MT VOID 12/17/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 25, Whole Number 1628

MT VOID 12/17/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 25, Whole Number 1628

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/17/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 25, Whole Number 1628

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

Where Horror Film Began (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A recent Open Culture Forum has a link to the entire classic horror film THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920):

And this is one that a shocking number of fans have not seen. Arguably, though, this is not the earliest horror film--"where horror film began"--but it certainly was influential.

An earlier horror film was probably "Le Manoir Du Diable" made by George Melies in 1896. But whether that was a sincere attempt to be frightening is a matter of opinion. You can decide: "Le Manoir Du Diable"


Discrepancy (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am having a crisis of faith. The mathematician Leopold Kronecker said "God made the integers; all else is the work of man." Scott Carey ("the Incredible Shrinking Man") said "To God there is no zero." I say you cannot make the integers unless you have a zero. [-mrl]

The Coming of the Wee Phone (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" there is this whole sequence that talks about a civilization that managed to get all its useless gits to board a spaceship and get sent out into space. Among the people who were on the spaceship of useless people the story specifically singled out telephone sanitizers. We later find out that the whole civilization was wiped out by a disease contracted from an unexpectedly dirty telephone. You are left to wonder what kinds of diseases could be spread by such an "unexpectedly dirty telephone." Of course that was written decades ago. Times have changed and continue to change. In another year or so it may well be true that civilization actually could be wiped out by dirty telephones. There is a new iPhone application being developed in Britain that could bring about just such a nasty future as the Guardian reports.

Apparently in Britain the Medical Research Council is one of the sources for funding the development of a new computer chip and phone application that is intended as a mobile testing lab for sexually transmitted diseases that should appeal to the young and technologically savvy.

Now if you are like me, you may be asking yourself how can a telephone application detect sexual diseases. That is what the chip is for. The chip takes biological samples and then plugs into the telephone and the application can test for diseases like herpes, Chlamydia and gonorrhea. The chip can examine the sample and based on the chemical properties it can do its own test and put the results into an electronic format that the iPhone--with appropriate software loaded--can read. The chip can report on which, if any, of these diseases is present in the sample.

Well, I have been putting it off, but I guess this article is not really complete without me explaining how the chip gets the biological sample. It gets it from, well, bodily fluids. Apparently you have the subject urinate on the computer chip. I suppose the chip has a target on it saying here is where to aim. But then the user may not have sufficient control to prevent the chip from getting thoroughly doused. I mean my doctor has people do the same thing with a cup that is much larger than a computer chip. And then the cup is picked up by someone with rubber gloves to prevent actually touching the outside of the cup when the target was inside. Here the target is a little tiny computer chip and the user takes it, probably without the rubber gloves, and sticks it into a cell phone.

You have the chip right there so that if your date gets to a certain stage ... well, just a certain stage ... and the evening is ready to progress to the next stage, and you want to know if it is safe to go to that next stage, if you know what I mean, well, you can tell the other person that you really want to go on to the next stage with her or him--it could be a him, but first you request that the other person, well, wee-wee on this computer chip so you can put it in your telephone and see if everything is okay. Doesn't using this thing send the message, "I like you. I trust you. But can I check to see if you are a carrier of any one of several pernicious sexually-transmitted diseases?" That cannot be really good technique. But then after the test is done you can continue with what you were going to do, I guess, if you are still in the mood and don't feel too silly for having the other person's wee-wee in your phone.

(I tell you, dates are probably are a lot more fun than they used to be in my wait-until-marriage day, but they are also a lot more complicated. The only biological sample I ever asked Evelyn for was a lock of her hair. And then I didn't have it tested. I was satisfied if it just matched the rest of her head.)

Anyway what my point was that when you borrow somebody's telephone, well, just be aware of what else you might be borrowing. Every time you borrow a telephone from someone you are putting your mouth up to commune with everyone who ever pissed on his cell phone.

See if you don't believe me. [-mrl]

LET ME IN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Being bullied in school is warping Owen's personality, but he makes a new friend in an apparently female vampire his own age. The two people--each troubled but for very different reasons--form a close bond. Matt Reeves, director of CLOVERFIELD, directs a remake of Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) for the newly resurrected Hammer Films. The film leaves the fans very ambivalent. On one hand it is probably the best vampire story ever to come from Hammer with the most interesting vampire plot. It is certainly better than the current run of sadistic horror films. And many are finding aspects of the remake preferable to those in the original. But is so similar a remake so soon really a film that is needed? Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Hammer Film Productions is once again making scary films. Hammer is the British company that specialized in horror and science fiction from the mid 1950s to the late 1970s. So Hammer is back or if you prefer a modern production company has acquired the right to use the Hammer name. Their second production is an English- language version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. That novel was adapted in 2008 by Tomas Alfredson into a Swedish language film with the same title as the novel. It is unclear why a second adaptation was needed, particularly because the second film seems so strongly influenced by the first. But it makes sense that Hammer would do this since they won their stripes making English cinema versions of television shows and American horror franchises. Frequently their television adaptations came only a year or two after the originals were shown. Here they have taken something of a beating from at least some of the fans because most reviewers, including myself, were very pleased with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

In Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the cold winter of 1983 Owen is badly bullied at school and his home life is less than satisfying. He is turning his anger toward his tormentors inward and warping his own personality. He has dreams of violence, but he is about to actually meet violence personified. In the courtyard of his apartment complex he meets Abby whom he thinks is a girl his own age, but a very strange one. She announces from the beginning that she cannot be his friend. And she does odd things like walking barefoot in the snow and never going to school. Against a background of mysterious murders the two troubled young people form a close friendship, the first Owen has known. The film follows the story of Owen's relationship with Abby, Abby's story, and Owen's relations with the school bullies.

Owen is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who previously played a pivotal role in THE ROAD. Here even before he has contact with vampires, his red lips and a pasty face are a little bit creepy. Chloe Moretz plays the taciturn Abby, a very different role from that of Hit-Girl in KICK-ASS. And the fine actor Richard Jenkins plays Abby's father.

Director Matt Reeves elects a slow and pensive pace for the film, much like that of the previous film. To create the pervasive chill that the original film had, it is set in a very cold New Mexico winter. Most of the shots are shot with a dark green filter to create a noirish and icy feel. Only in sequences of Owen and Abby together does the screen have some warmer earth tones. Even set in New Mexico, the film a feels much as its predecessor did that it was shot in Sweden. The action scenes are kept dark and cryptic with occasional flashes of CGI.

While the script is much like that of the predecessor, there is one touch that is more like old Hammer. In Hammer films there was frequently a policeman of one sort or another investigating the latest monster-made outrage. The newer film invents a policeman (Elias Koteas) to follow up on clues, to bind the story together, and to help the plot advance.

The first scene of LET ME IN has a sequence unlike anything in the first film. Perhaps Reeves was saying that this was going to be his own film, a promise not completely kept. Did we need a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN this soon? Probably not. But in some ways it was not such a bad thing getting it anyway. The Swedish title never really made sense, though it might in the novel. At no point does there appear to be such a choice and it is not clear who the "right one" is and the "wrong one" is. Perhaps it is just seeing a second adaptation of the same story, or perhaps it was eliminating the struggle with subtitles, but it was somewhat easier to understand what was happening in more detail in LET ME IN. The new version played up the horror a little more, but it was still modest by current standards. The original film builds to a big climactic scene, and I was looking forward to how Reeves did it. In the new version it is less subtle and less memorable than in the previous version. Overall I prefer the Swedish adaptation. While I think that the remake is a good film all by itself, the original is a better one. But I have to admit that that is not an easy judgment to make. I rate LET ME IN a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


CASINO JACK (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: There is something fascinating in seeing a really successful criminal mind doing his thing. CASINO JACK is the story of two years in the life of pirate lobbyist Jack Abramoff--played by Kevin Spacey. The film covers complex and greedy political coups that Abramoff instigated, exploiting holes in the political system and which go beyond personal dishonesty to corrupting the entire system. It is all the viewer can do to keep up with the staccato barrage of chicanery Abramoff attempts. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

CASINO JACK opens with its best sequence. Jack Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey), in full business suit, is brushing his teeth and giving a ferocious pep talk to his image in the mirror telling the reflection to go with his greed for his own sake and for the sake of his family and because he can. People who do not go for the gold any way they can--the vast majority of the world--are mediocrities. Abramoff ranks with Harry Lime and Gordon Gecko--a comparison that the film fan in him would not mind--but he is far hungrier and has more passion. One more difference from Lime and Gecko is that Jack Abramoff is, unfortunately, a real person.

Early in the film Abramoff's sleazy reign is coming to an end. The illegalities of Abramoff's operating procedures have caught up with him and he is put into jail. The film flashes back two years to show how Washington's top lobbyist ended up incarcerated. The film follows Abramoff's convoluted machinations exploiting others' greed and weaknesses in our political system, the king of lobbyist- centered K Street. Together with his close partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Abramoff works up bigger and bigger schemes. He accepts huge sums of money to lobby for an Indian tribe going into the casino business, steals the money and instead of using it for their benefit buys himself a fleet of cruise ship casinos and a pair of restaurants. He makes a disreputable alliance with Representative Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett) and pulls him into his schemes. Abramoff treats his wife like he treats just about everyone else, manipulating where he can and lying when it suits him. He pulls into his schemes Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) a seedy mattress dealer with ties to organized crime. The deals come thick and fast. It is clearer to the viewer than it is to Abramoff that he will eventually dig himself in too deeply.

Actor Kevin Spacey dominates the entire film with his bigger-than- life portrait of Abramoff. For such a successful manipulator of the powerful Abramoff seems too self-indulgent and to lack common sense. In the middle of a serious meeting he will start quoting film dialog in strange voices. He dotes on his collection of photographs of himself with top Republicans. Spacey is more credible as a thief than as an Orthodox Jew, but the character he is playing is both. More controlled is his partner Michael Scanlon, played by Barry Pepper. A welcome presence is the late Maury Chaykin as a mob hood. George Hickenlooper, who previously directed the excellent small film THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS (2001), helms the film with a breezy style. Because the intricacies of Abramoff's plots come quick and fast, the viewer needs a good memory for names and references. The patter comes much faster than in a film like THE HOAX. Perhaps a clearer explanation can be found in the similarly-titled documentary CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010) written and directed by Alex Gibney.

The case of Jack Abramoff is a warning of what is happening to Democracy in this country at the hands of highly paid lobbyists with far too much power. I rate this CASINO JACK a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Arsenophilic Life (letter of comment by Mike Lukacs):

In response to Mark's article on arsenic-based life in the 12/10/10 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Lukacs writes, "NOT! It seems that according to several other noted microbiologists the "Arsenophile Project" had several major flaws and omissions of controls and the "discovery" was likely more based on wishful thinking than on good science!" [-mel]

Mark responds, "When I wrote the piece on the arsenic-based life I had seen no published controversy.

There should be no controversy on the arsenic-loving microbe. Culture it, grind it up, analyze the pulp and see if it has phosphorous or arsenic. If it has phosphorous NASA should retract the announcement. If it has arsenic, it does not matter if their technique was faulty. It would be an arsenic-based life form even if the process to discover it used the Tibetan Book of the Dead." [-mrl]

BLACK SWAN, INCEPTION, SOYLENT GREEN, PIRANHA 3D, AVATAR, Science Fiction on Television, THIS IMMORTAL, THE DISPOSSESSED, Space Exploration and the Extinction of the Human Race, Genetic Politics, and Rush Limbaugh Stories (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to many issues of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

I've been making mental notes about MT VOID for months, mostly about movies. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "This is one long letter of comment so there is a lot to respond to." -mrl]

BLACK SWAN: The first "ballet-noir" film was Ben Hecht's SPECTER OF THE ROSE (1946), about a ballet star (Ivan Kirov) who is losing his mind, and may have murdered his former leading lady. Usually ballet is seen one enormous stages that dwarf the dancers. Hecht has Kirov perform in a loft, showing for once just how high and how far and how fast ballet dancers can move. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "As for dark ballet films, THE RED SHOES (1948) was also dark. I think ballet films tend to be dark. Probably that is because ballet and noirish drama are both about making heightened emotions visual." -mrl]

I was pleased Mark downgraded INCEPTION, which I always considered overrated. Aside from the excellent performance by Cillian Murphy, none of the characters come to life. Indeed, I was left wondering why we were supposed to care about what happened to the sleazy industrial spy played by Leonardo DiCaprio. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "As for being happy about me down-rating INCEPTION, that means very little. My ratings are one person's opinion generally on one viewing. I think readers take the ratings too seriously. What is important is not what I thought of the film, but what did you think of it. Actually, I think I would have preferred that you rated the film higher than I do. That would have meant you had a better experience with the film and deep down I want people to have good experiences with film. In any case I am certainly going to see the film again. But I really don't want people to feel that if I give a high rating to a film that it means anything more than just that the film pleased me. I will say that your question of why should we care about Cobb is very much the reason I was thinking less of the film. In any case I have it on DVD and will watch it before much longer. For the next few weeks I am viewing 2010 films to hopefully make intelligent choices when voting for the On-line Film Critics Society annual awards. But I will tell you the truth. So far nothing has come close to TEMPLE GRANDIN. Sadly that was made for HBO and I cannot vote it awards." -mrl]

I also felt the premise of the film [INCEPTION] was bogus, though it wasn't until some time later that I put it into words. We can accept the method of entering a dream as the SF premise of the story. However, when the same device is used within a dream, it's not actually being used: it's merely a dream, a figment of somebody's imagination. In other words, it need not behave like the "real" device. No laws apply to it. Except one: the film's idea that time moves faster and faster, the farther down the "layers" of dreams one goes, is neurologically impossible. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "You say in INCEPTION that "the film's idea that time moves faster and faster, the farther down the "layers" of dreams one goes, is neurologically impossible." I thought it was an artificial touch and probably not accurate to what really happens in dream states. I have never even experienced a dream within a dream, much less dreams with more levels. But I do not see what actually makes it impossible." -mrl]

SOYLENT GREEN: Mark's comment that the film seems more plausible now than in 1973 has it backwards. Forty years ago, the viewer could accept the notion that New York City would deteriorate that far over the next fifty years. But now there's only about ten years left to go--and the "population bomb" fizzled decades ago.

At an East Coast con a few years ago, I got the chance to ask Harry Harrison how he got 21st century New York so totally wrong, in his novel, MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM!, the basis for SOYLENT GREEN. I figured he would say something about how he had too much faith in population cranks like Paul Ehrlich. But instead, he merely laughed and said his book was "pure propaganda" (his exact words). Propaganda, that is, for population control.

It's a truism that SF is not about the future, but the present; which I've always amended as, the author's view of the present. But, if Harrison is to be believed, his book did not even reflect his real views. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "You are saying that for SOYLENT GREEN to be accurate the world would have to follow its timetable starting in 1973. You might as well say that Wells was wrong in his prediction the atomic bomb because he had it coming in the early part of the 20th century. When I say it is plausible I just meant that we could be headed toward this sort of future, regardless of the timetable. I know you are a skeptic of Global Warming. But this is very plausibly a world that could result from warming. Climate can change very quickly if something like ocean streams are diverted. We could get to a world where food production drops off rapidly and what food was left would become very valuable. The future is a random walk, but this certainly seems close to future we might have even if Harrison was writing propaganda. Harrison was just taking trends and extrapolating to the world that would result. Why does it surprise you that Harrison said he was writing propaganda? Wikipedia defines propaganda as "a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position." Isn't any "if this goes on" story propaganda? Nobody thinks the less of Ray Bradbury or FAHRENHEIT 451 because he is trying to be convincing about trends that bothered him. Did Harrison say that he was not sincere in his concerns?" -mrl]

A gay friend who likes schlock horror recommended PIRANHA 3D to me, thinking I'd enjoy the 3D T&A. I didn't, though. I'm a science fiction fan: I demand a certain level of plausibility. No woman born ever looked like that (except maybe in zero G); nor do I find it attractive. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "I'm sorry. You say "A gay friend who likes schlock horror recommended PIRANHA 3D." It is hard to imagine a friend would actually recommend that particular film to you and still be a friend. I am not sure which unclothed woman you are referring to. There were at least dozens if not hundreds if memory serves. And I agree the 3D was terrible. It looked like something from a Viewmaster." -mrl]

The synthetic 3D also produced some bizarre landscapes, with 3D parallax on distant mountains, as if our eyes were 20 feet apart. By contrast, AVATAR played fair: when the hero and his girlfriend are flying at a distance, the image is 2D, as I discovered when I experimented with the 3D glasses while watching the film.

Of course, that I was fooling around with my 3D glasses while watching AVATAR doesn't say anything very good about the film! Recently a relative asked me to take her to see it, in the (slightly) extended version.

I found that for about two-thirds of the way the film held up to a second viewing pretty well. But by the last third the pretty landscapes have worn out their welcome. It was hard to sit through the sheer imbecility of the conclusion: cavalry charges in the jungle! Why there is a ground attack at all is never explained-- and what happened to all the missiles the mercenaries had before, that took down the *big* tree so easily?

I tried to identify the "additional scenes", and I did catch at least one: the peculiar scene in which our hero kills a large herbivore. Peculiar because in an earlier scene much fuss (borrowed from the 1992 LAST OF THE MOHICANS) was made over the self-defense killing of some wolf-like predators, while here no apologies to the animal spirits appear to be necessary.

Some dialog seemed to be missing from this version of the film. Then I realized I was remembering dialog I had made up myself while watching the film the first time: little wisecracks and character bits that might have enlivened the clunk, clunk, clunk of James Cameron's script but didn't. [-tw]

[Mark responds, "You know, Taras, we have our political disagreements from time to time, but I think we both hated the politically correct last chapter of AVATAR. Cameron was not taking any chances that we would pick the wrong side to sympathize with. It was not very subtle." -mrl]

Sci-Fi TV: Amanda Tapping of STARGATE SG-1 and SANCTUARY is an English-born Canadian actress, not an American.

What makes STARGATE: UNIVERSE a favorite of mine is that, for the most part, the story lines do not rely on "villains". Instead, people realistically disagree about the best course to follow, and sometimes distrust each other (especially civilians and military). [-tw]

Book Reviews [THIS IMMORTAL]: "It's almost as if [Roger] Zelazny was a much more serious writer before he penned the Amber books." To which we old-timers reply, "Well, duh!" [-tw]

THE DISPOSSESSED: I've always suspected that it seemed intuitively right to Ursula LeGuin that the communist society of Anarres should be poor, but she didn't know why. [-tw]

[Space Exploration and the Extinction of the Human Race:] "Mankind may be dooming mankind, but the universe as a whole [as seen by science] is not." Cosmology predicts a universe that will eventually cease to support life of any kind, even if we avoid destroying ourselves. [-tw]

Genetic Politics: If political orientation is inborn, how do we account for changes in political orientation, like Robert Heinlein or Ronald Reagan? Usually from Left to Right; remember the famous quote: "The man who is not a socialist at twenty has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at forty he has no head." [-tw]

[Mark responds, "Political inclination is not inborn, I suggest could be an influence. As for genetic politics, I probably get lots of urges from my genes that I learn to ignore and/or override. We all do, I think. Xenophobia could very well be a genetic urge. Genetic urges are possibly an influence, but not predestination." -mrl] Of course, Reagan often insisted his political views remained the same, while the political spectrum moved left--and, indeed, old- fashioned patriotic leftists eventually ended up on the Right, as "neo-conservatives".

P.S.: Strange Rush Limbaugh Stories: He really did use the example of a "Hindu shrine" at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, but it should have been obvious--it was to me--he meant to say "Shinto". He has since admitted that, according to the left-wing site, Media Matters.

At NASFic a member of the concom (whose name I tactfully omit) told me an even stranger Limbaugh story--and he claimed to have seen this himself! When Limbaugh was guest-hosting the "Tonight Show" in the early Nineties, he was heckled by the audience. The audience was cleared, and for the rest of the week Limbaugh hosted the "Tonight Show" sans audience.

I expressed grave doubts about NBC letting anyone get away with something like that. Also, the story sounded like a very garbled version of something I knew had actually occurred. That evening, I did some poking around the Net. When next I ran into this individual, I told him Rush Limbaugh has *never* hosted the "Tonight Show"; indeed, he's been a guest only once or twice.

What this individual had misremembered was a PBS "Frontline" documentary about Limbaugh, which included footage from an unsold talk show pilot. The taping was disrupted by a young man in the audience, his face twisted with hate (as I recall). Limbaugh attempted to talk to him, one on one, but in the end the producers opted to clear the audience. [-tw]

THE DIVINE COMEDY (letter of comment by Sam Long):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Dante's "Inferno" in the 12/10/10 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes, "Have you read Dorothy L. Sayers's translation of the Divine Comedy? It's worth a look, and she provides copious notes. Sayers died before she finished "Paradise"; it was completed by her friend and associate Barbara Reynolds, I believe. Check it out." [-sl]

Evelyn replies, "No, I haven't. I'm assuming the Penguin editions of this will have all the notes?" [-ecl]

RED RIDING HOOD and ROME THEN AND NOW (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to Mark's comments on RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS in the 12/10/10 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

By a coincidence, I was just watching part of the movie you referred to as RED RIDING HOOD AND THE MONSTERS, taken off of YouTube. It seems to be a sequel to the original LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD that I saw clips of on "Reel Wild Cinema" and possibly of a Tom Thumb movie whose existence I can only deduce from clues in the present video. The girl's dubbed voice seems downright operatic, but it goes with her strangely adult-like face.

By another coincidence, I had pulled out my book of overlays of ancient Rome a night or two ago. I also have one of Pompeii, and one of the Holy Land in which there are no unpainted spots anywhere in the transparencies whatever. I may have one on miscellaneous vanished glories as well. The Rome volume had an ancestor that I used to look at from time to time, a softcover book that was almost a pamphlet, called "Roma Antiqua", which had black and white photos with overlays. I remember pulling the overlays away and putting them back, chanting "This is what it used to look like, this is what it looks like now." I had a tough time comprehending some details like much newer doors that had been built on ancient walls. I'd love to find a copy of that book. Mom's is doubtless long gone now. [-kw]

K. Gordon Murray and Television (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Mark's comments on "The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray" in the 12/10/10 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Well, hell. I set the DVR for "The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray" and it recorded SANTA CLAUS, which I already have and didn't need again. Most annoying. One sets the DVR by going right to the show and clicking on the name, and it shows you the name, and that's supposed to be that. Of course, no machine can keep up with the unstable programming wonder that is the Turner organization. I tried to set for the Monkees' HEAD one time, and gave myself a half hour of slack at both ends, and still only got 45 minutes of the movie.

At times like this, I miss SPN, a very dull cable service that showed ancient movies, punctuated by the same ads over and over-- ads for cheap late-night TV products, like K-Tel and Ronco only less exciting. Sometimes they showed Wheeler and Woolsey movies, which was my main interest in their offerings.

The thing I miss, though, is that their schedule was sacred to them. If they said they were showing something from 11:17 to 1:03, I could set my timer for 11:16 to 1:04 and I'd have the whole movie plus a minute of extra ads at each end.

Alas, they're past tense now. One day the ads metastasized and took over. I looked at the tape of a movie I'd just recorded, and it was nothing but pitchmen shilling worthless garbage of the same sort that had been in all the ads. A number was shown on screen. Operators stood by.

It was the birth of the Home Shopping Network, aka the Revolving Jewelry Channel. Just like watching Televangelists, except instead of miracles, they were shilling for shoddy knockoff merchandise. [-kw]

Evelyn forwards this comment from someone on a B-movie list she and Mark are on:

"'The Wonderful World of K. Gordon Murray' was pulled from TCM at the request of the documentary's producer. Apparently, there is a rights issue with some of the clips used. This has happened in the past whenever anyone tries to officially release these movies or even use clips. The producer says the full version (TCM was going to show a shorter version) will be released in the spring of 2011 and that TCM has been offered the opportunity to show it at that time. Of course, all of this depends on whether the rights issues can be resolved."

Keith F. Lynch responds:

People will get the worst TV they're still willing to watch. Ten minutes of ads per hour? Let's try cranking it up to fifteen. To twenty. People are still watching? Let's try thirty. Let's fire the writers and have viewers send in videos of their dog getting its nose stuck in a milk bottle instead. Let's change our schedule without notice; if we delay the show by 45 minutes, the loyal viewers will watch more commercials as they sit patiently waiting for the show to start. People are willing to pay cable companies for worse shows with more commercials than they used to watch for free? Great! Let's see if we can raise the price and lower the cable's reliability. Let's see if we can advertise one price for cable service but charge a much higher one thanks to "taxes and fees." Let's see if we can charge extra for "pay-per-view."

What, some people are still watching free over-the-air TV? Can't have that. Let's lobby Congress to "improve" free over-the-air TV by making it impossible to pick up any but the strongest and clearest signals. No more graceful degradation -- if reception isn't absolutely perfect you get nothing but frozen silent blocks or more likely nothing at all.

As I've mentioned, I used the digital TV transition as an excuse to get rid of my TV set. I almost never watched it anyway.

["A number was shown on screen. Operators stood by."] They're too cheap to buy them chairs. :-)

["It was the birth of the Home Shopping Network, aka the Revolving Jewelry Channel."] This is incomprehensible to me. Why would anyone buy jewelry, of all things, sight unseen? And no, even the best TV image doesn't suffice to distinguish between the Hope Diamond and a random piece of colored plastic found in the trash. [-kfl]

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

CHORALE by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-13138-0) is set in a future in which time travel of a sort has been invented. I say "of a sort" because while people go back in time, they go back to occupy the place of famous people, or perhaps just take over their bodies temporarily--the exact details are a bit fuzzy. So, for example, our first-person narrator goes back to be Beethoven and make sure that all nine of his symphonies are written as recorded, etc. The reason for all this is that the government has been convinced by a scientist that it must do everything it can to keep the past stable, or the present will fall apart. In this regard it is a bit like Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol", except that there is no evidence that anything would happen if they did nothing. As Malzberg writes (in 1978): "The Department, in short, proved its success only by the *failure* of catastrophe; it justified its existence by making nothing happen at all, and even in the most mindless of bureaucracies this is not a position which can be held indefinitely." [page 33]

This is particularly timely, because I had just been mentioning THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein (ISBN 978-1-439-13376-7) in connection with recent events:

"'Schedule Bare Back' was to be the first phase of 'Operation Parasite.' The idea was that everybody--*everybody*--was to peel to the waist and stay peeled, until all titans were spotted and killed. Oh, women could have halter strings across their backs; a parasite could not hide under a bra string." [Chapter XIII]

"We were complying with Schedule Bare Back; we had not heard of 'Schedule Sun Tan.' Two cops stopped us as we got out. 'Stand Still!' one of them ordered. 'Don't make any sudden moves. ... Now ... off with those pants, buddy.' I did not move quickly enough. He barked, 'Make it snappy! Two have been shot trying to escape already today; you may be the third.'" [Chapter XXIII]

As W. H. Auden might have said, about the Department of Homeland Security they were never wrong, The Old Masters. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          An apology for the Devil: it must be remembered 
          that we have heard one side of the case.  God 
          has written all the books.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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