MT VOID 12/04/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 23, Whole Number 1887

MT VOID 12/04/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 23, Whole Number 1887

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/04/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 23, Whole Number 1887

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

Extreme Solutions (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

When all you have is a stake and a hammer every problem has pointy teeth. [-mrl]

Separated at Birth:

Mark noticed that there are several monster images that qualify for the "separated at birth" award:

which might have been inspired by:

which looks a lot like:

Step Aside, Tabasco, Sriracha Is the New Kid in Town (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

TOPIC: Step Aside, Tabasco--Sriracha Is the New Kid in Town (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I was in a dollar store and I happened to notice for sale a snack packet of "Sriracha" peanuts. It occurred to me that that packet of peanuts represented a basic demographic change in the United States. Because of the current mix of ethnicities in the US there are more people who want spicy food as part of their diet. White- bread Americans generally are not fond of piquancy in their food. South Asians, Southeast Asians, some Chinese, and Mexicans are more used to having spicy food on the bill of fare. Today in the United States there are more people from Asia and Mexico, places where spicy foods were already popular. More people in the United States want it hot than probably any time in our history.

Now even junk food is using spiciness as a selling point. The peanuts are not aimed at foodies. Foodies generally do not shop in dollar stores. But this was not the only reference I have seen to this strange sounding "Sriracha." There are references in magazine cartoons. I see menu items in restaurants. Still if I mention Sriracha to most people it draws blank stares. What is it? Let us start with Tabasco.

Until relatively recently there was only one Made-in-USA hot sauce that had general public recognition. That was Tabasco Sauce. It had been around almost since the years of the Civil War. Actually Tabasco Sauce owes its existence to the Civil War. Edmund McIlhenny returned from the war to his home to Louisiana from the war to find his lands ruined. About the only crop he still had growing was tabasco peppers. You cannot make much of a meal from tabasco peppers. They make a lovely salad if you want to run screaming from the room. But McIlhenny wanted to make them a money-making crop. For some reason he also had a store of cologne bottles. You could not eat those at all. He took the peppers and prepared them with vinegar putting it in cologne bottles. He gave it to his friends. Let them run screaming from the room. Actually the sauce was a great mask for the taste of spoiled foods that were frequently all that there was to eat. The following year McIlhenny sold it to his friends who had previously gotten the sauce free. Over the years Tabasco was built into a national brand. I am unaware of any other national brand food that was as piquant as Tabasco sauce. It was our national hot sauce.

And to me Tabasco sauce is not really piquant any more. Once builds up a tolerance for it. I have gotten used to hot stuff and I taste more vinegar in Tabasco sauce than I taste pepper. For many years the McIlhenny people ruled the roost of hot sauces. If you liked your food hot, they were the go-to brand. And there was not a lot of competition for Tabasco Sauce since most Americans avoided spicy food. Restaurants would stay away from having really spicy dishes, because there would always be some customer who would order a spicy dish and then when he got it he would make a noisy fuss that the food was too spicy to eat. It is the worst kind of advertising to have in your restaurant someone making a fuss and shouting that the food is inedible. But slowly some Americans developed a taste for the piquant. The monopoly of Tabasco came to an end about 1980 when there was a new kid on the block. It had a richer flavor than Tabasco and soon built a following.

Sriracha Sauce is actually not has hot as Tabasco sauce. Sriracha sauce is 1000 to 2500 Scoville Heat units while Tabasco is in the 2500 to 5000 range. But it has a consistency like that of tomato ketchup when means you get more of the hotness sticking to the food and then to your tongue. The Sriracha bottle is more noticeable. It is a big red bottle with a green applicator cap at the top. I suspect that the color scheme is intended to make the bottle resemble a hot pepper. The bottle has a picture of a rooster causing it to be called in some quarters "rooster sauce." It has peppers and vinegar like Tabasco Sauce, but it also has garlic, sugar, and salt giving it a fuller flavor.

The name "Sriracha" derives from the town Si Racha in Thailand. The name has never been trademarked so whomever it was who started using the name for peanuts sold in dollar stores, he is doing it legally. The product seems to have a strong popularity, particularly among former users of hot sauce.

POSTSCRIPT: Holy cow! Okay, now I just learned something. While I was writing the above article I noticed there was on Hulu a documentary film by Griffin Hammond entitled SRIRACHA, THE MOVIE that documents a fanatic fandom of Sriracha Sauce. Rooster sauce has become a pop food trend. It is claimed to be good on just about anything. There are apparently hundreds or maybe thousands of fans. They seem to be much more fanatic fans than I am. Now you have the background, you might want to try the sauce. You can see the movie on Hulu:

(You can see it free if you turn of ad-blocking.)

Also see:


Bah, Humbug! (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

And now that December is here, I thought I would mention that I recently read about a city where they put up decorations (just evergreens and such), but even that met with complaints about imposing religious imagery on people.

Of course, the city was Rome, the time was about two thousand years ago, and the complainers were the Christians:

"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."

Just saying, you know? [-ecl]

Space: The Invisible Frontier (comments by Dale Skran):

Over the last few years amazing progress has been made in space technology, but with a curious silence in the mainstream press. On November 23rd, Blue Origin flew their reusable New Shepard vehicle to the Karman line (100km), the official definition of the "edge of space" and back to the launch site for a soft landing on four legs. Previously, the DCX and SpaceX Grasshopper had flown vertically to various altitudes far lower than the Karman line, and landed for reuse. The venerable yet reusable X-15 rocket plane, launched by a B-52, crossed the Karman line on a couple of occasions, but did not land vertically. Viewed from this perspective, Blue Origin's feat does not seem that remarkable.

And in some sense, like all engineering milestones, it is not that remarkable. It is one link in a long chain of tests. It needs to be followed by close investigation of wear and tear, multiple re- flights, and finally certification for use by sub-orbital tourists. This process will take several years. In parallel, Blue Origin is developing a much larger rocket, for which the New Shepard will be the 2nd stage. A methane/lox engine called the BE-4 is being constructed by Blue Origin both for usage in the first stage of their own "Big Rocket" and the United Launch Alliance Vulcan. The completion of this engine will take more years, and the testing of a reusable first stage based on the BE-4 still more years.

So what is different about Blue Origin's achievement this time? First, although Blue has received a small amount of NASA funding as part of the COTS program, the great bulk of money was provided by Jeff Bezos himself. There is certainly no NASA line item, that, if cut, would cause Blue Origin to change direction or cancel New Shepard. Second, unlike NASA, Blue plans to start selling research slots on New Shepard right away - probably as early as next year. These commercial research flights will allow for extensive testing and certification of the BE-3 (the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine used in New Shepard) and the technology surrounding reusability. Finally, when space tourists start flying on New Shepard, and it increasingly seems like this could happen as soon as 2017, it will be a world-changing event. No humans flew on the DCX or grasshopper. Only government test pilots could fly the X- 15. Regular tourist flights, even flights with 4 or 5 minutes of zero gravity, will introduce a new generation to space, and whet appetites for future orbital flights. Perhaps more significantly, the BE-3 will become the first truly re-usable (as opposed to refurbishable, as were the Shuttle engines) liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, no small feat in itself.

Hence, although only a link in chain, the November 23rd landing of the New Shepard booster after reaching the Karman line must be viewed as historic event. I could not help but notice that the Wall Street Journal, which normally covers business news very well, did not devote any space in the first section to the safe return of New Shepard. I thought there might be a front-page story in the "Business & Tech" section, but instead there was a small pointer in upper left hand corner to the story, which appeared on the "back front page" of the business section. Now this is not the worst possible coverage, but it seems quite disappointing for such an important event.

My local paper, the Asbury Park Press, simply had no coverage whatsoever. The APP has given up on covering national news, and instead relies on an insert from USA Today for this purpose, which also had no coverage whatsoever. Readers of the Wall Street Journal are a distinct minority on the national level. This admittedly narrow example suggests that one reason Americans think that space program has been "canceled" is that reporters and editors have decided that nothing happening in space is of great interest unless someone dies. At the rate space coverage is declining, by the time Elon Musk retires on Mars, it won't be covered at all, since, after all, who really cares where some rich guy is going to live then he retires! [-dls]

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor (copyright 2015, Harper Perennial, $19.99, 401pp, ISBN 978-0-06- 235142-5) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

Sometimes, the hardest part of an endeavor is the beginning; once you get rolling, said endeavor can sometimes become easier and easier as you go along. Sometimes not. I don't know which of these this book review will be. I'll only know by the time I get to the end of it.

Welcome to Night Vale = the podcast--takes the form of a radio show on a community radio station in the town of Night Vale, located somewhere in the Southwestern United States. The podcast relates the strange goings on in the town, where nothing is normal and everything is accepted for what it is. The town is populated by strange characters--human and otherwise--going about their daily lives doing things we would consider outside the realm of normality. The podcast is strange, surreal, bizarre, and funny. Oh, yes--it is extremely popular. In the three years the podcast has been broadcast, a large number of characters have been introduced, their stories told, their lives documented. Sometimes the stories have gone on for a long time, some are done in a flash. But all are just a little offbeat.

And therein, I think, lies the problem with attempting to review WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE, the novel. A friend of mine said that he has the novel on his Kindle as part of his to-read list, but it's stuck behind other books on the list. He said he had never listened to the podcast, but that the book sounded interesting. That statement prompted me to start thinking about how not having listened to the podcast would affect a reader's enjoyment of the book. As I thought about this question over the last week or two, I came to the conclusion that the book can be read and enjoyed on its own, without the reader having listened to the podcast. Certainly, the reader's experience with the book would be enhanced if he or she had read the book, but it wasn't necessary. The lack of familiarity with the podcast becomes an issue for the book, oddly enough. Then again, the rest of Night Vale is odd, so why not this?

So, why is reviewing the book difficult? It shouldn't be. After all, when a review sits down to write, the reviewer is working from the premise that the reader has yet to read the book and is searching for opinions that would sway him or her one way or another. Why is this book any different? Maybe it's not. Let me try. If you get lost reading what's coming up, well, let it be known that Night Vale is a strange and weird place anyway, and you getting lost may just fit right in.

Our two main characters are Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton. Jackie works at Night Vale's pawn shop--where transactions are just a bit strange. (I've been saying that a lot, so maybe you should just take my word for it and I'll stop saying it.) Diane is the mother of Josh, who is changing. Changing a lot. Changing his form, that is. It seems to be different every day. This may or may not be normal for a boy growing up in Night Vale, but it certainly is straining his relationship with his mother. Jackie and Diane (Am I the only one who keeps hearing John Mellancamp in his head when those two names are put together like that?) are among many people in Night Vale who receive a visit from The Man in the Tan Jacket (yes, that's what the character is called) during which he leaves them with a piece of paper that has the words "King City" written on it. No one knows what that means.

What Jackie and Diane (just doin' the best they can) have figured out is that the appearance of The Man in the Tan Jacket and the reappearance of Diane's ex-husband and father of Josh, Troy, can not be just a coincidence, and so they eventually form an uneasy alliance to solve the mystery that is facing them. And they're pretty sure it involves the town of "King City".

I mentioned earlier that the lack of familiarity with the podcast becomes an issue for the book, but it's important to note that the reader should have no problem. The problem is that Fink and Cranor spend a good chunk of the first half or more of the novel trying to shoehorn all the bits and pieces of characters and places into the novel so that readers unfamiliar with the podcast can fall right in. That has the negative affect of slowing the book down, especially for those who listen to Night Vale regularly. The characters that make appearances include The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home, Old Woman Josie, Mayor Dana Cardinal, all the angels named Erika that you can't admit exist, Cecil, the radio announcer, and his scientist boyfriend Carlos. I don't actually remember a reference to Hiram McDaniels, the actual five- headed dragon, and locations like the dog park where you can't take your dog. The list goes on and on, and at some point, Fink and Cranor finally get on with it and get around to telling the actual story, which isn't too bad, but it's nothing spectacular. Then again, I don't think it could be told if it wasn't a Night Vale story.

I think that one of the reasons that this book doesn't quite hit home for me as it may for other people is that it doesn't have the feel of the podcast, and that is probably due to the fact the novel is not written as if it was a community radio program. Every two weeks, Cecil Palmer, the announcer on the program who is magnificently voiced by Cecil Baldwin, comes into our ears with a familiar voice that is perfect for telling us stories about the town of Night Vale. The radio program makes several appearances in the novel, but is not the mechanism by which the story is told.

All in all, WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a nice little novel--it's not bad, but it's not outstanding. It just is. Which, I guess, is what Night Vale is all about anyway. [-jak]

BROOKLYN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In 1952 a young Irish woman leaves her home and travels to America in the hopes of finding a better life. Her small town seemed to offer her no promising future. She has to choose between her old home and an unfamiliar new country. This is a nice re-creation of two very different ways of life styles and two different worldviews. Eilis (pronounced "AY-lish") had been very withdrawn in a life that was comfortable but did not seem to be progressing. She has a small hope that America would be better. Soon she will face the ageless choice of the immigrant, does she want to stay or return to her home? The plot of BROOKLYN is simple--perhaps too simple to justify the high production values. Saoirse Ronan is charming in the lead role, but other characters just are not as memorable. John Crowley directs a screenplay by Nick Hornby based on the novel by Colm Toibin. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Saoirse Ronan plays Irish village girl Eilis Lacey who has very little in her life to interest her as she lives through days that are nearly identical. Perhaps that is not quite so bad for her as she herself is withdrawn. But she has a chance to break out of her small life and to make something less ordinary of herself. She can go where so many Irish have gone to before her. She can go to America. That will not be easy, but she must choose between the new world and the old. Planning on leaving she starts thinking of what she will be leaving behind, and what things matter to her. Then she speaks to an Irish expatriate who has returned home for a visit. "That's something I will never do again," the woman tells her. "What? Go to America?" "No. Come home."

Eilis finds the boat trip to America worse than just taxing and at the end of the trip there she is on the doorstep of America, extremely homesick, and having to rely on herself. The reader can almost take the rather simple plot from there.

Saoirse Ronan was memorable as a child equivalent of Jason Bourne in HANNA and has graduated to more adult roles in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Here she is in almost every scene of the film and carries the film.

This could be one of the best period piece films of the year. We are given a fine recreation of an Irish town and another of Brooklyn in 1952. So much is done well that in preparation to tell the story that it seems a pity that the story is not really satisfying. The viewer can enjoy the detailed visuals. He can appreciate fine if reserved acting. But if he stops to think, he knows where the film is going and not much is happening in the plot as it gets there. The story has disappointingly few complications. It should have had just a bit more trouble going where the viewer knows it will go.

While what we see is the Irish community of Brooklyn, the experiences are very much like those of any ethnic group coming to the United States. That makes this film rather timeless if strongly pro-American. Most of the people viewing the film will have someone in their family who went through similar experiences. The experience is universal and with minor changes could take place today. Where the film has problems it is in a plot that is too simple and progresses too slowly. I rate BROOKLYN a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


SUFFRAGETTE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: As a middling, if well intentioned, film, SUFFRAGETTE tells the story of one woman in London who joins the 1920s political movement to allow women voting rights. The weight of the British government comes down on her to force her to stop demonstrating for votes for women. The cause is great, but the film account in SUFFRAGETTE is tepid and rather by-the-numbers. Sarah Gavron directs a screenplay by Abi Morgan. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

There seems to be a standard film plot I would call "The Making of a Political Radical." There is a political cause but the main character is only vaguely aware of it. He (or she) is unsympathetic or at most mildly concerned about the cause. But then the character becomes an innocent bystander when an incident occurs that marks him, unjustly, as being an activist for the cause. The power of the system comes down on our bystander and more and more he sees the faults inherent in the system. His views become stronger and he more and more becomes the kind of raging activist that he was earlier wrongly accused of being. One can see this pattern in films like THE WILBY CONSPIRACY, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. Eventually our one-time bystander has become a committed political zealot. Note, I am not saying the cause is wrong, but this is a by the numbers way to write a plot that may engage the audience.

In SUFFRAGETTE Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan) is one of innumerable downtrodden women in horrible jobs in London in the 1920s.--Cinematographer Eduard Grau make the laundry where Maud works look like an inner ring of Dante's hell. Maud has very few rights and most of what rights she has she gets through her husband at his discretion. Her husband Sonny even keeps Maud from seeing her own child. And Sonny is not at all sympathetic when Maud suddenly develops political interests. (Sonny is played, incidentally, by Ben Whishaw, the young Q in current James Bond films.)

Maud is aware of the suffragette movement, but she does not have time for politics in her miserable, over-worked life. Then a woman who works with Maud is going to testify to Parliament on how bad women's work conditions are. But the woman who was to testify is beaten and Maud is forced to speak in her place. Unintentionally, Maud has become one of the more visible spokespersons for improving working conditions for and for votes for women. The movement is led by Emmeline Pankhurst (played briefly by Meryl Streep). Seen a little more is another ally, played by Helena Bonham Carter.

Through Maud's eyes we see the government's attempts to stifle the women calling for votes. We see a struggle a good deal more violent than most people realize. Torture and sexual abuse is used to punish uncooperative women.

The issues raised in SUFFRAGETTE are still relevant today. Gender inequity is still front-page news. It has been lessened in this country as public sympathy has shifted to being much more sympathetic in favor of Women's Rights. So to some extent this film is preaching to the choir and using a familiar and well-worn story structure. Still, the film is presented with good performances and the quality production values one so frequently sees in UK films. I rate SUFFRAGETTE a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


PERSIAN FIRE by Tom Holland (book review by Gregory Frederick):

This book is a look into the history of conflicts between the Greeks and the Persians in the 500's and 400's B.C. The author looks at the early history of Persia and Greece to establish the framework of their respective cultures first then the conflicts are studied. For example, the beginnings of democracy as practiced by the Greeks are explored. Sparta initially developed this social experiment. Sparta was a military society that depended on its citizen soldiers known as hoplites fighting in a formation called a phalanx. The phalanx is a square or rectangle of hoplites fighting as one with bronze shields lined up one next to the other and the front line has their spears facing outward. This formation depended on each soldier doing his job and each defending each other. In an effort to maintain a solid and dependable phalanx, Spartans began to consider each citizen whether rich or poor to be equals and all citizens were treated as part of their shared and respected military. Later in Athens the idea of citizens being able to govern themselves by voting came about in an attempt to stop the constant infighting of various powerful elites causing chaos in their efforts to control Athens. Eventually, these ideas spread across Greece as democracy.

Persia and Greece first came into contact when the Persians began to conquer the Ionian city-states. These were Greek colonies on the west coast of present day Turkey. The Ionian Greeks asked Athens for help and when they did come to provide military assistance to the Ionians they angered the Persians. Later, the Persians in 490 B.C. landed at Marathon in Northern Greece to launch an attack on the Athenians but they where defeated by an Athenian hoplite army who stopped them on the beach. The battle of the 300 Spartans (with thousands of other Greeks) at Thermopylae occurred in 480 B.C. This military action was actually a coordinated effort by both a land force and the Greek navy situated near a coastal city called Artemisium. The Greek navy was under the command of the Athenian politician Themistocles and attempted to block the Persian navy as the Spartans blocked the Persian army. Therefore this strategy required both Thermopylae and Artemisium to be held, and given their losses at Thermopylae, Themistocles decided to withdraw the navy to Salamis. The Persians overran northern Greece and then captured the evacuated Athens. The Greek fleet looking for a decisive victory over the Persian armada attacked and defeated the invaders at the naval Battle of Salamis in late 480 B.C. Fearful of being trapped in Europe without a strong navy to support his army, the Persian king, Xerxes withdrew with much of his army to Asia, leaving a general named Mardonius to attempt to complete the conquest of Greece. In the following year a Greek army decisively defeated the Persians at the Battle of Plataea, thereby ending the Persian invasion.

The author states repeatedly that had the Greeks battle for freedom from Persian control gone the other way then Greek democracy, science, literature, medicine, and mathematics could all have been lost or changed and therefore all of Western Civilization would have been very different also.

Holland's book is an enjoyable read for those who like to learn more about ancient history. [-gf]

Correction on Oscar-Winning Sports Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I had a serious failure of fact-checking last issue. I was too anxious to get to the point of an article. CHARIOTS OF FIRE, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, ROCKY, and (ta-da) BEN-HUR are all sports films that won a Best Picture Academy Award. (Thanks to Kip Williams and others who pointed this out.) [-mrl]

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, CHARLY, and DES FLEURS POUR ALGERNON (letters of comment by Joseph T. Major, Paul Dormer, and Gary McGath):

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON in the 11/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph Major writes:

CHARLY the movie was preceded by an adaptation of the original "Flowers for Algernon", on "The United States Steel Hour" in 1961. The adaptation was titled "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon" and it ran on February 22. It starred Cliff Robertson as Charlie Gordon, just as the later movie did. Robertson bought the movie rights so he could repeat the role if a movie ever was made. And he got an Oscar for playing Charlie Gordon in the movie, too. [-jtm]

Mark responds:

I apparently saw "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon," the TV play version of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON and then forgot entirely that I had ever seen it. Later I read the short story and a little later the novel and was supremely impressed by both. I only remembered that I had seen "The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon" when I saw CHARLY and realized I remembered some of the questions on the intelligence test. In the 1950s Robertson received critical praise for his performances in three of his TV plays. When THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES was to be made into a movie Jack Lemmon was cast for the lead. Robertson was really disappointed. It happened again with another TV play--he was praised for and again another actor was cast for the film. Determined not to let Charlie Gordon get away from him he bought the film rights for FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON and determined that nobody else would be cast for the role. Sure enough eventually the film was made. Robertson played the role and got the Best Actor Academy Award. [-mrl]

Paul Dormer adds:

On satellite television in the UK there is a channel called TV5, which is French-language. I was zapping around the other day to see what was on and on TV5 there was a trailer for a film called "Des fleurs pour Algernon", which seems to be a French film of the novel. (Released last year, according to the IMDb.)

And I've just realised that Gregory Gadebois who plays Charlie in the film also plays Toni in LES REVENANTS, possibly the best zombie TV series I've ever seen.

The opening credits are especially eerie: [-pd]

And Gary McGath adds:

There's also a beautiful song by Kathy Mar called "Flowers for Algernon"; I'm not sure whether she based it on the short story, the book, or the movie. [-gmg]

Mark responds:

The song is on YouTube:

It is apparently Charlie's thoughts after the events of the book. If it is a bad song, it just has to be as good as the regressed Charlie Gordon could write. I admit that I actually like the song and it actually brought a tear to my eye, but that may be mostly because it brought back memories of the book.

Be aware you can also see the 2000 TV movie with Matthew Modine at [-mrl]

Secretary of State or Senator? (letter of comment by Mike Glyer):

In response to Jim Susky's comments on Presidential candidates in the 11/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Mike Glyer writes:

I noticed letter-writer Jim Susky using formal titles: "Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders would seem to qualify, and perhaps Governor Bush." Clinton not currently holding a government position, one could choose between her former titles as US Senator and Secretary of State. Is there a rationale for thinking Secretary of State is more prestigious? [-mg]

Evelyn responds:

Well, I can't speak for Jim, but Secretary of State is fourth in the line of Presidential succession, while all but one of the senators are considerably down the list (below the entire cabinet, in fact). The only Senator "outranking" the Secretary of State is the President pro tempore of the Senate. Also, the Secretary of State is ahead of all the senators in the order of precedence for ceremonial affairs (though behind the mayor of the city in which the event is being held!). [-ecl]

Climate Change Proposal (letter of comment by Gregory Benford):

In response to Jim Susky's comments on Presidential candidates and climate change proposals in the 11/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

About my 2004 proposal to implement a $20-billion Fresnel lens at the L1 Earth-Sun LaGrange point, which would diffract about 1/2% to 1% of Sol's radiation from the Earth: I really only roughed out the notion, while actually publishing four papers on carbon capture in the deep ocean in detail. After that, an astronomer at University of Arizona did a detailed analysis, showing that for about a trillion dollars we could do it.

But! that doesn't address the growing acid in our oceans, from absorbing all that CO2--a much harder problem. There are chemical solutions, though.

I quit working on geo-engineering because there's zero funding for actual experiments at any level. Things will worsen through the 2020s, a rising ride of troubles will force such ideas to the fore, and maybe I'll be interested then. But I'll be in my 90s, too. [-gb]

"I Have Seen the Future" (comments by Alan Woodford):

Alan Woodford posted in rec.arts.sf.fandom:

I have seen the future ...

and computers free with magazines is very definitely it....

I picked up a copy of magPI magazine at lunchtime, with a free Raspberry Pi Zero on the cover!

I remember computer mags with 5-1/4" floppies on the cover, but a free computer is in a whole different league. :-)

For those not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, here is the spec:

A Broadcom BCM2835 application processor
     1GHz ARM11 core (40% faster than Raspberry Pi 1)
A micro-SD card slot
A mini-HDMI socket for 1080p60 video output
Micro-USB sockets for data and power
An unpopulated 40-pin GPIO header
     Identical pinout to Model A+/B+/2B
An unpopulated composite video header
A remarkably small form factor, at 65mm x 30mm x 5mm

and it is available to buy for 4 UK pounds, or five of your American dollars!

Okay, that isn't an earth-shattering spec, but compared to my first proper PC, it is at least 100x faster, with almost a thousand times more RAM.

And it was free with a computer comic...

Now all I need to do is sort out the spaghetti, and I might start programming again! [-aw]

Mark responds: All this reminds me of Bhutanese postage stamps that are vinyl phonograph records: [-mrl]

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

Our discussion group chose THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH by Leo Tolstoy (translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude) (ISBN 978-0-553-21035-4) for this month. The first observation to make is that it is more about the life of Ivan Ilych rather than his death, though perhaps the idea is that the way he lived his life was such that in some sense he started dying very early on. He was always more of an opportunist than someone with a moral compass:

"At school he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them, but when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good position and that they did not regard them as wrong, he was able not exactly to regard them as right, but to forget about them entirely or not be at all troubled at remembering them."

Earlier, Tolstoy described someone else as having "the sort of career which brings men to positions from which by reason of their long service they cannot be dismissed, though they are obviously unfit to hold any responsible positions, and for whom therefore posts are specially created, which though fictitious carry salaries of from six to ten thousand rubles that are not fictitious, and in receipt of which they live to a great age." It is this sort of person who moves up to make room for people like Ivan Ilych.

Tolstoy seems to get a sly insult in when he says, "Neither as a boy nor as a man was he a toady, but from early youth was by nature attracted to people of high position as a fly is drawn to the light." I think most people reading this in English would finish the phrase "attracted to people of high position as a fly is drawn to ..." with a word other than "light."

Ivan Ilyich drifts through life with little feeling or connection to anything. "The preparations for marriage and the beginning of married life, with its conjugal caresses, the new furniture, new crockery, and new linen, were very pleasant until his wife became pregnant." Love and "conjugal caresses" are no different to him than furniture, crockery, and linen. "Though the salary was higher, the cost of living was greater, besides which two of their children died and family life became still more unpleasant for him." The fact that two of his children died is a mere aside, of little importance.

And his ambition is very limited: "All he now wanted was an appointment to another post with a salary of five thousand rubles, either in the administration, in the banks, with the railways in one of the Empress Marya's Institutions, or even in the customs -- but it had to carry with it a salary of five thousand rubles and be in a ministry other than that in which they had failed to appreciate him." He has no interest in what he is going to be doing to earn this salary--indeed, it is probably one of those jobs described above, fictitious and of no responsibility.

All that makes his marriage better is to make it less: "Now everything had happened so fortunately, and that he and his wife were at one in their aims and moreover saw so little of one another, they got on together better than they had done since the first years of marriage."

Ivan Ilyich's goal is to imitate not those he wishes to become (or be seen as), but those who are in the same position he is. They think they are imitating the upper class, as does he, but in fact they are merely imitating each other. As Tolstoy writes, "In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like themselves." And, "Just as his drawing- room resembled all other drawing-rooms so did his enjoyable little parties resemble all other such parties."

In a lesson to us all, he becomes too attached to things, because it is things he has been focused on: "Every spot on the tablecloth or the upholstery, and every broken window-blind strong, irritated him. He had devoted so much trouble to arranging it all that every disturbance of it distressed him."

And there is a final universality that Tolstoy describes: "His condition was rendered worse by the fact that he read medical books and consulted doctors." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          The mind of man is more intuitive than logical, 
          and comprehends more than it can coordinate.
                                 --Vauvenargues, 1746

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