MT VOID 05/13/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 45, Whole Number 1910

MT VOID 05/13/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 45, Whole Number 1910

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 05/13/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 45, Whole Number 1910

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

Hugo Awards Update and More Availability (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

MidAmeriCon II has accepted the withdrawals of Thomas Mays and John O'Neill. May's short story will be replaced by "Cat Pictures Please" by Naomi Kritzer; "Black Gate" fanzine will be replaced by "Lady Business" edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan.

It's nice that people have a(nother) worthy finalist, but it bothers me that even with a process to make sure people accept their nomination, we still have people churning the ballot after it is announced. In general (and I realize the current situation is possibly atypical), what this means is that people go into the voting knowing the relative positions of at least some of the finalists. It happened before when there was some confusion about the 5% Rule, and a ballot was published with only three finalists in several categories, but then later these were increased to five. So people knew who had done well in the nominating process and who had just squeaked in, so to speak. Yes, I know that late additions have gone on to win Hugos, but still...

The FANAC Project has made available material for the Retro Hugo Best Fanzine and Best Fan Writer categories. See their page at

They have the three of the five fanzines: FUTURIA FANTASIA, LE ZOMBIE, and SPACEWAYS. (They are missing NOVACIOUS and VOICE OF THE IMAGI-NATION, but hope to get copies soon.) They also have fan writing by Ray Bradbury, Bob Tucker, and Harry Warner. (They are missing Forrest J Ackerman and H. P. Lovecraft.) [-ecl]

Elon Musk and Science Fiction (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Not noted in any of the news reports about Space X's landing platforms is that Elon Musk named them after ships from Iain M. Banks's "Culture" series: "Just Read the Instructions" and "Of Course I Still Love You". See for more information. [-ecl]

Scary History (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I saw a documentary on PBS that said archeologists are using satellite data to discover Viking (the Nordic kind, as opposed to the space kind) artifacts. Good. As far as it goes. But now they are saying what they discover with these approaches might actually change history. That is a little scary. If that is true, what is going to happen to causality? [-mrl]

Losing Power (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I had an embarrassing thing happen to me while I toured China back in autumn of 1982. In the evenings after prying ears had gone home teens from the local city would find ways to be alone with a tourist and would ask, "Do you really vote for your President?" "Yes. Every four years." "Oh. That's a very good system." They were envious of us being able to choose our own leaders. The right to vote for President is a valuable thing.

Well, that felt good. At least it did until I remembered that it was not really strictly speaking true. We have an Electoral College system. We get to vote for the electors who get to vote for the President. That is are one step removed from voting for our President. I tried explaining this to my somewhat crestfallen guide. Apparently we do not have quite so good a system after all. We claim it is one voter gets one vote. But that is not how it works.

The Electoral College is a safety precaution. Suppose the leading contender was a nut case--Hitler with a slingshot in his back pocket. And just suppose he was charismatic enough to win over the majority of the voters. You would want some sort safety mechanism to stop this nutcase from being elected President. It is not you and me who vote for the President, it is the Electors of the College. And what rules do the electors have to follow to choose whom they will vote for? Technically there is no such rule. That is a matter between the elector and his state. But clearly they would be faithful. I mean they are in politics, so they wouldn't cheat, right? The power would be in the right hands, wouldn't it? It turns out that their choices are reasonably correlated to the choices that would be made with a popular vote. So this system is founded on the apparently firm belief that the Electoral College will choose more intelligently than the population as a whole. This is supposed to give more reliable results than if you had a simple popular vote. It is stepping away from democracy.

And it is the Democratic Party, ironically enough, that has introduced its own system to sidestep democracy at one step lower. It is used in the process of choosing nominees. Instead of voting for the Presidential nominee, the voters in the primaries vote for the delegates who will vote for them for the Presidential candidate. The assumption is that the delegates will vote more wisely than would the individual voters.

On top of that the Democratic National Convention has introduced further the concept of the "super-delegate." The voters in Democratic primaries vote for the delegates who will vote for the party's nominee to run for President. The voters in the primaries choose them. Here also the logical system to use would be one-voter-one-vote. But instead the individual voters are voting for the delegates who are to be entrusted to do the voting for the nominee and who may or may not be reliable. And if that were not bad enough the party will choose a large number of super-delegates. These are people appointed by the party without having been chosen at all democratically. They have the same power to vote for the nominee that the elected delegates have, but they are just picked by the party "leadership." The party leadership has given itself the power to appoint a lot more delegates.

There is no onus on a super-delegate to vote in favor of winners of the popular vote. They are chosen by the leadership of the party to be delegates even if nobody outside the inner circle has voted for them. Again there seems to be the fear that the rank and file voter cannot really be trusted. A bit of what makes a democracy a democracy is being quietly stolen. The power of the individual is being diluted and deflated. It is a lot like a company giving huge packages of stock options to its upper management. The individual stockowner still has the same stock, but with so much stock being given away, the value of his/her shares is much diluted.

The Republicans have super-delegates also but their rules give super-delegates much less power. Super-delegates can tip races and give Democratic leaders the power to tip primary elections in a most undemocratic manner. We really need to return our elections to one-person-one-vote. We need to have a system so simple and so tied to the will of the people that the Chinese can justifiably envy us. [-mrl]

AURORA (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Andy Love):

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of AURORA in the 05/06/16 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford notes that issue 325 of the "New York Review of Science Fiction" has three columns about the novel: a review by Benford; a "scientific critique" by Stephen Baxter, James Benford, and Joseph Miller; and comments by Jonathan Strahan. [-gb]

Andy Love writes:

[Joe Karpierz writes,] "With regard to sequels, I think Robinson has been somewhat sneaky with AURORA. Unless you blink and therefore miss it, AURORA takes place in the same universe as 2312 (which may be in the same universe as his award winning Mars trilogy)."

2312 certainly has references to the Mars series (at one point someone in 2312 mentions someone being stranded in space after a Martian space elevator fails--which happens in RED MARS). I think there are also some hints in 2312 that connect to GALILEO'S DREAM and even to A MEMORY OF WHITENESS, too. [-al]

The Logic of Mathematics (letters of comment by Leland R. Beaumont, Kevin R, and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Mark's comments on mathematics in the 05/06/16 issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I enjoyed your VOID article on "Do Mathematicians Live in a Fantasy World?"

I believe what you are discussing is the distinction among deductive logic (the logic of mathematics) inductive logic (the logic of inferring general principles from specific observations) and what I will call "argumentative logic" which is what lawyers, debate team members, and perhaps others (Journalists? PTA members?) practice. The rules of deductive logic are relatively few and impeccably correct, but are generally so restrictive that they are rarely applied outside of mathematics.

Inductive logic is used more often, but is never certain. The classic example is the assertion that "all swans are white" has held up pretty good as Europeans observed millions of white swans, the first observation of a black swan, however, demonstrated the frailty of inductive logic. See: What is most popular, however, seems to be called "eristic" see:

The goal here is winning, not insight. Eristic is arguing for the sake of conflict, as opposed to resolving conflict.

I recently read a helpful book: THE LOGIC OF REAL ARGUMENTS by Alec Fisher. IN this book he relegates deductive logic to the appendix. The bulk of the book dissects prominent examples of persuasive rhetoric and demonstrates the arguments used are unsound.

I am now developing course materials on "clear thinking" and recently considered the difficulty posed by the above. I dialogued with a colleague on "the shortest path to clear thinking." I have not yet found that path. Currently I plan to cover deductive logic, recognizing fallacies, inductive logic, cognitive errors and distortions, scientific methods, and analyzing real arguments in the curriculum I am calling "Clear Thinking". See: [-lrb]

Mark replies:

I guess this discussion hinges on your tolerance for false conclusions. The statement "all swans are white" could still be true if you insist that the definition of "swan" includes the proviso that a swan has to be a white bird. You admit that there are other birds that are very swanlike but are not swans because they are not the right color. That does not really happen with swans so nobody's ego is really involved, but it does happen where egos are concerned.

I was interested in your mention of black swans. There was a time when we said what set humans apart from animals is that humans use tools. But then it was discovered that apes make tools. I don't remember the exact chronology, but it was later decided that the difference was that humans forge tools. Then it was discovered that corvids forge tools. The definition of human was refined a little more. And we keep finding animals who fit our definition of intelligent, sometimes more so that we do, and then redefining what intelligence is so that no non-humans are invited into the intelligence club. A lot of this may be based on a religious belief that humans have "dominion" over animals, a very self-serving and immoral logic. But as long as we have this so-called dominion we can say that only humans are intelligent. (I guess that is a digression.)

But I am sorry your author minimizes deductive logic. I feel that truth and proof exist only in the fields of logic and probably mathematics. Elsewhere the best you can achieve is "a pretty good argument for..." [-mrl]

Kevin R writes:

OBsf: The question of the use of the media by terrorists to promote their agenda, and the media's cooperation or refusal to cooperate with the perpetrators, was taken up back in the late 1970s by Dean Ing in his story "Very Proper Charlies," novel version SOFT TARGETS.


The TV show NUMB3RS went to great lengths to try to point out how much the real world depends on math, or can be described by it. Whether the math in the stories is bunk or not, I leave to the mathematicians. Certainly the rise of Big Data shows even the layman that math is a powerful tool, if he hasn't already realized that humans have used it to send things to other planets and created magic boxes that can bring us infinite cat videos. [-kr]

Keith F. Lynch writes:

"Thinking like a lawyer demands a dedication to harsh logic, not merely because we strive to be able to present rational arguments, because reliance on emotion or logical fallacies will usually be the kiss of death before the court." -- from a lawyer's blog, which also disparages computer and math experts as "geeks."

An example of lawyer logic that I encountered was when a prosecutor conceded that I might indeed be innocent of the burglary I was convicted of, but that my innocence in that one case was irrelevant, since the typical burglar is only caught for one burglary for every hundred he commits.

To be fair, if absolute proof were required to convict someone, nobody could ever be convicted, even if there were a hundred witnesses, DNA evidence, a video of the crime, and the defendant confesses on the witness stand. Every one of these has an explanation that doesn't require guilt.

I think the "reasonable doubt" standard would be a good compromise. And it has the advantage that it's what most people believe we already have, and approve of. Unfortunately, it's completely mythical. The way it really works in the US is that police and prosecutors guess at who is guilty, and then frame them by using threats, coercion, lies, suborned perjury, and bogus forensic science. So for a wealthy defendant the rule is "guilty until proven innocent," and for a middle-class or poor defendant, the rule is simply "guilty."

If the proportion of people in prison who are actually guilty is more than half (which I'm not totally convinced of), it's only because police and prosecutors do better than chance when guessing who is guilty and framing them.

(By "framed" I don't mean to imply the defendant is innocent, only that there's no connection between the "proof" of guilt and any actual guilt. If the police correctly guess that you robbed a bank, and they offer leniency to your cellmate if he agrees to falsely testify that you confessed to him, that's framing a guilty person.)

There have been several causes of mistaken proofs. But in modern times for well-known problems, none of them lasted long.

"Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." -- Eric Raymond

"Beware of bugs in the following code. I have merely proved it correct. I have not tested it." -- Donald Knuth

To win the million-dollar prize for solving one of the Clay millennium math problems, you have to publish your proof (or disproof) in an approved peer-reviewed publication and then wait two years so Clay can see what the consensus of other mathematicians is.

(Publishing both a proof and a disproof of the same conjecture in an attempt to collect $2 million is right out. )

"Just because a formula matches the first thousand terms does not prove that it is correct." -- Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences

But did [your friend] really intend [press reports] as a proof, or merely as examples?

He may have been arguing that it's a moral principle whose rightness does not depend on its utility. For instance whether it was right to free the slaves did not depend on whether they were better off as slaves or as free people. (There were arguments on both sides, and with the information available in the 1860s it wasn't obvious which arguments were correct.)

Should [being right] apply to the criminal justice system? Instead of the ideal being a "reasonable doubt" standard, should it be some explicit number, such as a 99.5% probability of guilt?

I don't know. Would you acquit someone if you thought there was a 99.5% chance they were guilty? Does it matter if he was accused of a very serious crime, such as being a serial killer?

I don't have to worry about jury duty, at least in criminal cases, even though the governor restored everyone's jury-duty rights last month, since any prosecutor would instantly reject me. And quite rightly given that he's seeking a conviction rather than justice, since I would ignore any police testimony, any cellmate or codefendant testimony, and most forensic "science." [-kfl]

Mark replies:

My friend stated his conclusion vehemently and gave three examples. Then he said that he was talking about the "real world and not the world of mathematics." I believe that he considered that to be an irreproachable argument. [ -mrl]

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

The book discussion group at the Old Bridge Library chose LOST HORIZON by James Hilton (ISBN 978-0-062-11372-6) for this month and the science fiction film-and-book discussion group at the Middletown Library. All this needs a lot of explanation. The Old Bridge group reads science fiction in odd-numbered months, and other books in even-numbered months. Although LOST HORIZON is a fantasy, it is considered "mainstream", so it fell into an even-numbered month. The Middletown group has a lot of overlap with the Old Bridge group, though, so it was decided to kill two birds with one stone and show the 1937 film for its meeting the following month.

These comments are on both the book and the 1937 film. The less said about the 1973 film, the better.

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath 
          toys were a toaster and a radio. 
                                          --Joan Rivers 

Go to our home page