MT VOID 11/05/04 (Vol. 23, Number 19)

MT VOID 11/05/04 (Vol. 23, Number 19)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/05/04 -- Vol. 23, No. 19

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to


Bill Higgins points out that "Any technology that does not appear magical is insufficiently advanced," given as Benford's Modified Clarke Law, is actually [Barry] Gehm's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law. Stan Schmidt published it in ANALOG, attributed to Barry, around 1991. According to Google, many sources appear to take it from Benford's 1997 novel FOUNDATION'S FEAR.

And Professor Gehm adds, "Strictly speaking, my version was 'Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced,' but I think they're close enough that I'd be justified in claiming priority. My version seems to have traveled widely as various people (some of whom I know and some I don't) have used it as a .sig file (the cockleburrs of cyperspace)."

Our apologies to Professor Gehm.

Leeper's Rule of Thumb (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

LEEPER'S RULE OF THUMB: The country has returned to normality when none of the top three news stories have to do with Islam or the Islamic world. (When is the last time they referred to Buddhism and the Buddhist world?) [-mrl]

My Business Proposal (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This is by way of a prospectus. I am looking for someone to go into business with and it may well be someone reading this very notice. I could advertise in Forbes magazine for a business partner, but that would take money. Well, you see, money is the whole crux of the matter. If I had the money to advertise in FORBES MAGAZINE I would be well on my way to not needing a partner. But you see I haven't got money and that is where you come in. I am already saving the partnership a great deal of money by advertising in the MT VOID. So when you join me in a partnership, I will already have demonstrated my good business sense by saving the partnership the expense of advertising in a big business publication. The rates for advertising in the MT VOID are a good deal less. In fact they were zero up until just this issue, but when I saw what an ad would cost in FORBES MAGAZINE, I decided to charge at a nominal rate of just 40% of the Forbes rate. So this much more modest ad fee the partnership owes me and even this modest fee I am willing to split with you, my future partner. So in fact you will owe me just 20% of what this ad would cost in FORBES MAGAZINE.

"But," I hear you object, "would we not have been wiser to advertise in FORBES MAGAZINE to get a high quality partner? High quality meaning one with Bushels of Mazuma?" "Wouldn't it make more sense," you ask, "to get a really good partner of the FORBES- reader variety, and not one of the social degenerates and losers who make up the readership of the MT VOID?" Now to my mind you are going a little too far and I am sure many of the readers--not most perhaps but many--are neither losers nor social degenerates. There. I have defended you. That proves my loyalty, a quality you should be looking for in a business partner.

Now what am I proposing? Well, let me explain. Today as I was driving on the roads of New Jersey I saw driving around me something that was not only more impressive than my car, it was also more impressive than the Sport Utility Vehicles that have been swarming our roads. It is almost the perfect one-up on SUV drivers. It was a Humvee. It is nicknamed "a Hummer" for short by those who are gullible and who have problems counting up the two syllables of Humvee. What this thing looks like is, well, did you ever get animal crackers as a kid and the box was supposed to look like a sort of vehicle? It even had printed tires that were perforated in the box. You could punch them out and it would really look like the box was on wheels and was some sort of vehicle. That is sort of what this looked like. Except that the box was wide in the horizontal direction.

It seems that people buy sport utility vehicles for two reasons. They look expensive and they give a feeling of safety. That latter is an illusion, SUVs are actually less safe than cars. Or they would be, but cars have gotten less safe because of late it is much harder for cars to see the oncoming traffic when they pull out into that traffic because the view is blocked by a large SUV. So while the world is less safe for the SUV driver, it has become A LOT less safe for the other drivers. So relatively speaking you are better off in the SUV. If this sounds familiar, it is really the same principle behind American Foreign Policy.

The feeling of status is not real any more anyway. There are two reasons for this. One is that it became known that SUVs are really just refitted farm pick-up trunks. Rather than driving a stylish suburban vehicle you are really driving just a fixed up version of what Bubba hauls manure in. They have been refitted to carry loads of people rather than loads of manure. The other reason is that SUV owners have been one upped by the coming of the Humvee.

What is a Humvee? It is a refitted military transport vehicle. It's real name is the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV. But it is really hard to say "Hmmmm-wivee" and many of the ex-military who used the Hmmmm-wivees in the field now wear dentures that come loose if they try to say Hmmmm-wivees. So over the protests of the Fixodent people they have redubbed the vehicle a Hum-vee which uses almost all the letters. Now there is real status in the old neighborhood. You get respect if you drive around a battlefield armored utility vehicle to go the Piggley- Wiggley for your Pick 6 Lottery Tickets and your Marlboros. You are King of the Hill. SUVs better get out of the way. These things in the field have a honking big machine gun on the top. Your trunk may have Weapons of Mass Destruction for all anybody knows. Even those SUV drivers give you respect. Except there are a bunch of other Humvees in the same Piggley-Wiggley parking lot. Well, status is as fleeting as is fame, I guess. People are looking for a way to one-up the Humvees in the neighborhood.

There, dear partner, is where we come in. I happen to know where we can get ten surplus M3 Half-Tracks. You ever see one of these babies? Humvees see one and go running off yelping like the dog who got his tail caught in the car door. This is real status. They give you great traction. You thought four-wheel drive was good? How about two wheels and two tank treads? This is one place where two pair beats four of a kind any day. At this point your eyes should be lighting up with the possibilities. I figure we paint them a nice enamel red . . . fire engine red. We rip out the leather seating and replace it with fake tiger skin. Hey, maybe real tiger skin. Cover the inside walls with some nice wall covering. Make it really luxurious inside. Like a black velvet painting.

Now remember I am not talking about a tank. That might be extreme. Mostly because you steer it with those two pedals and no wheel. I am not sure what the DMV would say about that. No, have no worries. You steer with a plain old steering wheel. You could teach your mother to drive one of these things. We'll have to think how to market tanks.

Now if you are not convinced already I have one more idea. I am going to tell you two little words. If you still are not convinced after I tell you these words, you are hopeless. You are going to die poor. But you can't repeat the two words anywhere. This is just between you and me. This is really going to blow your mind. Now hold on. I am going to tell you the two words. You are going to go off like a Fourth of July rocket when I tell them to you.

Okay, get ready. If you are standing, sit down. 'Cause this is really going to knock you on your ass if you are standing up. Sit down. Okay. Here they come. Here are the two words. They are . . . STRETCH . . . HALF-TRACK.

Okay, you want to talk business, get in touch with me. [-mrl]

Be Happy in Your Work (letter of comment by Michael Haynes):

Regarding Mark's editorial on drug-induced job satisfaction, Michael Haynes writes:

Long-time reader, first-time writer here. ;-)

I'd be inclined to argue that this was a nearly-unequivocal Bad Thing. Here's a short list of reasons against such mood manipulation:

* An Ethical Reason - Happy workers could be very exploitable. Would a military convoy driver mind going into a clearly unsafe situation (even for a war zone) if they were chemically altered to be happy in their work? (Apply the same principle to civilian occupations such as coal mining, etc.)

* A Pragmatic Reason - The desire to remove drudgery is a significant force behind many of the mechanical conveniences that exist today. I'd rather grudgingly spend ten minutes loading and unloading a washer and dryer than hours gladly scrubbing clothes against a washboard. (Similarly, bored workers have the capability to lead to future productivity gains by finding ways to improve processes.)

* An Emotional Reason - A range of experiences and emotions is generally beneficial for people. Part of why we enjoy our leisure time so much is because it can be compared to our non-leisure time.

* A Human Growth Reason - People generally want to better themselves. They strive toward greater happiness. If they could be content doing a menial job there would be less reason for such striving. Certainly some could choose to make this trade-off but it's one I can't imagine ever being satisfied with.


Mark responds:

You are saying increasing happiness with people's work is a "nearly-unequivocal Bad Thing." I think what you are pointing out are bad aspects that have to be considered. Let's take them one at a time. (Realize I am playing Devil's Advocate to explore the issue. But where I am talking about my own experience I am not falsifying.)

The Ethical Reason: In any contract each side exploits (in the positive sense) the other. Happy workers are exploitable. During periods in my career when I was happy with my work the company did get more value out of me. And I got more out of the work. I don't think there was ever a danger that I would get so happy with my work that it would be bad of me. As for the wartime objection, the process does not make one any more fearless than he was. He just minds less the drudgery that goes with the job.

The Pragmatic Reason: Some of the most innovative people I know are also the most happy with the job. If you enjoy a job you also enjoy streamlining it and being resourceful. I assure you that happiness with a job does not stifle the creative process. It usually enhances it, sometimes greatly. We aren't saying we are turning people into mindless zombies.

The Emotional Reason: When I was unhappy with my job, it poisoned my recreational time. I worried about the job. I would feel bad the last day or two of vacation because I had to go back soon. When I enjoyed my job, my leisure time actually got a lot better.

The Human Growth Reason: this is much the same as the answer to the pragmatic argument. When I was happy with my work I grew with it. I more willingly took on responsibility. When the job was made miserable for me, I was less willing to take chances.


Letter of Comment (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major):

Joseph T. Major writes:

One clarification on BRAVE NEW WORLD: people were conditioned into knowing their place, not drugged. We hear, for example, a sleep-conditioning session for Gammas on the order of "Deltas and Epsilons are dumb; I'm glad I'm not them. Alphas and Betas work far too hard; I'm glad I'm not them. I'm glad I'm a Gamma." Repeat every night for twelve years . . .

The drugs are mainly for the upper class; except for John Savage, the point-of-view characters are Alphas and Betas, and when they need to kick back, instead of toking up or snorting a few lines, or knocking back a few very dry martinis shaken not stirred straight up with a twist, they zonk out on soma.

On DEAD BIRDS: oh, rather like that poor fellow's Civil War vampire novel that he tried to get all and sundry fan-eds to review, and he assumed, favorably at that. I wanted to like it; the concepts had so many interesting possibilities. But the *execution* . . . (as Sam: Johnson once replied, no, their hanging was omitted).

Which brings me to THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. It looks like this is going to be judged 1) Real Writer lowers himself to Genre Fiction versus 2) Mundane Writer tries and fails doing Our Stuff. Roth's social history is good, but he trips and falls a lot beyond that. (In 1940 "The Spirit of St. Louis" was a museum piece, for example, and so Candidate Lindbergh couldn't have flown it around the country stumping for votes against war.) [-jtm]

THE LIMB SALESMAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is an ironic love story set in a future world that has been badly damaged in some strange way making uncontaminated water rare. Society is now built around the efforts to find safe water. The story drags more than a little. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

THE LIMB SALESMAN is a snail-paced love story set in the mid-to-late 21st century. Little is explained but somehow drinkable water has become a rare and extremely valuable commodity that must be mined for, though wine and energy are still plentiful. Bad water is still plentiful but drinking it leads to terrible mutation. Just what has happened to the water that covers so much of this planet that it cannot be distilled to make something drinkable is unclear. Also with such tiny amounts of water being of great value, how the world subsists is left to the viewer to work out.

This is the backdrop for a slow-paced story of Dr. Gabrial Goode (Peter Stebbings) who has come to an isolated area where Abe Fiedler (Clark Johnson) runs a water mining operation. Fiedler desperately wants his mutant daughter to have the legs she was born without. Science can grow her new legs with genetic engineering. The one organ they cannot grow is the heart. Again it is unexplained why but any organ can be grown but a heart. Fiedler has other problems at the same time. His miners are clearly not happy with the way Fiedler runs his operation and trouble is brewing.

Anais Granofsky directs the script written by himself and Ingrid Veninger. The budget would not allow for a futuristic look. Instead it is set in a brooding 1880s house. Seeing the 1990s car in a world in which companies boast they been around since 2032 seems inconsistent. There is no sign of where the miners live. The storyline is ironic but is insufficient to support a film of this length. THE LIMB SALESMAN is a decent start for beginning filmmakers, but there is only enough story to fill less than an hour. Most of its audience will find it dry, cold, and dull. [-mrl]

TOUCH THE SOUND (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a documentary about a deaf woman who uses the feel of vibration to "hear" the music and has become an accomplished musician. The film is a paean to the variety of sound in our world, sound that we experience very differently from how Evelyn Glennie does. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie is profoundly deaf and has been since she was age eight. At least she is deaf in the usual sense. She still has a sense of touch and can feel vibration. In fact she feels vibration so sensitively that she effectively hears through touch. She is adept enough can carry on conversation and is even a talented musician. She has been honored with an appointment to the Order of the British Empire. This is a documentary about Evelyn Glennie and her world of exploring sound. Glennie considers sound a form of touching and has made her whole life about touching and feeling sound. This film tries to create her world and is a lush appreciation of sound. We follow her as she goes around her new studio, on old warehouse, and finds things she can turn into musical instruments. We travel with her recording and observing sound. Just about anything that she finds to bang together she can make music with and she does seem to be able to get a pleasing sound.

This film is in large part concert she performs with Fred Frith. The style of her music is sort of New Age, sense of wonder sort of music. Director Thomas Riedelsheimer creates a feel of wonder for variety of sound we have around us. This documentary about a deaf woman is really a paean to sound. I suppose I can see what the film was trying to do, but somehow the film's reverence for sound in all forms just did not hit the right note. The film is well made but for a narrow audience. [-mrl]

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

Neil Gaiman's STARDUST (ISBN 0-060-93471-9) is yet another great fantasy novel from Gaiman, this one about a farm boy's experiences in Faerie when he goes there to retrieve a fallen star for the girl he loves. In addition to the usual fantasy tropes, Gaiman does a wonderful job of incorporating the concept of the importance of words, and precision is using and interpreting them. Time and again, readers will discover that what they *thought* one character had said was really only the interpretation that they put on it, and that the character had actually said something else entirely.

For fans of Hammer horror films, Jimmy Sangster's INSIDE HAMMER (Reynolds & Hearn, 1-903111-20-X) is mostly a wonderfully collection of anecdotes of his life at Hammer Studios. Towards the end it does devolve into a listing of "then I worked on this film, and then they made that film", but on the whole, his comments are amusing and entertaining, if not entirely insightful and meaningful about film-making. For example, he recounts how Bray Studios was an old mansion used for storing army coats, but when the roof leaked, the coats on the [British] first floor got so heavy with water, they caused the ground floor ceiling to collapse. He is also more honest about the various folks' negative qualities, without making this a tabloid sort of book. (For those who want a more academic approach, there have been several other books about Hammer Studios.)

While at the Eisenhower presidential Library & Museum this past summer, I bought President Eisenhower's AT EASE: STORIES I TELL TO FRIENDS (ISBN 0-915992-04-3). This is another collection of anecdotes, covering the period up to, but not including, his Presidency. It also has only a few pages on World War II, since (as he says) that was covered at great detail in his book CRUSADE IN EUROPE (which I have not read). As with the man himself, it is genial enough but not particularly intellectual, inspiring, or involving. One interesting note: he attributes his desire to create a decent interstate highway system to a cross-country road trip of Army vehicles that he made after World War I. I may lend this to my father, who was in World War II (though not in Europe), and certainly would remember more about Eisenhower than I do. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Barrow's First Law: Any Universe simple 
           enough to be understood is too simple to 
           produce a mind able to understand it.

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