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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/03/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 40, Whole Number 1852
Table of Contents
Answer to Last Week's Puzzle (sent in by Tom Russell):
Correct answers were sent in by Don Blosser and Tim Bateman.
Pride (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think a fish and chips shop should be called Pride of Plaice. [-mrl]
Ad Hoc Rights (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I heard an incident discussed in a news article. It occurred at a public swimming pool open to people of either gender. A man who was shall we say unattractive was sitting by the side of the pool for hours watching women going to and from the pool. I guess the common term for his activity would be "ogling." And one woman who was--I suppose the polite term would be "oglable"--was getting tired of being stared at. Her swimsuit was on the skimpy side. She tried some counter strategies like giving the man obviously angry looks. She tried disrespectful looks. The man seemed impervious to this sort of countering gestures.
Eventually the woman decided that stronger action was needed. She went to the manager of the pool and complained that a man kept staring at her. The manager told the woman to come with him and he went down to confront the man. He was hoping that simply telling the man to stop would be sufficient. It was not. The sleaze ball said he had a right look at anything he wanted to in a public place. The woman responded with, "And what about my right not to be stared at?" Both sides were using their rights in their argument.
What is a "right"? It is a permission to do some thing without needing further permission of anyone else to do it. Rights are an absolute. If you have a right to take some action--and it is a real right--permission of anyone else to do or not to do that thing is an irrelevancy. It is a non-revocable option.
Now my natural sympathies are with the female. She started just minding her own business. I agree with her up to a point. However, I think she goes a little too far when she claims that she has a right not to be stared at. A right is a fairly serious thing. One should not be able to just invent a right when it is convenient. What she is really saying is not that she has a right not to be stared at, but simply a feeling that she should not be inconvenienced for just minding her own business.
Even there she is not irreproachable. Generally if a woman wears a swimsuit that is skimpy, it is not to make swimming more convenient. If her swimsuit is attractive, she is anxious to attract the attention of the opposite sex. She has put out a very non-specific bait and is angry not that it was abused by a male, but that it had attracted the wrong male and his persistence is spoiling her day.
Now, the police could get involved in a case of stalking and harassment. But it seems to me that there must be more to stalking and more to harassing than just staring. One has to move around to stalk (unless we are talking about cyber-stalking). And harassment has to mean more than must sitting in one place and silently staring. But the article said nothing about the man moving around. He was just persistently looking at a sight that was unintentionally being presented to him while it was being presented to others.
In the comment section someone labeled the incident as "stare rape." So we have people now only inventing new rights that they expect to be accorded to themselves, others are even inventing new kinds of rape.
But what I think we have here is a case where claimed rights are being coined without being consistent. I think that anyone born with eyes should be able to look around them and see what is there. I think the woman in the story needs should accept that her dressing that way has consequences and she cannot expect that the system will protect her from every uncomfortable situation her own actions put her in. [-mrl]
Global Climate Change (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
When people argue about global climate change, it is important to pin down what they are arguing. The choices would seem to be:
Have I missed any? [-ecl]
The movie VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, was about global climate change not caused by humans, but there was something that could be done about it. This is not denying that it was a very silly film. I am not arguing that. There are probably other combinations if you think about it. [-mrl]
UNDOCUMENTED EXECUTIVE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Through a comedy of coincidences, mistakes, and bluffing an incompetent Mexican immigrant laborer suddenly finds himself the chief accountant for an investment company. He has to bluff his way with the help of an ambitious assistant who wants his new job. The dialog and a few of the situations created are genuinely funny. But the characters are mostly clichéd and one-dimensional. Writer/producer/editor Brian Kosisky, who has directed only documentaries previously, directs his own narrative film. Considering the controversial subject matter, the film could have been a little more original and ambitious. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
A Mexican laborer, Jesus "Jaqi" Gutierrez (played by Tony Guerrero) illegally enters the United States hoping to find work. Find it he does as a series of errors gets him interviewing not for a building painting job but as the financial comptroller of Truvestech, an investment firm. He is in a complex job that he has absolutely no training for. His only hope is bluffing his way along shielded by other people's misunderstandings. As a stroke of unexpected luck his is given as an assistant, Anita Vasquez (Melissa Ponzio), who can do the job of comptroller and had expected to get his job for herself. She decides to help Jaqi pull off his bluff.
Well, let me get the bad news out of the way first. This is a comedy of misunderstandings and errors. There is no shortage of those. They go back to William Shakespeare. But Shakespeare did a lot more to characterize the people on the stage. Pretty much everybody in the film is a stereotype. The characters are all familiar and the plot is just as familiar. Naturally this part of the company is run by two older white males who are, of course racist, sexist, dishonest, and who would cheat anybody who comes into their grasp. None of this is innovative filmmaking. The writer/director is Brian Kosisky whose previous work is in documentaries. Kosisky should have been able to put a little bite in this film and give it something to say without damaging the comic content.
At the same time the film is telling its comic story it could have been showing a little more deeply the problems of illegal immigrants in this country. We see Jaqi's sister scrubbing floors while her employers accuse her of theft and suffix every noun with "o" to sound Spanish. There is no denying that this film is successful in being an amusing comedy striving only to entertain. But the characters could have been a little deeper and the plot did not have to be quite so predictable. This film could have delivered its comic payload and still could have the viewer with something to think about. It may at first seem a little racist how silly-stupid Jaqi is as the immigrant in the early parts, but on second consideration he is probably no worse than Jerry Lewis was in his early films.
For a film with a familiar plot, UNDOCUMENTED EXECUTIVE does manage to pull off a few laughs. And as Edmund Kean said, comedy is hard. The film will not be a memorable one but it is amusing for 90 minutes. Still as a premier film from a documentary maker, I rate it high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The film will be available on iTunes starting March 30.
Side note: Actor Guerrero is himself an illegal alien fighting deportation. In 2012 he was ordered deported. He was getting the deportation postponed a year at a time year by year. Meanwhile the President's executive order has given him a reprieve, at least temporarily. But in the current political climate that order may not hold.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2089847/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/undocumented_executive/
THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: The title tells us that Swedish femme fatale Signe is in trouble, and in trouble she certainly is. She has witnessed a man being killed and now is on the run. The closest friend she can contact is the dude she met at a party five days earlier and has ignored since. She has seen a crime but does not know who might be stalking her. Director Julius Onah gives us a crime story that pays homage to film noir thrillers, but he also works in a few light touches along with the grim. The story is not profound and there are not a lot of puzzle pieces to put together, but it holds the viewer's attention and keeps him anxious to work out the mystery. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
August (played by Christopher Short) is an immigrant from Nigeria trying unsuccessfully to make it as a disk jockey in New York City. He needs to find a job soon as he is flat broke and his landlord is setting little ambushes for him. The night we meet him he gets a phone call at 2:36 AM. Signe (Alicja Bachleda) is a girl he met at a party, but then she never called him. Now suddenly she wants urgently to get together with him five days later and in the middle of the night. He remembers his horoscope said that change is coming to his life, so he decides not to turn her down. Common sense tells him he is being played. Common sense is right. Soon he is involved in a situation involving murder, drugs, a missing drug dealer with an avenging brother, fraudulent investments, prostitution, a phone video of a murder, and a mysterious Swedish damsel in distress.
August is trying to make sense of all he finds out, making himself an unlikely and uncomfortable detective. Different people seem to be stalking Signe including Angel (Wilmer Valderrama) who is searching for his brother Jesus and a scary looking thug aptly named Fixer played by Mike Starr. Starr, a popular character actor, has an imposing stature and is frequently used as a henchman or a thug in films like MILLER'S CROSSING. He is one of those character actors the viewer recognizes immediately but never remembers for long.
Bachleda is alluring as Signe, but her voice sounds nothing at all like a Swedish accent. Director Julius Onah seems to have been anxious to work into the plot as many different ethnicities as he could manage. It goes with his short expository lump explaining a short history of ethnic migrations to New York Cody. Jesse Spencer plays Nicholas, the spoiled son of a Bernie-Madoff-like investment swindler. Nicholas is supposed to be at least part Jewish, but has no air of Jewishness about him except for him playing the violin. And even that he does poorly.
THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE is a spiritual descendent of film noir style films. But at times it departs from its serious style for a few moments of amusement when the director's tongue is planted firmly in his cheek. Early on it introduces a large number of characters who may partake of the plot, but the narrator reassures the audience that this one and that one the viewer need not remember. Onah digresses into a short exposition on when various ethnic groups arrived in New York--again not really necessary for the plot. He also seems to have some fun jumping the narrative forward and backward in time.
It is nice to know that some vestige of film noir is not dead, and even in the 21st century there are still running around femme fatales waiting to seduce and double cross you. I rate THE GIRL IS IN TROUBLE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1706625/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_girl_is_in_trouble_2012/
A GOD THAT COULD BE REAL: SPIRITUALITY, SCIENCE, AND THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET by Nancy Abrams (published March 10, 2015, Beacon Press, 200pp, ISBN 978-0-807-07339-1) (book review by Leland R. Beaumont):
This is one of the most intriguing books I have read in some time. It shows us a way forward toward a coherence that transcends the divisive religious doctrines that deny the well-established truths of the universe and the sterile scientific models that ignore or dismiss the power of spirituality.
Throughout history concepts of God have evolved to explain the workings of the universe as it is best understood. Historically theologians did their best to make their image of God consistent with the universe as they understood it to be. Today our understanding of the universe has advanced far beyond what the gods of traditional religions explain. These obsolete gods are holding people back. This book proposes a concept of god that is up-to-date with our present understanding of the universe.
The book emerges from a dilemma faced by the author. Because her husband is Joel Primack, a prominent physicist who studies the origins of the universe, she is conversant with the most up-to-date research describing the origins of the universe and its composition including dark energy and dark matter. Based on her husband's research, she has total confidence in the accuracy of these scientific findings. She lived as an atheist most of her life. However, recently she has been able to recover from an addiction to overeating using the spiritual approach of a twelve-step program. She conceived of the higher power called for in the program as a "loving but unbullsh*table witness to my thoughts."
She abandons the tired question "Does God Exist?" as a hopeless distraction and instead pursues the question "Could anything actually exist in the universe, as science understands it, that is worthy of being called God?" The price of a real God is that we have to consciously let go of what makes it unreal.
Rejecting intelligence, tool-making, and language as the defining characteristic of humans, she proposes that humans are unique because we aspire to something more. After illustrating the concept of emergence she presents the core thesis of the book: God is endlessly emerging from the staggering complexity of all humanity's aspirations across time. God is all that drives us forward toward what we can be and what we want to be.
Chapters 4-6 making up part II of the book are somewhat contrived. Here she attempts to accommodate spirituality, prayer, and afterlife within her reality-based concept of God. These ideas are thought-provoking and worthy of more discussion, but not yet settled in my mind.
In Chapter 7 she gives practical suggestions for renewing and reinventing religion. After describing actions to bring religion into harmony with reality, she identifies three sacred goals: 1) to protect our extraordinary jewel of a planet, 2) to do our best for future generations, and 3) to identify with humanity's story.
Chapter 8 outlines a "Planetary Morality." Here she considers the essential question: "How can we individually expand our moral sense to care about our collective effects at size scales and timescales we are just beginning to grasp?" She presents eight high-level principles for good living informed from a global perspective.
This book is both poetic and scientific. Within a rigorous scientific framework she passionately discusses spirituality, prayer, love, identity, common bonds, heaven, and hell. "For the first time we can have a coherent picture of reality that meets our highest scientific standards, reveals unexplored terrain in ourselves, has a meaningful place for an awesome God, and frees our spirits to strike out with fervor-- and not a moment too soon."
Read this important and thought-provoking book. It is boldly conceived, well written, clearly argued, and backed by reliable evidence. [-lrb]
Politics (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
[The opinions expressed here are those of the author. For example I do not believe that a property right protects the practice of putting a harmful substance like cigarette smoke into the air of a non-smoker. -mrl]
In response to Mark's comments on politics in the 02/06/15 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:
That was a valuable lesson you learned about democracy. Republics, with proper respect for Natural Rights, are much better--after all a democracy legally killed Socrates.
Yet, unless lawmakers have a proper respect for (or knowledge of or understanding of) Natural Rights, they all too often subject us to well-intentioned, fashionable, and illegitimate restrictions on those rights. A relatively trivial example is the prohibition against smoking in bars and restaurants, which by any rational standard is a gross violation of property rights.
There are many "justifications" and rationales to support such a prohibition--none of which trump the owner's prerogatives to regulate smoking within his establishment as he sees fit. One such "justification" is the "public interest".
This rests on the confused notion that the owner's patrons are "the public". In fact they are individual sovereigns (another of the Natural Rights alluded to earlier) who voluntarily occupy the space owned by the owner--a sovereign in his own right--who permits such occupation as another fundamental right.
A stranger, who walks into a bar, is one of "the public" in the broad sense of "the community". However in the narrower sense--the one that counts in policy/lawmaking--a bar or restaurant is *private*. The difference is easy to discern: which part of the gun do you see when considering the flow of the taxes, levies, tolls, fees, excises, tariffs?
If you see the barrel, then taxes are extracted and your institution is private.
If you hold the gun, then taxes come in, and the institution is public (as in city hall, the DMV, the courts, or any of the many tax-financed spaces that grace our lives).
I'd assert that smoking prohibitions in private establishments violate the peaceful assembly codified in our First Amendment, which reads in whole:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
and excerpted thus:
"Congress shall make no law respecting ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble".
That so many lawmakers fail to appreciate the public/private distinction and the spirit of peaceful assembly is perhaps one widespread failure of public (that word again) education--but that's a topic for another day. [-js]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have been reading more of the BFI booklets on film, and have come to the conclusion that the first one I read (CAT PEOPLE by Kim Newman, reviewed in the 10/10/14 issue of the MT VOID) may be the best, at least for my purposes. Certainly the last two had some surprising errors.
In THE SEVEN SAMURAI by Joan Mellen (ISBN 978-0-85170-915-X), the author writes, "The coins which Katsushiro rains down upon the rice grains are an application of Eisenstein's synaesthesia, the substitution for the whole." No, that's synecdoche; synaesthesia is "the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body." (Frankly, I do not think either term describes what is happening; it is more than the coins make explicit the high value of the few grains of rice to the hungry villagers.)
And in THE TERMINATOR by Sean French (ISBN 978-0-85170-533-8), French applies what must be now considered an outdated test. Claiming that perhaps THE TERMINATOR has achieved classic status "by outliving its decade, if not its century" (Samuel Johnson's criterion), French writes, "This 1984 film was considered worthy of a sequel after a gap of no less than seven years. As I write, in early 1996, twelve years after its opening, you can still buy it on video. What greater demonstration of longevity could be required?" Well, these days you can buy just about *anything* on video, so that really does not count for much.
French also claims Karloff played "endless recyclings of the Frankenstein monster." Actually, Karloff played the monster only three times--in the first three Universal films (FRANKENSTEIN (1931), BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).
NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND by Fyodor Dostoevsky (ISBN 978-0-486-27053-1) was written in 1864. I mention this because early on, the narrator writes, "I did not know how to become anything: neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest man, neither a hero nor an insect. ... I want now to tell you ... why I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect." If you did not know that Franz Kafka wrote THE METAMORPHOSIS in 1915, fifty years after NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND, you might think that Dostoevsky was inspired by Kafka when, if anything, it was the other way around. Such is the power that Kafka had that he made the trope distinctively his.
Dostoevsky (in the person of the narrator) claims, "The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan." I think Dostoevsky was not as much a behavioral psychologist as he thought. I suspect moaning, screaming, and crying out are reflexes that evolved when if you were injured, the best thing to do was to cry out for help.
"In any case civilization has made mankind if not more blood-thirsty, at least vilely, more loathsomely blood-thirsty. In old days he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever. Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves." It is a hundred and fifty years later and one suspects Dostoevsky would not have changed his opinion much.
"What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply *independent* choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. ... And in particular it may be more advantageous than any advantage even when it does us obvious harm, and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason--for in any circumstances it preserves for us what is most precious and most important--that is, our personality, our individuality."
Or more concisely, one is forced to believe in free will. (Or, as the old joke continues, one chooses to believe in determinism.)
"May it not be that he loves chaos and destruction ... because he is instinctively afraid of attaining his object and completing the edifice he is constructing?" I would not say I love chaos and destruction, but I do tend to put off finalizing projects--wrapping a gift, sealing an envelope, etc.--until almost the last minute. I don't have this problem with reversible actions; for example, I have no problem emptying the dishwasher and putting all the dishes away. But when the step is "irreversible", something kicks in.
I cannot say I recommend NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND--it is far too bleak and downbeat to recommend. (I read it because there was a film made of it that seemed to be considered well-done, and I figured I should read the book before seeing the movie.)
I bought 100 ONE-NIGHT READS: A BOOK LOVER'S GUIDE by David C. Major and John S. Major (ISBN 978-0*345-43994-9) with the idea of getting a lot of ideas for our book discussion group. Our group, you see, has a 300-page limit on books, so I figured everything here would qualify. Well, a closer examination indicates that there are probably a few that exceed that limit. The first one I checked was THE HOBBIT and that was 287 pages, so I suspect there must be a few that will be too long. And even the authors says that "sometimes ... perhaps the evening will last a little beyond your normal bedtime..." Still, out of a hundred suggestions there must be quite a few that qualify. Then the only problem is whether they are available at the library. Some are classics, but that does not necessarily mean much--recently Mark discovered that our library did not have a paper copy of THE MOON AND SIXPENCE by Somerset Maugham, only an e-book. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The axiom of choice is necessary to select a set from an infinite number of socks, but not an infinite number of shoes. --Bertrand RussellTweet
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