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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 10/16/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 16, Whole Number 1880
Table of Contents
Astronaut Kjell Lindgren's Sasquan Videos:
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren's videos for Sasquan's big events are available at http://sasquan.org/2015/10/kjell-lindgren-videos/.
(This was the first time that part of the official Worldcon ceremonies have been held in outer space.)
Church Schism (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
It has been reported that there has been a major schism in the Church of Last Thursdayism, with about 20% of the (remaining) members voting to break away and form their own church, the Church of Last Fridayism. Previously other groups had broken away to form the Church of Last Wednesdayism and the Church of Last Tuesdayism. In a separate development, the Church of Last Tuesdayism is debating whether to endorse the Morningists or the Eveningists in defining their doctrine. [-ecl]
The Wilhelm Gostloff (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have recently discovered the Podcast of Doom, which in spite of the lurid name is a fairly serious look, one at a time, at disasters of history. I looked over at the events they reported on and most I already knew something about. I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff. This was a major calamity of history and nothing came to mind about it. Actually it seems to have been a major disaster that nobody seems to have heard of. It was a gigantic maritime tragedy. How many people died? It was up around 9000. By comparison, the Titanic had about 1500 passengers die. Some numbers are estimates but there were about six people killed on the Wilhelm Gustloff for each person killed on the Titanic. One reason you do not hear more about the Wilhelm Gustloff is that it was filled with refugees struggling to stay alive. It showed just how bad things can get for refugees.
The Wilhelm Gustloff was a luxurious cruise ship built as a status symbol for Germany and launched March 24, 1938. It had less than eighteen months as a pleasure ship before the Nazis were at war, and it was pressed into service to wartime Germany. It was used as a hospital ship and was kept at anchor from 1941 to 1945. Germany had invaded Poland and held it from the west while the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Germany now found it was fighting on many fronts and they could not hold off the Soviets in Poland. German sympathizers in Poland found the climate unhealthy.
Germany took a page out of Britain's book and arranged their own sea evacuation like Dunkirk. And they did it up big. What they called Operation Hannibal was the biggest military sea evacuation ever executed. It was a plan to transport up to two million people in a thousand ships. The Wilhelm Gustloff was one of those ships. The ships were overloaded with German refugees including wounded soldiers and men women and children wanting to escape the coming clash of the German and Soviet militaries. The Wilhelm Gostloff was to set sail on January 30, 1945. Men, women, and children refugees desperate to get out of the area before life got really dangerous flooded the ship. The ship was rated for 1800 passengers but it officially allowed about 3000 refugees to board. In fact, in the circumstances it allowed many thousand more passengers than even its official capacity. Estimates are that there were 9000 passengers, more than half of them children. Conditions were extremely uncomfortable on the ship so tightly packed, but worse, the overloading was extremely dangerous. So overfull the boat was slow in the water making it an easy target for Soviet submarines. Picking up more passengers from small boats its total reached 10,000 people on board.
In the same water was the Soviet submarine S-13, commanded by Captain Alexander Marinesko. He sighted the giant ship and shadowed the Wilhelm Gostloff for two hours. At what Marinesko thought was an opportune time he launched three torpedoes at the Wilhelm Gostloff. All three hit their target, striking it near the port bow, near mid-ships, and at the engine room.
The air temperature was in the single-digit Fahrenheit and many of the passengers were drowned in the onrushing water. The water was floating ice chunks and people falling in the water mostly froze there. There were panics on board the boat. Imagine the panic when the boat listed over on its side.
For forty minutes the ex-luxury-liner tried to float lying on its side, its bow in the water. After the forty minutes it slid bow-down under the Baltic waves. German boats in the area tried to rescue passengers from the freezing waters, but no more than a handful could be saved. The best guess of how many were killed say it was 9343, though records are not complete. This was the greatest number of fatalities of any single ship that had ever sunk.
So why have we heard to so little of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gostloff? We hear much more about the Titanic. That is probably because on the Titanic there were so many of the upper class who were eloquent and held the world's attention already. Somehow, I guess, it is more poignant if it is the wealthy that die.
The Soviets have not wanted to brag about a victory that killed so many civilians and a high proportion of which were children. The Germans saw the Wilhelm Gostloff as a disaster that they allowed to happen. Everybody involved was content to just let the matter rest and be forgotten. The Wilhelm Gostloff sits there at the top of the list or worst marine disasters, but most people who see it there have never heard about the ship and about what happened. Now you have.
THE MARTIAN (letters of comment by Peter Rubinstein and Hugh McGuinness):
In response to Mark's review of THE MARTIAN in the 10/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:
[Mark writes,] "Following Andy Weir's novel, astronaut Mark Watney is on a mission to Mars that has the bad timing to be in the path of a violent windstorm." [-mrl]
A violent windstorm in the Martian atmosphere? I would think that unlikely. Can someone better versed in Martian meteorology explain this to me? [-pr]
This is one of the two major scientific errors in THE MARTIAN. (The other is the hand-waving about the amount of radiation.) [-ecl]
Hugh McGuinness writes:
I too watched THE MARTIAN recently, but was astounded at your comment "About the first thing we learn about the real man is that he swears a lot" What???? As I recall he swears about six distinct times in the film, all of which (apart from the second broadcast text message where he does it to provoke the President) are completely justified--he's on Mars alone with a piece of metal through his belly, for example, or they're telling him he has to make the return capsule into a convertible.
If it had been me there would have been non-stop swearing for the first ten minutes of the movie, I would think. :-) [-hmg]
Swearing six times is quite a lot for a PG-13 film. I admit, though, that my comment was influenced by my reading the book. In the book from Watney's very first words he is swearing a lot. It does not bother me, but that is how Andy Weir first characterizes Mark Watney. [-mrl]
Religious Laws (letter of comment by Peter Trei):
In response to Mark's comments on religious laws in the 10/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:
Your point that many religions 'break' when they try to deal with too many people, or with places inconceivable to those who created them, is well taken. Judaism and Islam have a lot of hackish solutions to high latitudes and distance from Jerusalem and Mecca/Medina messing with the concept of 'day', and have for done so for a long time. Dealing with space travel adds a whole extra layer of hacks and hand-waving.
However, your claim that Islam can't alter the Mina pillars to make the even more crowd friendly is incorrect--they've been altered more than once.
[Background: In Mina, near Mecca, there are three stone pillars, 150 to 200 yards apart in a rough row. Muslims on Hajj are expected to throw seven stones at the pillars, at one pillar on day 3, and at all three on days 4 and 5 of the ceremony, re-enacting Ibrahim driving away the Devil. The most propitious time to do this is at noon.]
The number of people taking part has grown vastly--from about 100k in the 1930s to over 2 million today. Two million people, trying to get within throwing range of the pillars at more or less the same time, is impossible.
So they've adapted:
1. Fatwahs were issued that expanded the time window to anything between sunrise and sunset.
2. In 2005, the pillars were replaced with three massive freestanding walls, each 85 feet long (this also eliminated injuries from missed throws).
3. Around the area of the pillars, the Saudis have constructed a huge pedestrian bridge, with three levels of decks surrounding the new pillars, providing (with the ground) four levels from which to throw (this also puts most people in the shade).
[In case you're wondering, yes, some people objected to replacing the pillars, seeing a secret anti-Islam conspiracy behind the change].
I don't understand your worry about needing Muslim workers. There are plenty of skilled people to do the work (and in fact, the crane was owned by the Bin-Laden family, that which disowned OBL).
The most recent crush is claimed to have been started by a group of pilgrims who tried to go back the way they came, up the down ramp so to speak. The bridge is designed to flow in one direction. [-pt]
I don't think I said that Islam could not alter the Mina Pillars. I was saying that it is conceivable that the Mecca administrators may reach a capacity point where there will not be that much more that can be done to accommodate future larger crowds. They may reach a point when the religious rules do not fit the physical constraints. And I was comparing to other cases where religious rules had to be reinterpreted to apply to unforeseen situations. It argues that the original rules are fallible and imperfect. The authorities in Mecca need to decide what is the upper limit of pilgrims the ceremony can physically accommodate even with alterations. They have to plan for what they will do if they approach those limits.
As to the worry about Muslim workers, I doubt that Mecca itself has enough teams of contractors to do all the repairs. They probably have to bring in outsiders. Outside of Mecca the teams of contractor workers may not be all Muslim. A team that is made up of Christians and Muslims would have to be broken up and only the Muslims brought in on the repair. Perhaps there are not enough Christians working in Saudi Arabia for this to be a problem, but it was my impression that there were a lot of Christian contractors who were not Muslim and who had been brought to the country to work. If you have a team half Muslim and half Christian suddenly the religion of people on the team becomes very important. [-mrl]
Kevin McCarthy (letter of comment by Kevin R):
In response to Mark's comments on Kevin McCarthy in the 10/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:
I had to scratch my head a minute for the reference.
Seriously, when you were raised Oirish Catholic in the second half of the the 20th Century, your mental Rolodex is going to include multiple Kevin McCarthys, and MacCarthys. [-kr]
Colm Feore (letter of comment by Kevin R):
In response to Mark's comments on Colm Feore in REVERSION in the 10/09/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:
I had to check, because there was heavy makeup and/or CGI, but he was Laufey, King of the Frost Giants, in Marvel's first THOR movie. [-kr]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Alan Weisman (ISBN 978-0-312-42790-0) is a 2007 book which may be the source for the 2008 television special (and subsequent series) LIFE AFTER PEOPLE. (Other television specials along the same vein are AFTERMATH: POPULATION ZERO and THE FUTURE IS WILD.) But while LIFE AFTER PEOPLE takes a macro look at the future--what will happen to buildings, animals, roads, etc.--THE WORLD WITHOUT US takes not just a micro view, but a molecular one--what happens to the heavy metals, the PCBs, the PBDEs, the PAHs, and so on. And while LIFE AFTER PEOPLE takes what could be called an optimistic view, with Manhattan (for example) returning to a pastoral primordial landscape, THE WORLD WITHOUT US is far more pessimistic, questioning whether the remaining life forms can survive all the poisons we have left that will not disappear in five, ten, or even a hundred years.
Weisman makes some interesting observations. For example, writing of a project to restore a small part of Manhattan to its pre-Columbian state, he says that it is "re-creating the island as the Dutch found it--not some primordial Manhattan forest no human had set foot on, because there wasn't one. 'Because before the Lenni Lenape arrived,' explains [Eric] Sanderson, 'nothing was here except for a mile-thick slab of ice.'"
He also observes that the old rules about what defines a species do not seem valid, because red-tailed monkeys and blue monkeys are interbreeding in Gombe and, "although the two species have different numbers of chromosomes, at least some of the offspring of these liaisons--whether between blue males and red-tailed females or vice versa--are fertile."
Weisman notes, "Wrangel Island's mammoths lived on, a dwarf species that lasted 7,000 years longer than mammoths on any continent. They were still alive 4,000 years ago, when Egyptian pharaohs ruled." Which means, among other things, that the movie 10,000 B.C. may not have been *quite* as crazy as it first appears (except that 10,000 B.C. should really be more like 2,000 B.C.).
Arthur Demarest said, "[Mayan] society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles." Weisman continues, "He describes a culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all needing quetzel feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, fancy corbeled roofs, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society's energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings." Substitute "Ancien Regime French" for "Mayan" and "velvet clothing, elaborate wigs, jewels, fancy food, and gold" for "quetzel feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, and fancy corbeled roofs" (no change to the "animal furs," however!), and you have a statement just as true. And I'm sure if you substituted "21st Century American" for "Mayan" you could figure out what to substitute for the consumer goods.
Regarding Ebola, R. Thomas Ksiazek of the CDC said, "Hygiene is the key. Even if someone tried to introduce Ebola intentionally, though you might get a few secondary cases in families and hospital staff, with sufficient precautions it would die out rapidly." This may have sounded reasonable in 2007, and it might still be true, but the "sufficient precautions" is the sticking point: they turned out to be far more difficult to enforce than people had realized or imagined.
Reading WORLD WITHOUT US inspired me to re-watch the television special LIFE WITHOUT PEOPLE. As I remembered, it dealt with macro issues more than the micro issues that Alan Weisman covers. It starts with power systems: coal-powered power plants will stop first from lack of fuel, then nuclear plants will go into a "hibernate" mode because no one will be drawing the electricity they generate, and even wind generators will die from mechanical failure. What they say will last the longest is Hoover Dam; they say it will last a couple of years, but then later someone says the invasive quagga mussel will clog the cooling ducts in Hoover Dam, the water will stop flowing through the plant, and the Colorado River below will dry up. However, Lake Mead will rise until it spills over the dam.
(Of course, all this was before the drought set in and Lake Mead fell so far that now the concern may be that it will fall below the intake pipes. See pictures from slate.com at http://tinyurl.com/void-lake-mead.)
Tunnels under cities will flood in 36 hours (at least in New York City). With the power gone, food will rot. Rats and mice are actually very dependent on our food, so after they finish off everything that does not rot, there will be a big die-off with the survivors changing over to a diet based on nature. (The same is true of sea gulls, which have become dependent on human land fills.) Cockroaches will do fine for food, but the cold may be a problem in non-tropical areas.
Dogs will also have a massive die-off. Obviously, pets that are trapped within houses will die, but the larger dogs will be able to break out through a window or something. Even if small dogs get out, their chances of survival against predators is slim. And many breeds of dogs have been bred with characteristics that are unhealthy (such as greyhounds and the various short-faced or short-legged breeds). Cats will do much better, having not become as dependent on humans as dogs, and also not have a wide variety of unhealthy characteristics.
Within six months there would be predators roaming the cities. (Heck, in New Jersey we get bears in the suburbs already.) Wolves (possibly interbreeding with dogs), coyotes, and even bears will spread, particularly without highways full of cars splitting up their habitats. Zoo animals are the great unknown--it would depend on whether they got out or not.
Plants will encroach everywhere (and not just invasive species). Lightning strikes will start fires that will burn until they burn themselves out naturally. (Gas leaks in cities were not even discussed.)
There was a long section on Chernobyl/Pripyat, which they describe as happening twenty years earlier. In fact, by now it is almost thirty years ago (April 26, 1986). The conclusion of Chernobyl is that the lack of humans overcomes the radiation. In this LIFE AFTER PEOPLE is more optimistic that WORLD WITHOUT US, which emphasizes the mutations and low survival rates of offspring in the region.
By twenty-five years, many of the cities protected by flood gates and dikes have been at least partially submerged. The windows in the skyscrapers are starting to break and fall, and the lightning rods corrode. Building interiors become habitats for plants and animals.
Eventually salts will destroy stone buildings and non-concrete dams will fail. After about fifty years, bridges and other steel structures dependent on cables will start to fail. After seventy-five years cars will have rusted into unrecognizable piles.
Cellulose acetate film and paper will be destroyed by humidity (or mold encouraged by humidity).
Eventually, the roofs under the cities (and the streets they support) will collapse.
After about 150 years the oceans will have recovered and be full of fish. There is mention of how much we have polluted the oceans, but no real explanation of where all the plastic, Styrofoam, heavy metals, and long-lasting chemicals have gone. At least the remaining sea gulls will have something to eat.
In two hundred years, steel structures such as the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, steel bridges, etc. will collapse. Buildings such as the Empire State will start to lean as the ground under them subsides, then collapse. They say that the period between one hundred and three hundred years after the event would be the "Era of the Great Collapses".
In five hundred years, concrete will have failed. After a thousand years, cities will have vanished. In ten thousand years, all that will remain will be sections of the Great Wall, the Great Pyramid, Hoover Dam (which will be the "Last of the Great Collapses"), and what is mostly likely to last for thousands if not millions of years: Mount Rushmore (and the Crazy Horse Monument as well, I assume). [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Men hate to be misunderstood, and to be understood makes them furious. --Edgar SaltusTweet
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