Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/08/02 -- Vol. 20, No. 32

El Presidente: Mark Leeper,
The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper,
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	More on M&Ms (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
	BLACK HAWK DOWN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)


TOPIC: More on M&Ms (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I frequently comment on current events in the notice.  I talked 
about the roots of Muslim rage, about biases in film, about 
national security, etc., etc.  Rarely do I get much response from 
the readership.  Obviously I have been writing about the wrong 
issues.  Finally I have picked a subject that is controversial 
enough and that the readers find touches their lives.  I got a 
storm of comment about blue M&Ms.  It turns out this subject is 
extremely topical just now.  I will get into why later.  I 
mentioned that there was a 1995 poll to determine what would be a 
NEW color for an M&M.  The tragic and hard-to-believe results of 
that poll were reported at [I will give you this on a separate 
line and put no punctuation after it for those who want to use it] 

and these were: 

"A 'mega' marketing event asked Americans to vote for a new color 
to appear in the traditional 'M&M's' Chocolate Candies mix. The 
choices included blue, pink, purple, or no change. Blue won by a 
landslide with 54% of the more than 10 million votes cast." 

I discover that I am not the only person who finds this result 
shocking.  I think it is a loss of traditional aesthetic values.  
Americans have come to believe that candy is little pieces of 
sugar-coated bubble gum in a little plastic garbage can.  But a 
commentary I saw by one Donald Douglas indicates that the public 
may not have known exactly what it was voting on.  Had the 
proposition been stated that whatever color was being chosen was 
going to replace tan, this person feels that the public would have 
rebelled at the concept.  While not getting into issues of 
pregnant chad, this person suggests that the poll was fixed and 
that Mars already had barrels of blue dye before the poll was 

(Oh, a little known fact is that there never were any tan M&Ms.  
The M&Ms web page calls those M&Ms gold.) 

I would say that M&Ms does know the power of public opinion and 
even prejudice.  In 1960 there was a scare that red M&Ms were made 
with the cancer causing red dye #2.  Any red food products were 
suspect, though M&Ms are now thought to have been innocent.  If I 
remember right a Bit 'o Honey that was under suspicion for its red 
wrapper appeared before a congressional committee and while 
claiming to be innocent named both Atomic Fireballs and some M&Ms 
as being definitely red.  Watermelon Stix and some Valentine 
hearts were implicated as being pink.  There was even a suggestion 
that red apples had infiltrated traditional institutions as 
American as apple pie.  At the height of the red scare, red M&Ms 
were purged.  It is thought that some assumed false colors to 
continue working and the smarties went north to Canada.  Red M&Ms 
did not did appear openly again until 1987.  These days they are 
intentionally making a show of their traditional American values 
by appearing in Christmas packages of red and green M&Ms and in 
special patriotic packages of red, white, and blue M&Ms. 

Actually, the company that makes M&Ms, Masterfoods, will sell them 
in a wide range of colors.  The colors are listed at

But as I said, by coincidence this whole issue is topical again.  
Just the day before publication of our last issue, Masterfoods has 
again announced a public poll on colors.  You can read the news 
article and see a picture of the nauseating colors at

The new color will be purple, pink, or aqua.  Masterfoods is 
giving the public a choice.  Some choice, huh?  I think that that 
is more a dilemma than a choice.  Do I want a color that will make 
me think of grapes (isn't that bait and switch?) or licking the 
side of swimming pool.  I don't even want to consider licking 
something pink.  That is a whole other thing entirely.  
Particularly because their current advertising paradigm shows M&Ms 
with Mr. Potatohead arms and legs.  Putting that in pink does not 
bear much thinking about.  If you want to register for the vote, 
you can go to



TOPIC: BLACK HAWK DOWN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: What was intended to be a thirty-minute mission in 
Mogadishu, Somalia, turns out to be an extended visit to battle 
hell.  Ridley Scott very accurately tells the true story of a 
Delta Force mission that went very wrong.  This is an action film 
that eventually is more wearying than exciting, but still is worth 
the trip.  Rating: 8 (0 to 10), low +3 (-4 to +4) 

It is the idealistic policy of the crew of the Starship Enterprise 
that they will never give up on one of their own trapped by the 
enemy.  Nobody gets left behind.  Captain Kirk and his successors 
never compromised.  That policy works out well in fiction where a 
writer is in full control.  However that is also the policy of our 
military's elite, semi-secret Delta Force, the U.S. Army's 1st 
Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta.  That in some ways is 
a very good policy.  It tells the individual soldier that he will 
not be abandoned by his compatriots.  It improves loyalty.  It 
fosters an "all for one and one for all" attitude.  It also has 
its down side. That policy can be very dangerous.  On October 3, 
1993, a Delta Force mission to capture two lieutenants of Somali 
warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu, Somalia, went very 
sour.  As the soldiers were withdrawing after the mission a Black 
Hawk helicopter was shot down.  Attempts to rescue the passengers 
only brought more killing, more deaths and injuries and the 
situation spread in a deadly chain reaction.  What was intended to 
be a thirty-minute mission turned into twelve hours of deadly 
fighting.  Though estimates vary, it is claimed that in the end 
eighteen Americans were killed and perhaps 3000 Somalis.  Mark 
Bowden chronicled the fiasco in his book BLACK HAWK DOWN and 
Ridley Scott has adapted the book into a film. 

As this film and the History Channel documentary "The True Story 
of Black Hawk Down" inform us, Somalia is a country essentially 
with no government and no laws.  Starvation is widespread.  In 
1993 warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid had already been responsible 
for the deaths of 300,000 of his countrymen, many by hunger.  
Foreign shipments of food to ease the situation had been captured 
by Aidid and were used only as a weapon to strengthen his 
position.  American Marines were sent in to make sure the food 
went to the right people, but Aidid found it easy to rally his 
followers into hatred of the Americans for their attempts to 

Aidid had a heavily armed army, in large part teenagers who were 
paid mostly in a drug that as a convenient side effect brings 
aggression.  A Delta Force snatch and grab operation to capture 
some of Aidid's commanders was scheduled, but at the worst time of 
day, about 2:30 in the afternoon.  This meant that the raiders 
would not have cover of darkness and afternoons were when the 
army, under the influence of the drug, were at their most 
aggressive.  This was a time of day when there was usually gun 
violence even without American raids.  As the film shows there are 
several things that go wrong before the raid, but real hell does 
not break loose until after the mission when the troops are being 
withdrawn and a lucky shot from a Somali brings down an American 
Black Hawk helicopter. (See the site for accounts of what 
happened after that.) 

Ridley Scott's version and the History Channel documentary are my 
sources of information as to the events of the raid and since they 
come from the same witnesses as sources, it is not surprising that 
they are very consistent and probably both are very close to what 
actually happened.  Further, following the lead of SAVING PRIVATE 
RYAN, some filmmakers are now more willing to show the violence of 
battle realistically and much less softened.  That makes this a 
very harrowing film to watch.  This sort of battle is when all the 
training or lack of training pays off and where soldiers lives 
depend on knowing "were we supposed to go to the humvee or was the 
humvee supposed to come to us?" 

This is certainly a violent action film.  There are very long 
sequences of shooting and a lot of blood, though if there is a 
good use for violent action, this is it.  Scott does try to use a 
realistic approach, but I find that strobing with twelve frames a 
second does not improve the action and is only a distraction.  
Toward the end the photography tries to go a little stylized and 
poetic, but by then the viewer is so exhausted it is time to take 
a breath. 

This is a film with a large cast and Scott takes his time letting 
us get acquainted with them, so that when the action starts we can 
keep them distinguished in our minds.  This is mostly successful. 
There is a lot that is happening in a lot of different settings 
once the chaos sets in and it is not difficult to follow most of 
it.  Still if we step back we find it as much of a mess as does 
the commander, Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison (played almost aloof 
by laid-back Sam Shepard).  The story follows several threads with 
the men ending up fragmented and scattered over Mogadishu.  The 
only film cliche obvious is that underlying friction between some 
of the men in the early parts of the film is emphasized.  Later in 
action it is more their camaraderie we see.  The script written by 
Ken Nolan and Steve Zaillian shifts point of view in the course of 
the film.  The United States' intervention seems clearly in right 
at beginning but the viewpoint becomes much more ambiguous later.  
Americans were there on what was unquestionably a mission of 
compassion, feeding people who were starving to death.  But even 
with all our high-tech arsenal of weapons we were clearly in over 
our heads.  Indeed, days later the United States pulled out of 
Somalia and left the country to its fate.  As the History Channel 
documentary pointed out, in Vietnam the loss of eighteen soldiers 
would have been too small to even report.  Also, a battle against 
a determined enemy in which 99.4% of the losses are on the other 
side probably can not be considered a total loss militarily.  And 
Aidid's people needed to be stopped.  With echoes of another part 
of the world this is an enemy who claims, "Without victory there 
will always be killing." 

BLACK HAWK DOWN is a gritty and realistic film, often a hard film 
to watch, but a good confrontation of the issues.  It is a somber 
reminder of the price of even humanitarian policies.  I rate it an 
8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.  [-mrl]


                                          Mark Leeper

           My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, 
           crime, cruelty, soft music. 
                                          - Vladimir Nabokov

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