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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/10/13 -- Vol. 31, No. 45, Whole Number 1753
Table of Contents
A Tale of Two Spocks (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is an amusing car ad starring Leonard Nimoy and Zach Quinto:
Dilemma (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom, but halfway there I realized I did not need a bath. I decided to go instead to go to the washroom, but stopped myself because I realized I was not going primarily to wash. What I really needed to find is the powder room. But I was not putting on any powder and certainly did not want to blow anything up. I am not a little boy so the little boy's room was out. I never liked that name anyway. I determined to go to the restroom, but realized I really did not need a rest. What I wanted was the lavatory. But then this is just a two-dollar name for the washroom. I would have gone to the water closet, but had no water to store. Going potty was out of the question since it suggested I had problems with my state of mind. I might have gone to the gentleman's convenience, but it was no longer an issue of mere convenience. So finally I went outside and did what I had to in the bushes. [-mrl]
Safety in (Prime) Numbers (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
This is the year 2013. Subtract 7 from it and you get 2006. If you divide 2006 by 17, it goes in 118 times with a remainder of zero. That means trouble. That means this is a year of crazed sexuality. Not human sexuality. (No such luck!) But of another animal's sexuality. In specific, this is the year of the cicada.
I just recently wrote about an insect invasion of Argentinean ants. Their invasion has been going on for more than a century. We have a new invasion on our hands. Well, I guess it depends on your point of view since the so-called invaders have been here already, they have just been under ground of late. (Say, this is starting to sound like the Stephen Spielberg version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.) No, the invaders I have in mind were last seen in 1996. In the meantime they have been down under the soil. They are cicadas and they are due any time now. They are just waiting for their cue. What's that? Well, it has to be 64 degrees Fahrenheit eight inches down in the ground. And it has to be a year that when divided by 17 will give a remainder of 7. That is just a fancy way of saying that it happens every 17-years. It happened in 1996 and it will happen again in 2030.
Along the Eastern seaboard from Connecticut down to North Carolina masses of cicadas will dig their way from inside the ground to the surface and fly around trying to mate. They call their mates with a loud buzzing sound.
Don't worry. They are not like the locusts that strip agricultural fields. They have no mouths to eat with any more. Each has already had his or her last meal. Underground they had sucked juices from tree roots. Above ground they have one-track minds they are only trying to mate and the females lay eggs. The females will shed their outer skin and leave it around looking like empty insects. They will wait on a tree until their new outer skin hardens. When it does they are ready to make loud irritating noises to attract mates.
Then they mate, lay eggs, and die. After this orgy of Liebestod they will decompose and there will be little left of them but hollow shells they had shed. The 17-year cicada is a really big invasion. There are also 13-year-cicadas. They come up every 13 years for much the same reason and cycle.
But what people are starting to notice is that cicadas seem to have these cycles that last a prime number of years. The number 17 is divisible by 1 and by 17 and by no other number. The number 13 is divisible by 1 and by 13 and by no other number. Why would cicadas choose a prime number for their cycle length?
Stephen Jay Gould had a suggestion. Predators on cicadas would have to adapt to a 17-year cycle. That is a long time to go without nutrition or to prey on other sources. Few insects could adapt to a 17-year cycle and probably none to a double-length 34-year cycle. On the other hand, if you had an 18-year cicada, a predator that adapted to a 3-year cycle could get them every time the 18-year cicada emerged.
The 18-year cicada, if there ever was one, could be killed off by a predator with a 2-year cycle, a 3-year cycle, a 6-year cycle, and so forth. If there were a 3-year cycle predator, every sixth appearance there would be cicadas to gorge on. That could be a sizable advantage for a predator even if only every sixth generation had the advantage. Having a good feast one out of every six appearances could very much help a predator's survival.
So it is quite possible that without ever knowing what a prime number is cicadas may have found a way to use then to help them survive.
IRON MAN 3 (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
I just got back from seeing IRON MAN 3, and it deserves the favorable reviews it has been getting (78% on the Tomatometer). The general theme of the movie is that Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD following the events of the first Avengers movie and his very near brush with death as he saves the world by pushing an A-bomb through a wormhole. A new terrorist, The Mandarin, (played extremely well by Ben Kingsley) has embarked on a series of Bin Laden like attacks on the USA. Stark is angered, and dares the Mandarin to come at him in his home. It should not come as a surprise that the Mandarin takes him up on his offer.
In the comics The Mandarin is a Chinese villain with ten super-science rings on his fingers that he uses to fight Iron Man. This Mandarin is a quite a bit different, but I'll leave that to the film. Suffice it to say that Ben Kingsley will be remembered a lot more favorably for his portrayal of the Mandarin than for his re-creation of The Hood in THUNDERBIRDS.
This is a movie with a rather complex plot that actually more or less makes sense. I've decided to avoid saying much more about it as it would spoil a lot of the fun. There is a good bit of Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) on display, and you might say that she has a very active role in the film's finale. There is a strong focus on Tony Stark as a hero without his suit, and he spends at least half the movie outside of the suit. The scripting is witty, with just the right tone of periodic levity to keep things from getting too grim.
In a touching interlude mid-film, a young boy named Harley (played by Ty Simpkins) helps Stark to repair the Iron Man suit. Jon Favreau is a lot of fun as Happy Hogan, Stark's bodyguard. This is a movie with lots of "big explosions" and probably the largest CGI team ever, but if you liked the first two Iron Man movies, you'll like IM3. IM3 also lacks some of the odd touches (aliens on flying surfboards) that sometimes made THE AVENGERS seem unserious.
The movie concludes with all plot threads tied up, Tony and Pepper in a happy place, and a new start for Tony. This could be the last of the Iron Man movies, or it could easily be followed with a new trilogy.
Rated +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. Recommended for tweens and up; too intense for younger children. There is an enormous amount of fighting, some of it pretty realistic, zero sex but a certain amount of bikini T&A, and a few scenes of peril/pain.
************************ spoiler warning **************************
There is one aspect of the film that seemed inconsistently handled. Exactly what it takes to kill an Extremis infected super-soldier seems to vary, and in particular, Aldrich Killian, the leader of Advanced Idea Mechanics (well played by Guy Pearce), is the Energizer Bunny of the bad guys. IM3 would be a better movie if this point was more carefully thought out.
It should also be noted that the movie is more or less based on a six-issue story arc published in the Iron Man comic during 2005-6. I'm not a reader of the comic, but from the Wikipedia article there does seem to be a lot of plot parallels with the movie.
One observation is that IM3 pits mechanically enhanced men (Tony Stark, Col. Rhodes) against biologically enhanced AIM super-soldiers. However, the movie ends with both Pepper Potts and Tony Stark infected with some version of the Extremis "virus." The message seems to be that in the end, even heroes (and heroines) will become "enhanced" once top-level scientists like Stark have perfected the technology.
Finally, the end glosses over what could be a major change in the Iron Man character. It is implied that both Tony Stark and Pepper Potts remain infected with the Extremis "virus," which, even if controlled or moderated from how AIM used it, would make them both superhuman. This at least has the advantage of explaining how Tony can survive getting bashed around in the Iron Man suit all the time. Of course it is always possible Stark invented inertial dampers or used vibranium in building the suit.
THE PARTICLE AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE by Sean Carroll (book review by Greg Frederick):
This is a review of a new book detailing the recent events in the search for the Higgs Boson at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) and thru history. The title is intended to be dramatic to get potential readers interested but the Higgs Boson is not at the end of the Universe. To begin with some definitions are needed; a boson is a force carrying particle and fermions are the particles that make up all of known matter in the Universe. That is to say, fermions make up all atomic matter particles this matter which we understand. Fermions are basically two types of particles which are quarks and leptons. No one knows what dark matter is made of at this point in time so that material is mostly excluded from this discussion. Quarks are the fundamental particles which make protons and neutrons. Electrons and neutrinos, for example are leptons. Finally to understand the name of the LHC you need to know that protons and neutrons are called hadrons. Protons are being collided at high velocities which are near the speed of light. At the LHC they fire two beams of particles along two pathways, one going clockwise and the other going counterclockwise. Then both beams are directed toward each other and scientists watch what happens during the collisions. The reason for building bigger and more energetic accelerators is to discover or generate bigger or heaver particles like the Higgs Boson for example.
The author goes on to explain that the Higgs Boson is the last particle missing from the Standard Model which describes all particle physics today. It completes a theory which has been in development for decades. Peter Higgs and other scientists in the 1960's proposed the existence of this boson and it has taken this long to build a machine (the LHC) which can detect it (actually create it). The Higgs is important to understanding why different particles have differing mass. Why some are more massive than others. It's really the Higgs field which imparts greater mass to the more massive particles and lesser mass to the less massive particles. The Higgs Boson is really a vibration of the Higgs field. The most recent findings from the LHC indicates that they have actually found the Higgs Boson (therefore the field too) but data is still being collected to confirm this. An analogy the author uses to explain the Higgs field at work is the following; you and Angelina Jolie are at a party separately walking across a room filled with many people. You will be slowed down a bit to avoid running into people who are standing around talking. But Angelina would have many people coming up to her for an autograph or to take a picture with her. She would move thru the room much slower than you. The people at this party are like the Higgs field. And Angelina is like a more massive quark particle compared to you.
The cost of doing this type of particle physics experimentation is very expensive. The approximate cost of the LHC is around nine billion dollars and it took many countries from around the World to contribute to the funding to make this happen. Now that the Higgs boson has probably been found what is next? The Higgs boson could be a way to discovering more about exactly what Dark Matter is. Higgs Bosons may interact with Dark Matter. Since Dark Matter makes up about 23% of all material in the Universe (Dark Energy makes up about 72%) and all atoms (the stuff we understand) makes up 5%; the Higgs Boson maybe a way to learn more about what much of the Universe is really made of. This Higgs discovery could be a portal to even more discoveries.
The author makes clear and understandable explanations of particle physics today and its' history. Sean Carroll does a good job as Carl Sagan did in the past to relate the complicated science of today to the lay person. Carroll does provide three appendixes in the back to go into more detail if the reader wishes also. [-gf]
Large Bill in a Small Town (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comments about an ill-remembered story in the 05/03/13 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
"[A] large bill that made the rounds in a small town"--I have a vague feeling that this is from a Mark Twain story. [-fl]
It probably is Twain's "The Million-Pound Banknote" that I am thinking of. It has been made into two television shows, a television mini-series, and a movie. [-ecl]
COLD CITY (letter of comment by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
In response to some off-line comments on Dale's review of COLD CITY in the 02/22/13 issue of the MT VOID, Dale Skran writes:
[A friend had] two comments. Firstly he does not fully agree with my characterization of Jack as "Batman made flesh," finding Jack much more fully realized than Batman. I agree with this comment, although it's not surprising given the large number of Repairman Jack novels that F. Paul Wilson has written. In fact, it is precisely this point that I am getting at--Repairman Jack is the Batman fully realized, as if Batman were a real person. If Jack differs from the Batman, it is mainly to make him more real, and more human.
Secondly, he feels I have confused The Lady with Gaia/Gaea. It was not my intention to suggest that The Lady in the Repairman Jack series is in fact Gaea, the wife of Uranus [and Zeus, and Pontus, and Poseidon!], mother of Cronus, the Titans, Typhon, and Aphrodite, among others. However, Gaia/Gaea is often described as "the personification of the Earth" and that is exactly what The Lady is. Also, I was making an analogy to the Gaia Hypothesis originated by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, which suggests that organisms interact with their non-living surroundings to from a single, self-regulating system that maintains conditions that allow life to exist on Earth. Although I agree with him that The Lady is *not* Gaia/Gaea, there are significant similarities between the two, and there seems little doubt the F. Paul Wilson took his inspiration both from the mythical Gaia/Gaea, and from the Gaia Hypothesis. [-dls]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION (ISBN 978-0-14-311810-7) is annotated by Richard Beeman, described on the back cover as "one of the most respected constitutional scholars in the nation." Yet he makes several mistakes, not just by expressing his opinion as fact (Article IV, Section 1), but by making actual misstatements of fact (Article V), and in failing to note both the implications of parts of the Constitution, and the contradictions inherent in them.
Article IV, Section 1, is the "full faith and credit clause". Of it, Beeman says, "For example, if the state of Massachusetts recognizes the marriage of a gay couple as legally valid, then other states, even if they do not have laws permitting the marriage of a gay couple, must recognize that marriage as valid." I would also interpret it this way, but this interpretation is not as universally accepted as Beeman implies.
Article IV, Section 2, in what Beeman describes as what "may well be the most reprehensible provision in the original U.S. Constitution." It required that all citizens and states assist in the return of runaway slaves, even from those states and territories where slavery was prohibited. But really, it is just the logical continuation of Section 1 of that article. If a non-slave state has to give "full faith and credit" to the acts of a slave state, then it must, for example, recognize a contract that makes a slave the property of another person. One may argue, of course, that it seems to be only slavery that requires the active assistance of citizens in other states; nothing in the Constitution requires a state to assist in apprehending someone who has committed murder in another state. However, ultimately what is reprehensible is the Constitution's implicit acceptance of slavery (which it never even names)--all the veiled references to it are merely accessories after the fact.
This is also what leads to a contradiction. If all states must give "full faith and credit ... to the Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State" then we have the situation where a non-slave state must recognize the acts of a slave state in creating and maintaining slaves, but the slave state must also recognize the acts of a non-slave state in declaring all people within their borders free. Clearly, both cannot be the case.
Article IV, Section 3, sets down the rules for creating new states, and in particular, "no new State shall be formed or erected in the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any state formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned." There is some question as to whether the last clause even applies to dividing a state, given that the two cases (division and union) are separated by a semi-colon, while the last clause is set off with only a comma. If it does not apply, there is no way to divide a state. If it does apply, the legislature of that state has to agree. Somehow, I don't think that the Virginia legislature agreed to have West Virginia split off.
Article V lists three sections of the Constitution that cannot be amended. But it does not list itself, meaning that theoretically an amendment could be passed deleting the limitations of Article V, and then another amendment could be passed changed those other sections.
For Article VI, Beeman observes it was modified by the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which said that for all citizens eighteen years of age or older, the right to vote shall not be denied on the basis of age. Beeman, however, expresses this as "guaranteeing all American citizens eighteen years or older the right to vote." Given that a twenty-year-old America citizen living in Puerto Rico cannot vote for President, Beeman's statement is misleading at best and just plain wrong at worst.
It would seem that the Fourteenth Amendment would grant all persons born (or naturalized) in the United Sates the same privileges. In particular, it would seem as though it would grant the vote to women and Native Americans. Then again, carried to its limit, it would also seem to remove all age restrictions from voting. Apparently, it was not so interpreted. (For that matter, it would seem as though it made the Fifteenth Amendment unnecessary.)
The idea of amending the "un-amendable" parts of the Constitution by first amending the part that makes them "un-amendable" reminds me of Kurt Godel's citizenship hearing. Godel claimed to have discovered a loophole in the United States Constitution that would allow a dictatorship here, and although he apparently never specified what it was, the consensus seems to be that it involved amending away the parts of the Constitution that prevented it. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I suspect that one of the reasons we create fiction is to make sex exciting. --Gore VidalTweet
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