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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/09/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 24, Whole Number 1940
Table of Contents
Thought for the Day (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My advice to you is keep the Christ in Christmas if you like, but get the Fuk out of Fukushima. [-mrl]
Do Real Men Read? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am a member of two different groups that get together monthly and discuss books. Now right there is something very unusual. The evidence seems to show that book discussion groups in the United States are overwhelmingly made up of women. I am male and belong to a book discussion group, and that puts me way out where the bell curve gets thin and brittle under me.
Actually I am a member of two such groups, which makes me even more rare. One book club is one of a dozen or so sponsored by a local public library. Every year the library has a Pot Luck Dinner for its book groups. There is a table for each discussion group. But as you look across the floor you see almost no men. The great majority of the groups have women only, not by choice but because it is so very rare for men to join in book discussions. There the discussions represent only the female perspective. Then there will be one or two groups that have just one male each. In general you get the impression that guys do not want to read and discuss books. Maybe they prefer to watch and discuss football or baseball or hockey. If need be they will discuss badminton. But they are not going to pick up a new book each month and read. That is just not considered manly I guess. Unless...
Unless they are in the discussion group to which I belong. We have a group that discusses literature in general though frequently science fiction and fantasy. There are five of us who regularly show up for book discussion. There is Evelyn and four guys including me. Ironically it is the female point of view we have trouble getting. And I should say these are people who have gotten together for discussions for years. And it is not just this one discussion group. There is another book discussion group I am a member of and that takes place in a different library. It is, in fact, in a different county. And four of the same nucleus of five people is in that group.
One thing more. These people know each other and have known each other for years. Both of these discussion groups have been together for literally decades. The other discussion groups I know of will have maybe five or six meetings and then will fall apart.
I think these small groups are the Saint Germains of book discussion groups. People who attended meetings some years back revisit years later and our group will still be going on. So we have in abundance the secret to getting people to stay in a book discussion group. So we run against every expectation. A librarian was asking me what our secret was. Our discussion is in Energizer Bunny state. We just keep going.
(Side note: do not trust me on this. Just because we have a successful discussion group does not necessarily mean we know why it works. I have some idea, but I could be wrong. It is not always easy to deconstruct a success.)
So what is the reason our book discussion group lasts? We have some flexibility in what we read. We read some classics; we read some science and even some books on mathematics. We read Siddhartha and Feynman. By keeping the material fresh we keep the discussion fresh. And if the discussion strays from topic, well it is all discussion of ideas. The books are often just a springboard for the discussions.
The general wisdom says that women like to read fiction and men like non-fiction. We read a lot of fiction, but it is in large part science fiction. That pitches in more ideas.
And we have our meetings in the evening. That opens the discussion to people who work during the day. Many of the other book discussions meet in the middle of the day, which leaves out people who work during the day, a group that is disproportionately male. But we do not read the Oprah sort of book. There are a lot of popular science books around these days, but I suspect that Oprah fans would not want to discuss them. In general, men seem to prefer non-fiction to fiction. Books about emotional lives and especially romance are a turn off for most men I find. But a book with ideas is for some of us more inviting than one that rakes over previous social injustices. If there were a formula for success it would be not to limit the reading choices to just something like mystery books. Try and discuss as many new ideas as possible.
At least I think that is really working for my discussion groups. [-mrl]
SMART (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team of Los Angeles is one of only two exclusively animal rescue units in the world and the only one in the United States. Founded and led by Armando Navarrete who heads--and often informally funds--a team of volunteers who at great inconvenience to themselves rescue animals. Their unit is called on to rescue a range of animals from kittens in a tree to a horse in quicksand. Justin Zimmerman directs. The documentary style is not exciting, but the cause is a good one. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Back when I worked in Detroit we were talking at a business meeting about a tie-up on the highway getting to the meeting. One person said that it was caused by the police stopping traffic to rescue a dog that had been hit by a car and who was lying on the road. I shuddered to imagine what a nightmare the dog had been going through. My office-mate said he would not want to see his tax money spent on saving a dog. I said nothing, but I could never look at him the same way again. I guess I just could not imagine someone I knew had so little compassion for a hurt dog.
This documentary is entitled SMART and is about SMART. That is a slightly contrived acronym for the Los Angeles "Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team." This is an emergency team, on call 24x7, overseen by the Los Angeles Animal Services division. This team was founded in 2009 and in that time has saved almost 1000 animal lives frequently at physical risk to themselves. They brave falls, equipment failure, and the rage of animals who do not understand their purpose. The story of the unit and their principles are told on camera by group founder Armando Navarrete and his wife and co- team-member Annette Ramirez. They married after initial philosophical differences. Asked if given the choice of saving Annette or an animal, Navarrete would try to save the animal. (After all, Annette is human and would be more able to take care of herself. An animal is not so lucky. Annette was not buying it. But most of the troubles that animals face can be traced to human causes.)
The team has often had to train themselves to get them ready at their own personal risk in the many kinds of different terrain in the Los Angeles area. Often they have invented their own tools when they do not exist or are too expensive. Team members say they do not make any money, often spend their own money for the equipment they need. Yet Navarrete can claim a 100 percent success rate in animal rescues.
Zimmerman directs under a small handicap. While most of the rescues are probably recorded by somebody's cell phone, they do not often enough create captivating images. Climbing a tree and reaching out for a stranded cat does not create much visual excitement. Your local neighborhood theater is unlikely to ever have a film with Brad Pitt rescuing a dog from a well. The SMART team undergoes danger and excitement, but it is not that kind of excitement that sells theater tickets. Some of the rescue scenes may warm the hearts of some members of the audience, but this is not the most exciting documentary around.
The film is composed of original footage, archive footage, and filmed interviews. I rate SMART a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
SMART was released to DVD and VIDEO ON DEMAND on December 6.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4781586/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/smart
CONQUERORS (HOW PORTUGAL FORGED THE FIRST GLOBAL EMPIRE) by Roger Crowley (book review by Greg Frederick):
I have read all 4 of Roger Crowley's amazing books. This is the latest of his intriguing books about World History. Crowley writes in a narrative style that makes you feel like you are actually in the event. Sometimes, the account is so detailed that you almost think you are watching a film instead of reading a book. This book, Conquerors relates the story of how Portugal a small and rather poor European country in the early 1500's created the first global empire. Parts of this empire existed as colonies for hundreds of years after being founded by the Portuguese. Only after many years of sending voyages of discovery along the coast of east Africa did the Portuguese finally succeed in entering the Indian Ocean because of Vasco de Gama. Vasco de Gama's history making voyage occurred in 1497, and his ships reached Calicut in India. For some not totally understood reason de Gama had his ships travel due west toward Brazil when they reached the equator. The Portuguese did not know that Brazil even existed at that time. But by doing this de Gama's ships could catch the eastward driving trade winds that carried the ships to the southern end of Africa and then past the Cape of Good Hope. This technique was used by all other Portuguese sailing ships traveling around Africa to the Indian Ocean. By reaching India the Portuguese could trade directly for spices and other desired goods from India, Malaysia, Japan and China. They cut out the middle men who had increased the cost of these trade goods as they traveled up the Red Sea to Egypt and then directly to the Venetian merchants. The Venetians then increased the cost again to gain their profit and sold them to the rest of Europe. The Portuguese lowered the cost and pushed the Venetians' out of this business. The Portuguese were the first to develop high quality bronze cannons that were deployed effectively on ships. They learned to fire the ship born cannons horizontally at water level; firing them up too high and the shot would whistle overhead missing the target. They also developed light weight breech loading swivel guns that could be mounted to their smaller ship's boats. These smaller ship's boats could be taken right up the shoreline and used against a foe. This knowledge and skill at using cannons on their ships allowed them to practice gunboat diplomacy. The Portuguese could force themselves onto a foreign power and take territory to establish a trading center or fortress. Portugal became a wealthy trading power in Europe due to their epic making voyages. If you like exquisitely insightful information and a great narrative style in your history book this is one of those books. [-gf]
Classicists and Science Fiction Fans (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on classicists and science fiction fans in the 12/02/16 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Patty writes,] "I imagined it would be something like a science- fiction convention, with all the eccentric enthusiasts enjoying one another's company. Over the past two years, I've become more and more aware of the similarities between classicists and science- fiction enthusiasts; in truth, classicists seemed like a kind of subset of the science-fiction world."
It's true: poke around this blog awhile: http://tonykeen.blogspot.co.uk/. [-tb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have been working on an annotation of MOBY DICK and thought I would include the notes for the first chapter here: (The page numbers are from the British Penguin edition.)
CHAPTER 1: Loomings
"Call me Ishmael." Much has been written about this, so I'll merely point out that Ishmael was an outsider. The full story can be found in Genesis, particularly Genesis 16:1-16 and 17 20-21. But though he is often described as an exile, this is not completely accurate. It is true that his mother Hagar was exiled by Sarai (a.k.a. Sarah), but that was when she was pregnant with Ishmael, and she returned before the birth. Later, God says, "And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." [Genesis 17:20] But God emphasizes that His covenant is with Isaac. So Ishmael is more like a disinherited older son passed over for a favored younger one. Of course, he also got to miss out on almost being sacrificed, so this was an advantage.
"The Dark Night of the Soul" ("La oscura del alma") was a poem by 16th century mystic San Juan de la Cruz, but the term in English is usually associated with F. Scott Fitzgerald's line, "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning." Douglas Adams wrote a novel titled THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL. Since Melville pre-dated Fitzgerald, he presumably have patterned his "damp, drizzly November in my soul" after the original, or references to it.
"Hypos" in "whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me" is an abbreviation for hypochronia, as meaning a morbid depression of spirits rather than a physical illness.
The Cato mentioned is Cato Marcus Porcius (95 B.C.E.-46 B.C.E.), considered the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. After being defeated in his attempts to defend Sicily and to preserve Rome from the tyranny of Julius Caesar, Cato committed suicide by stabbing himself. He is not to be confused with Cato the Elder (also named Cato Marcus Porcius, 234 B.C.E.-149 B.C.E.) or Cato Publius Valerius, the poet, who lived about the same time as Cato the Stoic.
Some names and places were straightforward: "Manhatto" seems to be Ishmael's poetic version of Manhattan. In Manhattan, he mentions Corlears Hook, Coenties Slip, and Whitehall. The first two are now under landfills, Corlears Hook near FDR Drive and Cherry Street, and Coeties Slip near Pearl and South Streets. Whitehall is still there, at the southern end of Broadway. Corlears Hook was known for prostitutes before and during Melville's time, hence (according to many) the term "hookers".
Ishmael lists the Van Renssalaers, the Randolphs, and the Hardicanutes as grand families. The Van Renssalaers were, but the other two seem to have left no trace of any grandeur. (Hardicanute seems to be an alternative spelling for an ancient king of Denmark.)
A league is three miles. (This means, by the way, that Jules Verne's title 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, the distance is 60,000 miles, and hence is not a depth--as is often assumed--but the total distance sailed.)
Spiles are wooden pegs driven into nail holes on a ship.
Ishmael makes the same sort of error in asking, "Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove?" as the coiners of the word "television" and other hybrid words did. He mixes Greek and Latin indiscriminately (Jove being the Latin name for Zeus). This is probably due to Melville's having to leave school at age fifteen to help support his family, and hence receiving only a partial classical education, covering the Romans, but not the Greeks (except as somewhat vague exemplars as culture).
An example of Melville's humor: "Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick-- grow quarrelsome--don't sleep of nights--do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;--no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,--though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board--yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;--though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids." (page 23)
"The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it." Seneca the Elder (Lucius Annaeus Seneca, 4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.) was a Stoic philosopher eventually forced to commit suicide for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Nero. Stoicism was a school of philosophy found by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century B.C.E. and emphasized the suppression of destructive emotions; Seneca and others claimed that "virtue is sufficient for happiness" and so true Stoics would ignore misfortune.
A hunks is a surly ill-natured person, especially a miser. Though it appears plural it is actually singular.
Ishmael says of how to go to sea, "I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But *being paid*,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!" The two orchard thieves are, of course, Adam and Eve. But money itself is not "the root of all earthly evils"; the reference is to 1 Timothy 6:10, which says, "For *the love of* money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." [emphases mine]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. -- Mark TwainTweet
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