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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/13/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 20, Whole Number 1884
Table of Contents
23 and Me (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
You may have seen 23andMe, the genetic testing kit that looks at your DNA genome and reports on possible genetic diseases.
THE SCIENTIST has details at http://tinyurl.com/void-23andme.
The 23 stands for 23 chromosomes in most human DNA. But I went for the special kit. It goes to 24. [-mrl]
Poetry as Raw Bread Dough (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I occasionally listen to an NPR radio program called "Wait. Wait. Don't Tell Me." In it the contestant has to complete a limerick by telling what the final word is. I find this game very easy to play. Usually I can make out what the final word has to be even if I know nothing of the news story. Perhaps you have had the same experience. You know it is a word that rhymes with the last word of each of the first two lines. The meter matches the rest of the limerick. There are not a lot of words that could possibly work as the final word. The poem itself (such as it is) hints at what the final word probably is. Public Radio probably wants to embarrass contestants as little as possible so they let the predictable rules of limericks make the game easy.
Why does a poet go through the effort to deliver a message formatted into poetic form? I used to think that poetry was hard to read. Certainly one gets that impression from Shakespeare. I would explain it that poetic form is actually supposed to make the words easier to understand. What makes Shakespeare hard to read is often the vocabulary he uses. And a lot of the words he uses are invented and coined for the occasion. Speaking in verse is actually making the words a little easier to understand.
What is it that poetry actually does? I think the answer is in bread pans. Suppose you are on an assembly line getting bread dough, putting the dough in pans and putting them in an oven. The bread comes to you in small or large globs. You would certainly have a hard time taking this dough and forming it into equal loaves and putting them in the oven. Instead you have the dough coming a line of five identical bread globs, each of the same size. You know how to process the dough in one bread pan. It makes your job a lot easier. If you know the poem is coming at you in iambic meters you know it is signaling how it is coming. You might even guess what the last word of a line is by what does it rhyme with. Like I say I often find with limericks I can hear the first four lines of the verse and I can figure out what the fifth line will be. I certainly can only very rarely do that in plain flat prose. But going into that fifth line I know what its meter will be and that the fifth line will rhyme with the first and second line.
In normal speech you do not know what someone speaking to you is going to be saying. The instant a phrase is spoken you brain starts matching the sounds you heard with words that you know. There are probably millions of sounds you can match the sound as you perceived with. If you know that the sound you heard belongs to a certain small class of rhyming words. You have eliminated the vast majority of possibilities. If you know the word you are going to listen to rhymes with "sing" the word you are mentally trying to match might be "thing" or "wing" or "bring" but not likely to be "dog." That just does not fit the pattern.
In school you may have heard a short poem that plays with expectations:
Roses are red.Somehow it bothers you to have expectation raised and then ignored. So there are psychological effects of rhyme and meter. Once you get into the rhyme and meter of a poem a lot of the work is taken from your brain in listening to it. It sort of lubricates the mental facilities that parse the incoming sounds and turns them into meaning. [-mrl]
Violets are blue.
Most poems rhyme,
But this one doesn't.
Comments on the Film WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
1. How can they predict to the minute when the effects of Zyra will be felt?
2. Why are they wasting time and resources to print tear-off calendars with "X days to Bellus" on them when they could just chalk a number on the wall?
3. For that matter, why are they wasting time and resources to fly relief supplies to one small aid center?
4. Why do they take a dog instead of "a couple of plump chickens", particularly since they don't seem to realize the dog is pregnant, so would not think they were taking an on-going species?
5. They're bothered by the business tycoon buying his way on, so why isn't anyone bothered by the lead scientist deciding that his daughter automatically gets a seat, and her boyfriend too, while he doesn't make any special concession for the other couple split up until someone gets shot over it? (Presumably he decides at that point that he can free up two places without telling anyone.)
6. Is forty people really a big enough gene pool?
7. How is an area with such an evidently temperate climate right outside the door when they have landed on a giant patch of snow and ice?
8. And lastly, is there any way to get someone to "restore" the ending to something looking a little less like a cell from FANTASIA and more like a real place? [-ecl]
SPECTRE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: In the most complex story of any Bond film, Bond has to fight three battles at once. He has to track down the leader of the nefarious organization SPECTRE. Meanwhile there is a struggle for power in Military Intelligence as MI-5 tries to replace the 00 program. And at the same time he has to unravel the secrets of his own early life. The script is dark and occasionally confusing and muddled, but it is the most ambitious plotting of any Bond film. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
The Judy Dench M died at Skyfall, but she was not quite done giving orders. She had Bond (Daniel Craig) go to Mexico to foil a terrorist plot to murder an entire stadium full of people. Bond's actions limited the destruction to one building, but the media blamed him for the damage. This happened at a very bad time. M (Ralph Fiennes) is trying to hold onto the 00 section and save it from being disbanded by C (Andrew Scott, the Moriarty of "Sherlock") There are plans to reorganize the intelligence organization, merging MI-5 and MI-6, pooling intelligence resources with eight other countries, and changing the emphasis to drone surveillance from actually placing agents like Bond. In the process the double-O section is to be shut down. Bond heads off for Italy to find the meaning of a (kitsch and all too ostentatious) secret ring that is a clue to finding a giant, super- secret, world-encompassing crime organization. That is what Quantum was supposed to be a few movies back, but this is an even bigger criminal organization, called by the familiar name SPECTRE. SPECTRE has been a long-time foe of Bond. Bond finds what all Bond fans already know, that SPECTRE is steered by the evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Meanwhile we learn more of Bond's origins and so does Bond.
SPECTRE is the longest Bond film of the Eon series, weighing in at 148 minutes. The director is Sam Mendes, who previously directed Daniel Craig in THE ROAD TO PERDITION and SKYFALL. The fact that he also directed SKYFALL is ironic since that film was impressive for its brash art design, particularly in its elevator sequences. Here he goes to the other extreme using nature tones as a visual theme. Bright colors are rarely seen. The screenplay was written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth. Having four writers could easily be the cause of the muddiness of the plotting toward the end. The film goes out of its way to show pictures of characters from previous Daniel Craig Bond films and gimmicks from many of the previous films (e.g., cars driving down stairs). Parts of the script seem to be atoning for the misogyny of previous Bond films. There are two Bond women. One seems to be about Bond's age: Lucia played by Monica Bellucci, was born in 1968; Daniel Craig dates to 1964. Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) is younger but is the aggressor in their lovemaking.
One timely and interesting touch in the script is that the writers try to get the sympathies of the viewer in the MI-5/MI-6 conflict. Having real government assassins in the field as killers is a good thing. The alternative seems to be surveillance with drones that would compromise everybody's privacy to collect intelligence on everybody. On the other hand, agents in the field like our Mr. Bond limits what he can spy on and gets the government only the more useful and appropriate. James Bond is good for your financial security. And if the government wants to collect statistics on me, they will find I rate SPECTRE a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2379713/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/spectre_2015/
In my tradition for each new Bond film I give my ordering of films in the series from the best to the worst. This ranking may not be consistent with my previous listings since my opinion of films varies with time. In the interim I have heard several commentaries on Bond films from Tysto at tysto.com. He finds really basic faults in plots that I miss entirely.
1. CASINO ROYALE (2006) 2. SPECTRE 3. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE 4. SKYFALL 5. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE 6. QUANTUM OF SOLACE 7. DR NO 8. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS 9. LICENSE TO KILL 10. GOLDFINGER 11. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH 12. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY 13. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE 14. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME 15. OCTOPUSSY 16. THUNDERBALL 17. TOMORROW NEVER DIES 18. GOLDENEYE 19. DIE ANOTHER DAY 20. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER 21. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN 22. A VIEW TO A KILL 23. MOONRAKER 24. LIVE AND LET DIE
WOMAN IN GOLD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: At the beginning of WWII Maria Altman's family had been torn apart and looted by the Nazis when they seized control of Austria. Among what was stolen from the family was a painting of Maria's aunt by Gustav Klimt. The new Austrian government confiscated it at the end of the war. In the 1990s Altman tries to get the painting restored to her family, but the government of Austria refuses her claim. This could be an interesting conflict but somehow the drama is never really as stirring as it needed to be. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
WOMAN IN GOLD refers to a painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt that was given to Maria Altman's aunt by the artist. The painting was taken by force by the Nazis and after the war taken from the Nazis by the Austrian government. The aunt did not survive the war but her niece made it to America. Now getting elderly Maria Altman wants to reclaim the painting for the family who originally owned it.
Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altman who tried to reclaim "Woman in Gold" for her family. The film follows two story threads. One thread is the story of Altman and her relation to her family in the final weeks before the family is ripped apart by the Nazis. The other thread covers Altman's efforts to reclaim Klimt's painting of her aunt, now considered an iconic national treasure of Austria in spite of its being stolen property. Representing Altman is Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a lawyer with a distinguished family history. His grandfather was composer Arnold Schoenberg. The film depicts the monumental Kafka-esque frustration of the task of getting the Austrian government to admit that the country really did not have a right to own a stolen painting. Meanwhile Altman struggles with the philosophical issue of whether the painting should be the property of the Austrian nation and people, or whether a single family has the right to the beloved painting.
The story should be inspiring but somehow the drama just fails to crystallize. The plot, while based on true events, is just overly familiar. Most people with any interest at all will have heard of similar cases and the ones that get publicized turn out much the same way. Most viewers will already know how the efforts turned out. Many may have actually followed this case at the time the case was being tried. But then, viewers may also know the outcome of the BRIDGE OF SPIES spy incident, but that was a better films because it offered more suspense and more interesting settings. The characters in this film were bland. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star with several familiar actors in supporting roles. Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern, Charles Dance, and Katie Holmes are among the featured players.
The story is directed by Simon Curtis. Alexi Kaye Campbell wrote the screenplay based on the memoirs of Maria Altman and Randy Schoenberg. Perhaps the film has problems in the casting. This should be a story to ignite the anger of the audience. Helen Mirren is too reserved to do that and Ryan Reynolds is just plain wooden. It may be a realistic performance, but it was not the performance this film needed. And all through the story one sees that at the end there will either be a tremendous loss to Altman's family or to the Austrian people who have adopted the Klimt painting. It would be difficult to decide this moral issue in any case and in the end we are just told who won without knowing really how. The film is not entirely satisfying where it should have been riveting.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/woman_in_gold/
[Note: The original title of the painting was "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I". The title change was done by the Nazis in order to obscure the fact that the woman in it was Jewish.]
[Note: The original title of the painting was "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I". The title change was done by the Nazis in order to obscure the fact that the woman in it was Jewish. -ecl]
Candidates (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick):
In response to Evelyn's comments on political candidates in the 11/06/15 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Frederick writes:
I agree with Evelyn's comment about only voting for a candidate who believes in science. That is, a candidate who believes that climate change (global warming) is occurring, that evolution is real, that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old and the Earth is around 4.5 billion years old and not 6,000 years old. Also, a candidate who believes that vaccines should be given to children when needed. To solve real world problems the future president must believe in the real world of science. Because only by actually recognizing the problems and using science can we hope to solve them. [-gf]
Air New Zealand Safety Videos (letter of comment by Paul Dormer):
In response to Mark's comments on Air New Zealand safety videos in the 11/06/15 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:
They also did one where the crew appear to be wearing nothing but body paint:
The Shape of the Earth (letter of comment by Philip Chee):
In response to Evelyn's comments on the shape of the earth (in an article about candidates) in the 11/06/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
[Evelyn wrote,] "That gravity exists and that the earth is round are facts."
Nit: It's actually an oblate spheroid. [-pc]
True, but at least one defintion I found says that "round" means "shaped like or approximately like a sphere." The question then is, "How close does something have to be to be approximately like"? [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE ANATOMY OF REVOLUTION by Crane Brinton (ISBN 978-0-394-70044-1) was written in 1938 and revised in 1965. Whether in it originally, or added later, a lot of negative sentiments are expressed about the oppressive dictatorship in the Soviet Union, e.g., "Certainly the Russian peasants in 1917 wanted the land--but for themselves, not for a Marxist proletarian dictatorship." Reading this makes it feel, therefore, very much a book of the 1950s.
Brinton claims, "... though the scientist is very careful indeed about matters of definition, and is as disdainful of sloppiness as any historian and of bad thinking as any logician, he distrusts rigidity and attempts at perfection. He is interested less in beauty and neatness of definition than in having his definitions fit not his sentiments and aspirations, but the facts. Above all he does not dispute over words. He is less interested in the accurate theoretical distinction between a mountain and a hill than he is in making sure that he is dealing with concrete elevations of this earth."
Yeah, and Pluto is a planet.
(And there are plenty of hills and mountains we talk about that are not on this earth.)
Brinton also claims that before the American Revolution, "There were economic stresses and strains in colonial America, as we shall soon see, but no class ground down with poverty." Apparently, slaves do not even count as a class with him. (Indeed, slavery and serfdom are not even mentioned in the index.) One wonders how his theses about the anatomy of revolution would hold true if he included the Haitian Revolution as well as the English, American, French, and Russian. (He mentions the Haitian Revolution only as an anomaly, "one of the few examples of successful slave revolutions," meaning that it does not follow his rules, so does not really count. In fact, even he says that everything on his long list of "causes" of revolutions is present to some degree in all modern socieites, so that attempting to predict precisely when a revolution is brewing is a futile effort.
Our science fiction book discussion group read three novellas from THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME II B: "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" by Cordwainder Smith, "The Marching Morons" by C. M. Kornbluth, and "And Baby Is Three" by Theodore Sturgeon. The first two are interesting to contrast (and actually tie in with my last comments on Cicero's fourth oration, discussed above). "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" is about how humans created "the Underpeople" by modifying animals to have human characteristics and indeed to be indistinguishable visibly from humans (called "true men" or "hominids"). C'Mell is one of the Underpeople, a "girly girl"-- described as something like a geisha girl, but whether that was because sexual relations between Underpeople and hominids was forbidden, or because the magazines of the era wouldn't print stories that implied she was a prostitute, is not clear. (The story appeared in the October 1962 issue of GALAXY.)
But that's neither here nor there. The basic plot of "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" is that of an underclass which is treated as sub- human, or even non-human, trying to achieve civil equality with the overclass. It is a very straightforward transposition of the attitudes and laws that applied to African Americans in the American South (and to Jews in Nazi Europe a quarter of a century earlier), with some telepathy thrown in. Typical liberal propaganda, you might say, and you might not be far wrong.
"The Marching Morons" is somewhat similar. There is an class of people with sub-normal intelligence (based on current standards), and another with those of normal (or higher) intelligence. The latter feel that they are the slaves in this society, though, because they have to do all the thinking to keep the society going. When John Barlow gets revived after hundreds of years in suspended animation, he tells them he can solve all their problems. His solution? [SPOILER WARNING] Kill off all the "sub-normals". Convince them you are going to relocate them to wonderful lives on Venus, and launch them into space to die. Send back postcards supposedly written by them to convince everyone else that things are fine. Eventually all that will be left on Earth are the smart people.
Okay, this is clearly patterned on what the Nazis did with the Jews (after they started with the "mentally defective"). Barlow even explicitly states this is where he got some of the ideas from (such as the postcards). And you are supposed to think that Barlow is an amoral opportunist. But the elite go along with it and kill off the billions of "morons" without too much compunction. Are we supposed to find this admirable? (Never mind that it is unclear whether one could actually dispose of billions of people in the manner described, or if a society could function with only self- styled elites, none of whom are likely to want to take out the trash, or harvest the crops.) And Kornbluth does not make it a "cold equations" situation the way Tom Godwin did, nor are the "morons" cannablistic beasts like H. G. Wells's Morlocks.
So what is Kornbluth saying? Is he agreeing with the elite that killing off the underclass is the solution? Is he saying that there is no solution? Or what? (Note: Wikipedia points out that the story predates hormonal contraception, which would be the solution proposed now.) The fact is that the story does seem on one level to be endorsing mass murder as the solution, trying to make it more palatable by having it all occur off-screen (as it were). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: He who serves two masters has to lie to one. --Portuguese ProverbTweet
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