site home site map letters November 1999 email


Letters to the Editor, November 1999


This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for November 1999.

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Other Correspondence Pages


From: Connie Trier
Date: 11/21/99
Subj: Thompson Turkey

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I lost the recipe which I had clipped from the Seattle Times years ago. I have never had the nerve to try it until last year, and that's when I discovered my recipe was missing. So.... Maybe this year.

You're welcome. Go for it. If someone shows up at your doorstep with a sign reading "Will give recipes for food" that will be me.
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From: CheriIcee7
Date: 11/17/99
Subj:
blah blah blah

hello. i am a 16 year old student faced with the task of analyzing "godot" and i wanted to tell you that i actually found your analyses helpful as well as humorous blah blah blah, well i wont steal your stuff anymore...thanks!

Always glad to be of service. The dish of satire is best served with a garnish of truth.
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From: Chip Hitchcock
Date: 11/17/99
Subj:
Energy requirements...

So what does this do to your calculations in "So Where Are They?". You assumed spread at .001c, which seems impossible for external energy sources. (Achieving this speed with on-board fuel seems much less likely because you spend so much energy accelerating fuel which you then burn.) Does this reduce the possible transstellar speed so far that spreading across the galaxy would take longer than its current age?

1000 km/sec is about .003c so we are okay there. A speed of .001c would reduce the energy requirement by an order of magnitude. What I implicitly had in mind for the "energy requirements" article was an interstellar probe with fairly simple functionality at arrival; something like a seed ship that delivered primitive life. If the objective is to carry intelligent lifeforms or perhaps Von Neumann machines the mass would, I opine, much greater than ten metric tons. It's more or less of a wash.

The on-board fuel issue is not quite what it seems. If you have an ION drive with a 20,000 km/sec exhaust velocity you only need 5% of your mass for reaction mass to get to 1000 km/sec. The difficulty is that you need a compact energy source that can last for thousands of years and deliver the requisite amount of energy which is, as we have seen, large.

Prospects for the galaxy spreading scenario looks a little grim. We launch a ship which carries the technology for creating a colony and launching another ship within a few thousand years. The original ship is big - more like 10,000 metric tons rather than 10 metric tons. The energy requirements for launch go up from .005 Quads to 5 Quads. When you count the cost of stopping at the destination you need another 5 Quads.

Even if we assume that the home world has the requisite technology so that 10 Quads is an acceptable cost (current US energy production in a year is 1 Quad) the colony world has to tool up to the point where it can afford to send out a secondary ship. At .003c the travel times would be about 1000 years between stars. Allow another thousand years to tool up, minimum. You end up with the same kind of numbers within an order of magnitude. To answer your question - no.

I still don't think probes could spread even in 2*10**8 years -- building a machine that can survive even one few-thousand-year period without maintenance seems at least as difficult as stopping it at its destination -- but you've put an interesting additional constraint on your speculations.
Building such a machine isn't, I opine, a problem in principle. There are lifeforms, even multicellular life forms, than can go for millenia in stasis and then resume activity. There is, however, a small difficulty - how do you design and *test* such machines. It would take many thousands of years to determine the failure modes of such machines.

There is an additional problem - how do you preserve the mission imperative over millions of years and thousands of replications. Presumably some percentage of the launches fail, not because the probe failed to arrive successfully, but because the passengers (either colonists or von Neumann machines) decided that they didn't want to sacrifice all for a subsequent launch.

There is a critical factor here that makes for a gambler's ruin problem. Suppose a colony launches N ships with each one having a probability p of failing. Then the mean number of successful launches is Np. If Np>1 one might suppose that the process would go to the limit; however the catch is that there is a finite probability that bad luck will cause the the spread to stop. Complicating things is the consideration that p will decrease over time (degradation of the mission imperative.)

The upshot is that, barring hyperdrives or other exotic physics, the likelihood of interstellar colonization is marginal at best. Fundamentally it is a very expensive proposition even given the resources of a determined, long lived, highly advanced civilization.

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From: USMCJROTCMLT
Date: 11/10/99
Subj: HAPPY BIRTHDATE MC

SIR HOW YOU DOING I'M A STUDENT IN HIGH SCHOOL AND I'M A CADET OF THE US MC JROTC PROGRAM IN MY HIGH SCHOOL I WANT TO GO IN TO THE MARINE CORP WELL I KNOW SOME OF THE GOOD THING ABOUT MC. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THE BAD STUFF.WHAT I NEED TO BECOME A GOOD MARINE I'M A PFC AND I'M A JUNIOR IN HIGH SCHOOL . SIR THE JROTC IS GONNA HELP ME ALOT JROTC MEANS "JUNIOR RESERVES OFFICERS TRAINING CORPS" I KNOW THAT IN BOOTCAMP THE DRILL INSRUCTOR TEACH HOW TO MARCH AND OTHER THINGS THAT THE OTHER CADETS DONT KNOW AND I KNOW ALL THAT. THANK YOU FOR YOU TIME. HAPPY BIRTHDATE MARINES

SINCERELY

CADET PRIVATE FIRST CLASS IN HIGH SCHOOL

So you want to know about boot camp? The best description I've ever seen is in Kipling's poem, THE 'EATHEN.

In boot camp they will work you hard and run you ragged. You will learn to take orders and obey them. You won't like it at the time. You will be very glad you went through it afterwards.

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From: Morgan Wilson
Date: 11/10/99
Subj: Boot camp

MY NAME IS MORGAN WILSON AND I RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINES. I LEAVE FOR BOOTCAMP JAN 9 2000, COULD YOU TELL ME WHAT TO EXPECT AND IF I CHOSE A GOOD M.O.S. I CHOSE INTELLIGENCE-DD. I'M FROM STARR, S.C.

It's a good MOS. Let me explain something simple; every Marine is a rifleman first. In boot camp they will strip away your civilian ways and shape you into being a Marine. In Infantry training they will teach how to crawl through mud. If you want to know what boot camp is about find a copy of Kipling's poem and read the poem, THE 'EATHEN. This verse tells it all:
The young recruit is silly - 'e thinks o' suicide.
'E's lost 'is gutter-devil; 'e 'asn't got his pride.
But day by day they kicks 'im, which 'elps 'im on a bit,
Till 'e finds 'isself one mornin' with a full an' proper kit.
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From: Patrick Milne
Date: 10/26/99
Subj: Your Site

I have just spent a very enjoyable time reading your stuff and all I can say is that I like it very much - more power to you.

Patrick Milne
Harrogate
England

Thank you kindly. I appreciate the fan letters.

... continued on next rock ...

Many thanks for your reply to my earlier email.

Having read even further into your pages I find I am delighted that such wit and intelligence exists on the internet - there is so much awful, brain dead nonsense on it that gems like your site are a relief and a affirmation of the ascent of man.

I dunno. If my site is an affirmation of the ascent of man then man is in big trouble and woman isn't doing too well either.
I'm interested in political correctness humour and I'll be looking further in your site to find some (It'll be there somewhere). You may be interested in this example.
There is some scattered here and there. My site is an equal opportunity offensiveness site. The "strange links" page has a link to http://swissnet.ai.mit.edu/zoo/index.html which should be just to your taste.
Several weeks ago there was an apalling and tragic train wreck near Paddington station in London (thirty dead). The police, in addition to pulling the dead and dying from the wreckage, notifying families and trying to keep the baying press at bay, managed, in the first couple of hours after the accident, to organise some basic food and beverages for the injured and the emergency services.

A group of counsellors from an ethnic organisation arrived with the noble intention of offering support and assistance to injured members of their race and religion. (Albeit that the fire brigade, ambulance service, police force and British Rail were alerady helping everyone and anyone that they could find, regardless of origin or belief).

To cut a long story short, there will soon be an expensive and lengthy official enquiry (this is not a joke) into the insensitive and racist behaviour of the police in their treatment of this group of counsellors.

The dreadful crime to be answered? The police had ordered the wrong type of sandwiches. Only bacon or sausage were available, a clear and deliberate insult to any Muslim in attendance. (the fact that the bacon or sausage "butty" is the most commonly ordered sandwich in the country appears to be no defence. What were these evil cops thinking of?).

Again - enjoyed your site. Keep up the good work.

Oh, my! How could they have done such a thing!? I am under the impression that the good old US of A is setting the pace for politically correct nonsense but this may be mere provincialism on my part. I hope you've heard about the fuss in Canada about naming cows. It seems that a feminist named Genevieve took strong exception to a cow on a government research station having her name. Being one of the powers that be, she pushed through Federal cows could not be given human female names. I understand that after much merriment the regulation has been quietly shelved.
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From: Marco Irlitti
Date: 10/25/99
Subj: Collaboration

I'm interested in becoming a regular contributor to your ezine. Please checkout my ezine at: http://www.empowermagazine.com.au and let me know if there are any articles of interest to you.

Regards

Marco Irlitti
Editor
emPOWER magazine

I took a look at your ezine. It's well done for what it appears you want to do with it but it doesn't much accord with my interests. Much of the material that is featured in your ezine is material that, to put it politely, I would be quite uninterested in publishing. However that material is by your contributors; you might have your own thoughts that would be more in accord with the spirit of my ezine. I don't know what those thoughts might be, though.
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From: John Grant
Date: 10/10/99
Subj: Boot camp

hi im 20 years old and i just enlisted 4 the usmc and i wondered if you could give me some advice on REALLY being preped for boot camp. my name is jason and everyone glorifys the way the D.I. is, if possible could you email me back giving me a quick briefing i'd appreciate it.

There is only one thing that you really need to know about boot camp: Everybody else got through it; you can too. Other advice: Keep your mouth shut, do what you're told, and don't smart off. Be prepared to accept the fact that they are going to shit on you (figuratively speaking, of course). You will be harassed, intimidated, and run ragged. You may find yourself scrubbing a floor with a toothbrush. That's the down side.

The upside is that when you get through boot camp you will be a Marine. (Well you won't really, but you will be entitled to call yourself one.)

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From: mukasa
Date: 10/6/99
Subj: I love this!

At 01:17 AM 10/6/99 -0700, you wrote: Just wanted to let you know that your homepage is WONDERFUL! Keep it up...I'm looking forward to your updates.
Tracy.

You obviously are a person of great sensitivity and discerning taste so I take your praise as high praise indeed.
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From: Tim Bannister (TBannstr@aol.com
Date: 10/24/99
Subj: CSLewis-addressing evil

I disagree strongly with the afterthought regarding CS Lewis's "preoccupation" with evil. He indeed points out the small sins and transgressions that lead to evil. In other works he has stated plainly that we don't simply wake up one morning and decide to be evil. It starts with a small aquiescence over unethical business practices, petty lies, winking over a cup of coffee, etc.; in my own words, it's a matter of "practice makes perfect", whether "small" sins toward evil, or small kindnesses toward true goodness. In "That Hideous Strength", CS Lewis shows evil working on a grand scale; indeed, nearly all of England is "done in" by the N.I.C.E, which ultimately is controlled by the spiritual source of evil. It seems plain what (or who) the "macrobes" are. The N.I.C.E is very similar to government or corporate bureauocracy: many different types of people with their own motives and different thoughts of the ultimate goal of the organization. But all their small sins combine and are used in a larger, mostly hidden, evil purpose. This is the pattern of evil that CS Lewis illustrates again and again in much of his fiction: our small transgressions, when nourished, allowed to grow, and cultivated, lead to larger and larger sins, and ultimate evil. On the other hand, small steps of kindness, truth, and obedience (to God, not necessarily to "feudal lords")lead to understanding and goodness. P.S. I find your web page interesting and a good source for discussion and ideas.

I very much enjoyed your letter. You may be right but I find myself disagreeing. It is true enough that in "That Hideous Strength" Lewis does portray evil on the grand scale as in, to a lesser extent, he also does in "Perelandra".

There are two different thoughts in this treatment of evil; the first is the concept that little sins may combine; the second is that people may let themselves be used. The latter idea is one that explains much about how people can participate in the evil that institutions perform. When people act agents for others they absolve themselves to a large extent for the moral responsibility for their actions. More subtly, they can support evil actions indirectly by providing infrastructure that is morally neutral in its own right. There is a great deal of that that goes on in life, of people transforming themselves into morally neutral instruments.

The difficulty with the "small sins combining" is that it doesn't account for nearly enough; to get evil on the grand scale Lewis postulates an active evil entity stage managing conspiracies in the background. "Small sins combining" tend to lead to weakness, sleaze, and corruption. At worst, when combined with the power of the state, they produce sleazy dictators such as Idi Amin and Papa Doc. To get evil on the grand scale, e.g., the Holocaust, the Stalinist purges, the killing fields of Cambodia, more is required than the combining of small sins. It is, perhaps, the combination of cruelty and ideological self-righteousness that produces such monstrosities. The corruption produced by indulging in small sins produces the man who acquiesces in the evil of others; it does not, in its own right, produce the hidden pleasure in the spilling of blood. That is, if you will, a specific kind of sin.

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From: Frank Weil
Date: 10/15/99
Subj: Websites for the outdoorsman/outdoorswoman

For the outdoorsman in you:

http://www.dinnerinapinch.com
http://www.scarynoise.com
http://www.outdoornooky.com
http://www.significantshrinkage.com

Chortle. It's a pity all of the links lead to planetoutdoors.com but the pages are cute. I particularly liked dinnerinapinch. I wonder what tadpole bisque tastes like. If Allah is merciful I will never find out.
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From: Mar
Date: 10/26/99
Subj: just a little note about your webpage and the humor section

I just wanted to tell you you did a pretty durned good job there.

From the Darwin Awards to comments on religion you've got a lot of interesting pieces of entertainment and information there. I suppose it doesn't matter much, but I thought you'd still like to know if someone really enjoyed your webpage.
Tank you veddy much,

P.S. That 'Postmodernists on Jerry Springer' entry in the section of your

Of course it matters - it matters to me. It sometimes seems odd to me that any one reads my web pages at all. I will, with all due modesty, grant that they have some entertainment value and even some interesting thoughts. Still, there are millions of web pages out there. There are search engines, scholarly reference sites, commercial sites offering god knows what all for sale, and a zillion pages of babble. It is a marvel that people regularly find my pages admidst all of the clutter. In any case, thank you for the kind words.

And yes, the Postmodernists on Jerry Springer bit is great.
Fat-ass Foucaultian ho!

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From: Al Whitney
Date: 9/28/99
Subj:
Semper Fi!

I just finished reading your stories and am still smiling. Outstanding web site!! I retired in 1994 and still miss the Marines I knew. Civilians just don't do things the same. Well, thanks for the memories and the laughs. Al Whitney GySgt USMC (Ret)

"Civilians just don't do things the same" - ain't it the truth. To be honest, though, my days as a Marine were long ago; I haven't spit-shined a pair of shoes in decades.
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This page was last updated November 22, 1999.
It was reformatted and moved December 16, 2004.

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