MT VOID 06/12/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 50, Whole Number 1549

MT VOID 06/12/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 50, Whole Number 1549

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/12/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 50, Whole Number 1549

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

Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. For the man who is solid muscle from the neck up. [-mrl]

Is This the Future of Pioneering? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Newsweek ran an article about the cutting edge things that Suzanne Somers is claiming to be able to do. Her forum is the Oprah Winfrey show.

"Wish Away Cancer! Get A Lunchtime Face-Lift! Eradicate Autism! Turn Back The Clock! Thin Your Thighs! Cure Menopause! Harness Positive Energy! Erase Wrinkles! Banish Obesity! Live Your Best Life Ever!" That is Newsweek's summary. As Winfrey says, "Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo, but she just might be a pioneer."

I'm sorry. This is just not my concept of what it means to be a pioneer. Mind you I might be impressed if she really could "wish away cancer." I suspect she just "wishes cancer away." And I suspect she does not get that wish. I would be interested if she could turn back the clock. But it would be more interesting if the people accomplishing it were reporting not on Oprah but from the Large Hadron Collider. [-mrl]

Trivia Question on Sports Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

What sports film made in the 20th century won its director a Best Director Academy Award?

Answer in next week's MT VOID together with a list of people who emailed me the correct answer. [-mrl]

The New Jersey State Chili & Salsa Cook-Off (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

"Wish I had time for just one more bowl of chili." --Supposedly the last words of Kit Carson. He ran out of time.

Jesse James is said to have refused to rob a bank in McKinney, Texas, because that town was the home of his favorite chili restaurant. Mr. Howard still shot him.

"The food's brown, hot, and plenty of it." --Cookie from the film CITY SLICKERS. What more can you ask?

Continuing a tradition of several years, on May 30th of this year I attended the New Jersey State Chili & Salsa Cook-Off. This is an annual event held late in May on Washington Street in Tom's River, New Jersey.

There is something about chili that does not seem true of any other food. Chili is not just another stew or a soup. There seems to be something special about it. People seem to have special feelings about a bowl of sometimes meat, sometimes beans, and sometimes fire. For some people making the best bowl of chili is a mark of pride in a way that making, say, a really good Tuna Noodle Casserole is not. For one thing, women probably do most of the cooking in our society. Perhaps women make even most of the chili. But women seem to be interlopers both cooking and eating it. Chili somehow seems to have become a man's food. Chili cooking competitions seem to attract more men than women by a noticeably high factor. There are no competitions for Tuna Noodle Casserole that I know of. But people do compete for the best chili. You would think that the place for a chili competition would be Texas, but something that tempting is hard to keep down in one state. The New Jersey competition seems to bring out the Texan in people from places like Connecticut and New Hampshire. They come to compete at making the manliest dish of chili.

So what happens at a chili cook-off? Well, when you first arrive it looks almost like a street fair. There are people selling Italian sausage, funnel cake, Italian ice, fresh lemonade, and telephone minutes. And that is all it really is until you pay your admission. The price used to be a lot less, but for seven dollars you get a little 4-ounce Styrofoam cup, a spoon, a napkin, a voting token for chili, a voting token for salsa, and a schedule of events you will probably not go to. No, if you pay your seven dollars it is because you want to go around and do a mess of chili tasting. And mess may be an appropriate word.

The streets are absolutely packed and in a sort of leaden chaos. Over it all you hear either terribly amplified rock music or perhaps a Mariachi band that doesn't use amplifiers at all. (Guess which one gets drowned out.) Some people bring their dogs on leashes. The dogs watch the people mournfully and try to think how they might get a taste of chili for themselves. To a dog, any chili is a winner.

Along the sides of the street queues have formed where you will wait anything from twenty seconds to ten minutes to get to the front of the line. You find your way to the poorly defined end of such a line. The line moves slowly and people in the line don't always pay attention when the line moves. This means people are cutting in ahead of you. But you try to stay mellow. In one case after waiting ten minutes in line the pot ran out just ahead of us. Well, there is always another pot after a few more minutes in line. But finally your turn comes and a man with a pot and a ladle is gives you small scoops of chili dropped in your cup. If now or later you decide this is the Right Chili you drop your voting token in the collecting can next to the pot of chili. The winner of the cook-off is whoever has the most voting tokens.

You don't know what to expect when you get a scoop of chili. Some cooks put beans in their chili, some put in mostly meat. The meat can be in little pieces well distributed like a spaghetti sauce bolognaise or it can be in meatballs or just in shreds. For some chilis the sauce is fiery, for some it is sweet. One or two give you the choice if you want medium or spicy. One had a sweet sauce that tasted and seemed to be extended with Heinz Vegetarian Beans. There is no formula for what the best chili would be like. Whatever works, works. What doesn't work doesn't work. You try to remember where were the chilis you liked best. There are not even numbers on the chili stations to help you remember. It is just hoped that the chili made enough of an impression so you remember where you got it. Now, you can have dozens of samples of chili. It may not look like you get very much from each contestant, but it adds up. I found that there were several chilis that I did not sample just because it was too filling to try them all. This is unfair to the cooks who will never get a chance for you to vote for them. But I guess that is just the breaks of the game. In any case in my experience most people vote for one of the first five chilis they sample. After that your mouth is really not fresh enough to tell the difference between a good chili and a great one. Eventually you may not even want to put that next chili in your mouth. I don't remember there being so many chilis previous years, but then I don't remember the admission price being $7 previous years either.

As the day wears on the lines become longer until they merge into one long line. You just slowly move forward and when you pass a chili server you hold out your cup. Some of the servers are under tent-like pavilions. Some are standing out in the 87-degree heat, but then so are the people waiting for their chili. The walk itself must be about a mile of Washington Street and there are servers on two short side streets also.

I have not even mentioned the salsa. Many of the tents have a pile of corn tortilla chips and bowls of competing salsas. There is less variation in these. Most are tomato-based. Some have fruit like mango. But the salsa competition is much lower-key. It works the same way as the chili competition but does not create the same frenzy.

After an hour or so of standing and sampling I could do either no more. There was no chili that stood out in my memory enough for me to vote for it. I forfeited my franchise. Evelyn did remember one chili she especially liked. Of course, it was one of the first few she sampled. After that we beat a retreat to our car and shared a bottle of water washing down the flavor of what must be forty or so different chilis. [-mrl]

DRAG ME TO HELL (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A bank loan officer refuses a loan extension to a woman of Gypsy origin. In return, the officer is cursed. The effects of the curse are horrifying and frequently revolting. Were this a new story written by Sam Raimi and his elder brother Ivan it would have been a better piece of horror. The effects and the action are all Raimi, but the story is cobbled together from familiar pieces. Largely this is a high-octane version of M. R. James's "Casting the Runes" with equal parts of shock and humor. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Sam Raimi made a name for himself with his "Evil Dead" films, one of the rare trilogies in which the second film is probably the best. However, his style was mostly to put people in a cabin and then to drop the contents of Hell's cutlery drawer on their heads. There was little time for Raimi to provide for plot or characterization. Since that time Raimi has graduated to films with more plot and characters. A SIMPLE PLAN had plenty of both, though Raimi got them from the novel that film was based on. With DRAG ME TO HELL Raimi had a chance to combine plot and characters with sequences of his slam-bang horror style. This meant, however, that he had to create "his own" story to surround and show off his horror segments. I put "his own" in quotes because he borrowed heavily from existing stories that were not his own. Much of DRAG ME TO HELL is borrowed from the once nearly-forgotten classic horror film NIGHT OF THE DEMON (in the United States it is CURSE OF THE DEMON), a somewhat free adaptation of M. R. James's story "Casting the Runes". To add spice he adds Gypsy Curse horror borrowed possibly from Stephen King's novel THINNER and Tom Holland's screen adaptation. There is also a nice little homage to ERASERHEAD. To be fair, not every good horror film ever made is startlingly original. Atmosphere, style, and production design count for a lot, and the familiarity of aspects of DRAG ME TO HELL is a disappointment, not a fatal flaw.

A prolog establishes that the fictional Gypsies have dangerous supernatural powers and throws in an impressive horror effects scene. Then we get to the main line of the story. Bank loan officer Christine Brown (played by Allison Lohman) is in a desperate competition with Stu Rubin (Reggie Lee) for the position of assistant manager of the loan department. Rubin plays less than fairly and the manager, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) suggests to Christine that she be a little more forceful and less forgiving with people who are late on their loans. (Bank officials who foreclose seem very timely villains.) The Gypsy Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) who has missed two mortgage payments is her first opportunity. Christine refuses another extension to the woman. Even when the old woman gets on her knees and begs Christine for an extension, kissing Christine's skirt, Christine is forced to refuse. When Christine remains firm Mrs. Ganush tells her in rage, "You shamed me." This incident is far from over. Christine is about to face the full force of Gypsy vengeance magic.

It should be noted that while the film as a lot of visual horror, it is not the kind that requires an R-rating. This is PG-13 horror. One scene does have blood, but these are not the razor blade, knife, and needle sorts of scares--such a mainstay of insipid modern horror films. The scary scenes are every bit as intense, but it is more icky goo all over everything and "Oooo, what's that in her mouth?" sort of shock. Nothing has a sharp edge including the wit or the scares. But the visual images do come literally fast and furious.

What is nice about this film is it is different from most of the horror films being made currently. What is disappointing is that it is not enough different from some of the classics of the horror genre. I rate DRAG ME TO HELL a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

It is one thing to use vampires or flesh-eating zombies for horror. But isn't it about time we got past using members of persecuted minorities like Gypsies as horror icons? I am sure that Raimi would not make a film suggesting Jews or Presbyterians have evil mystical powers. Why pick on Gypsies? Elsewhere Raimi does play with our ethnic expectations. Christine's competitor for the promotion is Stu Rubin, a Jewish-sounding name, but he is played by a Filipino.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


RIP! A REMIX MANIFESTO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is an 86-minute documentary protesting our current very restrictive copyright laws. Canadian Brett Gaylor writes and directs this film documentary looking at the act of creating popular music by mashup--taking samples from many works of art-- some copyrighted--and recombining them. The film explores the question of music, movies, stories, etc., being sampled and becoming a part of a new piece of art. The issues are complex and the approaches to the solution are even more so. This film makes it hard to agree with either side. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

[This is a documentary on a controversial issue. I will try to review the film as objectively as I can. Also I will interpret the film, but none of what I say will have any legal merit. If you want to copy, remix, or remash, any pre-existing work of art you should probably talk to a lawyer first. I'm a film reviewer, not a lawyer.]

We have to start with some basic definitions.

Intellectual property: Anything created using the intellect. This includes ideas, melodies, or mechanical devices.

Copyright: The right to copy and use a piece of intellectual property. Copyright is a commodity that can be bought, rented, or borrowed. It can also be illegally usurped.

Public Domain: The set of all intellectual property that is not controlled by copyright.

Mix-Ups: A new pieces of art made from sampled bits of old pieces of art. Sometimes there are thousands of sampled pieces in a new mix-up.

Mash-Up: A new piece of art made in part or in whole from ideas of old pieces of art.

Re-mix: A new piece of art made in part or in whole from old pieces of art.

The latter three definitions are different but closely related concepts. People are currently taking bits from pre-existing material and mixing them and electronically altering them so they may be unrecognizable and combining them to make new music. The problem is that what is being sampled is copyright material. The copyright owners are complaining that this is a form of infringement. Given the degree of modification one might ask why not start with public domain sounds? Unfortunately writer/director Brett Gaylor never examines this possibility. Gaylor is an admitted fan of re-mix artist, a male who goes by the name Girl Talk but whose real name is Gregg Gilles.

RIP! A REMIX MANIFESTO tells the history of copyright law, which has been extended and made more monstrous over time. Current copyright laws say that a work of art does not fall into public domain until seventy years after the original artist is dead. Due to intricacies of the law, some characters apparently do not fall into public domain even though the copyright has long run out on the initial works creating the character. Tarzan and Mickey Mouse are prime examples. The Disney Corporation has been particularly aggressive and egregious in fighting to extend copyrights on its intellectual property.

Gaylor brings in expert testimony from Stanford professor and political activist Larry Lessig and from science fiction writer Cory Doctorow. Still, all to often as a viewer I wanted to stop the proceedings and argue with the screen, as there were obvious problems with the case being made. It is suggested that the copyright laws should be eased because "everybody" infringes on copyright, and making plagiarism illegal will only create a generation of lawbreakers. But even Gaylor admits that the copyright law is there to protect artists. While he argues that all art should be legal to copy, he does not look at the effects of such a decision. Gaylor takes a first step by saying his own film is copyright free and he invites people to copy it. It is, however, not clear there is much in the film that would be of value for others to take. But in addition, it is not clear that even his film is really as free from copyright as he claims. [See the note at the end of the review.]

Watching this documentary can be a little too much like trying to read "Wired" magazine. The format is supposed to be hip but very much gets in the way of understanding the case being made. And the case being made seems ill considered. The film raises good questions, but does not answer them. Gaylor intentionally makes a good case that there are serious flaws with current United States Copyright law and unintentionally makes just as good a case that he and his buddies are not the ones to straighten it out. I rate this film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. RIP! A REMIX MANIFESTO will be released to DVD on June 30, 2009.

Note: It should be noted that while the film itself labels itself in the credits a "Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike"--I think that is a noun phrase--and suggests a desperately needed web site to visit for an explanation. The web site says, "Page not found; The page you are trying to reach is nowhere to be found. Someone on the staff is to blame for this! Rest assured, the proper person will get the proper amount of blame and humiliation dealt to them." That page also seems to have links to remixes. The DVD package labeling has signs saying it is a "Creative Commons"--probably a noun phrase--rather than being copyright material. However, the DVD case also contains labeling for a 2009 copyright for SteelEyeFilm and for the National Film Board of Canada. In plain, simple English this all means that you can reproduce the film, remix it, and/or remash it, as Brett Gaylor suggests you can do in the text of the film, or perhaps you can't. Specifically the creative commons rights given to you shows up in the case labeling symbology as "BY" with a men's room symbol and "ND" with an equals sign. However, the initials DRM show up in a circle with a slash through it, meaning that DRM, which may or may not mean "Digital Rights Management" is not allowed. But you do not have a right to copy the material because even though Brett Gaylor grants you that right in the text of the film, people other than him hold a copyright on the film, among others the National Film Board of Canada who are, of course, an arm of the Canadian Government. The above is purely interpretive on my part and is in no way legally binding. In the words of Lou Costello, "I don't even know what I'm talking about." Before sampling, re-mixing, or re-mashing any of this the material in the film, legal counsel is strongly recommended.

Film Credits:


Sequences (letters of comment by Joe Presley and Andre Kuzniarek):

In response to Mark's comments on mathematics in the 06/05/09 issue of the MT VOID, Joe Presley writes:

The Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences is an interesting site. There's more here: [-jp]

Mark replies:

Way back I found in the Bell Labs library a book called A HANDBOOK OF INTEGER SEQUENCES by N. J. A. Sloane. I became fascinated and bought myself a copy. I sent Sloane a sequence I had (re)discovered but was not in the book. He wrote back saying it was in a later edition. The book really is just a sorted list of sequences that start with a(1)=1. They are sorted in lexocographic order. I take it that that book was the basis for the web site, which I have run into before. I take it from the URL that Sloane is currently at ATT Labs.

I gave some thought to creating A HANDBOOK OF IRRATIONAL NUMBERS. You could take all mathematical expressions that syntax and are of less than a certain complexity, evaluate them, and sort them by the fractional part. So if you got 5.14575131 on your calculator it would tell you that .14575131 is (about) sqrt(7)-2.5. From there you could see that 5.14575131 is close to 2.5+sqrt(7). This would help you with activities like doing calculus on a simple calculator. [-mrl]

Joe responds:

Yes, great stuff. Interesting idea on the HANDBOOK OF IRRATIONAL NUMBERS, but isn't that already the Federal Budget? A handbook of Interesting Numbers may already be out there--obvious choices such as 0, 1, 2, e, pi, i, phi, etc.--which brings up the question--are there any uninteresting numbers? Any list of uninteresting numbers would have a smallest, so that becomes interesting, so by recursive exhaustion, every number is interesting--but that would be a boring concept. [-jp]

And Mark answers:

Well, of course there is the old chestnut that all natural numbers are interesting since if there were uninteresting natural numbers there would be a smallest, and as the smallest uninteresting number it would automatically be an interesting number. But that is a contradiction so there are no uninteresting natural numbers. The same proof can be extended to any countable set, the largest of which I know is the set of lengths you can construct with a compass and straight edge.

You are wrong about any list of uninteresting numbers would have a smallest. Consider the reciprocals of the natural numbers: 1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, ... This is a listable set with no smallest member. If you restrict yourself to natural numbers what you said is true. [-mrl]

And Andre Kuzniarek writes:

You've probably heard about my company's latest release, Wolfram|Alpha, and it's fun to see how it responds to your series. Just copy and paste the series into

Strangely, the series continuation it offers is in formula form, instead of just the next number, so I will mention that to the team. But you can click on the formula and select the Mathematica input version, and evaluate it using N to get the numerical form:

In[2]:= N@{(-3 (2 - Sqrt[3]) - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3]) - 3 (2 +  
      Sqrt[3]) + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3]))/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])2 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])2 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])2 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])2)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])3 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])3 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])3 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])3)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])4 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])4 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])4 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])4)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])5 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])5 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])5 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])5)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])6 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])6 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])6 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])6)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])7 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])7 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])7 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])7)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])8 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])8 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])8 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])8)/
   6, (-3 (2 - Sqrt[3])9 - 2 Sqrt[3] (2 - Sqrt[3])9 - 3 (2 + 
      Sqrt[3])9 + 2 Sqrt[3] (2 + Sqrt[3])9)/6}

Out[2]= {-1.85037*10-16, 1., 4., 15., 56., 209., 780., 2911., 10864.}

Mathematica is of course a pricey app for experimenting with this, but you can get the Home Edition now for around $300. We figured Wolfram|Alpha might inspire a lot of people to go farther, and seems to be the case. [-ak]

And Mark adds, "If you look hard enough it does answer the original question. The number 780 appears." [-mrl]

Age (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):

In response to Mark's comments on age in the 05/29/09 issue of the MT VOID, and Dan's letter in the 06/05/09 issue, Jerry Ryan writes, "As far as age is concerned, I have taken the privilege of a software developer and have begun quoting my age in hexadecimal instead of in decimal. 30 sounds *much* better than 48, though other more cruel friends commented that I should be forced to quote it in octal instead. Damn them." [-gwr]

[Tell them your age is the atomic number of cadmium. -mrl]

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

I recently picked up THE LAST COW ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN & OTHER LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT THE PRESIDENCY by Barbara Seuling. This was written in 1978, and falls into a category of books that might be thought of as "disposable," not because they are bad, but because they are transient, in the way an almanac is.

For example:

On the other hand, it is still true that no President has been born on the third of a month, and no president was an only child (though Franklin Roosevelt, Ford, and Clinton had no full siblings). And Obama has a number of firsts: first black President, first President whose name ends in a non-silent vowel other than 'y', first President born in Hawaii. He's also one of only three Presidents whose name starts with a vowel.

It is clear that some "little-known facts" are more permanent than others. Being the first at something is permanent, and some "last"s are (e.g., the last President who became President because he became an American citizen when the United States was created). But any book that had things like "the only Presidents to live to be 90," when life expectancies are growing each year, is destined to become outdate fairly soon.

"When a people [are blocked from creating their own homeland, and] find themselves persecuted by aliens under legal forms, they will invent some means outside the law for protecting themselves; and such experiences will inevitably result in a weakening of respect for law and in a return to more primitive methods of justice." The goal, apparently was to "frighten the [aliens] into better conduct" and to aid the leaders of the people "to regain control of society."

Sounds like the Middle East, doesn't it?

Walter Lynwood Fleming is apparently considered to be a balanced historian when it comes to describing Reconstruction. Yet he was able to write the above in THE SEQUEL OF APPOMATTOX (1919) (no ISBN), along with a lot more that portrays the North as almost entirely in the wrong, the South almost entirely in the right, and the Ku Klux Klan just another social club that occasionally played on the "superstitious fears of the negro" to maintain order. Yes, it is depressing to read about the Northern Radicals, but it is also depressing to read about how caring the former slave-owners were of their former slaves, how much the former slaves loved their old masters, how if the North had just left the South alone everything would have been peachy, and how much all these attitudes and more were still perfectly acceptable fifty years after the Civil War. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, 
           but a little want of knowledge is also 
           a dangerous thing.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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