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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/29/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 9, Whole Number 1821
Table of Contents
The Rise of Time Machine Fiction:
Prospect Magazine has an article about "The Rise of Time Machine Fiction". In particular, it is about the rise of time machine fiction in mainstream literature:
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
September 11: OBLIVION (film) and THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM September 25: IN THE OCEAN OF NIGHT by Gregory Benford, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM October 9: PI (film) and "The Gimatria of Pi" by Lavie Tidhar (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/gimatria.htm) (short story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM October 23: THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2012, edited by Dan Ariely (selected articles), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM November 13: TIME AFTER TIME (film) and TIME AFTER TIME by Karl Alexander (book), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM November 20: ROADSIDE PICNIC by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM December 11: MIMIC (film) and "Mimic" by Donald Wollheim (story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM December 18: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change): September 6: David Mack, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for September (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Time for my regular look at what is coming up on Turner for the new month. These are the films that I would recommend in September. Remember all times are given for the Eastern Time Zone. If you live out West you have to make allowances. Remember that all listings are subject to change, particularly if some former great screen star dies the week before the film is scheduled.
THE PAWNBROKER (1965), about a Holocaust survivor who runs a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem is genuinely one of the most intense films ever made. It came along at a time when people just did not talk much about the Holocaust and certainly not about the effects it had on the survivors. But it had a huge effect on the movie ratings system. Two of its scenes involve the then forbidden nudity, but they are in not salacious and the film would be ruined without them. It took a year or two to have the effect, but a new ratings system was introduced that rated films not by what was forbidden to show but by what age person was allowed to see the film. Rod Steiger plays Sol Nazerman--or what is left of him. Every day he sees the wretched of the world around him coming into his pawnshop to sell pieces of their lives to Nazerman for five dollars or two dollars. What is left of Sol Nazerman mechanically goes through the steps of his job and thinks about his experiences in the camps.
THE PAWNBROKER was directed by Sidney Lumet who also directed TWELVE ANGRY MEN, NETWORK, and DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Lumet also directed, less successfully FAIL-SAFE (1964) [also shown Saturday, September 13, 3:15 PM] only to have it trumped by Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE. [also shown Friday, September 26, 1:15 AM]. THE PAWNBROKER is a beautifully realized piece of art. Quincy Jones provided the jazz score and it pushes the film forward and adds to the power. [THE PAWNBROKER will show Tuesday, September 9, 11:45 PM]
There are only a few spaghetti Westerns that most people really remember. Most people who lived through the Sixties will remember A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS; FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE; and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, the trilogy that made Clint Eastwood a star. Many will also remember ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Sergio Leone directed all those. But you probably have to be something of a special fan to remember even a few more of these films. That is perhaps because there are few really good spaghetti westerns. Individually most are not well-made movies but the sub-genre is better than the sum of its parts. One of the better spaghetti Westerns is the 1967 DEATH RIDES A HORSE. As a boy Bill (later played by John Philip Law) saw his parents murdered by a gang of outlaws. He finds that a gunman named Ryan (Lee Van Cleef) wants to get the same men. What at first seems to be a perfect partnership leads to trouble and the two men become rivals and enemies. Lee Van Cleef was a familiar presence in spaghetti westerns and had a face that seemed to tell a story. DEATH RIDES A HORSE was one of Van Cleef's earliest starring roles.
Somehow Law never seemed much of an action hero, he just did not have the looks. Still he did seem to get cast frequently in adventure and action films. DEATH RIDES A HORSE is one of the better-liked films for spaghetti western fans. The director is the lesser-known Giulio Petroni. [Monday, September 1, 5:15 PM] Note that it follows THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) at 4 PM and it precedes LA JETEE (1962) at 7:15 PM.
My choice for the best film of September is undoubtedly THE PAWNBROKER. [-mrl]
Ethics Versus Religion (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
One of the classic ethical questions that arises in a discussion of religion is, "What do you do if your ethics tell you to do one thing and your religion tells you something else?" (Or if you prefer, "What do you do if your ethics tell you to do one thing and the voice of God tells you something else?"
One might argue that the definitive statement in American literature is from Mark Twain in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. All his life Huck has been told how slavery is God's will, complete with Biblical references to support that idea. And so when he finally gets the opportunity, he sits down and writes a letter telling Miss Watson where her runaway slave Jim can be found. But then he thinks about all the time he has spent with Jim, and looked at the letter and thought about how if he did *not* turn Jim in, he would be doing a terrible thing and go to hell, and finally he takes the letter and says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell"--and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said."
Everyone knows this passage. But as was emphasized in Ken Burns's documentary "Mark Twain", it was not just a form of words--Huck genuinely thought his action would send him to a literal hell, but he did it anyway. Okay, Huck is a fictional character, constructed by Twain to his requirements. But if we believe that Huck believes this and tears up the letter anyway, we almost invariably feel that he has done the right thing. The fact that God apparently told Huck to do otherwise we may write off by saying, "Well, all those ministers and theologians and scholars back then misunderstood what God wanted." But if that is the case, then why should we believe anything they say unless it is supported by our own ethical sense? (Of course, many people back then probably argued that their ethical sense told them the same thing. But then they too are relying on their ethical sense as formed by what they have been told, and not necessarily on God.)
(Earlier, Huck had written about Jim "thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn't ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n. It don't seem natural, but I reckon it's so." Again, he chooses the evidence of his own eyes against what he has been taught as gospel.)
So the bottom line seems to be that though even the religious among us claim that they are following God's commands and not their own ethical decisions, this does not seem to be the case.
Russell Hoban disagrees to some extent; he seems to feel that there are those who abandon their own ethical beliefs when in PILGERMANN he writes, "... the fundamental flaw in God is that He will say that He requires the sacrifice of Isaac/Isma'il; the fundamental flaw in man is that he takes his knife in hand to do God's bidding." In other words, our biggest flaw is to abandon our own ethical reasoning and rely completely on the pronouncements of God. [-ecl]
This is what I refer to as delegating ones conscience to a book or to another person. And I have to agree it is usually a flaw. There are people who have no moral sense and perhaps society would be safer if they got their moral sense from a source outside of themselves. But such people are rare. Far more people do society harm by borrowing somebody else's faulty conscience. That is the source of most religious conflict. [-mrl]
IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES by Kage Baker (copyright 2013, Tachyon Publications, $15.95, 325pp, ISBN 978-1-61696-129-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Kage Baker is a writer whose work I never encountered--or experienced--until I read IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES, a fine collection of short fiction compiled by her sister Kathleen Bartholomew and published by Tachyon Publications. Baker died in 2011 of cancer, and Bartholomew is now the caretaker of her work, continuing to compile and write Baker's short stories and novels from notes left by Kage. While she died way too early--she was only 58--Baker left an apparent wealth of both short fiction and novels which the interested reader can mine for gems for years to come. (Well, years for me, anyway. Remember, I'm the slow reader in the family.)
The title of this short story collection refers to what is her most famous series of stories--that of The Company. The Company is a corporation that exists in the 24th century. They use time travel and cyborg employees to go back in time to retrieve valuable objects from the past--whether for their own use or someone else's, with the trick being that history cannot be changed in the process. While not all the stories in this book are Company stories, they are all well-crafted tales that are enjoyable and fun to read.
As I look at the table of contents of the book, I see that I really like all of them. Two of them, "Rude Mechanicals" and "Hollywood Ikons", are the two stories that are pure Company stories, and while I was originally thinking they were my favorites, I realize that I can't actually say that simply because I like the others equally. Both of the aforementioned Company stories have as their main characters Company agents/cyborgs Joseph and Lewis. Think of them as a sort of comedy team, although they're funny in a non-overbearing way. In Rude Mechanicals, the story takes place in and around a stage production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Hollywood in 1934 at the Hollywood Bowl. While you may think it's about one thing, it actually turns into what I can only describe as a madcap adventure of two cyborgs from the future looking for the Hope Diamond. Or maybe not the Hope Diamond. The last half of the story is a crazy chase through Hollywood as our heroes try to retrieve the famous gem. It's nonstop, and I just read faster and faster because, after all, that's what the story seemed to call for. "Hollywood Ikons" is one of the stories finished by Kathleen Bartholomew and once again involves Joseph and Lewis as they look for the Ikons, talismans of extreme power that can turn people's brains to mush, and which have been lost, once again, in the hills of Hollywood, this time in the 1940s. The story is not so frantic and definitely not madcap, but is interesting and thought provoking, especially the neat little twist at the end. Both of these Company stories leave me wanting for more of the same, and at some point in the future I plan to search for more of them.
"Mother Aegypt" is a difficult story to describe. We are told it is a Company story, although it is much different from the two stories I discussed previously. I'm not quite sure whether the story is about a scheming con artist trying to make a buck by taking advantage of Mother Aegypt, or a story about immortal Mother Aegypt who is tired of her life and life style and just wishes it were over, or a story about little Emil, who has some mystical powers that both Mother Aegypt and the con artist are trying to use to their advantage. It is something of an eerie story, especially as Baker plows toward the finish which has some really weird things going on.
"The Women of Nell Gwynne's" is a great story about the women of a brothel--actually the Ladies Auxiliary of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society--who help the society member by gathering information from influential men simply by, well, plying their trade. They are much more than that however. They are a valuable part of the Society, and play an integral role in this offbeat tale involving spies, antigravity, caverns, technical secrets, and a whole lot of other things. It's a fun tale that shows the women of the Ladies Auxiliary as influential and important parts of the procurement and development of advanced technology.
"The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park" is clearly a Company story, but one that is of a much more different and serious tone than the others in the book. A Company agent is sent back as an observer in San Francisco as he is unable to perform any other function due to his autism, and he ends up observing a woman who is dying of cancer. This is quite an emotional and heartbreaking story. As the leadoff story in the book it provides quite the punch.
Perhaps my least favorite story of the bunch is "The Unfortunate Gytt", another Gentlemen's Speculative Society story. It may be my least favorite, but it is still an enchanting tale of a man recruited for the Society in 1855, and his first adventure with said society. It was a light and fun read, and really, it is pretty good.
This really is a terrific collection. It is sad that Kage Baker is no longer with us, but these stories are a reminder of just how good a writer she was and is just a small sample of the large number of works she left us. We should all go read more of it. [-jak]
BLACK MILK by Robert Reed (book review by Dale L. Skran):
I started BLACK MILK a long time ago, got about half done, and lost interest. I recently picked it up when I was looking for three books to take to Loncon3 for Robert Reed to sign. The other two that I took--SISTER ALICE and DOWN THE BRIGHT WAY--I had read. Reed is a good writer, but perhaps not the best SF idea person. Unlike a Stross, a Reynolds, or a Baxter--who fairly burst with ideas in their writing, Reed comes over as more measured but more "writerly."
In any case, I decided it was time to take another look at BLACK MILK, and I've been reading it on my LonCon 3 trip. BLACK MILK feels like a juvenile. It is written from the first person point of view of Ryder, a young boy who has been gene tailored to have an eidetic memory. Ryder lives in a neighborhood surrounded by other gene tailored children. There is Cody, who has been enhanced by her lesbian mothers to be stronger and faster than any boy, and Marshall, whose status-striving uber-rich parents have focused on making him super-smart. Beth's parents have chosen a child with no specific tailoring, but who is still the best of everything they are. This has resulted in an above average girl with uncanny vocal talents. The group is rounded out by Jack, a product of a lower class household who seem to spend most of their time partying, drinking, doing drugs, and getting in trouble with the law. The exact nature of Jack's tailoring is never described (as best I recall), but he is driven and highly intelligent, while lacking Marshall's physical ineptitude.
By writing the story from the viewpoint of young Ryder, Reed is spared the trouble of providing an adult's view of events. The kids spend most of their time hanging out in a tree house, hunting for snakes and a special kind of tailored snow dragon, and doing kid-stuff, like fighting amongst themselves. In the background lurks the shadowy Dr. Florida, who takes a special interest in Ryder and his friends. Dr. Florida (whose name suggests some association with Walt Disney, at least to me) often brings with him Lilith, a flunky/mistress. Her name (Adam's wife before Eve) signals "bad girl" from the moment she appears on stage.
The actual plot seems hardly enough to fill a novella, or even a novelette. Florida befriends the kids. Eventually it evolves that some of Dr. Florida's experiments, "spark hounds" intended to spread life to Jupiter, have gotten lose and threaten the Earth. The UN swings into action fighting the hounds, and we get a kid's view of the action as it is described by various TV commentators. Suddenly Florida shows up and asks the kids to come away with him to an asteroid he has prepared, believing that humanity has no chance against the powerful spark hounds. After a certain amount of drama, the kids are coaxed out of their tree house by their parents and taken away by Lilith and another Florida flunky to see the good doctor. After a final conversation with Florida, Ryder and his friends are ambushed by the UN, resulting in a car crash, and Ryder is injured. Lilith and the Florida flunky apparently die in "accident".
This is pretty much it. When Ryder wakes up, the UN has defeated the spark hounds, and his parents decide to move away to escape the publicity associated with Ryder's special relationship with Florida. It appears that Florida intended Ryder to be a "living memory" of Dr. Florida. Florida has conveniently killed himself after talking a final time to Ryder. Years later Ryder comes back to the neighborhood and meets a very odd, much more tailored child than himself, with which he can make no connection. End of story.
There is a lot of good writing here in the service of a rather weak story. As a juvenile it is passable, although there are many that are better. As a story for adults it feels more like a writing exercise than a real novel. What is Reed trying to say here? The future he creates seems, especially in retrospect, more a fuzzy 50's future than anything that might really happen. In particular, the pace of computer/information technology is such that Ryder's parents work as real estate agents, and he takes over their business, which seems less and less likely. There is something called a "personal" that acts like a smart phone or a tablet, but that's about it. Ryder interacts only with a child's world of tree houses and snake hunts, and this is the most real part of the book. Bruce Sterling wrote SCHISMATRIX in 1985, and Sterling still feels fresh and innovative today. BLACK MILK first appeared in 1989, yet seems oddly dated.
The plot is a comic opera mad scientist story. Dr. Florida never seems anything but a prop. The spark hounds are only of mild interest, and I admit that I was turned off by a rather silly book cover illustration of them. All fighting with the spark hounds is sketched in and occurs far off-screen.
Perhaps Reed wanted to say something about genetic engineering. Certainly it is realistic to suppose that only modest changes would initially be done, and that is the approach he takes. At one point Florida mentions billions being modified, but with never a clue as to what those modifications might be. Perhaps this book is intended as a warning. Ryder is virtually crippled by his perfect memory, and indeed, although a very good memory is helpful, a perfect memory seems undesirable. Marshall is a parody of the spoiled "genius" brat. I'm not saying such kids don't exist, but he never seems particularly smart in the book. He goes through a lot of motions of being intelligent, but Reed does not seem to have a handle on how a smart kid might act. He would benefit from studying the early lives of some real geniuses. Or perhaps Reed is suggesting that factors other than intelligence made people like Turing, Von Neuman, and Dyson what they were, and Marshall is merely intelligent.
Cody is convincing as the girl as strong as a boy--and stronger than some men--but her athletic career is ended in the minor leagues by a "baboon armed pitcher." Does this suggest that her tailoring was pointless, since it leads only to a genetic arms race? Beth might be the happiest, but she has been saddled with parents crippled by torturous experiments in a war that involved India and resulted in the deaths of over 100 million people. Like some non-tailored kids, she can never escape caring for her parents. She is at least a sketch of a real person, but her problems have nothing to do with gene tailoring. Since we don't know how Jack was tailored, he operates as a representative of the "vital lower classes" for Marshall to bounce off of. All in all, this is a weak treatment of gene tailoring. You never get the slightest sense of what Florida's overall plan might be with regard to gene tailoring, unless his concept all along was to create a disaster like a James Bond villain and escape in his asteroid ark.
If you told me that BLACK MILK was a book that Reed wrote very early in his career as a workshop exercise in telling a story from a child's viewpoint, I would find that plausible. I suggest reading Reed's SISTER ALICE instead of BLACK MILK. [-dls]
ROCKS IN MY POCKETS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Written, directed, and animated by Signe Baumane, ROCKS IN MY POCKETS tells the story of her grandmother and aunts who have a history of mental illness and multiple incidents of suicide. She looks at how five intelligent and attractive women struggled with their internal demons. Bauman illustrates the story entirely in animation. The images lighten an atmosphere that desperately needs lightening. Baumane has assembled a remarkably detailed family history that most people in her position would prefer to forget. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
ROCKS IN MY POCKETS is subtitled "a funny film about depression." That is certainly true, but it is also a depressing film about depression. The film consists of Latvian-born artist Signe Baumane telling the tragic story of her family in Latvia concentrating on mental illness, full-madness, suicide, and nightmarish mental hospitals, mostly in Latvia under the Soviets. Baumane wrote, directed, and animated the film. The film is entirely in animation which helps to lighten the tone. Characters show up that appear to be part human and part rabbit, demonstrating things like the proper and effective way to tie a noose or to avoid leaving a mess of human waste released when hanging oneself. The use of rabbit images may well tie into some gruesome asides in the story when she tells how people had to kill rabbits.
But the main emphasis is to tell the story of the family and the grandmother who had a terrible and tragic life and who might just have intentionally ended that life. The grandmother, Anna, was attractive and intelligent. She falls in love with her charismatic employer, Indoless, a man much older than she is. They begin a relationship that shatters Indoless's marriage. Anna ends up married to Indoless, working herself to death climbing a hill each day to transport forty buckets of water needed for their livestock. Things go from bad to worse, and Anna has to kill all her feelings. Anna's story, the most complete of the film, has some historic scope, a feel for the stresses of 20th century Latvia, telling what her life was like under the Latvian government, then under the Nazis, and finally under the Soviets. Under each her situation and emotional state get worse. There is a strain of potent feminism. It is unknown if Anna's death was a suicide or not. Without a stop we plow on to the next generation and tales of bleak luck and illness, all recounted with ornate detail and odd asides. The women are all weighted down with the six stones of the title, ready to hold her down in water and drown her: dread, pain, obsession, confusion, guilt, and self-destruction.
This all would be hard to bear without the imaginative animation that covers the entire story. Baumane uses a combination of papier-mâché for the background of her images and sometimes for imperious people, and combines it with flat animation. This gives it a feeling of some depth but still the characters are drawings. The images she creates are often dreamlike, surreal, and frequently stream of conscious. The animation serves to hold the viewer's eye on the screen much as the narrative, told rapid-fire in a Latvian accent, holds onto the viewer's ear.
If the film offers any ray of hope in the so bleak world of this film it is references to the speaker now living in New York, having escaped the desolate world of Latvia for a second chance in the New World. And the very film indicates that Baumane has found in animated cinema a creative receptacle for all her dark moods of hopelessness. I rate ROCKS IN My POCKETS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2961890/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rocks_in_my_pockets/
Credentials Versus Education (comment by Keith F. Lynch):
In the context of how expensive new textbooks are, but how one can rarely sell or even give away an older edition, Keith Lynch wrote on Usenet: "It's interesting that textbooks cost upwards of $100 in a context where they'll get you credentials, and often less than $1 in a context where they'll only get you an education. That shows the relative value our society assigns to those two things." [-kfl]
[Let us not underestimate the marginal value of credentials over education. Suppose the textbook is ATLAS OF NEUROSURGICAL TECHNIQUES: BRAIN. I would choose the man with credentials every time. [-mrl]
Tsundoku (letter of comment by Philip Chee):
In response to Tim Bateman's comment on tsundoku in the 08/22/14 issue of the MT VOID (wondering whether it derives from tsunami and Sudoku), Philip Chee writes:
According to Jim Breen's WWWJDIC, it [means] buying books and not reading them, and is from [two words meaning] volume, product (x*y), acreage, contents, pile up, stack, load, amass; and read. [-pc]
[Philip included the Japanese characters, but ASCII email won't handle them. One imagines that tsunami comes from the same first word (pile up), so they are related. -ecl]
Baseball and Football and (Science) Fiction (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on baseball and fiction in the 08/01/14 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
Let me first dispense with a peripheral observation: in baseball the foul lines are not (even theoretically) infinitely long. This has nothing to do with the finite nature of a well-hit baseball, but is a matter of rule.
A foul ground ball does not become foul until it is touched or rests in foul territory short of first and third bases. Occasionally a ball will go into that foul territory and return to fair territory and remain fair when touched or comes to rest.
A home run ball (the usual beyond the fence type) is fair if it passes to the fair side, or hits, the "foul pole" (some have asked why is this not call a "fair pole"?). A home run ball is often hit with a great deal of spin, which causes the ball to curve (not fly ballistically). When a right-hander pulls ("hooks") his home run ball it will curve left. It will sometimes pass to the right of the left field foul pole and land on the foul side of the extension of the foul line. It is still a fair ball and the home run is recorded.
Now, the fair/foul judgement for a very high fly ball *does* depend on the vertical extension of the foul pole. That line IS INFINITE.
Another reason for the SF/Baseball connection might be that Baseball, its ethos, and certainly its terms have sunk very deeply into American Culture. Golf (and possibly Tennis) aside, Baseball has by far the deepest literary tradition of all the sports. Consider that major league baseball alone, from 1901 to the late 50s, had 1232 regular season games/year--in cities which all had several newspapers. With expansion to 30 teams and 162 games, that number has grown to the 2430. The sheer volume of opportunities to write about last night's game dwarf Golf and Tennis as well as the other major American Sports. And recall that for decades pre-1900 Baseball was essentially "the only game in town" (though football and basketball were invented respectively in 1869 and 1891).
Finally I leave you with the famous George Carlin routine on Baseball and Football--funny because it is almost completely true; video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmXacL0Uny0.
PS--Not "finally". I'll add that football is a metaphor for history's most deadly serious game--WAR. My theory is that this is why football commentators speak with a stressed, moderately loud voice--because the game is soo SERIOUS. This bleeds over into characterizing excellent teams as LOSERS because they did not win the Super Bowl (the NFL, you see, is SUPER SERIOUS). The prime examples are the Minnesota Vikings, which has a 0-4 record in Super Bowls, the Denver Bronco--also 0-4 before finally winning it, and the Buffalo Bills--0-4 yet again.
Contrast with Baseball, which has exactly the same number of champions/year as football. In eighteen consecutive years of division championships the Atlanta Braves won the World Series only once. They were rarely called "losers".
I guess what you are saying is right. I have to admit little interest in Baseball or, as in a previous piece of mail alcohol. I will take your word on them. I am afraid I never developed a taste for either. I guess that make me a nerd. [-mrl]
The fair/foul line is not infinitely long, but it is arbitrarily long. That is, it is as long as the builders of the ballpark want to make it. If they chose, they could put the foul pole three miles out if they wanted to, or on Mars. [-ecl]
Lustrums and Fortnights (letters of comment by Kevin Robinson, Peter Trei, Keith F. Lynch, and Jette Goldie):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the vocabulary of the author of the Borges bio in the 08/22/14 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin writes:
I was aware of "lustrum" meaning five years [ago]. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lustrum.
I would consider anyone using it in normal conversation as just showing off, however.
There is also the old corollary to Murphy's Law I once read, to the effect that "measurements will always be expressed in the most inconvenient units: such as a rate measured in footlongs per fortnight."
I learned that a "fortnightly" came out twice a month, because as a lad I read the W. F. Buckley, Jr. era NATIONAL REVIEW, and WFB was a shameless sesquipedalian and lover of obscure words.
I once urged a fellow political activist that, in order to get his point across to potential voters, we should "eschew latinate verbosity." [-kr]
Peter Trei responds:
["Lustrum" is] new to me!
I've always heard it as "furlongs per fortnight".
A fortnight is two weeks, not half a month. Half a month is "semimonthly". [-pt]
Keith F. Lynch also notes (re "fortnight":
Not quite. It means every two weeks. [-kfl]
Yes, [re furlongs] you are right. I only ever encountered "furlong" in the context of horse racing, but then I was NY Daily News carrier, and had been reading it ever since I learned to read. At first, just the comics and sports held my attention, but two strips revolved around horse players: the venerable "Mutt & Jeff," and another strip that I think only appeared in The News. I don't think it was "Joe & Asbestos."
The extended "Murphy's Law" I was misquoting was an appendix to an assigned text in my buddy's engineering textbook.
[Re fortnights:] Yes, that's so. 26 issues a year, rather than 24, though I think NR may have skipped a fortnight every now and then for staff summer vacations, or the Christmas season. [-kr]
Jette Goldie points out:
Fortnight = "fourteen nights". [-jg]
And a "sennight" = "seven nights" = a week. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our film-and-book discussion group chose DR. STRANGELOVE; OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB [DSOHILTSWALTB] as the August film, and RED ALERT by Peter Bryant (ISBN 978-1-596-545816) as the book. This book has a strange history. It was originally published in 1958 in the United Kingdom as TWO HOURS TO DOOM under the pseudonym "Peter Bryant" (the author's real name was Peter George). The French translation listed the author as Bryan Peters. George later sued Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler for their 1962 novel FAIL-SAFE, which he claimed had an almost identical premise.
George collaborated with Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern on the script of the film, and also wrote a novelization of it, released under his real name as DR. STRANGELOVE; OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB. While they were filming DSOHILTSWALTB Kubrick was worried that the film FAIL-SAFE would eclipse DSOHILTSWALTB, so he sued the filmmakers, saying that he owned the creative rights to the novel RED ALERT, from which FAIL-SAFE had been plagiarized, and this delayed the opening of FAIL-SAFE by almost a year.
So ... three titles, three author credits, three screenwriters, and two lawsuits. Is this a record?
It is clear this is an old book. Early on, people are called to the Pentagon at 5:30 AM, and Bryant writes, "At that time of morning traffic was light. Even those living twenty miles out, by driving at eighty or ninety on the almost deserted highways, were able to report within fifteen minutes of the summons." Today, twenty miles out is probably a minimum, not a maximum, and even at 5:30 AM the roads would scarcely be "almost deserted."
The plot is the basic plot of the movie, but without the Dr. Strangelove character or any of the satire or black humor. Much of it seems dated at this point, not just the traffic descriptions, but the stereotypes and racism. He writes, "He thought of the Russian peasant; stubborn, obstinate, accustomed to suffering and perhaps even welcoming it. Latent in all the Slavs, he thought, is the urge for self destruction, the mute acceptance of nemesis once nemesis is seen to be at hand." And if he's negative on Slavs, he thinks the Mongolians little better than animals.
But probably the biggest way it is dated is that our existential threats these days do not come from large stockpiles of Russian missiles, or buried cobalt doomsday machines, but from an entirely different set of weapons and strategies.
This month's general discussion group discussion book was THERE'S MORE TO NEW JERSEY THAN THE SOPRANOS by Marc Mappan (ISBN 978-0-813-54586-8). It consists of a lot of stories from New Jersey history, some as well known as Molly Pitcher or the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, while others deal with less well-known characters and incidents. (And as a lead-in to the next book, his final chapter is called "Brief History of Corruption".)
But apparently all anyone knows about New Jersey *is* the Sopranos, because we also have THE SOPRANO STATE: NEW JERSEY'S CULTURE OF CORRUPTION by Bob Ingle and Sandy McClure (ISBN 978-0-312-60257-4). Unfortunately, Ingle and McClure blew their credibility with me on page 5. Repeat after me: Dirt does not vote or pay taxes.
Remember the graphic of the United States map showing how much more area voted for Republicans than Democrats? As many people pointed out, dirt does not vote or pay taxes, people do, and the people in the smaller states (such as New Jersey) outnumbered those in the larger states (such as Alaska).
Well, Ingle and McClure have pulled the same trick in this book. They claim that with 19,120 elected officeholders, 154,400 state workers, and 444,000 local employees, New Jersey has an average of 81 government workers per square mile, and that the national average is 6 government workers per square mile. They do add, "Now, New Jersey is the most densely populated of the fifty states, but even so the difference between it and the rest of the country is striking." However, this serves merely to lure the unwary into thinking what they say is true, or meaningful. Let's do the math.
New Jersey has an area of 8723 square miles. Adding up the state and local government workers gives us 598,400, or about 69 per square mile, not 81. Even adding in the elected officeholders as well gives us only 617,620 workers, or 71 per square mile.
Now let's look at government workers as a percentage of the population (a more reasonable measure, I think most people would agree). First we need to get the number of government workers in the United States. The area of the United States is 3,794,000 square miles. Six workers per square mile means there were 22,764,000 government workers in the United States in 2005 (when the book was written).
In 2005, the population of the United States was approximately 300,000,000. Dividing this into 22,764,000 workers gives us 0.076 workers per person. New Jersey had a population of 8,750,000. Dividing this into 617,620 gives us 0.071--*less* than the national averages!
It may be that New Jersey is as corrupt as Ingle and McClure say. And it may be that the large number of local governmental units is a cause. But the claim that New Jersey is wildly over-stocked with government workers is just not borne out by the numbers.
The rest of the book is a recounting of all the various schemes, conspiracies, and corruptions of state officials in New Jersey. Ingle and McClure do see some bright spots, though. Alas, one of these is the U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie, whom they see as someone who is fearlessly going after corrupt officials. Now, nine years later, after "Bridgegate" and a variety of other less-than-honest doings, this bright spot has dimmed considerably. (In separate articles, Alec MacGillis and Ryan Lizza have detailed Christie's rise to power, including his appointment as U.S. Attorney with absolutely no legal training or judicial background.)
And while we're mentioning errors, let me note one in VIDEOHOUND'S WAR MOVIES by Mike Mayo (ISBN 978-1-57859-089-6). In his description of the film THE LIGHTHORSEMEN, Mayo writes, "The Light Horse is "mounted infantry" as opposed to cavalry, though the details of that distinction--beyond the troopers' use of rifles and bayonets--are not too important." This is 180 degrees off--in the climactic scene, the distinction is critical. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Is life worth living? This is a question for an embryo not for a man. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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