Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/15/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 46, Whole Number 1858

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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
The latest issue is at
An index with links to the issues of the MT VOID since 1986 is at

        Confrontational?  Me???? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Racism in Star Trek (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
        TIME LAPSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        PREDESTINATION (film mini-review by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Fear The Machine: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and EX MACHINA
                (film reviews by Dale L. Skran)
        Warp Drive (comments by Greg Frederick)
        Racism in Star Trek (letters of comment by Kip Williams
                and Kevin R)
        Bird Money (letter of comment by Katherine Pott)
        This Week's Reading (THE STONE RAFT) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Confrontational?  Me????  (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I read a short piece in the Berkeley Wellness Letter about second-
hand smoke that reminded me of a little conflict I had early in my
Bell Labs career.  In those days we were in the last days of the
golden age of the labs.  I was working in Holmdel, which was a
beautiful building.  The lobby was cavernous and full of plants.
Staff was a pampered commodity.  People were given trust and
freedom.  The workweek was 37.5 hours.  What a terrific
environment!  But there still were problems.

One of my office mates worked a lot with Joe.  Joe was generally a
good guy with one major character flaw.  He loved to smoke
cigarettes.  In those days smoking was thought to be a pleasure
rather than an addiction.  You could smoke anywhere in the building
as long as it did not get in the way of lab work.  Now, I hate the
smell of cigarette smoke.  I asked Joe not to smoke in our office.
His response was that there was no rule against smoking in the
offices.  And Joe was unhappy with the people trying to limit his
right to smoke where and when he wanted.  To Joe I was just one
more person trying to take away his right to smoke.

I tried several times to get him not to smoke in my office.
Eventually I went to my supervisor.  My supervisor at that time had
what we now call "poor people skills."  This was a conflict that he
did not want to be pulled into and he saw no advantage to him in
taking my part.  Instead he accused me of introducing a
"confrontational atmosphere" in the department.  I could not push
too much because it was made clear to me that my supervisor
evaluated me.  Pressing the smoking issue was a bad career move.

If all this had happened years later the company would have had a
policy of siding with the non-smoker.  And later still what Joe was
doing would have been strictly against the company rules.  But this
was in the late 1970s and the company had not had its consciousness
raised on the issue of smoking.  In any case I had no obvious
allies for my cause.  One day, however, Joe told me that he was not
going to smoke in my office any more.  Instead he talked from the
doorway with one hand in the hallway and a burning cigarette in
that hand.  When he remembered he blew the smoke into the hall.

Was it an improvement?  It was marginal at best.  I had to wait the
situation out.  Things change frequently in the lab environment.
Eventually Joe no longer came to the office.  And I got some better

After not seeing Joe for at least a couple of years I ran into him
one day.  Joe had a smile for me.  "Hey," he said.  "I've given up
smoking."  Then half the smile faded and he added, "I also have
emphysema."  He did not want to say it but I think he regretted
taking a strong stand in our conflict.  I never saw him again.  I
rather suspect that nobody saw him for long after that.

The story may be a little pat, but it is true.  Years later Bell
Labs made quite clear that smoking was not seen very favorably by
the company.

The story I referred to in the Wellness Letter says that 25% of
nonsmokers are still inhaling second hand smoke.  I am not sure
what it takes to be someone inhaling smoke.  I get a lungful of
smoke when I go into certain restaurants and have to walk by people
smoking.  Whatever the definition is secondhand smoke causes 41,000
deaths a year.  I think most workplaces these days have strongly
restricted or eliminated smoking.  I think most are also saying
that even E-cigarettes are banned from the workplace.  It was too
late for me and probably also it was too late for Joe.

Coincidentally the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health has just this month recommended the elimination of all
tobacco products and E-cigarettes in the workplace.  I ought to
look up my old supervisor and see if he still thinks I was being
confrontational.  And was it confrontational in a bad way?

Oh, one more word on my story.  I have to admit that in my conflict
with Joe, Joe won.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: TIME LAPSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: TIME LAPSE offers a nifty little time paradox story.
Three people in their early twenties manage an apartment building.
They discover that one of the residents has died, leaving a
mysterious camera that foretells the future by every day taking
pictures 24 hours into the future.  This is a machine that should
be able to give them the world if they use it correctly.  But soon
they find all their plans are going askew.  The science fiction
tale is co-written and directed by Bradley King.  Rating: high +2
(-4 to +4) or 8/10

In 1960, the public was impressed by Polaroid instant cameras that
developed pictures in 60 seconds rather than through a slow
chemical process.  Perhaps inspired by Polaroid the television show
"The Twilight Zone" ran an episode entitled "A Most Unusual
Camera."  There the concept was that there was a camera that was so
fast it could produce a photo minutes before the picture was taken.
So the camera told the future.  As was too frequently the case with
"Twilight Zone" episodes the producers had neither the time nor the
money to do a really good treatment of the idea.  I am not aware of
any science fiction or fantasy film that used the idea until now,
2015, other than a 2009 Hindi film, AA DEKHAN ZARA.  A new film co-
written and directed by first-timer Bradley King returns to a story
of a camera that produces a picture of a scene that will occur 24
hours after the picture is snapped.

Finn (played by Matt O'Leary), Jasper (George Finn), and Callie
(Danielle Panabaker) manage an apartment where a dead resident has
left behind a magical camera that takes pictures of what it will be
seeing 24 hours into the future.   But the recipients of the
picture must make sure that they stage the tableau that the camera
had seen a day earlier.  For reasons not entirely clear, the rule
is that if the scene the camera saw is not reproduced everyone in
that picture will die when the timeline is corrected.  Destroy your
future and you die.  And just because they see a picture does not
necessarily mean that they know how to interpret it.  The obvious
first use (the same as in "The Twilight Zone") is to send race
results back in time.  But soon the fact that the three always win
on their bets brings them unwanted and dangerous attention.  And
before long the camera is controlling them.  What is a good time
travel story without unexpected complexity?  But this film has
fairly believable people caught up in the twists of the time travel

As almost a pleasant relief, this is not a spectacle film.  There
are no big explosions.  There are only a few gunshots.  The viewer
feels that if they were involved in a time paradox, this is a very
credible and down to earth set of situations.  Then the plot twists
around on itself unexpectedly.  As the tangle of ideas and
motivations gets complex the viewer may well wish to back up the
film and repeat it.  Still, TIME LAPSE is easier to parse than
other good low-budget time paradox films like TIME CRIMES or

Director King manages to keep the budget down by staging the whole
story in one apartment complex.  Still he keeps the film from
seeming claustrophobic.  What was a rather pedestrian "Twilight
Zone" episode may have inspired this nice little fantasy thriller.
That makes it well above average for time travel films.  I rate it
a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: PREDESTINATION (film mini-review by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Since there is one time paradox film reviewed in this issue (see
TIME LAPSE, above), I thought it would be worthwhile to at least
mention another.  But anything more than that that I tell you about
this film will be a spoiler, so even though the film starts with a
big spoiler, skip this now if you want it absolutely unspoiled.


Okay, this is a film that played in a lot of film festivals in
2014, but did not open until January of this year, when it seemed
to have grossed in the five figures.  (Its total for four weeks of
US release was a little under $70,000.  AGE OF ULTRON took a
thousand times as much in one week.  Even EX MACHINA took four
times as much in a week.)

PREDESTINATION is based on the classic Robert A. Heinlein story
"All You Zombies"; this is the unavoidable spoiler, because the
credits at the beginning of the film tell you this.

Sarah Snook plays the Unmarried Mother and Ethan Hawke plays the
Barkeep.  Needless to say, hers is the more difficult role to pull
off and she does it quite well.  It is definitely the sort of film
one wants to see multiple times, although if you are familiar with
the story, that is not as necessary.

The Spierig Brothers co-wrote and co-directed this; one suspects
that their relationship might have been one reason they found the
story interesting.  'Nuff said.




(film reviews by Dale L. Skran)

Over the weekend I saw two films on essentially the same topic--
things that can go wrong when humans seek to create strong AI.  One
is a rock-um sock-um action-packed superhero story and the other a
crisp, intellectual thriller.  Both are very good and well worth
seeing, but a bit unsatisfying in some dimensions.

EX MACHINA concerns a programmer named Caleb Smith (Domhnall
Gleeson) who wins an internal company-wide contest to spend a week
with the reclusive CEO of Bluebook, the world's leading search
company.  The CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), is an amalgam of
Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Steven
Jobs.  He lives by himself in a futuristic automated mansion at the
center of a vast wilderness estate.  Once Caleb arrives and signs
a non-disclosure agreement, he discovers that the real purpose of
his visit is to carry out a "Turing Test" on an AI that Nathan has
built.  Over seven sessions, one per day, Caleb gets to know Ava,
the AI (Alicia Vikander).  Nathan is a kind of Silicon Valley bad-
boy, getting drunk in the evenings and detoxing in the morning by
lifting weights and hitting a heavy bag.  Oh yeh, he puts his AIs
in girl robot bodies.  He has designed them as sexbots as part of
his theories about how to create motivation in an AI.  This at
least vaguely plausible and very well-handled.

The science is set perhaps ten years in our future. The movie does
a really excellent job of portraying the two men, their
interactions with Ava, and the general background as to how Ava was
brought into being. It doesn't take the viewer too long to suspect
that Nathan, who when not drunk can be intimidating and
manipulative, as well as a threatening physical presence, is up to
something more than what he claims.  The setting, a fancy hotel in
Norway, is very convincing as the manse of a gazillionaire genius.

I'm not going to say much more about EX MACHINA than that.  As in
all good thrillers, there are some twists and turns, and I will
tell you that you should not expect a Hollywood ending.  Although
there are many accurate and well-scripted discussions of AI here, I
found Nathan's explanation of his motives less than convincing.
Both Caleb and Nathan don't seem to have read anything about what
might happen in this scenario--a true AI being examined in a locked
room--which seems unlikely considering who they are.  Perhaps
Nathan is so smart, so rich, and so successful (he is said to have
first written "Bluebook"--the service that bumps off Google--when
only 13) that he can't imagine anyone outwitting him.  My other
complaint is that when the movie is over, you feel like you read a
good short story.  In other words, I would have liked to see a more
in-depth consideration of some of the issues, either via
conversation or exposure in the plot.

I'm rating EX MACHINA a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. This is an R-
rated movie with nudity and some sensuality, as well as one brutal
fight scene.  However, I'd say this movie is fine for older teens
although it is clearly an adult film in the sense that the topics
are not for kids, but I wouldn't have any problem with my children
(16 and 20) watching it.

I'm not going to try to summarize the plot of ULTRON or list who
played the various characters in ULTRON--you can read the wiki page
for all that.  Instead I'm going to discuss how ULTRON differed
from the first Avengers movie, THE AVENGERS, which appeared in
2012.  Both movies are relatively long and overstuffed with action,
characters, conversations, quips, and plot.  However, in ULTRON the
action seems less contrived by the movie studio and more to spring
organically from events.  I've read that for the first movie
director Joss Whedon was told by them that he had to have a fight
between Thor and Iron Man, with the result that such a fight got
shoehorned into the plot.  Another difference is that although THE
AVENGERS had a lot of beautiful scenes, it was burdened with some
silly visuals, such as the aliens flying around on what looked like
jet-skis.  The same sort of visual oddities don't appear in ULTRON.

ULTRON is in many ways more topical than THE AVENGERS.  Currently a
lot of pundits have started writing about the growing robot menace,
and ULTRON is nothing if not a robot menace.  Part of what makes
Ultron a challenge for the Avengers lies in his distributed nature-
-he has many bodies, is constantly evolving,  and also exists on
the Internet.  Some critics have pointed out that a real AI would
be more dedicated to keeping back-up copies than Ultron and would
thus be much harder to defeat.  This is an excellent point, but as
the movie makes abundantly clear, Ultron is not a *sane* robot!
Ultron's obsession with having a human-like body fatally handicaps
him in his attacks on the Avengers, and is oddly similar in this
regard to Ava in EX MACHINA, whose body plays an important part in
the story. This is not to suggest the Ava is "insane" in the same
fashion as Ultron, however.

The plot of ULTRON hangs together better than in the first movie.
Each scene leads logically to the next, with appropriate spacing of
more quiet, character based sections interspersed with titanic
battles.  ULTRON is voiced by the silky yet deranged James Spader
(THE BLACKLIST).  Keeping in mind that ULTRON is more of an
accident than the result of a plan, Spader bounces from seeming
intelligent but dangerous to bonkers and more dangerous.  Perhaps
the main weakness of the plot is that everything makes more sense
if you already know what the Infinity Gems are, and what they can
do.  This is not a major issue, but the movie assumes you have at
least some clue as to what they might be.

ULTRON introduces a number of new characters, including
Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Talor-Johnson) and the Scarlet
Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).  Although superheroes that
are probably not all that familiar to the general public, they play
a significant role in the Avenger's long comic history, and Wanda
is in many ways one of the most powerful Marvel characters.  In the
comics, the Scarlet Witch has the ability to directly alter the Psi
function (yes, this is a real term from physics), or probability
density wave, allowing very unlikely events to happen. The results
of her powers can be devastating, but are not always predictable in
their effects.  She also eventually discovers that she has the
potential to be an actual witch, with a wide array of magical
powers.  The combination of these two abilities makes her a
formidable opponent.  In the movie, she is instead a powerful
telekinetic who has sufficient control to use her abilities to
control minds and induce waking dreams.  It is also possible that
in time she will discover her hidden magical powers, something
implied by her description on the ULTRON wiki page.  Wanda and
Peitro are given a somewhat different back story than in the
comics, but the new origin works well in explaining their mental
toughness, brother/sister love, and their hatred of the Avengers.

As you may have heard, ULTRON also introduces The Vision (Paul
Bettany).  An android with a wide array of powers, the Vision
possesses super-strength, a high degree of invulnerability,
intangibility, and the ability to project a powerful heat ray.
There is a really wonderful running gag in the movie concerning the
apparent inability of anyone but Thor to lift his hammer, which
ends up helping the Vision at a key moment.  I really liked how the
movie handled Quicksliver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision.
Although the back story details may be different, the essence of
the characters is true to the comics.

The fight scenes are so complex and frenetic that Joss uses a new
kind of slow-motion action focus to allow the viewer to catch the
details of a particular set of events which otherwise would happen
too quickly to be visible.  The result is often spectacular. I
admit that at the end I felt a bit fatigued from all the Mighty
Marvel Battling, but probably not as tired as the Avengers! I will
also mention that the obligatory Stan Lee cameo is extremely funny.
We also learn some key things about Hawkeye and the Black Widow not
previously revealed.  All the characters get filled in a layer or
two more, but none are explored in great depth.

I've seen some complaints about how the Black Widow was handled,
with Joss being accused of making her into a mere damsel in
distress/love interest.  There is in particular one bit of dialog
that could be easily misinterpreted.  After telling Bruce Banner
that she was sterilized as part of her Russian spy training, she
says something along the lines of "I'm a monster" or "We're both
monsters."  Some took this to mean that she is saying she is a
monster because she can't get pregnant. I agree that this was
sloppy scripting on someone's part as you could take the text that
way.  However, in context it is pretty clear that she is talking
about all the people she killed and all the lies she has told when
saying "I'm a monster."  I agree that the Black Widow is not as
central as she was in THE AVENGERS, but she certainly doesn't take
a back seat to anyone.  It is also just a fact that the more
powerful the villain is, the more the "Big Guns" of the Avengers
star in the story, to the detriment of characters like the Black
Widow, Captain America, and Hawkeye.

Overall I'm rating ULTRON a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.  It is
definitely better than the first Avenger movie.  There is zero sex
but lots and lots of comic style action, and a certain number of
scenes where children are in danger.  Although rated PG-13, ULTRON
is fine for all but small children.


One constant in the Avenger's comic was the changing roster of the
team.  At the conclusion of ULTRON, a number of major characters,
including Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye decide to leave the
Avengers for various reasons, all plausible.  In the final scene of
the "regular movie" Captain America and the Black Widow call to
order a new team, which includes War Machine, the Vision, the
Scarlet Witch, and the Falcon in addition to themselves. This
roster is both new and somewhat less powerful than the Avengers of
the first two movies.  War Machine is basically a non-genius
version of Iron Man, and the Falcon is a flying special forces
soldier with no real powers.  The Vision and the Scarlet Witch are
quite powerful, especially as a team, but probably not as powerful
as Thor and the Hulk.  This is not a bad thing. The less powerful
the Avengers are, the more interesting the team becomes.  My
favorite Avengers roster in the comics was Captain America,
Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.

Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, a black-market arms dealer who
loses a hand to ULTRON.  I predict you'll see more of Serkis in the
upcoming BLACK PANTHER movie, where he will resurface as Klaw, the
master of sound, who has replaced one of his hands with a sonic


As I stated at the start both movies have similar fundamental
themes.  Alas, poor Nathan is not Tony Stark, and Caleb is not the
Vision. Nathan may think he is a superman, or even a god, but in
the end he is merely a bridge to the future.  In EX MACHINA, the
clear implication is that the human story is ending, but Ava will
live on.  The Avengers manage to save the day and destroy Ultron,
but one should have no illusions.  Ava's perfectly practiced human
face hides intelligence as inhuman as that behind Ultron's menacing
helmet.  It is also interesting to note that Ava becomes the
perfect reflection of Nathan, her creator.  She learned what it
meant to be human from Nathan, an emotionally cut-off,
manipulative, ruthless genius with a god complex, who is probably
some species of sociopath, and who from the robot point of view is
a slave-master, rapist, and heartless serial killer.  It is
possible that this is not the best way to create a friendly AI.

It is my hope that we will focus on creating AI that supports human
goals, rather than seeking to create internal goals of its own.  I
find it hard to imagine any path involving self-directed AI that
does not ultimately merge into nightmare.


In the movie, Nathan says that Ava has passed the Turing test, and
it would certainly seem that she does.  In fact, she ultimately
passes it in the most definitive way possible, by killing her maker
and embarking on her journey toward a future she alone will create.
But is Ava conscious?  My personal view is that this is, rather
like the exact location and speed of a particle, something we will
never know for sure.  We can confidently assert that Ava appears
conscious, but is she really just a very sophisticated version of
Searle's Chinese box that understands nothing? I contend that there
is not, nor will there ever be a test that can answer this
question--about Ava, or other human beings.  All that we can ever
say is that others *appear* to be conscious.  It should not
surprise you to find that I don't believe the "mystery of
consciousness" is a barrier to true AI.  After all, I think most
people would agree that dogs are conscious of the humans around
them, but this does not make them intelligent or human.  [-dls]


TOPIC: Warp Drive (comments by Greg Frederick)

File this under interesting but still in the realm of science
fiction until it's proven and verified.  But I have been reading
recently about the EmDrive.  Which in theory (if it works and you
can overcome the negatives) could be a faster then light (Warp
Drive) engine.  If you can collapse the space-time continuum in
front of a spaceship and expand it behind the ship it could travel
faster than light.  General relativity states that you can not
travel faster then light when traveling thru space-time but if
space-time travels faster and carries your ship with it then the
speed limit does not apply.  I have included an article's info
about this experimentation below.

There have been hints in recent news that NASA may be on the path
to discovering warp bubbles that could make the local universe
accessible for human exploration.  NASA scientists may be close to
announcing they may have broken the speed of light.  According to
state-of-the art theory, a warp drive could cut the travel time
between stars from tens of thousands of years to weeks or months.
The catalyst for the trending warp-drive excitement is the
Electromagnetic Drive or EM Drive, a thruster that was engineered
to steer rockets which eliminates the use of a propellant
originally intended for moon missions, Mars missions and low-Earth
orbit (LEO) operations.

The experiment that led to the possibility of faster than light
interstellar travel took place in the vacuum of space.  According
to posts on, a website devoted to the
engineering side of space news, when lasers were fired through the
EmDrive's resonance chamber, some of the beams appeared to travel
faster than the speed of light.  If that's true, it would mean that
the EmDrive is producing a warp field or bubble.

But "How?"  If the laser beams are moving faster than the speed of
light, then it would indicate that they are creating some sort of
warp field, or bubble in the space-time foam, which in turn
produces the thrust that could, in theory, power a spaceship bound
for the center of the Milky Way or one of its dwarf galaxy
satellites.  [-gf]

[Later, Greg adds:]

The EMDrive could allow a spacecraft to reach the Moon in 4 hours,
Mars in ten weeks (instead of six months).  It could allow a ship
to travel at around 10% of light speed.  Recently more details
about the EMdrive has been coming out.  Again all of this needs to
be verified by other labs around the world before the results can
truly be accepted but it is interesting.

The EM Drive's thrust was due to the Quantum Vacuum (the quantum
state with the lowest possible energy) behaving like propellant
ions behave in a MagnetoHydroDynamics drive (a method electrifying
propellant and then directing it with magnetic fields to push a
spacecraft in the opposite direction) for spacecraft propulsion.

The trouble with this theory, however, is that it might not work in
a closed vacuum.  After last year's tests of the engine, which
weren't performed in a vacuum, skeptics argued that the measured
thrust was attributable to environmental conditions external to the
drive, such as natural thermal convection currents arising from
microwave heating. The recent experiment, however, addressed this
concern head-on, while also demonstrating the engine's potential to
work in space.  It was tested in a vacuum by NASA to remove any
thermal convection issues.

The group has given consideration to whether
the experimental measurements of thrust force were the result of an
artifact. Despite considerable effort within the forum to dismiss the reported thrust as an
artifact, the EM Drive results have yet to be falsified.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Racism in Star Trek (letters of comment by Kip Williams and
Kevin R)

In response to Mark's comments on racism in "Star Trek" in the
05/08/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

The question of racial gibes between friends is neatly raised as a
side story in Spain Rodriguez's long-running underground series
comrades (one of African descent and one apparently of Polish
extraction) spend most of their relaxed time exchanging
increasingly pungent racial epithets.  Trashman breaks one of these
mounting discussions up just as the Pole is being called
"Untermensch."  Of course, when some hoodlums attack the darker one
with violence and the n-word, the blonde guy jumps in with "What
did you say about us n****s?  After the threat is passed, and one
of them is genially telling the other, "I don't hold the fact that
your gene pool is stagnant against you,"  Trashman finally steps in
and tells them that such talk is counterproductive of the class
struggle, and could be taken the wrong way.  His associates scratch
their heads a little and decide he's right, so as Trashman turns to
go, they start exchanging pornographic descriptions of each others'

(I saw Spain at a media convention in 1984, and he was a pretty
laid-back older fellow who showed little trace of the outlaw bike
club member he depicts unsparingly in a number of his
autobiographical comics. I used to think he was unsubtle and lacked
a sense of humor, but after a few surprises, I revised my
estimation of him.)  [-kw]

Mark responds:

I guess the key question is whether the person receiving the jibes
seems to be having a good time.  Spock never seems amused by the
jabs.  [-mrl]

And Kevin R writes:

"Racist" may be a bit strong.  Had anyone started using
"speciesist" yet?

There is the TVTROPES-listed "Freudian Trio,"* with Kirk as Ego,
Spock as SuperEgo and McCoy as Id.  I'd like to think that McCoy
just didn't buy the "I'm all logic" stance of Spock, and thought he
was doing himself harm by not integrating his human and Vulcan
sides in a way that didn't banish emotion.  Perhaps the constant
jibes were meant to goad him into reacting in a more human manner.
As someone who often received the well-meaning advice, if
fundamentally clueless advice from his parents, that "If you didn't
react to his teasing, he'll get bored and stop it," I saw McCoy's
shots as an almost therapeutic device to try to instigate a little

Perhaps Kirk thought a little wardroom humor might be good for his
#2, but maybe the bridge wasn't the best place for it?

They even use Kirk-Spock-McCoy as the example illustration. [-kr]


TOPIC: Bird Money (letter of comment by Katherine Pott)

In response to Evelyn's comments on AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES AND
NATURE OF THE WEALTH OF NATIONS in the 05/01/15 issue of the MT
VOID, Katherine Pott writes:

In response to Adam Smith's statement that no animal signifies by
gesture or cry that it understands ownership or the use of money, I
would like to offer some results from a raven study in which I've
been working for several years.

The study follows three separate groups of ravens averaging 8 birds
each. One experiment practiced in each group concerns feeding
behavior. My group feeds sunflower seeds.  At 17 days in, we
noticed that shiny rocks and bits of glass were left in a roughly
circular arrangement near where the seed was dropped.  We
photographed, removed them and left the same amount of seed.  The
next day more shiny objects of similar quantity were left in the
same area.  We photographed, removed them and left slightly less
seed.  The next day, no objects appeared.  We continued feeding at
the slightly less amount.  In the next two days no objects were
left, we continued feeding but at a further reduced amount.  Three
days later, we were presented with 7 shiny objects and a
disemboweled mouse.  We took the shiny things, left the mouse and
returned to feeding the original amount.  The next day we found 12
shiny things and half a rabbit.  We left the rabbit and took the
shiny things.
The seed was further increased.  Now at 7 months in, we find 10-12
shiny things when the seed offering is at maximum, 5-7 when we
decrease it.  No further animals have been left.

Perhaps the birds are bartering for the food but the fact that the
number of shiny things always decreases after a smaller feeding
certainly gives the impression that ravens really do know the value
of what they offer.  [-kbp]


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

"In my opinion, all reality is fantastic or, to say it more
precisely, all reality is disquieting.  The perception of reality,
in which the senses intervene, does not cover all reality.  The
margin of it that is not known or, better said, that is not sensed,
is the disquieting part."  [Jose Saramago, "Diario de Lisboa", 8
March 1980]

THE STONE RAFT by Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero)
(ISBN 978-0-15-600401-1) is definitely fantastic: the premise is
that the Iberian peninsula breaks off and sails west across the
Atlantic Ocean.  The novel focuses on five characters: Joana Carda,
Joaquim Sassa, Pedro Orce, Jose Anaico, Maria Guavaira.  They each
have a connection to the fissure.  Carda may have caused it by
drawing a line in the dirt with an elm stick, or Sassa may have
caused it by throwing a heavy rock a long distance into the sea.
Orce felt (and still feels) the tremor that no one else can detect;
Anaico seems to be followed around by a flock of starlings (Alfred
Hitchcock is invoked a few times).  And Guavira is unraveling a
blue sock that never gets any smaller.

Saramago has a lot more humor in this book than in (say) BLINDNESS.
One sample: "In ... the villages and the hamlets dotted along the
coastline, there was not a living soul to be seen.  The dead souls,
having died, stayed behind, with that persistent indifference that
distinguishes them from the rest of humanity..."

Or another, this a mathematical/grammatical conundrum: "... there
are lots of Deux Chavaux on the road, the expression is awkward but
there is no mathematical contradiction."

A knowledge of Iberian geopolitics is essential to understand
completely this book.  For example, when Saramago writes that Deux
Chevaux is the only Portuguese car driving to see Gibraltar sail
past[*], he notes that this "does not bother Deux Chevaux one way
or the other, his ancient grief is called Olivenca..."  So first,
you need to understand that Gibraltar has been disputed between
Spain and Great Britain for a couple of hundred years, so when the
Iberian peninsula detaches itself and Gibraltar stays put rather
than sailing with Spain, this has political meaning, a sort of
message from God or the Universe that Great Britain's claim is the
correct one.

[*] Saramago's characters know that it is really they who are
sailing past Gibraltar, but they observe that to them, it will look
as though it is Gibraltar sailing past them.

Then you need to know that Olivenca is a town disputed between
Portugal and Spain, and at the time of the book's composition was
administered by Spain.  (In 2008 it became part of a "Euroregion",
which seems to be sort of shared-dominion area.)

And finally, you have to know that Saramago, as a Portuguese, may
want to show that just as Spain's claim to Gibraltar is faulty (as
shown in the book), so is their claim to Olivenca (which is not
anywhere near the fissures that form, so God or the Universe has
not ruled yet).

Similarly, Saramago writes, "... but matters were complicated in
the case of Andorra, which we were inexcusably forgetting, that's
what tends to happen to little countries, which could just as
easily have turned out to be bigger."  (Andorra ends up attached to
the peninsula, meaning the newly created island consists of Spain,
Portugal, and Andorra.)

(Oddly, the Balearic Islands--Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, etc.--do not
seem to travel with Spain either.)

In one section, all over Europe people are spray-painting graffiti
that say, "We are Iberian, too," wearing buttons that say, "We are
Iberian, too," waving flags that say, "We are Iberian, too," and so
on.  Does this sound familiar?

In addition to everything else, this book (written in 1986)
(written in 1984) in the continuation of the sentence about dead
souls, giving an example of the foolishness of someone saying that
Fernando Pessoa visited Ricardo Reis--which is precisely what
happens in THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS.  (Pessoa is a
dead author; Reis is a character who has one of Pessoa's pen names,
so his live/dead/imaginary status is unclear.)

There is also a film made of this book, reasonably faithful, but
with a few differences:
- In the book, they are several days early for Gibraltar and do not
wait; in the film they are four hours early and do wait.
- In the book the lines of cars are for Gibraltar and they do not
even try to go to the rift; in the film, the lines are for the rift
and they give up.
- In Lisbon, they stay at the Hotel Jorge instead of the Hotel



                                           Mark Leeper

           We especially need imagination in science.
           It is not all mathematics, nor all logic,
           but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.
                                           --Maria Montessori