MT VOID 02/15/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 33, Whole Number 1480

MT VOID 02/15/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 33, Whole Number 1480

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/15/08 -- Vol. 26, No. 33, Whole Number 1480

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright 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

Super-Inflation (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Studying cosmology really blows my mind. We were watching a program about the Big Bang and about the early life of the universe. Just to boggle Evelyn's mind I explained to her that before the Super-Inflation a billion billion billion people could have lunch for less than a penny. That is pretty impressive all by itself, right? But we are talking soup, dessert, *and* a trip to the all-you-can-eat salad bar. [-mrl]

Call Me Kiva (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Let us suppose you are a farmer in Botswana. You have a very small farm with some animals. You could live very nicely if you bred the animals you had and made a bigger farm. There is a problem, however. You get your water from a river that is a mile away. You carry it by hand. You cannot carry enough water for the animals you have now. How can you make your farm bigger? It is too far to dig an irrigation ditch. There is one thing you can do. You could dig a well. Some of your neighbors have wells and the water is down there. So you have a chance. But there is one problem. Digging a well would cost about $100. You don't have $100. If you could get a loan there is a good chance that you could pay back $100 with a bigger farm. So you are all set. But not really. There is a local bank that will lend you the $100. But you will have to pay them back $135. Or they will take your farm. That makes it a big risk. A bigger farm will be more profitable, but $135 is a lot for you to agree to pay back. It is a little scary. Also your neighbor's brother would be glad to lend you $100. Him you would have to pay back $400. No, that is not what you want to do either.

Instead, the banker tells you he will help you get a loan through the computer. If you go to, you can apply for a loan there. You tell them who you are, what you want the money for, and get your picture taken to put on the Web. You probably could get a loan and you will have to pay back after a year $100. That's right. You have to pay back the same amount that you borrowed. This is a no-interest loan. But there is a catch. You also have to come to the computer periodically and report how your newly enlarged farm is doing. That is not so bad. It does not cost you anything. It is easy enough. But who is Kiva and why are they willing to lend you the money free of charge?

Well, that is a question I am prepared to answer. I am Kiva. I am lending you the money because I would like you to succeed, and I do want to read your reports. Kiva is not my real name, of course. My real name is Mark Leeper, and I live in a faraway place called Old Bridge, New Jersey. And I really am a swell guy. I think you have enough problems without me charging you interest. And I want the world to be a better place.

But how does all this work? How did I find out about you and your farm? I went to the same website you did, . There I looked at the people who were applying for loans. I chose you from among them because you interested me. I could lend any multiple of $25 up to $500. Now some people are asking for more money than you are, but they can have several Kiva lenders acting as a team to supply those loans. That may be a little less satisfying for the loaners, but it is in good purpose. The important thing is that it really costs me nothing but the having my money tied up without earning interest for a year. You pay me back. I get it all back less operating expenses. Oh, didn't I mention the operating expenses. Everybody pays the same operating expenses. Those are $0.00. I give $100. You get $100. At the end of the loan period you pay back $100. I get $100. Well, that is if I want my $100 back. If not I can lend it to someone else, and the whole deal starts again. So who is paying for the networking and the overhead? I believe it is PayPal. It may also be other financial networks. Whoever it is already has the facilities set up for their regular business and is volunteering to handle Kiva absolutely free. Oh, on the Kiva site you can donate to the Kiva organization itself, but that is strictly voluntary. They don't need a whole lot. It looks in the photographs like small operation. Software and the Internet do a lot of the work.

Of course there is always the possibility that your farm will fail--by the way, are you still the farmer from Botswana?--and you may not be able to pay back the money. Well in that case I guess I will be out $100. What is Kiva's default rate? That seems controversial. Someone claimed that Kiva's default rate is less than 1%. So I am going into this with a mathematical expectation of losing one dollar. Kiva says that their repayment rate is closer to 99.85% so my expectation is more like losing 15 cents. But there may be inflation loses the way the dollar is doing these days. I think I can risk that.

This whole idea is part of micro-finance. It is a new idea not to lend millions or billions to governments to distribute to the people fairly and honestly and with pure hearts. Believe it or don't some people in government are less than totally honest. That is how the United States government has to do it, giving money to foreign government because they really cannot just give the money to farmers in Botswana. The US Government probably does not even know any farmers Botswana to give the money to. This is a system to use the Internet to connect people like this Mark Leeper guy (and what a guy he is!!!) to people who really are farmers in Botswana.

I know what you are thinking. Yes, the terminology is a little bothersome. If I loan $100, someone is calling that a "micro- loan". It doesn't feel very micro to me. A loan of twelve million dollars is called a "loan". I would say a loan of $100 is a loan while the twelve million dollars is a "humungoid loan". But I swallow my pride. This is international finance.

By the way the government and the IRS does not consider this a charity because you get our money back in the end. (It is like with the carts at some grocery stores. Don't try claiming those quarters either as an expense on your taxes.) I don't think there is any tax advantage. Still, it is my kind of charity. Nobody makes any money off of operating expenses. Nobody uses it to save anybody's souls. Nobody buys any votes with it. It is all payload. I loan $100 and the person gets $100. And I get to see who is getting helped. I can even exchange email with the borrowers who have to let you know who they are. You lenders don't have to let them know who you are. You can be anonymous like Lamont Cranston or John Beresford Tipton if you want. (Gad. Whatever happened to John Beresford Tipton?) And if you don't want to be anonymous let me know you lent someone in the Third World some money and I will publish your name in the MT VOID.

Right now I plan to put in another couple of hundred and just not take it out. I probably will make a bunch of $25 loans and as the money gets repaid I will just keep re-loaning it out. I will just keep the ball rolling.

By the way, the case history above is purely fiction. Those of you who know me probably know I lied. I'm not loaning any money at all to any farmers in Botswana. I just made that part up. I don't even know any farmers in Botswana. I just did not want to admit that I had just loaned $100 to a consortium of ladies in Uganda to set up a vegetable stand and to buy chicken feed. Well, now you know the truth.

This is a very different and new idea for how to help the Third World. If you want to know more:

This is NBC's John Larson who made up a small video about his interest in Kiva. FrLTM49Sjy4

This is the founders talking about how they came to found the website:

This is PBS's Frontline and their feature on Kiva

(By the way, Evelyn too is a great guy or girl or person. This is our nest egg I am using.) [-mrl]

THE ULTIMATE EGOIST--VOLUME 1: THE COMPLETE STORIES OF THEODORE STURGEON edited by Paul Williams (copyright 1994, North Atlantic Books, 387pp, $18.95, ISBN 1-55643-182-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

So, many years ago I was wandering through some bookstore or another and chanced upon THE ULTIMATE EGOIST. I saw that it was the first volume in a long series that would eventually print in book form all of Sturgeon's short fiction. I said to myself "well, I always wanted to read more Sturgeon than I have", and picked it up.

Little did I know that the series would be up to eleven volumes as I write this review. I guess I'll end up reading more Sturgeon than I ever have before. It seems there's a lot to look forward to.

As most SF fans know, Theodore Sturgeon was one of the giants of our field. He started his writing career back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, writing spec pieces for the McClure Newspaper Syndicate. His first known published story, "Heavy Insurance", was published on July 16, 1938, and is included in this volume. Most of his early stories were written to spec, and some drew heavily on his experience as a seaman. Most of the stories included in this volume are not of the genre; however, it is clear that when he did write and publish SF, fantasy, and horror, that those were his best works.

It's tough to talk about all the stories in this book--most of them are non-descript, not very interesting, and obscure. They are the works of an early writer; I couldn't possibly say anything like "you can see where Sturgeon was headed with his later writings, as this story or that story shows how would be later developing the kinds of ideas he would later write about", or some such nonsense, because I've not read much Sturgeon and thus don't know much of his famous work. I have a few Sturgeon books in the house, but I read them so long ago that their stories are lost in the mists of time.

What I *can* do, however, is comment on a few of the genre stories that are included in this volume. "It" may be his most famous story from the early days, a predecessor to the Swamp Thing and other stories of that nature. It is quite chilling, at least taken in the context of its day, and quite nicely done. "Bianca's Hands" is another good early piece, and it seems to come from the mind of a fairly deranged man; the reader doesn't see where it's heading, and when it gets there the reader will probably be quite taken aback. "A God in a Garden" may be his first genre story that had any impact. The title story may be quite predictable in the end, but it is well done, telling the story of a man who has such an ego he believes that if he thinks something doesn't exist, it doesn't. There are two alien contact stories of sorts, "Ether Breather" and "Butyl and the Breather" (the latter of which is a sequel of the former), and they're just okay.

I guess the thing about this book is that it is the beginning, and for those who are curious about such things it will be interesting. There is a nice section at the end called "Back Words", which contain story notes about just about every story in the volume.

If you're interested in Sturgeon's really early work, then by all means find a copy of this book and read it. I suspect later volumes in the collection will be much more interesting. [-jak]

Robert A. Heinlein, Political Documentaries, the Gulf of Tonkin, and Eratosthenes (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to the 02/08/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

I was taken aback by Joe Karpierz's confession that he is familiar with Heinlein mostly in his years of decline, sans the path-breaking stories and novels of the Forties and the thought- provoking "juveniles" of the Fifties. Then again, I have run into people who love the late Heinlein; I would defend JOB and TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET, myself.

The beginning of VARIABLE STAR is very Heinleinesque. Then, around page 70 or so, it's like falling off a cliff: "You Are Now Entering Robinson Country". I got disgusted and set the book aside. I think Heinlein would have hated what Robinson did to his manuscript.

By the way, it seems like some of the VARIABLE STAR manuscript was recycled into Heinlein's 1957 CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY, in which the protagonist becomes Rudbeck of Rudbeck instead of Conrad of Conrad.

Quite right, "the political left is holding the high ground in political documentaries". Conservative documentaries are made, but they can't get distribution. In 2004, for example, the anti- Bush documentary, FAHRENHEIT 9/11, played in over a thousand theaters; but look at the s**tstorm that erupted when an anti- Kerry documentary was scheduled to be aired on a few dozen TV stations:

At best, even an honest documentary deals in anecdotal evidence. For example, even though soldiers tend to be markedly conservative in their political orientation, there are enough left-wing soldiers to fill hundreds of documentaries.

It's untrue that the Gulf of Tonkin Incident "is now generally acknowledged to have not involved Vietnamese participation at all." I had always vaguely believed it was some kind of a hoax when, a few years back, I was surprised to see a left-wing academic in the New York Review of Books call it a "provocation". According to Wikipedia, an American intelligence ship 28 miles off the North Vietnamese coast (thus, 23 miles out of North Vietnamese territorial waters as defined by North Vietnam) was approached by three NV torpedo patrol boats. The Americans fired some warning shots; the NV returned some non-warning shots; not much damage on either side.

Finally, the discussion of Eratosthenes powerfully recalled to my mind Carl Sagan walking through the cool, green-marbled halls of the Library of Alexandria, browsing a few of the hundreds of thousands of books forever lost to us. [-tw]

Mark responds:

I remember the incident you mention with the conservative documentary. I would be less prone to call it an incident of political bias as one in which bias was squelched.

Let me complete the story. Sinclair Broadcasting wanted to show the documentary STOLEN HONOR from Red, White, and Blue Productions. It was to be shown in October 2004 the month before the national election. The film was essentially a diatribe against John Kerry, timed to correspond with the Presidential election.

Sinclair Broadcasting wanted to show it, but also wanted to provide equal time to counter the blatantly anti-Kerry message. Kerry declined and Michael Moore offered for free to allow his film FAHRENHEIT 9/11 be shown to balance the broadcast, but Sinclair declined. Sinclair's own Washington Bureau Chief, Jon Lieberman, condemned STOLEN HONOR saying, "It's biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election. For me, it's not about right or left--it's about what's right or wrong in news coverage this close to an election." Apparently Sinclair did not like Lieberman expressing his opinion and fired him, but then also cancelled the broadcast.

I would not call this incident as media bias, as you imply. It was a question that Sinclair Broadcasting felt they could show the documentary and not show obvious bias. But this incident does not prove to me that conservative documentaries have any distribution problems that liberal documentaries do not. I am not sure that the road to release is any easier for liberal documentaries. The difference seems to be one of production quality and not political correctness. I would be as anxious to see a conservative documentary as I was to see NO END IN SIGHT or SICKO.

On the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, there seems to still be a lot of controversy about what did happen. Perhaps I overstated the consensus. [-mrl]

Medieval Knowledge (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to the comments on Erathosthenes in the 02/08/08 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:

If you want to get an idea of what was known or thought about by a late 14th century Englishman, read the CANTERBURY TALES. For a similar picture of an early 14th century Italian, read the DIVINE COMEDY (which actually does have a few funny parts, although the CANTERBURY TALES has a lot more)

In the CANTERBURY TALES ("The Monk's Tale") there is a reference to sound travelling in waves. Also, "The Squire's Tale" could be classified as science fiction. It involves a Mongol (member of the Golden Horde, based upon the reference to the capital of Serai which was near Volgagrad) who somehow came into possession of a giant flying horse which is controlled by shifting levers.

In the DIVINE COMEDY ("Inferno") there is an explanation of gravity reversing direction when you pass through the center of the earth (which is where the Devil hangs out). In the "Purgatory", there is a short discussion of evolution (presented as devolution) where the great variety of flora and fauna in the world is presented as mutation from the perfect living things present in the Garden of Eden. [-sm]

Mark responds, "In history as with politics there are the issues of what did they know, when did they know about it, and who knew about it. But in Columbus's day, the intelligentsia knew the earth was round and why it left a round circle shadow on the moon during an eclipse." [-mrl]

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

The newly formed afternoon discussion group at the library chose SECOND GLANCE by Jodi Picoult (ISBN-13 978-0-743-45451-3, ISBN-10 0-743-45451-0) for February. This is apparently popular with discussion groups, since the trade paperback has thirteen "questions and topics for discussion" at the back. And for me, the assumptions behind these were far more interesting and thought-provoking that the book itself. WARNING--spoilers ahead.

The first question says, in part, "In what ways does this title help us to understand that this book is not only about revisiting the past, but also exploring what we thought we knew, what we may have been mistaken about, and how things look different in hindsight?" While it is true that one might claim certain themes are obvious in a book, this seems to be a bit too specific. It's one thing to ask how a book is about perceptions, but this is really leading the witness.

"Ethan [a nine-year-old child in the book] struggles with the painful knowledge that he will probably die young. But despite this fact, Ethan seems to be very well adjusted--he has a sense of wisdom that certainly transcends his age." Yes, Ethan is a really remarkable kid--but he is not real. He is a character that Picoult wrote that way, so the real discussion point to me is whether Ethan seems believable as a character. (I am reminded of Robert A. Heinlein's STARSHIP TROOPERS. The society in that novel has flogging for traffic offenses and a variety of other societal changes. When one character asks another whether these are a good idea, the second says, well of course--the society works well, doesn't it? Well, yes, but that is because Heinlein wrote it that way.)

"Were you surprised to find this [the actual existence of the Vermont eugenics project] out? As you were reading the book, did you ever suspect that this was, indeed a chapter in Vermont's history? How does it change your view of this story to know that thirty-three states actually enacted sterilization laws?" This to me is the key question: it tells me who the target audience is (and is not). Clearly, the phrasing indicates that it is assumed that the reader did not know about the Vermont eugenics project or the sterilization laws, and probably thought Picoult made it up until they read the author's note at the end.

HICKORY, DICKORY, DEATH (a.k.a. HICKORY, DICKORY, DOCK) by Agatha Christie (ISBN-13 978-0-425-17546-0, ISBN-10 0-425-17546-4) is one of the more egregiously racist Agatha Christie books. Having the action take place in a hostel for foreign students makes it easy, of course. Christie seems to dislike Greeks in particular, this being just one of several novels of hers with unsavory or at least some questionable Greek characters (e.g., THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN; POIROT LOSES A CLIENT; ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE). [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           With or without religion, good people can behave 
           well and bad people can do evil; but for good 
           people to do evil; - that takes religion. 
                                          -- Steven Weinberg

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