MT VOID 08/10/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 6, Whole Number 1453

MT VOID 08/10/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 6, Whole Number 1453

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/10/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 6, Whole Number 1453

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

The Face on the Cutting Room Floor (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the 07/13/07 issue of the MT VOID, we mentioned that "Cereal Thriller" would be broadcast on History TV in Canada, and that Mark Leeper had been interviewed for this. Well, they gave me a thank in the end credits, but did not use any of the taped interview. I guess fame is elusive. I am still waiting to hear back from AMERICAN IDOL. [-mrl]

The Changing of the Guard (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was talking to a teenager who told me nobody really watches black-and-white movies any more. Monochrome films are passe. It seems black-and-white movies are the new books. How long will it be before the teens are saying that nobody bothers to play PC games any more since it is too much trouble and they are just what people played until the new thing came along? [-mrl]

Zombies and Mnemonics (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I wrote about I AM LEGEND in the 07/20/07 issue of the MT VOID and the numerical mnemonic technique in the 07/27/07 issue. I have follow-ups on both of those editorials.

There was an article in the February, 2007, edition of REASON magazine, a well-known libertarian periodical, on horror movies about flesh-eating zombies. REASON is a somewhat respected outlet of libertarian views. Now having REASON magazine writing about flesh-eating zombie movies is itself a little surprising. REASON probably is more a place you would look for political statements and not a place one generally would look for discussion of films about flesh-eating zombies, even if freedom from death is the ultimate libertarianism. Tim Cavanaugh, who wrote the article, was talking about the political implications of these films. And certainly there are some zombie films that do make some political jabs. This is a tradition going back to THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That was one of the first popular films to have a black hero. I have seen it interpreted that the ending of that film is a comment about racism, though I would more have interpreted it as a statement against vigilantism.

But even with REASON's fact checking this article got some of the facts wrong. The article assumes that this newly invented monster, called "the zombie" is a variant on the traditional voodoo zombie. In fact, its origins are with the vampire and not to the zombie.

The article attributes the origins of the flesh-eating creature in current horror films to William Seabrook's sensationalist accounts of voodoo in Haiti. Films like WHITE ZOMBIE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and KING OF THE ZOMBIES were indeed inspired by the Seabrook accounts. But there was never a suggestion that these zombies in any way fed on humans. In fact they were not particularly monstrous, except from the fact that they had come back from the dead and had eyes like a dead people. Nobody likes the idea of people returning from the dead. But the voodoo zombies were not really threatening. Seabrook zombies were just a cheap and rather odious form of inexpensive labor. Zombies were people called back from the dead as cheap plantation workers. They came across the border between life and death to take the jobs that the living did not want. They were obedient to the commands of someone controlling them.

However, the flesh-eating so-called zombie films takes its origins from the film THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Romero did not call his voracious, dead creatures zombies. He just called them simply "the dead." But Italian releases inaccurately introduced the word "zombie" to describe them. . DAWN OF THE DEAD was released in Italy as ZOMBI. I don't know where they got that name from, but that was where the whole connection with zombies was formed. Perhaps aiding the misconception is the fact that Romero's dead seem considerably less alert and bright than Dracula does and move more like zombies do.

Then Lucio Fulci made a sequel called ZOMBI 2, which was released in the United States as ZOMBIE. Since then Italy, the United States, and Britain then made what must be dozens of these films because the concept was effective and the budget required was very modest. Put just about anybody in an old suit and have them put on a slack jawed expression and they make a very effective flesh-eating zombie. The films were a good investment.

But George Romero has said his inspiration for THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was from the Italian film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH by Ubaldo Ragona. That film was based on Richard Matheson's novel I AM LEGEND. That was the film I discussed in the 07/20/07 issue of the MT VOID in which there is a new pandemic plague that only seems to be fatal. Its victims appear to be dead but are only metamorphosing into a state that is much like that of the traditional vampire. Matheson takes many of the characteristics of vampires in Bram Stoker's DRACULA and explains them in scientific terms. But the main character in the film, Robert Morgan (Robert Neville in the novel), is besieged by hordes of vampires (or something much like them).

So there is more of DRACULA and much more of I AM LEGEND in the origins of the flesh-eating zombie than there is of William Seabrook's Haitian voodoo zombies. Don't believe everything you read in REASON magazine.

Now, for the other follow-up: Just before I left for my Canada vacation I wrote a piece on the mnemonic system I use to memorize numbers; this piece appeared in the 07/27/07 issue. It turned out to be quite useful once again. In Canada, of course, they measure temperatures in centigrade. Given a temperature in centigrade I would want to quickly convert to Fahrenheit so I would know if a forecast of 32 degrees was terrible or pleasant. I know 0C is 32F. What would be useful is to know the last two digits of the Fahrenheit temperature for 10C, 20C, ..., 50C. I can take it from there interpolating the approximate temperature.

10C = 50F
20C = 68F
30C = 86F
40C = 104F
50C = 122F

For those who remember the technique I outlined for memorizing numbers (or review it at ), a phrase to remember is, "Less Jiffy Fudge; sorry, Nan." The word "less" has an "L" sound which gives us a 5 and an "S" sound which gives us a 0. So "Less" translates to 50.

Less translates to 50F.
Jiffy translates to 68F.
Fudge translates to 86F.
Sorry translates to 04F (which I translate to 104).
Nan translates to 22F (which I translate to 122).

That translates the tens digit. The ones digits I just double and add. (This is not precise, of course.)

For example: 32C is (30+2)C or about 30C+4F which translates to 86F+4F or about 90F.

Got that? Simple, huh? Well, it is with a little practice. [-mrl]

School Supplies (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Schools are not what they used to be. I don't mean just the obvious things (such as the fact that no one seems to be learning very much), but also that "free" education doesn't seem to be free anymore.

When I was in school in Illinois in the early 1960s, parents were required to rent or buy their children's textbooks. (Rental for a year was one-third the purchase price.) Even then, young as I was, this did not seem fair, although I imagine that there was some provision for subsidizing lower-income families.

But as far as general supplies, all a student needed to provide was a pencil (and later a pen), a ruler, and eventually paper or notebooks. Now, schools send out long lists of supplies that parents are expected to provide. For example, a list for public school second graders in a town in Ohio includes not just eight #2 pencils and a big eraser, but also a large pencil bag ("11- inch by 7-inch with zipper closure"). And each child needs to supply Elmer's white glue ("no washable, gel, or no-run"), four glue sticks, four dry erase markers, a package of fine point washable markers, a package of colored pencils, crayons ("box of 24"), and eight Crayola twistable crayons. (I don't even know what those are!) Then there are scissors, easy-zip Hefty bags, tissues, etc. When I was young all this stuff was provided by the school, but now each parents has to buy all this stuff--and notice that often specific brand names are given, making it hard to save money by buying generics. Is there some subsidy given to lower-income families for all this? I suspect not. (And they keep saying, "NO TRAPPER KEEPERS," in capital letters. What *is* a trapper keeper?)

Admittedly, by junior high the list shortens down to notebooks, folders, scientific calculator, and minimal art supplies. But the idea that every student has to supply his or her own glue, instead of the school supplying larger containers that are shared, seems like a step in the wrong direction. I realize that budgets are tight, but the notion that every student has to have a personal pair of scissors is a new one. (And given the weapons policies one is seeing, it is surprising that "pointed tip metal Fiskars scissors" are allowed, let alone required.) [-ecl]

[As the loyal opposition I will comment that most of these items are buy-once, and if the student is careful with them they can be used for years. If parents find they are buying the same supplies year after year, they are implicitly being informed that the child is not taking responsibility for his/her things. Kids frequently vandalize supplies provided by the school, but are less likely to do so with their own property. This system teaches responsibility. -mrl]

RATATOUILLE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: RATATOUILLE has an engaging enough premise, but does not really have a good story to tell. The first third of the film is much more engaging than the remainder. The furry rat who is the main character is expressive and winning, but the human characters do not give him much support and the story pulls in too many directions. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) was born with a taste for the finer things in life. He knows food and not only has a highly cultured palette; he has a supernatural talent for cooking French haute cuisine. You can just tell that Remy is headed for a lot of frustration since he is, after all, a rat, and kitchens are off limits to rats. Most people who see a rat in a kitchen immediately go after it with a cleaver or sometimes a shotgun. Remy's chances of ever getting to test his talents in a kitchen seem small, but hey, this is a cartoon. A chain of events chases Remy away from a farmhouse kitchen and washes him into a storm drain and out again. He finds himself in the center of Paris and at the very foundation of the restaurant founded by Remy's hero, the famous Chef Gusteau. But Remy still has to overcome the whole rat-in-a-kitchen problem. Luckily the garbage boy at Gusteau's discovers Remy. Linguini (Lou Romano) has been hired reluctantly by the tyrannical Chef Skinner (Ian Holm) on the specific proviso that Linguini never tries to cook. But Remy can cook using Linguini as his hands.

The story of RATATOUILLE is a good cut beneath previous Pixar/Disney animation films. It almost feels as though whenever writer/director Brad Bird could not figure out how to make the plot work, he added a contrivance or a coincidence to push the plot along. Remy idolizes Chef Gusteau and a flood and a storm drain contrive to deposit him in Paris exactly at the chef's restaurant. How can a rat silently direct Linguini's cooking? Well, it just turns out that Linguini has a peculiar muscular reflex that no other human has ever had, but it turns out to be just precisely what Remy needs to run the show. At various points various people know that Gusteau's restaurant has what appears to be a rat problem. Only one person does anything about it, and that is unrealistically insufficient. Yet Gusteau's Restaurant's fine reputation is never damaged. This is a film that has too many bad guys doing too many different things. The bad chef is victimizing Linguini while the bad critic is victimizing the restaurant. A villain is vanquished two-thirds the way into the film in what seems like a big climax, but he still hangs around threateningly without doing very much. There is a romance, but neither the boy nor the girl is particularly likable.

A film like this needs a nice well-defined plot. FINDING NEMO, a previous Pixar/Disney film, had a clear, clean plot. Nemo is taken and the film is about the how Nemo is rescued. RATATOUILLE does not have such a clear plot. Remy wants to cook and eat what he cooks. Linguini is not sure what he wants other than to hold onto his job and get the girl. Chef Skinner is nasty and may want to be rid of Linguini, but his chief goal does not clearly connect with the main characters. The villainous, egotistical critic just wants people to know where to get good food and is willing to be a little sarcastic along the way. That actually should help Linguini and Remy, not threaten them.

RATATOUILLE is funny and imaginative. I will not say the animation is great, not because it isn't, but because *every* Pixar film has great animation and breaks new ground. The visual element is very fine, but the script was frequently unsatisfying. On balance it is a good film and I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. As is becoming the custom with animated releases, RATATOUILLE comes packaged with a supporting cartoon. In this case it is "Lifted", in which an incompetent teenager- like alien tries to abduct a human with a levitation beam. It was funny enough, though younger children in the audience were asking why aliens would kidnap humans, and come to think of it so was I.

Film Credits:


HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Harry Potter returns in his most complex and political story, not to mention his darkest and least cute one. Harry, Hermione, and Ron have to fight a two-front war against a takeover of Hogwarts and the return of Voldemort. Davis Yates directs. The films get more intelligent and more adult as Harry also does. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

I suppose I should admit that I have a problem with the Harry Potter films. I have read only the first book and while I have seen each movie in the series, I have seen each only once. With each film the plot becomes more complex and there are more names to remember. A film should stand on its own, and the Potter films definitely do not, which does not mean that they do not make for an enjoyable watch. Enough of the plot is comprehensible with some reminders. And there is a constant array of visual surprises that keep the film engaging. The producers know the right way to use digital effects. Here there is an intriguing visual image; there there is an interesting allusion to Dr. Who. And not only does every major British actor since Joan Greenwood seem to show up at some point, so do all the favorite British TV series, a little Monty Python here, a little James Bond there.

As the film opens Harry (played by Daniel Radcliff) is again staying with the Dursleys, his wretched foster parents. An attack by some evil magical Whatsises forces Harry to use his magical powers in the real world. This is an unauthorized liberty and he is apparently expelled from Hogwarts. This turns out to be "expelled pending a hearing." And we are off and running. It seems the Ministry of Magic has it in for Dumbledore and for the students loyal to him, including Harry. And the conflict makes headlines over and over in the magic industry trade papers. (We see a lot of newspaper headlines this time.) A new teacher at Hogwarts is Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who is an agent for the now evil and bureaucratic Ministry of Magic. She rules Hogwarts with a large set of new draconian rules to further the ends of the Ministry, playing into the hands of Voldemort (a waste of the unrecognizable Ralph Fiennes).

If you are a newcomer to Harry Potter stories at this point you are totally lost, but this is not a film made to stand by itself. It is a chapter in a much longer story. The story over five films already and two more coming covers a long arc in the maturing of the wizard Harry Potter and his friends. They are played by actors who are unavoidably also maturing. The character of Harry is showing signs of romantic interests, and this film features no less than three young women who could become amorous interests and for the first time Harry seems to notice. He also may be discovering things about his parents he perhaps did not want to know.

The passing of time has other problems implicit. Daniel Radcliff was cute as a child but has matured into unexpected blandness. If he were starting acting at this age he might not have had the appeal to be chosen for the lead of a major film series. But, of course, he is now the Harry Potter everybody expects to see.

The plot seems to have political implication not just for Harry's two worlds but also for our world with the villains being a bureaucratic ruling force who use torture (I am told somewhat toned down from the book) to get their ends. The good guys form a secret insurgency. The government is doing everything it can to disarm the learning wizards and take away their spells because they never know where the secret group will strike. Make of that what you will.

But people come to the Potter films to be swept into the world of magic and every single Potter film is magical. Now they also seem to be getting more intelligent also. I rate HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. And for once there is not even a mention of Quidditch.

I will note that this was my first experience seeing a feature film in IMAX and also in seeing the new three-dimensional process. While I can appreciate films on small screens, I grew up in the time that filmmakers were anxious to exploit the sheer size of the image on the movie theater screen. Somehow seeing films on a really big screen seems like the right way to see them. I have to say I thought the film experience was more fun watching a really large image. I do not think that I rated the film any higher for seeing it on the IMAX screen, but it improved the experience.

As for the twenty-minute segment of spectacular battle in 3-D, it was a mixed blessing. Yes, the 3-D was a nice gimmick. It did not entirely work. One eye saw a ghost, so somehow it was not quite properly blocking the second image. The distraction of having to manage the glasses through much of the film was probably more effort than the twenty minutes were worth. The filmmakers seem to realize that they can sink the image into the screen and the 3-D works its best. It would be more dramatic to bring the image out of the screen and toward the viewer, but that is much harder to make work than sinking into the screen. Three- dimensional films rarely try to have more than one or two scenes in which objects come out of the screen and at the viewer.

IMAX is a good choice for 3-D viewing, since somehow any of the standard 3-D processes make the screen look smaller.

If you want to see this or any film in 3-D there is a trick that can allow you to do that. If you watch any film merely with one eye closed, the other eye will see the screen image to at least some degree as three-dimensional. In the absence of binocular vision your brain naturally translates an image we see into one with depth. This is particularly true for images not filmed with a deep focus lens and, I notice, for computer generated images. Seeing with two eyes gives the brain more data on depth and the image becomes two-dimensional.

Film Credits:


ROLLBACK by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor Books, 2007) (book review by Tom Russell):

This book was on the "New Arrivals" shelf at our town library. I picked it up as a vacation read; it's worth a recommendation. Part "hard science fiction" (which I prefer) and part fantasy (which is the fun way some hard science fiction stories end). The library's on-line catalog lists three "subject terms" for this book: (1) rejuvenation - fiction; (2) human-alien encounters - fiction; (3) ethics - fiction. (Pause ... Isn't "fiction" redundant?)

"Rollback" is a plausible-sounding, not-too-distant-future, fountain-of-youth medical procedure, one element of the story in ROLLBACK. The book's story parallels Carl Sagan's CONTACT initially (the leading SETI researcher is a woman), but then goes off in another direction (not another dimension...) after she is selected for the rollback procedure.

ROLLBACK includes the SETI researcher's (presumably Robert Sawyer's) opinion of CONTACT as a book and as a movie. Also her/his commentaries on SETI, medical ethics and other matters. Interesting. [-tlr]

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Jason Bourne is hot on the trail of the people who know why he was made a deadly assassin. There are a few cracks in the wall of his amnesia and he is starting to see the picture beyond. The last of Bourne trilogy of films should have been the most satisfying of the three with the loose ends tied up and the CIA closing in. Will it be BOURNE DEAD or BOURNE FREE? But this film is less interested in good plot than it is in having long, drawn-out action chases of which there are entirely too many. Bourne's powers of reasoning and prediction are a little too magical to make for good dramatic tension. By not having a satisfying closure on the series, the entire trilogy suffers. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Played by Matt Damon, who no longer looks too young for the role, Jason Bourne is back. He is again trying to piece together who he is and what his background has to do with the CIA whom he now knows to be his real enemies. English reporter Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) seems to have found out what the whole carnival is about. Ross has found from other sources what was the operation that Bourne was involved with and why the killer that Bourne is was created. This is information the CIA desperately wants to suppress and which Bourne is even more desperate to get. CIA high operative Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) will kill to keep Ross's information from becoming public. Vosen wants to kill Ross and, of course, Bourne. The running assassin picks up a sidekick in Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). And sympathetic opponent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) returns from THE BOURNE SUPREMACY.

It is not very hard to write a Jason Bourne chase. Bourne just starts things rolling by doing something provocative. The CIA people run around doing all the logical things to try to catch him. But wherever one of these guys goes, there is Bourne to bash him on the head or knock him down. This is because Bourne is such a brilliant and formidable enemy he knows exactly what his enemies will be doing and even what path they will be walking. Bourne just cannot lose a fight. He is too well trained for that. With a few clues he can jump to all the right conclusions. If you tell him something in code he immediately knows the code and understands you. In the course of this film Bourne is hit by a nearby bomb explosion, in a car crash, and has a multitude of other mishaps which should at the very least put him in a hospital. You or I would be headed for the Emergency Room. James Bond would just pick himself up and dust himself off. Bourne is a little more realistic than Bond, but not much. Bourne is so well trained that he can just limp off. Five minutes later he has lost his limp and ten minutes later he is jumping between buildings. But that is just how a Bourne action chase goes. And THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is just one extended action chase after another. Bourne only stops to flit between countries. You or I would have problems with security, but did I tell you Bourne was well trained?

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is notable for tying up the Bourne trilogy. The missing threads are tied up in exactly the knot that everyone was expecting. Except for his amnesia, Bourne's origin is not a whole lot differerent from that of the hero of another series of action books (which shall remain nameless here).

Then there is the issue of title. THE BOURNE IDENTITY really was about the Bourne Identity. THE BOURNE SUPREMACY's title may just refer to the fact that Bourne is very good at what he does, so he does maintain a sort of supremacy. There is no ultimatum and no evidence in the film where the title comes from. Perhaps the book THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM was about an ultimatum that did not make it to the film script.

Where is this a good script? Well, when we are allowed to see Bourne's reasoning and his machinations, some of them are actually very clever. Sadly, we too rarely let into Bourne's confidence. We just see what he has done and it looks like his reasoning was probably brilliant or perhaps occult. But there is entirely too much jumping between buildings and smashing cars together and all the other cliched scenes of action films. The final Bourne film suffers from an excess of action and a shortage of plot. I rate it a highly dissatisfied high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:


Chili Peppers (letters of comment by Steve Goldsmith, David Goldfarb, and Budd Benner):

We got several letters in response to Mark's two-part article on chili peppers in the 07/06/07 and 07/13/07 issues of the MT VOID.

Steve Goldsmith writes to let us know that there is an article in the May 2007 edition of "National Geographic" describing the Dorset naga pepper, rated at 923,000 Scoville units. (A jalapeno is 5,500; a Scotch bonnet is 75,5000.) See for details.

[Mark notes, "The Scotch Bonnet is my limit. Anything beyond that is more the subject of horror stories. Thanks for the page. -mrl]

David Goldfarb writes, "From what I've read, capsaicin is intended to keep *animals* (perhaps specifically mammals) from eating the peppers. Like all fruiting plants, pepper plants get mobile creatures to spread their seeds by bribing them with nourishment. Birds, being more mobile than land creatures, are better at spreading seeds. So the pepper plants "prefer" to be eaten by the birds; they have come to produce a substance that animals don't like but that doesn't affect birds." [-dg]

[Well, some animals don't like it. Some humans do and birds apparently don't taste it. -mrl]

David continues, "You seem to be arguing that this strategy has failed when it comes to humans, because humans eat the peppers. But then again, humans are even better at spreading seeds than birds are. Hot pepper plants are now grown all over the world. Surely that isn't failure at all, but spectacular success!" [-dg]

[Like the legendary Phoenix, peppers' death is part of the rebirth process. (Do I hear strains of Wagner's "Liebestod"?) I would think that a better strategy would be to be liked by a broader scale of animals--like apples are. I would think the adding of humans to the system is too recent to have had much affect on the plants' natural genetic "behavior". Of course these days the plants that have a nice my-mouth-and-throat-are- on-fire, please-kill-me-now effect will be cultivated for gustatory sado-masochistic purposes. So the plant will survive, even if my marriage won't if I again say "spicy" when ordering Thai food. -mrl]

And Budd Benner says, "You might want to rephrase what you said about eating hot peppers and never having an ulcer unless you want to pay my $22,000 hospital bill. I use to eat jalapeno peppers, and I don't anymore. About half my blood went into my stomach, [and] I was almost dead, so peppers will not stop an ulcer even if they didn't cause it." [-bb]

Mark replies, "I assume you are talking about the following quote. Nobody would say it prevents ulcers altogether. It improves your odds against getting an ulcer.

As I explained last week most drugs generally are not really good to become addicted to. Capsaicin was thought to cause stomach ulcers, for example. Certainly people who had stomach ulcers had a lot of pain when they ate spicy foods and put irritants into their stomachs. And yes, putting an irritant on anything as pain sensitive as an ulcer is going to hurt. The conclusion that somebody drew was that the irritant had actually caused the ulcer in the first place. Nope. We now know that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori cause most stomach ulcers. There are various substances you can put in your diet to inhibit the Helicobacter pylori. One of the best is . . . capsaicin. If you eat a lot of hot food, you are actually less likely to develop ulcers. In fact it has been at least twenty years since I have seen anyone with any medical background who had a bad word to say about eating hot peppers.

I have known another hot food fan who ended up with an ulcer. Capsaicin is not a guarantee against getting ulcers. It has been shown to inhibit the pylori. In your case it probably did not inhibit it as much as was needed. Once you have the ulcer, it is painful to eat hot foods, so they are not recommended.

Capsaicin was not the cause of your ulcer; it was an ally in unsuccessful efforts to prevent it." [-mrl]

MT VOID, Cereal Premiums, and Chili Peppers (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to the 07/13/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

When I saw this issue's number it hit me that you two would pub your 1500th issue at the end of next June. What a remarkable achievement! [-jp]

[I guess that is true. Thank you very much. -mrl]

Did you ever think that your little fmz would ever last so long? [-jp]

[Not to add a political point but it shows what happens when you start something without having an exit strategy. For me it has sort of taken the place of me having a diary. -mrl]

Even without doing any research, I would think that this is some kind of fan publishing record already. Words fail me. [-jp]

[I have not given it a lot of thought. When I think of how long we have been doing it I am surprised, but it is just part of our normal routine. -mrl]

"Free Inside" was fun, and had me scurrying to the breakfast cupboard to see if any of our cereal boxes offered any free gifts inside. Nope. None of them do. There was a lot of reading material on the back of each of them, however. The All-Bran and Cheerios boxes had lots of nutrition information, while the Kroger brand Frosted Wheat Puffs has an "American heroes word search" game on the back, complete with one paragraph summaries of each hero's name embedded in the search box. There's enough reading material there to get you through two bowls of cereal. At least kids would learn some American history in the process. They have to learn it somewhere. [-jp]

[For the most part it was considered not profitable. The supersize boxes you find at warehouse stores still occasionally have special premiums or did so more recently. Not too long ago General Mills had G-rated movies on special DVDs included in the package. I know that was how I saw BUDDY and THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN. The also did some 1960s television situation comedies that way. -mrl]

The lack of free gifts inside cereal boxes nowadays is probably the result of a shift in marketing focus, especially considering what the modern stone-aged kid is most interested in. I have noticed that lots of cereal boxes now have secret codes printed on the inside of the box that you have to enter at a website listed on the back of the box; once that's accomplished, then you're entered into a drawing for tickets to Schlitterbahn water park or Six Flags, or something like that.

It is also much cheaper to print messages like this than to make toys to shove into each box. I remember when Cap'n Crunch was brand new, and a teensy-tiny plastic captain's telescope was the free gift. That was cool. Apparently these "free gift inside" days are gone, but not forgotten.

[They also had the now infamous Bos'n's Whistle whose tone turned out to be just the right frequency to fool the phone system and get free long distance calls. -mrl]

Your commentary about chili peppers got me to remembering something else buried deep in my past. I love peppers, too, especially bell peppers--both green and red--and jalapeno; we used to grow a small variety of peppers in our garden when we lived in Iowa. But I remember that my mom, God rest her soul, used to make fried green pepper sandwiches. You might wrinkle your nose at that concept, but they were actually pretty good. [-jp]

[No, I wouldn't. It is not all that different from a Chili Relleno, particularly if you melt some cheese. I was a very picky eater when I was young, but these days I want to try anything recommended to me. The shift from picky-eater to omnivore came about naturally, but I am afraid that my mother interpreted it as a comment on her cooking, which it certainly was not. In Asian restaurants I delight in ordering items that they do not bother to translate to English because they think Americans wouldn't like them. -mrl]

The main drawback of them was that their sharp aroma would linger throughout the house for days. When I think of mom standing in the kitchen, slicing and cooking two whole green peppers with a bit of onion for what seemed like hours, I can still smell the aroma. I told you the smell lingered for awhile!

Many thanks for the zine and the trips down memory lane and the SF Museum (great stuff, Evelyn! I gotta see that place). I will chat with you two later. [-jp]

[Well thanks again for writing. And for the kind words which really do fuel the VOID. -mrl]

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

I re-read WONDERFUL LIFE by Stephen Jay Gould (ISBN-10 0-393-30700-X, ISBN-13 978-0-393-30700-9) as part of our recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, which included Yoho National Park, home of the Burgess Shale. (We got to see the area, but only from a few miles away, from across a lake several thousand feet below.) One reason that Gould is so readable is that he is not a narrowly focused scientist. He can write about the translation of Milton's PARADISE LOST for a German opera, and use the poetry of the Bible to illustrate a point: "The sources of [evolutionary] victory are as varied and mysterious as ... the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid." [Proverbs 30:19; WONDERFUL LIFE, page 236]

The Royal Tyrrell Museum (of Paleontology) had the usual display on the descent of the horse from Hyracotherium (Eocene), Mesohippus (Oligocene), Merychippus (Miocene/Pliocene), and finally Equus (Pliocene/Holocene). Gould talks about how this is a rather poor example of evolution, since it implies to many people a directed progression, rather than (for example) the diversification of Darwin's finches. Gould sees the single descendent of the Hyracotherium as an example of failure, not success.

Gould also talks about how Charles Doolittle Walcott (the discoverer of the Burgess Shale) attempted to "shoehorn" the creatures of the Burgess Shale into existing groups of arthropods. While Gould says it is in part the difficulty of looking at things in a new way, there was a more basic philosophical reason. Walcott said, "It is a sublime conception of God which is furnished by science, and one wholly consonant with the highest ideals of religion, when it represents Him as revealing Himself through countless ages in the development as an abode for man and in the age-long inbreathing of life into its constituent matter, culminating in man with his spiritual nature and all his God-like power." Gould then says, "If the history of life shows God's direct benevolence in its ordered march to human consciousness, then decimation by lottery, with a hundred thousand possible outcomes (and so very few leading to any species with self-conscious intelligence), cannot be an option for the fossil record. The creatures of the Burgess Shale must be primitive ancestors to an improved set of descendants." But why? Walcott was willing to accept that Tyrannosaurus rex existed, yet T. rex left no improved set of descendants (that we know of).

I also re-read parts of WANDERING LANDS AND ANIMALS: THE STORY OF CONTINENTAL DRIFT AND ANIMAL POPULATIONS (ISBN-10 0-486-24918-2, ISBN-13 978-0-486-24918-6) by Edwin H. Colbert. He talks about the fauna of isolated islands, and says (on page 255) that the native fauna of Australia consists of "marsupials, of some monotremes, and of such placental mammals as rodents, bats, and the dingo." If the native fauna of Australia includes the dingo, and "it is obvious that the dingo was brought to the continent by aboriginal immigrants," then doesn't that make the aboriginal immigrants part of the native fauna, and in particular a native placental mammal along with rodents and bats?

One might also note that the "tradition" of a North American invasion into South America which drives many species to extinction is not a twentieth century phenomenon. During the Pliocene (a million years ago or so), the Panama land bridge was re-established between North America and the previously isolated South America, and the fauna of the latter --marsupial borhyaenids, litopterns, notoungulates, ground sloths, and glyptodonts--were decimated by the invading species.

Also s part of our recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, we listened to "Books That Made History; Books That Can Change Your Life", an audiocourse from The Teaching Company (a.k.a. Great Courses). While looking at great works and how they addressed the themes of God, life, and so on was thought-provoking, I have several problems with this particular course. The lecturer, Professor J. Rufus Fears, is quite irritating at times. First of all, he has a definite Christian agenda and tries to shoe-horn works like "The Iliad" into delivering a basically Christian message, or at least supporting Christian ideals.

Fears also makes annoying slips that did not get corrected, such as saying Desdemona is a senator's wife (rather than a senator's daughter), or that Athena is Kronos's daughter (rather than Zeus's), or that the main character of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is the prototype for its author, Erich Maria Remarque. In his lecture on the Oresteia, he pronounces "Oresteia" as if it were spelled "Orestaia", and "Orestes" as if it were spelled "Oriestes". He also keeps prefixing the definite article to titles. "The Oresteia" is fine, but "The Othello" or "The Prometheus Bound"? And he attempts to quote from the works, but without notes, because he gets some very famous lines wrong.

And lastly, Fears is self-contradictory. He sees Biblical connections everywhere they are convenient, and ignores them otherwise, no matter how obvious they are. In "The Oresteia" he talks about how Agamemnon was told by the gods (whom Fears often refers to as "God" in other lectures) to sacrifice his daughter before sailing to Troy. Fears makes a big point of how Agamemnon did not have to do this; he could have said, "No, this is an immoral act and I will not do it." But he never draws any connection between this and the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, perhaps because it would put Abraham in the wrong. He does something similar later with Pericles, Lincoln, and Remarque: after talking about how Pericles and Lincoln both promote what appears to Fears to be the important virtue of the nobility of dying for one's country to defend its way of life, he then praises Remarque for pointing out that sometimes it is not a virtue. (And he does not even address that the Nazis, whom he is often holding up as bad examples, also were dying for their country to defend its way of life. Should that be considered noble and good?) Fears gives the dichotomy of those who respond to their country's call and those who say, "War is bad; I am a pacifist." He does not acknowledge a third response: "Some wars are just, but this one is not." This ties in with his binary notion that there is such a thing as absolute good and absolute evil. (In fairness, in a later lecture he does talk about just and unjust wars, so perhaps he is just being an agent provocateur at times, but it is quite annoying.)

(He also claims that Lincoln's goal from the beginning was to end slavery. This can best be described as a load of hooey. Lincoln's goal was to preserve the Union.)

And one more minor quibble: Fears keeps referring to previous courses he has done, assuming everyone has heard those as well. ("As we saw in our previous course on the famous Romans, ....")

Mark is even more annoyed at Fears than I am, I think, but it did give us something to discuss as we drove.

[Actually I have mellowed a bit. I think he might be presenting obviously contradictory viewpoints to act as a Devil's Advocate. -mrl]

I recently watched the BBC "Mystery!" adaptations of Agatha Christie's NEMESIS and AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL, both of which bore astonishing little resemblance to the novel. Oh, Miss Marple was actually in the two novels. (Don't laugh--the "Mystery!" adaptation of BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS added Miss Marple to a story that did not originally have her in it.) But in NEMESIS, hardly anyone else in the production is from the novel, the situation is greatly changed, ... even the size of the legacy has shrunk considerably. In fact, the only things retained are the motive (although somewhat modified) and the name of the killer. In AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL, whole subplots have been removed and new ones added, innocent characters changed to criminals, and so on. When "Mystery!" started adapting classic works, they seemed to feel some responsibility to stick to the original work, but that seems to be a thing of the past. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. 
           The only completely consistent people are dead.
                                          -- Aldous Huxley

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