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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/24/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 13, Whole Number 1616
Table of Contents
Sub-Prime Loan (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw there was a course offered called "Learn What We Owe to the Ancient Greeks". I am wondering how important that is and am just trying to figure out how they could ever collect on that debt. [-mrl]
One Way To Think About Off-Shore Oil Drilling (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
One of the people I discuss politics with on a regular basis is someone who is very fearful that the United States government is growing too big and has too many regulations. Now I have to admit that I don't really know what is too much regulation and what is not. Any rule that makes no sense and does more harm than good is extraneous. However, one really has to look at the specific regulations to decide if any particular regulation is a bad idea or not. And worse than that, frequently it would take experts with specialized expertise to know if a regulation is a good idea or a bad one. And even more, even if two people have such expertise, they may not agree. Like the economy, two experts may have very different theories.
I took the easy way out and I gave my correspondent the Gulf oil drilling as a place where it seems to me apparent that there was a shortage of regulatory control. A great deal of damage had been done with the BP oil spill and the after-the-fact investigations seem to conclude (and BP admits) that unsafe practices had taken place. I used that as an example.
The response I got was, "There are reams of regulations on off- shore drilling and only one major accident in forty years (if I recall correctly). You think the problem in this singular case was under-regulation?"
My correspondent asks a fair question. I do not have the technical knowledge of whether drilling is over-regulated or not. There can be a lot of regulation, but it can be the wrong regulation. It is quite possible that some aspects of drilling are over-regulated and others are under-regulated. It is possible to just have the wrong regulation. But effective rules have to be in place and then they have to be enforced. It seems to me that the BP accident happened because of either under-regulation or under-enforcement. I don't know enough to know if the regulation really covered what went wrong. But I would be willing to bet that almost certainly this was not the first time such risks were taken. My friend continues:
"Or [was this a case of] just operator error & negligence? Can government ever fix the latter? Do you think the total shut-down is good government policy?"
It is difficult to know what to do about off-shore oil drilling because the subject is foreign to most of us. But there are some general principles that I think we can say do apply. I think the way to think about the BP spill is to take an analogous case.
In an intersection that has been generally safe, a drunk slams into someone else's car. Now let us ask the same questions, but about this case. Is traffic over-regulated by the government? There are lots of traffic rules and regulations. Some of them under many circumstances do little to improve public safety. Who has not had the experience of being stopped for a red light when there are no other cars around? The light wastes time and does not help anyone. The law just does not trust me to judge whether it is safe to drive through the intersection or not. The sheer volume of regulation does not tell me if we need more or less or if it needs to be fine- tuned.
Is traffic in general under-regulated, over-regulated, or mis- regulated? I just don't know. One has to look at the traffic regulations on a one-by-one basis. I know I am not happy when I have to stop for a red light that is doing nobody any good, but I accept it as part of the overall package of law enforcement that generally has made driving safe.
The car accident was certainly a case of operator error and negligence. There have, however, probably been lots of infractions of safety rules that did no harm before the one that did real damage. Can the government ever end drunk driving? It sure tries to do what it can to limit the practice with enforcement and spot checks and driver education. Law enforcement tries to catch violators before they can hurt innocent bystanders (or themselves). I think most people believe that government efforts to curtail drunk driving do make the roads safer. That is your government stepping in and doing things. It could be smaller government if it wasn't doing something about the inebriated behind the wheel, but this effort is *needed*. Similarly there probably is a need to heavily regulate off-shore oil drilling. My suspicion is that drilling requires experts to inspect and make sure that it is safe. And doing all this policing is an indispensible function of government.
Stopping all driving would not be good government policy, but controlling traffic as well as the government can is. To the best of my knowledge nobody is suggesting permanently ending driving or off-shore drilling. But each has to be made nearly safe before it can proceed. Surely that is reasonable. [-mrl]
WWW: WATCH by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2010, Ace, $24.95, 352pp, ISBN 978-0-441-01818-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
So, one thing that annoys me to no end during Hugo reading time is that I have to shift my focus from my to-read stack to something else, with that something else being the novels nominated for the the Hugo awards that year. It gets especially aggravating when most of those novels are not to my liking, as this year's crop was. So, after I get done reading the nominees and sending in my vote, and after I read a portion of the magazine to-read stack that has piled up, I get to go back to my book to-read stack.
One of the other unfortunate things that occurs at the same time as Hugo reading is that Rob Sawyer comes out with another book. Don't get me wrong--as you all know I always look forward to another Sawyer novel. It's just that they tend to be released in April of a given year, and I've already started reading Hugo nominees. So, Sawyer's book goes to the stack to be read as soon as I'm done trudging through nominees.
Hey. I'm done trudging. I read Rob Sawyer's latest novel. Alright, I'm making progress.
(And some of you may be thinking, "Wait a minute. Hugo voting ended at the end of July. This is mid-September. It couldn't have taken you THAT long to read the book." You're right. It didn't. After I submitted my ballot I went with my daughter on vacation out to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then we came back and spent two frantic weeks getting ready to take her to college in Colorado. Then we took her to college. Then I hurt my back and I couldn't sit at the computer at home--the chair is awful--to even type the thing. So, doo-doo occurred, as it were. :-))
WATCH is the second installment of the WWW trilogy. As everyone knows by now, the hook here is that the World Wide Web gains consciousness. Its name is Webmind, and it has as its first and main friend in the world, Caitlin Decter. Caitlin, if you remember, is the teenager from WAKE who was blind but has gained sight through the miracle of a medical procedure. The side effect is that she can "see" the web, visualize it. She has nurtured the emerging consciousness and become its friend. She helps it learn about the world, learn about humanity, and basically learn about her and her family. And she thinks it can be a force for good, one that can make a positive change in humanity. Basically, Webmind is a child, Caitlin is the parent, and she's helping it grow up.
But there are others out there who are not so sure about Webmind being a friend to humanity. There's a government outfit called Watch that monitors the internet and the web for threats to the United States. Watch doesn't think Webmind is friendly--Watch thinks Webmind is dangerous, and they want to eradicate it. They'd also like to know how it came into being, but that's secondary to getting rid of it.
And so the story of Caitlin and Webmind continues. But it's not only those two that we're following. Remember Hobo, the hybrid critter that can paint? He's back, along with his human companions. The story of the mass murder of Chinese people that have the bird flu is still hanging around. One wild theory is that Webmind has been pushed into being by the shutdown and restart of internet connections to China during its (China's) attempt at controlling information about the flu.
This novel is a *lot* about growing up. It really is. It's about Webmind learning about the world, learning about helping humanity. It's about momma Caitlin letting Webmind know when he's overstepped his bounds, but encouraging him to explore them. It's about Caitlin learning how to deal with high school, and getting and dealing with a boyfriend. And my, oh my, isn't she quite the protective mother when it comes to dealing with Watch's attack on Webmind.
This is really a cool book with a lot of cool ideas. It's a book that tells the tale of a bunch of humans dealing with a technology, an entity that they don't understand. It's about a government dealing with things the only way they know how--by trying to get rid of it. And just what about that hybrid chimp and the Chinese bird flu?
Sawyer goes into just the right amount of depth in talking about these issues and much, much more. As usual, he tells a story about the affect technology and the unknown has on humanity. And, above all, he tells a *story*. Meaning this in a good way, I want to say that substance is *not* sacrificed for style, as in so much of the SF that is hitting the market these days. I've said it a whole bunch of times before, and I'll say it again--Robert J. Sawyer is a terrific storyteller with a clear, concise writing style. WWW: WATCH is the latest example of his craft--and I eagerly look forward to the completion of the WWW trilogy in WONDER. [-jak]
TEMPLE GRANDIN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Made for HBO, this biopic is the best film so far this year. This is a story of Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, a college professor, and a person with autism. She has used her individualized condition to reexamine livestock handling, to redesign animal handling mechanisms, and to shed new light on the autistic mind. Clare Danes gives a hypnotic performance and director Mick Jackson keeps the film as visually interesting and full of ideas. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
I had a special reason for wanting to see the film THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS when it was released. I had seen the film MANHUNTER, the first film with Hannibal Lecter as a character. In it, the detective is talking to Lecter (played by Brian Cox) and Lecter was drawing deductions from clues that had been found to the identity of another serial killer. Lecter says that blood looks black in moonlight and uses that obscure fact as a clue. The whole film was about how only a psychopath can get inside the mind of a psychopath. I wondered if that was a fictional assumption or if it was true. TEMPLE GRANDIN, a film on much the same subject, is a factual biography of the title character. Temple Grandin is a world-famous expert on autism and on cattle handling. Her expertise of autism comes firsthand. She herself is autistic and at the same time she is a genius. And while it is probably impossible for someone not autistic to get into the mind of someone who is, this film makes a valiant attempt at showing visually Grandin's particular type of autism. But this is not a film like Lifetime Television's disease of the week. While telling the story the film repeatedly gives us visual explanations of how Grandin's autism works. Showing the inner workings of the mind of a genius has not been done so well since A BEAUTIFUL MIND and is done considerably better here.
Sadly, this best film so far this year is ineligible for any Oscars. That is because it was made for and premiered on HBO. It did win seven Emmy awards including Outstanding Made For Television Movie, Best Directing, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. Clair Danes's performance is the best of her career, probably by a wide margin. Also great is David Strathairn as the most inspiring high school teacher since OCTOBER SKY.
The film opens during the pivotal summer when Temple is nineteen years old and will be starting college in the fall. She is spending the summer on her aunt's farm. This is much a mixed blessing for all concerned. Temple can be very hard to deal with and harder to understand. She has a broad set of eccentricities that will frequently send her into tantrums. For example, she often refuses any food but yogurt and jello, and she cannot walk through automatic doors.
Temple thinks not in terms of words but in visual images. We are told and see that any object she sees brings a flood of related images from her past. But she is also extremely mechanically minded. She redesigns small mechanisms like the farmyard gate. Temple also has a phenomenal understanding of animals and has the odd ability to place herself into their minds and see things from their perspective. That story would be remarkable enough, but director Mick Jackson places us in Temple's mind. Contacts with simple objects bring staccato collages of images to the screen. When Temple is thinking mechanically we see labeled schematics of the devices she is planning. The film continues showing her education and career and fills in her past with flashbacks.
Through her life she suffers prejudice and misunderstanding as well as facing her own personal demons with fear of people, her own confusion, bewilderment, and horror. Nevertheless she is able to turn her personal genius and perspectives into a doctor's degree and an influential career. Her eloquence combined with her autism sheds new light into the brains of the autistics. As a personal story this is a fairly good film and quite engaging. But for its visual presentation of ideas of science on the screen it is very nearly unique.
This is an exceptional film and could very likely be my best film of the year. I rate it a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. The film TEMPLE GRANDIN is now also available on DVD. Oliver Sacks does an extensive case study on Temple Grandin in the title article of his book AN ANTRHOPOLOGIST ON MARS.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278469/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/temple_grandin/
Relationship Terms (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Evelyn's comments about relationship terms in the 09/17/10 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes, "Yes, we do need the word 'concu¤ado' in English, if only to stop people referring to Shy Di and Fergie." [-tb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I have recently completed reading my way through the syllabus for a course at Pennsylvania State University titled "After Borges: (The International Legacy of Jorge Luis Borges)" and taught by Professor Djelal Kadir in the fall of 2007. As described, "Readings range from Borges' declared precursors such as E. A. Poe, Franz Kafka, Macedonio Fernández, and successors such as the Italian Italo Calvino, the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, the Chinese writer Yu Hua, the American novelist Paul Auster, the German Gerhard Kopf, the Spanish (Catalan) writer Enrique Vila-Matas, the Brazilian Luís Fernando Veríssimo, the U.S. writer Oliver Sacks, the Serbian Danilo Kis, the Moroccan writer Tahar ben Jellun, the French writer Michel Rio, among other authors that the participants in the seminar may wish to explore in conjunction with the Borges corpus."
I will not be including all my comments here, since they run about 15,000 words. They can be found at http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/jlb_legacy.htm. However, I have been (and will be) including some excerpts now and then. A course description and reading list may be found at http://complit.la.psu.edu/faculty/kadir/fpath.html. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: If indeed, as Hilbert asserted, mathematics is a meaningless game played with meaningless marks on paper, the only mathematical experience to which we can refer is the making of marks on paper. --E. T. Bell
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