Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/10/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 49, Whole Number 1914

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Whole Window (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Welcome to Legitimacy, Science Fiction Fans. (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE LOBSTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (film review by Dale Skran)
        The Babel Fish, Mathematics, THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE,
                Samuel Pepys's DIARY, and Muhammed Ali
                (letter of comment by John Purcell)        
        Natures (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Peter Trei)
        If This Goes On..." and "Blowups Happen" (letter of comment
                by Gary McGath and correction by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 2) (comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading ("The Lottery in Babylon") (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Whole Window (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Gene Cernan was talking about the experience of being in space.  He
said that when he got into space he looked back and and saw, to use
his words,  "your whole window is filled up with the Earth."  He
didn't need a rocket flight for that.  That is what I see through
my bedroom window.  The window is filled up with Earth and there is
a lot of Earth left over.


TOPIC: Welcome to Legitimacy, Science Fiction Fans. (comments by
Mark R. Leeper)

When I was growing up my parents thought that my interest in
science fiction was a breed of immaturity.  I grew up on science
fiction, somewhat in spite of my parents.  On gift occasions I
frequently would get roller-skates or a game that simulated
basketball.  The hope was that playing the board game Bas-Ket I
would develop a great enthusiasm for basketball.   These gifts
mostly collected dust.

My parents looked down on genre fiction as being absurd fantasy
with blaster guns and ugly monsters.  The worse science fiction is
portrayed on TV and in the media, the more people like my parents
believed that science fiction is really as puerile as it is
portrayed.  (And I am looking at you, Ben Affleck, and at your film

There were films with some themes my mother might have liked, but
if it had fantasy she would reject the whole package.  I remember
my sister, herself no great fan of fantasy, recognized my mother
would probably like some of the themes of the film COCOON but my
mother refused to see the film because it had bits of science

In large part, science fiction is about how people react to change.
And living is changing at a rate like never before.  Now when my
mother travels on a plane and everybody in the seats ahead are
tapping merrily away on their cell phones or laptops or tablets she
likely finds the change bewildering.  She was opposed to science
fiction and yet has been sentenced to live in a world that is
changing away from the world she knew much faster than she can keep
up with, really faster than anybody can keep up with.  She has more
or less insulated herself from having to face change.

Over my lifetime I have seen science fiction become much more
widely respectable faster than I myself can keep up with.  In the
past science fiction has been considered declasse to downright
disreputable and pulpish.  In my school when we were supposed to
choose a book for a book report we would be told in advance not to
choose science fiction.  Any science fiction book would be rejected
out of hand by a teacher who considered it to be a waste of time.
But with newsstands full of science fiction books with bizarre
covers, most of which were misleading, science fiction just did not
have a respectable image.  With some effort one could get my
teachers to make exceptions.  1984 by George Orwell sometimes
teachers could have heard of and some would accept it, perhaps for
no other reason they had heard of the book and reading the book
report would have saved them from having to read the book to find
what it was all about.  I did get approval for reading BRAVE NEW
WORLD and FRANKENSTEIN.  Today science fiction is much more
acknowledged as the literature with important content about change
and some of the ideas people need to think about.  It is a
literature people actually need in order to be prepared to
understand the world.

These days schools actually assign science fiction books to
students.  In part, that is because students are more likely to
carefully read a book they enjoy.  But also it is because of the
nature of science fiction.  Science fiction is in large part how
the world (or other worlds) are changing and what those changes
mean to people.  Back in the bad old days, the world was fairly
stable.  The technology that we students saw in fifth grade would
be very much the same as what we saw in tenth grade.  Today
technology and the scientific outlook have changed a great deal in
the last five years.  Changes are hitting us faster and faster.
Science fiction is looking at issues of cloning and of artificial
intelligence and robotics, the same issues that the sciences are

Scientists and engineers are freely saying that they got started on
their field by reading science fiction.  The sci-fi ghetto has a
lot of noted science fiction personalities.

So people who are condescending to science fiction (like Ben
Affleck) are a little out of date.  Science fiction seems today as
respectable as it has ever been.  It now is getting the respect it
has deserves as a legitimate branch of literature and perhaps a
most important branch.  As Hannah Arendt said in THE HUMAN
CONDITION (published in 1958) "Science has realized and affirmed
what men anticipated in dreams that were neither wild nor idle.
What is new is only that one of this country's most respectable
newspapers finally brought to its front page what up to then had
been buried in the highly non-respectable literature of science
fiction (to which, unfortunately, nobody yet has paid the attention
it deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires)."


TOPIC: THE LOBSTER (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD: This review tells some of the rules of
the strange world the story is set in.]

CAPSULE: This is an absurdist comedy drama that drops the viewer in
a world where people who are single have a limited time to find a
mate or they have to be turned into an animal, but at least into a
species of their choice.  I know--that makes no sense.  But the
freedom to not make sense is the core of the story's style.  Colin
Farrell and Rachel Weisz star in the intriguing look at the
importance of having a spouse in our society.  Rating: high +2 (-4
to +4) or 7/10

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999) was a very original film.  In the first
half hour or so the Charlie Kaufman's script introduced three or so
really off-the-wall changes to reality and then the film just
played out with those strange ideas.  At the time it seemed odd
that these weird ideas could unapologetically be presented without
being explained or justified.  THE LOBSTER takes the same approach
of throwing in absurdist premises but they never stop raining down.
While the world setting looks deceptively like our world, the
viewer is never allowed to feel he/she really understands what is
going on.  Strange ideas just keep being added to the mix.

David, a nebbish played by Colin Ferrell, is facing the trial of
his life.  He has gone to a hotel where single adults are sent to
find a mate among the other people searching. If a person fails to
find a life-partner by a fixed deadline he is turned into an
animal, but an animal of his choice.  The person who finds a
partner must show that the partner will have something enough in
common with the chosen mate, even if the similarity is something
like that each has frequent nosebleeds.  Some of this may be
speculation, since the rules are mostly communicated by viewer
deduction.  These are people depersonalized by the entire
situation.  Most are given no names but a characteristic they have.
Leading characters include the limping man (Ben Whishaw, best-known
as Q), the lisping man (John C. Reilly), and the heartless woman
(Angeliki Papoulia).  There is some hope.  Out in the forest there
is a counter-movement of Loners who have banded together, contrary
to their name.  There the narrator of the first half of the film
incarnates as the near-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz).

This may sound strange, but many of the rules of dating and finding
a mate are very recognizable.  Every day we see people desperate to
find a mate.  This film of a foreign yet occasionally familiar
world was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos based on a script he co-
wrote with Efthymis Filippou.  This is their first English language

One obvious problem is the camerawork.  Perhaps it is intended to
be disorienting, but shots are incorrectly framed.  People appear
in the frame only up to the shoulders or only one side of the body.
Somehow the film loses some of its initial joy of discovery when
the novelty of new strange concepts wears off a little.  I hope we
hear more from Lanthimos.  I rate THE LOBSTER a high +2 on the -4
to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (film review by Dale Skran)


X-MEN: APOCALYPSE has not been loved by the critics, but still
managed to pull in $284M or so worldwide in its opening week.
Don't let the chitter-chatter of the nattering nabobs of negativism
keep you away from a basically entertaining and well done X-Men
movie by Brian Singer.  There are some flaws here, but first I'd
like to point out the good stuff:

- Great effects--we are so jaded that what are really eye-popping
visuals hardly gets a mention
- Generally accurate treatment of the X-Men as characters.
- Lots of great super-hero fight scenes.
- A reasonable plot that is not too complicated to follow.
- Good acting by Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.  Note that she
plays a different, more heroic Mystique than the comic character,
and ends the movie as the leader of the X-Men.  After her role in
saving the world in the previous movie, Mystique has become an idol
to young mutants everywhere, which is both plausible and well
- Strong performance by Michael Fassbender as Magneto.  For some
reason, although Hollywood does not get Dr. Doom, they do
understand Magneto.
- Oscar Isaac (who is everywhere these days) as En Sabah
Nur/Apocalypse. There have been some fan complaints that Apocalypse
looks different than in the comics, and does not grow in size at
will.  None of this will annoy anyone but the most fanatic fan.
Apocalypse has many powers--for reasons well explained in the
movie--and those powers have varied quite a bit in the comics.  The
movie's take on his powers is just as valid as any of the several
approaches used in the comics.
- Olivia Munn as Psylocke does not get a lot of speaking parts, but
she is in the thick of the action, and certainly looks like the
character from the comics.
- Evan Peters as Quicksilver, who is more Flash fast than the
actual Marvel comic character but lots of fun to watch.
- Alexandra Shipp as Ororo Munroe/Storm takes over for Halley
Barry.  Shipp is both more muscular and more authentically African
in her accent (at least to me), and thus is more true to the comic.
We are also brought back to the comic book origin story for Storm
as a thief in Cairo.  I look forward to seeing more of Shipp as

There are some weak items here, including:

- The movie is way too long and overstuffed.  Much of the stuffing
is good, however, so any X-Man fan will enjoy it even if
objectively there is too much going on.
- There are definitely scenes where characters are standing around
and not taking obvious actions.
- There is some really poor dialog put into Professor X's mouth:
"I've never felt such power!" You'll know the scene when it comes
- Another weak scene is where Xavier persuades Jean to unleash her
full power on Apocalypse.  It is just not that convincing and seems
terribly rushed.
- I like Sophie Turner in GAME OF THRONES. I really do.  But
although only 20 years old on the calendar, she looks 30 or more as
Jean Grey.  The story of Jean Grey is one of innocence crushed,
first by absolute knowledge, and second by absolute power.  To pull
this off, the character has to start out looking young and
innocent, not old and battle-weary.  Nightcrawler looks and acts
young. Cyclops looks and acts young. Why can't they find a Jean
Grey that appears to be 16 or 17?  BTW--the earlier X-Men movies
suffered from the same kind of miscasting.   Famke Janssen is just
6 years younger than I am, and I am ancient.  She was way too old
to play Jean Grey in the earlier X-Men movies.  This is not a
complaint about the scripting for Jean Grey, which was fine except
for the scene I mentioned above.
- I don't understand why the movie-makers feel compelled to turn
straight-arrow Scott/Cyclops into a "Bad Boy." This ruins the
Scott/Jean dynamic, where we see two young innocents fall in love,
but Jean is tempted first by the older, more experienced Wolverine,
next by the corrupting Mastermind, and finally by the siren lure of
godhood and power absolute.

There has been some controversy about a movie billboard that shows
Apocalypse choking Mystique with the title "Only the strong
survive."  "Feminists" have been claiming that the poster glorifies
the beating of women.  Never mind that we see a purple monster
choking a blue-skinned mutant who is not even obviously female.
Never mind that in the movie just before the billboard scene
Mystique had slit Apocalypse's throat.  Never mind that a few
minutes later in the movie Jean Gray blasts Apocalypse down to his
constituent atoms.  There have a lot of comic covers showing
Superman or Batman apparently beaten up, but this does not lead to
any protests that such covers encourage violence against men.
There surely have been exploitative movie ads that deserved
protest, but all good principles can be carried to insane extremes.
The logical outcome of this "feminist" thinking is that women can
only be shown is positions of absolute equality with men, or in
domination over men on movie billboards or anywhere else.

There have also been criticisms that Apocalypse is a weak villain,
or at least not interesting.  It is certainly true that he is not
as nuanced as Magneto or Dr. Doom.  However, I contend there is
nothing inconsistent or unlikely in how the character is presented.
Apocalypse has lived many lives, and stolen the powers of many
mutants.  He has come to think he is a god, and with such vast
abilities, such a delusion is understandable.  Over the ages,
Apocalypse has become just the pursuit of power.  Whatever back-
story he had has been lost in the sands of time.

Another much-discussed topic related to super-heroes is how
collateral damage is handled.  The recent CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL
WAR focuses entirely on this matter in a serious fashion.  In the
context of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE a number of scenes must have entailed
vast loss of life.   In particular, Magneto, his powers enhanced by
Apocalypse, undertakes to destroy all the buildings in the world.
Now, of course, we could choose to believe that once the creaking
and groaning starts, everyone runs outside and there is no loss of
life.  However, on a global scale there would surely be large
numbers of deaths.  It also follows that there would be a profound
effect on human society from the reality that beings like
Apocalypse exist, and seek to work their will in the world, but
such effects logically should appear in the next X-Men movie.
We'll just have to wait and see.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is fine for tweens and up, although too loud and
scary for little kids. In particular, there is a scene in which
Magneto's wife and small child are killed with an arrow that many
will find disturbing, not because it is graphic but just because of
what is happening.  Also, there are some Holocaust flash-backs that
although brief may be too much for some.  I'm rating the movie +1
on the -4 to +4 rating. but it is a must-see if you like superhero
movies.  [-dls]


TOPIC: The Babel Fish, Mathematics, THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE, Samuel
Pepys's DIARY, and Muhammed Ali (letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Evelyn's comments on the Babel fish in the 06/03/16
issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Sorry to have been amiss in not writing on earlier issues of your
weekly VOIDing --that certainly sounds problematic--but such is the
way it goes in the world of online communication.  Your most recent
entry sparked a few comments.

I wonder if the creators of that Pilot translation device ever saw
HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE, because the Pilot certainly does bear a strong
resemblance to the Babel fish.  So many other innovators were
inspired by STAR TREK devices--such as the handheld flip-top phone,
now even a tricorder and medical scanning probe are in development-
-that I would not be surprised that the Pilot developers watched
any of the many iterations of STAR TREK.  Such a communication
breakthrough would be a game-changer in international diplomacy.

Mark responds:

I don't know anything about the creators of the Pilot, but when
science news media wrote about the Pilot they introduced it by
comparing it to the Babel fish.  I think many people made the same
connection.  [-mrl]

In response to Mark's comments on mathematics, John writes:

Mark, you are talking about mathematical gobbledygook again.  My
eyes have glazed over and my brain has grown numb.  Excuse me while
I go watch some baseball to snap myself back to a semblance of

Okay. I'm back.  [-jp]

Mark says:

For once I agree with you that the mathematics was gobbledygook.
That was the point of the article.  But I know how lost I often
feel in a world where if a news item mentions prime numbers they
feel they have to define what a prime number is, but they feel they
can assume everybody knows what "a touchback to the end zone" is.

In response to Mark's review of THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE, John writes:

THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE sounds like a lot of fun.  I am definitely

going to watch for it in this area.  Odds are it won't hit Bryan-
College Station area, but Houston is only an hour and a half away,
so that movie would make for a fine segment of a day trip to see
out daughter and son-in-law in the Woodlands.  THERAPY sounds like
my kind of movie: I enjoy different takes on familiar tropes.  Many
thanks for the heads up on this.  [-jp]

In response to Evelyn's comments on Samuel Pepys's DIARY, John

When I was in high school I attempted to read all of the volumes of
Samuel Pepys' DIARY; our local library had a matched set of this
nine-volume historical document--for lack of a better term, it is
definitely this--and made it as far as the fourth volume before I
couldn't take any more.  Some year I may have to go back to it, but
only if I feel like subjecting myself to 17th century English
language grammatical constructions, which could be quite
convoluted.  I honestly don't know which would be worse: reading
Samuel Pepys' DIARY or a mathematics textbook.  They are both
tortuous.  [-jp]

John adds:

Sad news in the world a couple days ago with word of Muhammad Ali's
passing. He was inspirational on many levels and will be very much
missed.  Requiescat In Pace.  [-jp]


TOPIC: Natures (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Peter Trei)

In response to Mark's question ("When they say that an action is
"second nature" to someone, what are the other natures?" in the
06/03/16 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

Inaction?  Sloth?  Procrastination?  [-pc]

Peter Trei responds:

To take the question seriously.

My interpretation is:

One's 'first nature' consists of the instincts, abilities, and
reactions one is born with--the ability to walk, learn speech, etc.

'Second nature' refers to a skill or ability you were not born
with, but gained through training to the point that their exercise
is as automatic as those that were.  [-pt]

Mark says:

As I thought, people disagree on what first nature is.  We only
really agree on "second nature."  But them being cynical is third
or fourth nature to me.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: "If This Goes On..." and "Blowups Happen" (letter of comment
by Gary McGath and correction by Evelyn C. Leeper)

In response to Evelyn's comments on the two versions of "If This
Goes On..." in the 06/03/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath

What were the differences? I've read the version in THE PAST
THROUGH TOMORROW, which I think is the same as the one in REVOLT IN
2100, but I may not have read the one in EXPANDED UNIVERSE. (I'm
sure I have both books somewhere; I'm just being lazy and asking.
And perhaps starting an interesting discussion.)  [-gmg]

Evelyn responds:

Well, first of all, I misspoke myself: it was "Blowups Happen" that
was updated, not "If This Goes On...".  (My only excuse is that
when I'm reading half a dozen Heinlein stories all at once, they
tend to run together in my mind.)

Anyway, regarding  "Blowups Happen" (if you're still asking the

Having put the books away (and EXPANDED UNIVERSE being in a box
three down in the stack of twenty-pound boxes), I'm going from
memory, but it was basically an updating of the technobabble to
coincide with post-1945 knowledge, and also mentions both Hiroshima
and the Manhattan Project.  See


TOPIC: THE DIARY OF SAMUEL PEPYS by Samuel Pepys (Part 2) (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)

As indicated last week, I will split my comments into topics, the
first being government:

It is clear that government appointments at the time had little to
do with qualifications, as Pepys writes, "[We] were sworn justices
of the peace for Middlesex, Essex, Kent, and Southampton; with
which honour I did find myself mightily pleased, though I am wholly
ignorant in the duty of a justice of the peace." [September 24,

Some things never change, like the people's feeling about
government waste: "But I do not see much thorough joy [at the
queen's arrival], but only an indifferent one, in the hearts of
people, who are much discontented at the pride and luxury of the
Court, and running in debt." [April 15, 1662]

Bribery and graft were so common that the editor notes, "[In
earlier days Pepys noted for us each few pounds or shillings of
graft which he annexed at each transaction in his office.}"
[January 24, 1663]  And indeed we see entries such as, "This
morning Mr. Cole, our timber merchant, sent me five couple of
ducks." [February 13, 1663]

And eventually he has gotten ridiculously adept at this: "I met
Captain Grove, who did give me a letter directed to myself from
himself.  I discerned money to be in it, and took it, knowing, as I
found it to be, the proceed of the place I have got him to be, the
taking up of vessels for Tangier.  But I did not open it till I
came home to my office, and there I broke it open, not looking into
it till all the money was out, that I might say I saw no money in
the paper, if ever I should be questioned about it." [April 3,

"This day Captain Grove sent me a side of pork, which was the
oddest present, sure, that was ever made any man; and the next, I
remember I told my wife, I believe would be a pound of candles, or
a shoulder of mutton; but the fellow do it in kindness, and is one
I am beholden to." [May 1, 1663]  This reminded me of the character
in the film MY FAVORITE YEAR who is always sending weird presents,
such as a set of tires, or a dozen steaks.  (These days steaks are
not that odd to send, but in the 1950s of the movie they were.)

Pepys explains that there was "one that got a way of coyning money
as good and passable and large as the true money is, and yet saved
fifty per cent. to himself, which was by getting moulds made to
stamp groats like old groats," but frankly his explanation made no
sense to me. [May 19, 1663]

Given the rather severe penalties for theft, I was surprised to
read, "This evening the girle that was brought to me to-day for so
good a one, being cleansed of lice this day by my wife, and good,
new clothes put on her back, she run away from Goody Taylour that
was shewing her the way to the bakehouse, and we heard no more of
her." [August 20, 1663]  However, being in a position where your
employer can beat and abuse you may make you more fatalistic about
the possible consequences of trying to escape that sort of life.

Pepys describes a public execution: "And there I got for a shilling
to stand upon the wheel of a cart, in great pain, above an houre
before the execution was done; he delaying the time by long
discourses and prayers one after another, in hopes of a reprieve,
but none came, and at last was flung off the ladder in his cloake."
[January 21, 1664]

Pepys seems to have been appointed to a position requiring more
education (or training) than he had, but one can sympathize with
him when he writes, "He showed a very excellent argument to prove,
that our importing lesse than we export, do not impoverish the
kingdom, according to the received opinion, which, though it be a
paradox, and that I do not remember the argument..."  [February 29,
1664]  I find that there are many explanations in economics that
make perfect sense while I am listening to them, but a few hours
later I would have difficulty explaining them.  Later some one
explains to Pepys how "the old law of prohibiting bullion to be
exported, is, and ever was a folly and an injury, rather than
good."  [January 27, 1665]

While we have seen that we cannot entirely trust Pepys's
descriptions of things he has only learned secondhand (or
thirdhand), it is still instructive to read this description of
Moscow before Peter the Great embarks on his modernization/
Westernization program: "... Though Moscow is a very great city,
yet it is from the distance between house and house, and few people
compared with this, and poor, sorry houses, the Emperor himself
living in a wooden house, his exercise only flying a hawk at
pigeons and carrying pigeons ten or twelve miles off and then
laying wagers which pigeon shall come soonest to her house.  All
the winter within doors, some few playing at chesse, but most
drinking their time away.  Women live very slavishly there, and it
seems in the Emperor's court no room hath above two or three
windows, and those the greatest not a yard wide or high, for warmth
in winter time; and that the general cure for all diseases there is
their sweating houses, or people that are poor they get into their
ovens, being heated; and there, lie.  Little learning among things
of any sort.  Not a man that speaks Latin unless the Secretary of
State by chance."  [September 16, 1664]

Pepys is still engaging in financial shenanigans that seemed to
have been standard then, and possibly even legal: "In one business
of deales on L520, I offer to save L172, and yet purpose getting
money, to myself by it."  [September 24, 1664]

A note describes the system of "tallies", or notched pieces of
wood, which seemed to be a combination of I.O.U. and money
substitute.  They were discontinued in 1824, and "the destruction
of the old Houses of Parliament, in the night of October 16th,
1834, is thought to have been occasioned by the overheating of the
flues, when the furnaces were employed to consume the tallies
rendered useless by the alteration in the mode of keeping the
Exchequer accounts."

We learn something about the taxation of the period when Pepys
writes, "This morning come to me the Collectors for my Pollmoney;
for which I paid for my title as Esquire and place of Clerk of
Acts, and my head and wife's, and servants' and their wages, L40
17s; and though this be a great deal, yet it is a shame I should
pay no more..." [April 5, 1667]

Pepys also shows us that attempts to weasel out of taxes by trying
to twist the law when he reports that someone "here lies in a
messenger's hands, for saying that a man and his wife are but one
person, and so ought to pay by 12d. for both to the Poll Bill; by
which others were led to do the like; and so here he lies
prisoner." [June 5, 1667]

After the Raid on the Medway in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Pepys
observed that "our own soldiers are far more terrible to those
people of the country-towns than the Dutch themselves." [June 30,
1667]  Of course, the Dutch were fighting mostly on the water,
while the soldiers were land-based.

Next week: society.  [-ecl]


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

I have previously mentioned "The Lottery in Babylon" by Jorge Luis
Borges in passing, but having just listened to the SFF Audio
podcast about it, I decided to write more, in part because this
podcast (and their previous Borges one on "The Circular Ruins",
which I mentioned last week) makes the mistake of analyzing word
choices when what they are reading is "just" a translation.  The
fact that the different hosts read different translations should
have given them a clue that maybe they should go back to the
original and see (for example) whether the fact that one makes
reference to a left index finger and the other to a right was not
just an error somewhere along the line.

In fact, the title itself is a clue to this.  In the original
Spanish it is "La loteria en Babylonia" is variously translated
"The Lottery in Babylon", "The Lottery of Babylon", "The Babylon
Lottery", "The Babylonian Lottery", and possibly other variations.

And another translation issue: Anthony Kerrigan, in FICCIONES,
gives us this translation of Borges: "A happy drawing might
motivate his elevation to the council of wizards or his
condemnation to the custody of an enemy (notorious or
intimate)...."  How could a "happy" drawing lead to one's
imprisonment by one's enemy?  Looking at the original Spanish, I
found it said, "Una jugada feliz podia motivar su elevacion al
concilio de magos o la prision de un enemigo (notorio o
intimo)...."  This is better translated as "A happy drawing might
cause his elevation to the council of mages or the imprisonment of
an enemy (notorious or intimate)...."  (I will note that John M.
Fein gets in right in in his translations fpr LABYRINTHS, as does
Andrew Hurley in his translation for COLLECTED FICTIONS, and Norman
Thomas di Giovanni in his on-line translation.)

Early on, we encounter the sentence: "For one lunar year, I was
declared invisible; I cried out and was ignored, I stole bread and
was not executed."  The podcasters wondered if this was the
inspiration for Robert Silverberg's "To See the Invisible Man".
"The Lottery in Babylon" was published in 1941, and first
translated into English in 1959.  (It has actually been translated
into English *four* times.)  Silverberg wrote "To See the Invisible
Man" in 1963, so it is quite possible he had read "The Lottery in
Babylon" by then.

Towards the end, Borges (in the voice of the narrator) talks about
an infinite number of drawings being possible, in the sense that
time is infinitely divisible.  In this regard, he references Zeno's
paradox of Achilles and the tortoise, which is more about the
divisibility of space than of time.  The same is true of the
dichotomy (or racecourse) paradox; of the three most famous
paradoxes of Zeno, only the arrow paradox divides time.

Babylon was abandoned in 141 B.C.E.  Zeno of Elea lived about three
hundred years earlier, but Elagabalus was emperor of Rome from 218
to 222 C.E., so either 1) the narrator's reference to him is
anachronistic, or 2) the narrator is seemingly immortal, or 3)
everything and everyone is adrift in time.  It is not just that
time is infinitely divisible, but that time not linear either, at
least in the universe of "The Lottery in Babylon".

In the 11/16/2007 issue of the MT VOID, I wrote about someone's
comment that as far as government health insurance goes, all they
want is the same medical plan their Congresspersons get.  This
would be far more likely in a situation such as that in "The
Babylonian Lottery", because the Congresspersons would know that
with the next roll of the dice, they could end up with whatever
health plan a random person in the society gets.  Both seem founded
in the "veil of ignorance" philosophy of society propounded by John
Rawls.  This philosophy says that to set up a just society, the
creators should not know where in that society they will be.  In
Plato's "Republic", one can presume that Plato saw himself as one
of the rulers, and not one of the slaves.  If Plato were forced to
wear the "veil of ignorance", he would have to assume that if he
sets up a society in which 90% are slaves, then he would have a 90%
chance of being a slave, and he might not be so keen on that set-
up.  (In some sense, this is just a variation on Kant's categorical
imperative.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I used to sell furniture for a living. The trouble was,
           it was my own.
                                           --Les Dawson