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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 08/14/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 7, Whole Number 1871
Table of Contents
Pluto Restored (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
The latest news is that Pluto is about to be reclassified as a planet again. Before the sticking point was that a planet cleans up its orbit. Apparently the New Horizons probe found and photographed a sign that said, "This planetary orbit has been adopted and is maintained by The Planet Pluto." [-mrl]
Hugo Balloting Sets Record:
From the Sasquan press release:
Sasquan is pleased to announce that it received a record-breaking 5,950 valid ballots for the 2015 Hugo Awards. 5,914 voters used the online voting system and 36 submitted paper ballots. The 5,950 total surpasses the vote total record for previous years (3,587 ballots, set by Loncon in 2014) by more than 65%. More than 57% of the convention members eligible to vote cast ballots this year, making this the highest level of participation in Hugo Awards voting in the past decade.
The Future of a Bit of Washing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I wrote about how on strike duty I wrote some command language programs to save effort in running a branch node of a data network. I want to make a few postscripts on what I said in that column.
When I was young I had always thought of labor as temporarily a necessary evil. I thought that the world would be better off if there was less labor that had to be done. If you could do all the work you had to do, and finish it between the hours of 9 AM and 10 AM you could take the rest of the day off. Every day you could do what now you can do only on weekends. I saw most of the world's ills as resulting from not enough labor to apply to improving the infrastructure and with more people to put on the task we could improve an beautify the country, sort of along the lines of what was done by the WPA in the Depression.
At the time there were predictions of society moving toward a workless system. There were predictions that in years to come people would be so productive there would be no need for lengthy hard work. And the response to that attitude came from THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, an Alec Guinness comedy from 1951. Guinness played Sidney Stratton, a super-idealistic chemist who had invented a new fiber that wore forever and repelled dust and dirt so it never had to be cleaned. To him it seemed a tremendous advance. The only people who could object were competitors who did not had a product that could compete with Sidney's invented cloth. Then Sidney ran across Mrs. Watson, Sidney's sweet old landlady and part-time laundress. "Why can't you scientists leave things alone?" she asks. "What about my bit of washing when there's no washing to do?" Who will want to pay money to Mrs. Watson if there is only minimal work or no work at all for her? There may be new jobs in chemical engineering for people of Sidney Stratton's sphere and talents, but Mrs. Watson is not going to retrain to be an engineer. I am afraid we are reaching a point in history when there will be a lot of Mrs. Watsons around (and an ever-increasing number of Sydney Strattons pushing us toward a jobless future).
James H. Lee points out in his article "Hard at Work in the Jobless Future" ( http://tinyurl.com/mtv-jobless) that we want our industries to
1) offer a large number of jobs
2) pay good salaries
3) be competitive in the market.
We cannot have all three. In fact I think few industries are going to expend much effort to offer many jobs and are not likely to pay any better salaries than they have to in order to stay competitive in the market.
It is doubtful that Mrs. Watson's washing service was doing much to pay her well, but it was enough that she would have been in real trouble if Sidney's cloth eliminated the need for washing. Technology does only little to create new jobs. At least it does not create enough jobs to cover the number of people it displaces. And the jobs it creates will not go to the people who need the jobs the most. The jobs may go to the most educated but with the rising cost of education you essentially may have to already be rich to get an opportunity for a well paying job. This will likely lead to more withering of the Middle Class and greater class polarization than we are already seeing.
There have been job dislocations in the market in the past. The coming of the Industrial Revolution made a lot of workers workless. New jobs were created, but probably not for the people who had lost their jobs and could not fit into the new job market. That situation will continue into our future.
So what are workers going to do when they need to survive and there are no jobs offered them? Well I can think of only two job markets where there is more demand for workers than there is supply. Neither are positive prospects. There is the military. I have never heard of any branch of the service saying that they are full up and are not looking for any new recruits.
But the employer of last resort is always crime. At least usually it is the last resort. Either way, it does not look like an optimistic future. [-mrl]
MOLLY MOON AND THE INCREDIBLE BOOK OF HYPNOTISM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An orphan whom nobody seems to love reads a rare book on hypnotism and goes through a series of adventures thanks to her new powers. Young teen girls with a taste for fantasy should find themselves enjoying themselves along with Molly. I am not sure that the appeal will stretch beyond that audience for this uneven film based on a series of Molly Moon books by British author Lady Georgia Byng. Christopher N. Rowley directs. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Life is not very nice for twelve-ish Molly Moon (played by Raffey Cassidy) who lives at Hardwick House Orphanage, a place like something out of Charles Dickens. There orphan girls labor under a sign that says "Chin up. Work Hard. Be Useful." The girls their have no life but work. Food is unsavory fish soup (fish eyes intact) or chicken feet three times a day. Molly breaks the "no fun" rules by sneaking time to read. All this is ruled over by the tyrannical orphanage mistress Edna (Celia Imrie). But things could be worse. On the staff is Miss Trinklebury (Emily Watson) who loves the children and tries to cushion them from the blows of a hard world.
At least that was Molly's life before Molly ran across a very old, very rare, and very precious book on the art of hypnosis. There is only one copy left in the world, and it happens to be at the library that Molly sneaks to. After one or two quick lessons from the book, Molly has some success. When Molly's eyes turn bright green, nobody can resist her orders. A dangerous criminal (Dominic Monaghan) knows of the power of the book and wants to use that power for evil plans, if he can only get the book from Molly.
The story at first feels like it takes place somewhere in the past, but that nice timeless atmosphere is punctured by Molly's visit to London complete with modern rock and very contemporary television. Actually Molly goes through three different adventures each with a very different feel. She has the orphanage experience, she becomes an internationally famous pop singer, and she is tangled in a robbery plan by London criminals. Each story has a different texture.
The theme song of the film is "Believe in Myself" which is a good message for young adult girls and the song is good for the first two or three times it is used, but it overstays its welcome in repetitions. Speaking of messages, the idea of success-through-hypnotism may not be best lesson for the young viewers.
There are too few films that aim for a female young teen market. The stories covered may well charm girls growing to young adulthood. But beyond that demographic this film may not be greatly rewarding. MOLLY MOON AND THE INCREDIBLE BOOK OF HYPNOTISM mostly aims for the right audience, but is a little too twee to get much of a following outside that market. I rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.
ARC Entertainment will release MOLLY MOON AND THE INCREDIBLE BOOK OF HYPNOTISM on VOD, iTunes and in some theaters on August 14, 2015.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2445178/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/molly_moon_the_incredible_hypnotist/
EDGE OF INFINITY edited by Jonathan Strahan (copyright 2012, Solaris, $8.99, mass market paperback, 373pp, ISBN 978-1-78108-056-6) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):
I've been finding myself reading a lot of short fiction recently. When I try to determine the reason for that, I come to the conclusion that it's either because I have a shorter reading attention span these days, or short fiction is suited for air travel, which I'm doing a lot of these days for work. It's probably some of both. I definitely am tired of door-stop sized novels, or certainly very long ones anyway (I certainly do pine for the long ago days in which novels ran from 200 to 250 pages in length).
EDGE OF INFINITY is the second book in editor Jonathan Strahan's Infinity project. The third book, REACH FOR INFINITY, has been promoted closer to the top of my to-read list, and the fourth book, MEETING INFINITY, is set for publication later this year. I wasn't overly fond of ENGINEERING INFINITY, the first book of the project, but EDGE OF INFINITY was terrific, and has me looking forward to more books in the project.
The stories in EDGE OF INFINITY explore the future of humanity in our Solar System. Every story takes place there, and the anthology covers a wide range of topics and themes, which makes sense, given the vastness of the Solar System. There should be all sorts of stories on all sorts of worlds. And, where I was a bit disappointed in more than a few of the stories in ENGINEERING INFINITY, I had almost no issues with any of the stories in EDGE OF INFINITY. Maybe that's because of the focus of the stories, maybe not. But it is so none the less.
Strahan doesn't waste any time, leading the book of with 2013 Hugo Award Winning novelette "The Girl Thing Who Went Out for Sushi". This is one of three or four stories that I have read and reviewed elsewhere, and upon a second (or maybe third) reading of this Pat Cadigan gem supports and strengthens my positive feelings about this story. Other stories that have appeared (and I have read elsewhere) include Hannu Rajaniemi's "Tyche and the Ants", Gwyneth Jones "Bricks, Sticks, Straw", and Bruce Sterling's "The Peak of Eternal Light". As with the Cadigan, multiple readings of these stories have made me like these stories more than I did before--especially when I may not have liked them as much the first time around.
The authors of the rest of the stories in this anthology reads like a "Who's Who" of the field: Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Paul McCauley, Elizabeth Bear, John Barnes, and James S.A. Corey. There are names that are new to me as well. For the most part they are good, solid, readable, and enjoyable stories.
Rusch's "Safety Test" is a glimpse into the workday of a guy who tests the ability of space pilots; think the guy at the DMV who rides in the car with the teenager looking for his or her first license. "Vainglory", by Alastair Reynolds, gives us a look at an artist looking to leave cement his legacy in a way that has unintended consequences (or are they?). "Macy Minnot's Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler's Green, the Potter's Garden" by Paul McCauley follows Mai Kumal looking to respect her father's last wishes upon his death, and in the process learns about the life and people he left earth for. John Barnes's "Swift as a Dream, Fleeting as a Sigh" gives us a bit of a look at an AI psychotherapist, and what happens when that AI does some things that really shouldn't have been done. James S.A. Corey gives us "Drive", a prequel to the popular Expanse series that follows Solomon Epstein and his invention of the Epstein drive. "Obelisk", by Stephen Baxter, explores how a man's vision to honor a legendary explorer can come at a huge cost.
There are other stories here, and while not all of them were as terrific as the stories I've talked about, they're all of above average quality. There really isn't a bad story in the bunch. This is why I've moved REACH FOR INFINITY up my to-read list, and I'm looking forward to reading it and MEETING INFINITY. [-jak]
MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: First time writer/director Masaaki Tanabe recreates the neighborhood where he lived as a boy in Hiroshima as part of his presentation of the effects on his neighborhood of being hit by the Hiroshima blast. Disturbing images are kept to a bare minimum, though the horrific cannot be entirely avoided. But for the most part this account breathes life into the memories of a culture that died the instant the Atomic Age was born. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
[Of note, the date I saw this film was August 6, 2015, precisely seventy years after Hiroshima's most fateful day. That added to the poignancy of the watching experience.]
MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA is a documentary about the ill-fated city. It was written and directed by Masaaki Tanabe, but it is not the documentary that might be expected. There are painful stories and painful images, but Tanabe keeps them to the bare minimum that is almost required. Instead he tells the viewer about culture of his people in the years before the bombing, a culture that was literally erased from the Earth in a small fraction of a second. However his is not a message of anger and indignation at the fate of the people whom he loved and lost. It is just the opposite. He and other eyewitnesses tell us that we must never let our hatreds grow so great that anyone else must go through what his people suffered.
Through (subtitled) eyewitness accounts, narration (in English) by George Takei, paintings of the indescribable by the victims, and an animated computer model of his neighborhood Tanabe shows us what life was like in Hiroshima before the fateful day. He uses interviews to re-create the texture of life in his neighborhood. He tells us what their food was like and about two movie theaters in his neighborhood. One theater showed Japanese films, the other showed foreign films such as CITY LIGHTS and KING KONG. We also see the Industrial Promotion Hall, its famous dome destroyed down to its steel framework.
Much of the history is poignant. There are stories of children left by the bomb with little capability to feed themselves. Sadly they waited hoping for the arrival of parents who could not appear since they were not just dead but they were no longer existing in any form. And there are stories of places that are very different today than they would have been. The neighborhood he shows us is now the Peace Memorial Park where the Motoyasu and Honkawa rivers converge. It is a reminder of human beings who were so dreadfully lost in one bright flash.
The enemy in this film is not the Americans. Nor is it the Japanese government who called for and prosecuted the war. There is no mention about atrocities that the Japanese themselves committed. But the message as presented in the testimonials is that war is immoral and certainly it should never get to the extremes that both the Americans and the Japanese fell to in World War II and the conflicts that surrounded them.
Though it is limited by its 52-minute run time, this film is a strong experience. I rate MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. One quibble: the film repeatedly refers to the Hiroshima bomb as being "the first Atomic Bomb in history." This discounts the device detonated at the Trinity test in New Mexico.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4759240/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/message_from_hiroshima_2015/
Unabridged Editions and Edward Gibbon (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Joseph T. Major):
In response to John Hertz's comments on unabridged editions in the 08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
I read THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME twice before realizing I was reading an abridgement. It was hard to discard the much-loved paperback, but it was incomplete, and I went with a longer translation for the next couple of reads. This is a book where I love every digression and explanation (same with THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, but I stumbled with TOILERS OF THE SEA and bogged down early). I surprised myself a little by purchasing a Disney edition of the book at an outlet, because it seems like it might be longer still. Knock wood. It's also a rather handsome hardback, tastefully illustrated with 16 color plates of working drawings that I can skip over. They don't put images in my head, as none of their images have enough oomph to displace George Evans's fantastic work on the "Classics Illustrated" version, which seriously is the only decent adaptation. [-kw]
Joseph Major writes:
CULTURE MADE STUPID (or CVLTVRE MADE STVPID) has a section on Gibbon, which begins, "Edward Gibbon's great work is not read as much as it should be, probably because many people have heard that it is excessively long. Actually, the entire history consists of only four paragraphs, of three or four sentences each."
Then it has a two-page spread of the work, which consists of part of a sentence; the implication is that those "three or four sentences each" are very very long, with parts like, "and at last paperback romances and Parcheesi boards were so common in the camps that they resembled rather the epicene beauty parlors of Hippopotamia than the stern bastions of a republic", and the description of the reign of the emperor Detritus is of the most horrific; which example Sarah Monette might consider for her subsequent volumes succeeding THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, should she receive the contract and gain the reception to write them.
(I was inspired to approach that.) [-jtm]
Ocelots and Voice Actors (letter of comment by Kip Williams):
In response to John Hertz's comments on ocelots in the 08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
When Dad was in the single digits, his family lived in a tent on an ocelot ranch for a while. He says one of them casually pierced one of his earlobes for him. That's my ocelot story. [-kw]
In response to comments on voice actors in the 06/12/15 issue, Kip writes:
I meant to write a few weeks back when there was a discussion of voice actors filling in for the unexpectedly deceased. A "Pink Panther" film was mentioned, and I think the verdict was that Rich Little didn't do Peter Sellers. I can confirm that my memory of this is that it was David Niven who died while they were making his last PP appearance, and that Little did the voice in some places.
To repeat my most successful tweet to date: "Now I want to write a piece for two trombones and call it 'Charle Brown's Parents Having Sex.'"
In other news, Fotzpa has nuked Tur. I knew we shouldn't have let those guys have missiles. This is all our fault. [-kw]
Artificial Stupidity, Asteroids, and Harry Palmer (letter of comment by Jim Susky):
Two articles of interest to science kids and SF fans:
The first, by Ronald Bailey (my current favorite science writer, and author of THE END OF DOOM) is about automated idiot savants. He opens with a recent novel that you or Evelyn might like--AVOGADRO CORP. The story features an app, which acts to save itself from a "resources cut" which makes the world a "pretty interesting place".
How Artificial Stupidity Can Kill Us ALL [from reason.com]:
The second article is from "The Economist", "If an asteroid heads for Earth":
Of course this is an old SF trope (since at least WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE--already an old story when I read it as a teen).
One idea on addressing an extra-terrestrial missile is to blow it up. This carries the disadvantage of "MIRV-ing" one large missile into multiple smaller ones.
The attractive one I've heard is to "park" a mass near the rock--closely match speeds--the idea being that creating a two-body system will divert its trajectory away from an earthly collision.
The article posits a scenario with some potential socio-political and legal consequences, which would seem good grist for another SF story.
Finally thanks for the TCM heads up on the Harry Palmer films--THE IPCRESS FILE, FUNERAL IN BERLIN, and BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN are on deck on my DVR. [-js]
Jonathan Strange and Names (letter of comment by Gwendolyn Karpierz):
In response to Kevin R's comments on Jonathan Strange in the 08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Gwendolyn Karpierz writes:
Not that it matters, but that comment about Jonathan Strange was in [Joe Karpierz's] review, not mine.
And in response to that comment, isn't it more believable if a character has a name that's actually existed, or even quite common? I had a creative writing professor who got annoyed at me because I had 'too many characters with strange names'--like Alistair, Madigan, Elias, Eva, Morrie, Freya, etc. All real names, just apparently not common enough for her tastes. I guess two people with uncommon names never meet or interact in real life. (Needless to say, we didn't get along.) [-gmk]
Books You Pretend to Have Read, Worldcons and Art, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION and Tom Cruise, AURORA and Gregory Benford (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to various items in the 08/07/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Many thanks for sending your latest MT VOID my way. It is always appreciated.
I found that listing of "Books you pretend to have read" interesting, mostly because I have read six of the ten listed. Based on the recommendations of a number of friends, I may have to try Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONIMICON. I know it's a big book (1168 pages, in the Avon Books mass market PB edition I saw on Amazon.com), but from what they say, it's excellent. Same thing for GRAVITY'S RAINBOW: I'm interested, just never got around to it. I suspect this is how my "to be read" stack grows so dangerously large. I may have to stop reading book reviews and getting recommendations from friends.
My wife Valerie is an artist, and she had artwork on display in LoneStarCon 3's art show, her first WorldCon. She learned a lot in the process, I should add. She might be including work in MidAmeriCon II's art show, but only if she has enough work built up for it; we'd bring it with us since we'll drive up to Kansas City, which is the only way to keep costs down these days. Bob Eggleton's comments about the costs of WorldCon art shows are well made and understandable. Someday I would like to meet him. He's an interesting and talented fellow. It also helps that he's an excellent artist.
Once again, you have really good reviews. I have never been a fan of Tom Cruise as an actor, although I think he did a good job in THE LAST SAMURAI and A FEW GOOD MEN. Could not stand the version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS he was in. Wasn't that directed by Spielberg? Must open a new tab and check. Hang on. (Elevator music plays "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head") Okay. I'm back. Yes, it was, in 2005. One of Spielberg's biggest mistakes, IMHO. [-jp]
Yes, you are talking about Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005). Originally I was quite negative on it, largely because the George Pal version was one of the great science fiction icons of my youth. I expected the remake to be a real event, and it fell well short of that goal. I think I have mellowed on it with repeated viewings. Spielberg better than anyone else has shown us what the invasion would be like for someone who is just a neighborhood slob. Cruise is a little more than an average Joe, but not very much more. He is already screwing up his life without benefit of Martians. He learns to relate to his family only when alien invaders make that absolutely necessary. Somehow that makes the peril seem more immediate. I never felt Gene Barry was really in immediate danger. Cruise I thought might have been in danger. [-mrl]
Greg Benford sent an early draft review of AURORA to me to pub in my fanzine ASKANCE, the 34th issue of which has been sent to efanzines.com, just not posted yet. He asked me to hold off until the "real" review had been published in CENTAURI DREAMS. No problem.
Many thanks again, and I look forward to the next weekly edition to see what you folks have been up to. [-jp]
ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (LAUDATO SI') (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Kevin R):
In response to comments on ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (a.k.a. LAUDATO SI') in the 08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:
[I had said,] "Hmm. Sounds like one of them pinko commie bleeding heart liberals." Just in case I wasn't clear I was channelling Archie Bunker (And quite possibly Rush Limbaugh). [-pc]
[Evelyn writes, "As noted in my column below, ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME is probably better known as LAUDATO SI' and Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis."]
Yes, I did indeed recognize his name as that of the previous arch-bishop of Buenos Aires (me being a RC). [-pc]
I suspected as much. Philip's comment was too obviously over-the-top to be anything but irony. [-ecl]
Kevin R responds:
.... and I didn't, being a Jesuit-educated apostate.
BTW, to channel Rush properly, you'd have to call someone a "long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking, good-time, plastic banana rock 'n' roller." [Said the serially divorced (ex-?)pill popper and former DJ.] [-kr]
I'm assuming the SD(E?)PP referenced is Rush and not Kevin. [-ecl]
THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Volume I of VI) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
[continuing my comments from last week]
"A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince."
E: Gibbon certainly seems to be coming down in favor of the Second Amendment here. However, THOTDAFOTRE (gack--even the abbreviation is too long!) was published between 1776 and 1788, before the Second Amendment was proposed (1789), let alone ratified (1791).
"The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive."
E: Hence the "separation of powers" and "checks and balances" incorporated in our Constitution.
"But when the consular and tribunitian powers were united, when they were vested for life in a single person, when the general of the army was, at the same time, the minister of the senate and the representative of the Roman people, it was impossible to resist the exercise, nor was it easy to define the limits, of his imperial prerogative."
E: This could be applied today, when both the executive and the legislative branches seem to spend time trying to assert that they have control over the same decisions. The legislature passes (or fails to pass) a law, the executive signs an executive order negating (or implementing) it, and or vice versa. (And it is not just at the Federal level; one sees the same thing at the state level, and undoubtedly it exists at the local level as well.)
"... nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
E: In other words, as long as the people were told that they were free, they did not actually pay too much attention to the reality. This is, so far as I tell, one of the positions of both the Tea Party and the ACLU and others--that we are being told we are free even as our freedoms are being taken away. The two groups, of course, do not always agree on which freedoms are being taken away, or perhaps it is which are important.
"Spain, by a very singular fatality, was the Peru and Mexico of the old world. The Discovery of the rich western continent of the Phoenicians, and the oppression of the simple natives, who were compelled to labour in their own mines for the benefit of strangers, form an exact type of the more recent history of Spanish America."
E: I have no real comment on this, just that it is indeed an interesting coincidence.
"In the cool shade of retirement, we may easily devise imaginary forms of government, in which the sceptre shall be constantly bestowed on the most worthy, by the free and incorrupt suffrage of the whole community. Experience overturns these airy fabrics, and teaches us, that in a large society, the election of a monarch can never devolve to the wisest, or to the most numerous part of the people. The army is the only order of men sufficiently united to concur in the same sentiments, and powerful enough to impose them on the rest of their fellow-citizens; but the temper of soldiers, habituated at once to violence and to slavery, renders them very unfit guardians of a legal, or even a civil constitution."
E: This is a fairly bleak portrayal of the situation, at least in a monarchy. But even in a republic, the same issues arise. The question of how to have a standing army without it acquiring a sense of its own power and a devotion only to its own ranks. And, as Rome (and every other powerful political entity) discovered, one needs a standing, trained army to defeat its enemies. A citizen army worked for Rome when it was small and its enemies equally small and disorganized. But a citizen army could not defeat the Goths, the Huns, the Sassanids, or any other substantial foe.
"Every mode of religion, to make a deep and lasting impression on the human mind, must exercise our obedience, by enjoining practices of devotion, for which we can assign no reason; and must acquire our esteem, by inculcating moral duties analogous to the dictates of our own hearts."
E: Or in other words, religions become popular by requiring of its believers what they want to do anyway, or perhaps more that they acquire believers who what to believe what they are promoting. Christianity got its first converts among the poor and powerless, because it disparaged earthly wealth and power. "The meek shall inherit the earth" is less likely to attract people at the top of the power pyramid than those who are at the bottom. And the Nazis acquired followers by telling them that they were the "Master Race" and superior to everyone else.
"The most civilizations of modern Europe issued from the woods of Germany, and in the rude institutions of those barbarians we may still distinguish the original principles of our present laws and manners."
E: One suspects that the Nazis might have latched onto this as proof of German superiority, although the characterization of the early Germans as barbarians would not be as pleasing.
"... the use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes a civilized people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge or reflection. Without that artificial help, the human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her charge; and the nobler faculties of the mind, no longer supplied with models or materials, gradually their powers..."
E: This is an interesting theory, but the ability of non-literate societies to transmit knowledge is now known to be considerable. While it can be argued that the quantity of knowledge a non-literate society can transmit is less than that of a literate society, there have been surprisingly advanced societies which were basically illiterate. The Incas, for example, had quipus but no general writing system. In any case, describing literate societies as civilized peoples, and illiterate societies as "herds of savages incapable of knowledge or reflection" is far too simplistic a view.
"The value of money has been settled by general consent to express our wants and our property, as letters were invented to express our ideas; and both these institutions, by giving a more active energy to the powers and passions of human nature, have contributed to multiply the objects they were designed to represent."
E: It is interesting that Gibbon draws a parallel between money and literacy. While we assume all our leaders are literate, and this was true in Gibbon's time also, I am reasonably sure that many of the emperors of the Western Empire were illiterate. (And perhaps that is part of Gibbon's point--that when the illiterates took over, things fell apart.)
"Female courage, however it may be raised by fanaticism, or confirmed by habit, can only be a faint and imperfect imitation of the manly valor that distinguishes the age or country in which it may be found."
E: Included without comment, except that it could be written only by a man.
"We read of the punishment of Lyons, but there is not any mention of the rewards of Autun. Such, indeed, is the policy of civil war; severely to remember injuries, and to forget the most important services. Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive."
E: This was true of ancient Rome, and so far as one can tell, is still true.
"The emperor Diocletian was indeed the author of that system, but during his reign, the growing evil was confined within the bounds of modesty and discretion, and he deserves the reproach of establishing pernicious precedents, rather than of exercising actual oppression."
E: In other words, Diocletian had laws passed that gave the Emperor far-reaching powers. He was restrained in his use, but those who followed him were not. One sees something like this in various attempts by Congress to pass rules changing the number of Representatives or Senators needed to accomplish some procedural matter, or various attempts to pass laws increasing or decreasing Presidential discretionary powers. What gets pointed out every time this arises is that while these changes may seem like a great idea to the party in control at the time, in two years, or four years, or six years, the other party may be the one wielding these powers.
"Some idea may be conceived of the abhorrence of the Christians for such impious ceremonies, by the scrupulous delicacy which they displayed on a much less alarming occasion. On days of general festivity, it was the custom of the ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with branches of laurel, and to crown their heads with a garland of flowers. This innocent and elegant practice might perhaps have been tolerated as a mere civil institution. But it most unluckily happened that the doors were under the protection of the household gods, that the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and that garlands of flowers, though frequently worn as a symbol of joy or mourning, had been dedicate in their first origin to the service of superstition."
E: Hoo, boy, do I wish that all those Christians who claim that Christmas is a secular holiday and there is no reason why the government should not put up decorations to celebrate it would read this and discover who the first group to complain about that and get the same response were!
[to be continued next week]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I started THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu (ISBN 978-1-4814-2427-1), but ultimately decided it was too intimidating. Over six hundred pages, with a glossary, "A Guide to Pronunciation" a three-page "List of Major Characters", a page of "Notes", and end-paper maps, it is the first of a series (trilogy?). Even though it is claimed to be a standalone novel, that's a lot to commit to--especially when blurbers compare it to "Game of Thrones" (by which one presumes they mean "A Song of Ice and Fire"). Add to that the fact that while Liu may not use apostrophes with wild abandon, as do so many epic fantasies, he does scatter accent marks, umlauts, and cedillas hither and yon.
This has certainly garnered rave reviews. But at my age one must start being thriftier with how one decides what books to read. I have nothing against long works--I am reading Edward Gibbon's A HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and I plan to move on to Samuel Pepys's "Diary" (both unabridged) next--but one must begin to pick and choose.
I persist in thinking of THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY by José Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-547-35258-9) as "The Journey of the Elephant". Of course, in Portuguese--and all the other Romance languages--it is, which makes it all the stranger. Why do the descendent languages of Latin, which has a possessive case for nouns, all lack one (so far as I know), but English, related primarily to languages which lack a possessive case for nouns, has one?
In any case, THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY is based on a true story: in 1551 King João III of Portugal sent an elephant to Vienna as a wedding present for Archduke Maximilian. One presumes that Saramago kept the bare facts, but Saramago concentrates on what is behind those facts. In particular, he focuses on Subhro, the elephant's mahout. As an outsider (born in India), Subhro looks at everything from a different perspective. His main concern is Solomon, the elephant. Solomon, in turn, seems a bit fantastical at times, but maybe it is just a high level of intelligence and instinct.
A sample of the writing (the capitalization et al are Saramago's):
"People have mistaken ideas about elephants. They imagine that elephants enjoy being forced to balance on a heavy metal ball, on a tiny curved surface on which their feet barely fit. We're just fortunate that they're so good-natured, especially those that come from india. They realize that a lot of patience is required if they are to put up with us human beings, even when we pursue and kill them in order to saw off or extract their tusks for the ivory. Among themselves, elephants often remember the famous words said by one of their prophets, Forgive them, lord, for they know not what they do. For 'they' read 'us,' especially those who came here to see if suleiman would die and who have now begun the journey back to valladolid, feeling as frustrated as that spectator who used to follow a circus company around wherever it went, simply in order to be there on the say that the acrobat missed the safety net."
While THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY is not as fantastical as many of Saramago's other works, neither is it as quotidian as books like SKYLIGHT. I suppose it qualifies as magical realism, though that is a hard term to define. In any case, I recommend it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Leisure is the mother of philosophy. --Thomas HobbesTweet
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