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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/11/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 24, Whole Number 1888
Table of Contents
A Statistician Goes to the Grocery (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Going down the yogurt aisle of the grocery I have to say there are many flavors of yogurt to choose from today. The problem is that the mean flavor is "yogurt," and the standard deviation is small. [-mrl]
The Oldest Horror Movie On Record (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The oldest horror movie still remembered is George Melies' "The Manor of the Devil" (1896). It has turned up on YouTube. Watch out... It's super scary.
A Universe of Horrors (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is worth looking for. In the iTunes Store there is a podcast called "The Secret History of Hollywood." It has seven very erudite episodes, well researched and professionally presented. There is a seven-hour podcast called "A Universe of Horror." That is a history of the Universal horror film in the Golden Age. There are about nineteen hours of history of Alfred Hitchcock.
There is a web page at http://www.attaboyclarence.com/, or more specifically, http://tinyurl.com/void-secret. [-mrl]
Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics Analyzed:
Illustration (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As noted in the 10/26/12 issue of the MT VOID, I have been told that to be a true fanzine, one must have illustrations and layout. Since we would not want to accidentally disqualify ourselves as a fanzine, and by way of illustration for the previous article, here's an illustration of a Dalek, found (uncredited) on the Internet:
<-----> < (0) > | | < ------- > o o o 0 () o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
December 11, 1908 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I am not sure what was in the air on December 11, 1908, but it must have been something.
Manoel de Oliveira was born on December 11, 1908. He won fifty international awards and directed *five* feature films between the time he turned 100 and his death seven years later (this year). Oliveira's last feature film was at age 103; his last film (a short) was at age 106.
Elliott Carter was also born on December 11, 1908. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his musical compositions. He composed forty works when he was in his nineties, and twenty more in his second century. He finished his last work shortly before he died, at age 103. [-ecl]
Mini-Reviews of Films of the Year (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
This is that time of year when I will be voting on the Online Film Critic Society awards, which are a lot like Academy Awards except that it is a different body of critics voting on it. That makes all the difference. These are awards voted by people who don't wear tuxedos. Some of us even write reviews in our jammies. What it means to you is that I can tell you about a lot of obscure films you might not hear of otherwise. And I don't have to make these reviews any specific length, which means I can review them a little more quickly. I will not necessarily know where you can get to see the films. Probably most are on NetFlix. If there is one you particularly want to see, you can contact me and I may (or may not) be able to help you track a film down.
THE DEAD LANDS
I admit it. I started this film with a chip on my shoulder. It is a New Zealand film made in Maori language. The story deals with a tribal war. Somehow that had no appeal until the movie started and I found myself in a heroic folktale fantasy with ghosts, witches, and cannibals. The story reminded me of something Robert E. Howard might have written. This is a very Conan sort of adventure story. Battle scenes have some excitement. And the culture is one that really existed. This is not anything really new, but for the fact it is a story of the Maoris back when they were making what s now a proud warrior tradition. The main character is the young Hongi, the last adult man of his tribe. A hostile tribe has betrayed and killed all the men of Hongi's tribe. Hongi must get vengeance or his people will be forgotten. His vendetta will lead him through a deadly place where people disappear without trace. One thing that may strike American as strange is the war faces Maoris wear--fierce grimaces often sticking their tongues out. The film is violent but not excessively bloody. Rating: +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
A SINNER IN MECCA
This documentary by a gay Muslim, director Parvez Sharma who feels the religious need to go on the Haj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. On one hand the Haj is a religious requirement. On the other hand being gay is a capital offense. If Sharma is discovered he could be barbarically killed. Some rules seem, however, to be enforced more rigorously than other rules. It is strictly forbidden to take pictures or movies in Mecca. But he shoots the movie quite openly and most people just ignore him. A few warn him it is against the law, but nobody takes any action. Sharma's vocal delivery really needs work. He drops his voice at the end of each sentence making it tiresome to listen to him. The film jumps around in time and it is not always clear where he is supposed to be. One has to measure a film by the quality of its filmmaking and the point of the film. The point of this film is needed and important. The message of the film is important, but the style is just not very good. Westerners really need to see how bad life is under radical Islam. The same issue is the point of HE NAMED ME MALALA. But that film is meticulously and artfully executed. This film is poorly executed and the weakness of the style gets in the way of message. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
WHAT OUR FATHERS DID: A NAZI LEGACY
This is a documentary built around interviews with two men. They are two elderly friends each of whom was the son of a high-ranking Nazi Official who was an important functionary in implementing the Holocaust. One father was Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, who was Hitler's lawyer and during the war he was governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland. The other interviewee was Horst von Wachter, son of Otto von Wachter governor of Krakow and later Galicia. Each son gives his reminiscences of their family life and each's relationship with his fathers. For one the home life worked well. The other father was a womanizer whose family life did not work. One man feels he has inherited guilt from his family history, the other refuses to accept that his father was anything but a good man. The text is punctuated with photographs and home movies showing the families and street scenes showing the Jews who were soon to be rounded up. These home movies, some in color, recreate a feel for the 1930s in Germany. Tellingly the son who defends his father accuses the film of being a Soviet plot. The film delves into to opinions of the two men. It takes a while to get there, but this documentary is strong stuff. Rating: +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Observations on the Sherlock Holmes Novels (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
The Sherlock Holmes canon consists of 56 short stories and four novels. (There are some "extra-canonical" works by Arthur Conan Doyle such as "The Lost Special" and "The Man with the Watches", but those are not included in most discussions of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and works by other authors are a separate category entirely.) Some of the 56 stories are good, some are so-so, and some are mediocre, but I would contend that the average quality of the short stories is higher than that of the four novels.
The best of the novels is inarguably THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, with a genuine mystery, a consistent narrative thread, and enough tension to keep the reader interested. The next best (I would contend) is THE SIGN OF FOUR. There is a relatively long narrated flashback, but it is focused and is not so long as to weary the reader.
A STUDY IN SCARLET is often highly rated, as the first appearance of Holmes, but it is seriously flawed. It starts well enough, but then there is a very long flashback ("In the Country of the Saints"). Doyle seems unwilling to depart from his background of writing historical fiction and spends far too much time on the back story for the actual mystery, elaborating on details of western United States geography, Mormon theology (and in the process is appallingly bigoted), and other aspects that are not needed for his main story. The son of a friend of ours read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES for school and really enjoyed it, so he started A STUDY IN SCARLET and gave up somewhere in the middle of the Utah desert.
And finally, there is VALLEY OF FEAR, which to my mind is the weakest of the novels. Again, half the time is spent somewhere else watching a lot more back story than one needs, and it does not even have the virtue of introducing Sherlock Holmes. Ultimately, the problem with THE VALLEY OF FEAR (and parts of A STUDY IN SCARLET) is that they do not seem like stories about Sherlock Holmes so much as stories in which Sherlock Holmes is tagged on as an appendage to another story entirely.
These are not the only instances of this. In "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" Holmes does nothing except listen to the veiled lodger tell her story. There is no real mystery to solve, and I have no idea where Doyle thought the "adventure" mentioned in the title actually was. In "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" Holmes does do some detecting, but it turns out that Baynes pretty much had the case in hand without him. In "The Yellow Face" Holmes just plain gets it wrong, partly because he does very little actual work on the case before deciding what the solution is. (He needs to remember his own advice about theorizing without sufficient data.) [-ecl]
TRUMBO (2015) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Dalton Trumbo has been for many years a person of singular interest in Hollywood. He went from being one of the most respected film writers to being blacklisted for his political beliefs and unable to sell his work. After refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, Trumbo was added to the blacklist. For years he could sell his film writing only under a false or borrowed name. His story is very much the story of the Hollywood blacklist. In 2007 that story was told in Peter Askin's film TRUMBO. The current TRUMBO is a narrative film telling the story of how Trumbo came to be blacklisted and how his case eventually broke the blacklist. The story is told well and with wit, and it tells how the First Amendment was seriously threatened by the government sworn to uphold it. And it tells how a small set of filmmakers fought and defeated the Hollywood blacklist. Jay Roach directs a screenplay by John McNamara from the book by Bruce Cook. Rating: high +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
Hollywood makes films about people who are heroic. But most filmmakers do not have to be themselves heroic. Dalton Trumbo did. TRUMBO tells the story of how Dalton Trumbo had joined the Communist Party as a reaction to the pain of the Great Depression. It was perfectly legal to do that. Later the United States government had a turn for the more repressive. Members of a perfectly legal political party were questioned by the House Un- American Activities Committee, and if their answers to the questions did not please HUAC, their names could be put on published lists of Americans said to be disloyal to the country and to be agents of the Soviet Union.
Bryan Cranston, the star of "Breaking Bad", comes to a big screen that he does not have to share with Godzilla. Called before HUAC he refuses to answer questions the committee had no right to compel from him. He is found to be in (reasonable) contempt of congress. This is when Trumbo finds which of his friends really were friends. The film profile many recognizable film industry people. Of particular interest are the profiles of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) and Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg). The film's most enjoyable scene involves John Goodman playing Frank King of the King Brothers.
With the people being portrayed being familiar faces 1950s Hollywood the filmmakers had to decide the issue of whether the actors would have to be made up to resemble the people they depict. The approach apparently was to use archive footage for people without speaking roles. We see people like Humphrey Bogart and Danny Kaye, but only on archival footage. For speaking roles such as John Wayne, there seems to be only minimal effort to make the actor resemble the original. David James Elliott plays Wayne with a face that is not very much like Wayne's and what sounds like a poor voice impression of the Duke. The viewer just has to force himself to think "Wayne" when he is on the screen. Think Robinson when Stuhlbarg is there. For Kirk Douglas there is a special need for actor Dean O'Gorman to look like Douglas from a distance.
Some liberties were taken with Trumbo's story, including that no mention is made of the fact that when he was writing under false names he was living in Mexico. The film shows it as southern California.
The Trumbo presented is far from being saintly. In many ways his family had life worse than Trumbo himself. And Trumbo is mostly blind to the needs of those around him. His family is presented as being understanding, but politics was destroying his family's relations just as it was hitting artists and filmmakers. One nice touch in the writing is nice explanations of Trumbo's philosophy. When his daughter asks him if he is a communist and is she herself. He shows through a quick thought experiment what he believes and why her own philosophy might be consistent with the (theoretical) principles of Communism.
For a film on a relatively serious subject there is surprising wit and suspense in this story of reluctant heroes. I rate TRUMBO (2015) a high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3203606/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/trumbo/
Tabasco Sauce and Sriracha Sauce (letters of comment by Don Blosser, Jay E. Morris, and Peter Trei):
In response to Mark's comments on Tabasco sauce in the 12/04/15 issue of the MT VOID, Don Blosser [USMCR Retired] writes:
Brigadier General Walter Stauffer McIlhenny USMC returned to McIlhenny Company in 1946, became its president in 1949 and stayed president until his death in 1989.
Legend had it that McIlhenny would go around and ask troops how they liked their C-rations (MREs didn't reach the troops until long after 1974 when I left active duty). No matter what they said, he would give them a bottle of Tabasco sauce to use on their rations. I also heard this story about an Army General.
I've seen miniature bottles of Tabasco sauce in the current MREs.
MREs, a.k.a. Meals Ready to Eat, have also been called "Meals Rejected by starving Ethiopians." They aren't that bad, it's just they become tiring after a steady diet of MREs. They are far tastier than C-rations and come in a much better and larger assortment of meals/menus. An apocryphal story I heard after Desert Storm: "An Iraqi officer, senior officer in one of the many POW camps set up for all the captive/surrendering Iraqis, came up to the American camp commandant and said he wanted to file a "War Crimes" complaint. What, why? The only thing they were being given to eat was American MREs! He wanted to make that a war crime."
If such an incident actually occurred, he would have been given short shrift and a TS chit to see the chaplain. After all, MREs were the only thing our troops had to eat.
I also recall reading a National Geographic magazine in the late 1970s-early 1980s, about McIlhenny Tabasco company. Employees dealing with vats of fermenting(?) Tabasco juice wore hazardous material suits and used oxygen tanks. The pictures alone made the vats look almost poisonous.
And now-a-days, most every "Mexican" restaurant or buffet has one or more bottles of Tabasco sauce and/or Sriracha sauce. [-db]
I can see that some condition that you could order your own troops to endure would be considered a war crime if inflicted on an enemy. There are some things more serious than MREs. Soldiers have been ordered to walk over ground that had recently been the site of a nuclear detonation, just to see how well it can be done.
And yes, when you handle hot sauces in bulk they are handled as hazardous substances.
You have been going to the wrong Mexican restaurants. Ours do not have Sriracha sauce or Tabasco. Mexican restaurants have Cholula, Tapatio, or Yucateco. They are about the same strength as Tabasco. [-mrl]
Jay E. Morris writes:
I don't think of Sriracha sauce as competing against Tabasco. I use it more as a condiment, on sandwiches for example, as it's thicker as most hot sauces. Also mix up my own Sriracha mayo. Been doing that for years. Do use it in cooking. [-jem]
And Peter Trei replies:
Agreed--there's been a long American tradition of small label hot sauces, centered around BBQ culture rather than Mexican/Asian/Indian cooking. They come and go, and many are local products.
Tabasco is the exception--it's nationwide, and has been in continuous production since 1868. I remember once seeing the already-recognizable bottle on a table in a Charlie Chaplin silent movie.
Sriracha is a generic term, but most of the current hoopla centers around the Huy Fong brand, with the green cap and rooster on the label. It's not an import, and is made in California from fresh red jalapenos.
The insistence on fresh (not dried) peppers from known local sources is a limiting factor on Huy Fong's output, leaving room in the market for a plethora of imitators as the sauce has become trendy. [-pt]
Actually, the Huy Fong brand is itself an imitator, as the sauce, or something very like it, had been popular in Thailand for decades. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE GENTLEMAN IN THE PARLOUR: A RECORD OF A JOURNEY FROM RANGOON TO HAIPHONG by W. Somerset Maugham (ISBN 978-1-55778-216-8) purports to be non-fiction, a break from the particular requirements of writing fiction. But there are a lot of incidents which seem very similar to the (fictional) stories that Maugham wrote. The story of the woman who followed her fiance all over Asia, finding him no matter how hard he tried to cover his tracks, seems more like a fictional construct than something that had really happened. The translator who eventually revealed that he translated all of Maugham's speeches of greeting to village headmen into the same speech, even though Maugham spent hours crafting a different speech each time, is too perfect as a story to be presumed to be true.
"But now that I come to this part of the book I am seized with dismay. I have never seen anything in the world more wonderful than the temples of Angkor, but I do not know how on earth I am going to set down in black and white such an account of them as will give even the most sensitive reader more than a confused and shadowy impression of their grandeur. ... It would be enchanting to find the apt word and putting it in its right place give the same rhythm to the sentence as he had seen in the massed gray stones. ... Alas, I have not the smallest talent for this sort of thing..." (Actually, he had several more sentences of the "apt word" sort.) Well, clearly he *does* have talent for this, but I do not, which is why when I was writing my Cambodia/Vietnam log, I got completely blocked at the Angkor Wat portion and eventually decided just to say that enough other people had written more and better that I was not going to try to be a completist about it.
Maugham writes about villages he visited unchanged by time--people live exactly as they did for hundreds of years. This may have been true in the 1920s, but now technology has reached into the most remote villages. Partially, this is because governments want to exercise more control, so all sorts of government workers visit villages, rather than just one minor official once every year or two. These workers bring with them technology. There are immunizations for the children, or an electrical generator, or (these days) cell towers. World War II resulted in a lot of roads and airstrips being built, and these along with motorboats and four-wheel drive vehicles make distributing consumer goods to remote areas more feasible.
At the end, Maugham compares Burma and Annam (Vietnam). He says, "I do not suppose the Annamites like it any more than the Burmese that strangers hold their country. But I should say that whereas the Burmese only respect the English, the Annamites admire the French. When in the course of time these peoples inevitably regain their freedom, it will be curious to see which of these emotions has borne the better fruit." While one might argue that Vietnam is indeed in better shape than Burma, whether this can be traced to the French rather than the English as colonizers is questionable. For starters, the Vietnamese had been promised independence from the French if they fought against the Japanese in World War II. After the war ended, the French returned, and it took almost ten years for the Vietnamese to throw them out. This was followed by what was effectively a civil war with American intervention for twenty years, which was followed by conflicts with Cambodia and China. Surely all this had as much effect on their emotions as any admirations they may have had for the French in the 1920s.
MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! by Harry Harrison (ISBN 978-0-553-56458-7) was written in 1966. This edition has an introduction by Paul Ehrlich (also written in 1966), and a prologue by Harry Harrison (written in 1994). Both of these illustrate the dangers of extrapolation, illustrated by this digression to LIFE AFTER MISSISSIPPI by Mark Twain:
"The Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present. ... In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. This is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
Okay, so in 1966, Ehrlich wrote,
"In 1950 the United States--with just 9.5 per cent of the world's population--was consuming 50 per cent of the world's raw materials. This percentage keeps getting bigger and within fifteen years, at the present rate of growth, the United States will be consuming over 83 per cent of the annual output of the earth's materials. By the end of the century, should our population continue to increase at the same rate, this country will need more than 100 per cent of the planet's resources to maintain our current living standards. This is a mathematical impossibility--aside from the fact that there will be about seven billion people on this earth at that time and--perhaps - they would like to have some of the raw materials too."
Well, clearly we were not consuming more than 100 per cent of the planet's resources in 2000. For that matter, it is not clear how one arrives at a percentage of total resources, but we currently account for about 25 per cent of the world's fossil fuel usage. Given that we are now 5 per cent of the population, we seem to be holding steady. Oh, and he was off on the earth's population as well--it was about 6.1 billion in 2000, though by now it is about 7.3 billion.
Ehrlich was extrapolating 35 years into the future here. Later he draws back to only 24 years when he writes, "it seems inevitable that Calcutta's population will increase to 12 million by 1990." In 1990, Calcutta's population was 10,890,000. His "inevitable" prediction was off by 10%.
(It's actually worse than that. In 1970, Calcutta's population was estimated at 6,912,000. Ehrlich estimated an increase of 5,098,000 or 73.6 per cent. What happened was an increase of 3,978,000 or 57.6 per cent.
Harrison was extrapolating only six years when he wrote (in the book itself, so technically not an extrapolation), "On this hot day in August in the year 1999 there are--give or take a few thousand-- thirty-five million people in the City of New York." In actual fact, in 1999 there were 8,015,000 people in the City of New York.
The movie SOYLENT GREEN moves the date to 2022, and the New York City population to forty million. There are many other changes: The main character is Frank Thorn rather than Andrew Rusch and the businessman is William Simonson rather than Michael O'Brien. Is the goal to scrub all ethnicity other than Angle-Saxon from the main characters, leaving only Sol as a token "ethnic"? And Shirl's position is more explicitly--even contractually--mercenary in the film.
(At the end, Harrison has a television screen announcing a United States population of 344 million. The actual population in 2000 was 282 million, but the current population is 319 million, and we are nowhere near the conditions Harrison has described in his novel.)
Harrison was prescient about the water situation in California, though, when he referred to "the water failures in the California valleys." Frankly, however, predicting that the water use patterns of the 1960s, if extrapolated, would lead to disaster, may not have been so amazing. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer. --Mahatma GandhiTweet
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