MT VOID 11/17/00 (Vol. 19, Number 20)

MT VOID 11/17/00 (Vol. 19, Number 20)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 11/17/00 -- Vol. 19, No. 20

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Chicon 2000 Report: Evelyn Leeper's Chicon 2000 (Worldcon) convention report is available at [-ecl]

Election (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

As a mathematician there is a phrase we use in common language that always gives me a bit of a twinge of discomfort. That phrase is "everything else being equal." The problem is that it seems to me to be ridiculous. "Everything else" encompasses so much that the odds are nil that it could be "equal" or even "too close to call." At least I would think that the odds are nil. Or at least up to this election year I would have thought so. What is happening this year seems like the stuff of a bad 1950s science fiction magazine story. We are suffering a plague of ambivalence or of even-handedness. So many election races are so evenly split that more than a week later they are too close to call. There is no way you could force that to happen. I am told that even if each voter were just flipping a coin you would not expect the results to be this close. How can you make two candidates have so even in appeal, even if you wanted to? And it is happening all over. I would not believe this happening in a story, yet it seems to be true for real. I am both incredulous and fascinated.

Last week I made something of a mistake by discussing the situation, one that just about everybody in the county has strong opinions about. Well it looks like my discussion of Cincinnati Chili will wait another week and let us take a look at the comments being sent to me about last week's editorial. [Oh, as long as other people are expressing opinions, I will also. I think fairly Gore won, but Bush will probably get the office just because of the imprecision of the vote process.]

The irrepressible Lax Madapati says:

     This country's election system has so many serious flaws.   If
     you  look  at  the  voting  patterns  across the country today
     regardless of states, it is Gore that has  0.2  million  votes
     more  than his nearest rival with a larger percentage of votes
     going to him overall.  It is wrong to keep  recounting  FL  so
     many  times and telecasting by the minute results.  Is FL more
     important that other states to determine the president or does
     FL  have  more  electoral  discrepancies than other states? No
     wonder  most  non-Americans  are  confounded  by  the   recent
     recounts  and  controversy  over  the  presidential elections.
     Besides, incorrect projections by the likes of Wall Street and
     CNN-Time  tend  to throw off voting patterns, especially among
     the undecided voters.  Even  telecasting  the  voting  results
     state  by state on several network TV channels is wrong.  Just
     finish up the whole process, do a count, verify,  certify  and
     declare.   That's  it.   Instead  the  TV  people  reduce  the
     electoral process into  some  kind  of  a  mass  entertainment
     circus  show.   Even the voting turnout is dismal and pathetic
     for a country with such a high literacy rate and with so  many
     educated  people.   This time, it was around 100 million, just
     half of the eligible voters.  Forget  about  the  non-eligible
     voters  like  me (who still are to an extent influenced by the
     outcome of the elections in terms of taxes, work rules, etc.),
     but what about the rest of the 100 million?

     Your comments recently about how it not bad for low  electoral
     turnout  because  it  may  tend  to skew the results if people
     without the ability to make  intelligent  choices  participate
     are not well taken.  It can be perceived as an elitistic point
     of view.  No one has a right to decide who can and  who  can't
     vote.  I will point out I was not deciding who could and could
     not vote, I was saying I would respect people's decision, even
     if it was to abstain, without trying to change their minds.  I
     think the people who try to coerce them to vote are  at  least
     being patronizing and were the ones deciding who must and must
     not vote.  --mrl]  I don't know of a single  democracy  around
     the  world  that  puts forth a criterion for voting apart from
     minimum age.  It is a right every person in  the  country  has
     and must exercise even if it is not an intelligent choice.  We
     have to live with leaders who are chosen by  the  majority  of
     the country regardless of the voters' sex, race, education and
     intellect levels.

     I also believe the entire process and sequence of events  that
     lead  to  winning  a  presidential nomination somehow prevents
     visionary leaders from getting there.  Just look at  the  poor
     percentage  of  good leaders this country has thrown up in the
     past two centuries.  When I joked about how sorry the  choices
     were  this  time  (Gore  vs  Bush)  for  the  public, you made
     comments  about  how  one  must  look  at  issues  and   their
     positions, etc., and then decide.  My question is, how much of
     the agenda of these two will actually come  into  effect?   If
     the  Congress  keeps  vetoing everything these people propose,
     especially with different parties at the Senate and  Congress,
     I  say  it  is  not  very  likely that most of the agenda gets
     through passing bills.  Besides, neither of them had  a  clear
     agenda  anyway  to  start  with  and this time, Bush takes the
     prize for being the more vague of the two.  In  the  end,  the
     elections  in  this country are nothing but an excuse to claim

     Vested  interests  fund  and  engender  mediocre  or  sub  par
     "leaders"  who  then  have to resort to dubious victories over
     shaky platforms  that may or may not translate to actions  and
     benefits  for  the people who actually take trouble to analyze
     and cast votes.  This is the sad truth my friend.  Of  course,
     there  can  always  be  the argument, "oh, this is better than
     being ruled by Milosevich or Pinochet or General Speight" or "
     at  least we have a real democracy where people have a choice"
     but unfortunately my standards are much higher  than  what  is
     going  on  in the most powerful country in the world that most
     people look up to.  After all, we ARE the melting pot  of  the

Steve Humphrey says:

     > The  sad and scary thing is that is that not every election
     > in this country meets our own high  standards.

     I think almost all elections in this  country--especially  the
     presidential  election--DO  meet  our own high standards.  Are
     there  mistakes,  perhaps   even   local   cheating?    Almost
     certainly--I have no proof, but I concede it probably happens.

     I say this because I accept that high standards  do  not  mean
     perfection.  I believe (but again I must confess to not having
     solid proof) that a very  large  fraction  of  the  voting  is
     honest  and  mistake-free.   I  would  very  much  like voting
     districts to continue to  pursue  perfection,  but  perfection
     will  never  be met.  High standards mean we strive to achieve
     honest & mistake-free  elections;  high  standards  also  mean
     there  are  no  government barriers to honesty.  We meet these
     high standards.

     A very close election magnifies the tiny fraction of  mistakes
     and  dishonesty.   Fine,  use  that  magnifying  glass  to fix
     problems, but DON'T put our elections in the same basket  with
     Russia's or Haiti's or Yugoslavia's (oops, the latter seems to
     have clean up its act.)

     > Personally I would hope that what comes out of this
     > incident is the abolition of  the  Electoral  College.  It
     > was established so that there would be some control by the
     > ruling class over the will of the  people.

     No, it was established as a compromise  between  the  statists
     and the populists.  As a compromise, it's pretty darned good.

     > Another reason that the Electoral College is an
     > embarrassment is that  it  does just  the opposite of what
     > people are claiming it does.  I have heard several people
     > claim that the election situation  demonstrated  that every
     > vote counts in a democracy.  That's the bunk.  Really what
     > it shows the world is that with states having
     > winner-take-all  systems with the  electoral college, some
     > people's votes can be worth a lot more than other people's
     > votes.

     Yes, by design.  The electoral college gives a combination  of
     equal  voice  to  each  state plus equal voice to each person.
     Well, of course by combining these voices they are  no  longer
     equal.   Rather,  the  will of the populous is tempered by the
     will of the separate states & vice versa.

     Perhaps you wish the United States became the United State . .
     .  fine,  then work to change the whole constitution, not just
     the provision for the electoral college.  But as long as  this
     country  is  designed  to  preserve States' Rights, I want the
     Electoral College kept in place.  (And, yes, I would  like  to
     preserve States' Rights.)

     > Regardless of who wins, the final National  Election of
     > the 20th Century  will have to be one of the most
     > interesting of the century and may well drag on with
     > implications that will  shadow  the next four  years.  As a
     > Democrat, I cannot help but wonder.  After eight years of
     > the Republican Machine taking  every innuendo  about the
     > Presidency  and  turning it into a national headline, I
     > just wonder what that machine would have made of this
     > incident had  the tables been  reversed.  I mean, Bush was
     > declared victor in a state where there were so many voting
     > irregularities almost all of which by  an odd  coincidence
     > seemed to  help Bush and in which Bush's brother holds the
     > highest political office.  Had the table been reversed we
     > would  have  heard about it from the Republicans for years
     > to come.

     Sour  grapes,  Mark?  Please,  raise   yourself   above   such
     pettiness.   The Republicans certainly conducted themselves as
     yapping dogs while Clinton was in office.  But oral sex  while
     at  work?  I  would  have been fired had I obtained a blow job
     while at the office, no  questions  asked.   Lying  about  it?
     Shows lack of character.

     "A Republican Machine"? Sure.  But please  don't  suggest,  by
     omission, that there is no Democrat Machine.

     "So  many  voting  irregularities"?   Back   to   my   initial
     statements,  I  suggest  that "so many" == "a small fraction".
     You are a scientist (close enough), please respect  the  truth
     by not stooping to cheap exaggeration.

     "Had the tables been reversed we would have heard about it ...
     for  years  to come"? Look, we're going to hear about this for
     years to come no matter who wins, and no matter which way  the
     tables  are  turned.   Someone  is  going to lose an extremely
     close race; therefore, someone else is going to bitch about it
     for years, nay decades.

Gerald S. Williams says:

     > Personally I would hope that what comes out of this
     > incident is the abolition of  the  Electoral  College.  It
     > was established so that there would be some control by the
     > ruling class over the will of the  people.

     Certainly it is time to eliminate the Electoral College, or at
     least  establish  tighter  controls  over  what  they  can do.
     People vote for the candidate  on  the  ballot,  not  for  the
     electoral  college.   Currently,  the  only  way the electoral
     college members can exert their influence is by going  against
     the  will  of the voters they are supposed to be representing.
     The sad thing is that this has happened in recent history.   I
     believe  in  1980  one  of  the  votes  for  Ronald Reagan was
     switched to a third-party (Anderson?).

     The electoral college was not formed solely so that the  elite
     could exert their influence, however.  This nation was founded
     upon the  premise  of  peaceful  transitions  of  power.   The
     electoral  college helps to ensure that by guaranteeing that a
     single election results in the selection of a new president.

     In the past, elections took much longer  and  there  may  have
     been  judgment  calls  to  make.   For  example,  one  of  the
     candidates could have died in the period  between  the  voting
     and  the  tabulation  of  the  votes.  This should be far less
     likely now, but with the way things are going...

     > Further if we  had a popular  vote the vagaries of
     > Florida's polls would be much less likely to be important.

     It is one thing to say that the electoral college is outdated.
     However,  it  is  an  entirely different thing to say that the
     entire system of electoral votes is flawed.  When these  votes
     were  set up, electoral votes were not in direct proportion to
     population.  They were tilted  slightly  so  that  the  larger
     states  could not completely overwhelm an election.  This is a
     good thing, I think.

     As it stands, it is almost possible  to  win  an  election  by
     focusing  entirely  on  the  big cities.  You probably noticed
     that Bush won the vast majority of the states despite having a
     slightly  lower  minority of the overall votes than Gore does.
     If you look close enough, you'll see that Gore got almost  all
     of  his  wins  from  highly  urban areas.  When the states got
     together to form this nation, they decided  that  this  should
     not be sufficient to win an election.  Why should it be now?

     One could even argue that, since states are much  larger  now,
     it  is  time  to  extend  this system down into the individual
     states.  Pennsylvania's electoral votes went to Gore,  yet  it
     was  only  because  Philadelphia dominates the population.  If
     the same weighting was applied to the voting districts  as  is
     used  in  the national electoral college, the votes would have
     gone to Bush.

     Ultimately, it is up to each  state  to  determine  how  their
     electoral  votes  are  distributed.  There are two states that
     split them according to their  voting  districts,  I  believe.
     These  states  could  have split them according to the popular
     vote instead.

     If you think that the vote should  be  distributed  along  the
     popular  vote,  petition  the New Jersey legislature to change
     the way it allots its electoral votes.   I  may  send  such  a
     recommendation  to  my state representatives as well.  But the
     system of electoral votes is part of the checks  and  balances
     that  went into the formation of this nation.  I see no reason
     to change it at a national level.


RED PLANET (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Earth wants to colonize Mars as a refuge when our ecological excesses destroy nature, but our efforts to seed the neighboring planet with oxygen-producing algae are failing. A crew of six astronauts is sent only to have five crash onto the planet and one be stranded in space. The survival exercise that follows seems more like a dramatized role-playing game with problems and dangers not a whole lot like real astronauts would face. There are a few nice concepts floating around, but in general the writing is just not very good. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), +1 (-4 to +4 scale) The discussion of some technical details following the review has some mild spoilers.

When I was growing up Mars gave me the same thrill that looking at the Western frontier gave people of the last century. I even got excited about films as unpromising as ANGRY RED PLANET. Mars just has a certain aura. Films about missions going to Mars also have their special excitement. The year 2000 brought us not one but two exploration films, MISSION TO MARS and RED PLANET. Both films were savaged by the critics. For my money the better film was MISSION TO MARS which had very clearly delineated plot segment of when the filmmakers were trying to be realistic and when they were adding fantasy. The astronauts in MISSION TO MARS had landed on Mars as we know it but it had a big surprise inside. Fine. RED PLANET is much more like a throwback to earlier films, grounded in fantasy and inaccurate science but with perhaps one or two interesting science fiction concepts mixed in.

The year is 2050 and humanity's bad management of earth's nature and natural resources has come home to roost. With our time on Earth limited, we have decided we have to make Mars livable and to move our population there. (Really?) Earth has been successfully seeding the planet with algae to make it livable, but just recently all the algae seems to be dying off. Our first actual human mission to Mars is to find out why. The near perfect Mars mission sours badly at the last minute leaving their commander Kate Bowman (Carrie-Anne Moss) in orbit but dumping five men on the planet along with a cleverly designed robot--with a few foolish design flaws. On the planet is technician Robby Gallagher (Val Kilmer), Dr. Quinn Burchenal (Tom Sizemore), the philosophical Dr. Bud Chantillas (Terence Stamp) and two others. Following their crash landing on the planet, they have a serious struggle on their hands to stay alive and to understand some of the strange phenomena they are seeing.

The script by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin is frequently only on the level of some cable films. This is not the kind of film that should need nude shower scenes and the astronauts improvising illicit alcohol distilleries. Luckily that part of the plot is dispensed with early. The script improves somewhat after the five astronauts are down on the surface of Mars, but the sorts of threats they face and the puzzles they have to solve seem more like they are from a fantasy role-playing game than from serious scientific speculation.

Visually the film shows a smaller budget than most major releases. I would say that the effects are sufficient but not actually good. Frequently the scenes in space do not focus on where there would be the greatest interest, maybe a rocket exhaust rather than the main body of the craft where more detail work would be necessary. Once the major setting moves to the surface of Mars the effects are just a desert, I think it was Australian, filmed with a red filter. No serious attempt is made to show Mars's lessor gravity. Particularly in the rolling crash landing sequence the model-work seriously betrays its small size. The robot which transforms into a jungle cat or a martial artist is placed in the scenes by CGI and moves a little too smoothly to be made of real matter.

The actors were partially sabotaged by very weak plotting and dialog in the early parts of the film. With the exception of solid character actor Tom Sizemore nobody really seems like someone who really might be on a Mars mission. Val Kilmer has a kind of comic charm, but he oozes The Wrong Stuff. Terrence Stamp's pensive religious astronaut just seems wrong for the mission also. In THE CONQUEST OF SPACE an astronaut who gets too strong a dose of God decides the entire Mars mission is blasphemy and commits sabotage. I almost expected a repeat.

In spite of having the trappings of a serious look at a possible Mars mission this is really much more just a fanciful story that could be set on any nearly Earth-like planet. It is not bad as a space opera but as we hopefully near the time when we really will be looking at colonizing Mars, RED PLANET is almost an anachronism. It is engaging sci-fi (as opposed to science fiction) with a few new ideas. I rate this film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Minor Spoiler...Minor Spoiler...Minor Spoiler...

I should mention a few technical quibbles. Nobody in the film seems particularly surprised by the storm system or the ice storm. Admittedly they had been tampering with the environment by 2050, but that effort was mostly a failure. Considering just five decades earlier Mars had no clouds and at most too little water to be unambiguously detected by Earth probes, clouds and ice storms seem highly improbable. Without going into detail, the entire ecology we see seems unlikely to have developed in the short time necessary. Also considering that even minor fender-benders could be a serious problem so far from Earth, the crew seems rather cavalier about the possibility of collisions in space. [-mrl]

PANDAEMONIUM (a film review in bullet list form by Mark R. Leeper from the Toronto International Film Festival):

Capsule: The friendship and conflicts of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth portrays them like modern revolutionaries and the creation of their greater poems. As with AMADEUS its history is a bit speculative, but it certainly gives new life and interest to the poetry of the great poets. Some beautiful landscapes and visualizations of Coleridge poems. Rating: +2


Quote of the Week:

     Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for
     trivial reasons.
					  -- Bertrand Russell