December 2014

Sherrie Swensen

Our guest speaker for our November general meeting was our Salt Lake County Clerk, Sherrie Swensen. We were treated to an enlightening discussion of the changes and challenges that have occurred in the voting processes and other County Clerk functions during her many years as our county clerk (and she easily won re-election to this office, thanks to her many years of excellent service).

One of the main things that has occurred was the shift from paper ballots to machine voting. She explained how recent improvements in voting machine technology have made voting not only easier but also more resistant to fraud and errors, since the voting machines also produce a paper hard copy of the votes being cast, which can be used to verify the electronic record.

Another change in recent years is the widespread use of mail-in ballots, which makes it easier for people to vote without the hassle of getting to a polling place on election day. However, she mentioned this means that not all of the ballots cast will be counted by election day, so the final results in close races may not be known until the official tally is released on November 18. This certainly proved to be the case this year when the final results (which now included the mail-in, absentee, and provision ballots) caused a shift in the preliminary results released on election night; three Utah House of Representative seats shifted from Democratic to Republican victories (what had appeared to be a pickup of two House seats for Democrats ended up being a net loss of one). This is the first time in recent memory that there was a shift in the outcome of three races occurring after the preliminary election night results were released).

One of Ms Swensen’s goals has been to encourage voter registration by making voter registration forms widely available, and also to encourage high school registration so that students will be able to vote as soon as they turn 18 years of age. On-line tools are also now available to aid in voter registration. Another improvement is to make early voting available at a number of locations several weeks prior to election day. This allows people to vote early and avoid the crowds on election day; the voting machines at these locations will automatically provide a ballot that matches your current registered address, regardless of where you early vote.

The Salt Lake County Clerk’s office has other duties than elections, such as issuing marriage licenses and passport applications. The Clerk’s office has been diligent in following the recent decisions of the courts in rulings concerning same-sex marriage, and immediately began issuing licenses for same sex couples as soon as it was legal (unlike some other Utah counties which displayed some foot dragging on this issue).

A question and answer discussion followed the presentation, and we concluded the evening feeling much more informed on the duties of this important office.

—Art King

Rama Series
Arthur C. Clark
~Book Report~

A few months ago I was taking about books with chapter president Bob Lane. I was looking for recommendations; the discussion revealed that we had both enjoyed science fiction. I said that I had read Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and many of his other novels. Bob asked me if I had read any Arthur C. Clarke and all I knew about him was the iconic move 2001. Bob suggested that I read the Rama series which includes: Rendezvous with Rama, Rama II, Garden of Rama, and Rama Revealed. I’m glad I took his advice; this is really an interesting and thought provoking series.

It starts in 2139 when SPACEGARD, a system designed to discover and track bodies moving into the solar system that might threaten human civilizations on Earth, the Moon, Mars, and Mercury picks up an object moving fast towards us. The system named the object 31/439 and the astronomers updated it to Rama, the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu and a King of Aydohya in Hindu scriptures-as the pantheon of Greek and Roman deities was long exhausted. It becomes apparent that object, which is both regular, and very large is not an asteroid or other “natural” body; it must have been created by intelligent life.

A manned space ship is sent to rendezvous; the astronauts discover entry ports and explore the interior. They find a large number of structures and landscapes that are fascinating. They do not discover any biological life. However, they do come across a number of robotic creatures that mostly ignore them. There are a lot more questions than answers.

The human population on Mercury convinces themselves that the alien spaceship is a threat to humanity and since they are first in line when Rama comes around the sun,  they decide to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against the alien ship. Astronauts on board are able to thwart the attack and Rama circumvents the sun and streaks out of the solar system. The theme of humans using violence and weapons against things and beings they do not understand is established; and is a concept that carries through the entire series.

Rama II begins almost a century after the appearance of Rama and after a massive economic meltdown. There are no longer human colonies on the Moon or Mars or Mercury when the Rama craft returns. Another mission is commissioned to rendezvous and see if it is the same ship or another similar craft.

Nicole de Jardins is introduced; the rest of the series centers on this remarkable lady who is of African and French lineage. She is an Olympic gold medalist and unknown to anyone else, the mother of a daughter and the Crown Prince of England who she met briefly after the Olympics. She truly represents all that is good in humanity.

In this book a few of the humans are left behind on the Rama ship when the others leave to go back to earth. We are introduced to two more biologic species one of which seems nefarious and dangerous and the other, while seemingly illiterate, saves Nicole who falls in a pit by feeding her. It becomes apparent that since they are traveling away from our solar system that if humans are going to survive Nicole will need to bear children. There are two males and so the plot thickens. They learn to communicate with the ship (Ramans?) and end up in a state of suspended animation  and are transported to another star system. They are informed that the Ramans are in the business of collecting beings who have achieved space flight. As the books progress, Nicole and company are taken back to earth to inform humanity that 2000 people are needed for permanent colony in a benevolent zoo. Human leaders are reticent to fulfill the request but are threatened to either provide the colonists or they will be harvested. Eventually a program to recruit people is falsely represented to be for a recolonization of Mars. There is now a habitat on Rama designed for humans, with parks, cities, stores, etc. which is called New Eden.

It does not turn out to be a utopia though. Greed and avarice win and exploring beyond their habitat they find other species and proceed to slaughter them.

There are other species in the books but interestingly we never meet a biological version of a Raman. There are sophisticated robot creatures but no biological forms of the zoo keepers.

I recommend this series for any of you who enjoy good science fiction.

—Wayne Wilson

Website of the Month
The Neighborhood We Live In

Flo Wineriter recommends this website which starts with the earth and then moves out, way out. It is fascinating how huge the universe it. Check out the 26 images that progressively retreat from the starting point of Terra Firma

President’s Report

Hello Humanists and all assorted free thinkers. I hope the holiday season is going well for all. I still enjoy this time of the year even if I don’t believe in the Jesus thing. In my life I have been asked a couple of times why I still “participate”, and I have replied that I wasn’t going to let the Christians have all the fun with the materialistic orgy and gorging of food without me. I still also enjoy the giving, which is why Friends and relatives receive my homemade cookies each year. It’s a bit of work but I do enjoy baking a couple thousand or more cookies each year. It’s not a bad way to keep the kitchen warm this time of year. I even still like the winter season, though I look forward to spring more now because of my love of gardening. Anyway, enough rambling for now.

Thursday December 11, we will host our annual dinner. I’ll be picking up all the big items and board members brings an item of their own making (I’ll be bringing the “Funeral Potatoes”). The last few years the dinner has been pretty much just that, a dinner. This year we will again have some entertainment (musical) and we will also have a raffle for a dollar a ticket with all the proceeds going to the Homeless Youth Resource Center. Also in that regard please bring other donations you might want to give as well and we will deliver them to the Center along with the proceeds from the raffle.

Darwin Day will be coming up in February, so I thought I would mention it now so you can plan ahead to join us. Through the years we have had speakers on a variety if subject in keeping with the idea that Darwin Day isn’t just about Darwin, or evolution, but about all of science. With that in mind I have said I would like this year to have an astronomy theme. We’ll see if we can find someone to speak to that theme.

This year again we will be hosting it at Eliot Hall and we need a few volunteers to help, especially with set up and take down, so let us know if you can help and come and give us a hand.

I always say I hope to see you for some good food and good conversation.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU