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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/22/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 51, Whole Number 1446
Table of Contents
Spam Filter Problem:
It has come to our attention that some people with over- enthusiastic spam filters might not have gotten the issue of two weeks ago (06/08/07), which contained pointer to our Pacific Northwest logs. (Other topics included comments on the Science Fiction Book Club, on FRANKENSTEIN (1910), on LAND OF THE LOST, and on the second half of the 20th century; film review of GYPSY CARAVAN; letter of comment on the future, AWAY FROM HER, poetic writing, and H. G. Wells; and comments on books [Hugo goofs].) If you missed it, the issue can be found at http://www.fanac.org/fanzines/MT_Void/MT_Void-2549.html.
The failure results from spam filmters thinking that our web host is a spam generator. They do not like a word that starts with "geo" and continues with "cities." We will avoid using that word in the future as much as possible. [-ecl, mrl]
Geometrically Considerate (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
. . . Oh, and by the way I am *not* out of shape. I just try to maintain a very modest surface area for my volume. [-mrl]
Update on SH20 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Relevant to last week's editorial, the Guardian reported this week that China has already overtaken the United States in the volume carbon dioxide emission: http://tinyurl.com/2meyy2 [-mrl]
Almost Human (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Food for thought: People want robots to be either very believably human or not very similar. There is a middle ground where they look really human but not quite and it really creeps people out. They would rather talk to an anthropoid Mickey Mouse or to a human than something that looks nearly human and is not.
SH20--The Seeds of Destruction (Part 3) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been talking about SH20 (pronounced S-H-2-O), the second half of the 20th century. Specifically I have been saying that improvements in the fortunes of the average person during those years may have been self-limiting and brought about many of the problems of the 21st century.
Previously I was talking about how during SH20 the cost of healthcare increased, but workers in corporations had security because their companies were footing much of the bill. But that worked for the American worker only so long as they were employed. Workers from other countries could live more cheaply and were paid less, but they were far away and did not compete in the same job market. There were geographical barriers to prevent corporations from using the less expensive labor from lower- powered economies than our own. The telecommunications that allowed the individual better and better access to information first from families (with things like long distance calling) and then from strangers (over the Internet) were rarely seen as a threat to the workers' security, but they were. A little better foreseen was that computer software could also be competition for the worker. The computer, a much more indefatigable worker, could eliminate many jobs. These days the American worker has much more competition from the computer and from labor abroad. There can be little job security for anybody whose output can be moved from another country to ours over a wire. With more international some competition prices are coming down, but that includes the price of labor.
When I was in high school and college we had the devastating Vietnam War. That made lives very bad for some people I knew. We presumably even lost that war. (I say "presumably" because I was to Vietnam in 2001 and found I could walk down the streets of Hanoi and see shops with boxes that said Sony and Panasonic and hundreds of international brands for sale. You see Internet cafes that fill up with high school students as soon as school lets out. Creating an ideal Communist state is not really what the younger generation wants these days. Who actually won that war is a moot point that could be a subject for another article.)
There is a reason that the enemy we fought in Vietnam was particularly difficult to fight. That was the way the enemy was structured. Really what we were fighting was fairly new. We were fighting an enemy made of little groups of dedicated fighters. Destroy one group and you have just taken out one group, you have not significantly damaged the network. It is the same reason that the Internet would be so hard to destroy--if you take out part the rest just routes around it. It is the same reason that crabgrass and cancer are so hard to get rid of. (These are all called "semi-autonomous networks.") With the Vietnam War the fighting was limited to one country. The public saw an untenable war, but it was still a war that was "over there." In the 21st century we face global terrorism that is structured the same way, a semi- autonomous network, and it may not be just "over there." We are fighting an enemy that includes cells that are over here. Recent attempted attacks on New York and New Jersey demonstrate that some of the conflict may be within our borders. I think that fact should not be trivialized. And the terrorist forces are structured like a network where taking out pieces will not significantly impact the network. I don't think that many of us have realized that fact and considered its implications, and it is probably going to have a powerful negative impact on all our futures. Fighting an insurgent network on our own soil could be much more nightmarish than many of us realize.
I think we are seeing the quality of life degrading little by little. And the big slide may be ahead. Previously we lived in times when there were a lot of doomsday predictions. I remember being told that there would be no elephants left in the year 2000 due to poaching. We were told that the plankton were dying and that would destroy the food chain. I myself was convinced that the Y2K bug was going to have very dangerous consequences. Many of these predictions were exaggerations well intentioned but intentional nonetheless by people anxious to get action on their particular cause. Some were just selfish lies from people making money. Some may have been valid concerns but are taking longer than expected. But the predictions bred and fueled a counter- movement of skeptics. Some people were reassured that the status quo was pretty firmly in place. But many of these scenarios are based on well-founded fears. It takes only one of two of the predictions to be realized and our stable society may prove to be not so stable and not so pleasant. I cannot help believing there is a good chance of that.
It may well be true that every generation as it ages its people feel they have reached a period of unprecedented threat or just that they have lived through the best of times. Perhaps faced with the then new threats of nuclear warfare your grandparents felt that the 60s and 70s were a particularly threatening time. Their parents saw the rise of Nazism in Europe was bringing the possible end to civilization. I know I am now in my fifties and I see us headed for what I think may be unpleasant times. They seem to be much less agreeable than the times I lived the majority of my life. With all that was wrong with the second half of the 20th century, it may well prove to have been the best of times. Whether that is true or not we all shall see. [-mrl]
Ponds on Mars (letter of comment by Steve Lelchuk):
In response to Mark's article on ponds on Mars in the 06/15/07 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Lelchuk writes, "Those who check the link will see that the authors have now retracted their conclusion, since others have pointed out that the area in question was a slope which could not therefore have puddling water. One question *I* had when I looked at the picture was: Why is the "water" (or ice?) *blue*? On earth, when we look at a lake, it generally looks blue because our earthly skies are blue and are reflected in the water. Is that not so? Therefore, water puddled on Mars ought to look orange, or reddish, or whatever color the Martian sky is. Whatever it is, it isn't *blue*!" [-sl]
Oil (letter of comment by John Oswalt):
In response to Mark's article on SH20 in the 06/15/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Oswalt writes, "There is only one thing worse than the world running out of oil, and that is the world not running out of oil. (Apologies to Oscar Wilde)" [-jo]
FAHRENHEIT 451, Ponds on Mars, and SH20 (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to various articles in the 06/15/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell wrote:
A couple of things piqued my interest in your latest effort, Mark and Evelyn. The first one is the continuing saga of Ray Bradbury's contention that FAHRENHEIT 451 was not about government censorship, but was "a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature." Okay, I can see that. Without reading Patrick Nielsen Hayden's "rebuttal" to this statement, it seems to me that censorship would have the same effect. There are many ways to interpret this novel, as happens with any piece of literature; one way that I interpret Fahrenheit 451 is that it is very much about the human spirit and that the human need for story-telling will continue. At the same time, it is very much about censorship, government control of nearly all aspects of our society, and the decline in not only reading, but the American educational system as well.
Whoa, Nellie! I think I just described the Bush Administration! ;=)
Another thing you noted was the discovery of ponds on Mars. I have been following the recent NASA reports of their various discoveries, such as the existence of caves, and that serendipitous accident where one of the land rovers scraped the surface and revealed soil discoloration that could only result from oxidation, yet another linkage to the possibility of water being on Mars in the past. Things are getting interesting up on the red planet. Maybe we should send a team up there to investigate. I wonder how quickly NASA could get Val Kilmer ready to go...
The second half of the 20th century--SH2O, as you call it--may indeed be the most contradictory era of modern history. So much wealth, so much poverty; so much industrialization, so much mess; great steps forward in medicine, so many new deadly diseases and viruses; so many people...
Well, the compare and contrast could go on for quite a while. It is almost as if SH2O best exemplifies the opening line to A TALE OF TWO CITIES: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Perhaps most Americans are finally waking up to the fact that the Baby Boomer generation should be held accountable for the economic/environmental condition that the USA and the world are in today. We can probably point to American complacency and arrogance as the biggest culprits toward causing much unrest in the world. However, ancient cultural divisions around the world are just as nasty now as they were two, three, or four thousand years ago. The world today is indeed a scary place, and what the near future holds is anybody's guess. It is certainly a powder keg of possibilities.
In fact, just last night (15 June 2007) I was watching CNN Headline News when Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, co-authors of the "Left Behind" book series, were being interviewed, providing their interesting take on current events as seen from a literal interpretation of prophetic scripture. It was a fascinating discussion. But the key word here is "interpretation"; ignoring the sales figures of these books--which is pushing the 100 million mark--LaHaye has been studying biblical prophecy for over fifty years, and he presents a very rational argument for how many passages in the Old Testament, such as Ezekiel 18, can be interpreted as signs of the End Times. As LaHaye and Jenkins pointed out, many of the prophecies in the Old Testament were met during the second half of the 20th century, which is one of the indicators that the End Times are about to begin.
Please don't think that I'm another Christian doomsayer claiming the end of the world is near. Far from it. I am merely pointing out that their "predictions" are one way to look at events of SH2O. In their own way, it does make sense if you have that kind of a mindset in reading scripture and piecing it together with current historical events. However, it needs to be mentioned that in times of great stress and uncertainty more people turn to religion to ease their worried minds. There is plenty of historical evidence to support that statement. Witness the rash of doomsayers and rapid growth in church attendance as the year 2000 approached. The same thing happened at the tail end of both the 18th and 19th centuries, too. But the bottom line still remains: never before in human history has so much been at stake with so much uncertainty hanging in the air. No wonder people want some kind of certainty to believe in in times like these.
All in all, I will be interested to read your final installment in this series. A very thought-provoking batch of essays.
That should do it for now. In the meantime, get back to digging out that shelter, Mark. Remember those old school drills we had when we were kids if there was a nuclear attack? As if they would really have helped. If it ever really happens, maybe all we can do is bend over, stick our heads between our legs, and kiss our collective ass goodbye.
What a wonderful image to end this LoC on. [-jp]
I try not to get too partisan here, but I will express my opinion. I disagree about what the Bush Administration trying to gain control of all aspects of our society. I think you are misreading them. While I am no lover of the Bush Administration by any means (and never have been), I don't think this is an accurate way to characterize them. They are not trying to control the society. They are reacting to some very real threats and doing so in some frequenlty misguided ways. I think their loyalties are first to their little clique, then to the Republican Party, then to country as a whole.
I do not see them trying to restrict the right to read HUCKLEBERRY FINN. They are actually trying to help defend that right. I think they are doing it incompetently and in frequently not properly considered actions.
It is a mistake and counterproductive to think of them as malicious. That only divides the country. And as to their incompetence, I don't think the infusion of Democrats into Congress has made much difference. They seem to be afraid to take action to change the course of our policy. They have a good deal more power than they had and it does not seem to be making much of a difference. Of course that may not be their fault. By not thinking out the Iraq invasion as clearly and as carefully as was the Bush people's responsibility to do they have put the country in an impossible and dangerous position.
When planning an invasion it is important for the commanders to think out all the possible effects and to be ready for them. FDR's people I am sure struggled long and hard about the consequences of the D-Day Invasion and considered all the contingencies. They thought out what might have happened. Just as they were with FEMA the Bush administration were more excited about power of appointing the vital people,their position but not in doing their homework beforehand.
As for the ponds on Mars, I have to retract that statement. If you go to the same web site you will see that that announcement has been retracted in the interim interval between my writing and the publishing. Pity.
Nor do I believe agree that American complacency and arrogance is are, as you say, the biggest culprits toward causing much unrest in the world. I guess I feel out our place inpolicy toward the world is characterized by ignorance, self-interest, and idealism. But then probably all countries' place inpolicy toward the world is characterized by the same three factors. We may even be above average in idealism.
As for LaHaye and Jenkins, I do not take them very seriously. Pick any century of the last twenty and I think a willful person could interpret the Biblical prophecies seem to apply to that time. But I do think we could be headed for a very unstable period.
Thank you for the response and the kind words. [-mrl]
BRAVE NEW WORLD (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):
In response to Evelyn's comments on BRAVE NEW WORLD in the 06/15/07 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph Major writes, "To help fill in on BRAVE NEW WORLD, Mustapha Mond is named after two famous people: Ataturk (whose first name is more usually rendered "Mustafa") and Sir Alfred Mond (co-founder of Brunner Mond, a company later part of Imperial Chemical Industries, with John Brunner's grandfather, Sir John Brunner). I do think that the section where John Savage becomes a media personality is a terrifying prediction of what was to come." [-jtm]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Our book group chose selections from EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY edited by John Carey (ISBN-10 0-380-72968-7, ISBN-13 978-0-380-72968-5) for this month's discussion. After much debate we decided on pages 1 through 174, along with the introduction. (This brought us up to the founding of Jamestown in 1607, which seemed a good cut-off point. We try to keep the page count per month under 300 pages.) The introduction was added at the last minute, when I realized that it provided a fair amount for discussion, as Carey talks about the history and philosophy of reportage. For example, he cites Ben Jonson's 1626 play "The Staple of News" as using "the self-evident absurdity of news-gathering as an activity. History has not supported Jonson's judgement." He also discusses the science fiction novel THE TIN MEN by Michael Frayn (ISBN-10 0-006-54102-X, ISBN-13 978-0-006-54102-8).
Now, the one thing that can be said about having a ridiculously large science fiction collection is that when I read a reference to a book such as THE TIN MEN, one can go and pluck it off the shelf. (Or in my case, out of the box.) This is a social satire reminiscent of those of Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. At the William Morris Institute of Automation Research, people are busy trying to find ways to automate everything. Rowe, for example, is working on coming up with programming that will produce the descriptions and results of sporting events without the actual inconvenience of playing the games or running the races. What Carey is talking about, though, is Goldwasser's job: automating the production of news. One sample would be a file he picks up which is labeled "Child Told Dress Unsuitable by Teacher" and reads: "V. Satis. Basic plot entirely invariable. Variables confined to three. (1) Clothing objected to (high heels/petticoat/frilly knickers). (2) Whether child also smokes and/or uses lipstick. (3) Whether child alleged by parents to be humiliated by having offending clothing inspected before whole school. Frequency of publication: once every nine days."
There is also a great sequence which is basically a flow- chart/state diagram of an article. One starts with "Traditionally," and then chooses an event: weddings, deaths, births, and so on. "Weddings" leads to "are occasions for rejoicing"; deaths leads to "are occasions for mourning." "The wedding of X and Y" is followed by a choice between "is no exception" or "is a case in point." And so on. (Now you know where all those cliches come from!)
All this is combined with a plot about the Queen's visit, which starts out as a brief stop and escalates through the efforts of dozens of committees, overlapping and duplicating each other's work. This was probably true to some extent when Frayn wrote THE TIN MEN (1965), but has grown and expanded enormously since then.
(Frayn is probably best known these days as the author of the play COPENHAGEN.)
And completely coincidentally I picked up THE TRUTH by Terry Pretchett (ISBN-10 0-380-81819-1, ISBN-13 978-0-380-81819-8), a book about the invention of the newspaper and the whole reporting industry in Ankh-Morpork. One suspects that Pratchett's opinions on the press is summed up by one character's statement: "People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortably when you tell them *new* things. New things . . . well, new things aren't what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don't want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people *think* they want is news, but what they really crave is *olds*."
But Pratchett also has a more philosophical turn occasionally, as when he muses on movable type :"The ban on movable type wasn't *exactly* a law. . . . [The] wizards and priests didn't like it because words were important. An engraved page was an engraved page, complete and unique. But if you took the leaden letters that had previously been used to set the words of a god, and then used them to set a cookery book, what did that do to the holy wisdom?"
THE HISTORIES by Herodotus (translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, introduction by A. R. Burn) (ISBN-10 0-140-44908-6, ISBN-13 978-0-140-44908-2) is not, strictly speaking, reportage. Most of it is not first-person writing, and even when it is, at times Herodotus is either making it up or is extremely gullible. He does not claim to have seen the gold-digging ants, for example, but does present it as fact. He claims to have seen an inscription on the side of the Great Pyramid recording the amount spent on radishes, onions, and leeks for the workers. But he adds that "the interpreter who read me the inscription said the sum was 1600 talents of silver." So obviously he did not know from first-hand knowledge what the inscription said, and was almost definitely lied to by the interpreter (who may not have had any idea what the inscription said either).
Burn points out that Herodotus is willing to report beliefs even when he does not believe them himself. For example, "The third theory [of what causes the Nile to rise each year) is much the most plausible, but at the same time furthest from the truth; according to this, the water of the Nile comes from melting snow, but as it flows from Libya through Ethiopia into Egypt, that is, from a very hot into a cooler climate, how could it possibly originate in snow? Obviously, this view is as worthless as the other two." And talking of Phoenicians who circumnavigated Africa, Herodotus writes, "These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of [Africa], they had the sun on their right--to the northward of them." Well, Herodotus may not have believed these statements, but they are both, in fact, true.
[Note: the ISBN numbers given are for a newer edition, with the introduction by someone other than Burn.]
And this last note is not a review, but a warning: I had bought the hardcover of Neal Stephenson's QUICKSILVER ("Volume 1 of The Baroque Cycle") (ISBN-10 0-060-59308-3, ISBN-13 978-0-060-59308-7 for the equivalent trade paperback) a while ago, but it was very big and hard to hold. So when at a library book sale I saw a copy of QUICKSILVER ("The Baroque Cycle #1") in mass-market paperback (ISBN-13 978-0-06-083316-9, ISBN-10 0-06-083316-5) that was much more compact, I picked it up. Well, the reason that it is much more compact is that it is only *a third* of the hardcover! The trilogy (in hardcover and trade paperback) is being released as eight separate books in mass market paperback. One bizarre side effect of this is that it will cost considerably more to buy the entire story in mass market ($63.92) than in trade paperback ($47.80). I paid only fifty cents for this abomination, and I suppose I can use it as an easy-to-carry way to start the series, but this sort of marketing is downright sleazy. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I am increasingly distressed by how threadbare the fabric of society is becoming. Science is more politicized. Politics is more factionalized. Factions are becoming more militant. Militants are becoming a lot more crazy. And crazies have their hand on more science. -- Mark R. Leeper
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