MT VOID 01/16/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1841

MT VOID 01/16/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1841

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/16/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 28, Whole Number 1841

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

What to Eat After the Apocalypse:

"A set of solutions that ... would provide five years of food for the Earth's population" after something like a nuclear winter:>

I don't think they address the zombie apocalypse. :-) [-ecl]

Predictions (comments by Dale L. Skran):

Dale Skran sends in two links, one from of predictions that came true in 2014:

and another of Yahoo's predictions for 2015:


Speaking in Someone Else's Voice (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[P.S. This column came up a little short so let me ask a trivia question on a related subject. Sir Anthony Hopkins is extremely good at voice impressions. For the restoration of SPARTACUS he dubbed the late Sir Laurence Olivier's voice in portions. When he plays Hannibal Lector that eerie voice he uses is actually just his normal voice impression of another actor. Who is the other actor? The answer is at the end of this column.]

I recently got an answer to a question I had had been wondering about for a long time.

In 2009 the right-wing Investors Business Daily bulletin editorialized against the Affordable Care Act "explaining":

"The U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the 'quality adjusted life year.'

"One year in perfect health gets you one point. Deductions are taken for blindness, for being in a wheelchair and so on.

"The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care.

"People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless."

Apparently this claim made the e-mail rounds until somebody read it who knew at least some of the basics about Stephen Hawking.

If I were to name the first three characteristics of Stephen Hawking that come to my mind when I think about him they would be

1) Brilliant physicist and cosmologist.

2) Afflicted with ALS and speaks with a voice synthesizer.

3) English.

In fact he is very, very English and always was. He went to both Oxford and Cambridge and still teaches at the latter. So obviously he spent his entire life in the United Kingdom under their health care system. So it is obvious how much of a chance he would have had in the United Kingdom with their health system because that was exactly the chance he got. And he is perfectly happy with the healthcare he received from their National Health Service.

I did not hear of all this until somebody had already exposed the error. By then it was the object of some laughter that the opponents of the Affordable Care Act who were using this argument could so easily be shown to be spreading ignorance. Stephen Hawking got involved making a statement that he had lived his entire life under the UK healthcare system and that he held it in high regard.

All this is old news.

Apparently some people were thinking that Hawking was from the United States. I was puzzled why people might assume that Stephen Hawking was an American. Well, it turns out there was probably a good reason to make that mistake.

I got an answer reading "Science News"'s coverage of the film THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, a dramatization of chapters in the life of Hawking. In the film Hawking gets his computer-synthesized voice and it shocks his wife Jane. It seems the synthesizer was developed in the United States. It has what we in the United States consider to be a neutral accent. That is it has the same pronunciation that national newscasters might use and which sounds to us to be non-regional.

To someone who has lived most of his life in England, a region- neutral American accent is a very pronounced American accent.

By now everyone who has heard Hawking use the synthetic voice expects to here that Americanized voice. It is hard to think of someone as really being the same person if he thoroughly takes on a different accent as Hawking was at first forced to do.

There probably are by now synthesizers that sound like someone from England, but people know the voice they are used to hearing. People do not expect or want Hawking to have an English accent. He feels like a genuinely different person if he has an American accent. People make assumptions about you if you speak in only an American accent. Americans may have a tendency to brashness, for example, that is not expected from the British.

I think people like the Internet pundits just jump to the conclusion that Stephen Hawking talks like an American so he must be an American.

[Trivia question answer: Katherine Hepburn.]


AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN (television review by Dale L. Skran):

As you may or may not know, FX has been running a horror anthology show titled AMERICAN HORROR STORY. Unlike past anthology shows, where each episode is different, here each season tells a completely different story, although sometimes sharing the same actors in different roles. I'm not a big horror fan, but do make exceptions when I find the story interesting. I'd seen a few episodes of COVEN on TV, and recently decided to watch the entire mini-series.

COVEN takes quite a bit from the X-Men. Instead of "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" we have "Miss Robichaux's Academey" with headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) playing the Xavier role. Both are crippled for much of the series--Xavier in this wheelchair and Cordelia blinded. Her pupils include Zoe Benson (Taissa Farminga), who has the not particularly useful power of causing any man she has sex with to die of a brain hemorrhage, and Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), a Lindsey Lohan type with the power of telekinesis. The two other pupils include human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), a black girl of considerable girth, and apparent very high-functioning Down's Syndrome case Nan (Jamie Brewer) who has the power of "clairvoyance" (actually, mind reading--COVEN uses the term incorrectly).

I'm not going to try and rehash the rather complex plot of the series. The overall theme is that the current "Supreme" Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) is fading, and it is time to choose a new leader. Alas, for a new Supreme to rise, the old must die--one way or another. Thus begins a round of GAME OF THRONES power games as the various potential Supremes try to out-do or even kill one another, and the current Supreme tries to identify and eliminate her replacement. The Supreme is nothing to be trifled with, possessing the powers called "The Seven Wonders" which include telekinesis, concilium (mind control), pyrokinesis, divination, transmutation (actually teleportation), vitalum vitalis (heal and raise the dead), and descensum (astral projection to Hell). These are not the only powers witches possess in COVEN, but if you have all seven, you are the Supreme. COVEN treats witchcraft as through it has a genetic basis, and it should not surprise you that the witches are hunted by male witch-hunters, and constantly set upon by their magical rivals, the Voodoo practitioners led by Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), the immortal Voodoo queen.

Although COVEN follows the traditional Hollywood trope that in the end evil is punished, this is a brutal and often hard to watch series. Much of that brutality is perpetuated by Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates), a psychopathic immortal racist witch who had dedicated herself to the torture of blacks. COVEN echoes the traditional theme that "power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely" and no one is quite as corrupt as the current Supreme, Fiona Goode, who is willing to do anything in her pursuit of immortality. However, all the characters are coarsened to some degree by what they are drawn to do as they pursue magic to its ultimate ends. Zoe, for example, who is a sort of normal every girl at the start, (1) resurrects a boy-toy in the Frankenstein style, (2) leads two of the witches as they torture a servant [he is a really foul fellow], (3) ultimately kills the servant by stabbing, and (4) fights a horde of zombies with a chain saw. This takes us through the first few episodes.

An interesting bit in COVEN is that Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) [a real person] appears in the series as herself, with the added detail that she is a witch. One of the witches--Misty Day--is a big fan of Stevie Nicks, and her music, including the songs "Rhiannon" and "Seven Wonders," plays an important part in the plot.

A good bit of the real horror in COVEN comes more from Fiona's decline due to cancer than from chopped off arms and heads, although there are a number of those. I'm not sure whether this is a strongly feminist or a deeply misogynistic take on witchcraft. It is certainly all about women--their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and their weaknesses. Men are present, but play a peripheral role in COVEN, often as loyal servants.

I'm not rating COVEN. This is strictly for adults--plenty of cable TV sex and violence--I skipped over some scenes. The acting is good, and the characters compelling. The overall story has many intriguing aspects, although an honest evaluation would admit that much of what is interesting in COVEN can be found in any X-MEN comic. [-dls]

PUMP (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: The documentary PUMP looks at the political strength of the petroleum corporations and gives the viewer a survey of already available or near-available alternative fuels. In fact, there seems to be an abundance of fuels superior to gasoline, and most seem to be ready for use now or will be shortly. The film makes a strong case that we should be converting over to use alternative fuels. At least that case is convincing for this non-technical viewer. While this is definitely a good time to be looking at fuel alternatives that would mean less pollution, less greenhouse emissions, and less cost at the pump, a large part of the argument is that gasoline was over $3 a gallon at the pump and will never go below $3 again. Of course, gasoline prices were well below that level at the time of the film's release. PUMP was written by Johnny O'Hara and directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The United States is not alone in its loving relationship with cars. Just about every country that goes from the bicycle stage of affluence to the automobile stage goes through the same love affair. The car does not only symbolize freedom and mobility, it delivers on its promise. Countries in Asia just getting cars are getting cars first and worrying about smog and global warming very much less and very much later. This is a disaster for the countries going through the transition and one for the rest of the world. The overwhelming majority of cars run on gasoline, which is an extremely dirty fuel. So why do we use it? PUMP gives the background on the dispute going back to petro-founder John D. Rockefeller and automobile inventor Henry Ford who favored petroleum and electricity respectively. Today in the United States the power of petro-dollars has blown down all political opposition.

PUMP illustrates the dangers of petroleum. It shows China and the immense cloud of pollution that enshrouds cities like Beijing. The cars that belch pollution also facilitate climate change. Their huge financial resources for purchasing petroleum will dangerously impact the world economy and politics. There is also a survey of what has happened in Detroit when the demand fell badly for cars that ran on previously cheap gasoline.

One problem for the filmmakers is the timing of their film release. Their experts tell their viewer that Saudi Arabia has greater oil supplies than the United States does and that gasoline is over $3 a gallon and will stay there. The price of crude, they claim, is going to go up to $140 and stay up there. Yes, at its height the price of crude went up to $143 a barrel, but then it fell. At the time of PUMP's release the price of crude was $48 a barrel. The price of gasoline is under $2 a gallon. This is a matter of bad luck, at least for the makers of this film. It does not mean that their other arguments and predictions are incorrect, but to clearly say that we will never see gasoline under $3/gallon, and then to have it below $2/gallon just months later undermines their arguments.

At about the halfway point the film shifts gears to listing the successes from around the world in finding alternative fuel sources. There is a profile of Elon Musk and his electric car, the Tesla. They also show several other electric cars with promising results.

Brazil has had great success with a car that runs on ethanol, a fuel considered superior to gasoline. The process that creates the ethanol also makes (as a by-product) cattle feed. The claim is made that Brazil is comparable to the United States having a land area nearly as large. It may well be nearly as large, but that is misleading because so much of it is covered by rain forest.

Government studies are presented that showed bio-mass, something that the United States has in abundance, can be used to make methanol, a much cleaner fuel than gasoline. They move on to a point that many cars apparently are already ready to accommodate flex fuels (a combination of ethanol, methanol, and gasoline in any proportions. It appears that many American cars sold are flex- fuel-ready and many would have to have only minimal effort to make them flex-fuel-ready.

The reason these cars are not using better fuels is not technical but political. The Tickells, directors of the film, make a case that the petroleum industry is making it illegal to use alternative fuels even though it would be perfectly safe. At just short of 90 minutes there is plenty in this film that informative and more that is infuriating. I rate PUMP a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


SELMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: SELMA offers a look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he is tested in the complex politics of race in 1965 when he organized the famous march from Selma, Alabama, to the State Capitol in Montgomery. For history about half a century old, it still has the power to enrage and enlighten. The film's style is not entirely successful and sometimes gets in the way of the story-telling. But it still is one of the better films of the year. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Martin Luther King, Jr. (played in the film by English actor David Oyelowo) was a great man who brought about monumental changes and took part in monumental events. That does not make SELMA a great film. As the only full-length feature film about King it is a mixed bag. Told against a background of King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1964), the Birmingham church bombing (1963), and the intentional disenfranchisement of black voters, this is the story of how King went to Selma, Alabama, to organize and arrange for the famous Selma-to-Montgomery March (1965). The latter required a political game of chess-like complexity with Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) and with Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson).

SELMA is directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. The film wastes no time in grabbing and infuriating the viewer. In the first minutes comes the first atrocious outrage and a second one follows not long after. DuVernay and Webb immediately have any viewer but the most hardened racist as angry as King is. Sadly, too much of this film is of the format of King hearing of some turn of events that aids the racists and he responds in conversation with a reaction that is well-reasoned, but in the rhetoric of a speech. The impression that one gets is that talking with King was often a very tiresome and trying experience. Speech was King's great forte--and one cannot leave the theater without being more convinced that it was a stronger forte than one had thought--but it does make this a rather talky film. While there are some exciting sequences, in general SELMA is rather static.

There were two or three sequences that seemed to hark back to recent films. In one, members of multiple activist groups descend on the King household, presumptuously making themselves at home and making themselves a meal. This was reminiscent of a sequence in, of all films, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Perhaps it was not the fault of the filmmakers, but we are introduced to many characters and many different similar activist organizations that are hard to keep straight. This situation is made even worse because so little effort was made to make the characters look like their real-life and familiar counterparts. Tom Wilkinson looks a little like Johnson, but there is nothing about Tim Roth that suggests George Wallace and Dylan Baker looks not at all like the real J. Edgar Hoover.

Aspects of history are represented differently than their usual public representation. Lyndon Johnson is remembered by many as being strongly pro-civil-rights. Here he is most often obstructionist trying to tread a middle ground between the beliefs of King and of Wallace. Historically there was very strong support for civil rights in the American Jewish community who saw the necessity to support another oppressed people. While other religions are shown explicitly supportive of the marches, there is almost no mention of the Jewish commitment. There is no dialog mentioning the close relationship of Blacks and Jews and there has been reported only one fleeting image of a marcher in a yarmulke.

The film is heavily stylized with most indoor scenes with King shot dimly with film noir lighting. Some of the dialog seemed mumbled, which further obscured the storytelling. For some reason, after some sequences we are shown a line reported by FBI operatives reporting what we had just scene. They had quickly made the point that the FBI was keeping a less than helpful eye on the freedom demonstrations. But that could have been established with a single line of dialog. Yes, the FBI is observing and just making notes rather than participating. What is the point of telling us repeatedly?

I cannot say I agree with all the style statements made by this film, but the film does flesh out history. It is not honest about everything it says, but it does not shy away from telling us of King's faults as well as his virtues. I rate SELMA a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:>

What others are saying:>


THE MENTALIST (letter of comment by Dale L. Skran):

In response to comments about THE MENTALIST in the 01/09/15 issue of MT VOID (in response to his review in the 01/02/15) issue, Dale L. Skran writes:

Someone asked which Mentalist episode was SF. Others speculated on whether Jane really had super-powers or not. I addressed both these issues in my essay "The Measure of the Man--The MENTALIST Revisited" which appeared in the MT VOID (05/18/2012). I agree that Jane is so smart and so skilled that it cannot be known whether he has superhuman powers or not. All that can be said is that he appears to be superhuman much of the time. If he really did have powers, wouldn't it make his life a lot easier to pretend that he didn't? It is also worth asking how smart you have to be to be "superhuman"? If you review the accomplishments of someone like John Von Neumann, you will see that the smartest human is very smart indeed. Von Neumann is an interesting case since he was a mathematician of profound skill, a world-changing engineer, and a leader who could sway the US Government and more or less anyone he wanted to do whatever he wanted--like build an H-bomb or a thinking machine. Von Neumann was also well known for driving fast, exotic cars and taking crazy risks while driving, reminding us a bit of Jane's tendency toward excessive risks. And Jane may be some unknown amount more capable--both in IQ and EQ. [-dls]

Rosetta, Pluto, and ECHOPRAXIA (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):

In response to Jim Susky's comments about space missions in the 01/09/15 issue of MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

I liked Jim Susky's letter. The big fact about the Rosetta mission is that by following ESA policy they didn't use a nuclear decay power source, and so had to manage cumbersome, heavy solar panels. This led to myriad navigation problems and their ultimate failure-- bouncing the probe next to a cliff, so they get little power & the lander mission is probably dead. ESA pays a high price for its politics.

Great things to come from the Pluto New Horizons probe, rendezvous in July flyby. [-gb]

And in response to Joe Karpierz's review of ECHOPRAXIA in the same issue, Gregory writes:

Good review of ECHOPRAXIA--high-level hard SF indeed from Watts. [-gb]

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

ORAL BORGES by Jorge Luis Borges (ISBN 978-9-500-40110-4) is a collection of transcripts of lectures given by Borges. I read it as part of the omnibus MISCELÁNEA (ISBN 978-8-499-89204-7).

"The Book": This is Borges's paean to the book, both as the object and the contents thereof. He says (in this lecture given in 1979) that even though he is blind, he keeps buying books and filling his house with books, because he can feel them there. He also contends that, curiously, the iconic writers of many European countries are atypical of those countries' cultures. More specifically, the English are understated, while Shakespeare tends toward hyperbole; the Germans are "easily fanatic", while Goethe is tolerant and cares little for patriotism; and Victor Hugo is "un-French" in his use of grand stage scenery and vast metaphors.

"Immortality": Borges notes that in Plato's dialogue of the death of Socrates, the Phaedo, it is written that Plato was not present ("Plato, I believe, was sick"). Borges says he thinks Plato wrote this as a way of saying, "I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what Socrates said, but I can imagine that this is what he said."

He cites Gustav Theodor Fechner as noting that just as fetuses have fingers, eyes, and other body parts that are of no use to them in the womb, but only in their life after birth, we have hopes, fears, etc., that are of use only in an after-life. This Fechner (and perhaps Borges) thinks is an argument in favor of immortality.

Borges himself says that if there is immortality, he does not want to continue to be Borges, but to become someone else. Later in talking about reincarnation (which would seem to be what he is referring to), he says that the apparent paradox with the Hindu and Buddhist belief that your fortune or misfortune in this life is reward or punishment for your previous life is that it sets up an infinite regression. But just as Pascal describes space as infinite, with its circumference everywhere and its center nowhere, so time can be considered similarly. And indeed the Hindus and Buddhists believe in an infinite number lives for each soul.

Borges says, "Each time we repeat a verse of Dante or of Shakespeare, we are, in some way, in that moment in which Dante or Shakespeare created that verse." This reminds one of his story, "Pierre Menard, Author of El Quijote". He then says, "In the end, immortality is in the memory of others and in the work that we leave behind." I'll note that Woody Allen disagrees with this, having said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying."

"Emanuel Swedenborg": Borges describes the philosophy of Swedenborg, and in particular, elaborates on the subject of Heaven (and Hell). According to Swedenborg, God allows Hell to exist because only in Hell are the spirits of the damned happy. In Heaven, they would be miserable. (Borges suggests the third act of MAN AND SUPERMAN by George Bernard Shaw as a more eloquent exposition than he can give.)

But also, Swedenborg says, to enjoy (or even appreciate) Heaven, one cannot live the life of an ascetic on Earth. If one never gains an appreciation of music in this life, one cannot enjoy the heavenly choirs in the next. To one who has no understanding of beauty on Earth, the Heaven will not seem beautiful either. And so on.

As a side not, when reading a foreign language, one must beware of false cognates. Borges writes that Jesus "ya no predicaba por medio de palabras sino de parábolas," which I read as, "Jesus did not preach with the medium of [mere] words but with parabolas." This startled me, since I thought I would have noticed had Jesus been preaching about parabolas and other geometric figures. A few seconds' consideration, however, led me to realize that in this case "parábolas" were not parabolas, but parables!

Borges speculates on why Swedenborg has had as little influence as he has., and notes that it is part of a "Scandinavian destiny" to have its great accomplishments ignored or forgotten. He notes, for example, that the Vikings discovered America centuries before Columbus, but nothing came of that and it was forgotten. The novel was invented in Iceland with the saga (at least as Borges sees it), but no one remembers that. Borges says that Charles Xii of Sweden is forgotten while conquerors of far smaller empires are not (though my brief investigation of Charles XII does not paint him as an exceptionally successful conqueror).

"The Detective Story" ("El cuento policial"): After a brief reference to Edgar Allan Poe as the originator of this genre, Borges interrupts himself to ask whether there is such a thing as genre? Benedetto Croce, in his "Aesthetics", claims not, saying one might as well consider all yellow cups as forming a meaningful subset of cups. However, Borges feels that the notion of genres is useful, but that "literary genres depend, perhaps, less on the texts than on the way in which they are read." This is basically Samuel Delany's definition of science fiction by the way people read it (i.e., the reading protocols). For example, when someone reads the sentence "Her world exploded" in a science fiction novel, they do not look for metaphorical meaning, but assume that he world literally exploded, The zombies or dragons or meteors are not metaphors, but are real zombies or dragons or meteors.

The effect of this perspective (according to Borges) is that we, as readers of detective stories, are as much an invention of Poe as the detective story itself.

It is interesting that what many people like most about the Sherlock Holmes stories is the authentic Victorian (later Edwardian) London ambiance, yet Borges feels that Edgar Allan Poe had to crate a foreign detective rather than one working in (say) New York in order to avoid people asking too many questions about whether this was really how the (New York) police department worked. It is true that Poe was blazing a trail, and by the time Doyle entered the scene, the reader understood what was expected of him in terms of reading protocols.

Borges sees the detective story as an intellectual exercise, and says that while this is maintained in England, it has degenerated in the United States with too much violence, too much blood, and too much sex.

"Time" ("El tiempo"): Heraclitus said that no one can step in the same river twice. Borges notes that this can be interpreted two ways. The more common one is that it is because the river is flowing and changing. Less common is that the consciousness and being of the person is flowing and changing as well.

Time is ubiquitous. Borges quotes Tennyson: "Time is flowing in the middle of the night."

Describing time is daunting. St. Augustine observed, "What is time? If you do not ask me, I know. If you ask me, I do not know."

He quotes Nicolas Boileau as writing (presumably in French), "El tiempo pasa en el momento en que algo ya está lejos de mí." (I translate this as "Time passes in the moment in which something is already far from me," but that cannot be right!)

"The present moment is made up of a little bit of the past and a little bit of the future."

Two theories of time: it is like a river, flowing from the past to the present, or that it is indeed the reverse, with the future moving "backward" to become the present, and then the past. That everyone accepts the image that the future is moving *backward*, even when I am describing a philosophy in which that is the direction of flow, indicates (to me, anyway) that we tend to feel the first interpretation instinctively. (I will note in passing that while in English we talking about the past being behind us and the future before us, in some other languages, it is the reverse, based on the quite rational argument that since we know the past, it must be in front of us where we can see it.)

He discusses the proof that the cardinality of the even numbers is equal to the cardinality of all the integers, but then later in referring back to this, talks about the even integers and the odd integers having the same cardinality. I think most people would agree with the latter even if they find the former hard to believe. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          I feel sorry for people who don't drink.  When they 
          wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're 
          going to feel all day. 
                                          --Frank Sinatra 

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