MT VOID 06/25/04 (Vol. 22, Number 52)

MT VOID 06/25/04 (Vol. 22, Number 52)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/25/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 52

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Movie Physics (URL): is of interest to all those who love to check the physics in movies. Be sure to check out all the reviews as well as the main page. [-ecl]

Take Me Along, If You Love-A Me ... (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There seems to be a new trend in American cuisine that nobody seems to be talking much about. Of course, that's what you have me for. The trend I am talking about is that the nation's refrigerators and freezers are filling up with Styrofoam, cardboard, and plastic containers filled with restaurant food. These are restaurant leftovers. They are meals that gave pleasure in a restaurant and which will some day soon, it is hoped, be resurrected from the dead to live again, however temporarily.

What is it that is actually happening here? Well, that is easy to understand. Americans have worked all through the 20th century making great strides in increasing food production. Those strides are at the basis of this phenomenon. The people who did this work no doubt did it in the hopes of making big profits by bringing more food to market. And with more food coming to market, the price of food has fallen. You may not think so when you pay the bill at your grocery store, but food in the country is really very, very cheap. Tevye says in "Fiddler on the Roof" that "when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick." Tevye rarely had chicken. Tevye rarely had meat of any kind. In America even the poor have chicken fairly often, perhaps often from KFC. And they have beef, perhaps frequently from McDonalds or Burger King. Very few people are limited to a vegetarian diet due to lack of funds. Whatever kind of food me make, we generally have found the secret of making a lot of it cheaply. Some of the ways we make meat are lamentable, but that is another issue. The fact is that meat and vegetables really are fairly cheap. There may be a growing gap between the rich and the poor--and there is--but being poor is in many ways a lot more comfortable than it we ever in the past and a lot more comfortable than it is some other places in the world.

When Americans came out of the Great Depression and went into World War II, food for the military was at least plentiful if not always as tasty as it might have been. Soldiers who might not have had a lot to eat a few years before were given more and got a taste for larger portions. I remember in the 1950, when I was quite young, going to smorgasbords where you could eat as much as you wanted. That was certainly unheard of during the Great Depression. During the 1950s people's appetites and waistbands expanded. And that trend has continued. And it was, of course, a rather unhealthy trend. But, some say, that evolution has made it an instinct for humans and other animals to eat when food is available and to store up nutrition for what may be lean days ahead. That instinct continues even though society has managed to remove the lean days.

Our image is that it is the rich businessman who has the bulbous stomach. In the past only the rich could afford to over-indulge and to bulge. These days food is so plentiful that even the poor can avail themselves of that pleasure. The rich have a lot of pleasures to compete with the gratification of eating, the poor have fewer. These days the rich tend to be thin. However, if you walk around a Walmart or a K-Mart you see a lot of people who are seriously overweight. Overweight has become much more a disease of the poor, and less one of the wealthy. That attests to the low cost of food.

Restaurants increased the size of their portions because it was one way to satisfy their customers that did not cost a lot. If they were cooking the dish anyway, it cost very little more to add the ingredients to make it a large portion. They then can give this extra food to the customer free or at low cost. McDonalds can offer those unhealthy "super-size" portions at bargain prices. Some customers wanted the large portions; some found it made them uncomfortable to eat that much. Why not save the food for a later meal? For these people was created what was called the "Doggie Bag." Restaurants and customers maintained the fiction that the food that was going home to be eaten by the customer's dog. I remember some Doggie Bags had poems where a cute dog was asking to have the last bits brought home for him. My father told a story about someone he knew who asked that half his expensive steak be wrapped so that he might bring the food home for his dog. Hoping for a good tip the waiter came back and said he had given the dog some nice scraps from other tables too.

These days the containers for leftovers from restaurants say nothing about dogs or anything else. But they are coming home with more and more meals. The restaurants still make the large portions since the additional investment is small, and health- conscious people take what they don't want home. From personal observation it seems that as many as half of dinner meals in restaurants get some amount packaged and brought home. My in-laws eat very small portions as a rule. I think they did that before most people knew what a good idea was. They go to their favorite Chinese restaurant frequently and it serves large portions. When they are done with the meal frequently it is not obvious that the meals have been touched. For each visit they get one meal in the restaurant and what is probably three meals at home. A fair part of their diet is restaurant leftovers.

When people do surveys of trends of what percentage of meals are from a restaurant and what percentage are eaten at home, I hope they know that for American families for an increasing number of meals the answer is "both." [-mrl]

Letter of Comment (by Daphne Brinkerhoff):

Daphne Brinkerhoff writes about my reference two weeks ago to a car dealership claiming to write deals with a sharp pencil:

I'm not sure if you've ever traveled in central or northern Maine, but there is a very distinctive used auto sales place in Bangor that has an ad with the following jingle (I moved away 5 years and still I can sing it):

They've got the sharpest pencil in town And they just sit around that showroom figuring deals, And whittling that ol' pencil down They know that if you buy once, You're gonna be back So instead of buyin' one You're buyin' two and that's a fact They've got the sharpest pencil in town

The place sold RV's, I think, and had a sign out front of their lot with a giant pencil hanging from it.

So, I wonder if that's the one you were thinking of?

Note: here's a URL:

[I have been to Maine, but that was not where I heard the ad. I am not sure where I heard it, but another car dealership used it for a one-weekend sale. Then they went back to blunt, rounded pencils, I guess. I heard the ad many years ago and just remembered it because of what it told me about how advertising works. -mrl]

[And not only have I been to Bangor, I lived there for five years. But that was from 1954 to 1959, so I doubt I heard the jingle then. -ecl]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

My comments on the Hugo-nominated novellas, in my voting order:

"The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge is my first choice. However, the appreciation of it is probably somewhat dependent on understanding something about computers (it's not surprising this was an "Analog" story). Still, Vinge's idea of a possible direction for technological employment and how he develops it make this the clear winner for me.

"The Empress of Mars" by Kage Baker is a good second choice, with more emphasis on the social and political aspects of Martian exploration and colonization than on the technological issues.

"Just Like the Ones We Used to Know" by Connie Willis is yet another of Willis's Christmas fantasies, this time about what I'm sure someone has called "the perfect storm." This one had a bit more science fiction and a bit less overt religiosity, so I enjoyed it more than some of her earlier ones. I have nothing against religious content, per se, and Willis is certainly entitled to include it if she wants. But since I don't share her religious background, it is often hard for me to get into the story in the way that I think she expects her readers to. So maybe with a lot of her works, as with Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME (which I discussed a while ago), I am just not the target audience. In any case, there is starting to be a certain repetitiveness to them, but I'll give this one a nod.

The other two, I have to say, were so uninvolving for me that they rate below "no award".

I found "Walk in Silence" by Catherine Asaro a fairly standard human-alien love story, competent but nothing special.

And I have to admit that I found "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams unreadable. By this I don't mean it was in some strange stylistic mode, but that I couldn't manage to get into the story enough to keep reading. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           cynic. A blackguard whose faulty vision 
           sees things as they are, not as they 
           ought to be.
                                          --Ambrose Bierce

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