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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/27/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 9, Whole Number 1612
Table of Contents
Answers to Last Week's Questions (comments by Mark R. Leeper, Steve Lelchuk, Tim Bateman, Peter Rubinstein, and Evelyn C. Leeper):
Last week Mark discussed Rush Limbaugh's erroneous assumption that the people who attacked Pearl Harbor were Hindu. The signal for that attack was "Tora! Tora! Tora!", Japanese for "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger." In Hindi it would be "Baagh! Baagh! Baagh!" [-mrl]
Steve Lelchuk noted a coincidence when he wrote, "Actually, I believe you misspelled the article title: should have been 'Baugh! Baugh! Baugh!' Just going out on a limb with this guess. :-)" [-sl]
Tim Bateman asked:
Is the term "Baagh! Baagh! Baagh!" a reference to:
1. Tora! Tora! Tora!, the film re Pearl Harbour 2. the term 'baa,' indicating a sheep-like following (of Rush Limbaugh) 3. 'aargh,' i. e. a cry or other noise of despair, frustration, etc. 4. Bah!', a term indicating irritation or mild anger. [-tb]
Mark replies, [No. That is absolutely wrong! It may be better than if it were right, but it is still wrong." [-mrl]
Pete Rubinstein correctly got the answer for Evelyn's question about the list of characters in the film 7 WOMEN: "There appear to be eight names despite the movie title." [-pir]
Evelyn notes, "Apparently the filmmakers did not think that Miss Ling should count, even though her role was not appreciably smaller than some of the others. It was not, as some might guess, that two characters were really only one." [-ecl]
A Terrible Shame. Just Terrible. (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
It is terrible. In the Tafalla bull fight arena in the northern region of Navarra a bull waiting to be slaughtered by the matador jumped the fence, leaped into the audience and in the ensuing panic forty people waiting to enjoy the spectacle were injured. I suppose the bull just unaccountably had a momentary lapse of faith in the basic humanity and decency of the human race. [-mrl]
Mathematics vs. Reality? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
My editorials in the MT VOID frequently verge over into the political. Not too unexpectedly this gets me into offline debates. An argument that is used against me repeatedly is that my conclusions about the real world are suspect because I am reasoning like a mathematician, and the real world does not follow mathematical rules. The implication is that if you think of things mathematically you are off in some fantasy Cloud Cuckoo Land and come to conclusions that have nothing to do with the real world. These accusations usually come from people who admit that they do not have an extensive mathematical background and clearly they are mistrustful of those who do have such a background.
One example was from someone who had training in the legal field. The disagreement was to whether it had been proven that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or not. My claim was that the existence of the WMDs was "undetermined." The other person said that it had indeed been proven that there were no WMDs. How had it been proven, I asked. The people who claimed there were WMDs had given their best evidence and it did not demonstrate the existence of the weapons. I said that was hardly a proof, it was just a failure to prove the contrary. In a court of law that constitutes a proof, I was told.
That bothered me a great deal. To my mind a "proof" must be incontrovertible. If you have a valid proof it will stay proven for all time. If tomorrow somewhere beneath the great Iraqi sands there is a chemical weapon lab discovered with portraits of Saddam Hussein hanging on the wall, then the statement that there were no WMDs would be to my opponent both "proven" and at the same time false. Finding such a lab is not likely, but neither is it impossible.
I detest that the legal community would use a word like "proven". Much more accurate would be "adjudged true". The legal world and the real world may have different definitions for proof, but the legal definition of "proof", as given by my correspondent, degrades the word. What is more it promotes injustice. The mathematical definition of "proof" requires absolute assurance that the proposition cannot be overturned. It is better to think like a mathematician and recognize what may be convincing is *not* necessarily proof.
Another example came when I wrote an editorial about the plans Taliban in Afghanistan had to destroy some priceless Buddhist Bamyan cliff carvings. I had commented that it was unfortunate that the world press had latched onto the story and was giving it so much coverage. It seemed clear to me that it was a show of strength by the Taliban and a call for attention. Without the media attention most of their motive would dry up.
A reader with a journalistic background wrote to me and said it is *always*, *always* better for there to be press coverage of the news. He gave me three examples that he claimed were proof of his contention. I said that three examples could not be proof.
That was when he said I was looking at this like a mathematician. The *real* world does not follow mathematical rules. To me he was getting it backwards. Mathematics and logic may not follow real world rules, but the real world does follow mathematical rules. Examples do not prove a rule in the real world for the same logical reasons they do not in mathematics. Three examples do not exhaust all possible cases.
I *will* grant that it is frequently better for the press to have the freedom to cover all that it wants but there are times it can do great damage. It is better to use mathematical principles in real world thinking. Proof that is not incontrovertible is not really proof. Examples do not prove a contention.
Postscript: What brought this to mind was a current incident for which I would rather the press had not been present. The press here is the Wiki-leaks Internet site. Currently the Wiki-leaks site is releasing documents that purportedly compromise the security of people in Afghanistan cooperating with the United States. Once these people's names are known their lives and the lives of their families are endangered. In the future local people in Afghanistan who might be tempted to work with the United States will have to do so under threat of similar leaks making their cooperation publically known. In this case the publication of information is not in the country's best interest. [This was written in the first hours of the Wiki-leaks news story. Since then many people have expressed the same concerns, but they were new when I wrote this.]
It clearly seems to me is another counter-example to my journalist friend's inflexible rule that publication always helps. [-mrl]
PIRANHA 3D (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Killer fish chasing near-naked women. I miss the good old horror films of the 1970s. This film tries to be one of them and falls on its face. Insultingly the filmmakers thought that modern audiences want lots of nudity and lots of gore, but would not appreciate decent writing or interesting characters. Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
The real heyday for a film like PIRANHA 3D was in the decade from 1975 to 1985. This film would have been made with minimal special effects--perhaps some stock footage of sea life. And it probably would have teenagers who perhaps showed a little flesh--just enough so that the film could not be accused of being too tasteful. And it probably would not play at a normal movie theater. No, this one would have played at the drive-in, and three or so years later it would have been a feature on TV's "Chiller Theater" or whatever was your local equivalent. Perhaps on television they would cut out the little bare breast scenes. Now if later a film came along that wanted to revive some of the fun from this genre they might or might not have a little better writing and actually create some characters. If you want to see a film in this style LAKE PLACID (1999) is probably the best I know of. ANACONDA (1997) is not too bad. PIRANHA 3D would be way down on my list.
The material in PIRANHA 3D was pretty tired stuff even back in the 1970s. The characters are not developed. The plot is just a contrivance to show in detail a number people--mostly young and sexy--being ripped apart by fish and to show off a lot of women's breasts and to grout in the narrow spaces between with the minimum of storyline. This is a film that shows a lot of fish and a lot of breasts. My guess is that it is a lot more breasts than fish, even if you divide by two because they usually show up in pairs--the breasts, not the fish. The fish show up in schools. The breasts are fresh out of schools being that the film is set during Spring Break and there are fifty thousand college students descending on Lake Victoria, Arizona (played skillfully by Lake Havasu, Arizona). Now this film claims to be a remake of Joe Dante's PIRANHA (1978). In that film government is developing the piranha as a weapon. This "remake" uses very little of the earlier film, and here the killer fish come from a prehistoric lake beneath the current lake. Seismic activity opens a crack and the fish can get from the lower lake to the upper lake. Just how that works without the falling water draining the upper lake is never explained. Nor it is explained why fish that have been millions of years in a subterranean lake still have functioning eyes. Somebody did do a little bit of thinking and asks what the piranhas could survive on deep under the earth's surface. The scientist figure, play by Christopher Lloyd, says "cannibalism" with supreme ignorance of the laws of thermodynamics. No species can subsist on cannibalism alone for long. But I digress.
If the film has a main character it is Jake Forester (played by Steven R. McQueen), a local who is hired by Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell). Jones is a film director wanting to make a porno that can use the gratuitous nudity that the Spring Break students are showing off so gratuitously. Jake should be home babysitting his younger brother and sister, but goes off with the Jones instead, lured by seeing his actresses show off their bodies. Did I mention there was a lot of nudity? Actually there is more than that. To do THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON one better (or two, or three, but not necessarily better) there is a two-woman nude underwater ballet. Of course Jake's two little babysitting charges, not being supervised, go off to where they are in the most danger from the man-and-kid-eating fish. They charge off to a tiny island where they are likely to be killed by the fish. So we have a lot of nudity and a lot of fish killing of nubile college students who lure the fish by shaking their body parts.
So how is the film different for being made in 2010 rather than in 1978? Firstly, there is a lot more nudity than Joe Dante would have ever put in his film. That much nudity would have absurd in 1978. People would have watched it very closely, but they still would have thought it was absurd. Secondly, all the carnage would have been a real shocker thirty years ago. PIRANHA 3D is pushing the envelope even for 2010. There are at least three graphic scenes of people somehow being cut in half, and that is just scratching the surface (of the tally, not the people). Also this film was made in Real-D 3D. That is a good process, but the 3D images are really poorly used here. Like a few other recent films, I suspect this film was shot in 2D and modified. Things in the foreground look very flat. By the middle of the film, if you are concentrating at all on the effects (or the nudity) you have forgotten to notice the 3D. The 3D adds nothing to and it makes a lot of the underwater shots murky and blurry. For gosh sakes, do not pay extra to see this film in 3D.
This film is getting a lot of positive attention because it brings back a nostalgic feel, even for 1970s horror films that were only mediocre to start with. PIRANHA 3D is mediocre, even compared to those films. I remember the good old days already and this film is not going to bring them back to me. I rate PRIANHA 3D a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0464154/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/piranha_3d/
THE STONEHENGE GATE by Jack Williamson (copyright 2005 Jack Williamson, 2006 Blackstone Audiobooks, 8 hours 47 minutes, narrated by Harlan Ellison) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
Jack Williamson was around forever, it seemed. He was born in 1908, and sold his first story to "Amazing Stories" in 1928. He left this world in 2006, but not before publishing THE STONEHENGE GATE in 2005. As with many other authors, I've not read as much Williamson as I would have liked. I picked up THE STONEHENGE GATE from audible.com a while back, and decided to listen to it during my long trip to Fort Collins, Colorado to take my daughter to college out there for her freshman year at Colorado State University.
The story is very simple, really. We have four university professors at Eastern New Mexico University who gather for weekly poker games on Friday nights. Will Stone (an English lit professor) is our narrator and viewpoint character, and his companions are Derek (a physicist), Lupe (an archaeologist), and Ram (a linguist). Derek has discovered evidence of some Stonehenge-like rock formations under the sand in the Sahara desert that do not appear to be natural. The gang travels to the site of the formations, and gets whisked away to far reaching corners of the universe to explore and marvel at the wonders of the universe.
Of course, along the way "stuff happens". Lupe and Derek get lost and separated from the rest of the party. Will and Ram go on alone, and end up on a planet where there is a conflict going on between blacks and whites. Will and Ram get embroiled in the conflict, in no small part because Ram, it turns out, appears to be descended from an ancient deity (as evidenced by peculiar markings on his forehead, taken for a birthmark by the four horsemen (as our heroes fancy themselves), but which turns out to be much more), and barely escape the planet to continue on their journey of discovery and their search for Lupe and Derek. Eventually, the horsemen are reunited on a planet where it is discovered that there was an ancient civilization that came to earth, swooped up a bunch of primitives, uplifted them and sent them back to populate the earth.
We've seen a lot of this kind of stuff in the field in the past, and Williamson does well with the subject matter. Several things occurred to me as I listened to the novel that struck me that I wanted to note within this review. First, I suspect that Jack knew this was going to be his last novel. The book is one of discovery, as I've already mentioned. We learn about the history of the human race; we visit weird worlds where ancient, magnificent cities have decayed, crumbled, and been abandoned; we see weird alien creatures and robot guardians; we see moving roads, not unlike the moving sidewalks of early SF stories which are now common in airports. Actually, what we see is a bit of the evolution of science fiction, where the kinds of things that were common back in the Golden Age (and are all too rare in today's SF) made up Jack's background in the field. Oh yeah, that's it--THE SENSE OF WONDER that was so prevalent back in those days but, in my opinion, is sorely missing in today's sf. It seems that Jack was taking one last tour around the universe before he left us a few years ago.
Another thing that struck me was that the trappings of the book could have been lifted (but I'm sure they weren't) straight out of the Stargate universe: we have SG-1 (four adventurers, one black, one female) going through a gate that takes them across the galaxy and indeed the universe; a ship that can open up its own "gate" (from Stargate Atlantis); and a series of gates that take you from one planet to the next (see the recent Stargate Universe). I know this kind of stuff has been done even before the show, but it does show how much I've been influenced by SF on television. There's also the little rift on Brin's "Uplift Saga", with the Ancients (well, the Omegans) swooping in, picking up the primitives from earth, and dumping them back after uplifting them.
The only thing that grated on me was the conflict between the blacks and whites on planet Delta. It wasn't the conflict itself that bothered me, but the extent to which Williamson carried it. It was a huge portion of the book, and could have been lifted out of the Civil Rights period in the 1960s. Jack, we know slavery is bad, and we know that blacks and whites should be considered equals. This is the 21st century--don't beat me over the head with it. You're right, we all know it, so let's move along.
I would be remiss if I didn't remark on the wonderful job Harlan Ellison did in reading this story. He had multiple characters to portray; men, women, children, even machine voices. Every last one of those characters came alive for me as he read them. His insertion of heavy sighs in certain spots were terrific and appropriate. I don't know if Harlan has done much more audiobook reading, but he ought to be doing it.
This really is an old time SF novel. There isn't much characterization. The emphasis is on adventure and discovery. And that's really okay. There isn't enough of that going around these days. I think you'll enjoy this book--I know I did. [-jak]
Charon (letter of comment by Morris Keesan):
In response to Kip Williams's mnemonic for the planets in the 08/20/10 issue of the MT VOID, Cryptoengineer wrote [on Usenet], "If you include Charon (a moon of Pluto), why not other, much larger moons?" [-pt]
In response, Morris Keesan writes:
Because Charon has not been universally considered to be a moon of Pluto. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charon_(moon) and its section "Classification as a moon or dwarf planet":
The center of mass ... of the Pluto-Charon system lies outside either body. Since neither object truly orbits the other, and Charon has 11.6% the mass of Pluto, it has been argued that Charon should be considered to be more than just a satellite of Pluto.
In a draft proposal for the 2006 redefinition of the term, the International Astronomical Union proposed that a planet be defined as a body that orbits the sun that is large enough for gravitational forces to render the object (nearly) spherical. Under this proposal, Charon would have been classified as a planet ...
Back Issues and FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON (letter of comment by George MacLachlan):
George MacLachlan writes:
I suspect that you and Evelyn have mentioned this in a previous issue of the MTVOID, but as I don't keep back issues and can't seem to find a reference in the current issue I need to ask you directly. Do you maintain a publicly accessible, searchable web site with the previous issues of MT VOID on it? I am finally getting to some of the notable SF books that were published in the 1970s and 1980s and would like to see what you and other reviewers might have said about them (e.g., I'm just finishing the Brin "Uplift" trilogy).
Also, thanks for the recommendation of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON. I had never read this book and recalled that you had positive things to say about it on more than one occasion. A very interesting read and well worth the time. [-gm]
This letter encouraged to finish the first stage of getting everything we have accessible on the web. It was impossible on our Geocities site, because of the low disk space limit, but now that we have hosting that we actually pay for, we have a reasonable amount of space.
All of the issues of the MT VOID from 1986 through the present are now available through a table of contents/index of sorts at http://leepers.us/mtvoid/backissues.htm, along with the latter half of 1984, and the first two issues from 1978. Everything from 1995 onward has links to the appropriate issues. 1984, 1986 through 1992, and 1994 show the issue number, but you have to construct the URL yourself (it's not difficult--just append the filename given to "http://leepers.us/mtvoid/"). 1993 and 1985 are still to be indexed. I am not sure what happened to the electronic copies of 1985. However, I have hard copies of all issues from the first one on. (This is still very much a work in progress.)
By the way, in searching the web for copies, I discovered that 5 issues of the MT VOID from 1987 (before it was actually called the MT VOID) are in the University of California (Riverside) Library's fanzine collection. [-ecl]
[This is really the first stab at making the issues available. We will be improving the interface shortly. Please have patience. -mrl]
Difficult Mathematics Problems (letter of comment by Pete Brady):
In response to Mark's comments on mathematics problems in the 08/20/10 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Brady writes:
In your current issue of the MT VOID, you mention some math problems that are easy to state, but take centuries to solve, if indeed they are ever solved. These can include, for example, the four-color map conjecture, and Fermat's infamous Last Theorem.
I have another one, which you may know already, but I'll include it here. I am reading a fascinating book, THE MATH BOOK, Clifford Pickover, Sterling Publishing, 2009. He lists 250 "milestones in the history of mathematics," giving each item one page of text and one page of illustration, however simple or complicated the milestone is. So, the non-mathematician (me) can enjoy the book.
The item I will give here is "polygon circumscribing," simple to state, but remained unsolved until Christoffel Bouwkamp solved it in 1965 after many decades of mathematicians having got it wrong. I will paraphrase Pickover's description.
Draw a circle of radius one inch. Circumscribe the circle with an equilateral triangle, that is, a polygon of 3 equal sides each side tangent to the circle. Now, circumscribe the triangle with another circle, which of course will be larger than the initial circle. Circumscribe that second circle with a polygon of four sides (a square). Circumscribe the square with another circle, and circumscribe that third circle with a polygon of five sides. Keep up this process, each time using a polygon of one more side. It is clear that each circle will be larger than the previous circle. Do this at the rate of one circle a minute. How long (asks the author) will it take for the largest circle to have the radius of our solar system?
Quoting the author: "The assembly of nested polygons and circles will never grow as large as the solar system, nor as large as the Earth, or even as large as a bicycle wheel. The radius of the infinite limit of the process will be the product: R = 1/(cos(pi/3) x cos(pi/4) x cos(pi/5) x ...), which as shown in 1965, has a limiting value of 8.70003662.... However, for decades prior to 1965, mathematicians assumed, and even published, the incorrect value R=12. A great book! Put it on the top of your list. [-ptb]
We are reading the same book. As soon as you mentioned THE MATH BOOK I walked to my reading table eight feet away and picked up my copy. This is a terrific book. I often bemoan the fact that though there are lots of museums of science there are few museums of mathematics. Pickover's book is as close as anything I have ever seen to a comprehensive Museum of Mathematics. He writes understandably. Each page-pair is the equivalent of one exhibit. This is a book I fell in love with on first sight.
I have a special place in my heart for problems that are simply stated but lead to interesting complications. My own piece of apparently original work is a simple question I asked myself when I was in high school and answered when I was in college. Suppose you start with an infinite sized piece of graph paper with the curve y = exp(x). Is there a way to squeeze down the x-axis and squeeze down the y-axis the same way so the graph paper ends up a square with the exponential curve ending up a straight line? A professor at school had his graduate students research the problem and they came up blank. But it is a simple idea.
What happened with the problem you mentioned was *not* that mathematicians were not able to find the limit of that series. It probably was more of a case that the first people who posed it, Kasner and Newman, got the answer wrong and nobody really looked at it and checked it after that until 1965. The problem had the wrong answer stood for lack of attention. It is fairly basic trigonometry that in an n-gon the ratio of the distance from the center to a vertex is 1/cos(pi/n) times the shortest distance to a side. So you just take an infinite product of those for n = 3, 4, 5, 6, ... (Remember pi radians is 180 degrees)
That is similar to the chromosome-count problem. It was discovered in 1923 that humans had 24 pairs of chromosomes, looking at pictures on the chromosomes on a slide. In 1956 the pictures they were able to get became clearer and a recount showed that there were really only 23 pairs there. A visual count had just come up with the wrong number and it took a while for someone to point this out.
Thanks for pointing this out. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
ON EVIL by Terry Eagleton (ISBN 978-0-300-15106-0) does not, in my opinion, add much to the philosophical discussion of evil, but the first section--an analysis of evil in several works of fiction--is worth reading. The works he covers are William Golding's PINCHER MARTIN (and other Golding novels), Flann O'Brien's THE THIRD POLICEMAN, Graham Greene's BRIGHTON ROCK, and Thomas Mann's DOCTOR FAUSTUS, as well as "Macbeth", "Othello", and others in less detail. I mention these, because while Eagleton gives some plot details, a lot of what he says assumes that the reader is familiar with these works. (Well, he is a Professor of English Literature. Perhaps he taught a course on evil in literature and then adapted it for the book?) But as a discussion of what evil is, and why there is evil, the ground covered seems fairly familiar.
SURVIVAL OF THE SICKEST by Dr. Sharon Moalem with Jonathan Prince (ISBN 978-0-06-088965-4) is only partly about what the title says. The first few chapters do, indeed, explain why diabetes and other diseases are actually beneficial in a survival sense. But later chapters drift away from that topic into discussions of epigenetics and other subjects. This is not to say that these are not fascinating, but the title seems poorly chosen. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Sarcasm is the sour cream of wit. -- Author Unknown
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