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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 03/04/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 35, Whole Number 1900
Table of Contents
Issue 1900 (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
As we reach another milestone in the MT VOID, it's worth noting that we still have three members of the original ten who founded the Science Fiction Club at Bell Labs 38 years ago. (That would be Mark, me, and George MacLachlan. Hi, George!)
That was when Bell Labs was part of AT&T and before divestiture, trivestiture, spin-offs, mergers, etc. Bell Labs is pretty much gone now. The last person using an Avaya email address switched it to a personal email this week, leaving four using Lucent accounts and five using AT&T accounts. [-ecl]
Another Token of Time's Arrow (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
We have a very knowledgeable readership. I suspect someone out there knows physics much better than I do. Maybe someone can answer this. Almost all physical reactions are reversible. I believe the one exception is entropy. Entropy goes only one direction in time. But what about water ripples? If you throw a rock into a still pond the waves in rings flow outward. This does not seem to me to be reversible either. Restoring energy to the system could you get the rings to get smaller? Or is this somehow some manifestation of entropy I am not seeing? [-mrl]
Did Oscars Snub Non-White Filmmakers? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
As most people who follow film know, the Oscar nomination choices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have been very controversial last year and were even more so this year. In the major categories of award nominations--that would probably be Best Male Actor, Best Female Actor, and Best Director--everybody who received a nomination was a Caucasian. This appears very bad for the Academy. It certainly looks like the voting members of the academy, heavily white and male, have been ignoring contributions by black filmmakers or at the very least have had a bias against blacks. So what are the possibilities?
A) The voters of the Academy may have a malicious bias against blacks in the industry.
B) Voters may have an unconscious bias against blacks in the industry.
C) The problem may be that blacks do not get enough opportunity in the industry to make contributions worthy of award nomination. The problem might be in the industry itself and not at the Academy. Almost certainly part of the problem is that generic roles go to white actors when that is not necessary.
Or--and this one probably frightens the academy:
D) Statistically it is quite possible that this year no black person happened to make a big enough contribution to be nominated. After all, there are not that many actors or directors good enough to get nominated. Maybe, perhaps due to previous discrimination from the industry or the public, the industry itself is not giving opportunity to many enough blacks.
Why might that be frightening? Because the public perception is that there is a problem somewhere and the Academy will be expected to fix it. It is very hard to fix a situation that is not really broken. And a declaration that everything is working as it should will be assumed to be racist until proven not so.
But there are not many films being made that have major roles specifically for blacks. There were four films I can think of over the last year to have good parts for blacks. The best of these was BEASTS OF NO NATION. That is a film that is very worthy of recognition if not awards. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON did not do a lot for me, but people I respect did like the film. I saw neither CREED nor CONCUSSION, so I cannot judge those films, but I think that neither film has more than two or three good roles specifically for blacks. So there is a reasonable doubt that the Academy voters actually been tainted by racism.
What bothers me is that while the cause of the problem may or may not be racism on the part of the voters, I cannot envisage any attempted solution that would not be itself racist. Are the voters going to be told (implicitly or explicitly) that after they have made their choices for the ballots in their field they should then squeeze in a minority person? And even that will probably do little good because the minority votes would have to be coordinated. There would have to be massive coordination so that one minority gets enough votes to make the ballot.
Voting is not intended to be a bias-free process. It is more the opposite. When an organization is polling its members, it is to find out what they think for whatever reason, even if that opinion is based on biased reasoning. You cannot put a filter on the process so the result of the poll comes out unbiased. [-mrl]
TRavel and Its Discontents (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have visited somewhere between 51 and 71 countries (depending on your definitions of "visit" and "country") and I am really glad I did it when I was young(er), because I have concluded that I hate traveling. Or more specifically, I hate flying.
It is not just the discomfort of finding that as I am growing wider, I am being squeezed into a much smaller seat than when I was narrower. (And United has found a way to make it even worse--their new seats have the entertainment system controls on the armrest right where my elbow would rest, meaning if I try to use the armrest space, I will be randomly changing channels, volume, etc. They also changed the seat pockets to hold less of the passenger's stuff, and more inconveniently by putting it much lower down.)
It's not just that the airlines have cut back on flights so that every flight is "very full." (Is "very full" fuller than just plain "full"?)
It is not just that one doesn't get a meal or a snack any more. (Actually, I prefer the trail mix I make myself to what they used to serve.)
It is not just that one has to pay to check a bag, and that if you do the chances are it will get damaged or lost.
It's not just that because one has to pay to check a bag the overhead bins are jammed full. On our last flight, they were really strict with carry-ons, and several people had to check what used to pass muster as a carry-on. They did not measure ours, so we lucked out, although at some point after us, *all* roller bags needed to be gate-checked. Because of this, one needs to get in line at the gate very early--like a half-hour before boarding--to assure that one will be able to find an overhead space. This clearly discriminates against people who have problems standing for long periods of time.
It's not just that as I get older, it is harder to lift my bag up to the overhead bins. (It's a lot easier over an empty aisle seat- -I hoist to the top of the seat back, then reposition my hands and hoist to the bin.)
It's not just that going through security involves undressing, unpacking, redressing, repacking, etc., and means one has to arrive at the airport really early. (This time we got passed through to a "pre-checked" line and did not have to take off shoes or unpack anything. I still have to deal with the metal rod in my leg, though.)
It's not just that if one misses a flight, one has no idea when one can get another (they're all "very full", remember?) and one has to buy another ticket--at last-minute prices. (This may not really be true--I have not yet [knock wood] missed a flight--but that is certainly the impression one gets.)
No, it's that *all* of these things are happening.
I still look forward to driving vacations (especially after we get our new car). We can leave whenever we want, take as much luggage as we want, eat real food in real restaurants on the way, and change our plans without incurring massive expenses.
Now obviously driving vacations are limited to the 49 mainland states, Canada, and (technically) Mexico, Central America, and South America, though I have not really investigated the possibility of actually driving to Buenos Aires. But as I noted when explaining why we were not going to Spokane for Worldcon in 2015, if I have to spend that much time flying somewhere, I want the somewhere to be more interesting than Spokane.
Of course, this adds another annoyance. An international departure required arriving even earlier before a flight. And since a lot of places (and many tour packages) require leaving from JFK instead of Newark, and the time to get to JFK is non-deterministic, this means one has to leave even earlier than that.
(I did not even mention that flying somewhere and then having to rent a car at the far end is also ridiculously expensive.) [-ecl]
Digital Backlash (letters of comment by Peter Trei and Philip Chee):
In response to Mark's comments on digital backlash in the 02/19/16 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:
I find that I disagree with almost every point here.
Filming SW 8 on actual film is a bit of artistic pretention. It will be projected on digital. Digital projection reached over 90% a couple years ago, and is higher now. 70 mm projectors are now so rare that HATEFUL EIGHT had to ship working machines from theatre to theatre in a 'road show. 35mm projection is also now hard to find.
[Shooting in digital is cheaper but leads to less planning.]
Agreed, but this is just a matter of discipline.
[More experience is available with film than digital.]
I completely agree that at its best, film is still superior to digital in quality. But the industry is rapidly losing its analog skills; 'shooting on film' is already the hard and unusual option. At the moment, 90% of movies are shot digitally: https://stephenfollows.com/film-vs-digital/.
[Film is physical.]
Purely aesthetic. I appreciate the idea, but the money men would regard the cost of that 'satisfaction' as prohibitive.
[Digital imagery divides an image up in discrete pixels. It can be a very close approximation, but it will never be precisely right.] All visual recording systems are an approximation of what you'd see if the vision were reality in front of your eyes. Film can be grainy, and the lens size and focal length impress hard limits to both film and digital projection.
Even your retina has a resolution limit, determined by eye aperture, focal length, and the size of cones and rods: http://tinyurl.com/void-trei-pixels
[STAR WARS: EPISODE 4 [A NEW HOPE] was the first film to really go heavily into digital special effects.]
That's a bit misleading. SW4 in 1977 didn't use CGI. It *did* use digital computers for motion control, moving cameras and physical spaceship models around for filming, which enabled complex and repeatable movements. This is now a dead technique. CGI came in later, and the milestones would be TRON (1982) and THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984).
Lucas meddles incessantly in his past work, the SW 'Special Edition' in 1997 added a lot of CGI, to the dismay of most fans.
[Lucas started the digital revolution; now "Star wars" is going back to film. That is ironic.]
It isn't ironic. It's silly, unless they're going to equip thousands of theatres with new 35 mm projectors, and train an army of projectionists. [-pt]
And Philip Chee adds:
Given that this type of film require large amounts of CGI/VFX the film would definitely have to be converted to digital anyway.
Ridley Scott is famous for shooting with four Red Dragons operating simultaneously from different angles and then choosing which angle to use. This is almost like editing in real time. Also this meant that he didn't have to do a lot of re-shoots. Most tent-pole blockbusters budget for about a month or re-shoots. Scott spent just two weeks.
In THE MARTIAN, he also had about 30 GoPro's active. They were meant to be props but they were working cameras and a lot of that GoPro footage was used. [-pc]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our book discussion group chose OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene (ISBN 978-0-142-43800-8) for this month. (We have chosen several books from David J. Major's book 100 ONE-NIGHT READS, because we have a policy of limiting the length of books chosen to 300 pages.) OUR MAN IN HAVANA has Greene's trademark cynicism, which is probably more familiar to people in his works THE THIRD MAN and THE QUIET AMERICAN. Another trademark is the main character who bumbles through life, not understanding anything, not being in control of everything, but not realizing how at sea he is.
In THE THIRD MAN, the setting is post-war Vienna, full of intrigue and corruption. In OUR MAN IN HAVANA, the setting is pre- revolution Havana, full of intrigue and corruption. (The film with Alec Guinness was shot just after the Cuban Revolution, but remains true to the period of the book.) An English vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited by British intelligence as a spy, but he does not have the inclination for it. So he improvises, with results more in keeping with realism than with romanticism. The novel, and the film based on it, are considered in some sense humorous, but it is a very black humor indeed (at least to me)--far too much about torture and killing.
Some sample quotes:
"The cruel come and go like cities and thrones and powers, leaving their ruins behind them."
"Havana could be a key-spot. The Communists always go where there's trouble."
"If it is secret enough, you alone know it. All you need is a little imagination, Mr Wormold." "They want me to recruit agents. How does one recruit an agent, Hasselbacher?" "You could invent them, too, Mr Wormold."
"He was glad she could still accept fairy stories: a virgin who bore a child, pictures that wept or spoke words of love in the dark. Hawthorne and his kind were equally credulous, but what they swallowed were nightmares, grotesque stories out of science fiction."
"It is easy to laugh at the idea of torture on a sunny day." "What accounted for the squalor of British possessions? The Spanish, the French and the Portuguese built cities where they settled, but the English just allowed them to grow. The poorest street in Havana had dignity compared with the shanty-life of Kingston huts built out of old petrol-tins roofed with scrap-metal purloined from some cemetery of abandoned cars."
There are even literary references:
"All the same, he thought there is something wrong with Mr Mac Dougall's Scottishness. It smelt of fraud like Ossian."
And one I can really identify with:
"'You are too young to keep things,' Wormold said. 'They accumulate too much. Soon you find you have nowhere left to live among the junk-boxes.'"
But probably the best-known is this exchange:
"Did you torture him?"
Captain Segura laughed. "No. He doesn't belong to the torturable class."
"I didn't know there were class-distinctions in torture."
"Dear Mr Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement."
"There's torture and torture. When they broke up Dr Hasselbacher's laboratory they were torturing ...?"
"One can never tell what amateurs may do. The police had no concern in that. Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class."
The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with émigrés from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal. ... One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don't recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or in the prisons of Lisbon and Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress."
"We're not shocked by that any longer."
"It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes."
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor. --Samuel ButlerTweet
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