MT VOID 03/04/05 (Vol. 23, Number 36, Whole Number 1272)

MT VOID 03/04/05 (Vol. 23, Number 36, Whole Number 1272)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/04/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 36 (Whole Number 1272)

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

La plus ca change, la plus c'est la meme chose (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was complaining a little about my video store that of late has had fewer titles and instead has large sections of shelf devoted to what I called "the latest blow-em-up-real-good" film. It occurred to me to add that what I would like to see is more classic films like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and WAR OF THE WORLDS. You know, the *old* blow-em-up-real-good films. [-mrl]

Thought for the Week (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

There is a rather amazing controversy going on currently in Britain right now about, of all things, inspirational message on the BBC. British journalist Melanie Phillips chronicles it in her column at:

It started with a segment "Thought for the Day", a periodic homily on the BBC. Generally these short thoughts are intended to have a calming and inspirational effect on the listeners. Instead it has dredged up all sorts of insights into people's reasoning. On February 10, the Rev. Dr. John Bell of the Iona Community gave as his thought of the day a message that included the following.

"Two years ago, in a Lebanese restaurant in Vancouver, I talked to a waiter called Adam who was an Arab Israeli. That means he was of Palestinian Muslim stock, born in the state of Israel and, like his Jewish compatriots, he had been conscripted into the Israeli Army. There he had distinguished himself as a good soldier and was made a corporal. He was also imprisoned for refusing to shoot unarmed schoolchildren. And one day, when off- duty, he saved many lives by killing a suicide bomber who entered the bus on which he was travelling. At the end of our conversation, he asked, 'How old do you think I am? I was sure he was 29, but I said 27 to flatter him. 'No,' he said, 'I am only 19. But this is what happens when you have been through what I have been through."

Dr. Bell went on to say that this man's experience would be passed on from on generation to the next and would always generate enmity. You can read a more complete quote at>.

Perhaps not surprisingly the British Jewish community was upset at these very extreme claim and demanded corroborating evidence that this story that Dr. Bell had picked up and passed on was actually true. The BBC could never get away with reporting as news a story that they had heard as a rumor from one extremely biased source without doing any fact-checking whatsoever. But these standards probably have never been applied to their religious broadcasts. This story did not pass even cursory examination. For one thing there are no nineteen-year-old corporals in the Israeli army and this man would have had to have been younger than that when it all happened. Nor is it possible, apparently, that the boy had been conscripted. The BBC had not expected that their gentle "Thought of the Day" program could cause such angry controversy and investigated the claim on their own. After some inquiry they offered an on-air apology over the "Thought of the Day":

"On Thought for the Day on Thursday 10 February, the Rev Dr John Bell told the story of an Arab man who said he was an ex-soldier in the Israeli Army. We have talked to the Israeli authorities and we are unable to find any evidence to support the story told to Dr Bell and recounted by him on Thought for the Day. We also understand that Dr. Bell made two factual mistakes in his script. Those facts should have been checked before the broadcast. The Religion and Ethics Department apologises on behalf of the BBC and regrets the offence that was caused."

I am a little surprised that Bell himself did not reason that the person he was using as a source might possibly have an ulterior motive for telling the worst stories that he thought he could get people to believe. But apparently Bell took the stories entirely at face value and passed them on. Even the BBC in their apology seems to take the story as mostly true with just a few factual errors rather than consider the possibility that entire story might have been just a hate-filled fabrication that Bell was all too willing to believe.

All this would be of some interest, but it is not yet the weird part. Sandy Gemmill, deputy treasurer in the Church of Scotland, has weighed into the discussion with his own take on this story. He writes:

"Two thousand years ago there was a man in Israel who used such uncorroborated tales of Samaritans, servants, agricultural workers, sheep, weddings and the like to illustrate various controversial points. Clearly the passage of time has not dampened the enthusiasm of the Israeli authorities to speak out against such tales and take action to suppress apparent lies.... Unfortunately, any criticism of the Israeli government is now taken as being anti-Semitic.... The term should not be used to deflect unfavourable comments about the way that governments abuse their powers. The Israeli government is no different from those in authority in, for example, Great Britain and the United States. Governments are like monoliths in exercising power on behalf of the people and from time to time must be reminded of the need to see beyond their own self-centred interests to those of the human race. If an uncorroborated story concerning any member of the Israeli Army, real or imaginary, can aid that process then that should be applauded."

So it is Gemmill's attitude that spreading libel and hate- mongering is actually a virtue if you think you are doing it in a just cause. (And who thinks of his own cause as unjust?) He is saying smearing people and rumor-spreading MUST be okay. After all, he asks, didn't Christ do it? I wonder how would feel if he were on the receiving end of such a hate-fantasy told for somebody else's ends. (I admit I considered including such a libel in this editorial and then decided even that would be in poor taste.)

Whether Christ used slander or not is a moot point. Nobody ever recorded how well-documented and corroborated the stories that Christ told were. I think that one could argue that the stories that Christ told were told to make philosophical points and were not as vicious as this waiter's story was. But most people would consider the action of spreading such stories without bothering to check if there is any truth in them to be a moral evil. The BBC did or claimed to. Gemmill is saying that it only seems an evil, but it cannot be one because Christ did it too. This is a bizarre and dangerous argument. He is at once defaming Christ and claiming that Christ endorses allowing a dubious end to justify evil means. He is essentially telling God that this apparently immoral thing is allowed because "You let Christ get away it." [-mrl]

Bookmobiles and Children's Books (letters of comment):

We got a lot of response to Mark's article on the bookmobile. It is interesting that some people responded to the bookmobile description and some responded to the choice of books. The books mentioned were all authentic, by the way.

Dan Kimmel wrote: "No wonder we hit it off. We grew up with much the same juvenile SF. Don't recall THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE but went through 'Danny Dunn' and 'Miss Pickerell' and the 'Mushroom Planet' books, and the 'Freddy the Pig' books, too. I was telling Amanda the plot of DANNY DUNN AND THE HOMEWORK MACHINE, which has stuck with me over the years. It's almost prehistoric now. (Doing your homework on a computer? Wow!) I wonder if the books are still available. I know they've reprinted the 'Freddy the Pig' books."

Mark responded: "Probably there are a lot of us [who grew up with the same juvenile SF]. :-) THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE I remember well. A spaceship crash-lands in main character's grandmother's apple orchard. It has an alien who needs to get his spaceship working again. (Same basic premise as IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE but the alien is assumed to be a ten-year-old nicknamed Martin.) The main character and the alien spend the early summer trying to get the spaceship working again. The missing piece of the ship was a coil of wire that the main character had found and was using as fishing line, not realizing who it belonged to and that it was important. A similar idea was used in the book SON OF THE STARS by Raymond F. Jones, one of the better Winston Science Fiction books. I hope the phrase 'Winston Science Fiction books' also conjures up fond memories."

Dan answered: "Nope, doesn't mean a thing. Sorry. But the alien being a boy named 'Martin' sounds vaguely familiar (and, no, I'm not thinking of Ray Walston on 'My Favorite Martian')."

So Mark elaborated: "No, I'm sorry. Winston is one of the most fondly remembered sets of science fiction books ever published. It was a series of hardbacks for teenagers. Almost all were about two hundred pages. The stories were good. The early books had an end-paper that was a Whitman Sampler of everything that kids found exciting in science fiction. This can be viewed at , and samples of the covers can be viewed at <>. A complete list of the books in the series can be found at ."

Dan explained: " This may be the difference in ages. They stopped publishing these when I was six, long before I was reading this level of SF. By the time I was exploring by junior high school library's SF collection, I was reading stuff like Asimov's NINE TOMORROWS and Silverberg's PARABLES AND PARSECS. Indeed, by eighth grade I found myself being thought a daring and adult reader by other students (who obviously couldn't get beyond the title) when I read CHILDHOOD'S END. The only juvenile series I came across--having read about half before I outgrew it--were the Hardy Boys."

Mark responded: "But they stayed on shelves into the 1960s. I guess they may not have been as noticed. I do find a lot of aficionados even among adults. Note that there is a web site. I liked Tom Swift, Jr. [rather than the Hardy Boys]. It had the added benefit that it was an act of rebellion in a family that didn't really like my reading fantasy.

Mark also added: "I think DANNY DUNN AND THE HOMEWORK MACHINE was the very first book offered by the Weekly Reader Book Club. Certainly it was the first I got. Yes, now that age has come to pass."

Dan answered: "I got books through what was called the 'Scholastic Book Club', but it may well have been the same thing under other name. The 'Danny Dunn' books I got from the library. But I do remember eagerly awaiting the new 'Encyclopedia Brown' mysteries. :-)"

Pete Brady wrote: "I remember 'Freddy the Pig', written by someone named Brooks. Our grade school library had his whole collection, which was given a shelf of it own because there was such demand for it. This must have been around 1946."

Mark responds: "It was Walter R. Brooks." Also, commenting on the demand, he says, "So my piece is not entirely a fantasy. I seem to remember FREDDY AND THE SPACESHIP and FREDDY AND THE IGNORAMUS. Probably most of the others came along later. They were all real books."

Tony Pszeniczny recalled, "WoW! That brings back memories for me and I think you have remembered correctly--bookmobiles WERE like that. I can remember it parking on the road in front of our house (on a hill) and walking either uphill or downhill through the inside looking for books. The smell too, was interesting . . . almost like a library--a bit musty. When school let out for the summer we always waited impatiently for the published routes that it would take each day of the week so that we knew when to be ready. Alas, the bookmobile for my district died an ignominious death behind the school, a rusting hulk, succumbing to budget cuts and kids who no longer wanted to read."

Mark responds, "I wish. I think that the joke was the claim that bookmobiles were treated with the same enthusiasm as ice cream trucks. They were never this popular, but they should have been. I am getting the most reaction from people who remember the books. Those were all real kids books I remember from when I was growing up. We had them come around to the school occasionally, but it sounds like there was really serious bookmobiling where you were."

And Dennis L. Mumaugh says, "I also used a bookmobile in San Diego, CA, where the nearest civilization was four miles away. We were in a small community in the desert. Then in San Lorenzo, CA, where the library was three miles away. Both were large vans (almost RVs). They had a large power cable that snaked into the local grocery store. We could enter and walk the aisles and look. The lady always knew what you liked and helped you. But no, no crowds of screaming kids. Not when I wandered by in the evening."

10 ON TEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Abbas Kiarostami a popular Iranian director gives a course in his theory of film in ten lessons. Much of what he has to say is interesting; much is irritating. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami talks about his theory of film in ten short lessons as illustrated by his films 10 and TASTE OF CHERRY. His approach to filmmaking is highly individualistic, though much of his individual style is an adaptation to the constraints of making films in Iran.

Kiarostami plans a project by writing for himself a half a page describing the expected film. Then with some thought he expands the half page to three pages. If he is still excited by the film after writing three pages and he still thinks it is feasible, he makes the film. He never scripts the film and usually tries to avoid using experienced actors, preferring non-actors whom he generally wants to invent their own dialog. For him this gives the most realistic result. He uses music only minimally since he says music imprisons the viewer and forces certain emotions on scenes which he wants to achieve in more natural ways.

Kiarostami really loves the new digital cameras that simplify filming and which he feels helps him get natural performances. He is afraid that big cameras and recording devices would stifle his untrained actors' performances.

He has a love-hate relationship with profitable "American" films. He says that it is big business behind the standard of using "big cameras" for shooting films. (I think the big cameras have always been used because that was what captured the highest quality image. It is much more the case that business interests are behind the proliferation of the technology he prefers, but it is probably not politically advantageous for him to admit that.)

The motif of the lessons is Kiarostami driving through the hills of Iran while talking to a static camera fixed on the seat of the car. Kiarostami loves cars in his films as he feels they create dramatic possibilities not possible in houses. People, he feels, are more likely to argue in a car stuck in traffic than in their homes.

At one point he demonstrates the role that sound and picture each give to a scene by breaking them out and showing each individually.

The Iranian filmmaker sees another conspiracy claiming that new tools are forced on filmmakers by technologists. I suppose that is just like the canvas suppliers and brush-makers force the use of canvas and brushes on artists. The exception he does not mention is the digital camera he loves. When he speaks of American film he does not seem to know even about independent film in US. Perhaps lower budget American films do not make it to Iran and so he is unaware of their existence.

Abbas Kiarostami is both interesting and irritating. But he makes films of quality that have garnered international interest. [-mrl]

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

"Eternal Rest sounds comforting in the pulpit. . . . Well, you try it once, and see how heavy time will hang on your hands." (Mark Twain, CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN)

Mark Twain had very little use for organized religion, and this comes through fairly clearly in two of his novellas that I just read, THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER (ISBN 0-486-27069-6) and CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN (ISBN 1-583-96053-8). The former is set in the 16th century in Austria; the latter in an unspecified time in Heaven. However, one may suppose the time is equivalent to when Twain was writing, which would be 1868, even though he waited forty years to publish it. And the place is described as that part of Heaven corresponding to New Jersey. Really. (And THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGER was not published until several years after Twain's death.)

The "mysterious stranger" of the story of that title is Satan, who delights not only in tempting people, but also in pointing out that what seems like good is really evil, and vice versa. As in many of his works, Twain examines the notion that what may appear to be good luck is just the opposite: a man may be rescued from drowning only to spend the next forty years paralyzed, or may become a murderer and bring misery to others. (And conversely, someone who dies may be spared that future.) People are vain and cruel and self-centered. The ending, however, is even more nihilstic and bitter than the rest of the story, and represents perhaps the peak (or would it be the nadir?) in Twain's pessimism.

CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN is more light-hearted, although Twain still takes plenty of shots at organized religion. Many are on the level of the old story about a new arrival being taken past the building with the Jews, and the one with the Baptists, and so on, but when they go to pass the one with the Catholics, his guide whispers, "Quiet while we're passing here-- they think they're the only ones here." Twain does not use this specific joke, but the style is similar. He addresses people's beliefs that in Heaven you have a halo, wings, and a harp; that you will meet all your relatives, as well as the Patriarchs; that you will be this age or that; and so on. Twain examines these ideas with the same sort of rational, and at times mathematical, approach that one sees in such recent articles as why Heaven is actually hotter than Hell. (It has something to do with a description of Heaven having the brightness of a large number of suns or something.)

LETTERS FROM THE EARTH (ISBN 0-060-92105-6), a collection of similar material containing "Letters from the Earth", "The Papers of the Adam Family", "Letter to the Earth", "and other unrelated works, was not published until a half a century after Twain's death, and goes onto my list of books to read "real soon now". (See for the story of how these came to be withheld for so long.) Also related in theme, though far less pessimistic, are "Extracts from Adam's Diary" and "Eve's Diary". Note that while Twain may have been negative on organized religion, he was a great admirer of faith. In such works as THE INNOCENTS ABROAD, he could deride the former while respecting the latter. The one biography he wrote was a very favorable biography of Joan of Arc, a girl of faith not well served by the organized Church.

Note: Most of the books I mention are available in various collections of Twain's works, and also--because they are in public domain--free on line in Project Gutenberg and elsewhere. (CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN is sometimes called AN EXTRACT FROM CAPTAIN STORMFIELD'S VISIT TO HEAVEN, though whenever I see that it seems to be the complete text that Twain wrote.) "Letters from the Earth" and other related works that appeared with it in the 1962 Bernard DeVoto edition seem to surface on-line from time to time as well. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Questions focus our thinking.  Ask empowering 
           questions like: What's good about this? What's 
           not perfect about it yet?  What am I going to 
           do next time?  How can I do this and have fun 
           doing it?
                                          --Charles Connolly

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