wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway

from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue #20

New Moon of August 14, 1996

Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.

For more background info, details of how the mailing list works, etc., look at issue #Zero.

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The big news on the science front is that they have evidence of possible past life on Mars. They have a meteorite containing tiny bits of stuff that just might be old fossilized microbes, and they believe the piece was once part of Mars, blasted loose from that planet millions of years ago by a falling asteroid. So that means Mars may have once had life, even if it's dead now.

There's been discussion about this on The WELL. Some say that if it's confirmed it will change the foundations of human society. Others say the effects will be minor. I suspect some segments of society will be strongly affected while others won't. And there may be slow ripple effects, not noticed now but profoundly affecting the lives of our grandchildren.

Some say it will be a major blow to religions that have divine creation as a central article of faith, while others think it will make little difference. Many creation stories center on Earth, and are silent about whether their Creator also endowed other planets with life. These should be unaffected, unless adherents wish to take a stand for one reason or another. Many of those who do see a conflict will probably just deny everything, or try to explain it away. Since the available evidence is presently rather skimpy, and it will be years before Mars probes bring back additional samples, they'll be able to get by with simple denial for quite some time. But whatever the effect on any one faith, there is such a diversity of faith and belief that the only safe prediction is that all these things will happen to somebody somewhere.

There's some talk that life on Earth may have been seeded from elsewhere via meteors. That's the aspect most religions will probably most want to deny. And it probably can't be conclusively proven without many more planets as data points, so we won't have definitive word any time soon, if ever.

The arts could be affected also. Meteors as a vehicle for arrival of some alien menace have long been a cliche in science fiction. I would expect an immediate upsurge of this theme. And since it is already a cliche, some will try to ring new changes on it, perhaps combining it with other ideas like the DNA retrieval and cloning in "Jurassic Park". Will there be effects other than in science fiction? I don't know, although it could bring science fiction more "mainstream" respectability.

And if it inspires any new films, songs, TV shows, or whatever, it could give rise to new cliches in our grandchildren's version of the language.

What if it doesn't pan out? What if some other explanation, one not involving life, is found and generally accepted by the scientific establishment? The idea of the possibility of life being found in meteorites will, like some movie monsters, prove will nigh unkillable. Variations of it have been around for generations.

Any general consensus by scientists that the finding is not evidence of life after all will almost certainly give rise to new conspiracy theories. This is an era of believing the worst of those in power, and this would be another golden opportunity to do so.

Whether or not it's confirmed, it will undoubtedly have some effect. The only thing I can be sure of is that, based on "predictions" I've seen in the past, much of what actually happens will be unanticipated.

The news about the Martian meteorite reminds me that I've now and then seen maps of other planets, mainly our Moon or Mars but sometimes Venus or Mercury. You usually see them after a new space probe goes by the planet in question.

One thing I've noticed: Maps of other planets, unlike maps of Earth, never seem to show time zones. Now many maps of Earth omit the time zones, but not all. At least a few show them. But I've never seen any map of another planet with time zones marked.

Now some places might not have them. For example, no matter where you are on the surface of the Sun it's always midnight because the Sun is right beneath your feet. So if they did have maps of the Sun they wouldn't have time zones.

And Mercury, with its long day and short eccentric orbit, has the Sun going back and forth in its sky, two steps forward, one step back. Or something like that. So time zones there would be a big mess, and if the map makers haven't figured them out yet I don't blame them.

But what of the others? The one we're most likely to need to actually worry about any time soon is the Moon. That's an interesting situation, since the day there is close to an Earth month, a little over 700 hours. So the Moon might have 700 or so hourly time zones, which means someone half way around from you could be two weeks ahead or behind. That could make it extra interesting to coordinate work schedules between different locations, or plan stuff like holiday parties.

And you've no doubt heard of Jet Lag on Earth. Since the Moon is only about 2000 miles in diameter, each time zone would be only about nine miles across at the equator. So if you go out moon-walking in your space suit and end up at somebody else's dome twenty or thirty miles away you could find yourself suffering from Hiking Lag. And if you go driving around in whatever kind of moon-buggy they'll have up there, Automobile Lag is even more of a worry.

Venus? Mars? I'm getting tired. You figure them out.

If an idea can't be adequately conveyed in the first half of one sentence, put it in writing.

From the Encyclopedia Putridia:

KRUMPELHORN: A musical instrument resembling a baritone horn, but smaller and messier. Its name comes from the unique way it can be packed to take up a minimum amount of space when the performer is on tour.

The instrument is made of a "memory metal", an alloy that can be bent and will later return to its original shape when heated. After the concert the performer simply crumples it up into a ball and stuffs it into any handy nook or cranny of his or her luggage. Upon arrival at the next site the instrument is heated in any convenient oven, often in the hotel kitchen, whereupon it springs back into normal playable shape, almost good as new.

This instrument is not without its drawbacks. The sound of the Krumpelhorn is somewhat tinnier than that of the baritone horn, probably because the metal must be made extremely thin, almost foil-like, for easy crumpling after the concert. And because transportation sometimes runs behind schedule on concert tours and a suitable oven may not be found until the last minute, scorched lips and fingers are a common occupational disease of impatient Krumpelhorn players.

After repeated crumpling the metal occasionally fails to return to its exact former shape upon reheating. Thus the sound of a given instrument will change with age, making each performance unique. Tuning is also rendered problematic, although this can sometimes be an advantage as it can induce the audience to assist an exhausted performer in the sometimes difficult task of crumpling the Krumpelhorn up again after the concert.

Subplot for a movie: A man meets a woman, and they start dating. Sometime after the first date muggers appear and the woman, who turns out to be a martial arts champion, whips them soundly. The man isn't there, but hears about it later. From the reports it's obvious her fighting skills are far superior to his. And then she, or maybe one of his buddies in the locker room or something, asks him if that makes him afraid of her. No, he says, he's not afraid of her, because he never intended to do anything to make her want to fight him.

So anyway, some kittens were in the laundromat washing some mittens they'd won from three other little kittens at poker, when the anti- gambling police burst in and tried to confiscate them. But they succeeded in convincing the anti-gambling police that poker was a game of skill and thus not gambling, and to prove it they played a game with the officers and won their badges and guns and billy clubs and uniforms. So there they were, cops walking their beat unarmed and naked in the dead of night when all decent people are asleep, the only sound being laughter from criminals hiding in various nooks and crannies. The cops felt very vulnerable walking their beat unarmed and naked with no identification to prove they were really cops, but the criminals were too busy laughing at them to actually do anything criminal. And since it was a warm night it actually felt kind of pleasant, and the laughter all around them was contagious, and soon the unarmed naked cops were laughing too.

Then the sky began to lighten as dawn drew near. The unarmed naked cops started to worry about whether the other cops back at the station would laugh at them for losing their badges and guns and billy clubs and uniforms to kittens playing poker and having to walk their beat unarmed and naked the rest of their shift. But the officers who showed up on the beat for the next shift had no sense of humor, and were so busy scooping up criminals who were too busy laughing to resist that they never got around to asking why the night-shift cops were walking their beat unarmed and naked. They just sort of assumed it was some new tactic to paralyze criminals with laughter, and that's what they told the other cops back at the station, and the cops who'd lost their badges and guns and billy clubs and uniforms to kittens playing poker became heroes.

So why don't you see cops walking their beat unarmed and naked every night? Because then it would cease to be funny, like a joke you've heard too many times. And besides, few nights in this city are warm enough for walking around naked to be comfortable. And there are a few criminals out there with no sense of humor, and when they see cops walking the beat unarmed and naked they wouldn't stop to laugh. They'd just go do their criminal thing, secure in the knowledge that unarmed naked cops wouldn't have handcuffs or guns or billy clubs or anything like that and would have a tough time arresting anybody who was willing to put up a fight. And if unarmed naked cops did manage to arrest them, the jury would see the unarmed naked cops testifying and laugh the case right out of court, because wearing clothes to testify in would be perjury or something if you'd arrested the defendant naked.

And besides all that, lots of cops are bashful about nudity. And many of them don't think walking their beat naked is quite in keeping with the dignified upstanding public image the police department tries to convey to the citizens. Some of the nudists on the City Council tried to pass a motion that summer uniforms be extra-itchy all-wool fabric so the cops would get so hot and uncomfortable they'd want to take them off, but that got voted down.

And the kittens that started it all? They went to Nevada and opened a casino and made zillions of dollars and lived happily ever after.

                                The Trade

Camping at an oasis in the Mashed Potato Desert
I float on waters of wonder,
Ignoring for now the bland sameness all around.
I drift toward the sound of strange songs
And spy a great wild bird
Come to drink at the oasis.

It lets me look deep into its eyes
To see there the desolation from which it came,
The hell-demons who in their obscene games
Of rending and twisting lumps of desert blandness
Will now and then chance to spin
A transmutation of pain,
A thing of wild beauty 
So alien to the demons
That their nets of gold are as smoke in its path.  

There is one lure which can draw it,
But its use would require the demons
To cease to be demons
And become creatures of the light.
Some few do,
Though most seem doomed 
To an eternity of throwing nets in the dark. 

Why all this is so is a mystery
Leading those of us chosen to be more than lumps in the desert
To ask if the gods have given us the pain
     as the price for our awakening
Or the wonder as compensation for the pain.

                                        written 1640 hr  4/04/83
                                        typed   0150 hr  5/17/83
                                        entered 1220 hr  3/05/92

                                -- END --

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