and catch up on CONTINUUM and ORPHAN BLACK, two Canadian SF TV series running on SyFy that I've previously reviewed for the MTVOID. There are a lot of good to excellent American TV shows I watch, and while two of them, THE MENTALIST and THE BIG BANG THEORY, are both arguably SF and arguable Hugo-worthy, the Canadian shows are my top choices. Both are hard SF of the type not seen very often in the current age of vampires and superheroes. Both are complex, well acted, and layered. I strongly suggest obtaining the DVDs for the first season of each and viewing the episodes in order. Watch and enjoy!

I was also happy to see Joss Whedon receive the long form Hugo for THE AVENGERS. Losing nominee LOOPER was an interesting if a bit incoherent and depressing effort, and THE HOBBIT fun but somewhat overdone, so AVENGERS should have beaten them on the merits anyway. THE HUNGER GAMES was well made, but in end is just another remake of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME coupled with some swipes at rich tyrants. Although Joss has received many Hugo nominations, this is only his third win, with the previous two being the long form for SERENITY and the short form for "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog".

Joss is one of creators of quality SF TV that has suffered in the long shadow of Dr. Who, with much of his work never receiving the recognition it deserved. Hopefully, with THE AVENGERS, Joss will start to get the respect he deserves in fandom. Like GRRM, Joss seems poised to break out from being a mere creator of cult TV series like BUFFY to the director of both international blockbusters and art-house successes. I recently read a laudatory review of Joss Whedon's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (yes, this is the Shakespeare play!) in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. His Hugo- nominated THE CABIN IN THE WOODS received very high critical marks as an original take on traditional horror themes.

In any case, I congratulate two of the SF Giants and creative geniuses of our time, George R. R. Martin and Joss Whedon, on their 2013 Hugos. May they win many more for their great films, comics, plays, books, musicals, stories, and TV shows in the years ahead! [-dls]

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is the story of the fictional Cecil Gaines, loosely based on the career of Eugene Allen, who for 34 years was the butler for the White House, serving eight Presidents. This film is a little melodramatic, seemingly contrived and predictable, but nonetheless can deliver a strong emotional impact. One false move is to have very familiar star actors playing the Presidents. They fail to resemble the actual person, and they turn the film into a distraction of trying to recognize what familiar star is behind the makeup playing the role. The film is written by Danny Strong and directed by Lee Daniels. Daniels made the very effective PRECIOUS, but hardly has the kind of recognition to get his name above the title. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

It is 2009 when the film begins. Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), 34 years the White House butler, is remembering his past. His mind goes back to 1926 in Macon, Georgia, when the lot of blacks in the South was barely better than it was at the end of LINCOLN. Gaines, just a boy working in the fields, sees his mother raped and minutes later his father murdered for being uppity. Murdering a black in the South then was not punished by the law.

Gaines travels north, goes hungry, steals, and waits tables at a fancy D.C. hotel bar before he is seen and hired for a job serving at the White House. The most sacred rule of his position is to have on the job no more political opinions than the furniture has. This forces him to have two faces. In the White House he is a bland functionary. At home and off the record he can express what he really thinks of the President and his politics, and this continues through a succession of Presidents. His first President is Dwight D. Eisenhower, and early on Eisenhower is faced with responding to Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus's order that the State National Guard should turn away the nine black students trying to attend Little Rock Central High School.

The film follows Gaines's career as the various Presidents face race issues. Gaines allows himself stronger opinions at home than he has at the White House, of course, but the policy he favors for blacks is still non-confrontational. His politics split his friends and family, some of whom think he should be more aggressive. Eventually there is a split of opinion, especially with his militant son Louis. Louis wants to join the political racial protests, which are more confrontational than his father wants. The elder Gaines has seen his father killed by a small incident of racial unrest and he is terrified he will lose more family to racial bigotry. Meanwhile, Gaines has to face racism in a White House that publically denounces discrimination but refuses to pay black employees the same pay as whites with the same responsibilities.

Louis eventually joins the Black Panthers. But even there is a divide. Louis favors the belief that the Black Panthers should be helping the poor. His girl friend favors the more violent wing. We see all of these differences of policy and how they shake Gaines's family.

I have a minor objection to the way the film seems to use classical music, some very beautiful, to characterize the starchy white people who look down upon and oppress the more earthy blacks. It is a mistake to have name actors partially made up to look like Presidents, but never very well. Both my wife and I saw Robin Williams as Eisenhower and immediately thought he looked more like Truman. It also is a reflex and a distraction to try to recognize the actor under the make-up. To cover 34 years of racial politics in and out of the White House in a little over two hours is ambitious, but probably also ill-conceived. The proper form for this story is probably the mini-series. At times the story hits with a strong emotional force, but occasionally falls into melodrama. I would rate LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Subtitling Versus Dubbing (letters of comment by Jim Susky, Neil Ostrove, and Peter Rubinstein):

In response to Mark's comments on dubbing versus subtitling in the 09/06/13 issue of the MT VOID, and Walter Meissner's response in the 09/13/13 issue, Jim Susky writes:

Thank you for your usual thorough and thoughtful commentary--this time on subtitles and dubbing (2013SEP06).

Almost all questions worth examining don't lend themselves to short, pithy answers, so indeed, "it depends" is a suitable way to start.

I think it also depends on the viewer, and in some cases the nature of the drama.

Ideally, at least for *solitary* [1] home-viewing, subtitles and overdubs in multiple languages should be offered. The DVD spec will support this, so I'm sorry that we rarely get this.

(Really, advertizing sometimes comes with captions--why not Breaking Bad, which comes without English subtitles?) It occurs to me that if you ever started reviewing DVD's, some notes on the subtitles/overdubs could be a standard feature.

My overwhelming preference is for subtitles. Largely this is because I read very well and listen poorly.

I've always had trouble with lyrics, less so with dialog. For films in English I prefer both. I get the dialog in a glance and watch it repeated by the actors.

You make some valid observations about the sheer indifference to subtitling shown in too many instances.

(Though I wonder how paying the subtitle artist compares to paying actors. The artist should have conformed scripts and top-notch translations. The actors can mostly go with "original" scripts.)

I remember paying $66 per seat for the musical CATS in the late 80s. We got no lyric sheet. If Elton John and Rickie Lee Jones can put lyrics in a $15 album, why can't a multi-million-dollar- Broadway-show-on-the-road??

My five-year-old DirecTV DVR offers multiple font styles and backgrounds--surely DVD's can offer the same?

One other reason for subtitles--muttered dialog. This is frequently an artistic choice--though perhaps more in current ambitious TV dramas than in film. Much of that sort of dialog is barely audible with standard TV audio at moderate volume.

Clearly no single solution is suitable for all. Let's hope that indifferent subtitling will become the rare exception on indifferent movies.

[1] When viewing with my daughter she lobbies for a subtitle-free- zone--her preference. [-js]

Mark responds:

I tend to be a slow reader so I am more of a fence sitter on the subtitle vs. dub issue. If I am expecting a really good performance, subtitles are better. In many cases dub makes for much less effort. One advantage and at the same time disadvantage of subtitles is they force the viewer to watch the screen very closely. If I am watching a dubbed film I can straighten the room or browse a magazine at the same time I am watching a movie. A subtitled film keeps my eyes glued to the screen. Subtitled films are preferable while I am on the exercycle since they seem to make the time go faster.

In theory when you are watching Cats the house lights are down and you cannot read lyrics. When you listen to an album you can read lyrics. That may be why Cats did not feel it needed to provide lyrics, though it would have been a nice touch. Or they could have provided supertitles the way operas do now, but that is an expensive production.

I often put on subtitles on programs where I might not understand the speech. I think I have to admit I am getting older and losing a bit of my hearing before I am done with it. [-mrl]

On the same topic, Neil Ostrove writes:

One movie I thought was ruined by dubbing was THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG. I have similar (but less intense) feelings about STOLEN KISSES. I always try for the subtitled version of both. [-no]

Mark responds:

And dubbing a French Opera, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, into English is an atrocity in its own rite. I am used to seeing operas sub or super-titled in English. Dubbing is all wrong. [-mrl]

And Pete Rubinstein writes:

On the topic of subtitling, one thing I believe you've overlooked is accuracy. I have a DVD of "The Hidden Fortress" containing a scene that I just couldn't understand. The dialog, in the subtitles, just didn't make any sense. I later discovered that there was an extended version of the scene in the extras. The portion that made no sense to me was unchanged however. But the subtitles were completely different and now made perfect sense. Obviously, someone recognized the error and made the correction, but the correction never made it to the main movie. [-pr]

Mark replies:

Well, since a film can be inaccurately subtitled or inaccurately dubbed, it just seems to even out. It does not argue for subtitling or dubbing. [-mrl]

Knowing a Little Math (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove):

In response to Mark's comments on math in the 09/13/13 issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:

The My Lai massacre occurred on 16 March 1968. LIFE magazine published photos (after the Cleveland Plain-Dealer) on 5 Dec 1969 (yes, a Friday), , and republished the story 45 years after the occurrence. [-no]

Mark replies:

I certainly thought of the My Lai massacre, but I am not sure that was what they were claiming was in the January 19, 1970 issue. Hard to confuse that with December 5. I did not research fully, but neither the January 16 nor the January 23 issue had what they were referring to. Unfortunately, it was only the wrong date that I wrote about in my log. [-mrl]

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

Three years ago, I did all (or almost all) the readings for a course in Comparative Literature at Penn State University, "After Borges: The International Legacy of Jorge Luis Borges", taught by Prof. Djelal Kadir for the Fall 2007 semester. I wrote most of it up then (available as ). Originally, I was unable to find Yu Hua's THE PAST AND THE PUNISHMENTS other than ordering it on-line for something above my limit for this course, so I had nothing to say about it. However, I eventually acquired a copy, so I will make my comments now.

The syllabus for that lecture was:

"The Secret Miracle" could be seen as an examination of the notion of subjective time. Jaromir Hladik is going to be executed by the Nazis. He tries to overcome his fear by living through an infinity of imagined executions, but then asks God for a year to finish his drama "The Enemies". God, with His usual sense of humor, grants him his wish, but only in Hdalik's mind. In his mind, time stops and he is able to finish his composition, even though he leaves no evidence of it. And then he is shot. It is all very reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce's "Incident at Owl Creek Bridge". The symmetry, once assumes, is the extreme repetition of the moment of death and the extreme extension of the instant before death.

"The Widow Ching--Pirate" is based on history, though somewhat unreliably (not too surprising; we already know that Borges is an unreliable narrator). I'd be hard-pressed to say exactly which parts are made up, though, since most references to the pirate seem to be light on details, and often more there as a reference to the Borges story. I am skeptical, though, that there actually was an imperial degree that read, "Men who are cursed and evil, men who profane the bread, men who pay no heed to the clamor of the tax collector or the orphan, men in whose undergarments are stitched the phoenix and the dragon, men who deny the great truths of printed books, men who allow their tears to run towards the North-- all these are disrupting the commerce of our rivers and the age-old intimacy of our seas." It is simply too Borgesian a list. Again, I have to deduce the symmetry that Prof. Kadir is referring to, which I assume is between the real pirate the Widow Ching, and the Borgesian creation.

"Narrative Art and Magic" is, at least, a little clearer on symmetries. For example, Borges talks about sympathetic magic: how in primitive societies a barren woman who wants a child will cradle a doll, for example. This is obviously a sort of symmetry. And there is also the symmetry of creating a "willing suspension of disbelief", where an author who wants to have a centaur in his story lays a groundwork for it by describing a forest as "where bears and wolves the centaurs' arrows find," or making some other references that assume that of course there are centaurs. This sets up images of centaurs in the reader's mind that form in some sense a symmetry with the "actual" centaurs when they are introduced.

All of the Yu stories are related to the Borges stories in that all are related to history and historical periods.

"The Past and the Punishments" is thematically related to "The Secret Miracle" in that both have to do with the concept of time, particularly as relating to a punishment or execution. But while Borges concentrates more on the subjective duration of time, Yu Hua sees time as a place, a destination. "The stranger" (as the protagonist is called throughout) is trying to get to March 5, 1965, and the journey is described in spatial terms ("The stranger sidestepped past the old man and continued on his wya toward March 5, 1965."). "The punishment expert," on the other hand, seems inspired by Franz Kafka's characters (e.g. the Doorkeeper of the Law), or perhaps the whole dialogue between the stranger and the punishment expert seems Kafaesque.

"Blood and Plum Blossoms", though linked through a Chinese locale to "The Widow Ching--Pirate", also has a connection to "The Garden of Forking Paths" in that Ruan Haikuo's journey take him to many crossroads and "[each] crossroads would either lead him closer to or take him farther away from Master Blue Cloud and White Rain." However, even when he has decided to go one way at the crossroads, he may find himself going another, indicating that his life (and presumably ours) are governed by some level of predestination (or at least external control) rather than exclusively by free will.

"Predestination" is a child's view of the Cultural Revolution, which is Kafka-esque enough when seen by an adult, but even more so by a child. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          He knew everything about literature except 
          how to enjoy it.
                                          --Joseph Heller, CATCH-22

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