MT VOID 12/26/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 26, Whole Number 1838

MT VOID 12/26/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 26, Whole Number 1838

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/26/14 -- Vol. 33, No. 26, Whole Number 1838

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):

January 8: MIMIC (film) and "Mimic" by Donald Wollheim (story), 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM
January 22: KINDRED by Octavia Butler, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
    Library, 7PM 

Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):
	January 2: TBD

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

Christmas Spirit (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I Love Christmas.

Ah, it's Christmas. You see the twinkling in children's eyes and their amazement. Then I hear, "You mean there was a comic strip based on the characters from "A Charlie Brown Christmas!!!!"

I hate Christmas. [-mrl]

Layout (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

As noted in the 10/26/12 issue of the MT VOID, I have been told that to be a true fanzine, one must have illustrations and layout. Since we would not want to accidentally disqualify ourselves as a fanzine, here's another Lovecraftian illustration found on alt.horror.cthulhu:

/         \
|          \
|           \
|            \
\        __\/_\
 \       \_/\_/\___
  \/  / |  \ | \   \
 _/ _/ _|  | \  \  |_
/  |  / /  / /  |  \ \_
| /  /  | |  \   \  \  \

by: "Spurious Logik (Sir)"

I guess the MT VOID is set for 2014 now. [-ecl]

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for January (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Greetings, fans of Turner Classic Movies. This is my monthly guide to what films of interest are coming up on TCM. I have no connection to TCM other than an interest in movies, but the Turner network has put on cable a genuine film festival that has no known ending. That is quite an impressive undertaking. So I am responding by each month pointing out films of interest on TCM that my readers might not find familiar but would have some interest in. All times listed are from the Eastern Time zone.

Occasionally in my monthly guide I point out a film that I am not recommending as a particularly good film, but it is a film that is of historical interest. If you are a fan of Ray Harryhausen you will probably have some interest in JACK THE GIANT KILLER. (1962). It seems that when Ray Harryhausen was trying to finance THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD he went to producer Edward Small. Reportedly he never got past Small's secretary. Harryhausen got his Arabian Nights story made and it was a huge success. Small regretted not having financed SINBAD, but in Hollywood wishes sometimes come true. Small decided he had a second chance to make THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, sort of.

Small decided he would do his own Harryhausen-style fantasy, JACK THE GIANT KILLER. He had the same director, Nathan Juran; the same hero, Kerwin Mathews; and the same villain, Torin Thatcher. He did not hire Ray Harryhausen for special effects. Instead he hired Jim Danforth, an animator who did special effects in the Harryhausen vein. This probably would have left Small open for legal action for essentially stealing so much from SINBAD. He decided to reedit the finished film into a musical, making it look like actors were singing by just running the film backwards and forwards to make the actors move their mouths. This rather creative idea worked incredibly badly. Mercifully this version of JACK THE GIANT KILLER has become a rare film, though perhaps not nearly rare enough. Eventually the original cut of the film came out of hiding and the story behind the film proved to be more interesting than the film itself. Danforth, by the way, was one of the lights of Project Unlimited, the same group who did the effects for The Outer Limits. JACK THE GIANT KILLER aims for a younger audience than did THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but it is not a bad fantasy film in its non-musical form. JACK THE GIANT KILLER will run as part of a Nathan Juran mini-festival on Friday, January 16, at 1:30 PM.

The full slate of Nathan-Juran-directed films on January 16 is:

 6:30 AM   HELLCATS OF THE NAVY (1957)
 8:15 AM   SIEGE OF THE SAXONS (1963)
10:00 AM   THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)
 3:15 PM   ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (1958)
 4:30 PM   FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964)
 6:30 PM   20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

Stanley Kramer frequently fearlessly courted controversy when he directed a film. INHERIT THE WIND (1960) is an adaptation of the 1955 play of the same title by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. The play is loosely based on the events of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial when a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was put on trial for having broken the state law that made it illegal to teach evolution in the classroom. William Jennings Bryan offered to prosecute for the state. But the trial became a national sensation when Clarence Darrow agreed to lead the defense. These were the two most famous and controversial lawyers in the country. The result was a media circus and under it all two great lawyers debated about the separation of Church and State. Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, and Gene Kelly star. March gives a terrific performance that really captures the mannerisms of William Jennings Bryan. Much of the courtroom testimony is taken verbatim from the trial record. [Sunday, January 25, 4 PM]

What is the best film of the month? I would have to pick INHERIT THE WIND. No question in my mind. But a runner up and certainly a great film is I WANT TO LIVE (1958). The story is of a prostitute and crook sentenced to die in the gas chamber who repeatedly receives delays just moments before execution. This film is about what this did to her. Susan Hayward, never my favorite actress, is just excellent for once. The film is directed by Robert Wise, who studied the process of execution in detail and I think even attended an execution, and he was the right man to make this film a truly harrowing experience. [-mrl]

INSIDE THE MIND OF LEONARDO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: There is much that is captivating and compelling in this study into the mind of one of history's great geniuses. INSIDE THE MIND OF LEONARDO is an 85-minute biography of Leonardo da Vinci dramatically performed by Peter Capaldi in Leonardo's own words from his numerous and bountiful but formerly private notebooks. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was one of the great polymaths of history. Born poor and illegitimate and having to teach himself, he educated himself in painting, sculpture, engineering, anatomy, geology, botany, science, philosophy, ... and the list goes on. He was careful to record his thoughts in his illustrated notebooks many thousand of pages long. Leonardo is probably best known for having painted "The Last Supper" and "Mona Lisa". He had a life- long love-hate relationship with humanity.

For INSIDE THE MIND OF LEONARDO director and co-writer Julian Jones gives us a biography of Leonardo. The story of Leonardo's life is told by titles on the screen and excerpts from his writing, many of which have never been public before this. They are a given dramatic reading by Peter Capaldi (the current Doctor Who).

From an early age the boy genius had determined that he would leave his mark upon the world. As he put it, "I intend to leave a memory of myself in the minds of others." Having taught himself he determined for himself his own scientific philosophy. He is quoted as thinking that if causes lead to phenomena we experience, then we should be able to take experience and determine the causes. One amusing sequence has him thinking about the geometry of anatomy with geometric figures forming in air to illustrate the proportions.

One can tell that the writings that are quoted are the product of an unorthodox man. Early on he is looking at the flow of water and comparing it to the shapes taken by long hair. Sometimes there is wit in his notebook comments and sometimes there is even a bit of vulgarity. He himself was at one point of his career accused of sodomy and was forced to flee to another city. Later in life his disappointments and frustrations, as spoken by Capaldi, must have been overwhelming. One episode deals with a sculpture of a horse three times natural scale. For sad and ironic reasons we learn why the sculpture is no longer around.

The film was shot in Italy in 3D, apparently in the same regions where Leonardo lives. We flit from one great history city to another. Italy is full of natural and manmade wonders for the camera to lovingly caress. The camera lingers on the picturesque scenery to the point that the viewer almost to the point that it is frustrating that we are not hearing more of Leonardo's words.

Kim Gaboury 's camera work calms the mind to rest in the warm Italian sun, but rather than sleep, it challenges the viewer to look around and think outside the box. We should see the world as new and unexplored, but to challenge the mind to do that exploration. I rate INSIDE THE MIND OF LEONARDO a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Internet Security (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):

In response to Mark's comments on Internet security in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Walter Meissner writes:

I recently took the free online course given by on Malicious Software and the Underground Economy delivered by the University of London at Holloway.

It is quite an eye-opener on what is going on out there.

What started out as some IRC Chat turf wars in the 1970s, later became "look what I can do" exploits (but without mischief) in the 80s, an then became exploits with minor mischief in the 1990s, but now has turned into now-we-do-it-for-profit cyber crimes with incredible sophistication in programming methods to get around the 'good' guys that are trying to analyze the malware and come up with anti-malware protection software. The same malware can have multiple AV signatures (100s, 1000s or more) because of 'equivalent' programming constructs, obfuscation of code and subsequent encryption of malware whose true purpose is only revealed when actually executed. Even to find out the exact 'code word' that triggers it is difficult to determine.

To thwart efforts to exercise and analyze malware in a sandbox environment (usually an emulator of the OS that runs at a much slower speed) the malware has embedded in it "Red Pills" (term taken from movie Matrix) that figure out in what type of environment they are running in and deliberately NOT execute the code when in a sandbox.

And the number of "new" malware generated is about 100,000 per day.

The good guys are have a tough time keeping up and the things anti- malware software has to check for become prohibitively time- consuming.

The targets used to be primarily computers but smartphones (especially Android platforms) have become major targets as well.

Nation-State cyber warfare shows a sophistication that exceeds the common cyber criminal software, and, I would expect that, soon those techniques will show up in the common malware.

So how will this all end??

A complete robust redesign of the Internet and all the devices connected to it for a trusted computing environment??

Instituting early educational programs, like shop or home econ in high school, but on computer administration, etc so that everyone knows how to maintain strict computer security techniques?? (The majority of people don't have a clue.)

Or just continue this yin/yang existence between malware and anti- malware efforts??

P.S. Technically, I don't feel safe at all.
a) One can think their system hasn't been comprised ... but then may turn out that it is.
b) Relying on others to keep my information secure ... is highly dependent on the efforts of that entity (financial institutions may be more secure that stores like Target)
c) ???


MODERNIST CUISINE (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Nathan Myhrvold's MODERNIST CUISINE in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

Are you sure? Have you ever eaten French fries prepared over a two hour period, using a vacuum sealer, an ultrasound machine and a $2000 vacuum chamber? (I'd go out on a limb to say I doubt it would be worth it either, but I have no direct evidence to support the contention.) [-pr]

Opera (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):

In response to the quote about opera in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Walter Meissner writes:

I can never figure out what language operas are sung in, so even if it is in English, I'll never know what is said. [-wm]

Dieting and Longevity (letter of comment by Walter Meissner):

In response to the comments about dieting in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Walter Meissner writes:

As far as Mme. Calment eating a lot, Wikipedia says that she weighed 99 pounds at the end of her life. So either she had efficient metabolism (if she did eat a lot) or she just (barely) ate her daily caloric requirements.

She did, however, after age 85 to about 100 have a physically active lifestyle. That is also a determining factor to health and aging, in general.

I am sure genes have a lot to do this it, but other factors are also in play.

Wikipedia - Jeanne Calment (health & lifestyle):

As far as the telomeres, an early indication of their effect was from the animals clones (Dolly the sheep and others) results.

It turned out that none of these cloned animals lived very long. And they had very unusual diseases/cancers in their early to mid life, ones that are rarely found in those animals.

It was then determined that their telomeres had the age of the animal from which they were cloned, not the age of the cloned animal.

Also, they found that offspring bred from cloned parents had the same afflictions, but not when only one parent was a clone and the other was not.

Genetics - Are Telomeres The Key To Aging And Cancer?

Wikipedia - Telomere

UCSF - Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging

Columbia - Extension of Cell Life-Span and Telomere Length in Animals Cloned


Doctor Who and OFCS Awards (letter of comment by Kevin R.):

In response to Mark's comments on Doctor Who in the 12/19/14 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R. writes:

I would have gone with:

DOCTOR WHO: The Doctor and The Daleks

DW is the title of the series, after all. [-kr]

In response to the Online Film Critics Society film awards in the same issue, Kevin writes:

Great list. I've seen all but a few, and those I'd like to. [-kr]

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

Well, I finally got around to reading THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES by Charles Darwin (ISBN 978-0-451-52906-0). What follows are just random comments.

- "It is, therefore, of the highest importance to gain a clear insight into the means of modification and coadaptation. At the commencement of my observations it seemed to me probable that a careful study of domesticated animals and of cultivated plants would offer the best chance of making out this obscure problem."

Of course, this is only half the problem. We see modification all the time, but there needs to be an explanation of why some modifications are retained and others lost in the ocean of change. Natural selection is Darwin's answer, and to the extent that there are modifications deemed favorable by the breeder/farmer, these survive while other, less desirable modifications do not.

- "efficient cause"

An Aristotelian term, meaning something separate from the object being changed that interacts with it to cause the change. In most of THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, this would be something in the environment.

- "Not one of our domestic animals can be named which has not in some country drooping ears; and the view which has been suggested that the drooping is due to disuse of the muscles of the ear, from the animals being seldom much alarmed, seems probable."

However, this would be inheritance of acquired characteristics. As we will see, Darwin seemed to believe in this, mostly because the knowledge of how characteristics are passed on to the next generation (genes, chromosomes, etc.) was unknown to him. (Darwin published THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES in 1859. Mendel first published in 1866, but his ideas about inheritance did not take hold until 1900, and DNA as the material was not established until the 1940s.) Could it be that when breeders select for "domesticity" they have an unconscious bias for drooping ears, which look more "relaxed"? (See the Russian experiments on domesticating foxes.)

- "the mysterious laws of correlation." Some of these can be explained by the location of genes--genes located on the same chromosome will tend to be correlated, and even more so the closer together they are.

- "I do not believe, as we shall presently see, that the whole amount of difference between the several breeds of the dog has been produced under domestication; I believe that a small part of the difference is due to their being descended from distinct species."

Actually, the current belief is that they all are descended from one species. (If one believes that species divisions are based in large part on mutual fertility, then Darwin's belief makes no sense, since all dog "varieties" can breed with all other varieties, and it seems unlikely that two or more species could merge into one.)

- "Man can hardly select, or only with much difficulty, any deviation of structure excepting such as is externally visible; and indeed he rarely cares for what is internal."

This is less true now, of course, with X-rays and other diagnostic tools, but in Darwin's day, by the time they had opened up an animal to see what was inside, it was extremely unlikely that they would survive to reproduce.

- "Certainly no clear line of demarcation has as yet been drawn between species and sub-species--that is, the forms which in the opinion of some naturalists come very near to, but do not quite arrive at, the rank of species; or, again, between sub-species and well-marked varieties, or between lesser varieties and individual differences." This is still true, though the "inter-breeding rule" seems to be what most people use for most species.



These are so important that Darwin puts them in all capital letters.

- "Where many species of a genus have been formed through variation, circumstances have been favourable for variation; and hence we might expect that the circumstances would generally still be favourable to variation. On the other hand, if we look at each species as a special act of creation, there is no apparent reason why more varieties should occur in a group having many species,"

And this is why the previous observations are important. If speciation is randomly generated by a higher being, there is no reason for this to be true. But if it follows rules, then there is an explanation.

- "Owing to this struggle, variations, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if they be in any degree profitable to the individuals of a species, in their infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to their physical conditions of life, will tend to the preservation of such individuals, and will generally be inherited by the offspring."

This is the key point, but again, Darwin seems to be including inheritance of acquired characteristics ("from whatever cause proceeding").

- "It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them."

Darwin recognizes that humans can increase their food production and consciously limit their reproduction, so strict Malthusian rules do not apply. (See "agriculture", "The Green Revolution", etc.) But what is interesting is that Darwin refers to it applying to the "whole animal ... kingdom", while clearly excluding humans from that group.

- "What natural selection cannot do, is to modify the structure of one species, without giving it any advantage, for the good of another species;"

Even without genetics, Darwin got this one right. Exceptions (symbiotic relationships, for example) evolve because there is an advantage to both sides.

- "with animals and plants a cross between different varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another strain, gives vigour and fertility to the offspring; and on the other hand, that CLOSE interbreeding diminishes vigour and fertility;"

It is fascinating that this is considered true for plants and animals, but often not for people, where "purity of blood" seems to be many people's belief.

- "These anomalous forms may be called living fossils; they have endured to the present day, from having inhabited a confined area, and from having been exposed to less varied, and therefore less severe, competition."

Darwin later explains why we find no intermediate forms: the intermediate forms would be the common ancestors from millions of years ago. Yet he needs to explain why some ancient forms are still around.

- "naturalists have not defined to each other's satisfaction what is meant by an advance in organisation. Among the vertebrata the degree of intellect and an approach in structure to man clearly come into play."

This may have been the method then, but not any more. The closest relatives (genetically speaking) to primates are bats, yet in intelligence it would seem that crows are smarter. (Of course, this assumes we know what we mean by "smarter.") The use of structure is important. For example, mammals are defined by structure, whether it is the "has hair", "secretes milk", or "has three bones in the inner ear" rule.

- "the continued existence of lowly organisms offers no difficulty; for natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, does not necessarily include progressive development--it only takes advantage of such variations as arise and are beneficial to each creature under its complex relations of life."

This is something most people do not understand. There is a belief that the most elaborate or complex organisms represent the peak of evolution, the apex of the "tree." But everything that still exists is at the end (the apex) of its branch. It has evolved enough to survive, which is the goal.

- "the advancement of the whole class of mammals, or of certain members in this class, to the highest grade would not lead to their taking the place of fishes." This seems an argument as to why "progressive development" is not required. Fishes are arguably "less developed" than humans, yet humans cannot take the place of fishes. However, the greater development of humans has resulted in them being able to wipe out whole species of fishes, so one can argue that the greater development has led humans to be more adapted to survival than the fishes--or just about any other species.

(Of course, this is only in the short term. If we kill off enough species, we will create an unstable situation that kills us off as well.)

- "I think there can be no doubt that use in our domestic animals has strengthened and enlarged certain parts, and disuse diminished them; and that such modifications are inherited."

Here is where Darwin explicitly endorses the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. His phrasing regarding use and disuse, however, is a clue that he is endorsing the Lamarckian theory which involves the use or disuse of characteristics in response to the environment. Lamarck's theory specifically excluded such commonly offered "counter-examples" as male circumcision and docking boxers' tails. Those are caused by external forces, not use or disuse. And indeed Darwin later says:

- "The evidence that accidental mutilations can be inherited is at present not decisive; but the remarkable cases observed by [Charles-Edouard] Brown-Sequard in guinea-pigs, of the inherited effects of operations, should make us cautious in denying this tendency."

Brown-Sequard is perhaps best known (though not by name) for the claim that extracts of monkey glands "rejuvenated sexual prowess." This is because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" in which a character hopes to rejuvenate himself by injecting himself with monkey glands. (Okay, it's a bit of a spoiler, but the story is over a hundred years old and a classic.)

However, Brown-Sequard also claimed that he had induced a form of epilepsy in guinea pigs by operating on their spinal cords, and that this was inherited by their offspring. The current belief is that this was possibly due to a transmitted disease, or just anomalous results.

- "According to the ordinary view of each species having been independently created, we should have to attribute this similarity in the enlarged stems of these three plants, not to the vera causa of community of descent, and a consequent tendency to vary in a like manner, but to three separate yet closely related acts of creation."

Again Darwin points out the illogicality of the orderliness and structure of the natural world if everything was created in a "separate act of creation."

- "He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary, both under nature and under domestication, in this particular manner, so as often to become striped like the other species of the genus; and that each has been created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus."

Again, Darwin points out the underlying structure to nature is not consistent with independent acts of creation for all species.

- "animals displaying early transitional grades of the structure will seldom have survived to the present day, for they will have been supplanted by their successors, which were gradually rendered more perfect through natural selection."

Here is Darwin's explanation of the lack of transitional forms.

- "When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science."

Mark compares taking polls about scientific facts to a kindergarten class voting on whether their pet hamster is a boy or a girl.

- "natural selection would have had different materials or variations to work on, in order to arrive at the same functional result; and the structures thus acquired would almost necessarily have differed. On the hypothesis of separate acts of creation the whole case remains unintelligible."

Again, the result of species applying different adaptations to achieve the same result makes a lot of sense in an evolving world, but none in a created one. Why create (for example) several different organs which all are organs of sight rather than just one?

- "if on the whole the power of stinging be useful to the social community, it will fulfil all the requirements of natural selection, though it may cause the death of some few members."

That is, if it is useful to the community overall, those communities which have members who tend to produce stinging insects will survive to produce more, while those communities who do not produce stinging insects will die off.

- "On the other hand, the transportal of the lower eye of a flat- fish to the upper side of the head, and the formation of a prehensile tail, may be attributed almost wholly to continued use, together with inheritance." Another Lamarckian claim.

- "The foregoing rules and facts, on the other hand, appear to me clearly to indicate that the sterility, both of first crosses and of hybrids, is simply incidental or dependent on unknown differences in their reproductive systems;"

Here Darwin indicates that the cross-breeding rule for determining species will not work in all cases.

Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record.

It may seem like we find all sorts of thing, but the ratio of number of finds to number of animals (or plants) is microscopic.

- "Sir W. Thompson concludes that the consolidation of the crust can hardly have occurred less than twenty or more than four hundred million years ago, but probably not less than ninety-eight or more than two hundred million years. These very wide limits show how doubtful the data are; and other elements may have hereafter to be introduced into the problem."

Thompson is in the ballpark for *oceanic* crust, but the continental crust is between 3.7 and 4.28 *billion* years old, making him off by a factor of 2000 or so.

- "Mr. Croll estimates that about sixty million years have elapsed since the Cambrian period, but this, judging from the small amount of organic change since the commencement of the Glacial epoch, appears a very short time for the many and great mutations of life, which have certainly occurred since the Cambrian formation; and the previous one hundred and forty million years can hardly be considered as sufficient for the development of the varied forms of life which already existed during the Cambrian period."

Croll's estimate is slightly better: the Cambrian was from about 541 million years ago to about 485 million years ago, making him off by a factor of "only" 16.

- "Even the wide interval between birds and reptiles has been shown by the naturalist just quoted to be partially bridged over in the most unexpected manner, on the one hand, by the ostrich and extinct Archeopteryx, and on the other hand by the Compsognathus, one of the Dinosaurians--that group which includes the most gigantic of all terrestrial reptiles."

Darwin cites the interval between birds and reptiles as wider than that between various genera of mammals, yet it is no longer clear than this is so. We have now declared birds to be dinosaurs, and consigned the category "reptiles" to the dust bin, at least in modern cladistic taxonomy. (Reptiles have no common ancestor that does not also include birds among its descendents.)

- "To attempt to compare members of distinct types in the scale of highness seems hopeless; who will decide whether a cuttle-fish be higher than a bee--that insect which the great Von Baer believed to be 'in fact more highly organised than a fish, although upon another type?'"

The problem, as Darwin notes, is that some things are not commensurate. Which is better, a good steak or a dish of good ice cream? Which is more beautiful, a sunset or a flower?

- "Notwithstanding this general parallelism in the conditions of Old and New Worlds, how widely different are their living productions!"

If species were created for their environments, why make two entirely different sets of plants and animals for basically identical environments?

- "there would be great difficulty in their transportal across the sea, and therefore we can see why they do not exist on strictly oceanic islands. But why, on the theory of creation, they should not have been created there, it would be very difficult to explain."

If everything was created, why not create broad populations on oceanic islands, instead of having just a few species (particularly of land mammals?

As for populating islands with plants and animals, Surtsey (an island off the coast of Iceland formed by a volcanic eruption from November 1963 through June 1967) is a perfect laboratory. According to Wikipedia:

Plants began growing even before the eruption ended. By 2008, 69 species of plant had been found on Surtsey, of which about 30 had become established. More species continue to arrive, at a typical rate of roughly 2-5 new species per year.

Birds began nesting on Surtsey three years after the eruptions ended, and twelve species are now regularly found on the island. Marine life is abundant, both mammalian and invertebrate. Insects arrived very early: wind-borne, flying, and floating in on driftwood. A large, grass-covered tussock that arrived in 1974 had 663 land invertebrates on it, mostly alive. There are also slugs, earthworms, spiders, and beetles. As yet, there are apparently no land mammals, but since the island is only a half square mile it is not clear there is enough space.

- "if we had a real pedigree, a genealogical classification would be universally preferred"

Of course, now with DNA analysis, we pretty much have this.

- "Maupertuis' philosophical axiom 'of least action' leads the mind more willingly to admit the smaller number; and certainly we ought not to believe that innumerable beings within each great class have been created with plain, but deceptive, marks of descent from a single parent."

This is another version of "God created the Earth 6000 years ago, along with all the fossils and geological evidence to make us think it was billions of years old." As has been noted, there is nothing that makes this any more believable than "God created the Earth last Tuesday, along with all the memories and fossils and geological evidence to make us think it was billions of years old."

- "I believe that animals are descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number."

Later, Darwin actually seems to indicate he thinks there is really only one point of origin, but that may have seemed too radical even for him.

- "In short, we shall have to treat species in the same manner as those naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely artificial combinations made for convenience. This may not be a cheering prospect; but we shall at least be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable essence of the term species."

I am not sure why naturalists were so willing to consider the larger divisions more artificial than the smaller ones, unless it was that to many the species seemed the final dividing line across which fertile cross-breeding could not take place (although Darwin gave several counter-examples). [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.
                                          --W. Somerset Maugham

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