MT VOID 07/17/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 3, Whole Number 1867

MT VOID 07/17/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 3, Whole Number 1867

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/17/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 3, Whole Number 1867

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 or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Why Is Symmetry So Widespread in Animals? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I want to do a little bit of biological speculation.

It is not an easy job to think of animals that are not bilaterally symmetrical. Most animals we can think of are least externally symmetrical. Crabs are not, at least the ones that have one claw bigger than the other. But lobsters are much nearer to symmetrical. They will also have one claw a little larger than the other, but not much larger. The reptiles I can think of are all symmetrical. Among fish, bilateral symmetry is the rule, though flounder seem to have both eyes on one side of their bodies. Most arthropods seem to be symmetrical.

Of course, far fewer of these creatures are symmetrical internally. We have our heart on the left sides of our chests. Our intestines are arranged in unsymmetrical curves. There seems to be some evolutionary advantage to bilateral symmetry externally, but little expresses itself internally.

It occurs to me that I think I may understand why humans are externally symmetrical. But it was from the experience of an environment that is not symmetrical. It was from being in the driver's seat of a car. One gets used to actions that are asymmetrical when one drives. There are a lot of asymmetrical actions like putting on the handbrake. When I park the car my right hand naturally goes directly to the handbrake. I don't think I even look at my hand. It just goes instinctively to the brake. But when I was in Britain (or Australia) I drove a British (or Australian) car with right-hand drive. Different people have varying degrees of confusion using steering on a side they are not used to, but I found in parking the car it just felt natural reaching for the parking break with my left hand. It may have been that I just had more room on my left side than I did on my right and I had a visual clue. But I think that somehow the right side of my body passed the knowledge of what it was supposed to do to the left side of my body and vice versa. The left side of my body had less to learn because the right side already knew what to do. I am just one person, so I do not know if that phenomenon happens to other people. But I suspect it does.

I also may be an atypical subject. There is a standard test of dexterity (or something) that has the subject rub his stomach in a circular motion with his right hand while he pats the top of his head with his left hand. Then at a given signal he is told to switch, to having his left hand rubbing the top of his head with a circular motion and have his right hand patting his stomach. My two hands switch roles in a small fraction of a second. Some people have a lot of trouble switching off the roles, but somehow it is not much of a problem for me at all. My brain gives the orders and each side seems to know how to carry out the act. But it strikes me as an evolutionary advantage if you have two halves and you need only to train one and the other half knows what to do.

On the other hand an asymmetrical creature could have a much harder time escaping a predator. Lack of symmetry makes escape slower because it is harder to travel in a straight line.

It would be even easier for an octopus. I understand in octopuses the eight arms are very autonomous. Half the creature can be dead and the other half will continue about its business.

Of course, humans are only bilaterally symmetrical on the outside. But when I am reaching for the handbrake my heart does not have to get much involved. It is a muscular and perhaps tactile action. My muscle and bone and tactile sensors are placed symmetrically. Like the children in THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS (a.k.a. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) what one side learns the other also knows. If the two sides were very different in shape and size it require more information for the body to be taught. But there is a survival advantage to having two symmetrical sides. Each side can learn from the other. [-mrl]

Taking a Course On-Lone--Sort Of (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Okay, everyone raves about on-line courses, and Turner Classic Movies was going to have one on film noir, so I figured, "What the heck?" It was a totally frustrating experience.

So far as I can tell, the course consists of four "Daily Doses" plus a "Video Lecture" each week, followed by a quiz. There also seem to be podcasts that I can't find anywhere. And some people seem to be referring to readings that I can't find either. (I think these may be the weekly guides on the TCM web site, while everything else is on the "Canvas" web site. If so, it is not clear whether you can see last week's guide if you don't get to it in time.)

The first problem was constant references to a "punchlist". I had to look this up; it seems like just a fancy name for checklist.

The punchlist begins by saying, "The keys to getting the most out of this course is (1) completing the weekly modules and assignments, (2) being active on Twitter and the TCM message board (Links to an external site.) (especially making connections with other students), (3) watching as many films noir as you can while you are enrolled in this course, and (4) keep coming back each week to watch and discuss TCM's Summer of Darkness films."

In other words. the key to getting the most out of the course is to devote all your waking hours to it. Well, duh.

Let me say something here about Twitter and the message board. The idea that one can get anything useful from a Twitter thread of thousands of 140-character posts about dozens of movies (often not named in the posts for lack of space) is ludicrous. So I ditched that early on.

The message board started disastrously, as everyone began a new thread with their comment on whichever film they happened to be watching, rather than at least grouping the comments together by film. Even when this grouping happened (somewhere in week 2 the instructor started creating a thread for each film and not allowing new thread creation), the fact that the board displayed messages in reverse order meant it was basically impossible to read through a thread in chronological order. So this also got deep-sixed by me.

The "Daily Doses" consist of a five-minute clip from a film noir and a paragraph or so about it, ending with three questions, the last of which (at least for the first couple of weeks) was always "What has this contributed to film noir?" The notion that one can watch a five-minute clip and get much out of it without actual discussion seems unlikely. Luckily, I was taking this course with Mark, so we would watch these together and then discuss them.

This added a complication--I couldn't just watch the clip whenever I wanted, and we pretty much needed to watch it on the television, not the computer, so the set-up time was sometimes longer than the clip. I will admit that this complication may have caused some of the problems: Daily Doses tended to pile up, and then the lectures were not watched when they should have been relative to the "Daily Doses".

The first couple of weeks they emailed the "Daily Doses". Some people complained they weren't getting them; others were getting multiple copies. So they stopped sending them out, but because the email system had problems, they couldn't (or at any rate, didn't) send anyone email telling them where to find them. This eventually sorted itself out (for me, anyway), but only because I managed (after five minutes of searching) to find the message board for communicating with the professor and saw this information there. Then they said they had fixed the problem and would be emailing them again. But this was right before the week of July 4, which was apparently a "summer break" week or some such, when there were no "Daily Doses", lectures, or quizzes. However, this wasn't clear, so there was yet another flurry of messages basically asking where everything was. And in addition, I never got any emails of these after they supposed resumed sending them.

Then there are the "Modules". These have "snappy" titles, such as "The Heist" and "The Set-up" and each has four parts. The first has a video lecture, cleverly disguised as a film poster, so it is not even obvious there is a video lecture there. The third has various assigned readings, but only starting with week #3. The fourth has a podcast which has a variety of instructions on how to play it, the most complicated being (naturally) getting it on one's iPod. Why these have to be in four separate pages is a mystery to me.

There is also a survey to fill in at the beginning (somewhere--no idea where), a weekly poll question (ditto), and also the various films noir that TCM is going to show over the summer. While they do sort of suggest people watch some of these, they don't actually pick an entire film that people should watch. (Or maybe they do but not in any of the materials I found.) I realize that there are people who are taking the course who do not get TCM, but the idea that a course on film noir does not include any actual whole films...

So basically I'm floundering around in an incoherent mass of web pages spread over multiple sites, multiple social media also spread over multiple sites, and emails. There are "Daily Doses", lectures, and quizzes, all located in their own corners, but which are supposed to be coordinated in a particular sequence. The amount of time I am spending just trying to find where the information and links are far exceeds the amount of time actually learning anything about film noir. In short, as far as I am concerned, the whole thing just does not work. I am getting far more out of watching the twenty-five films covered in detail in DARK CITY: THE FILM NOIR by Spencer Selby and reading Selby's comments.

I think I'll stick with the Teaching Company for leisure-time courses.

(Apparently 14,000 people have signed up, but a film clip I chose at random had less than 3,000 views, indicating a high drop-out rate.)


ADVANTAGEOUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A woman is given the opportunity to have her personality and mind downloaded to a younger body in order to save her career and her prodigy daughter's entire future. Director and co-writer Jennifer Phang gives us a story set in a very believable future by extending out numerous current societal trends. There are few special effects but very nice production design by Dara Wishingrad. A minimal budget is required to make this into a very strong science fiction film. It is reminiscent of a similar coup by the film GATTACA. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

A minor spoiler follows the main body of the review.

In 1997, Andrew Niccol wrote and directed GATTACA. It was a science fiction film with a very limited special effects budget, but it had developed characters who were fleshed out and it had ideas. Almost the same thing could be said of ADVANTAGEOUS, co-written and directed by Jennifer Phang, a film that is very much the GATTACA of the 2010s.

The story takes place in 2041. The world is recognizably our world, just a generation or two in the future. In this world technology has eliminated most jobs and created massive unemployment. Those who are employed by the major corporations can live well, but that is s small minority. That situation is doubly true for women. With employers able to hire whomever they want without much resistance from the law, corporations have very few positions for women. Young girls who do not go to the handful of the finest schools can expect little from life.

Gwen, played by Jacqueline Kim, initially makes a nice living as the public face of a bio-tech company. Her daughter Jules (Samantha Kim) is highly talented and clearly has a rewarding life ahead of her. Gwen's company's current big project is developing a process for downloading human minds and personalities from their current bodies to newer and younger bodies. Gwen's supervision decides that the company wants a younger face to represent the corporation. Gwen is to be replaced. But losing her job will have profound effects on her financial situation. She will be unable to send her daughter to the school she wants. This is tantamount to condemning Gwen's daughter Jules to a pointless unrewarding life. Reluctantly Gwen considers having her own mind poured into a newer younger body as an alternative to having her career destroyed.

ADVANTAGEOUS is a science fiction film with a much higher budget for art direction than it has for special effects. That proves to be a good choice and sets this film apart. Little ideas are dropped into the script without much fanfare. Here you hear that a group of people are going "tech-free." There are terrorist explosions in New York City and bystanders barely even look up. Large flying machines patrol the skies at night. The film is an expansion of an episode of the "Futurestates" television series made for ITVS.

Much of the writing is good, but there is one stylistic flaw. The dialog is very mannered with long pauses between lines where facial expressions are intended to do the talking. This does not add a lot to the drama, but it does make the viewer impatient. I admit that early in this film I was considering giving up on it because of the stylized diction. But this is a film worth giving a little latitude. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Minor spoiler... Minor spoiler... Minor spoiler... Minor spoiler... Curiously this film has a theme that was previously explored in a very different film. In Hammer Films' FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED there is a similar concept that close family members will not be able to adapt to having a loved one in a different body.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


DIAMOND STAR by Catherine Asaro (copyright 2009, Baen, audiobook copyright 2009 recorded books LLC, 21 hours 13 minutes, narrated by Andy Paris), (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):

The problem with long-running series, and make no mistake, Catherine Asaro's "Saga of the Skolian Empire" is indeed a long running series--is that the quality of the stories tends to be uneven across time, and in fact every once in a while a clunker or near-clunker makes its way into the wild. DIAMOND STAR is one of those near-clunkers, for more a couple of reasons, and only redeems itself more than halfway through the book.

Since DIAMOND STAR is something like the twelfth book in the series--chronologically speaking, anyway--and I've reviewed every one of the prior eleven, so I'm not going to go into a detailed background of the Skolian universe. There are multiple Wikipedia pages that can do a much better job than I can of that, and those pages present much more detail than I can fit in here. The brief recap, though, is that the Skolians and the Eubians have reached an uneasy peace after a nasty war has devastated both sides. Neither side really wants another war at this point--said war could essentially destroy both civilizations. The Allieds, a supposedly neutral party centered on Earth, don't want another war either. They're afraid that war could spill over to the mother planet and destroy them as well.

So, we have Del Kurj Valdoria Skolia--or some variation on that name, anyway--stuck on Earth because the Allieds don't want to let him go back to Skolia, at least not at the time of the start of the book. They are trying to get as much information out of him as they can. There are some very strange things about him that they don't understand. Del doesn't really care about all the war, espionage, and politics of his people. He just wants to sing.

Now bear with me here, since I'm going to try to encapsulate this briefly and hope it makes sense so that I can move on to what I feel are the problems with the book. Del gets "discovered" by Prime Nova, one of the big holo-rock promoters on Earth. After a few rough concerts, Del's career takes off, and he becomes one of the hottest holo-rock stars not only on the planet, but in the galaxy. The problem, of course, is that Del is coming to his success while trying to hide who he really is: A prince who is part of the Ruby dynasty. Earth's government doesn't want the information to come out, seeing as the knowledge could restart an interstellar war at worst, or just plain invite assassination attempts and the like at the very least. All hell breaks loose when Del sings the Carnelian Finale in front of an audience of several million, a highly charged political song that probably will restart that interstellar war.

As I was listening to DIAMOND STAR, I was wondering why the heck I should care about the life of a rock star, because that's what the vast majority of this book is about. It chronicles the discovery of Del, his rise to stardom, his propensity to get into trouble, his addiction to a bliss node (all rock stars must have addictions, you know), and his complicated romantic entanglement with his inevitably sultry promoter. Yes, there is always the Skolian angle in the background, but a good chunk of this story is the whole rock star thing.

And I kept asking myself, "Who threw this rock-star-rise-to-prominence story into my Skolian Saga book?"

And eventually, Asaro lets the Skolian Empire stuff kick back in. And finally, the book gets good. It all centers around, of course, the conflict with the Eubian Traders. After several books in which we almost begin to start sympathizing a bit, or understanding a bit, the traders, if not their viewpoint and outlook on things, Asaro once again makes the Traders look intensely evil and nasty, the way they were earlier in the series. This was a very enjoyable turnabout, and one that I welcomed with open arms.

And Del's family--all of our friends from earlier books--finally make their appearance and influence more felt once the conflict with the Traders takes center stage. In a pleasant set of scenes, Del and his family come together, make peace, and come to understand each other after Del pretty much didn't want anything to do with them for most of the book.

After listening to this book, my feeling is that the Skolian Saga may be starting to run out of steam. There are still a couple of books for me to get to, but I'm not quite sure where Asaro can go with this from here, although it's clear that because of the Carnelians Finale, she can set up another conflict that will take us through a few more books, but even that can get old.

As far as the narrator, we once again have a new guy, Andy Paris. I'm truly getting more than a bit tired of the changing narrators for the series. Andy does a serviceable job of reading the story, and has the sense not to try to do a female voice when a female is talking. I think he does a good job of getting through that kind of issue. Where the narration derails for me is his attempt to sing Del's songs. Paris' singing jolted me right out of the narrative and more often than not made me wish he'd just read the lyrics instead of singing them.

The more I think about it, the more I come to believe that DIAMOND STAR is a book to bridge between two conflicts between the Skolians and the Traders. I hope that's it, because otherwise I didn't see the point of this one. It's an okay book, but nothing to sing about. [-jak]

CAFFEINATED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: CAFFEINATED is a scattershot but loving look at coffee, its growers, its merchants, its coffee bars, its baristas, its fans who get a transcendental experience from coffee, and the exploitation of its producers. We are shown the many cultures who each drink it in their own way. For directors and writers Hanh Nguyen and Vishal Solanki this film was clearly a labor of love of their daily favorite beverage, a sensual plunge into the world of high-quality coffee. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Full disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker. I drink it so rarely that my friends express surprise to see me ever drinking it at all. Those people who have some sort of a deep experience with a cup of coffee are a complete mystery to me. (And I like wine even less.)

Coffee, as if you did not know, is a widely popular beverage made from the roasted seeds of the fruit of the coffee plant. It grows in a tropical climate in the Americas, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa at an altitude of 4000 to 6000 feet above sea level. Being a major source of the slightly addictive stimulant drug caffeine only adds to its popularity. It has some sort of barely understood power over its true fans to prevent a day from starting until the fan has had coffee. CAFFEINATED is a comprehensive survey of coffee and the people who produce it and love it.

CAFFEINATED gives the viewer a short background in the basics of coffee. There are two major species of coffee, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is considered the higher quality product, but Robusta has a stronger flavor. Much of the coffee trade is devoted to the problem of keeping coffee fresh as its flavor deteriorates when it is not fresh. We see some of how coffee is managed and then prepared.

Much as wine has its tastings and there are expert tasters who are trained to recognize the nuances of flavor and texture, coffee has its own tasting sessions. There is discussion of these sessions that are very parallel to wine tastings. The flavor sampling is necessary for buyers choose the quality of coffee to be bought and once brewed the best tasting coffee. We see baristas whose responsibility is to make a gourmet brew of coffee and who are artists in the presentation. (And we repeatedly we get images of one barista who can create an image of a leaf in the coffee suds at the top of the cup, a minor piece of barista art.) One Guatemalan grower complains that he cannot get a good cup of coffee in Guatemalan since all the good stuff is sent to the United States and Europe.

The latter part of the film gets a little more focused and takes a closer look at coffee growing and buying and its possibly contradictory agendas. Coffee production ought to be sustainable. It should be organic and avoid use of unnatural chemicals in its production. Though coffee is a high profit item in much of the world, little of those profits go back to the growers. There are fair trade standards to help insure that the producers get a fair share. In addition, there is the Rain Forest Alliance that works to conserve biodiversity.

CAFFEINATED is a look at the human effort, talent, and technology that goes into what may well be one of the world's favorite beverages. I rate this film +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. CAFFEINATED opened Tuesday, July 14 on iTunes, Amazon, googleplay, Xbox, vudu and all major cable providers including Time Warner, Comcast, directv and more.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Basing the film on Sophie Tucker's autobiography and her encyclopedic private scrapbooks, writer/director William Gazecki has pieced together Tucker's life from her 1887 birth on a boat headed for America to her death in 1966. The filmmaking style is not tremendously innovative, but we do get to hear a lot of Tucker's music and hear anecdotes, some amazing, from the people who knew her. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

"I've been rich and I've been poor; rich is better." That slightly unsurprising bit of philosophy was the observation of Sophie Tucker.

When I was growing up I knew the name Sophie Tucker, but beyond that I knew little about the woman except that she sang jazz. And I was familiar with her humorous title, "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas". I thought that meant she was supposed to be mock-sexy and mock-wicked in the way that Mae West was. When I saw her it was hard to think of her as anybody's dream girl. She was a short rotund blond. Tucker had Mae West's risque sense of humor and she belted a song like Kate Smith. But she was a long way from the general ideal of attractive as she pushed her way into the spotlight.

Writer/director William Gazecki--previously nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (1997)--has put together this film based on Tucker's autobiography, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and on Tucker's incredibly complete scrapbooks of which there were more than four hundred. Virtually every piece of paper that somehow mattered to Tucker she had put in her scrapbooks. And she was a major entertainment attraction for more than half a century. Gazecki had access to these scrapbooks and could piece together a detailed mosaic of Tucker's life. Gazecki traces Tucker's life from being born on a boat to America and playing piano to accompany her sister at the family restaurant. Gazecki traces Tucker through burlesque to the Ziegfeld Follies. Rather than avoid the subject she worked jokes about her weight into her act. She looked like somebody's grandmother, but she had a talent for putting over risque double-entendre songs. By 1929 she was the best-known female entertainer in the world.

It is difficult to characterize Tucker. Perhaps she is best known as a singer, but she was in movies and on television. She had an enormous number of friends in and out of show business. At different periods of time she played cards with Al Capone and J. Edgar Hoover considered her a personal friend. She was friends with seven different Presidents. The film is full of celebrities and relatives of celebrities who know her and have stories of her many foibles, such as cheating her friends at cards. She needed a new and frequently strange hair style for each new act she created.

We hear about her from people like Tony Bennett, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, and Joe Franklin. We see archive footage of her career. We hear about the various men in her life and the problems they brought, her short marriages to some, and especially her troubled relationship with her son Bert. THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER is an account of Tucker's years of performance and a portrait of an indomitable woman, punctuated with her songs and her monologues. The film is a full portrait of an entertainer from a different age. I rate THE OUTRAGEOUS SOPHIE TUCKER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Numbers with Infinitely Long Tails (letter of comment by Dan T. Cox):

In response to Mark's comments on irrational numbers in the 07/03/15 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes:

[Mark Leeper wrote:]

Only numbers that can be expressed as a fraction go to repeating somewhere in the decimals. 3/7 for example repeats. As a decimal it is

        X= . 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...

(To make it easier to read I have inserted spaces.)

The string 428571 repeats forever. We can recapture the fractional expression by noting

1000000X= 428571. 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...
       X= 000000. 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571 428571...

Subtracting we get

999999X = 428571, so X = 428571/999999 =(142857*3)/(142857*7) = 3/7

(Now isn't that interesting? The factor we cancelled from the numerator and denominator is 142857. Notice anything familiar about that number?) [-mrl]

Dan Cox writes:

Yes. 142857 is 428571 with the digits rotated one place to the left, and leftmost digit placed in the rightmost column. No doubt Mark already knows it goes further:

1/7 = 0.142857 142857 ...
2/7 = 0.285714 285714 ...
3/7 = 0.428571 428571 ...
4/7 = 0.571428 571428 ...
5/7 = 0.714285 714285 ...
6/7 = 0.857142 857142 ...

They are all the same rotation, just starting at a different place in the sequence. If you do the long division to compute the decimal representation of a few of the fractions, you will probably see how that happens. [-dtc]

[Mark wrote:]

Even the square root of two has just the same sort of unpredictable decimal expansion that pi has. It cannot be expressed as a fraction. ... You might as well say that even a number as common as the square root of 2 has the property that its decimal expression goes on and on forever without ending in a repeating decimal. [-mrl]

[Dan writes]

What I found interesting is that while square root of 2 does not repeat as a decimal, it repeats as a continued fraction.

sqrt(2) = 1 + 1/(2 + 1/(2 + 1/ 2 + 1/. . .)))

Approximate the infinite expression by taking the first few terms:

   1 + 1/2 = 3/2  [approximation 1]
   1 + 1/(2 + 1/2) = 1 + 1/(5/2) = 1 + 2/5 = 7/5  [approximation 2]
   1 + 1/(2 + 1/(2 + 1/2)) = 17/12 [approximation 3]
   1 + 1/(2 + 1/(2 + 1/(2 + 1/2))) = 41/29  [approximation 4]

   3/2 = 1.5
   7/5 = 1.4
   17/12 = 1.41666...
   41/29 = 1.41379... (repeats eventually)

Each approximation is closer to the real sqrt(2) than the last, and they go alternately above and below the true value.

For more on continued fractions, THE THEORY OF NUMBERS by Hardy and Wright or . [-dtc]

Mark writes:

Continued fractions and the approximations they give would have gone nicely in this article, but I deemed the subject matter a bit abstruse to be covered for this article. It is a way to get very close rational approximations to irrational numbers. They are particularly nice to get currency conversion approximations when I travel. That is very practical. I wonder if there would be interesting discoveries that would come out of looking at pi as a continued fraction. But I suspect that a discussion of continued fractions would leave most readers confused. [-mrl]

The Alphabet (letters of comment by Kevin R, Paul Dormer, Gary McGrath, Kerr Mudd-John, and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to comments on the alphabet in the 07/10/15 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

When I was at primary school, way back in the middle of the last century in England, I don't recall ever being taught a song to sing for the alphabet, more a chant. And there was no zee in it at all. It was chanted with no rhymes whatsoever, that I recall, more blank verse. [-pd]

Kevin R responds:

In the US, the "alphabet song" is the same tune as is used for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

Says here, the English got it from the French.,_Twinkle,_Little_Star

See also:


And Paul Dormer adds:

I well recommend the Dohnanyi variations on that theme for piano and orchestra.

SPOILER for a piece of music written over 100 years ago.

It has a huge late romantic opening for orchestra without the soloist, surging to a tumultuous climax which stops with a bang. The orchestra is silent. Then the soloist plays a one-finger version of the theme.

Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. [-pd]

Gary McGrath says:

I love the Naxos Music Library (paid subscription). I was able to find and start playing "Variations on a Nusery Song" in seconds. It's at least a two-finger version, since it's played in octaves, and there are bits in it which any pianist would be hard-pressed to play with just a finger of each hand.

Mozart's variations on the same tune are a favorite of mine. He referred to it by the French title, "Ah, vous dirai-je, maman." [-gmg]

Kerr Mudd-John replies:

That's as maybe, but in the 50's and early 60's it was just a chant for us Brits.

"2 twos are 4, 3 twos are six" ect.

Rote learning, just like them poor Muslim kids have to do with their Koran. [-kmj]

Kevin R answers:

Re: ect. Back to Latin class for more rote learning? :-)

I got plenty of rote learning, in US Catholic school, in the early 60s. The "alphabet song" was for kindergarteners, though. Once one was in first grade you had to learn those chicken scratches--in print *and* in cursive.

My high school chemistry teacher made the class chant the periodic table. She'd roll up the large table that hung from the top of the chalkboard, and bang her desk with her pointer to keep time.

"Hydrogen, helium, lithium, berylium,
Boron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen,
Fluorine, Neon, Sodium, Manganese,....

etc, etc, and so on until we stumbled.

It worked. I scored 780 out of 800 on the College Board Chemistry Achievement test. It might have killed my taste for further study in the hard sciences, though. [-kr]

However, Keith Lynch notes:

Surprising, since you got one of those elements wrong [magnesium, not manganese]. [-kfl]

Kevin notes:

Obviously, I shouldn't have joked about Kerr's "ect" typo. That always guarantees an error in the post. [-kr]

Cities Named for Other Cities, But Pronounced Differently (letters of comment by Jay E. Morris, Kevin R, and Peter Trei):

In response to comments on cities named for other cities but pronounced differently in the 07/10/15 issue of the MT VOID, Jay Morris writes:

I'm disappointed that Melbourne, FL, wasn't on the list. [-jem]

Kevin R adds:

Missing from the Berlin/New Berlin list is New Berlin, WI. Locals say noo BURR lin. Many swallow the last vowel.

Since the English actually say DAR bee for Derby, then the one in Connecticut (former home of Charlton Comics) belongs on the list. "Durr bee" drops from local tongues.

I like the old name, Paugasset, better. One of the local volunteer fire companies still uses it.

Then there's Pekin, IL. Peek'n. Not exactly Beijing. [-kr]

Peter Trei adds:

Same for Berlin, MA, which I drive through sometimes. [-pt]

And Kevin R writes:

I know Capercaillie from the Scottish folk band.

I was ignorant of the namesake wood grouse, but always thought the name was some sort of Gàidhlig pun, caper being English for dancing, and cèilidh the Gàidhlig for a dance party.

And the area of downstate Illinois near Cairo was dubbed "Little Egypt." [-kr]

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

THE NEW WILD: WHY INVASIVE SPECIES WILL BE NATURE'S SALVATION by Fred Pearce (ISBN 978-0-8070-3368-5) is a look at whether our attitudes towards conservation, and in particular towards "invasive" species, makes sense. ("Invasive" is a bit of a loaded word, but I cannot put it in quotation marks through this article. I was tempted to call them "immigrant" species, but I will just settle for removing the quotation marks.)

Pearce has four stories:

1) An invasive species comes in and takes over, but it turns out that the native species were already being devastated by pollution, which the new species then cleans up, leading to a resurgence of the native species.

2) An invasive species comes in and takes over, but ends up providing food, shelter, etc., for many existing native species that had been having problems.

3) An invasive species comes in and appears to take over, but after a brief period, the native species make a come-back and the new species decreases to a more "reasonable" level of co-existence.

4) Species we think of as native are not really native. For example, earthworms were brought to the New World by the European settlers, as were honeybees. (No one at this point thinks we should get rid of honeybees as an invasive species. Indeed, the recent colony collapse of honeybees has everyone panicked, because they have become a necessary part of our ecology.)

The problem is that once you have read each of these a couple of times, with different locales and species, they start to get repetitious. And all the invasive species seem to be introduced (either intentionally or accidentally) by humans. Species whose habitats are shifting because of global climate change get only about ten pages of discussion, and even that is combined with other "natural" species drifts. For example, there is nothing about how polar bears are moving south in Canada and interbreeding with grizzly bears there. Undoubtedly there are, and will be, many more examples of such drift. If removing artificially introduced species is controversial, removing naturally invasive species is even more so. And if they are invading new areas because they can no longer exist in the old, one either has to accept the invasion or doom the species to extinction. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Everybody knows how to raise children, except 
          the people who have them. 
                                          --P. J. O'Rourke 

Go to our home page