MT VOID 08/28/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 9, Whole Number 1873

MT VOID 08/28/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 9, Whole Number 1873

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 08/28/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 9, Whole Number 1873

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

Peter and the Wolf (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was listening to Peter and the Wolf on the radio. As a kid I identified with Peter, whose courage captured the wolf and put him in the zoo. Now that I am aging a little I started identifying with Grandfather. But he was rather as dork and by the end I was identifying with the wolf who lost his freedom because he wanted to eat. I spent a career in a cage because I wanted to eat. Don't we all want to be cool little Peters but end up being big bad wolves? [-mrl]

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):

September 10: PHASE IV (film) and "Leiningen Versus the Ants" by 
	Carl Stephenson (story), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 
September 24: "The Marching Morons" by C. M. Kornbluth, "Baby Is 
	Three" by Theodore Sturgeon, and "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" 
	by Cordwainer Smith (all in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 
	VOLUME 2A), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
October 22: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
November 19: WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
December 17: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
January 28, 2016: "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster and "The 
	Martian Way" by Isaac Asimov (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL 
	OF FAME VOLUME 2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
February 25: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
March 24: HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
April 28: TBD
May 26: "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred and "Earthman, Come Home" 
	2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):

September 12: Carlotta Holton, Applying Local Myths & History into 
	Speculative Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
October 3: Ellen Datlow, The State of Horror Fiction, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 12N
November 7: Jennifer Walkup, Finding Your Voice in YA Speculative 
	Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
December: no lecture

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for September (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Another month starts, and it is time for me to look at the listings for Turner Classic Movies and find a few good films to recommend. In days gone by just about everyone got the same three networks. If a good film was coming up on NBC's "Saturday Night at the Movies" you might not find out until a week before it played, but all your friends saw the same movie at the same time. Several of my friends saw THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL in their own homes, but at the same instant of time, so we could discuss it. Now some people watch films on NetFlix, some on Amazon Plus, some on Hulu, some on some obscure cable channel. The closest source we currently have to a common denominator is Turner Classic Movies. Through the web I can find out what films are going to be shown on TCM and hopefully some people can get to see films they were not familiar with that might be good. And they see them at nearly the same time.

This month seemed particularly rich in recommendable films. For one thing TCM is running a robot movie marathon.

Tuesday September 22: Electronic Intelligence
6:00 AM METROPOLIS (1926)
8:45 AM TIN MAN, THE (1935)
12:30 PM INVISIBLE BOY, THE (1957)
3:30 PM 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
6:15 PM WESTWORLD (1973)

That is something like 14 hours of movies involving intelligent walking machines. They are showing them in chronological order so you can see how the robot movie has evolved.

One film I would like to call your attention to is THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957). This sequel to FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) is a film full of ideas of what computers would be like in the future. What is impressive is how much they got right about computers in 2015. They have a computer you can talk to vocally and you can get just about any information you want from anywhere in the world. This computer can plant Trojan Horses in other computers. There is suspicion that the supercomputer has been taken over by a hacker. The computer uses password security. There is more than that, but this film makes some very intelligent guesses considering the movie was made in 1957. This film was probably made to re-use Robbie the Robot from FORBIDDEN PLANET, but it ended up surprisingly prescient.

Two films on the list I cannot recommend are THE TIN MAN, because I have not seen it, and THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, because I have.

If you can get listings for TCM, it might do to keep an eye on what is coming up. There are several stop-motion films, Kerwin Matthews films, and at least two Val Lewton films. If you want still another robot film there is THE TALES OF HOFFMAN, adapted from the popular opera by Jacques Offenbach. You can find September's listings at

Now if really want to see an off-the-wall and darn strange film there is HAUSU (1977), which starts as a story of seven girls visiting a haunted house. There are a few weird touches in style. Then the ghost story becomes less and less important and the outlandish touches eat the film. This is one of the strangest films I know of. [Sunday, September 27, 3:00 AM]

Best of the Month. Hmmm. Tough choice. So as not to pick a film I have praised very often let me pick the 1966 THE SAND PEBBLES, a good film about international politics in China in the 1920s. It has implications going right into the present. Robert Wise directs and Steve McQueen top lines. [Thursday, September 10, 4:45 PM]


Hugo Awards and Other Sasquan Stuff (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

The Hugo Awards:

No award was given for Best Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Editor Short Form, or Editor Long Form.

This is the first (and possibly last) time that none of the fiction winners were originally in English.

All the messy details are at The video of the ceremony is at

If you recall, there was a huge up-surge in the number of (supporting) members of Sasquan after the finalists were announced. There was a lot of speculation as to whether these were "Puppy" voters who wanted to support the various "Puppy" slates, other fans who wanted to oppose the "Puppy" slates, or people who had not heard about how they could vote for the Hugos until the Hugo nominations were covered in a whole lot of mainstream publication (including even the Wall Street Journal!). The voting results made it fairly clear: these new members were mostly fans who did not like the nomination results and wanted to make sure that their objections were known. In all the categories (except for Dramatic Presentation Long Form) there was an overwhelming show of support for those items on the ballot that had *not* been on the "Puppy" slates, and an overwhelming vote for "No Award" rather than any of the slate nominees. (Indeed, in the five categories in which all five nominees were from the slates, "No Award" got a majority of first-place votes and did not even need a run-off vote.)

In related news, three motions passed last year was given their second vote this year. The motion to require popular ratification of changes was defeated. "A Story by Any Other Name" (making audiobook and ebooks as well as print books explicitly eligible for Hugo Awards) passed and now takes effect. The motion to change the term "Hugo Nominee" to "Hugo Finalist" also passed and takes effect.

New motions, that passed and must be voted on a second time at MidAmericon II (to take effect at Worldcon 74 in Helsinki) include "4 in 6", "E Pluribus Hugo", "Five Percent Solution", and "Multiple Nominations".

"4 in 6" limits the number of nominees to four, with six items making the ballot in each category.

"E Pluribus Hugo" weights nominating votes. Both motions were made in an attempt to limit the efficacy of slates in future years. A fuller description of "E Pluribus Hugo" can be found at

"Five Percent Solution" eliminates the rule requiring finalists to have received nominations on at least 5% of the ballots nominating in that category. (This requirement has resulted in several Short Story ballots of three or four rather than five, due to the "long- tail" effect.)

"Multiple Nominations" says that if a work gets nominations in multiple categories (e.g., Related Work and Fancast), it will be deemed to be eligible only in the category in which it got the most nominations.

And a reminder to all who purchased a supporting membership in Sasquan: you are also eligible to nominate works next year, for presentation at MidAmericon II. (To vote on the final ballot, you must join MidAmericon II itself, however.) It is hoped that a much broader nominating base may avoid situations where a small but organized group can dominate the ballot. Remember: you don't have to have read/seen everything to nominate. If you have read only one book, but think it is worthy of a Hugo, nominate it.

Regarding Sasquan in general, Torcon 3 was held August 28-September 1, 2003, in Toronto, Ontario. It was somewhat beset by problems external to it, which included the general economic downturn for a couple of years leading up to it, increased security hassles in traveling, SARS, Mad Cow disease, the Artist Guest of Honor falling and breaking his hip less than a month before the convention, the biggest-ever black-out less than two weeks before the convention, . . . . I think that is at least the high points.

Until now, it may have held the record for most ill-fated Worldcon.

Until now.

Sad Puppies. Rabid Puppies. A program participant writing the Spokane Police Department warning them that one of the Guests of Honor might be inciting violence. Air quality the third worst in the country the first day of the convention. The two worse than it were in Idaho and also have the same reason: wildfires. (Somehow the assurance that the closest fire is at least *four* miles from Spokane is not very comforting.) And the weather forecast on the first day had conditions I had not seen before in forecasts, such as "Smoke" and "Patchy Blowing Dust".

It's close, but I think we may have a new champion.

On the other hand, they also had the highest membership of any Worldcon (11,635) with 5,181 warm bodies, and from what I heard was quite a nice convention. [-ecl]

BLOOD PUNCH (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: BREAKING BAD made the world of methamphetamine dealing seem strange and fantastic. That is nothing compared to what BLOOD PUNCH does with it. This is a crime, drug, dark-comedy, romance, horror, and science fiction thriller. There are far too few of those around. A failed chemical engineer is given an opportunity to make himself very rich for one day of cooking meth. That day proves to be the longest day of his life, one full of weird twists of reality. This is really a cool little film with more new ideas packed into its compact 104 minutes than any other film I've seen this summer. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

If you thought BREAKING BAD made the world of meth cooking look strange, you ain't seen nothing until you have seen BLOOD PUNCH. The film starts with Milton seeing an impossible video in which he maims himself. But Milton seems to be perfectly whole. Something strange is going on, but Milton does not know how strange. Then we see Milton's recent past in a flashback.

Milton (played by Milo Cawthorne) is almost a chemical engineer by training but was caught running a methamphetamine lab just before his expected graduation. Sentenced by the court to a rehabilitation center, he figures his days of cooking meth are over. But then he is recruited by an attractive inmate, Skyler (New-Zealander Olivia Tennet), who smokes like a chimney, has a penchant for wild sex, and who seems to know all about him. Skyler wants him to show off his meth cooking skills on one night. Then she wants to sell the meth and make Milton, her, and her boy friend Russell (Ari Boyland) all extremely wealthy. Off they go to a backwoods cabin to make them fabulously rich making meth. Milton finds that just as Skyler told him, Russell is the devil. Russell likes recklessly playing games that are dangerous to his and other people's health and sanity. We have to wonder what hold does Russell have over Skyler. To humor Russell, Skyler repeats everything that Russell like the ultimate yes-man and she warns Milton that Russell is crazy enough to kill anyone. But then the next day things get more complicated.

The script by Eddie Guzelian and directed Madellaine Paxson does some very weird things with our intrepid three think of as reality. We spends a good deal of the first half of this film just trying to figure out what is going on. When we finally work it out, we still don't completely understand the explanation. While the story was likely inspired at least a big by BREAKING BAD, it borrows more from a certain fantasy film (that shall remain nameless).

BLOOD PUNCH is funny and imaginative. There is some bloodshed and violence, but it is mostly done in a humorous context. For now there are not too many films like it. Made on a small budget it is one of the more refreshing films of the year. I rate BLOOD PUNCH a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. BLOOD PUNCH opens August 28th at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Claymation specialists Aardman Studios tries a silent, feature-length animated film with Shaun leading his fellow sheep to the big city, looking for their missing master. This is essentially a silent film in the grand tradition of the 1920 screen comedies. As a silent the film is almost entirely limited to sight gags, and they come thick and fast. And most of the gags work. Mark Burton and Richard Starzak co-directed and co-wrote. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Aardman Studios was founded in 1972 to work primarily with clay animation. These days like most other animation studios they are taking forays into computer animation--aren't almost all animators? My understanding is that SHAUN THE SHEEP is still done in clay. Clay gives the animator a great deal of freedom of facial expression and hence personality, at least at some level. In fact, one drawback of their current SHAUN THE SHEEP is that one remembers the animated sheep's facial expressions, but does not really understand Shaun as a character. This lamb lacks acting chops. If you want acting chops in animation you go to Pixar.

Side note: Aardman until recently did have a sort of trademark style, but is getting away from it. Until recently their characters would have wide mouths that made them look like they had a popsicle stick lodged in their mouth cheek to cheek. See Wallace of Wallace and Gromit. Aardman now seems to be getting away from this style. Shaun's mouth is more normal-looking.

Shaun is already a TV star with a following in Britain. Now he comes to screens internationally. Shaun's great adventure starts with boredom. When you are a sheep, the days are pretty much the same. Tuesday is just like Saturday. Shaun plans to put the farmer to sleep and then the sheep can party for one whole day. The day arrives and the sleeping farmer is put in a car trailer. That is the high point of Shaun's day, but once the trailer starts rolling on its own it is all downhill for Shaun. From there the farmer is injected into the Big City. And thanks to a bump on the noggin, the farmer has forgotten who he is. Shaun wants to bring back that nice man who feeds the sheep so has to go to the Big City.

The sheep do not speak in this animated film, so effectively this is for the most part a silent film, albeit a silent film with sound effects like some of the later films of the pre-sound era. This actually speeds up the pace of the film as a visual gag requires only an instant of time. Jokes can fly at the viewer in rapid-fire succession. There are probably more gags in ten minutes of SHAUN THE SHEEP than in ten minutes of classic comedies like AIRPLANE! And what makes them even better is that the writer can make a throwaway joke obscure and not risk so much. I try not to give away jokes in my reviews, but to clarify my point there is an animal pound and one of the cats behind bars is wearing a flea cone and gives a Hannibal Lector snake hiss. Another dog has tattooed on the knuckles of one hand "bark" and of the other hand "bite." If you know the film reference, good. If you don't, you will get the joke when you see the film Aardman was borrowing from. As following the conventions of the great silent comedians, our characters make excellent use of props.

This film is a cavalcade of jokes, with a high hit rate. I rate SHAUN THE SHEEP a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Now my question would be that in the closing credits they list sheep and the people who played the part. Beyond a few mumbles what does it mean to play the role of a mute Claymation sheep?

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


DUSTY'S TRAIL: SUMMIT OF BORNEO (film review by Mark R. Leeper): CAPSULE: Catherine Jayasuriya produces, writes, and directs and is chief spokesman on camera in DUSTY'S TRAIL: SUMMIT OF BORNEO. This film serves two purposes. It acts as a primer on Duchenne muscular dystrophy and on the alliance of people working to bring this little-known disease to the attention of the world, and is the story of Catherine Jayasuriya's response to her son Dusty's life under the shadow of Duchenne. It also is a chronicle of people working to publicize this disease and their arduous climb of Mount Kinabalu in the northern part of the island of Borneo as an effort to raise public awareness of the disease. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

At age six a death sentence was passed on Dusty Brandom by his own body. All medicine could say was that Dusty was going to slowly die of Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. Dusty still had time to see a little of the world even as his muscles wasted away, but he would not be likely to live into his thirties. Duchenne is a gender- related disease that afflicts males almost exclusively. Dusty's mother Catherine Jayasuriya chronicles her son's life and her own life bringing the world awareness of this little-known disease that afflicts one in 3500 boys worldwide.

Life will be a trial for Dusty Brandom. He is confined to a wheelchair, but he is a source of boundless energy. He does not let his condition drag on his emotions. Instead he is an energy source for those around him. We see several photos of Dusty but none without a smile on his face. He was happy from birth and nearly perfect, except for his being a little physically slow and his frequent tendency to fall down. Doctors said his muscles would deteriorate including his breathing and his heart muscles. That would eventually bring about his death.

Dusty's mother wanted the world to know and understand Duchenne. She founded Coalition Duchenne, a non-profit raising awareness of the disease. Jayasuriya had a dream of being on a mountaintop with a crowd of people raising awareness of Duchenne. She decided to make it happen. The mountain she chose was Kinabalu in Northern Borneo near where she lived as a child. This is all shown in the film.

Then at about the halfway point the film takes a right turn and tells of the coalition members, people from all over the world, coming together on Borneo and climbing 13,455-foot Mt. Kinabalu. The film covers the coalition's first climb of Kinabalu. It is seemingly a prepared if primitive and difficult trail. On the way we meet the chief guide Sapinggi and his son Robbi Sapinggi. Father and son entertain the visitors they will be guiding. The climb is accomplished and we are treated to high altitude views of the surrounding area. As a sad postscript to the story, there was a magnitude-6.0 earthquake on June 5, 2015. Bobbi Sapinggi was injured in the quake and later died of his injuries. So the film now covers multiple natural tragedies. That is a tall order for a short 65-minute documentary. The film was completed in 2013 so the acknowledgment of Robbi's death is limited to a screen in the closing credits.

Catherine Jayasuriya now organizes annual climbs of Mount Kinabalu for the benefit of the Duchenne Coalition. She seems to be a woman of boundless energy and broad accomplishment. For a first-time effort and a film written, directed by, starring and produced by the same person, this film is unintentionally but impressively a tribute to her spirit. I rate DUSTY'S TRAIL: SUMMIT OF BORNEO a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. The film will be on DVD and on- demand video on August 25, 2015.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


FANTASTIC FOUR (letters of comment by Philip Chee, Kevin R, and Peter Trei):

In response to Dale Skran's review of FANTASTIC FOUR in the 08/21/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

I'm sure Kevrob knows this better than me but this "new" origin is based on Marvel's Ultimates timeline as do much of the Marvel/Disney MCU films. So this isn't particularly innovative nor unexpected.

The original script, before Josh Trank got his hands on it had The Mole Man! A giant Moloid! Dr Doom! Galactus! Herbie the Robot! The FantastiCar[1]! Ben Grimm doing Hulk level damage to a terrorist base! In other words the perfect summer popcorn movie. But none of these made it to the final cut. I wonder why?

[1] Reed tries to sell his plans for the FantastiCar to Toyota. They think the idea is good, but that running it on a nuclear reactor shows no regard for safety--Reed's hallmark.

Kevin R (Kevrob) replies:

The disposable income I used to buy comics with evaporated from my budget before the century turned. I have kept up with some occasional borrowing of graphic novels and collections from libraries, and other info from blogs and news groups. I knew enough about the Avengers analogue, The Ultimates, to know I would loathe some of the characters. I ODed on grimdark a long time ago.

Note that the 2005 film used a space station getting hit by a cloud of cosmic energy, empowering the FF and Doom as well. They keep making the same mistake.

I think I would have had Richards and Co riding in a probe in the Negative Zone. That way you could have set up Blastaar in a sequel, not to mention Mar-Vell of the Kree. [-kr]

And Peter Trei writes:

[re the FantastiCar] Hey--it's really low on greenhouse gas emissions though! [-pt]

Cyberjudges (letters of comment by Kerr Mudd-John, Keith F. Lynch, Kevin R, Gary McGath, and Scott Dorsey):

In response to Peter Trei's comments on the transition towards more automation, and how it could go very well, or very badly, in the 08/21/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kerr Mudd-John writes:

I, for one, welcome our robot overlords. [-kmj]

Keith Lynch responds:

I'd very much like to see how a truly unbiased judge would conduct a trial. If that would have to be a mechanical judge, so be it. [-kfl]

Kevin R replies:

Then we'd be worrying about the biases any of the programmers of the machine built into the its software, with intent or without. [-kr]

Keith answers:

You don't think there's some way to test the system for objectivity and lack of bias? Do you think those terms even mean anything, or is it all relative, with different people having equally valid claims as to which position is truly unbiased?

I think there is an objective truth, and that if the eJudge is programmed only with low-level logic and information that everyone agrees is unbiased, that no bias will slip in. Or if it does, that it can be easily detected and corrected in alpha testing.

The exception is that there is bias built into the statute law, which the judge is obliged to follow. This is a bug in the laws, not in the judge. I believe an unbiased judge would take judicial notice of the fact that police routinely lie under oath, and would instruct the jury that nothing a policeman testifies to should be relied on unless there is strong independent evidence of it. Of course the prosecutor would claim this was extremely biased, and the judge would certainly be impeached within the week. [-kfl]

Gary McGath points out:

Many laws have ambiguity and discretion built into them. In creating a cyberjudge, designers and programmers would have to choose interpretations. [gmg]

Scott Dorsey adds:

Also, of course, judges do more than just determine guilt. Many activities, like sentencing, are not necessarily just logical operations. Past attempts to reduce sentencing to simple logical operations (such as zero tolerance laws, minimum sentences) have been less than beneficial. [-sd]

Keith responds to Gary:

Good point [on ambiguity built in]. For instance, very likely Virginia's former governor, who was convicted of corruption, is neither objectively guilty or innocent, as the relevant law is so poorly written.

However, in most cases that's not an issue, and someone who knew all the facts would know who, if anyone, was guilty.

Of course, usually nobody knows all the facts. And much of what judges do is control what does and what doesn't count as evidence in a trial.

[re designers and programmers choosing interpretations] They could choose the basic principles upon which the eJudge would choose interpretations on its own. [-kfl]


[continuing my comments from last week]

"Ambrose considers the toleration, as the persecution of the Christian, religion."

E: Here it is in a nutshell: As long as any other religion is tolerated, this constitutes persecution of Christians. So says Ambrose.

"The loss of armies, the destruction of cities, and the dishonour of the Roman name, ineffectually solicited the successors of Gratian to restore the helmets and the cuirasses of the infantry. The enervated soldiers abandoned their own and the public defence, and their pusillanimous indolence may be considered as the immediate cause of the downfall of the empire."

E: Oddly, you would have thought restoring defensive armor would be a sign of weakness, but I suppose that my the time this happened, the legions had grown so cautious and fearful due to their vulnerability than it was too late to restore their excellence as a fighting force.

"... it must be ingenuously confessed, that the ministers of the Catholic church imitated the profane model, which they were impatient to destroy. The most respectable bishops had persuaded themselves that the ignorant rustics. would more cheerfully renounce the superstitions of Paganism, if they found some compensation, in the bosom of Christianity. The religion of Constantine achieved, in less than a century, the final conquest of the Roman empire but the victors themselves were insensibly subdued by the arts of their vanquished rivals."

E: In other words, the Catholic Church adopted a lot of the customs, holidays, and so on of the pagans, and so although Christianity became the dominant faith, it ended up full of the very superstitions they had hoped to defeat. Icons, relics, and shrines were not part of Christianity, but all got adopted as a way of making conversion of the pagans easier.

"The court of Arcadius indulged the zeal, applauded the eloquence, and ignored the advice, of Synesius."

E: Again, some things never change. "The incapacity of a weak and distracted government may often assume the appearance, and produce the effects, of a treasonable correspondence with the public enemy."

E: I think this is just another version of Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

"The Gothic prince would have subscribed with pleasure the edict which the fanaticism of Olympius dictated to the simple and devout emperor. Honorius excluded all persons, who were adverse to the Catholic church, from holding any office in the state, obstinately rejected the service of all those who dissented from his religion, and rashly disqualified many of his bravest and most skilful officers, who adhered to the Pagan worship, or who had imbibed the opinions of Arianism."

E: This was not the first time, nor the last, that governments (and other organizations) would apply irrelevant criteria for jobs. The latest obvious version was the exclusion of gays from the United States military, which resulted in 1) getting a large number of Arabic interpreters dismissed just when they needed them, and 2) being openly hypocritical in that if someone scheduled to be deployed to Iraq revealed they were gay, they were deployed for their full tour and *then* dismissed because "their presence would be damaging to the cohesion of their unit"!!

"The ancients were destitute of many of the conveniences of life, which have been invented or improved by the progress of industry, and the plenty of glass and linen has diffused more real comforts among the modern nations of Europe, than the senators of Rome could derive from all the refinements of pompous or sensual luxury."

E: This is basically what Mark says when touring the great 18th and 19th century palaces of Europe--our small home in suburbia has comforts and amenities the residents of those palaces could only dream of, starting with central heating and indoor plumbing.

"The subjects, who had resigned their will to the absolute commands of a master, were equally incapable of guarding their lives and fortunes against the assaults of the Barbarians, or of defending their reason from the terrors of superstition."

E: We have heard versions of this throughout the years, that mindless obedience to authority does not produce people capable of defending themselves against either physical or psychological assault. Oddly, though, for most of that time, resigning one's will to the absolute rule of a master was considered the sine qua non of military service. It is only recently that "just following orders" has fallen into disrepute as an excuse.

"The subjects of Rome, whose persons and fortunes were made unequal and exorbitant tributes, retired from the oppression of the Imperial government, and the pusillanimous youth preferred the penance of a monastic, to the dangers of a military, life. The affrighted provincials of every rank, who fled before the Barbarians, found shelter and subsistence, whole legions were buried in these religious sanctuaries, and the same cause, which relieved the distress of individuals, impaired the strength and fortitude of the empire."

E: In other words, people figured if the government was going to tax them into penury, leading to starvation, one might as well become a monk and get one's food and shelter provided, as well as avoiding the dangers of conscription into the army.

"The freedom of the mind, the source of every generous and rational sentiment, was destroyed by the habits of credulity and submission, and the monk, contracting the vices of a slave, devoutly followed the faith and passions of his ecclesiastical tyrant."

E: This is a slightly modified version of the complaint a couple of quotations back. Basically, if one cannot, or does not, think for oneself, one is basically a slave.

[to be continued next week]


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

Our discussion group read several of the articles in the "year-end round-up issue" of DISCOVERY magazine, but I have only now gotten around to including them here.

"Ancient Genome Sequences Settle First American...": They have apparently proved the s Asian ancestry for "Native Americans". The famed Kennewick Man closest to Native American of all living populations, though which tribe is impossible to determine.

"Climate in Crisis": This is a major topic, yes, but not exactly a stand-out--there are so many articles about climate change that it is hard to say something radically new.

"The Ebola Explosion": This is perhaps the major science story of 2014, but is there anything new in this article?

"The First Dinosaur to Menace Both Land and Water": There is not much information here--there's a dinosaur that lived partially/entirely in water. (The article is so sparse, one cannot tell which.)

"Marijuana Goes Legit": Again, there is not much information here-- basically, Federal law still makes it hard to do any research, even though it is probably needed more than ever.

"Quantum Photo Finish": I realize that quantum physics makes no sense, but this description of an experiment makes even less sense than one might expect.

"Rosetta": The big story was apparently after this was published: Philae bounced rather than landed, but ended up in a more interesting spot. Then because of not enough sunlight in the actual landing area, it lost power and was out of touch for a long time, but as the comet rotated it moved back into the sun and came to life again, transmitting lots of data thought lost. Expectations now are that it will be able to gather and transmit much more data, and there are plans to extend Rosetta's mission by nine months, possibly even landing it on the comet.

"What Made the Bang So Big": This was another article that is impossible to understand.

"The Year in Science Fraud": Summary: "One of the reasons there seems to be more fraud is simply that we're better at finding it." Still, this is not much consolation to canvassers who spend hundreds of hours thinking personal contact makes a difference, only to be told it was all wasted. Or, more seriously, to people who children become seriously ill or die because someone published a fraudulent study on vaccinations. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Things are not as bad as they seem.  They are worse.
                                          --Bill Press

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