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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/09/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 45, Whole Number 1805
Table of Contents
Drone Warriors (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Mark has said that SLEEP DEALER is one of the top three science fiction films of this millennium, covering topics such as water wars, immigrant labor, telepresence, and drone warriors. So the following article from GQ, "Confessions of a Drone Warrior" might be of interest:
What Are the Chances (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
A lecturer said that the evolution of mammals has been going along more than most people think. I thought the evolution of mammals was--to the day--exactly as long as the evolution of goldfish. [-mrl]
Of Back Pains, Refrigerators, and Evolution (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Why is my body like my refrigerator? We each have something in our backs giving us trouble.
Last Ides of March, a Saturday, I woke up with a bad cough from a recent cold and with a small backache. I expected they both would go away on their own and the cold was the more serious one since it would take longer to run its course. By afternoon the backache was worse and was my main problem. By then it was too late to see a doctor that day and our local medical service charges an additional fee if they have to come in on a Sunday. I decided to wait it out until Monday morning. It was probably a mistake to go cheap on myself. Contrary to the pain passing I started having real pain and walking was a lot worse than sitting. By Monday morning the pain was very bad. I would describe it as feeling like there was a clamp squeezing my right hip. I saw my doctor and he knew the problem right away.
Diagnosis: Sciatica. Also known as a "pinched nerve." At times the pain was excruciating. As long as I have the problem I might as well make use of the experience and philosophize.
But what does this have to do with a refrigerator? I had a refrigerator that was very unreliable. Every few months it would just stop working and I had to call in a repairman. Finally one repairman told me why I was having such trouble. It seems the company that built the troublesome appliance was supposed to put a refrigerator condenser in as part of the cooling system. They had built either too few refrigerator condensers or too many air conditioner condensers. The company decided to use the wrong condenser. The one they installed would work for a while, but the extra strain on it would kill it much faster than it would the refrigerator condenser. It was just the wrong design for the job.
This whole thing reminds me of a religious argument. A creationist says that the human body is too complex and wondrous to have ever come together by a process as chancy as evolution. The eyes are perfectly designed; the hand is just what we need; the liver and pancreas, and kidneys all are a perfect form that could have only have come about by design. The argument says that God created humans and had perfectly designed them. I wish to report he human spine has design flaws, it uses a device in the wrong place. And that mistake is currently putting me out of commission.
Picture a curtain rod and hanging from it is a curtain held in place by curtain rings. As long as the curtain rod is horizontal it works reasonably well. Tip up one end so the rings will all feel the pull of gravity and compress at the low end of the curtain rod. The vertebrates are like curtain rings. While they hang horizontally they work reasonably well, but lift one end of the curtain rod and the rings will fall to the other end.
Well, the spine has what is essentially a pile of rings hanging on the spinal column. They are vertebrae really. And they are sort of shaped to stay in place. They apparently evolved on an animal that keeps four feet on the floor and which has a horizontal spine. But they have been installed in animal expected to have a vertical back. They still work very well at least for a while. But the fact that they are held vertically is asking for trouble. The spine that was installed wants to be held horizontally, but the owner (me) has no such plan.
Like the refrigerator that gave me so much trouble, the problems came from using the almost right part and using it where the right part should be. We have quadruped skeletal parts being used in a bipedal body and they are bound to fail eventually. It is just the wrong part for the job.
And speaking of bad design, for what other animals is giving birth such an excruciatingly painful nightmare? [-mrl]
A Flight Down Memory Lane (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I just watched THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), and it reminded me just how different flying was back then. Here are the few things I noticed:
BEARS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Disney's nature photography team, Disneynature, captures the story of a mother Alaskan bear and her two cubs--newborn at the beginning--and follows them for three seasons until the cubs' first hibernation. The story is aimed to be child-friendly and soft pedals some of the harsher realities of bear life mentioned. BEARS was directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. John C. Reilly narrates with a style less factual than joking. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Going back to the early 1950s, Disney made memorable nature documentaries like THE VANISHING PRAIRIE, THE AFRICAN LION, and WHITE WILDERNESS. (One project which was intended to be a documentary about undersea life evolved into the film 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.) Over the years the techniques and tools of nature photography have improved and advanced to record some breathtaking images in series such as PLANET EARTH and David Attenborough's many nature series. The new film BEARS has photography that would have been spectacular twenty years ago, but is perhaps not quite as impressive any more. Still, BEARS often leaves the viewer wondering just how a particular shot could be taken. Apparently the filmmakers crept into a cave with a sleeping mother bear with two newborn cubs and started filming without somehow awakening the wrath of an angry mother bear. Really good nature photography is expensive to produce and perhaps costs were cut back by making this an unusually short feature film, only 78 minutes including credits.
The classic film that BEARS harkens back to is Jean-Jacques Annaud's excellent THE BEAR (1988). That film was not documentary but fiction based on a novel by James Oliver Curwood. It traced the life of one orphaned bear cub and an adult male who reluctantly adopts the cub. That film had terrific nature photography and much the same plot that BEARS does, bears surviving in a difficult environment.
We now know that THE BEAR had staged scenes and even stealth special effects and editing effects so the bear cub never actually had to face dangerous animals. In BEARS we never get much of an idea if there are staged scenes and editing effects. The Disney team probably could not have shot this film without considerable control of the animals being filmed. It would be impossible to film if the animals did not hit the expected marks.
We see in BEARS that bears come out of hibernation in a cave in snowy mountains. Young and old they wake up with a huge trek to travel to get to the nearest food they can barely eat. From that point on their lives are long stretches of hunger punctuated with occasional insufficient meals and just a few feasts.
John C. Reilly narrates and makes viewers long for the factual style that Morgan Freeman brought to MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. Here the narration is whimsical with too many jokes and too few facts. Perhaps the tone has to be kept light for the younger audience. Some dangers that threaten bears quickly mentioned in passing include predators like wolves and dangers from other bears including bullying, violence, and even cannibalism. But the biggest enemy a bear faces appears to be hunger.
There is also a song in the middle of the film as well as another under the credits. I could have done without them.
Unlike with THE BEAR, there are no humans in the film proper. That gives the film more of the documentary feel. In the closing credits we do see the nature photographers at work showing the work of shooting such a film. BEARS rates a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2458776/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bears_2014/
LIVING THINGS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In one room what could be essentially a stage play unfolds when a vegan and a meat-eater have an ever-more hostile argument over the moral issues of whether eating meat is justifiable. Eric Shapiro (who writes and directs) gives most of the cogent arguments to the pro-vegan side. Shapiro does not seem quite ready to trust his audience to reach their own conclusions. Still, a good argument back and forth makes for compelling viewing. And Ben Siegler at least has a magnetic presence. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
I like a good film of argument. One of my favorite films is INHERIT THE WIND (1960), which builds to the historic debate between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryon. But I want the filmmaker to play fair. I want to be presented with the best arguments of both sides and I do not want the filmmaker to be giving me little hints as to which side is in the right. The film A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) pits a clean-cut Tom Cruise against a cigar- smoking, male chauvinist Jack Nicholson. Even before Nicholson gets a chance to present his viewpoint director Rob Reiner has told me whose side I should agree with. Writer/director Eric Shapiro is not quite so blatant, but not a whole lot less. When we first see carnivore Leo (played by Ben Siegler) he already has been offensive the last time he saw his son's wife Rhona (Rhoda Jordan). Mild tension starts right away. What was intended to be a pleasant dinner with Rhona, her husband Stephen (never seen), and her father-in-law Leo becomes more and more a mean-spirited extended exchange as the story progresses.
Rhona teaches yoga, reads Deepak Chopra, and has an open seemingly empathetic manner. When she says things like "we can shed positivity" and "all beings are one" she seems a little New Age- ish. Leo is a polar opposite, a frustrated and rage-filled man. He seems to see veganism as a conspiracy against him and will not allow himself to eat vegan even for only one meal. This is true in spite of his having had a recent heart attack that probably was contributed to by his unhealthy diet heavy with meat. The viewer is probably already thinking that Leo probably isn't rational on the subject of meat.
We are given character flaws for Leo where on balance we get more positive aspects of Rhona. Leo is fixed in his ways and candid to the point of being hurtful. Self-satisfied, he either holds a viewpoint or assumes that it is nonsense. He tells Rhona that he is very good at debating, but he in fact is not a listener. Shapiro adds little touches to make him more of a stereotypical right-winger. He denies climate change. Rhona and Leo each do negative things in the discussion, but Leo seems to have five faults for every one of Rhona's.
Another point I wondered about is how this rage-filled, insensitive man could easily have gone through the entire story and not have his religion mentioned. I believe there are angry Lutherans out there someplace, but I do not think it would have worked for the story to have made Leo an infuriated Lutheran. Instead, Shapiro tells us this physically dangerous man is a Jew. While his viewpoints seem to have nothing to do with the teachings of Judaism, Shapiro feels it necessary to bring in Leo as a Jew. Somehow Shapiro finds that the acceptable choice.
There probably is not much of the controversy in LIVING THINGS that one could not find by looking for "reasons to be Vegan" on the Internet. But part of what makes the film work is a strong performance by Ben Siegler. His performance is really the core of this film. I would rate LIVING THINGS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. LIVING THINGS was released on DVD April 15 and will be released to VOD on May 15.
[In the interest of full disclosure this is my position. I eat meat and feel that I have evolved from meat eaters (and I have canine teeth to prove it) and that humans like dogs can eat meat with a clear conscience. This I feel gives me the right to be a meat-eater. Nonetheless, I also think that most of the best moral arguments are on the side of vegetarians (including vegans). I would be morally and ethically better not to eat meat. I do not try to rationalize this behavior. That puts me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these two characters.]
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3511546/combined
What others are saying will be posted at: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/living_things/
Hugo Thoughts on Gender Distribution (letter of comment by James Nicoll):
In response to Evelyn's comments on gender distribution in the Hugo nominations in the 04/25/14 issue of the MT VOID, James Nicoll writes:
A note: where a work has n authors, each author counts as 1/nth of an author, a decision I made early on and really regret whenever I do the Hugos;
And for novels:
Three women being nominated as Best Pro Artist breaks a record that
has stood since the 1980s but that's not saying much because there
have been entire decades where no women were nominated at all, and
not just back in the Old Days:
Decade Female/Total 1950s 0 1960s 0.01 1970s 0.02 1980s 0.11 1990s 0 2000s 0 2010s 0.05 (does not include 2014)
This may also be of interest:
Genealogy and DNA (letter of comment by Greg Frederick):
If you like genealogy, there now is a web site that allows you to take your DNA genotype and use it to trace where your ancestors came from possibly as far back as 1,000 years ago. I copied part of the article about this:
"Tracing our ancestry is now a major social trend and genealogy is the number one hobby in America. An estimated one million people in the USA have already had their DNA genotyped. People can explore their DNA by simply taking a swab from inside their mouth and sending it to a company such as 23andme or ancestry.com for costs ranging from $99-$200.
Dr Elhaik's co-author, Dr Tatiana Tatarinova, developed a website making genealogy GPS accessible to the public.
'To help people find their roots, I developed a website that allows anyone who has had their DNA genotyped to upload their results and use GPS to find their ancestral home,' said Dr Tatarinova, who is also an Associate Professor of Research Paediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California."
I have been busy with work and not able to read as much as I would like so the book reviews will still be coming but not as frequent. I did read another book recently by Niall Ferguson titled EMPIRE but I was not inspired to write a review. It was about the rise and fall of the British Empire. [-gf]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
LIFE AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT: FROM THE DOUBLE HELIX TO THE DAWN OF DIGITAL LIFE by J. Craig Venter (ISBN 978-0-670-02540-4) was the April choice for our book discussion group.
Venter describes ARROWSMITH by Sinclair Lewis as being inspired by Jacques Loeb, whom Venter describes as "perhaps the first true biological engineer. ... Loeb made two-headed worms and ... caused the eggs of sea urchins to begin embryonic development without being fertilized by sperm." I found this interesting because ARROWSMITH is the story most often cited as a counter- example to Theodore Sturgeon's definition of science fiction as "A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content."
(While looking up that quote, I ran across this one from Rod Serling: "Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.")
"[Friedrich Wohler] helped to demolish the old view that two bodies that had different physical and chemical properties could not have the same composition." He did this by converting ammonium cyanate to urea, without changing its composition. (I am not sure if diamonds and coal would also qualify.) This is often claimed to be the first creation of an organic compound from an inorganic one, but earlier Wohler had combined water and cyanogen to create oxalic acid.
Venter talks about encoding information into DNA. Not surprisingly, science fiction has been there: "Written in Blood" by Chris Lawson (ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION, June 1999). Using a substitution cipher on codons and some (unspecified) compression technique, an old man has developed a way to write the entire Qur'an in DNA in a virus that will then write it into the recipient's white blood cells. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. --Douglas AdamsTweet
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