Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

07/10/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 2, Whole Number 2127

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Computer Sentencing for Crime (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (letters of comment by Paul Dormer

and Scott Dorsey)

Entanglement (letter of comment by David Goldfarb)

Art Show Tours, Hugo Voters Packet, Sagacity, Alcohol,

"Meseems", and Broken Link (letter of comment

by John Hertz)

This Week's Reading (AUTHOR IN CHIEF) (book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Computer Sentencing for Crime (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

This is one of my serious columns.  There aren't many of them, but

they do exist.  However, just because I am serious here, it does

not mean that I do not intend to get to a science fictional idea

eventually.  But you will have to wait a while for me to get there.

Though this was sparked by a very old discussion, the issues

involved are still relevant and the subject-matter is still

controversial and is relevant to science fiction.

In the July 15, 1996, issue of the NEW YORKER magazine, page 72,

Judge Sol Wachtler argues against the current call for mandatory

"cookbook" sentencing for crimes.  The same crime gets the same


Wachtler believes that one of the major reasons you have a judge

for a trial is to examine the mitigating circumstances of the crime

and to decide what the punishment should be.  He asks the question

should a mother who steals powdered milk to feed her child be given

the same punishment as a man who steals powdered milk to cut heroin

before selling it.  He feels not and he feels that you have a judge

to realize that former crime should get a light punishment and the

latter a heavier sentence.

Immediately I see three things I consider wrong with the judge's

argument here.  The first and biggest objection is that possessing

and/or selling heroin is a crime that carries a penalty, and

feeding a baby is not.  Hence we are unlikely to see the two people

getting the same punishment for their actions overall, even if they

get the same punishment for theft of the milk.  It is not clear to

me from this argument that the theft should not be equally

punished, but the heroin pusher should get an additional sentence

for the possession and sale of heroin.

My second objection is that while Judge Wachtler talks about the

mitigating circumstances of the crime he omits any reference to the

amount of damage that each crime does.  It may well be

unintentional, but if the mother's stealing the milk causes some

serious damage that the heroin pusher's theft does not, that, in my

opinion, should be factored into the sentences.  Let us say for the

sake of argument that the grocer sees the woman's theft and chases

after her, right into the path of a speeding car.  Suppose the car

hits the grocer and kills him.  The damage was precipitated by the

woman.  Her motives for the theft may have been as pure as Jean

Valjean's, but she created a situation that led to the grocer's

death and I would think that should be factored into the sentence.

Judge Wachtler does not suggest that the amount of damage done

should be factored into the sentencing process, and I feel this is

a serious omission.

My third complaint with his example, admittedly a lesser one, is

that by bringing the gender of the two offenders into his

description he seems to be implying that it is a part of the

mitigating circumstances.  If it is a man stealing milk for a child

and a woman who is the heroin pusher I would hope that the judge

would feel exactly the same way about the case.  Judge Wachtler

chose to describe the two cases in a non-gender-neutral manner and

that is frankly a bit irksome.

My feeling, however, is that one of the great advantages of

mandatory sentencing is the uniform application of the law.  If the

law takes out of the hands of the individual judges the specific

punishment, it means that the question of whether a specific judge

is lenient or strict will no longer affect the fate of the

criminal.  And regardless of what rights the accused has and has

not, every person accused of the same crime should have precisely

the same set of rights.  If the accused is convicted, the degree of

punishment should not be a matter of the "luck of the draw,"

dependent on which judge was chosen to decide the case.

But there really are two independent factors here.  One is the

uniformity of the application of the law, which Judge Wachtler does

not mention, the other is the degree of complexity and the factors

taken into account in the sentencing decision.  Judge Wachtler

seems to believe that the only way to have a system that takes into

account of all the mitigating factors is to give judges complete

autonomy in sentencing.  It is Judge Wachtler's belief that complex

decisions require a great deal of localized autonomy.

That may have been the case at one time, but we are reaching a

higher level of technology.  We are approaching a time when the

most complex decisions cannot be entrusted to individual autonomy.

For years there have existed artificial intelligence programs that

diagnose disease.  Diagnosing disease is a fairly complex decision

process.  Yet there exist computer programs that do a good job of

asking the right questions and from the answers diagnose disease

with a fairly respectable reliability.  And the process is executed

the same way from Seattle to Miami.  How different is the

complexity of the process diagnosing illness and that of

determining sentences?  My guess is that they must be of about the

same order of complexity.  If that is the case we could have a

national AI program that would suggest sentences for convicted

criminals.  It would take a while to debug, as AI programs

inevitably do. At least initially it would be only advisory and if

it gave an absu rd sentence, it could have additional questions

programmed into it to refine the decision tree.  Eventually it

could be the basis of a uniform national sentencing structure. I

hasten to add I am not saying the program would determine guilt or

innocence.  It would only assign reasonable sentences to the set of

circumstances of a crime. We may live to see that done and it would

be a fairer way of determining sentences that what we currently

have.  And if it would be fairer, we  have  a responsibility to at

least reach that level of equity, if not this way at least by some

other way that is as good. [-mrl]


TOPIC: QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (letters of comment by Paul Dormer,

Scott Dorsey, and Dorothy J. Heydt)

In response to Mark's comments on QUATERMASS AND THE PIT in the

07/03/20 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

This was actually based on a TV series done by the BBC in late

1958.  (There were three Quatermass series done by the BBC in the

fifties and they all were made later into films.)

I remember my mother telling me she watched episodes of that

alone.  I guess my father was out at meetings (he was active in

local politics and his union) and me and my siblings would have

been in bed by then.  She found it very scary.

The TV series is available on DVD, apparently.  [-pd]

Scott Dorsey replies:

Some of it is.  A lot of episodes were lost.  Only three episodes

of "Quatermass and the Pit" still exist, and only two of "The

Quatermass Experiment".  This is just enough to get you really

interested in seeing the rest of it.

All of the existing episodes have been shown at Arisia.  [-sd]

Paul answers:

Are you sure?  Wikipedia says otherwise.  Furthermore, I remember

watching a repeat screening on the BBC in the eighties, complete.

And I think they showed it complete as Seacon 79, my first


The specs for the region 1 DVD says 207 minutes, which is

consistent with 6 episodes lasting 36 minutes each, which agrees

with what Wikipedia says.

The region 2 DVD is all three series, but it doesn't say how

many episodes.  However, one of the reviews says it is only "The

Quatermass Experiment" that has missing episodes.  [-pd]

Dorothy Heydt says:

I have on DVD both the TV series and the film adaptation.  Time

I watched one or both again.  (N.B. IMO the film was better, but it

had better SFX.)  [-djh]

Evelyn adds:

In a desperate attempt to end the dispute, I will note that we

have one episode of "The Quatermass Experiment" (the second

episode), all six episodes of "Quatermass II" and all six episodes

of "Quatermass and the Pit".  We also have all three movies, as

well as the mini-series "Quatermass" and its theatrical version


series "The Quatermass Memoirs".

(Yes, I know there was a 2005 version.  We live in the US, and I

don't think there is a Region 1 version.)  [-ecl]

And Mark writes:

Recognize you are talking about my favorite film of all time.  In

the 1960s to 1980s, when it was virtually unknown in the U.S. I

bored a great number of science fiction fans proselytizing for the

movie QUATERMASS AND THE PIT which I considered the best science

fiction film ever made.

(Surprise!) QUATERMASS AND THE PIT does show up once or twice a

year in the U.S. on Turner Classic Movies under the American title

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH.  It is worth the wait.

What the BBC plays actually constituted was not exactly a series.

It was a sequence of plays, each one highly popular.  Each was so

good the public demanded a sequel.

Only one or two chapters of "The Quatermass Experiment" remain.

Then the broadcast technology improved and nothing was ever lost

again.  I know it because I have copies of all the rest.  Oh, I

also do not have the 2005 remake of "Quatermass Experiment".  (Not

a big loss.)  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Entanglement (letter of comment by David Goldfarb)

In response to the closing quote in the 07/03/20 issue of the MT

VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

[You wrote:]

           You and your mate living together but isolated in your

           house are 'entangled'!   You both have it or don't.

           If you leave the house and goes to a testing facility--

           even on the other side of the world, you will have

           Einstein's 'spooky action at a distance'!  As soon as

           the test reveals that you have it (or not), then you

           know instantly what the state of your mate is!

This is the concept of "hidden variables". In the case of you and

your spouse, the type of hidden variable is obvious: the virus is

present in your systems or it isn't. But for quantum particles like

photons, there are mathematical and experimental proofs that these

hidden variables don't exist. There is no equivalent of the virus

to find--the photon's polarization really isn't determined until

it's measured.  [-dg]


TOPIC: Art Show Tours, Hugo Voters Packet, Sagacity, Alcohol,

"Meseems", and Broken Link (letter of comment by John Hertz)

In response to various issues of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:

I should have known better than to try (in MT VOID 2117 [05/01/20])

telling E she was wrong.  of course she found a way to explain how

I was wrong.

Arranging SF con Art Show tours I invite people to lead them.

Sometimes I get a response, "Who am I to go around telling folks

what's wrong with pieces of art?"  I answer, "Why not just talk

about points you can honestly praise?"  That's what I do on the

tours I lead.  It's safer--what if the artist is on the other side

of the display panels?--and anyway it's interesting.

I was thinking John Scalzi might be entitled to the Serendipity

Prize (or No-Prize, for Marvel Comics fans) for inventing the Hugo

Voters Packet.[*]  Back then no one guessed public libraries and

many bookshops would be closed because of some virus when people

wanted to catch up reading or re-reading.  Then I remembered

Walpole said the Three Princes of Serendip were always making

discoveries by accident *and sagacity* of things they were not in

quest of.  We already have the notion of good luck.

The word "sagacity" always reminds me of sagrazi in "The Proud

Robot" [by Henry Kuttner].  Maybe because in that story Gallegher

combines accident with sagacity.

For me the pleasure of alcoholic drinks (MT VOID 2120 [05/22/20]))-

-good ones--is subtlety of flavor and aroma.  I don't like being

drunk.  It feels as if someone put sludge in my motor.

Sam Johnson said "meseems" should replace "methinks" [MT VOID 2124,

06/19/20]; it's more reasonable to say "it seems to me" than "it

thinks to me".  Meseems the attention to beauty is an integral part

of "No Woman Born" (MT VOID 2120 [05/22/20]).  It's why Kuttner &

Moore chose their motto for the story.  [-jh]

[*] Actually, the nitpicker in me requires me to point out that

Brad Templeton came up with the "Hugo and Nebula Anthology 1993 CD-

ROM"  (ISBN 9781569410127) almost thirty years ago.  [-ecl]

Evelyn also adds:

"Being drunk" always reminds me of the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE

GALAXY exchange:

    "It's unpleasantly like being drunk."

    "What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"

    "You ask a glass of water."

"Meseems" meaning "it seems to me" seems one of the few examples in

English of the Spanish sentence construction of placing the object

before the verb, e.g., "Te amo" = "I love you".  Or the reflexive

construction, "Me amo" = "I love myself".

Also, in the HTML/PDF versions of the MT VOID issue of 04/24/20 [MT

VOID 2116], I accidentally lost the link for John Hertz's article


**.  [-ecl]


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


THEY WROTE by Craig Ferhrman (Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4767-

8639-1) should probably have added "AND THE BOOKS THEY DIDN'T" to

the subtitle.  From the beginning, when we discover that

Washington's famous farewell speech was written by Alexander

Hamilton, to the long discussion of how Kennedy didn't write either

of the books for which he received (and accepted, and indeed,

pursued) acclaim, this is as much a book about Presidential ghost-

writers as about Presidential writers.

Fehrman does not say that ghost-writing is dishonest, but he does

say it should be done well, which seems to mean that the subject

and purported author does more than a couple of short interviews

with the ghost-writer, leaving all the work to the latter.

There are of course Presidents who did write their own books, but

often this was more true of works written before they became

President than to their post-Presidential books.

What I found odd in a book written by a journalist discussing the

processes various men used in their writing is that that Fehrman

himself needed a better editor.  One encounters asides that seem as

if they should go somewhere (e.g., several about Toni Morrison),

but don't, and sentences that are just plain awkward ("He knew

Kennedy had an in at Harper's with Michael Canfield, who'd married

the sister of Jacqueline, the Senator's wife.").  Surely

"Jacqueline Kennedy's sister" would have been better, or does

Fehrman think readers won't know that Jacqueline Kennedy was John

F. Kennedy's wife?

The book does cover a variety of Presidential works--some well-

known, others obscure, and Fehrman provides an appendix with his

recommended reading list for those who are not completists (see

below).  There is a lot of background about the authors, both to

explain the circumstances under which they wrote their books and

(perhaps) to bulk out this book, which also has about 75 pages of


Given the flaws, I would say this is a book designed for the sort

of person who visits Presidential birthplaces and libraries, but

not for the general reader.

The reading list:



Abraham Lincoln: SPEECHES


Theodore Roosevelt: AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Chapter 9)


Calvin Coolidge: "Books of My Boyhood"

Harry Truman: MEMOIRS


Ronald Reagan: WHERE'S THE REST OF ME?




                     Mark Leeper

* *

          What is eternity?  You're on the checkout line at a

          supermarket. There are seven people in front of you.

          They are all old.  They all have two carts and coupons

          for every item.  They are all paying by check.  None of

          them have ID.  It's the checkout girl's first day on

          the job.  She doesn't speak any English.  Take away

          fifteen minutes from that, and you begin to get an

          idea of what eternity is.

                                          --Emo Philips