New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for Nov/Dec, 2002

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


by Anne Osteen Stringer

One of the nice things about being editor is hearing from New Orleans Mensans who have moved away. Since being editor, I have heard from several members who have left us for greener pastures. It's great to hear from old friends.

This issue contains book reviews by me and a movie review by Richard. Like many of you, I am always interested in what people are reading and I would like to print brief reviews of books, plays, movies or concerts that the M's are attending. Maybe you found a wonderful book you would like to tell others about, or maybe you want to warn others not to waste money on a truly dreadful movie. This is the place to do it. Email or snail mail your reviews and see your name in print!

Cover art this month is a watercolor of a fall scene by our own artist, Patricia DiGeorge. The picture is lovely, dreamlike, and thought provoking like all of Pat's work. We are very lucky to have original art of this quality. Thanks to Pat for sharing her talent so generously.

Top 11 National Mensas per million population
UK - Ireland 424.3
Singapore 211.7
Finland 207.7
Netherlands 159.1
United States 156.5
Denmark 116.2
Czech Republic 98.4
Sweden 86.5
New Zealand 82.2
Norway 80
Belgium 76.8

New Officers

Hearty congratulations to our new officers. Nominations closed at the October meeting and none of the offices were contested. Therefore, elected by acclamation, our new officers for 2003 are:

The victory party and celebration will be at the November NOM night.

The Reading M

by Anne O'Steen Stringer

I recently read two very different books about India.

Five Past Midnight in Bhopal by Dominique LaPierre is the story of the worst industrial disaster in history. In October, 1984, a chemical plant exploded in the Indian city of Bhopal, releasing a cloud of toxic gas that left as many as 30,000 dead and a half a million injured. The plant produced Sevin, a pesticide, and was built by the huge industrial conglomerate Union Carbide. Famine has been a part of Indian life since the beginning of time. Hopes were high when the plant was built, that Sevin would be the beginning of the end of famine in India. The plant was not profitable from the beginning and had been practically abandoned by Union Carbide at the time of the catastrophe. LaPierre treats the engineers who built the plant sympathetically, but the real heroes of the book are the slum dwellers who lived in hovels nearby. These are the same class of people, the poorest of the poor in a poor land, that he wrote about so heart wrenchingly in The City of Joy. My only complaint is that the author gets a little melodramatic at times and this is not as moving as The City of Joy, but still it should bring a lump to the throat of anyone who lives in our land of plenty.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Tahir Shah is about another India altogether. The child of Afghan immigrants, growing up in London, Shah loved to perform magic tricks. Years later, he decided to go to Calcutta and seek instruction in Indian sorcery. He was accepted for training by a master sorcerer and his account of sorcery school staggers the imagination. The first phase was a sort of initiation in which Shah, among other things, had to crawl around the garden on his hands and knees in his underpants, until he had found two hundred small stones, dig a hole 2 feet square and 2 feet deep using a teaspoon held in the left hand, and separate rice and lentils while blindfolded. The second part of the training was intensive study of subjects ranging from Bengali poetry to the periodic table to monastic architecture of 13th century France. He learned a few tricks too and he explains how some of the illusions are accomplished. At the end of his tutelage, as a sort of final exam, His teacher sent him out on a search for "information". This led to a rollicking tour through India from Calcutta to Madras to Bangalore to Bombay to Delhi. In visiting these fantastic cities, Shah meets the hustlers, hucksters, charlatans, mountebanks, fakirs, and magicians of the Indian streets. This is sort of a travel book, and sort of a book about magic, but mainly it is an adventure story and through all his adventures, Shah maintains a deadpan naivete, that makes the book charming and truly funny.


by Richard Stringer

In 1983, New Orleans-born Director Godfrey Reggio released an earth-changing film called Koyaanisqatsi. Without dialog or characters, it was a stunning visual study of nature and urban life set at odds. The title in the Hopi language means "Life out of Balance." It introduced a great many new cinematic techniques, which we now take for granted.. Those of us who saw it at the time are convinced it was a singularly important film. In 1987 a second work, Powwaqatsi ("Life in Transition"), was released. While not as highly acclaimed as the first, it was another visual tour de force--this time of life in the third world as the simpler peoples of the world adjusted to modern technology and globalization.

After a gap of fifteen years, the third film in what is intended as a trilogy, Naqoyqatsi ("Life as War") has been completed and released. I was privileged to see it at the New Orleans Film Festival in October. I can report that it is another magnificent effort, and joins its predecessors as an extremely important achievement. Like the first two films, it is very powerful; unlike them it is very dark. Not depressing, but disturbing.

Herewith my review:

Dark and powerful. Profoundly disturbing. I was mesmerized. Hard to walk straight after. I approached the director, Godfrey Reggio, and said "There was so much hope in the first two films. This was so hopeless. Is this a change in your thinking?" He said very kindly, his years as a religious brother and teacher showing, "Oh no. I'm still full of hope. But I wanted to make a film about hopelessness." Then I said the little speech I'd rehearsed while watching the credits roll: "At the risk of sounding immature or third world, where everything is interpreted politically, may I say that you have made the first documentary of the corporate socialist takeover of our country and the new doctrine of Manifest Destiny for Corporate Liebesraum." He looked struck, and almost moved to tears, as he took my hand in both of his and said quietly "Thank you." And I said quietly "Thank you" and we would have hugged if there hadn't been such a press of people.

The images are profoundly disturbing. And unlike Koyaanisqatsi, which was a wonderful trip and full of hope, this was bleak. Fascinating but bleak. From the recognition of hope in Life out of Balance, to the germinating seeds of hope among the weeds of Life in Transition, to the horror of Life as War, the sorcerer's apprentice has graduated, and holds us in his grip. The director had said it would be the images that surround us revivified. Tortured. He could have said remortified. The image juxtapositions seamlessly and sometimes horrifyingly morphing from life to death. Ruin among the loves. Technology to cheat death/technology to spread death. Technology to clone life/technology to clone death. Celebration of life/ celebration of death. Sports as war. War as sport. A crowd of football fans raising their right arms in cheers, and your mind provides the short step to "Seig Heil." And beautiful, endlessly fascinating plumes and wisps of cigarette smoke intriguing us with their patterns of death as we seek respite from the killing fields of our own lives. And the fascinating technology of our electronic money becomes a pallette which paints slot machines and endless trays of multicolored pills. Celebrity as a celebration of someone else's life as we seek to transcend our own death-bound lives. Celebrity as art as politics as art as celebrity. The artfulness of it all. It's all a show. Life/celebrity/achievement/ ending in the cigarette smoke of our wispy dreams. Life and death. Bridges/satellites/webs/ the light of endless communication. War, news, the Empire's Death Star. The darkness of eternal death. A harrowing scene of masses of white-drawers-clad soldiers doing calisthenics which looks for all the world like endless rows of white gravestones in a military cemetery. The soundtrack has built to a madding insistent relentless beat that you don't notice 'til it stops with a thud. And then it's over. And the stunned audience sits in stock-still silence for a few long seconds until it occurs to someone to start the applause, which begins slowly and then builds mightily as we shake ourselves from our stunned silence and realize that it's Only A Movie.


Like its illustrious predecessors, it is one of the most important films ever made.

Remember a Special Teacher

Do you remember having a special teacher? Perhaps it was the one who listened when you asked your 99th question of the day and patiently answered you. Or maybe it was the one who made learning fun. Or the one who got you a library card for the "big kids" library so you could keep discovering through the world of books after you had exhausted the resources in your classroom library.

MERF is creating a way for you to recognize that outstanding teacher through the formation of a new award. THE MENSA TEACHER OF THE YEAR PROGRAM will allow Mensa members to nominate an outstanding teacher for special recognition and an award. Details of the program will be in your Mensa Bulletin later this year. In the meantime, let your mind take a journey back and think about that teacher who really made a difference to you.

Freedom to learn is the first necessity of guaranteeing that man himself shall be self-reliant enough to be free. Such things did not need as much emphasis a generation ago, but when the clock of civilization can be turned back by burning libraries, by exiling scientists, artists, musicians, writers and teachers; by disbursing universities, and by censoring news and literature and art; an added burden, an added burden is placed on those countries where the courts of free thought and free learning still burn bright. If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands they must be made brighter in our own.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 - 1945)

Back to the La Plume de NOM main page.
These pages and all content Copyright (c) 2008 by New Orleans Mensa, all rights reserved. Mensa ® and the Mensa logo (as depicted for example in U.S. TM Reg. No. 1,405,381) are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by American Mensa, Ltd., and are registered in other countries by Mensa International  Limited and/or affiliated national Mensa organizations. Mensa does not hold any opinion or have, or express, any political or religious views.
Last edited: 15-Mar-2009 . Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at