Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/21/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 8, Whole Number 1872

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Hugo Awards Live Streaming
        Metaphysics (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Why the Japanese Don't Play the "Bomb-Guilt" Card (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) (film review by Dale L. Skran)
        THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins (book review
                by Dale Skran)
        Jobs (and the Military) (and Health Insurance) (letters of
                comment by Robert Mitchell, Jay E. Morris,
                Lee Beaumont, Keith F. Lynch, Gary McGath,
                Dorothy J. Heydt, Scott Dorsey, Kevin R,
                and Peter Trei)
                (Volume II of VI) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
                COMPANION) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Hugo Awards Live Streaming

The Hugo Awards ceremony (August 22, 8PM PDT/11PM EDT) will be
live-streamed at  There
will also be a text stream at


TOPIC: Metaphysics (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

When you do something from force of habit what is the mass and what
the acceleration?  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Why the Japanese Don't Play the "Bomb-Guilt" Card (comments
by Mark R. Leeper)

I recently wrote a review of the documentary MESSAGE FROM
HIROSHIMA.  I saw the film on August 6, the 70th anniversary of the
Hiroshima bombing and posted my opinions on the film just a day or
two later.  Not too surprisingly it sparked some discussion and

One of the responses I got asked about was whether the film painted
the Americans as villains who dropped the bomb on living people.
Actually there is very little to be found anywhere of Japanese
blaming the United States for dropping the atomic bomb on them
(twice).  I cannot claim to be an expert on the history involved,
but I hereby respond with the following.

I have been to Japan and was surprised how helpful the people are
to visiting Americans.  If on the street you look the slightest bit
lost you have people coming over to see if they can help you.  A
woman of the generation that fought the war offered us chewing gum
while we were waiting for a train.  The Japanese behaved as if we
had always been allies and good friends, and that they wanted us to
see their country in the best possible light.

It would be very easy when we have modern-day disagreements with
Japan, many about trade (for example), for the Japanese to bring up
that we had bombed them with nuclear weapons in the war and thus
they could claim the moral high ground.   I have never heard of
that happening.

There probably were or are some Japanese who resent the Americans
for what they did to Japan.  But there are many more who seem to
have a policy of letting bygones be bygones.  There could be
several reasons for that.

If the war had not ended so suddenly the United States would have
had to invade the Japanese homeland and to say it would have had to
get very ugly is a huge understatement.  The number of deaths that
could have resulted could have reached into the millions.  The
Japanese ideology calls for the people to defend their leaders and
their land with their lives.  In the Japanese view of honor if they
had surrendered they believe they would be unworthy of life.  Those
rules were written in and for a time when fighting was done with
swords.  But nuclear warfare was totally unforeseen and
unprecedented.  There was no chance of the Japanese winning a
conflict of flesh against nuclear weapons.  Under these new
conditions they could assume surrender is not dishonorable.  There
was in fact an attempted coup of officers who wanted to fight to
the death, but it was put down.  In effect, the bomb gave the
Japanese an excuse to not fight to the death.  And both sides
benefited from that.

There was a fear in Japan that since the Soviets we getting
involved with the Pacific War that Japan would end up as part of
the Soviet sphere of influence and they wanted their surrender to
be to the Allies and not the Soviets to avoid Soviet control.

The Japanese sense of honor says if a pilot was ordered to drop
some sort of super-bomb on the United States that they would have
no qualms.  Orders are orders.  So the American people were, from
their point of view, no worse than their own people.

What is more their people threw the first punch at the United
States at Pearl Harbor.  If the fight became a lot more than they
envisaged neither side took full blame for the bombing.

The Japanese people did not know at the time, but do know now, that
their people committed real atrocities in Nanjing, in Manchuria, in
prison camps.  It would be hard for them to defend a stance of
moral superiority.

But perhaps greatest of all was the post-war occupation of Japan.
When Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan he told his
people: "It is according to the dictates of time and fate that We
have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the
generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what
is insufferable."

The Japanese shuddered at what that "unendurable" and
"insufferable" might be.  It turned out to be help with the
reconstruction of Japan and helping to introduce Japan to world
markets.  This was not at all the fate they were expecting.

The Japanese really in many ways were better off overall because
they were victims of super-weapons.  That could well be the reason
for their policy of conservation of bygones.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) (film review by Dale L. Skran)

Josh Trank's abortive reboot of the Fantastic Four has received
really low Tomatometer ratings--like 9%!  The movie also seems to
be a box office dog.  FANTASTIC FOUR (FF) is not a great movie.  It
is a much worse movie than, for example, the recent ANT MAN, which
is fantastic--among the best of the Marvel movies.  However, there
is a certain amount of exaggerated dislike of FF by the critics.
FF is not a bad movie.  At worst, it is an average movie, hardly
deserving of a 9% rating.  However, the standard for super-hero
movies has been set so high by the Nolan BATMAN and the Marvel
Cinematic Universe that if the new movie isn't top of the line in
every way, the critics fall all over themselves dumping on it.

There are some neat things in FF.  I really like the idea of
switching the origin of the powers from "cosmic rays" in space to
exposure to strange energies in another dimension.  The problem
with the space travel origin is that it made sense in the early 60s
when we hadn't gone into space to any real degree and didn't
understand the effects of cosmic rays very well.  Now, nearly 50
years later, we have a permanently inhabited space station in orbit
and astronauts have just eaten the first lettuce grown in space.
We all know, even little kids, that the origin of the FF in the
comics is just plain nonsense.

I liked Miles Teller as a young Reed Richards.  He dominates the
movie, and drives a lot of the plot.  Not only is Teller believable
as a youthful yet fantastically bright genius, he gets to show off
Mr.  Fantastic's fighting abilities to a greater degree than in the
previous FF films.  The back story required to explain how Johnny
Storm is a young black man while still being the brother of a white
Sue storm is decently explained.  Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and
Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell) are well handled--at least as well
as in the previous movies.

There is also a "dark vibe" in this FF, with the four drafted by
the military for use as weapons.  The movie is at its best in
conveying a sense that the FF are, in fact, really powerful and
really dangerous.  The normal humans are appropriately fearful yet
desperate to control what may be the final weapon of war.  All this
gets the FF into zero-ish or maybe +1 territory.  What could go

As in the previous movies, the biggest error is an abject refusal
to use the Dr. Doom from the comics.  Instead, Victor Von Doom, one
of the greatest Marvel villains--right up there with Magneto,
Doctor Octopus, Ultron, and so on--is reduced to mere caricature of
himself lacking any real motivation.  The problem is not Tobby
Kebbel as Von Doom, but the idiotic refusal of the screenwriter to
even consider using the Doom from comics.  Perhaps Doom is just too
complicated and realistic a character for these Hollywood types to
handle.  Much like Magneto, the Doom of the comics is, in his own
mind, the hero of the story, and with good reason.  Also, the most
interesting characters are often those with the least super-powers,
and of these Doom in the comics has none beyond his vast
intelligence (nearly equal to that of Reed Richards) and his
unequaled will.  The movie FF makes Doom a super-powered
telekinetic killing machine, but in the process drains all life out
the character.  Even before this, Doom is played for laughs as sort
of hip flask toting high-IQ "bad boy."  The entire treatment of Von
Doom is so disrespectful of the original as to spray a bad odor
over the whole movie.

Another significant error lies in Trank's efforts to recast the
Fantastic Four as a bunch of misunderstood teens who blunder into
real power, much as the teens in Trank's excellent CHRONICLE.
Alas, this approach, which does have amusing moments, is much at
variance with where the Fantastic Four need to end up at, and
ultimately does not come off that well.

Finally, Trank has re-envisioned Sue Storm as a skinny, emotion
free mentat with a nearly super-human ability to find patterns in
things.  This is entirely at variance with the comic, of course,
and does not connect at all with her powers.  The idea in the comic
was that the powers the FF received were to a large degree
reflections of who, fundamentally, they were.  Sue storm was a shy
and retiring female, who, post cosmic rays, became literally
invisible.  After a while of having Sue around as a fourth wheel,
minor character, and damsel in distress, the writers decided to
keep up with the feminist revolution of the 60s by adding the
ability to create invisible force fields to her repertoire.  This
actually makes a bit of sense, as the only way Sue could be
invisible is to bend light around her--with an invisible force
field.  It also seemed to reflect the idea that although Sue seemed
weak on the outside, her will was strong on the inside.  Over time,
the writers realized that Sue was actually the most powerful member
of the FF, since the strength of the force fields really just
reflected her will to win, which was considerable.  It is entirely
possible to write all this into a movie, but it takes more effort
than appears here.

FF works just fine as a summer popcorn movie.  There is zero sex,
and typical "super-hero" fights.  The most disturbing element for
small kids will probably be the initial transformation of our
heroes, and their struggles to control their new powers/bodies.
But one thing can be said for sure--the Fantastic Four needs a
reboot that brings to life the Victor Von Doom of the comics, and
not some cheap substitute.  One way to do this would be to just
make the movie about Doom--call it "I, DOOM"--and tell it from
Doom's perspective, with the FF as background players.

I'm rating FANTASTIC FOUR a zero on the -4 to +4 scale.  It's not
trash, but it's not great either--which puts it on the same level
as most movies.  Appropriate for all but small children.  [-dls]


TOPIC: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins (book review by
Dale Skran)

I don't buy many first novels just "off the shelf" but I was in B&N
the other day and I came across this book.  The premise interested
me, and there were laudatory jacket blurbs from the likes of Nancy
Kress, Charles Stross, and Walter Jon Williams, who are all authors
I like and respect.  So I bought it and started reading it in the
parking lot.  It was hard to put down to drive home.  Although
apparently Hawkins's first book, it reads like his tenth.  The only
stylistic or organizational flaw is that when he introduces some of
the background characters he goes a bit afield for five or ten
pages that aren't very interesting and don't add much to the story,
and which I tended to skim.  Aside from at most two or three
episodes of this kind of characterization drift, THE LIBRARY ON
MOUNT CHAR picks you up, grabs you by the throat, and carries you
along at light-speed.

As one of the blurbs says--this is part fantasy and part thriller.
At once horror and SF, THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR is a meditation on
religion and power, mathematics and truth, wonder and evil.  It
borrows from numerous sources--the Library of Alexandria, H. Rider
Haggard's THE NINE UNKNOWN, Godel's proof, the Junior Woodchuck's
Handbook, recent fantasies like WAREHOUSE 13 and THE LIBRARIAN,
modern techno-thrillers, and the Old Testament--and makes them new

Here is the setup.  Carolyn Sopaski is a little girl in an ordinary
American town, who, in some other universe, will grow up to be
chain-smoking librarian.  In this universe, the government launches
a nuclear weapon at her town, which just happens to be the location
of a very special library run by one special person, Adam Black.
Who was also once known as Ablakha, who Carolyn comes to simply
call Father.  Who may or may not be the one true god who created
the universe.  Who controls a library that contains perhaps not all
knowledge, but all the knowledge that can be assembled by a mad
genius over 60,000 years.  Adam Black may not be "God" but he
possesses power undreamt of.  Power to reach out and protect
Carolyn and her friends from a nuclear bomb with a gesture,
although, sadly, not their parents.  Power that seems like magic
but may simply be mathematics.  He offers twelve children a new
home, as apprentice librarians.  David learns the ways of war and
death.  Michael studies the lives of the beasts.  Margaret learns
to die and walk with the dead.  Jennifer learns medicine and
resurrection.  Peter learns the mathematical bones of the universe.
And Carolyn learns all languages.  There are only two rules in the
library--absolute obedience to Father and to never share your
"catalogue" of knowledge with any of your "siblings."  Adam Black
punishes all infractions with a harsh sadism that makes Hannibal
Lector look weak-kneed.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this review goes a bit beyond the jacket
blurb and reveals some key plot points.

Time passes differently in the library.  Carolyn learns so many
languages she can no longer remember how many.  She grows up, and
becomes immortal.  But she does not forget the cruelty of "Father"
and his favored pupil, the psychopathic David.  A burning hatred
grows in her, a desire for justice and revenge, and she conceives a
plan.  A plan to kill a god, and his powerful allies.  To kill her
siblings, who are potential rivals.  To control the library, and
using it, to rule all that is or could be.  To become a god

To do this, she must first kill a figure who has lived 60,000
years, and who overthrew the previous ruler of the universe.  To
survive afterward, she must find a way to defeat the greatest
warrior who has ever existed, an unstoppable killing machine with a
vast array of powers and skills.  To execute her plans, she must
survive among telepaths ever alert for stray thoughts that might
mean them harm.  Carolyn plans endlessly in the timeless library.
She will kill.  She will lie.  She will blackmail.  She will cheat.
She will find a way to read the other "catalogues."  She will re-
make herself into what she needs to be to win, even if that means
she will become, as Margaret says, "a horror, and death." And she
will need human allies.

And she does win.  But that's where her troubles start.  Can she
execute the most horrific revenge imaginable and still be good
person? Can she become a god and not lose her soul? What does it
mean to have all power, and to be able to do anything? To live
outside of time and space?  When do you forget what caring means?
What does it take to get your attention? How do you know that you
aren't the devil?

THE LIBARY AT MOUNT CHAR is not for everyone.  A dark, violent
fantasy filled with horrific evil, it brims with wonder and
insight.  I found it echoing around my mind long after I finished
it.  It certainly provides a different perspective on the Old
Testament and what the human/god relationship might really be.  And
you will not soon forget Carolyn Sopaski, although if you do meet
her, I suggest running away as far and as fast as you can.  Not
that it will do you any good.

SPOILER: It may seem like I've given away a lot of details above,
but there is much, much more in the book.  However, I did want to
mention that the book ends in a fashion reminiscent of first
version of THE ITALIAN JOB, with the final sentence being Carolyn
saying "I have a plan."  Having said that, THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT
CHAR is a complete novel that resolves the issues it raises.  But,
of course, nothing ever really ends, and even gods have enemies.
I'm not sure Hawkins plans a sequel, but I'd certainly buy one
although I fear it can't be as good as THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR.

WARNING: Just in case somebody may have missed the point of some of
what I said above, this book is absolutely for adults only.  Every
page is not filled with violence, and the violence is mostly
sketched in, but when bad stuff happens, it is really bad.
Sadistic rape.  Torture murder.  Adam Black can resurrect the dead
and heal any wound.  The final battle between Carolyn and David is
brutal.  The violence is not pointless, and the author does have a
message.  But be warned.  [-dls]


TOPIC: Jobs (and the Military) (and Health Insurance) (letters of
comment by Robert Mitchell, Jay E. Morris, Lee Beaumont, Keith
F. Lynch, Gary McGath, Scott Dorsey, Dorothy J. Heydt, Kevin R,
and Peter Trei)

In response to Mark's comments on jobs in the 08/14/15 issue of the
MT VOID, Rob Mitchell writes:

The military may not say, "We're full up", but there have been a
number of "draw-downs" in my career (and I've had to essentially
"fire" people from the Navy because of them), and there can be
statutory limits as to the size of various elements of the armed
forces.  Plus, there are implied limits to the size of the
military, due to yearly budgets, which are in part based on
anticipated manning levels.  Hence, the military is not a
bottomless pit for employment...  [-rm]

Mark asks:

If someone wants to join the Navy during a draw-down and they are
not told "We're full up," what are they told?  Is it "Sorry, we are
not hiring"?  [-mrl]

Rob replies:

Even during a draw-down, there is some recruiting, of course, for
particular skills or test scores.  If you don't have those skills
or scores, yes, you might be told, "We have nothing for you.  Maybe
one of the other services has an opening for you."  [-rm]

Jay E. Morris writes:

There have quite often been times in military recruitment when the
supply has exceeded the demand.  Never to the point where all the
recruiting offices having closed the door and everyone's gone home
but where they only accept less than half of applications. They
adjust by raising the standards for enlistment.  In the situation
you propose I suppose they'd raise the standards very high, still
leaving the Mrs. Watsons with no jobs.

Even if the best and brightest went to the military there would
still be a few that go the evil genius route.  I guess everyone
left would have to be a minion.  [-jem]

And Lee Beaumont writes:

I enjoyed your article on  "The Future of a Bit of Washing".

I have long wondered why productivity improvements don't seem to
result in more prosperity and more leisure for the average person.

I believe a key reason for this is because our economy, as it is
currently structured, is unstable unless it is always growing.

One book that examines this in depth and presents bold and creative

My review of the book is at:

More resources I have collected on the topic of rethinking money
are at

Mark responds:

I admit to some cynicism on this subject.

In the past when a company was doing well, some of the profit went
into better treatment for the employees.  If management soaks up
the fruit of productivity improvements the situation is less likely
to add to overall prosperity and leisure.  I suspect that
management is getting better at strategies for gaming the system.

And Keith Lynch writes quite a long response:
There are two issues.  First is the distinction between education
and credentials.  Plenty of people have one but not the other.
Many of the problems with the US economy are because most employers
care more about credentials than about education.

The relative values of the two can be seen by comparing the cost of
discontinued used textbooks at used book sales with the cost of new
textbooks that are required for classes.  The ratio of prices often
exceeds a factor of a hundred.  And for those who learn better from
lectures, there's no shortage of free video lecture available
online. Indeed, many universities let people "audit" course for
free.  Plenty of education, but no credentials.  I conclude that
education has never in US history been *less* important than it is

If there was really any demand for educated workers, more use would
be made of tests which anyone could walk in off the street and take
to prove their knowledge and competence.  Personally, I am certain
I could ace the GREs, could pass the Principles and Practices of
Engineering exam, and that I could probably pass the bar exam. But,
except for the GREs, which employers don't care about, I'm not
allowed to take any of these tests.

As a teenager, I did walk in off the street and pass the tests for
the FCC Radiotelephone First Class License with Radar Endorsement
and for the Amateur Extra Class License.

But the other, larger, issue, is that there simply aren't enough
good jobs to go around.  It's a game of musical chairs.  As such,
giving everyone more credentials would accomplish nothing.  It
would be like a Worldcon saying that there aren't enough seats at
the Hugo Award ceremony for every member, so everyone should be
sure to get in line early to be sure to get a seat.

It seems we're rapidly returning to the historic norm in which
there was little or no middle class.  Through almost all of history
almost everywhere on the planet, nearly everyone was either very
poor or very rich.  I don't claim to have a solution.  I don't
think luddism--which you seem to be proposing -- is a solution, if
only because there's no way to force people overseas to go along
with it.

[re Mark's comments on the military]

True.  But that worked better in the past, when armies were
inexpensive, as they lived off plunder.  It was actually possible
to turn a profit from warfare.  Also, death rates among soldiers
and sailors were very high, and that of course removed them from
the job market.  Also, medical costs were pretty much zero.
Wounded soldiers either recovered on their own or didn't.

[re crime et al]

It's possible to live off very little.  And I don't mean by
stealing. However, government keeps making this more difficult by
indirectly criminalizing poverty.  They make it illegal to work for
less than minimum wage, to do various jobs without expensive
credentials even if the buyers know you're without those
credentials, to leave your children unsupervised for even a moment,
and to be in the wrong place at the wrong time unless you can
afford bail and a good lawyer. (Most of the protections accused
people supposedly have are somewhere between a sick joke and a
total myth.)

In many states it's illegal to work unless you're a union member,
even if the union won't let you join it.  Obama attempted to make
it illegal to be without medical insurance, even if you can't
afford it. (Subsidies are available to the upper middle class, but
not to the lower middle class or the poor.)

Zoning laws, fire regulations, and HOAs greatly limit sharing of
homes.  Apparently they think it's better for people to be homeless
than to live in crowded or substandard homes.

OSHA won't let workers knowingly accept risks.

The price of housing is increasing much faster than inflation.  If
you don't already own a home, you probably never will.  When the
price briefly dropped in 2008, politicians treated that as a
disaster, and bailed out the very speculators who had been driving
up the prices. When they were making millions by "flipping" houses,
they considered themselves geniuses.  But when the prices briefly
dropped -- there was no longer a "bigger idiot" -- at least not one
with lots of money -- they ran to Uncle Sam and demanded a bailout
at the expense of those of us they had priced out of the market.

Medical care keeps getting slightly better but enormously more
expensive.  And it's illegal to provide 1970s medical care for
1970s prices.  Everyone has to get the best or get nothing at all.
Chest pain?  People who a few years ago would have gotten it
checked out are today more likely not to.  It could be serious, but
it's probably nothing, and getting it checked out would likely mean
financial ruin.

I could go on and on.

I don't blame government for the "jobless recovery."  I think
that's mostly due to automation and off-shoring.  But I do blame
government for consistently making things worse.  For instance a
$15 minimum wage would plunge the US into a new Great Depression.
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."  [-kfl]

Gary McGath replies:

This summer I had a pain in my toe. The doctor had me get an X-ray
and blood test, diagnosed gout, and prescribed some pills which
made the pain go away within hours.  That's all very nice, but the
total costs shown on my various bills from the doctor's office and
labs ran well over $500.  The amount I was billed was somewhere
between $100 and $200, but I was still paying for all of it,
directly or through my insurance premium.  If it didn't cost so
much, insurance premiums wouldn't be so high.  It would have cost
even more if I hadn't cancelled the follow-up visit which she

The doctor recognized it as gout before ordering the tests but
presumably had to order them because of procedures dictated by
government and/or insurance. Doctors' customers are insurance
companies, not patients.  Rationally, she could have diagnosed gout
and prescribed pills, charging me just for the office visit and
then running tests if they didn't work.  But that would assume that
doctors are responsible to their patients rather than being
obligated to fulfill bureaucratic requirements.

Meanwhile people demand that insurance cover more and more things,
apparently believing that they're being subsidized by someone else
(and in some cases being right).  For example, some people were
hugely outraged that they weren't being "insured" against the need
for contraceptives.

Imagine getting a car fixed that way. "Well, it looks as if you've
got a flat tire, but we have to run a full engine diagnostic and
disassemble the transmission to make sure. Don't worry, your
insurance will pay for it."  [-gmg]

Dorothy Heydt responds:

Except that the human organism is several orders of magnitude more
complex than a car.  [-djh]

Scott Dorsey adds:

The doctor also does not have the option of randomly swapping parts
out untilthey find the problem.  [-sd]

Gary replies:

Cars can be quite complex these days, and a pain in the toe doesn't
present the same level of complexity as, say, chronic shortness of
breath that defies all diagnostic efforts. It was clear from her
initial examination that the doctor didn't need all the tests to
make a probable diagnosis, and an error wouldn't have had drastic
consequences.  [-gmg]

Kevin R adds:

Moreover, if Marcus Welby didn't do that test, and doing it is
considered "best practice," and anything went wrong, such as your
having a different ailment that presented as if it were gout, he
would be legally liable.  Actually, Dr Welby was in private
practice.  Your MD, odds are, may be an employee of a much larger
medical group than the old "hang out a shingle" model, or perhaps a
partner in a group of practitioners, but the various hospitals have
been buying up those smaller outfits fairly aggressively over the
last couple of decades.  He'd be exposing his employers or partners
to a malpractice judgment if he didn't order the test, and since
invoicing the test is going to bring more revenue and cover their
collective asses, there is every incentive to do it and serious
risk if he doesn't.

[re US health insurance]

US health insurance rules are a patchwork of state laws.  When
people started to want to use chiropractors, for example, and their
insurance wouldn't cover that, they bothered their state
legislatures about that, and pretty sure the insurers were required
to include the backcrackers in basic coverage.  This model has been
copied over and over, so that it is not really possible to buy
"bare bones" coverage.  Single, unmarried men have to have
pregnancy coverage included in their contracts, though I don't
believe it will cover the one-night hookup they may happen to

[re car repairs]

Substitute "it's covered in the warranty" and that actually doesn't
sound that odd.  That's one reason why some people sell perfectly
good used cars, or trade them in: they don't want to have to pay
for repairs out of pocket.  There is even a business model of
selling a warranty to owners of cars that are out of warranty,
which sounds remarkably like "auto health insurance."

[re humans versus cars]

No trade ins, either.  [-kr]

And Peter Trei responds to Mark's original comment ["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 column."]

Back around 2001, you started to see t-shirts which read: "Go away,
or I shall replace you with a very small shell script."  You
actually did it.

Technology has been replacing labor since it was invented. At the
macro level, this is a good thing; requiring less work makes things
cheaper and more available.

But at the micro level, it can destroy the livelihoods of good hard
working people.  Back when the jobs being eliminated were unskilled
or low-skilled, switching to something else was *relatively* easy.

We're now getting to the point where far more skilled jobs are
being replaced, jobs which it took substantial training to get
started in, and considerable experience to become good at.

The new jobs which automation is creating are not easily
accessible; they often require years of expensive training before
you can even start to be productive, and are not really viable mid
or late career options for people displaced from lower-skilled

It's only going to get worse.  The workforce participation chart
here is relevant:

I think we're faced with a change in the human condition of a
magnitude similar to that of the change from hunter-gatherers to
settled agriculturalists, and the general terms of the social
contract are up for renegotiation.

It could go very well, or very badly.  [-pt]

Mark responds:

Actually I did it in VMS, but I probably did it with UNIX shell
scripts elsewhere.  I was telling people that UNIX shell was an
extremely powerful programming language back when most people I
told it to did not believe me.  Shell is quick to program, quick to
de-bug, and easy to maintain.  Okay, I'll get off my soapbox.

And, no, it will go very well *and* very badly, depending on who
you are.   And you can almost predict right now who will come out
ahead and who behind.  [-mrl]


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

[continuing my comments from last week]

"The Jews were a nation; the Christians were a sect: and if it was
natural for every community to respect the sacred institutions of
their neighbors, it was incumbent on them to persevere in those of
their ancestors.  The voice of oracles, the precepts of
philosophers, and the authority of the laws, unanimously enforced
the national obligation."

E: In other words, the Rome (mostly) respected the Jews in the
practice of their religion at this time, because they were being
faithful to the "sacred institution" of their ancestors.  But the
Christians were rejecting their ancestors' sacred institutions, and
this was a terrible sin to the Romans.

"By embracing the faith of the gospel, the Christians incurred the
supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offense.  They
dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the
religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously
despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had
reverenced as sacred."

E: As noted above, it was not the beliefs of the Christians per se
that caused their persecution, but that they were so faithless as
to turn their backs on their ancestors' beliefs and customs.

"In one of his laws he has been careful to instruct posterity, that
in obedience to the commands of God, he laid the everlasting
foundations of Constantinople and though he has not condescended to
relate in what manner the celestial inspiration was communicated to
his mind, the defect of his modest silence has been liberally
supplied by the ingenuity of succeeding writers; who describe the
nocturnal vision which appeared to be the fancy of Constantine, as
he slept within the walls of Byzantium."

E: Gibbon has little respect for organized religion, and clearly
does not believe that Constantine was personally instructed by God.

"As soon as the emnity of Julian deprived the clergy of the
privileges which had been conferred by the favour of Constantine,
they complained of the most cruel oppression; and the free
toleration of idolators and heretics was a subject of grief and
scandal to the orthodox party."

E: This is another "teaching passage": a group who has special
privileges and then loses them calls this "leveling of the playing
field" oppression.  So (for example) when Christians are told that
the public schools (which never celebrated any non-Christian
religious holidays) cannot celebrate Christian holidays either,
they start calling this discrimination against Christians,
persecution, etc.

"A simple, naked statue, finished by the hand of a Grecian artist,
is of more genuine value than all these rude and costly monuments
of Barbaric labour; and, if we are more deeply affected by the ruin
of a palace than by the conflagration of a cottage, our humanity
must have formed a very erroneous estimate of the miseries of human

E: Two points here: First, we now know that that "simple, naked
statue" was probably painted in fairly garish colors, so Gibbon's
implied praise of simplicity is somewhat misplaced.  His second
claim *is* valid, though for a totally different reason.  When a
palace is ruined, the owner or resident almost definitely retains a
large portion of the wealth, and probably has somewhere else to go,
while when a cottage burns, the people who live in it probably lose
everything they had.  And of course Gibbon's other implication is
that whatever loss of human life occurs, it is of equal importance
in the cottage as in the palace.  (In the case of the statue and
the monuments, one might argue that the barbaric monuments, if not
built with slave labour, at least provide employment to large
numbers of people.)

"They urged, with persuasive eloquence, that, in all cases of
treason, suspicion is equivalent to proof; that the power supposes
the intention, of mischief; that the intention is not less criminal
than the act; and that a subject no longer deserves to live, if his
life may threaten the safety, or disturb the repose of his

E: Replace "the sovereign" by "the country" and this situation
sounds remarkably (and depressingly) modern.  The suspension of
habeas corpus during the Civil War, the curtailment of freedom of
speech and of the press during World War I, the internment of
Japanese-Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of the
1950s, and the Patriot Act all seem to indicate that these claims
get traction whenever any sort of menace--real or imagined--is

"Whatever had been the determination of the emperor, he must have
offended a numerous party of his Christian subjects; as the leaders
both of the Homoousians and of the Arians believed, that, if they
were not suffered to reign, they were most cruelly injured and

E: Again, the dangers of binary thinking: a group who cannot impose
their wishes on everyone else cries out that this is persecution
and oppression.

"The inaction of the negroes does not seem to be the effect of
either their virtue or of their pusillanimity.  They indulge, like
the rest of mankind, their passions and appetites; and the adjacent
tribes are engaged in frequent acts of hostility.  But their rude
ignorance has never invented any effectual weapons of defence, or
of destruction; they appear incapable of forming any extensive
plans of government, or conquest; and the obvious inferiority of
their mental faculties has been discovered and abused by the
nations of the temperate zone.  Sixty thousand blacks are annually
embarked from the coast of Guinea, never to return to their native
country; but they are embarked in chains, and this constant
emigration, which, in the space of two centuries, might have
furnished armies to overrun the globe, accuses the guilt of Europe,
and the weakness of Africa."

E: That perhaps they did not want an extensive government, and did
not desire conquest, seems not to have occurred to Gibbon.  Nor
does it occur to him that the Europeans' extensive governments and
desire for conquest which in part led them to enslave 60,000 people
a year does not make them less ignorant than the Africans.  Indeed,
many might argue quite the opposite.

"The urgent consideration of the public safety may undoubtedly
authorize the violation of every positive law.  How far that, or
any other, consideration may operate to dissolve the natural
obligations of humanity and justice, is a doctrine of which I still
desire to remain ignorant."

E: This is an eternal problem; it is the question of when (if ever)
wars are justified, when (if ever) torture is justified, and so on.

[to be continued next week]



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

Gilbar (ISBN 978-0-14-018539-7) is a small book (4" by 6.5") of
quotations about books, reading, libraries, and so on.  I am sure
all the quotations are available on-line, and the book suffers from
the lack of an index of the writers quoted, but is clearly designed
for browsing rather than looking things up.

Here's a sample:

"A wonderful thing about a book, in contrast to a computer screen,
is that you can take it to bed with you." (Daniel J. Boorstin)  [Of
course, with eReaders this is no longer true.]

"If you are to have but one book with you upon a journey, let it be
a book of science, [for] when you have read through a book of
entertainment, you know it, and it can do no more for you; but a
book of science is inexhaustible." (Samuel Johnson)

"I'll spend the rest of my life reading, and because I'd rather
read than do anything else, I don't look forward to years of
hopeless, black despair.  Most men who are in for life are filled
with bitterness and hatred for the unkind fate that led them to
such a horrible end." (Willie Sutton, who is best known for another
quotation--when asked why he robbed banks, he said, "Because that's
where the money is.")  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           You can't control the wind, but you can adjust
           your sails.
                                           --Yiddish proverb