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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/15/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 3, Whole Number 1291
Table of Contents
King Kong Trailer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The trailer for the new KING KONG movie by Peter Jackson is on-line at http://tinyurl.com/e4nhq. I think Peter Jackson is doing the right sort of thing if he is going to remake a classic. It looks like he is following the original story very closely and in each scene just trying to be more imaginative than the original film could be in the early 1930s. [-mrl]
Jules Verne Stamps:
Many countries are honoring the centenary of Jules Verne's death with a series of stamps. You can view all of them, as well as earlier ones, through links at http://jv.gilead.org.il/stamps/.
Amazon's Take on Calculators (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was pricing graphics calculators in Amazon. Amazon started out as an on-line bookstore and has branched out. Their product description pages have a standard format. For example, whenever you look at a page, they try to increase the sale. They have a box that says, "Better together." If you are buying a book they suggest you buy it with a similar book. At one point I think they gave a price-break deal, but actually these days generally if you check they don't. But it sort of makes sense that if you are interested in the topic of a book, you might be interested in another book on the same subject. What surprised me is that they have a "Better together" box with graphics calculators. They are saying essentially that it is better to buy two graphics calculators at the same time and use them together. It would be one thing if they were to try to switch you to a better and more expensive calculator, but they are not geared for the fact that if you have one graphics calculator you don't need a second one. [-mrl]
The Day Has Come (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Back in the mid-1970s when I was working for Burroughs Corporation in Detroit, at lunchtime we talked a lot about the company and stock. I was interested because the current CEO was responsible for big budget cuts that were unusual for that time period. In the 1980s and 1990s I came to expect that sort of thing, but Procrustean belt-tightening was less usual in the 1970s. Our local expert was Steve who knew or pretended to know a lot about economics.
If people saw that the company was doing well, the stock would go up in value. It did not matter if the company really was doing well. But if you have a good CEO, Steve said, the company would probably do well.
But, I asked, what kept our CEO from doing the right sort of thing and running the company well? He was getting this big salary and at the same time cutting our budget. Steve assured me that the CEO would always do what is good for the stock. After all he was a stockholder. And there was a check on him. If you have a bad CEO the rest of the board would vote him out. (In the 1970s it was invariably a "him.") The rest of the board members also owned a lot of stock and they want to see that stock do well. If you have a bad CEO they will vote him out.
Well, I asked, what was to stop the whole board from raising their salaries and stealing the company? The rest of the stockholders would do that. He said that the real power was in the hands of the stockholders. What happens when the board has so much of the stock nobody can outvote them? Steve said that could never happen. People would never buy stock in a company where there was so little control over the fate of the company. The stockholders would sell their shares and get out. I let it go at that because it almost sounded like it was a reasonable system and it apparently worked. Even so I thought to myself that if the day ever comes with the boards of major companies knew how much power they really had, the whole country would be in trouble. I thought that stockholders really have too little control and the system was not as stable as Steve smugly thought. A lot those days I used the phrasing that the board could "steal the company", but I did not use it again until much more recently when my nightmare started coming true.
I think what Steve did not take into account was that while the board was rewarding themselves with a high salary they were also rewarding themselves with stock. Stock has two values. It has its face values of the stock price, which is tangible. But it also carries with it the less tangible value of the power over company policy it gives the holder. The country saw top executives rewarding themselves a lot more with stock and options for stock in the 190s and 1990s. For a while stock options seemed to be the answer. After all, it seemed like a reward that would be of value only if the stock price really went up. But it was not such a good idea. The board had so much power, they could make the stock price go up when it was convenient for them, then let it drop again.
The power of the individual stockholder eroded to very little over those years. Now in this decade we are seeing the effect of that. The executive reward juggernaut has gained force and power so that the individual stockholders cannot stop it. Claudia Deutsch at The New York Times reports, "The chief executives at 179 large companies that had filed proxies by last Tuesday--and had not changed leaders since last year--were paid about $9.84 million, on average, up 12 percent from 2003, according to Pearl Meyer & Partners, the compensation consultants." Now it has to be admitted that a lot of these companies actually did better last year, but that was probably because the economy was improving. Executive salaries rose when the economy was good, but they had not fallen the three previous years when the economy fell. It seems the salaries for most CEOs can ratchet only up. I do not think that Steve envisioned that situation.
It used to be we thought that executives would want to do what is best for the company because they owned stock in it. Now too many are, to use my phrase from the 70s, "stealing the company" and there is no longer much of a check as the upper management has realized the power that they actually have. Reading shareholder proposals in meeting announcements, it is clear that a lot of stockholders are very concerned to curb executive powers. But the executives have given themselves so much stock that the concerned stockholders have no voting power. They are like fleas trying to stop elephants.
Where will this executive greed all end? Without some sort of government controls shareholders are going to have less faith in companies they hold stock for or consider buying stock. After all, why buy stock where you have no protection from executives over-rewarding themselves to insulate themselves from falling stock price? Why give money to a group of people who have demonstrated so many clever ways to legally steal it? There seem to be perfectly legal if not legitimate ways to run off with the company's value. Eventually what will happen is fewer people will dare to invest in stock at all. That would make the stock market fall and would bring a serious change to the economy of this country. That is just one more factor making the future of this country seem less than rosy. [-mrl]
Mathematics (letter of comment by Jim Spinosa):
Jim Spinosa responded to Mark's article on mathematics in the 07/01/05 issue of the MT VOID, saying, "Mark R. Leeper's topic, 'Mathematics is Discovered, Not Invented' was interesting; with his views he could survive a "Spectre Of The Gun" scenario without a Vulcan mindmeld. He has the right mindset to study/debunk Einstein's General Relativity. Here is a snapshot of Einstein's explanation of the Principle of Equivalence. Gravity is equivalent to acceleration blah, blah, blah, blah. OK, gravity is equivalent to acceleration but only under special circumstances. Here is an example where gravity is not entirely equivalent to acceleration. (Einstein doesn't mention that his example applies to every material object in the universe.) Yet, gravity is still equivalent to acceleration. There are other aspects of General Relativity that M. R. Leeper should find interesting. Questionable derivatives: There are formulas that specify how to transform points (x,y) from the standard Cartesian coordinate system to other non-standard systems with points(x',y'). The derivatives of these formulas are taken, but what do the derivatives of these formulas represent? General Relativity is a theory that depends on Ockham's Razor. The simplest explanation, which takes into account all the relevant facts, is the correct explanation. If one of A or B is true, and A is false, then B must be true. What if A, the false explanation, is simpler than B and takes into account all the relevant facts, then according to Ockham's Razor the false explanation is true. " [-js]
Mark replies, "I cannot say I follow your entire argument. As for your last question, there are various levels of confirmation of statements from hypothesis to tautology. Ockham's Razor is a principle which is a low level. The rules of logic are on a much, much, much firmer footing than Ockham's Razor. There are all sorts of over-simplifications that Ockham's Razor says are true, but in reality are false. [-mrl]
Jim also later wrote, "When Mark Leeper first posed this question (in his parallel lines essay), I thought there was no empirical way to investigate it. Later I recalled the things I read about Bell's Theorem. Adherents of Bell's Theorem believe we live in a non-local universe,which would seem to qualify as a different universe. Remarkably, modern physics has insights into this question. It has discovered a different universe with different physical laws. It is our own universe viewed as a non-local universe. In the classical, local universe events and their effects had a limited range. The effects of an event couldn't travel faster then the speed of light and they couldn't affect a very distant particle instantaneously. In a non-local universe a particle can produce an effect on a very distant particle instantaneously. Do the principals of mathematics change in a non-local universe? According to the adherents of Bell's Theorem, principles such as probability and corroboration still exist but in a different form. For instance, the maximum theoretical probability of an event is no longer one, it is some number greater than one. Similarly, if the theoretical maximum corroboration of a group of experiments (group X) in a local universe is two, then the theoretical maximum corroboration of the same group of experiments (group X) in a non-local universe is greater than two. Many scientists believe Bell's Theorem has been empirically verified. Others believe the experiments used to prove Bell's Theorem are flawed. Perhaps, a small minority believe Bell's Theorem is a pathetic fraud--a fraud that can be discerned from any accurate description of the theorem." [-js]
Mark replies, "I am not convinced that the mathematics actually could differ in another universe. The rules of mathematics and logic would remain the same. The axioms might change, but the same axioms would lead to the same conclusions. That would change the physics but not the mathematics. In our universe we have different geometries: Euclidean and at least two non-Euclidean geometries. They describe different 'universes' but do not contradict each other. I suppose it is like in England you drive on the left, in America you drive on the right, but the laws don't contradict each other, you just apply each where it is appropriate." [-mrl]
Letter of Comment (by Fred Lerner):
Fred Lerner writes, "I really enjoyed Kate Pott's piece on "The War of the Worlds" in the latest MT Void [07/08/05]. [-frl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
G. K. Chesterton's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (ISBN 0-486-43178-9) has no relation to either of the Hitchcock films of that title, but is rather a collection of eight stories about sleuth Horne Fisher, who "knows too much" about the British upper class. The stories have Chesterton's literary flair, but are not as appealing as his "Father Brown" stories, perhaps because Fisher is not as appealing as Father Brown. And I came to this conclusion well before I read the following speech by Fisher: "...if you think I'm going to let the Union Jack go down and down eternally, down in defeat and derision, amid the jeers of the very Jews who have sucked us dry--no I won't, and that's flat; not if the Chancellor were blackmailed by twenty millionaires with their gutter rags, not if the Prime Minister married twenty Yankee Jewesses, ...." (page 71-72) (Yeah, I know--I seem to be seeing this sort of thing everywhere. Trust me, I'm not choosing books *trying* to find these.)
MURDER ON MAIN STREET edited by Cynthia Manson (ISBN 0-56619-927-1), you will be pleased to hear, doesn't have any overt anti-Semitism, though it's unlikely that someone editing a book in 1993 for Barnes & Noble would include any of that sort of material. (Of course, the subtitle is "Small Town Crime from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine & Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine", and one is somewhat less likely to have Jewish characters to comment on in a small town in Nebraska than in London.) As a summer beach read, this is pretty good, because the stories are best read spread out over a week or two of vacation rather than one after another.
I read General Robert E. Lee's WARTIME PAPERS (ISBN 0-306-80282-1) and Captain Robert E. Lee's RECOLLECTIONS AND LETTERS OF ROBERT E. LEE (ISBN 0-914427-66-0) simultaneously, reading first General Lee's papers, and then his son Captain Lee's recollections of the war and of his father. (The son's volume covers Lee after the war as well.) For the serious student of the Civil War, I would obviously recommend General Lee's papers, which are far more detailed. But for the casual reader, Captain's Lee's book is probably a better overview that avoids the minutiae of troop movements and supply requisitions, while still providing enough extracts of Lee's letters to get some idea of his perspective. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Reality is nothing but a collective hunch. -- Lily Tomlin
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