Monthly Archives: December 2010


Click Here to see our events this month.

And while you’re at it, watch a great Video about our upcoming AG.

Here’s our Facebook Group

And which physical conundrums would you recommend for our AG in Banff on May 20 through 23? Choose a half dozen from the assortment at PuzzleMaster and email your thoughts to our LocSec or Newsletter editor. We’ll publish the best selection with the reasons in support.

It’s time to renew Mensa memberships. Take the easy route by clicking Renew and following the directions.

Have a great holiday season.


If you want to lift your spirits, see the hilarious film about our upcoming Annual Gathering on our special AG Home Page The event takes place in Banff, nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. For sheer joy and the experience of a lifetime, come to the natural surroundings that attract visitors from around the world. The dates are May 20 through 23, 2011. Expect an international crowd and a mix of laughter and challenge, breadth and depth, games, songs and earnest debate. And don’t forget the out-of-doors. The above web site contains full detail. To volunteer in various capacities, contact Vicki Herd at


Check out our Facebook group, an Update of plans for our May Banff gathering, and the LocSec’s December message. The links are listed in the right margin of this Newsletter.

Our puzzles this month amount to a game and the giving of bread to starving children. How to win a game of lines and dots, is the first question. The second is which child will find more crust on his slice of bread.

The Articles contain a look at economic growth. How predictable is it, and what are the anatomy and physiology of this animal? We may be spending far too much time thinking about the beast and its dreadful dark cousins, recession and depression. If even the experts can’t say what is happening, perhaps we should just keep our heads down, invoke the deities that attract us most, and enjoy the day.

Susan Joyal has prepared a survey of our members and set out the conclusions in brilliant format. What do you believe are the reasonable inferences that can be drawn?

Most Americans are against the death penalty. This shocking result emerged from a respectable poll, and the best conclusions were published in Le Monde. On the assumption that we can scrape together enough savvy to grasp the main points of the article, we publish it here.

And many of us appreciate a glass of Champagne now and then. Well, a few bottles were recently raised from the seabed after 185 years. They taste fine, better than fine. For more information, see Feature 4.


This feature will describe current events in Calgary, divided into two classes: Mensa Events and General Interest Events. For practical reasons, only Mensa Events will appear in our Calendar.

Click here to see the Calendar for this month. Use it as a reference by rolling your mouse over the links or just as a reminder. Bookmark it today!


1) This connect-and-add-dots (CAAD) game is also a puzzle. Let’s consider it first as a game. At the end of a long day’s work, Bob and Barbara need a challenge, so they place a few dots on a page. For convenience, we’ll say three dots. Barbara draws a curve from one dot to another and adds a new dot along the curve. There are now four dots on the page. Bob then joins two dots, adding a new dot along his curve. This makes five dots on the page. They continue to join and add dots in similar fashion. Curves may range anywhere from perfect arcs to irregular squiggles. A maximum of three rays may extend from each dot, and curves cannot pass through a dot (except, of course, the new dot added to a curve). The challenge is to be the last person able to join two dots. The puzzle aspect consists of questions such as whether the number of dots at the beginning determines who wins? Does it matter which dots a player joins? Does it matter whether curves are allowed to cross each other? CAADs can be varied to add spice. Any ideas?

2) Anton takes his ten hungry children to the baker, but there’s only one loaf of bread left. The bread is perfectly spherical. The baker has a slicer, which cuts the loaf into pieces of equal thickness. When the baker has finished, there are ten slices. The end pieces seem to have more crust than the middle ones, but which child in fact receives the most crust and why?

The answers to last month’s puzzles were supplied last month.

Here are the answers to this month’s puzzles:

1) The core of this game/puzzle is that each curve reduces the potential rays by two, while adding one potential ray (the new dot). It therefore matters whether we start with an even or odd number of dots and players. The arrangement of the dots doesn’t matter, because curves may vary in shape. But it’s important whether we’re allowed to draw lines that cross other lines; if yes, we avoid the Bridges of Konisberg problem. In our example which begins with three dots, eight curves can be drawn before we run out of options. There are two players, and Barbara went first. She will therefore lose.

2) All slices have the same amount of crust. The easiest way to see this is to compare the sphere with a cylinder whose height and diameter match the sphere. The surface area of the corresponding slices of sphere and cylinder are the same.


We [Americans] look back on the late 1990s as a rare time when the federal government ran budget surpluses. We tend to forget that those surpluses came as a surprise to almost everybody.


As late as 1998, the Congressional Budget Office was predicting a deficit for 1999. In fact, Washington ran its biggest surplus in five decades.

What happened? Above all, economic growth. And that may be a big part of the answer to our current problems.

Yes, the government became more fiscally conservative in the 1990s. Both President George H. W. Bush (who doesn’t get enough credit) and President Bill Clinton, working with Congress, raised taxes to attack the 1980s deficits.

But those tax increases were the second most important reason for the surpluses that followed. The most important was the fact that the economy grew more rapidly than expected. The faster growth pushed up incomes and caused more tax revenue to flow into the Treasury.

Today’s looming deficits are almost surely too large to be closed exclusively with growth. The baby boom generation is too big, and the rise in Medicare costs continues to be too steep. Yet growth could still make an enormous difference.

If the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades — no easy feat, to be fair — the country would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting than it now appears, based on my reading of budget data from the economists Alan Auerbach and William Gale.

To get a concrete sense for what this would mean, you can play around with the The Times’s online deficit puzzle. It asks you to find almost $1.4 trillion in annual spending cuts and tax increases by the year 2030. If growth were a half point faster than expected, the needed savings would instead drop to less than $700 billion. That would mean many fewer painful choices, be they tax increases or Medicare cuts.

So arguably the single best way to cut the deficit is to make sure that any deficit-cutting plan does not also cut economic growth. Ideally, it will lift growth.

There are two main ways to do so. First, we shouldn’t plunge ourselves back into another economic slump by raising taxes and cutting spending too quickly. President Franklin Roosevelt made that mistake in 1937, and this time (one hopes) the country won’t be able to rely on war mobilization spending to undo the error.

In the short term, we should actually spend more. “Some politicians and economists present a false choice: reduce unemployment or stabilize the debt,” argues a new bipartisan deficit plan that will be released Wednesday, the second such plan to come out in the last week. As Alice Rivlin, a Democrat who oversaw the writing of the plan with Pete Domenici, a Republican, put it: “We can do both. We can put money in people’s pockets in the short run and trim government spending in the long run.” .

The plan calls for a one-year payroll tax holiday for employers and workers, costing $650 billion. But remember that’s a one-time sum, while the needed deficit cuts will be hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Relative to those cuts, a payroll tax holiday — or more spending on roads and bridges, as President Obama favors — is a rounding error. And, of course, putting people back to work has its own benefits.

Even more important than the next couple of years is the second part of a pro-growth strategy: the long term. A good deficit plan doesn’t simply make across-the-board cuts for years on end. It cuts funding for programs that do not spur economic growth and increases funding for those relatively few that do. Likewise, it raises tax rates that do not have a clear record of promoting growth and cuts those that do.

This task is not an easy one, because advocates and lobbyists inevitably claim that their idea, whatever it is, will help the larger economy. Just look at farm subsidies, a form of welfare for agribusiness that is supposedly crucial to the American economy. Or look at President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which, after being sold as an economic elixir, were followed by the slowest decade of growth since before World War II.

The two bipartisan deficit proposals that have come out over the last week each do a pretty good job, but not quite good enough, of focusing on economic growth. The most pro-growth part of both proposals — the Domenici-Rivlin plan and the one from Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson — is their emphasis on tax reform.

Today’s tax code is a thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that force people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large of a tax bill. A tax code with fewer deductions and lower rates — which, to be clear, is not the same thing as a tax cut — would instead let businesses and households focus on being as productive as possible. The potential to make good money would drive more decisions, and the ability to qualify for a tax break would drive fewer.

Beyond tax reform, both deficit plans mention the importance of making investments that will lead to future growth. In particular, the Bowles-Simpson plan calls for a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to pay for highways, mass transit and other projects. The plans also urge the government to prioritize education and science.

These are clearly among the best ways to promote growth. The United States created the world’s most prosperous economy last century in large measure because it was the world’s most educated country. It no longer is. Federal science dollars, meanwhile, led to the creation of the intercontinental railroad, the airline industry, the microchip, the personal computer, the Internet and numerous medical breakthroughs. Yet science funding is scheduled to decline as stimulus money runs out.

Unfortunately, the plans don’t get more specific than saying that education and science are important. The only dedicated money for specific investments in either plan is the infrastructure fund financed by the gas tax. And, realistically, exhorting a future Congress to avoid wasteful spending and prioritize growth has about as much chance of success as exhorting it to find the political will to revamp Medicare.

The two bipartisan deficit groups deserve a lot of credit for starting to move the debate beyond vagaries. There is one more step they can take, though: making sure we remember that cutting the deficit is not only about making cuts.

(David Leonhardt, New York Times, 16November2010)


Contrairement aux idées reçues, deux tiers des Américains seraient favorables au remplacement de la peine de mort par des peines de prison à vie, avec et sans possibilité de sortie, selon une étude publiée mardi 16 novembre. Réalisée à la demande du Centre d’information sur la peine de mort (DPIC), qui fait autorité sur le sujet, cette étude est “la plus complète jamais faite sur la peine de mort”, selon sa directrice Celinda Lake.


Soixante questions posées à 1 500 personnes inscrites sur les listes électorales, à travers tout le pays, montrent que “la croyance populaire selon laquelle une majorité d’Américains soutiennent la peine de mort sans restriction, (…) est erronée : lorsqu’on leur donne le choix, la majorité des Américains se prononcent pour une punition alternative”, a expliqué la spécialiste lors d’une conférence de presse.

Concrètement, 39 % se prononcent pour des condamnations à la perpétuité sans possibilité de sortie et avec obligation de travailler pour indemniser les familles de victimes, 13 % pour la perpétuité sans possibilité de sortie, 9 % pour la perpétuité en laissant la possibilité de sortir et 33 % pour la peine de mort.


Plusieurs facteurs entrent en ligne de compte, montre l’étude réalisée en mai, parmi lesquels le coût exorbitant de la peine capitale par rapport aux solutions alternatives, mais aussi le risque d’exécuter un innocent et le fait qu’elle est souvent liée à “la couleur de peau, au revenu mensuel et au lieu d’habitation d’une personne”. Mme Lake note également que “deux groupes émergent” lourdement opposés à la peine capitale : les Latinos (72 %) qui citent souvent des raisons morales et religieuses, et les jeunes âgés de moins de 30 ans (70 %).

Interrogés sur les priorités budgétaires qu’ils aimeraient voir adoptées dans leur Etat, les sondés placent en outre le système de la peine de mort en dernier (19 % en font une priorité absolue, 33 % pas du tout), au profit des écoles (une priorité absolue pour 50 %) ou des créations d’emplois (une priorité absolue pour 55 %). “Ces résultats montrent que les Américains sont ouverts à une vraie discussion sur la peine de mort”, a commenté mardi Richard Dieter, directeur du DPIC.

Le sondage a été réalisé en mai par Lake Research Partner auprès d’un échantillon représentatif de 1 500 personnes inscrites sur les listes électorales, avec une marge d’erreur de 2,5 %.

(Le Monde, 16November2010)


The world’s oldest Champagne has been at the bottom of the sea for almost 200 years. It still tastes pretty good.


Two bottles were cracked open today [November 17, 2010] that were discovered in July in a shipwreck, 50 meters (54.7 yards) below the surface, in the waters south of Aaland, a Finnish-controlled archipelago of 6,500 islands in the Baltic sea.

The Aaland authorities only discovered yesterday while recorking some of the bottles that they contained two varieties of Champagne: Veuve Clicquot and Juglar, an old house now part of Jacquesson. While 168 were found, many were broken and others contaminated.

I was one of a group of journalists allowed to try them in the cultural center in Mariehamn, the islands’ only town.

Both are sweet, as was the custom of the time. The Juglar is deep and rich with notes of orange and raisin, like a Christmas cake. The Veuve is lighter and more floral, with layers of complexity. Both may be 185 years old.

The oldest Veuve Clicquot held by the Champagne house dates back to 1893, said Francois Hautekeur, a winemaker with Veuve, who is assisting with preserving the Champagne.

“We were replacing the corks yesterday and I was hoping we might find ours because Madame Clicquot was selling a lot of Champagne in the Baltic at that time,” Hautekeur said in an interview today. “Then I eased out one cork and I saw ‘Reims’ and ‘QUOT’ and I knew. It was the best moment in my professional career, maybe my life.”

Finland Route

The sweetness to the Champagne prompted speculation it might have been headed for Russia. The boat was found in an old shipping lane and Finland is now considered more likely.

While the exact age isn’t yet known, marine archeologists estimate the twin-masted schooner on which the bottles were found is from the second quarter of the 19th century. Plates on board were manufactured by Rorstrand porcelain factory between 1780 and 1830, the Aaland Board of Antiquities says on Aaland’s website. The divers also discovered bottles of what may be the world’s oldest beer.

When one of the Champagne bottles was brought to the surface earlier, the pressure change caused the cork to pop. One diver took a swig from the bottle expecting it to taste of seawater and realized that it was good.

The team drank some from plastic beakers, resealed it and took it to sommelier Ella Grussner Cromwell-Morgan to taste the next day.

Oak Casks

“Despite the fact that it was so amazingly old, there was a freshness to the wine,” she told Aalandstidningen newspaper. “It wasn’t debilitated in any way. Rather, it had a clear acidity which reinforced the sweetness. Finally, a very clear taste of having been stored in oak casks.”

The champagne was so well preserved because it lay horizontally, under pressure, at a low temperature and in the dark.

At the good-humored tasting today, the flash bulbs popped — the Champagne corks didn’t, because a lot of the fizz has gone out of the bottles. After we did the official tasting, a scrum of onlookers joined in because everyone else wanted a sip.

Aaland plans to auction one bottle of each Champagne in coming months and sell others in the future, said Brit Lundberg, the official in charge of education and culture. Five bottles will be retained and others might be used in a special blend of Champagne.

“It’s difficult to estimate what the two bottles will fetch at auction in Mariehamn because they are unique and it depends who is bidding,” Richard Juhlin, a Champagne expert who led the tasting, said in an interview. The bottles may fetch 100,000 euros ($135,000) each, he said.

If he’s right, I have just consumed about 10,000 euros of Champagne in a few minutes. I’m not sure even Keith Richards has managed that.

(Richard Vines, Bloomberg News, 17November2010)


Decem, the old 10th month of the Roman year, brings us the shortest days and longest nights here, sure to give you the blues: turquoise; lapis; zircon; and tanzanite. But Hannukah starts December, and if you’re Jewish, that’ll light things up!

Of course, Christians celebrate the Mass of Christ on the 25th, and atheist humanists, just to be provocative, beat that day by celebrating themselves on the 23rd – pretty narcissistic of them! Other noteworthy birthdays on the 25th include Jimmy Buffet and Sir Isaac Newton – quite the contrasting combination! Our shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice on the 21st, so things will brighten up in time. Nobel prizes are handed out on the 10th, and South Africa has its Truth and Reconciliation Day on the 16th, courtesy of Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Couldn’t all the rest of us use some of that, too?

As promised the results of the September-October survey are in. Of 173 current (October) members, 26 took the time to answer the survey, a response rate of 16%. That says a lot on its own. There were some interesting responses as to why events weren’t attended; some very helpful tips and feedback; and some words of praise that were most appreciated. More on the surveys in the newsletter, and thanks to those who gave invaluable assistance with that!

So here it is – we’re rebooting the way we do business. SIGs (Special Interest Groups) are starting. The first one is SciSIG, which I’ll be sponsoring. It concerns anything of science interests, like astronomy at the Telus World of Science or the Royal Astronomical Society; geology field trips; Science Café; attending meetings of the Alberta Paleaontological Society; and so on. We’ll communicate via e-mail and a blog (when we get that going) and on the Facebook page. No need to inundate the humanists and hikers with science stuff. Other SIGs could include: bridge and other card games; working out; architecture; dining; travelling; modeling; and so on. Here’s the thing, though – YOU have to start and sponsor a SIG that you want to be in and want other Ms to join you. In order to offer a variety of activities to pique members’ interests, let’s get active! If you want to share your expertise, start a SIG and see who shows up! You’re not obligated to a once a week event – maybe only once a year will do to start. Calgary Mensa is only as good as the people in it. Goodness knows we have the brainpower and abilities to really get some SIGs going!

As for communication, it’s been streamlined to one major channel – the monthly newsletter, which will then have links to the calendar, website, SIGs, Facebook, AG, and so on. If you like virtual reality, here it is! Weekly e-mails are no longer, as the newsletter and its connections will do that job. For updates, check the monthly calendar and connect with the SIG you’re interested in. HUGE thanks to Aaron and Robert C who are spearheading our transition into the 21st Century, as it’s about time. Thanks, guys – it’s a very big job. And we still need a webmaster. Interested?

Speaking of good people, our fabulous Communications guys have started a Yahoo Group (among many other changes, updates, and innovations they have initiated) for instant notification and discussion about only what you’re interested in and sign up for – more on that later. Thanks, guys! And Vicki reports that our guest speaker list and lectures for the upcoming AG is spectacular! You’ll be amazed at what is being offered in Banff over the Victoria Day weekend.

The major theme of this year is making our national/international AG in May, 2011 a huge success – and you can help! Start here:

All the best wishes for the season, and may you and your friends and family enjoy health, happiness, and prosperity over the new year. Stay safe and warm, and welcome to 2011! Hope to see you then.

Jeff Pugh


2010-11 November AG Planning Update

December’s Update on the May 2011 Extravaganza is as follows:
1. Registration Statistics
a. 18 paid up registrants
b. 60 room nights booked

Remember that AG registration increases from $149 to $169 on January 1, 2011. Please also note it costs nothing to book your hotel room nights. The hotel will ask for credit card details to reserve your room. You do not have to pay the hotel until you check out in May 2011.

2. Hotel
A couple of interesting developments have occurred here. We have increased our room night commitment from 150 room nights to 200 room nights given the strong interest shown in our event.

The most interesting development is that the hotel had to withdraw its offer of the Vice Regal Suite and Wing. The reason is special guests will be sharing the hotel who require the extra security afforded in the Vice Regal Wing. My spidey-sense is telling me this may be the venue for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s honeymoon. The royal wedding is slated for April 29 so it is not out of the realm of possibilities that they would be in Banff 3 weeks later. What a coup if our royalty theme AG has attracted the future king and queen of England. If my spidey-sense is a Mensa delusion, we can create a challenge where our guests have to discover the identity of the VIP in the Vice Regal Wing.

3. Hospitality
Now for the good news…. To compensate for reneging on giving us the Vice Regal Suite for Hospitality the hotel benevolently offered to allow us to serve our own food and drinks in the Ivor Petrak Room which was going to serve as our Games Room and “dry” hospitality and meet up room. This is an absolute bonus because the Ivor Petrak room is located on the Mezzanine Level of the hotel adjacent to the elevators, next to Grapes wine bar, close to all our program venues and will have no after-hours noise restrictions.

Ginny Vassal is back in town and has started her Hospitality planning process already. Leslie Forward has offered to be night time Hospitality host bringing a 20-something sensibility to the nighttime Hospitalty Suite highjinks.

4. Program
Major progress has occurred in programming presenters for the AG. See some presenters on our AG website:
Presenters who have confirmed their participation but are not yet listed on our website are:

a. Jean-Yves St. Denis – Political Climate Behind the Rwandan Genocide
Former aide-de-camp to General Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda Jean-Yves witnessed the atrocities in Rwanda and gives a fascinating insider’s account of the events leading up to the genocide. Still suffering the effects of post traumatic stress disorder Jean-Yves would also like to participate in a forum to discuss PTSD. Jean-Yves has yet to deliver his official profile for our website.

b. Raihan Khan – A Former Muslim’s Views on Islam
Our very own Raihan Khan recently had his views on Afghanis published in the New York Times. Raihan is writing a book on the subject and will share his views with us in Banff.

c. Dan Fraser – How Hypnotism Really Works
Dan Fraser is a passionate speaker, trainer and mental skills coach. He is a Certified Consulting Hypnotist and Sports Hypnotist with the National Guild of Hypnotists and is trained in Guided Imagery and Verbal Trauma Control. As an adventure racer and Ironman triathlete, Dan has seen great success in harnessing the power of the mind to improve athletic performance. As a full time law enforcement trainer, he uses these skills to give police officers the mental edge in winning violent encounters. Dan is currently the President of the Hypnosis Society of Alberta.

d. Vicki Herd – A Personal Genographic Journey
Since the Dearborn AG where I heard about National Geographic’s Genographic Project I have purchased 6 DNA kits. I have traced my Mitochondrial DNA back 150,000 years and discovered my maternal ancestor’s migratory route out of Africa. I have done the same for my son and boyfriend’s paternal ancestry. All 3 results are stunningly different with 3 distinct migratory patterns which all jive with our understanding of the locations of our ancestors a few generations back. I am taking 3 DNA kits to Australia and plan to trace my father’s paternal and maternal DNA as well as my step-daughter’s maternal DNA. My step-daughter’s mother is 75% Chinese and 25% Polynesian so it should provide a diverging migratory pattern. My talk will centre on the impact the DNA results have on my family’s view of their place in the world and of their ancestors.

Yet to be confirmed presenters are:

e. Jack Major – A Retired Supreme Court Justice
f. Bob Herold – Afghanistan Veteran to talk about the conflict in Afghanistan
g. Patricia Paterson – Learning Leader from the Gifted and Talented Education Program at Queen Elizabeth High School along with an exceptionally gifted student
h. Ted Bain/Holly Bain – Everything to Do With Cats
Former Mensa Calgary members Ted and Holly have been running A Purrfect Place, a 5-star state of the art cattery, successfully for more than 10 years making them cat (and cat owner) experts.

5. Entertainment
Serendipity plays a large part in organizing successful events only when one’s radar is constantly scanning for AG relevant activities. I may have accessed the “almost free” services of a big band to play for us in Banff. A member from Lethbridge is playing tenor sax with a Calgary-based big band.

6. Other Planning Activities
Our Committee members should be prepared to give an update on their planning processes in early January. We want everything nailed down by the end of February so the Committee has 3 months to fill any gaps in its programming and activities.

I would like to wish a happy holiday season to all.

Vicki Herd


Mike Bowerman
2010/11/26 in response to FEATURE4 CALGARY’S DREAM

What does this have to do with high intelligence? The most intelligent figures in history are notable for their modest lifestyles, and massive contributions to humanity, not for wealth or displays of opulence. Einstein, Newton, Darwin.

Notably, the Ambani family’s fortunes were built by the father, Dhirubai, yet it is an heir who is building the tower, which highlights the fact the tower has nothing to do with the merit (be it high intelligence or industriousness) of the individual building it. Being born rich doesn’t require, or indicate, high intelligence.

This tower is simply a Veblen good — conspicuous consumption intended to signal status to others.

A more appropriate article to be posting on the website of a high-IQ society would be a discussion about the relationship between intelligence and financial success (not a remotely perfect correlation — as Einstein/Darwin versus the Ambani heirs shows), or between intelligence and morality (no connection as Nobel-laureate William Shockley’s racist delusions show).

The deep moral flaws in a world of severe deprivation in which some of our most talented — and intelligent — citizens are forced to squander their gifts while languishing in brutal poverty are so clear that they should not need stating.

The website of a high-IQ society should be posting articles based in reason and/or values that are logically defensible — like the science-based morality Sam Harris promotes in The Moral Landscape. In that spirit, this site would be celebrating the innovative ways people are seeking to empower the world’s disadvantaged and decrying the waste of resources on childish vanities.

This article would more accurately be titled the “dream” of the individual who posted it. It is a nightmare for the poor of Mumbai, and would be an embarrassment for the city of Calgary.

Incidentally, why isn’t the source of the article credited? This article was written by Jim Yardley and printed in the New York Times. Crediting him and linking the article are appropriate uses of others’ content.