MT VOID 12/17/04 (Vol. 23, Number 25, Whole Number 1261)

MT VOID 12/17/04 (Vol. 23, Number 25, Whole Number 1261)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/17/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 25 (Whole Number 1261)

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. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Ted Chiang's "Understand" on the BBC:

A two-hour radio adaptation of Ted Chiang's "Understand" will run on BBC7 in four half-hour episodes, Tuesday-Friday, 21-25 Dec, at 1800 GMT/UTC, with a repeat four hours later at midnight. These are available in real time over the Internet at, and are also available on demand (click on "Listen Again") for six more days. [-mrl/ecl]

Noreascon 4 Con Report Available:

My Noreascon 4 con report is available at

It's actually shorter than last year's Worldcon report. [-ecl]

The Trouble with Old Movies (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was hearing two college kids discuss the film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Or rather they were discussing why they hadn't seen it. "It's in black and white, isn't it? Didn't people mind how black and white makes your eyes tired?" Right. You used to see people all over the audience with their eyes yawning. But I suspect films even now haven't gotten the medium right. That's really the problem with films these days. They just don't make them like they will be. [-mrl]

Teach Your Children Well (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I do volunteer work teaching mathematics Saturday mornings at our local library. Recently I had a teaching session that I cannot quite get out of my mind.

A girl, let's call her Ruwala, showed up with her mother. Or rather her mother showed up with Ruwala. The mother showed me Ruwala's homework and asked if she had the right answers. This was Algebra I and it was clear the mother herself was far from understanding the material. I was explaining the answers to the mother and Ruwala sat there without saying a word. Problem after problem, her mother was telling me that she had told Ruwala what to write down and was asking me if it had been right. For most it was not. (It did not help that I thought the problems in the textbook were poor choices for problems to be asking. It showed graphs of monthly average temperatures for three cities for January to November and had the student guess what the average temperatures for December would be. You could give a lot of different answers you could defend, but the answers Ruwala and her mother were getting were not the ones I thought the authors were driving at. Explaining that the temperature would not in a single month jump down 30 degrees if it had not done so before was way too abstract.) As Ruwala sat silently, it became clear that she had had very little participation in this homework. I told her mother I should work with Ruwala directly.

One problem asked what happened when two graphs crossed each other. Ruwala could not tell me. I tried to explain but she did not understand. I asked where the two graphs crossed each other. Ruwala could not tell me. After explaining and getting a blank look, I asked what it meant that two graphs crossed each other. She had no idea. I asked what it meant that two lines crossed each other. Ruwala could not tell me. I drew two lines on paper and asked where they crossed each other. She didn't know. I showed her where and drew two more. She didn't know. I pointed out she was wearing a cross and told her it was called that because the two bars crossed each other. Blank looks. I asked where the two bars crossed each other and she didn't know. Eventually I got her to be able to point out where two lines crossed each other. When I drew just two lines. I drew a large squiggle that crossed itself six or so times. She found three points where it did cross itself and then started picking points where it didn't. I asked her why. Ruwala could not tell me. All the time she said the minimum she could or less.

How did the school system let her get this far? I think the combination of her home life and the school are so culturally poor that they are just letting her grow up totally ignorant. As extreme as it sounds they may even be pushing her into mental retardation. It is troubling enough that she does not know where two lines cross each other. But the fact she cannot pick up the concept of lines crossing each other and identify examples is much more troubling.

The problem may be just that the student is rejecting the mathematics itself. Some of the kids who come in I think basically are just uncooperative. They are forced to come by their parents and they do not really want any part of the learning process. Some families just do not appreciate and nurture intellect, and this may be correlated to culture. I suspect that is actually more Ruwala's problem. But I think that Ruwala might have or be getting a permanent deficiency.

At this point Ruwala is far behind what the school system expects of her and what any sort of standardized tests would require of her. She very likely has given up on mathematics and will react with attempts to help her with indifference and with possible anger at the people trying to help her. She probably identifies herself with an inability to think abstractly. I am trying to help her, but I admit to myself that I have doubts that much can be done. To some extent I blame myself for thinking that, but I really do not hold out much hope for her being able to ever understand even grade school mathematics.

I think the local school system is probably to blame for the problem. The students that I help frequently complain of apathetic teachers who refuse to teach. To those of you who have children in the public school system I cannot stress too highly that you have to look very critically at what your children are learning and how they are being taught. [-mrl]

Philosophical Counseling (letter of comment by Charles S. Harris):

In reference to Mark's review of I (Heart) HUCKABEES in the 10/01/04, Charlie Harris writes: "There really *are* existential detectives--they're called philosophical counsellors!"

And in support, he sends the following excerpts from an article called "I shrink, therefore I am" from "The Observer" [UK], 11/21/04:

Danny had worked in the City of London for 10 years. As a research analyst, stockbroker and fund manager, he'd made a lot of valuable contacts, earnt a lot of cash, and learnt some important business skills. However, as he approached his mid-thirties, he no longer felt good about himself or what he did for a living, and he found his colleagues cold and unfriendly. Danny had been struggling for nearly five years when he met David Arnaud, a philosophical counsellor. After a few soul-searching sessions, Danny arrived at a decision. Today, he teaches economics to sixth-formers, and he loves it. 'It's a much better lifestyle,' he says.

Many people are turning to philosophical counsellors to get answers to questions such as: 'How do I make sense of myself?' 'What is important to me?' 'Where am I going?' Arnaud, who recently completed the first empirical study of philosophical counselling in the UK, has found that within just five sessions the majority of clients, with important decisions to make, tend to move from a state of concern and confusion to a resolution.

Today, there are hundreds of philosophical counsellors around the world, with the movement particularly strong in the US, Britain and the Netherlands.

In philosophical counselling, problems aren't pathologised as they are by the psychiatric profession, and the dialogue between client and counsellor is more like a meeting of equals, compared to many therapies where the client is treated like a patient and seen as someone who is, in some way, inadequate. 'Anybody can benefit from philosophical counselling,' says says Alex Howard, a philosophical counsellor from Newcastle.

Tim LeBon, a founder member of the Society for Philosophy in practice, says, 'For instance, if you are anxious about your relationship, ... a philosophical counsellor would...look for existential meaning in your anxiety.'

Mark responds, "Actually I used to claim that I wanted to be an Industrial Philosopher. Perhaps this is the time. Anyway, in response to your mail that there really was such a profession as Philosophical counseling Wikipedia has something to say at, which begins, " An increasingly popular application for philosophy is in counseling. It is commonly held that so-called philosophical counseling began in 1981 when Dr. Gerd Achenbach opened his practice near Cologne, Germany, and, in 1984, published his manifesto, "Philosophische Praxis"."

IMAGINARY HEROES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Like ORDINARY PEOPLE, this is a film about how the loss of one son in a family affects the entire family, but particularly the surviving son. Unlike ORIDINARY PEOPLE, the parents are really just a little too weird and the whole film is hard to warm up to. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

A suicide in a well-to-do suburban family reveals weaknesses under the surface that threaten to destroy the family. The film written and directed by Dan Harris strongly recalls Robert Redford's ORDINARY PEOPLE but comes a long way from measuring up. The title almost sounds inspired by that film. This family is even more severely dysfunctional. Sigourney Weaver plays Sandy Travis, a woman who is irrepressible, irresponsible, and self-indulgent. Ben Travis (played in a rare unsympathetic role by Jeff Daniels) has lived through his older son Matt's glory as a champion swimmer. He never asked if Matt wanted to be a swimmer. With the loss of Matt he emotionally disconnects himself from his family. Between the two parents there was little support for Matt who eventually ends his own life. But the focus of the story is on Sandy Travis and on Tim Travis (Emile Hirsch), the Travis's other son--the one not a star at anything--who is neglected by the parents for being just average. Nobody in the family connects with anyone else and each person takes drugs of some sort to avoid his own emotional problems.

Sandy and Ben each believe in no rules but his own. Ben insists that reverence be shown for the dead Matt by serving portions for him at every meal. Sandy is shocked when her neighbor buys a new gas grill. "She doesn't have a husband and she buys a new grill!" In fact, there is a small war brewing between Sandy and the neighbor. Sandy is cold to her family but defends them like a mother bear. In one case when she thinks her son is being bullied she goes to his home and is absolutely savage attacking the bully and his mother.

Dan Harris who wrote and directed seems like an unlikely author for this material. He co-wrote the script for the film X2: X-MEN UNITED. He is working on screenplays for SUPERMAN RETURNS, LOGAN'S RUN, and ENDER'S GAME (also science fiction). Here he directs a film that in spite of the title is a drama rather than a fantasy. Occasionally his direction seems a little gimmicky. We see one subjective shot from the inside of a microwave oven, for example. It is not a grievous fault, but it was a distraction as I asked myself, "What am I doing in a microwave oven?"

IMAGINARY HEROES solicits our emotions but never really delivers the impact the film needed. The people do not really seem to know each other and at the end of the film I was not sure I knew any of them either. [-mrl]

BEYOND THE SEA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is definitely a lesser musical biopic for this year. Kevin Spacey, who directs and co-produces as well as stars, looks beneath the superficial glamour of Bobby Darin to find . . . not a whole lot that would not have been in the fan magazines. The storytelling is muddled and even confusing in places. Worse still there is just no real passion anywhere in the story of a lounge singer who looked good in a tuxedo. It is just hard to be very enthusiastic about any of the characters. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

This has been the year for musical biography films. Following DE- LOVELY and RAY we have BEYOND THE SEA, the story of Bobbie Darin. In ALL THAT JAZZ the subject of that biography looked at his past with an Angel of Death played by Jessica Lange. In DE-LOVELY much the same mechanism is used with the Angel Gabriel. That is fanciful, but it at least makes sense. In this film Spacey also plays Darin who--though he is much too old to do so--is playing himself in an autobiographical film that that the real Darin never actually made. (Got that?) While he is doing this he is reviewing his life with the boy who plays the young Darin and who actually seems to be the real Darin as a boy. Somehow this is all supposed to explain why Spacey is playing Darin, though Spacey is too old for the role. He is a 45-year-old playing a man who died at 37. At least Spacey does his own singing and his own dancing and does a very good job of each.

Darin is a sickly boy named Walden Robert Cassotto, told he would be lucky to reach his fifteenth birthday due to rheumatic fever. His escape from the confines of his life is music, which he learns from his mother (Brenda Blethyn) to love. As he gets older he starts with performing one-night gigs at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Success starts to come when he changes his performing name to Bobby Darin taking Bobby from his middle name and Darin from, well, that is one of the better stories. He moves on to nightclubs and television, his popularity increasing. When he makes his first film he meets Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) who does not initially like him at all. And her mother (Greta Scacchi) likes him even less. To Darin this is just another problem he decides to overcome. Later there is a little scandal in the story, but even that has a fan magazine sort of feel. Just about everything that happens to Darin is as mild as Darin himself was.

The script for BEYOND THE SEA written by Paul Attanasio, Lorenzo Carcaterra, Jeffrey Meek, and James Toback--four credited writers is a bad sign--seems content with telling superficial stories about Darin. It leaves big gaps, and does not dig into his character. He never seems to be more ambitious than to be a successful lounge singer. His big dream is to perform at the Copacabana nightclub. There isn't much to the character as Spacey plays it. There is very little drama to his story. He seems an empty man making superficial music. Instead of shining a light into the soul of Darin (if there was such a thing) dramatically Spacey is content to merely do an impression. Spacey reportedly wanted to make this film because his mother was a big fan of Bobby Darin and in spite of the age difference Spacey can sing like Darin and even occasionally look a little like Darin. Spacey apparently could manage to get Bob Hoskins and John Goodman for his film but could not provide either with much to do other than to look respectively like Hoskins and Goodman.

This is Spacey's second film as director. He is a good actor, but this film needed a more critical hand. I rate BEYOND THE SEA a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. [-mrl]

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

"Books are where things are explained to you. Life is where things are not." --Julian Barnes

This may be true for most books, but not necessarily in Lovecraft. Of course, with THE ANNOTATED LOVECRAFT, you can have it both ways. The stories don't explain themselves, but the annotations explain the stories. The stories are by H. P. Lovecraft (obviously) with annotations by S. T. Joshi (ISBN 0-440-50660-3). The book contains four stories: "The Rats in the Walls", "The Colour Out of Space", "The Dunwich Horror", and the novel "At the Mountains of Madness", as well as an introduction by Joshi and comments on Lovecraft by such people as Gene Wolfe and F. Paul Wilson. I love annotated works, with my favorites being William S. Baring-Gould's annotations to Sherlock Holmes and Martin Gardner's annotations to Lewis Carroll. (Peter Heath does a good job with "Alice" as well.) Joshi's annotations here cover literary and historical references, textual variations, and various arcane words that Lovecraft uses, and help the reader appreciate the craft of Lovecraft's work (no pun intended). There is another volume already out; I don't know if the plan is to annotate all of Lovecraft's stories or not.

Leslie What's THE SWEET AND SOUR TONGUE (ISBN 1-58715-158-8) is a collection of fourteen stories, one original and the rest reprinted from sources ranging from well-known magazines to hard- to-find anthologies. All are Jewish fantasy, either in the sense of being based in Jewish legend and theology (such as "Those Who Know") or because the main characters are Jewish (such as "The Man I Loved Was an Elf"). Even in the latter, though, the Jewishness is a major part of the story. Obviously, this limits the market somewhat, but that is probably why it was published by Wildside Press instead of (say) Tor Books. For those unfamiliar with Wildside Press, it is a small print-on-demand press. It is *not* a "subsidy publisher" or "vanity press". Its books are of professional quality, both in content and in physical production. My only objection is that the charming cover art is uncredited. I recommend this collection to people with an interest in Jewish fantasy. (Leslie What also has a story in the current issue of "Strange Horizons" at

David Mamet's GOLDBERG STREET: SHORT PLAYS AND MONOLOGUES (ISBN 0-802-15104-3 is successful only if you are familiar with Mamet's work on stage and screen. Trying to understand these without hearing them in your head with Mamet's peculiar rhythm would be almost impossible. Even knowing how to "hear" them doesn't always explain what Mamet intended with these pieces. They are the sort of thing one might find in a Mamet film as a way to show a character's state of mind, but standing alone they seem less meaningful. Still, if while you read these, you hear William Macy or Joe Mantegna delivering the lines, the sheer beauty of the rhythm of the words makes it worthwhile. (Synchronistically with the What, many of these plays have Jewish themes or characters.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Sapolsky's First Law: Think logically, 
           but orthogonally.

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