MT VOID 10/19/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 16, Whole Number 1463

MT VOID 10/19/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 16, Whole Number 1463

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/19/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 16, Whole Number 1463

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

Morning Exchange (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This is a typical morning exchange with Evelyn. I had been up early and Evelyn came into the room and told me that she had woken up to the sound of screaming. She looked around to try to figure out where the sounds were coming from and it turned out to be a Shakespeare play she was listening to on her Walkman she had turned on a while earlier trying to get back to sleep. It worked, but it had awakened her not long after.

I told her that as usual her problems were of her own making. She frowned at me. This surprised me a little. A few minutes later I asked her would she rather be happy or proud? She thought for a second and said happy. She asked me why I asked.

Well, if your problems are of your own making then you have a chance at happiness. You can stop making the problems for yourself. If your problems are not of your own making then you have a chance at pride. You can feel proud you have overcome those problems. But more are likely to come. Hence I had given her the answer that I thought she would have preferred, the more optimistic response.

She frowned at me again and said it was too early in the morning for deep philosophical discussion.

I, of course, asked her for a time estimate. For what, she asked. For when she *would* be ready for deep philosophical discussion.

Evelyn frowns a lot in the morning. I don't know why that is. [-mrl]

A Die-off of Tongues (Part 2) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

[Part 1]

I have to admit as much as I would like to be urbane and cosmopolitan I really speak only English and un poco Espanol. This is in spite of the fact that I have in my time attempted to learn five languages different from my mother tongue. And deep down I think that the world would probably be a better place is there was just one human language and all language barriers fell away. Though in spite of this opinion I contribute to the National Yiddish Book Center, an organization whose goal is to take a language I neither understand nor speak and pull it back from the brink of extinction. Yiddish also is one of the harder languages to preserve because much of it is not written in the Roman alphabet. In fact it can be written in Roman alphabet or the Hebrew alphabet, but I believe authentic Yiddish is written with the Hebrew. It is more commonly written in the Hebrew alphabet. Certainly languages that do not use the Roman alphabet are harder to resuscitate. And we do not think of it, but two- thirds of human languages have no alphabet at all. If it cannot be recorded on paper it is much harder to save a dying language. It can be done with electronic recording, but that is far less reliable.

Basically I see pros and cons to resuscitating dying languages. The pros are generally abstract. The Kallawaya people of Bolivia have a special language that they use to describe medicinal plants. Lose their language and we lose their medicine, at least as the US NEWS article explains it. Now in the first place this assumes that modern medicine derives a lot from the Kallawaya. I am not sure I would know even if it did, but I am skeptical. There is also the argument that we learn a lot about the workings of the brain by studying obscure languages. For both of these I would like to hear from someone who would know if these were valid arguments. Presumably a people's identity and culture are tied to their language. Lose their language and we lose much of who they really are.

Generally I feel that if a language is disappearing for lack of interest, there may not be that much that is of interest to save. One can encourage people to be willing to put out the effort to save their language, but if the motivation is that there I am not sure it is worth forcing it on people.

Yiddish is for me a special case. Yiddish would still be thriving except for the efforts to eliminate this language by the Third Reich. There is a sizable literature in Yiddish. Whether it still enriches our lives in any meaningful way is up to us. And I admit I am not using it much to enrich my life. I might use it better if it was translated into my native language, but that sort of defeats the purpose of saving the language. I would say that the people on this continent who are most hurt by the lost of traditional languages are the people who have been on this continent the longest. I think that the native peoples speak most endangered languages in North America. It would be just one more injury that the now dominant culture has foisted upon them.

Thc cons are a little more concrete. There is an almost Darwinist logic to letting languages die. The languages that die are dying from lack of use This is like a physical appendage that is not really used any more. The maxim is, "use it or lose it". English makes itself useful to much of the world. So does French, Spanish, and German. A language that is used only to describe medicinal plants in Bolivia is almost asking to be eliminated.

I can see how languages evolved and have a literature and people who love them, but I almost think that if a language can be eliminated it should be. Misunderstanding between people due to language barriers I consider a serious problem. Douglas Adams claimed that if you removed these barriers via the mythical Babel Fish it would result in more and bloodier wars than ever before. But I am skeptical of his logic. Certainly it is a pain not being able to communicate straight out to other people. And reading subtitles in films can be frustrating. If we can do away with language barriers, I think we should. Of course, the language I would most nominate for extinction is an artificial language with no native speakers, since it is a fictional language that was invented for a television science fiction series. Now people are getting Ph.D.s for having studied this useless language and having read virtually every piece of literature ever written in this fledgling language. That one can go out the air lock.

Again, for more information:


MICHAEL CLAYTON (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: George Clooney plays a legal "hired gun" for a prestigious law firm. He starts doing his own investigation when a friend assigned to a law case has a mental breakdown. The case involves a high-profile biochemical company that is being sued by farmers who claim the company's product caused deaths in their community. This is a tense thriller even if the basic plot turns out to be a little overly familiar. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

George Clooney is the star of some Hollywood blockbuster films. He is also the maker of smaller, higher-quality films like GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, SYRIANA, and THE GOOD GERMAN. The blockbusters are good for seeing once or twice and I am sure pay the bills. The little films are worth owning a copy of. They bear repeated watching. One such film is SYRIANA, which is intriguing in spite of the fact it was shot in a strange style that left me a little confused about what I was seeing. Even in the end I had a hard time telling what it was really all about, because it seemed to be told in only a semi-linear fashion and there were several sequences for which I am still unsure of how they fit into the complex plot. Superficially MICHAEL CLAYTON is filmed in that same disorienting style. However, underneath the plot is really surprisingly simple--even bordering on cliche. Very early on I knew where the plot was going. It was clear who were the good guys and the bad guys. And that made the individual scenes easier to understand also. Perhaps this is not quite as good a film as SYRIANA, but it is a lot easier to put together and once the viewer does that the style gets much less in the way.

Michael Clayton (played by Clooney) is a lawyer who is called a "miracle man" by other lawyers in his firm. He more modestly calls himself a "fixer" or a "janitor". When a client does something really stupid and illegal, Clayton comes in and cleans up the mess. He knows exactly what to do to get his clients off or to get them the absolute minimum punishment. He does this for his salary. He does not worry if the clients are misunderstood saints or if they are the scum of the earth. He is a legal hired gun. The current mess he is asked to clean up has only minor illegalities. A friend and co-worker Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) had a sort of breakdown in front of the client. Edens is a really good lawyer, but suddenly he just snapped and started taking his clothes off right in front of a client (a Monsanto- like company named U/North) and the people suing the client. This was not a quiet breakdown. It was more the sort that Howard Beal had in NETWORK. He spontaneously raves, usually against his client. Edens is declares himself Shiva the Destroyer, but what he is destroying is people's lives. Clayton goes in to try to patch things up and discovers that Edens makes a certain sense even when he is ranting.

This, by the way, is told in a four-day flashback after somebody has tried to kill Clayton. Just how he went from trying to settle things down with the client to being a potential murder victim is the thrust of the plot. And the plot is simple enough that it early on is clear who is doing what to whom.

This is in its way a film without special effects, almost without explosions. It does have the acting talents of Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack. I think that they are willing to work for less than scale because they agree with the politics of the film. In a film that pits small citizens against big corporations, it is hard not to agree with the politics of the film. What makes me curious is whether the film could have been written to draw the conclusion that the corporation is actually in the right and the little people really are not. I am not saying that I myself favor big corporations by any means, but it disturbs me a little that once we know who the opposing parties are we know immediately which side is favored without even considering the facts of the case. Siding against both corporations--and there are two that do not come off looking very good--seems almost too easy. This is not a bad film, but it is just not very daring politically. At least in some respects it took the cheap and easy route. Now if the film could have made us root for the chemical company or even the big legal firm, that would have been an unexpected piece of writing.

This film takes aim at some easy targets. It does not tell us very much about the real world that we did not already at least suspect. But it is a polished and engrossing thriller. While the style makes it a little difficult to piece together what is happening, that just makes it all the more satisfying when things clear up. I rate MICHAEL CLAYTON a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:


Moons (letter of comment by Dan Cox):

In his review of IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON in the 10/05/07 issue of the MT VOID, Mark wrote, "Earth has the largest moon in proportion to its size in the solar system we know of." [-mrl]

Dan Cox responds, "When I was a child, Earth had the largest moon in portiotion to its size in the known Solar system. By the time I got to high school, Pluto had the largest. Now it looks like Earth has retaken the record." [-dtc]

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

THE POISON BELT by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ISBN-13 978-0-8032-6634-6, ISBN-10 0-8032-6634-0) is the second of the "Professor Challenger" stories (the first being THE LOST WORLD). On the whole, it is not very good as a story, with quite a few errors in science and a "happy" ending that is only happy in the same sense that the ending of H. G. Wells's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a happy ending. The premise--that Earth passes through a belt of poisonous aether--seems unlikely now that aether has been discredited, but it may have inspired Poul Anderson's BRAIN WAVE.

There is one quote that fits in very well with Mark's comments on the scale of the universe in the 08/31/07 issue of the MT VOID. Doyle compares our solar system to a bunch of connected corks floating on the Atlantic, and then says, "A third-rate sun, with its ragtag and bobtail of insignificant satellites, we float under the same daily conditions towards some unknown end, some squalid catastrophe which will overwhelm us at the ultimate confines of space, where we are swept over an etheric Niagara, or dashed upon some unthinkable Labrador."

THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES by Karl R. Popper is in two volumes (ISBN-13 978-0-691-01968-0, ISBN-10 0-691-01968-1 and ISBN-13 978-0-691-01972-7, ISBN-10 0-691-01972-X). The first volume is devoted to "debunking" Plato, particularly his "Republic", while the second concentrates on Hegel and Marx. In his introduction, Popper takes aim at what he calls "historicism", which seems to be very similar to Hari Selden's "psychohistory". Popper describes "historicism" as the belief that, just as science has laws and can make predictions, "the task of the social sciences [is] to furnish us with long-term historical prophecies. They also believe that they have discovered laws of history which enable them to prophesy the course of historical events."

Popper also uses the terms "open society" and "closed society". Briefly, an open society is one in which individuals are confronted with personal decisions, while a closed society is one which is "magical or tribal or collectivist."

I talked about Popper at length in my review of WITTGENSTEIN'S POKER by David Edmonds and John Eidinow. Briefly, Wittgenstein may or may not have threatened Popper with a fireplace poker as part of a philosophical argument over whether there are true philosophical arguments, or only problems of language. Popper also gave the coup-de-grace to the statement of "the Vienna Circle" that only two kinds of statements were meaningful: those "inherently" true (either by definition or as syllogisms), and those which are empirical and verifiable. All other statements were meaningless. Popper pointed out that the claim of the Vienna Circle was neither inherently true, nor empirical and verifiable. Hence it was meaningless, so why were they wasting their time on it?!

One of the great things about retirement is that while reading Popper, I can decide to re-read Plato's "Republic"--and have the time to do it. Which in turn means that I can say things like, "When I was re-reading Plato's "Republic" the other day...." And when I was re-reading Plato's "Republic", I was struck with how at least one 20th century author used "The Republic" as inspiration--Aldous Huxley. BRAVE NEW WORLD implements so many of Plato's ideas--strict division between classes, use of education, sexual partners in common, children raised collectively without knowledge of who their parents are--that it cannot be mere coincidence.

Popper also comments on Plato's suggestion that, for the duration of a war, no one may reject the advances of a soldier (cited as "468c", but more easily found by noting it is in Book 5). I knew that there was a science fiction story that used this premise (ending with an ordinary young soldier walking into his neighbor's home and up the stairs to the room of their thirteen- year-old daughter, and they cannot do anything to stop him), but for the life of me I could remember neither title nor author. So at 12:25 PM I posted a "YASID" ("Yet Another Story Identification [Request]") to rec.arts.sf.written; by 14:35 PM *the same day* I had an answer: "The Survivor" by Walter F. Moudy.

I have finished just volume one; I may have more to say after I read volume two. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve 
           at a funeral?  Is it because we are not the 
           person involved?
                                          -- Mark Twain, 
                                          Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894

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