Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/14/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 7, Whole Number 1871

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Pluto Restored (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Hugo Balloting Sets Record
        The Future of a Bit of Wash (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        EDGE OF INFINITY edited by Jonathan Strahan (book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Unabridged Editions and Edward Gibbon (letters of comment
                by Kip Williams and Joseph T. Major)
        Ocelots and Voice Actors (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
        Artificial Stupidity, Asteroids, and Harry Palmer
                (letter of comment by Jim Susky)
        Jonathan Strange and Names (letter of comment
                by Gwendolyn Karpierz)
        Books You Pretend to Have Read, Worldcons and Art, MISSION
                IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION and Tom Cruise, AURORA and
                Gregory Benford (letter of comment by John Purcell)
        ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (LAUDATO SI') (letters of comment
                by Philip Chee and Kevin R)
                (Volume I of VI) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading (THE GRACE OF KINGS and THE ELEPHANT'S
                JOURNEY) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Pluto Restored (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

The latest news is that Pluto is about to be reclassified as a
planet again.  Before the sticking point was that a planet cleans
up its orbit.  Apparently the New Horizons probe found and
photographed a sign that said, "This planetary orbit has been
adopted and is maintained by The Planet Pluto."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Hugo Balloting Sets Record

 From the Sasquan press release:

Sasquan is pleased to announce that it received a record-breaking
5,950 valid ballots for the 2015 Hugo Awards.  5,914 voters used
the online voting system and 36 submitted paper ballots.  The 5,950
total surpasses the vote total record for previous years (3,587
ballots, set by Loncon in 2014) by more than 65%.

More than 57% of the convention members eligible to vote cast
ballots this year, making this the highest level of participation
in Hugo Awards voting in the past decade.


TOPIC: The Future of a Bit of Washing (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Last week I wrote about how on strike duty I wrote some command
language programs to save effort in running a branch node of a data
network.  I want to make a few postscripts on what I said in that

When I was young I had always thought of labor as temporarily a
necessary evil.  I thought that the world would be better off if
there was less labor that had to be done.  If you could do all the
work you had to do, and finish it between the hours of 9 AM and 10
AM you could take the rest of the day off.  Every day you could do
what now you can do only on weekends.  I saw most of the world's
ills as resulting from not enough labor to apply to improving the
infrastructure and with more people to put on the task we could
improve an beautify the country, sort of along the lines of what
was done by the WPA in the Depression.

At the time there were predictions of society moving toward a
workless system.  There were predictions that in years to come
people would be so productive there would be no need for lengthy
hard work.  And the response to that attitude came from THE MAN IN
THE WHITE SUIT, an Alec Guinness comedy from 1951.  Guinness played
Sidney Stratton, a super-idealistic chemist who had invented a new
fiber that wore forever and repelled dust and dirt so it never had
to be cleaned.  To him it seemed a tremendous advance.  The only
people who could object were competitors who did not had a product
that could compete with Sidney's invented cloth.  Then Sidney ran
across Mrs. Watson, Sidney's sweet old landlady and part-time
laundress.  "Why can't you scientists leave things alone?" she
asks.  "What about my bit of washing when there's no washing to
do?"  Who will want to pay money to Mrs. Watson if there is only
minimal work or no work at all for her?  There may be new jobs in
chemical engineering for people of Sidney Stratton's sphere and
talents, but Mrs. Watson is not going to retrain to be an engineer.
I am afraid we are reaching a point in history when there will be a
lot of Mrs. Watsons around (and an ever-increasing number of Sydney
Strattons pushing us toward a jobless future).

James H. Lee points out in his article "Hard at Work in the Jobless
Future" ( that we want our
industries to

1) offer a large number of jobs
2) pay good salaries
3) be competitive in the market.

We cannot have all three.  In fact I think few industries are going
to expend much effort to offer many jobs and are not likely to pay
any better salaries than they have to in order to stay competitive
in the market.

It is doubtful that Mrs. Watson's washing service was doing much to
pay her well, but it was enough that she would have been in real
trouble if Sidney's cloth eliminated the need for washing.
Technology does only little to create new jobs.  At least it does
not create enough jobs to cover the number of people it displaces.
And the jobs it creates will not go to the people who need the jobs
the most.  The jobs may go to the most educated but with the rising
cost of education you essentially may have to already be rich to
get an opportunity for a well paying job.  This will likely lead to
more withering of the Middle Class and greater class polarization
than we are already seeing.

There have been job dislocations in the market in the past.  The
coming of the Industrial Revolution made a lot of workers workless.
New jobs were created, but probably not for the people who had lost
their jobs and could not fit into the new job market.  That
situation will continue into our future.

So what are workers going to do when they need to survive and there
are no jobs offered them?  Well I can think of only two job markets
where there is more demand for workers than there is supply.
Neither are positive prospects.  There is the military.  I have
never heard of any branch of the service saying that they are full
up and are not looking for any new recruits.

But the employer of last resort is always crime.  At least usually
it is the last resort.  Either way, it does not look like an
optimistic future.  [-mrl]


by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: An orphan whom nobody seems to love reads a rare book on
hypnotism and goes through a series of adventures thanks to her new
powers.  Young teen girls with a taste for fantasy should find
themselves enjoying themselves along with Molly.  I am not sure
that the appeal will stretch beyond that audience for this uneven
film based on a series of Molly Moon books by British author Lady
Georgia Byng.  Christopher N. Rowley directs.  Rating: low +1 (-4
to +4) or 5/10

Life is not very nice for twelve-ish Molly Moon (played by Raffey
Cassidy) who lives at Hardwick House Orphanage, a place like
something out of Charles Dickens.  There orphan girls labor under a
sign that says "Chin up.  Work Hard.  Be Useful."  The girls their
have no life but work.  Food is unsavory fish soup (fish eyes
intact) or chicken feet three times a day.  Molly breaks the "no
fun" rules by sneaking time to read.  All this is ruled over by the
tyrannical orphanage mistress Edna (Celia Imrie).  But things could
be worse.  On the staff is Miss Trinklebury (Emily Watson) who
loves the children and tries to cushion them from the blows of a
hard world.

At least that was Molly's life before Molly ran across a very old,
very rare, and very precious book on the art of hypnosis.  There is
only one copy left in the world, and it happens to be at the
library that Molly sneaks to.  After one or two quick lessons from
the book, Molly has some success.  When Molly's eyes turn bright
green, nobody can resist her orders.  A dangerous criminal (Dominic
Monaghan) knows of the power of the book and wants to use that
power for evil plans, if he can only get the book from Molly.

The story at first feels like it takes place somewhere in the past,
but that nice timeless atmosphere is punctured by Molly's visit to
London complete with modern rock and very contemporary television.
Actually Molly goes through three different adventures each with a
very different feel.  She has the orphanage experience, she becomes
an internationally famous pop singer, and she is tangled in a
robbery plan by London criminals.  Each story has a different

The theme song of the film is "Believe in Myself" which is a good
message for young adult girls and the song is good for the first
two or three times it is used, but it overstays its welcome in
repetitions.  Speaking of messages, the idea of success-through-
hypnotism may not be best lesson for the young viewers.

There are too few films that aim for a female young teen market.
The stories covered may well charm girls growing to young
adulthood.  But beyond that demographic this film may not be
mostly aims for the right audience, but is a little too twee to get
much of a following outside that market.  I rate the film a low +1
on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

OF HYPNOTISM on VOD, iTunes and in some theaters on August 14,

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: EDGE OF INFINITY edited by Jonathan Strahan (copyright 2012,
Solaris, $8.99, mass market paperback, 373pp, ISBN 978-1-78108-056-
6) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe

I've been finding myself reading a lot of short fiction recently.
When I try to determine the reason for that, I come to the
conclusion that it's either because I have a shorter reading
attention span these days, or short fiction is suited for air
travel, which I'm doing a lot of these days for work.  It's
probably some of both.  I definitely am tired of door-stop sized
novels, or certainly very long ones anyway (I certainly do pine for
the long ago days in which novels ran from 200 to 250 pages in

EDGE OF INFINITY is the second book in editor Jonathan Strahan's
Infinity project.  The third book, REACH FOR INFINITY, has been
promoted closer to the top of my to-read list, and the fourth book,
MEETING INFINITY, is set for publication later this year.  I wasn't
overly fond of ENGINEERING INFINITY, the first book of the project,
but EDGE OF INFINITY was terrific, and has me looking forward to
more books in the project.

The stories in EDGE OF INFINITY explore the future of humanity in
our Solar System.  Every story takes place there, and the anthology
covers a wide range of topics and themes, which makes sense, given
the vastness of the Solar System.  There should be all sorts of
stories on all sorts of worlds.  And, where I was a bit
disappointed in more than a few of the stories in ENGINEERING
INFINITY, I had almost no issues with any of the stories in EDGE OF
INFINITY.  Maybe that's because of the focus of the stories, maybe
not.  But it is so none the less.

Strahan doesn't waste any time, leading the book of with 2013 Hugo
Award Winning novelette "The Girl Thing Who Went Out for Sushi".
This is one of three or four stories that I have read and reviewed
elsewhere, and upon a second (or maybe third) reading of this Pat
Cadigan gem supports and strengthens my positive feelings about
this story.  Other stories that have appeared (and I have read
elsewhere) include Hannu Rajaniemi's "Tyche and the Ants", Gwyneth
Jones  "Bricks, Sticks, Straw", and Bruce Sterling's "The Peak of
Eternal Light".  As with the Cadigan, multiple readings of these
stories have made me like these stories more than I did before--
especially when I may not have liked them as much the first time

The authors of the rest of the stories in this anthology reads like
a "Who's Who" of the field: Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter,
Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Paul McCauley, Elizabeth Bear, John Barnes,
and James S.A. Corey.  There are names that are new to me as well.
For the most part they are good, solid, readable, and enjoyable

Rusch's "Safety Test" is a glimpse into the workday of a guy who
tests the ability of space pilots; think the guy at the DMV who
rides in the car with the teenager looking for his or her first
license.  "Vainglory", by Alastair Reynolds, gives us a look at an
artist looking to leave cement his legacy in a way that has
unintended consequences (or are they?).  "Macy Minnot's Last
Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler's Green, the Potter's
Garden" by Paul McCauley follows Mai Kumal looking to respect her
father's last wishes upon his death, and in the process learns
about the life and people he left earth for.  John Barnes's "Swift
as a Dream, Fleeting as a Sigh" gives us a bit of a look at an AI
psychotherapist, and what happens when that AI does some things
that really shouldn't have been done.  James S.A. Corey gives us
"Drive", a prequel to the popular Expanse series that follows
Solomon Epstein and his invention of the Epstein drive.  "Obelisk",
by Stephen Baxter, explores how a man's vision to honor a legendary
explorer can come at a huge cost.

There are other stories here, and while not all of them were as
terrific as the stories I've talked about, they're all of above
average quality.  There really isn't a bad story in the bunch.
This is why I've moved REACH FOR INFINITY up my to-read list, and
I'm looking forward to reading it and MEETING INFINITY.  [-jak]


TOPIC: MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: First time writer/director Masaaki Tanabe recreates the
neighborhood where he lived as a boy in Hiroshima as part of his
presentation of the effects on his neighborhood of being hit by the
Hiroshima blast.  Disturbing images are kept to a bare minimum,
though the horrific cannot be entirely avoided.  But for the most
part this account breathes life into the memories of a culture that
died the instant the Atomic Age was born.  Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or

[Of note, the date I saw this film was August 6, 2015, precisely
seventy years after Hiroshima's most fateful day.  That added to
the poignancy of the watching experience.]

MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA is a documentary about the ill-fated city.
It was written and directed by Masaaki Tanabe, but it is not the
documentary that might be expected.  There are painful stories and
painful images, but Tanabe keeps them to the bare minimum that is
almost required.  Instead he tells the viewer about culture of his
people in the years before the bombing, a culture that was
literally erased from the Earth in a small fraction of a second.
However his is not a message of anger and indignation at the fate
of the people whom he loved and lost.  It is just the opposite.  He
and other eyewitnesses tell us that we must never let our hatreds
grow so great that anyone else must go through what his people

Through (subtitled) eyewitness accounts, narration (in English) by
George Takei, paintings of the indescribable by the victims, and an
animated computer model of his neighborhood Tanabe shows us what
life was like in Hiroshima before the fateful day.  He uses
interviews to re-create the texture of life in his neighborhood.
He tells us what their food was like and about two movie theaters
in his neighborhood.  One theater showed Japanese films, the other
showed foreign films such as CITY LIGHTS and KING KONG.  We also
see the Industrial Promotion Hall, its famous dome destroyed down
to its steel framework.

Much of the history is poignant.  There are stories of children
left by the bomb with little capability to feed themselves.  Sadly
they waited hoping for the arrival of parents who could not appear
since they were not just dead but they were no longer existing in
any form.  And there are stories of places that are very different
today than they would have been.  The neighborhood he shows us is
now the Peace Memorial Park where the Motoyasu and Honkawa rivers
converge.  It is a reminder of human beings who were so dreadfully
lost in one bright flash.

The enemy in this film is not the Americans.  Nor is it the
Japanese government who called for and prosecuted the war.  There
is no mention about atrocities that the Japanese themselves
committed.  But the message as presented in the testimonials is
that war is immoral and certainly it should never get to the
extremes that both the Americans and the Japanese fell to in World
War II and the conflicts that surrounded them.

Though it is limited by its 52-minute run time, this film is a
strong experience.  I rate MESSAGE FROM HIROSHIMA a +2 on the -4 to
+4 scale or 7/10.  One quibble: the film repeatedly refers to the
Hiroshima bomb as being "the first Atomic Bomb in history."  This
discounts the device detonated at the Trinity test in New Mexico.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: Unabridged Editions and Edward Gibbon (letters of comment by
Kip Williams and Joseph T. Major)

In response to John hertz's comments on unabridged editions in the
08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I read THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME twice before realizing I was
reading an abridgement.  It was hard to discard the much-loved
paperback, but it was incomplete, and I went with a longer
translation for the next couple of reads.  This is a book where I
love every digression and explanation (same with THE MAN WHO
LAUGHS, but I stumbled with TOILERS OF THE SEA and bogged down
early).  I surprised myself a little by purchasing a Disney edition
of the book at an outlet, because it seems like it might be longer
still.  Knock wood.  It's also a rather handsome hardback,
tastefully illustrated with 16 color plates of working drawings
that I can skip over.  They don't put images in my head, as none of
their images have enough oomph to displace George Evans's fantastic
work on the "Classics Illustrated" version, which seriously is the
only decent adaptation.  [-kw]

Joseph Major writes:

Gibbon, which begins, "Edward Gibbon's great work is not read as
much as it should be, probably because many people have heard that
it is excessively long.  Actually, the entire history consists of
only four paragraphs, of three or four sentences each."

Then it has a two-page spread of the work, which consists of part
of a sentence; the implication is that those "three or four
sentences each" are very very long, with parts like, "and at last
paperback romances and Parcheesi boards were so common in the camps
that they resembled rather the epicene beauty parlors of
Hippopotamia than the stern bastions of a republic", and the
description of the reign of the emperor Detritus is of the most
horrific; which example Sarah Monette might consider for her
subsequent volumes succeeding THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, should she
receive the contract and gain the reception to write them.

(I was inspired to approach that.)  [-jtm]


TOPIC: Ocelots and Voice Actors (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

In response to John Hertz's comments on ocelots in the 08/07/15
issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

When Dad was in the single digits, his family lived in a tent on an
ocelot ranch for a while.  He says one of them casually pierced one
of his earlobes for him.  That's my ocelot story.  [-kw]

In response to comments on voice actors in the 06/12/15 issue, Kip

I meant to write a few weeks back when there was a discussion of
voice actors filling in for the unexpectedly deceased.  A "Pink
Panther" film was mentioned, and I think the verdict was that Rich
Little didn't do Peter Sellers.  I can confirm that my memory of
this is that it was David Niven who died while they were making his
last PP appearance, and that Little did the voice in some places.

To repeat my most successful tweet to date: "Now I want to write a
piece for two trombones and call it 'Charle Brown's Parents Having

In other news, Fotzpa has nuked Tur. I knew we shouldn't have let
those guys have missiles. This is all our fault.  [-kw]


TOPIC: Artificial Stupidity, Asteroids, and Harry Palmer (letter of
comment by Jim Susky)

Two articles of interest to science kids and SF fans:

The first, by Ronald Bailey (my current favorite science writer,
and author of THE END OF DOOM) is about automated idiot savants.
He opens with a recent novel that you or Evelyn might like--
AVOGADRO CORP.  The story features an app, which acts to save
itself from a "resources cut" which makes the world a "pretty
interesting place".

How Artificial Stupidity Can Kill Us ALL [from]:

The second article is from "The Economist", "If an asteroid heads
for Earth":

Of course this is an old SF trope (since at least WHEN WORLDS
COLLIDE--already an old story when I read it as a teen).

One idea on addressing an extra-terrestrial missile is to blow it
up.  This carries the disadvantage of "MIRV-ing" one large missile
into multiple smaller ones.

The attractive one I've heard is to "park" a mass near the rock--
closely match speeds--the idea being that creating a two-body
system will divert its trajectory away from an earthly collision.

The article posits a scenario with some potential socio-political
and legal consequences, which would seem good grist for another SF

Finally thanks for the TCM heads up on the Harry Palmer films--THE
deck on my DVR.  [-js]


TOPIC: Jonathan Strange and Names (letter of comment by Gwendolyn

In response to Kevin R's comments on Jonathan Strange in the
08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Gwendolyn Karpierz writes:

Not that it matters, but that comment about Jonathan Strange was in
[Joe Karpierz's] review, not mine.

And in response to that comment, isn't it more believable if a
character has a name that's actually existed, or even quite common?
I had a creative writing professor who got annoyed at me because I
had 'too many characters with strange names'--like Alistair,
Madigan, Elias, Eva, Morrie, Freya, etc.  All real names, just
apparently not common enough for her tastes.  I guess two people
with uncommon names never meet or interact in real life.  (Needless
to say, we didn't get along.) [-gmk]


TOPIC: Books You Pretend to Have Read, Worldcons and Art, MISSION
IMPOSSIBLE--ROGUE NATION and Tom Cruise, AURORA and Gregory Benford
(letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to various items in the 08/07/14 issue of the MT VOID,
John Purcell writes:

Many thanks for sending your latest MT VOID my way. It is always

I found that listing of "Books you pretend to have read"
interesting, mostly because I have read six of the ten listed.
Based on the recommendations of a number of friends, I may have to
try Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONIMICON.  I know it's a big book (1168
pages, in the Avon Books mass market PB edition I saw on, but from what they say, it's excellent.  Same thing
for GRAVITY'S RAINBOW: I'm interested, just never got around to it.
I suspect this is how my "to be read" stack grows so dangerously
large.  I may have to stop reading book reviews and getting
recommendations from friends.

My wife Valerie is an artist, and she had artwork on display in
LoneStarCon 3's art show, her first WorldCon.  She learned a lot in
the process, I should add.  She might be including work in
MidAmeriCon II's art show, but only if she has enough work built up
for it; we'd bring it with us since we'll drive up to Kansas City,
which is the only way to keep costs down these days.  Bob
Eggleton's comments about the costs of WorldCon art shows are well
made and understandable.  Someday I would like to meet him.  He's
an interesting and talented fellow.  It also helps that he's an
excellent artist.

Once again, you have really good reviews.  I have never been a fan
of Tom Cruise as an actor, although I think he did a good job in
THE LAST SAMURAI and A FEW GOOD MEN.  Could not stand the version
of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS he was in.  Wasn't that directed by
Spielberg?  Must open a new tab and check.  Hang on.  (Elevator
music plays "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head")  Okay.  I'm back.
Yes, it was, in 2005.  One of Spielberg's biggest mistakes, IMHO.

Mark responds:

Yes, you are talking about Steven Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS
(2005).  Originally I was quite negative on it, largely because the
George Pal version was one of the great science fiction icons of my
youth.  I expected the remake to be a real event, and it fell well
short of that goal.  I think I have mellowed on it with repeated
viewings.  Spielberg better than anyone else has shown us what the
invasion would be like for someone who is just a neighborhood slob.
Cruise is a little more than an average Joe, but not very much
more.  He is already screwing up his life without benefit of
Martians.  He learns to relate to his family only when alien
invaders make that absolutely necessary.  Somehow that makes the
peril seem more immediate.  I never felt Gene Barry was really in
immediate danger.  Cruise I thought might have been in danger.

John continues:

Greg Benford sent an early draft review of AURORA to me to pub in
my fanzine ASKANCE, the 34th issue of which has been sent to, just not posted yet.  He asked me to hold off until
the "real" review had been published in CENTAURI DREAMS.  No

Many thanks again, and I look forward to the next weekly edition to
see what you folks have been up to.  [-jp]


comment by Philip Chee and Kevin R)

In response to comments on ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME (a.k.a.
LAUDATO SI') in the 08/07/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee

[I had said,] "Hmm.  Sounds like one of them pinko commie bleeding
heart liberals."  Just in case I wasn't clear I was channelling
Archie Bunker (And quite possibly Rush Limbaugh).  [-pc]

[Evelyn writes, "As noted in my column below, ON CARE FOR OUR
COMMON HOME is probably better known as LAUDATO SI' and Jorge Mario
Bergoglio as Pope Francis."]

Yes, I did indeed recognize his name as that of the previous arch-
bishop of Buenos Aires (me being a RC).  [-pc]

Evelyn adds:

I suspected as much.  Philip's comment was too obviously over-the-
top to be anything but irony.  [-ecl]

Kevin R responds:

.... and I didn't, being a Jesuit-educated apostate.

BTW, to channel Rush properly, you'd have to call someone a "long-
haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking, good-time,  plastic banana
rock 'n' roller."  [Said the serially divorced (ex-?)pill popper
and former DJ.]  [-kr]

Evelyn adds:

I'm assuming the SD(E?)PP referenced is Rush and not Kevin.  [-ecl]


(Volume I of VI) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

[continuing my comments from last week]

"A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms,
tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional
assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free
constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince."

E: Gibbon certainly seems to be coming down in favor of the Second
Amendment here.  However, THOTDAFOTRE (gack--even the abbreviation
is too long!) was published between 1776 and 1788, before the
Second Amendment was proposed (1789), let alone ratified (1791).

"The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverably lost, when
the legislative power is nominated by the executive."

E: Hence the "separation of powers" and "checks and balances"
incorporated in our Constitution.

"But when the consular and tribunitian powers were united, when
they were vested for life in a single person, when the general of
the army was, at the same time, the minister of the senate and the
representative of the Roman people, it was impossible to resist the
exercise, nor was it easy to define the limits, of his imperial

E: This could be applied today, when both the executive and the
legislative branches seem to spend time trying to assert that they
have control over the same decisions.  The legislature passes (or
fails to pass) a law, the executive signs an executive order
negating (or implementing) it, and or vice versa.  (And it is not
just at the Federal level; one sees the same thing at the state
level, and undoubtedly it exists at the local level as well.)

"... nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and
people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully
assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."

E: In other words, as long as the people were told that they were
free, they did not actually pay too much attention to the reality.
This is, so far as I tell, one of the positions of both the Tea
Party and the ACLU and others--that we are being told we are free
even as our freedoms are being taken away.  The two groups, of
course, do not always agree on which freedoms are being taken away,
or perhaps it is which are important.

"Spain, by a very singular fatality, was the Peru and Mexico of the
old world.  The Discovery of the rich western continent of the
Phoenicians, and the oppression of the simple natives, who were
compelled to labour in their own mines for the benefit of
strangers, form an exact type of the more recent history of Spanish

E: I have no real comment on this, just that it is indeed an
interesting coincidence.

"In the cool shade of retirement, we may easily devise imaginary
forms of government, in which the sceptre shall be constantly
bestowed on the most worthy, by the free and incorrupt suffrage of
the whole community.  Experience overturns these airy fabrics, and
teaches us, that in a large society, the election of a monarch can
never devolve to the wisest, or to the most numerous part of the
people.  The army is the only order of men sufficiently united to
concur in the same sentiments, and powerful enough to impose them
on the rest of their fellow-citizens; but the temper of soldiers,
habituated at once to violence and to slavery, renders them very
unfit guardians of a legal, or even a civil constitution."

E: This is a fairly bleak portrayal of the situation, at least in a
monarchy.  But even in a republic, the same issues arise.  The
question of how to have a standing army without it acquiring a
sense of its own power and a devotion only to its own ranks.  And,
as Rome (and every other powerful political entity) discovered, one
needs a standing, trained army to defeat its enemies.  A citizen
army worked for Rome when it was small and its enemies equally
small and disorganized.  But a citizen army could not defeat the
Goths, the Huns, the Sassanids, or any other substantial foe.

"Every mode of religion, to make a deep and lasting impression on
the human mind, must exercise our obedience, by enjoining practices
of devotion, for which we can assign no reason; and must acquire
our esteem, by inculcating moral duties analogous to the dictates
of our own hearts."

E: Or in other words, religions become popular by requiring of its
believers what they want to do anyway, or perhaps more that they
acquire believers who what to believe what they are promoting.
Christianity got its first converts among the poor and powerless,
because it disparaged earthly wealth and power.  "The meek shall
inherit the earth" is less likely to attract people at the top of
the power pyramid than those who are at the bottom.  And the Nazis
acquired followers by telling them that they were the "Master Race"
and superior to everyone else.

"The most civilizations of modern Europe issued from the woods of
Germany, and in the rude institutions of those barbarians we may
still distinguish the original principles of our present laws and

E: One suspects that the Nazis might have latched onto this as
proof of German superiority, although the characterization of the
early Germans as barbarians would not be as pleasing.

"... the use of letters is the principal circumstance that
distinguishes a civilized people from a herd of savages incapable
of knowledge or reflection.  Without that artificial help, the
human memory soon dissipates or corrupts the ideas intrusted to her
charge; and the nobler faculties of the mind, no longer supplied
with models or materials, gradually their powers..."

E: This is an interesting theory, but the ability of non-literate
societies to transmit knowledge is now known to be considerable.
While it can be argued that the quantity of knowledge a non-
literate society can transmit is less than that of a literate
society, there have been surprisingly advanced societies which were
basically illiterate.  The Incas, for example, had quipus but no
general writing system.  In any case, describing literate societies
as civilized peoples, and illiterate societies as "herds of savages
incapable of knowledge or reflection" is far too simplistic a view.

"The value of money has been settled by general consent to express
our wants and our property, as letters were invented to express our
ideas; and both these institutions, by giving a more active energy
to the powers and passions of human nature, have contributed to
multiply the objects they were designed to represent."

E: It is interesting that Gibbon draws a parallel between money and
literacy.  While we assume all our leaders are literate, and this
was true in Gibbon's time also, I am reasonably sure that many of
the emperors of the Western Empire were illiterate.  (And perhaps
that is part of Gibbon's point--that when the illiterates took
over, things fell apart.)

"Female courage, however it may be raised by fanaticism, or
confirmed by habit, can only be a faint and imperfect imitation of
the manly valor that distinguishes the age or country in which it
may be found."

E: Included without comment, except that it could be written only
by a man.

"We read of the punishment of Lyons, but there is not any mention
of the rewards of Autun.  Such, indeed, is the policy of civil war;
severely to remember injuries, and to forget the most important
services.  Revenge is profitable, gratitude is expensive."

E: This was true of ancient Rome, and so far as one can tell, is
still true.

"The emperor Diocletian was indeed the author of that system, but
during his reign, the growing evil was confined within the bounds
of modesty and discretion, and he deserves the reproach of
establishing pernicious precedents, rather than of exercising
actual oppression."

E: In other words, Diocletian had laws passed that gave the Emperor
far-reaching powers.  He was restrained in his use, but those who
followed him were not.  One sees something like this in various
attempts by Congress to pass rules changing the number of
Representatives or Senators needed to accomplish some procedural
matter, or various attempts to pass laws increasing or decreasing
Presidential discretionary powers.  What gets pointed out every
time this arises is that while these changes may seem like a great
idea to the party in control at the time, in two years, or four
years, or six years, the other party may be the one wielding these

"Some idea may be conceived of the abhorrence of the Christians for
such impious ceremonies, by the scrupulous delicacy which they
displayed on a much less alarming occasion.  On days of general
festivity, it was the custom of the ancients to adorn their doors
with lamps and with branches of laurel, and to crown their heads
with a garland of flowers.  This innocent and elegant practice
might perhaps have been tolerated as a mere civil institution.  But
it most unluckily happened that the doors were under the protection
of the household gods, that the laurel was sacred to the lover of
Daphne, and that garlands of flowers, though frequently worn as a
symbol of joy or mourning, had been dedicate in their first origin
to the service of superstition."

E: Hoo, boy, do I wish that all those Christians who claim that
Christmas is a secular holiday and there is no reason why the
government should not put up decorations to celebrate it would read
this and discover who the first group to complain about that and
get the same response were!

[to be continued next week]



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

I started THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu (ISBN 978-1-4814-2427-1),
but ultimately decided it was too intimidating.  Over six hundred
pages, with a glossary, "A Guide to Pronunciation" a three-page
"List of Major Characters", a page of "Notes", and end-paper maps,
it is the first of a series (trilogy?).  Even though it is claimed
to be a standalone novel, that's a lot to commit to--especially
when blurbers compare it to "Game of Thrones" (by which one
presumes they mean "A Song of Ice and Fire").  Add to that the fact
that while Liu may not use apostrophes with wild abandon, as do so
many epic fantasies, he does scatter accent marks, umlauts, and
cedillas hither and yon.

This has certainly garnered rave reviews.  But at my age one must
start being thriftier with how one decides what books to read.  I
have nothing against long works--I am reading Edward Gibbon's A
move on to Samuel Pepys's "Diary" (both unabridged) next--but one
must begin to pick and choose.

I persist in thinking of THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY by Jose Saramago
(translated by Margaret Jull Costa) (ISBN 978-0-547-35258-9) as
"The Journey of the Elephant".  Of course, in Portuguese--and all
the other Romance languages--it is, which makes it all the
stranger.  Why do the descendent languages of Latin, which has a
possessive case for nouns, all lack one (so far as I know), but
English, related primarily to languages which lack a possessive
case for nouns, has one?

In any case, THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY is based on a true story: in
1551 King Joao III of Portugal sent an elephant to Vienna as a
wedding present for Archduke Maximilian.  One presumes that
Saramago kept the bare facts, but Saramago concentrates on what is
behind those facts.  In particular, he focuses on Subhro, the
elephant's mahout.  As an outsider (born in India), Subhro looks at
everything from a different perspective.  His main concern is
Solomon, the elephant.  Solomon, in turn, seems a bit fantastical
at times, but maybe it is just a high level of intelligence and

A sample of the writing (the capitalization et al are Saramago's):

"People have mistaken ideas about elephants.  They imagine that
elephants enjoy being forced to balance on a heavy metal ball, on a
tiny curved surface on which their feet barely fit.  We're just
fortunate that they're so good-natured, especially those that come
from india.  They realize that a lot of patience is required if
they are to put up with us human beings, even when we pursue and
kill them in order to saw off or extract their tusks for the ivory.
Among themselves, elephants often remember the famous words said by
one of their prophets, Forgive them, lord, for they know not what
they do.  For 'they' read 'us,' especially those who came here to
see if suleiman would die and who have now begun the journey back
to valladolid, feeling as frustrated as that spectator who used to
follow a circus company around wherever it went, simply in order to
be there on the say that the acrobat missed the safety net."

While THE ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY is not as fantastical as many of
Saramago's other works, neither is it as quotidian as books like
SKYLIGHT.  I suppose it qualifies as magical realism, though that
is a hard term to define.  In any case, I recommend it.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Leisure is the mother of philosophy.
                                           --Thomas Hobbes