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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/21/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 17, Whole Number 1933
Table of Contents
The Bat-Signal (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have always had a problem with Batman comics and in specific with the Bat-signal. What is the spotlight projecting on? Even if there is a cloud, you can't project an image on a cloud. You certainly can't project one on a clear sky.
And even assuming you could, what is this:
Excuse me. Got to go to the bathroom.
Nope, no Signal.
Excuse me. Got to go to the bathroom.
Nope, no Signal.
Excuse me. Got to go to the bathroom.
Nope, no Signal.
That is bachelor Bruce Wayne on a date, but not wanting to miss the Bat-signal if it comes and he is needed.
The Bat-signal is very dramatic, but I don't understand it. Did nobody ever point out that it does not work? [-mrl]
Crow X Is a Credit to Crows Everywhere, Betty or Not (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
If you have been reading this column for a while you will know that something that fascinates me is animal intelligence and that something that irritates me is some scientists' determined effort to deny the recognition of animal intelligence. The rules for what we consider intelligence are changed to rule out animals from having intelligence sufficient to be comparable to humans. I believe, for example, that at one time the necessary prerequisite for animal intelligence is the making of tools. Now we know that there are many animals that use materials they find in their environments a tool.
There probably is an ulterior motive behind the denial coming from some corners. I think that along with recognition there would have to come some consideration for the welfare of the animal. And that could be very inconvenient. It we actually had an appreciation for how intelligent some animals are we would have to have firmer rules instituted to avoid animal suffering. I think that in general so- called "humanity" has a self-serving willingness to look the other way when animals are maltreated, some often in nightmarish ways. Meat animals like cows and pigs probably have a reasonable awareness of their situation. And their situation is that they are fated to be killed and eaten.
In the August 16, 2002 issue of the Void I wrote about Betty, a New Caledonian crow, who (note I say "who" and not "that") was frustrated in an intelligence experiment. There was food for the bird placed in a little bucket. The bucket was in a vertical tube out of reach for the crow, even for the bird's beaks. However there were supposed to be metal hooks for the bird to pick up and use them to hook the basket. There were also straight wires that were useless to the bird because they did not end in a hook. The previous bird tested had flown off with the metal hook so there were only useless straight wires left. The straight wires were red herrings that the bird was supposed to recognize were not of any use. There was no way for the crow to get at the food. Betty picked up one of the straight wires, bent the end so the wire was in the shape of a "J." It was, in effect, a hook. And Betty used her newly forged hook to get her tidbit of food. Recognizing how to modify something in the environment to turn it into something it was not is not something a crow was supposedly able to do. But there was Betty who made her own hook. Bravo.
Now animals are known to use tools. Monkeys are known to rip leaves off of a stick so it can be put into a hole and collect edible insects. But that is just recognizing that there is a ready-made stick with some extra stuff that needs to be removed. That is not seeing that there is something that can be turned into a tool. (I could be wrong that that is the distinction made.) Betty had figured out how to make a new tool.
That was 14 years ago and Betty has passed on. (Flown on? Or did one maker go to meet another?) Now it looks like Betty's title may be revoked.
It seems that Betty may be losing her place of honor. It has been observed that some crows in the wild may bend twigs to use them to capture insects and Betty may have seen them used there and so did not originate the use of a hook. I guess the complaint is that the invention was not spontaneous enough. Well, to tell you the truth, I just do not care. Some crow, call her or him Crow X invented the hook. The fact remains. We may have been honoring the wrong Caledonian crow. I do not think that Crow X is going to feel cheated. We have an existence proof that a crow can combine enough ideas to make hook when eating is involved. [-mrl]
SHIN GODZILLA (GODZILLA RESURGENCE) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Japan assesses its relation to the rest of the world and its relation to itself and its culture in a reboot of the classic Japanese series. This is the most serious Godzilla film since the first, and except for the novelty the first film had, this would probably be the best Godzilla film ever made. It also has the best special effects. Hideaki Anno writes and co-directs with Shinji Higuchi. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
It starts with what sounds like a drum booming three times. Then comes a roar that sounds like steel girders collapsing under huge pressure. In 1954 this was the opening of the film GOJIRA, the film that introduced to the world the creature called Gojira or Godzilla. And that is just the sound that starts SHIN GODZILLA, the reboot of the Godzilla series.
That 1954 film was much more than just a special effects outing not being about much. It was about something. It asked the question more relevant today than it was in 1954 of whether scientists are responsible for the uses to which their discoveries are applied. It was the subsequent Godzilla films that got to be silly fun. Until now, none but the first Godzilla film had serious purpose. In SHIN GODZILLA once people realize that something grim is happening the film turns into a seemingly endless string of discussions, debates, and power struggles among government agencies. Some of the politicians definitely are more responsible than others, though American audience may have trouble keeping straight the very large set of characters and agencies. Soon the Americans are bulling their way into the war against the prehistoric titan Godzilla. For some the American aid is a welcome presence and for others it is a theft of power.
When it appears that the Japanese islands may have to be evacuated the issue becomes how the Japanese love their home and culture, similar to the theme of THE SUBMERSION OF JAPAN (1973). SHIN GODZILLA even works in a small tribute to Japanese origami. This is all very serious in intent though the various agencies in- fighting at times humorous. The film also serves as a tour of Japanese government agencies and of Tokyo districts.
At the beginning of the story, there are strange things happening in Tokyo Bay. There are people disappearing and the underwater tunnel is flooded. A strange geyser comes spraying out of the water. Soon there is a gargantuan amphibian creature crawling ashore, knocking over buildings and at the same time metamorphosing into the Godzilla shape we are used to seeing. While all this is happening the civil government is having an endless string of meetings trying to decide how to handle these catastrophes. This combines with special effects of urban destruction. The images are more realistic than in most Godzilla films but with still much less immediacy than we might have expected after seeing genuine building destruction on 9/11.
Much of the danger from Godzilla comes from his being much bigger in SHIN GODZILLA than he has been portrayed before. He is powered, it seems, by a nuclear reactor in his body. Visually this is one of the most awesome-looking renditions of the creature. The special effects people at Toho often tamper with his looks depending on the intended audience. He is much rounder and more pleasant looking in the episodes aimed at a younger audience. In this film he looks as tall as a mountain.
Fans of the series will be pleased that the films reuse sound effects taken directly from the first film. Also, the film makes generous use of Akira Ifukube's music from the early films. What is missing is the man in the monster suit. Some of the effects are obviously digital. This is Toho's foray into having Godzilla be an animated digital figure rather than a man in a suit.
Some of the film will be difficult to follow for American fans. There are two sets of subtitles on top of each other, the location (e.g. "Prime Minister's Headquarters") or character's name and title in Japanese, and then the dialogue in English on top of them. (The English for the location or character is shown at the top of the screen.) Even speed readers will have trouble keeping up. American viewers would have been a better served with a film at 2/3 the length and with half the number of characters. This might be a better film to see on video. I rate the SHIN GODZILLA a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4262980/combined
What others are saying: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shin_Godzilla
THE WINDMILL (THE WINDMILL MASSACRE) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
[Note: this review contains minor spoilers.]
CAPSULE: Eight or so tourists, each flawed, take the same one-day sightseeing excursion from Amsterdam. When the bus breaks down they have to deal with friction among themselves and what may be a supernatural menace from a nearby windmill that may be a legendary evil place from folklore. Nick Jongerius co-produces, co-authors, and directs this rather enjoyable piece of horror being released in time for Halloween. The story has a strong feel of the old Amicus anthology films. There are not many Dutch horror films and this is one of the better ones. Certainly it beats that other Dutch "classic" THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The bus driver says, "This isn't hell, it's Holland!" Well, it is actually some of both. That is the bus driver from a Happy Holland tour. The guests on the tour each seem to be coming from an unpleasant past. Each seems to have his own horrors to face. And the horrors they are facing seem to deal with different facets of the supernatural and may now connect to an evil windmill of folklore.
Jennifer is a nanny from Australia until her employer finds out she is using false names to evade the law and her current employer is going to turn her over to the police. She attacks him and escapes. She decides to hide from the police for a day by taking a one-day tour to see the Dutch countryside. She is just one of eight people on the tour and flashbacks tell us that most have something to hide. It may be odd to have so many such people on one tour bus. But the supernatural may be taking a hand in the proceedings.
The whole feel of THE WINDMILL could have fit rather comfortably with the British horror films of the late sixties and early seventies. In fact, the whole story could have been the connective tissue of an Amicus anthology film of that period. The only feature of THE WINDMILL to tell us we are in the 21st century is that Amicus avoided using blood, and THE WINDMILL has the graphic style and the gore that has become common in horror films. It also has sequences to please the fans of the slasher genre.
THE WINDMILL was directed by Nick Jongerius and written by Chris W. Mitchell, Suzy Quid, and Jongerius. Jongerius also co-produced the film as he co-produced FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY.
So many horror films seem padded out, trying to get to feature- length by adding another killing or some useless detail that does not really go anywhere. THE WINDMILL seems to be a little short for the story it is telling. Its story is complete in its 86 minutes, but the telling seems to be a little rushed.
In Europe this film was released under the title THE WINDMILL MASSACRE. Somehow that title accentuates the slasher violence. In my opinion if one knows it is a horror film THE WINDMILL sounds more ominous. Under either title I rate the film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. THE WINDMILL will be in theaters on October 28th and on VOD and iTunes on October 25th. Just in time for Halloween.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2923088/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/771449153
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In PERSONAL MEMOIRS by Ulysses S. Grant (ISBN 978-0-940-45058-5), Grant describes his childhood thus: "There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghanies [sic], and but few east, and above all, there were no reporters prying into other people's private affairs." It is clear what annoyed him most about his later life. (And it's worth pointing out the start that these memoirs go up only through the Civil War--he does not cover his Presidency at all.)
Grant gives us a sense of the effect the railroad had on people in 1839: "I thought the perfection of rapid transit had been reached. We travelled at least eighteen miles and hour, when at full speed, and made the whole distance averaging probably as much as twelve miles an hour. This seemed like annihilating space."
Grant's humor frequently lies in convolution: "I never succeeded in getting squarely at either end of any class, in any one study, during the four years. I came near it in French, artillery, infantry and cavalry tactics, and conduct." Given that elsewhere he speaks of his difficulty with a couple of these subjects, he clearly means he was near the *low* end.
He is quite blunt in his opinion of the Mexican War (a.k.a. the Mexican-American War): "For myself, I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war, which resulted, as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory." Undoubtedly part of this distaste was due to the fact that the Texians brought slavery into Mexican territory, where it was prohibited, and then wanted to declare independence from Mexico. (Texas seemed to spend a lot of time seceding from whatever country they belonged to at the moment.)
Grant adds, "The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times." He also talks about the Mexican War and the Southern rebellion (as he always refers to it) as "two wars--both in my estimation unholy."
You also get a lot of details that explain his actions later. He specifically tells of a couple of incidents that made him unimpressed by uniforms, or at any rate less likely to make him think *he* was impressive in a uniform. But he also talks about how Zachary Taylor, a general he much respected, rarely wore his uniform, and this was undoubtedly another contributing factor.
Grant was not eager to attend West Point. In fact, of his journey there he writes, "I would have been glad to have had a steamboat or railroad collision, or any other accident happen, by which I might have received a temporary injury sufficient to make me ineligible, for a time, to enter the Academy. Nothing of the kind occurred, and I had to face the music."
He had little but contempt for officers who enjoyed all the privileges of their rank in peacetime, but deserted when war loomed: "I noticed, however, a few years later, when the Mexican war broke out, that most of this class of officers discovered they were possessed of disabilities which entirely incapacitated them for active field. They had the moral courage to proclaim it, too. They were right, but they did not always give their disease the right name.
A key to his strategy in the Civil War is that, as he writes, "One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go any where, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished."
Going out to shoot wild turkeys one day, Grant was so fascinated in watching them fly that he never shot at them once, and wrote, "When I had time to reflect upon the matter, I came to the conclusion that as a sportsman I was a failure, and went back to the house." And of bullfights he wrote, "The sight to me was sickening. I could not see how human beings could enjoy the suffering of beasts, and often of men, as they seemed to do on these occasions."
Grant writes, "It is a well-known rule that when domestic animals are used for specific purposes from generation to generation, the descendants are easily, as a rule, subdued to the same uses." This sounds like inheritance of acquired characteristics, but whatever truth there us to it is undoubtedly due to the weeding out of those animals that are unsuitable. (A cow that does not give milk is not going to be bred for the next generation.) A famous Grant quote is "I am not aware of ever having used a profane expletive in my life; but I would have the charity to excuse those who may have done so, if they were in charge of a train of Mexican pack mules at the time." Since one assumes he is sincere, it is interesting to contrast his language with that of politicians today. And, in conjunction with the previous quote, maybe they should be breeding pack animals that they could, well, *breed*.
In the Mexican War, Grant notes, "The administration had indeed a most embarrassing problem to solve ... all the capable officers of the requisite rank belonged to the opposition." A successful general would be a likely Presidential candidate in the next election, but the administration could hardly purposely lose the war. Ultimately, General Zachary Taylor did become President, though Grant believes Taylor would have preferred a peaceful retirement instead.
Grant contrasts the two generals, Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor, as follows: "Scott saw more through the eyes of his staff officers than through his own,. His plans were deliberately prepared, and fully expressed in orders. Taylor saw for himself, and gave orders to meet the emergency without reference to how they would read in history." Grant took both of these approaches and melded them into his own style.
Grant observes that (at the time of his writing in the 1880s) Mexico talked grandly of their victories in the Mexican War, and how much money the United States was forced to pay them. Similarly, he notes, that there are American writers who attempt to claim the Union forces were not victorious, but were defeated here, there, and everywhere, until the Confederates finally surrendered
out of exhaustion, adding, "There is no difference in the amount of romance in the two stories."
Grant predicts, "As time passes, people, even of the South, will begin to wonder how it was possible that their ancestors ever fought for or justified institutions which acknowledged the right of property in man." What he does not predict is that these people will then construct their own history in which their ancestors fought over a different issue entirely ("No, the Civil War was not about slavery--it was about states' rights."). To be clear, Grant writes as the first sentence of his conclusion, "The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery."
Grant writes, "A large part of the National army, for instance, and most of the press of the country, clothed General Lee with just such [supernatural] qualities, but I had known him personally, and knew that he was mortal; and it was just as well that I felt this." There is a lot to this--many of the Union generals did seem unduly intimidated by even the thought of Robert E. Lee, and while Grant may have recognized Lee's strengths, he also believed that the Union Army could defeat Lee.
As an example of Grant's lack of luck in business, he writes of how in 1853 he and three other officers planted a field of potatoes. In June, the Columbia River flooded their field and destroyed the crop. However, it was not all bad, because it did save them the effort of digging up the potatoes, and as it turned out everyone else had planted potatoes, and the price plummeted.
A thought worth remembering: "No political party can or ought to exist when one of its corner-stones is opposition to freedom of thought and to the right to worship God 'According to the dictate of one's own conscience,' or according to the creed of any religious denomination whatever."
"Many educated and, otherwise, sensible persons appeared to believe that emancipation meant social equality." Grant fairly clearly did not believe in this social equality, when he can write, "The colored people, four million in number, were submissive, and worked in the field and took care of the families..." The difficulty of balancing (de jure) civic equality with (de facto) social inequality plagues us to this day.
"The South claimed the sovereignty of the States, but claimed the right to coerce into their confederation such States as they wanted, that is, all the States where slavery existed. They did not seem to think this course inconsistent." 'Nuff said.
Grant summed up one battle with a sentence that might sum up many people's summary of the war: "It was a case of Southern dash against Northern pluck and endurance."
In regards to the Union troops fleeing the battle the first day of Shiloh, Grant says that the colonels who ordered the retreats were "constitutional cowards," but that the officers and men who obeyed them were far better troops, as they afterwards proved themselves in subsequent battles.
At Shiloh, Grant tells of General Sherman's experiences: he was shot twice, and a third ball passed through his hat. Oh, and "he had several horses shot during the day."
One of Grant's maxims for generals: "The rear of an army engaged in battle is not the best place from which to judge correctly what is going on in front."
Grant's complaints about retreat in battle do not extend to situations in which isolated patrols are ambushed: "The shells and balls whistled about our ears very fast for about a minute. I do not think it took us longer than that to get out of range and out of sight. Major Hawkins lost his hat. He did not stop to pick it up." (I particularly like the Hemingwayesque sentences.)
To those who say that the South would have won at Shiloh if General Albert Sidney Johnston had not been killed, Grant responds, "IFs defeated the Confederates at Shiloh. There is little doubt that we would have been disgracefully beaten IF all the shells and bullets fired by us had passed harmlessly over the enemy and IF all of theirs had taken effect."
I found it interesting that when Grant came upon a factory which was making tent cloth with "C.S.A." woven into the cloth, he first told all the factory workers that they could take as much cloth as they could carry, and then he burnt down the factory. This concern for not depriving the workers of their employment without some recompense is very striking.
Grant's observation on the surrender at Appomattox has been much quoted, but probably should be included here: "I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us." It sounds very noble, from 150 years away, when both sides were re-united into one country again. It sounds a little less glorious if one considers trying to ask the Allied troops who fought the Japanese in World War II to take this attitude, or the troops fighting ISIS now. Fighting long and valiantly is not enough to make up for fighting for a terrible cause.
Regarding Lincoln's suspension of habeus corpos and other violations of the Constitution, Grant writes, "While [the Constitution] did not authorize rebellion it made no provision against it. Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is inherent as the right of self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy. The Constitution was therefore in abeyance for the time being, so far as it in any way affected the progress and termination of the war." The difficulty of course, is being able to limit the violations to what is necessary, and what seems necessary during a war will turn out to be a gross over-reaction.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons. --Winston ChurchillTweet
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